My new wife and I spent most of October in a post-wedding state of happy exhaustion as we traipsed around Malaysia and Indonesia on honeymoon.
Of course, many more pictures can be found on my big Honeymoon set on Flickr. There are a lot of portrait-orientation shots there that I’ve left out for the sake of the layout below.
All photos on this page are Copyright 2013 Luke Robinson – all rights reserved.
Malaysia – Tan Jong Jara
Most of the first few days of our trip were spent in befuddled recuperation at the Tan Jong Jara resort in northeast Malaysia, where our ambitions mostly extended to thinking of what we were going to have to eat at dinnertime. It was perfect after the cathartic release of the wedding week. We did manage to do have some expeditions – to the local market, a nearby island, and a sea turtle hatchery – but mostly we enjoyed not having a wedding to plan for the first time in nearly a year.
Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur
After five days on the beach it was time to return to civilisation (of a sort) for a short three-day city break in KL. If you’ve ever been there, you’ll agree that at least in food terms, it is one of the most exciting cities in Asia. A vibrant clash of Malay, Chinese and Indian (and Western, for that matter), KL is a feast in every sense of the word. My panoramic photo of the Petronas Towers at sunset from the top of our hotel made it onto the Flickr Blog recently and is doing quite well on the traffic / favourites front, I am happy to say.
Java – Borobudur
Next up was a quick flight to Yogyakarta in Java, and from there up the road a piece to the environs of Borobudur, the huge ancient Buddhist hilltop monument situated in a mist-filled valley of volcanoes. There is simply no other proper way to see Borobudur than by getting there well before the sun rises (and we were the first through the gate that day), so that you can see the first rays of the sun hit the stupas and Buddha figures at the top, and so the mist is caught between the palm trees in the valley floor. Magical.
Later the same day, we toured the nearby village of Candirejo, where they are striving to establish themselves as a local tourist alternative to the posh resorts nearby. The people couldn’t have been more friendly, from the tobacco farmers to the old dear who was making cassava crackers in her dilapidated house.
Java – Yogyakarta and Prambanan
In Yogya we found a busy smallish Asian city going about its business, mostly untroubled by excessive tourism, which was different to my recollections of 19 years previous. I suppose I have developed a thicker skin when it comes to pestering touts. In any case we had a gas visiting the Sultan Palace, the Water Palace, the town market, and the Hindu temples of Prambanan.
We went for proper island life next, moving onto the tropical paradise that is Bali. The feeling of paradise was enhanced by our poshest accommodation of the whole trip, at the Four Seasons in Sayan, a spectacular resort built into a river valley, the likes of which we won’t experience again anytime soon. It was extremely hard to leave our pool villa, but we did venture out for trips into nearby Ubud, a hike up the Sayan river valley, and a daytrip up to see the Lake Bratan Water Temple, the Jatuliwiyah Rice Terraces, and a few other highlights.
The Gili Islands and Southern Bali
After our five nights in paradise, we decamped to an even more laid-back environment, riding a tiny speedboat across to the equally tiny Gili Islands, three mile-wide sandbars, for all intents and purposes, off the coast of Lombok. We got off at Gili Trawangan and were overwhelmed by the bustle of its little waterfront – a sea of Bintang (in boxes and on the singlets of numerous Aussie backpackers). We had a great time on Gili T, snorkeling and mooching around, but it was possibly a step down the luxury ladder too far for us honeymooners so we made a snap decision to come back to Bali for the last two nights. This decision paid off as we ended up on the lovely Jimbaran Bay, where we spent the days on the beach and the evenings on excursions to the Uluwatu cliffside temple and the luxe double-header on the last night of the Rock Bar and the fantastic Sundara beachside restaurant of the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay. A fitting end to an incredible honeymoon.
Once in a while you’ve got to remember to have a good old fashioned summer holiday, free from agenda, without every step being checked against a multitude of websites beforehand, with no plans beyond getting a tan, having a bit of a wander, and eating some good food.
This was one of those holidays. The Cyclades are a classic Mediterranean holiday destination, whose only mission in life is to host, for six months of the year, hordes of tourists, be they day-trippers from the cruise ships, two-week honeymooners, backpackers, or, in our case, casual island-hoppers.
Our first stop was Mykonos, with its classic maze-like old town, the bars of Little Venice, the inevitable decorative windmills, the beaches, the gays, the party crowd, and the omnipresent meltemi wind, always lashing the northern coast and making every beach visit an exercise in finding the optimal way to make sure your beach towel doesn’t turn into a sail. We largely avoided the “party” beaches and the ones where the sun loungers were almost on top of one another, and found some nicely sparse ones to the southeast called Elia and Lia. But we won’t be showing you the beaches here, because, well, that’s boring. What you’ll see below is a selection of shots mostly from Mykonos Town itself.
We enjoyed Mykonos and would go back, but the jewel in the crown was yet to come…
Santorini is the glorious island that launched a million postcards, the result of a massive volcanic explosion that blew the top off the mountain island and left just the rims of the caldera poking above the Aegean. Since then, on the main island that remained, Thira, the steep rims of the caldera have been colonised by dramatic cliffside villages, blocky white “cave houses”, blue-domed churches and luxury villas stacked on top of one another, tumbling down the hills. It is immediately dramatic and beguiling, and we were lucky enough to have snagged a lovely little villa in the village of Firostefani, just north of the main town (also called Thira). We made a number of excursions to other destinations (the beaches at Perivolos and Vlychada as well as the towns of Pyrgos and Megalochori and the fishermen of Ammoudi Bay) and had some truly excellent food at places like To Psaraki in Vlychada and Aktaion and Mama Thira in Firostefani. It was a grand way to end the week.
Of course the first thing every tourist guide and dog-eared Lonely Planet will tell you is that you shouldn’t miss the sunset from Oia. So we, along with every other tourist in Santorini, duly trekked north to participate in this mass ritual of sun worship. And I mean every other tourist. Despite the crowds we snagged one or two nice shots…
That was to be all for our Clycladic adventure, however I knew that when I got back to London I would have to turn right back around the next day and leave for Bangkok on a work trip. More to come on that matter…
Of course, as ever, there are more photos from this trip to be found over on Flickr.
Until next time!
Update, July 12 2011
Thanks to WordPress.com featuring this on their “Freshly Pressed” section on July 11th, 2011, this photo report post has had a tremendous amount of traffic, thanks entirely to you lovely folks who have chosen to bestow your click-favours. I might add in an oh-so-cheeky way that more of my photographic travel delights can be found in the Travel Photography posts section (let’s be honest, the most interesting part of this blog for blogger and reader alike)…
Also, for your delectation, I have other Vietnam photo posts as well:
After the hectic experience of Saigon, desirous of some sun and fun, we headed north out of the city towards the southern coastal resorts of Mũi Né and Nha Trang. Never ones to sit around on the beach, we did a fair bit of exploration in each place, seeing how the people in both towns were getting to grips with combining their traditional lifestyles (fishing, mostly) with increasing numbers of tourists and their various demands and proclivities.
We knew that Mũi Né was going to be our first stop as we headed north, because it was a pretty manageable five-hour bus ride from Saigon. Having investigated a bit and determined that the main strip of Mũi Né looked like a catastrophic mix of Russian, German and Australian package tour hellholes, we booked a bungalow in the private resort Pandanus just outside the main strip. As the man in Indiana Jones said, we chose…. wisely. We hired some bicycles the first afternoon and toddled down into the fishing village north of the resort strip, where we were lucky enough to see the fishing harbour just as dusk approached. It was our first encounter with the curious rattan “bathtub” dinghies that are such a feature of waterfront life in south Vietnam.
The next day we hired scooters, and took to them like ducks to water. Riding around a relatively low-population area like Mũi Né was the perfect way to start driving in Vietnam – not sure I would have wanted to kick things off in Saigon, for instance. Happily we carried on through the main resort strip and south to Phan Thiết, the main fishing town near Mui Ne, where we knew we’d be able to see some Cham temples, and also look into a fishing harbour I had seen from the bus the day before.
First stop was the Cham temples on a hilltop overlooking the town: leftovers of the old religions of the Cham people, who are still around in greatly reduced numbers and greatly reduced influence. The only other visitors to this temple complex were a bridal couple and their photographers, who were happy to pose for us in between having their love committed to digital eternity….
After the Cham temples we continued on down to the main fishing section of Phan Thiết and, after struggling to work out how to get to the actual quay-side from the main street, we eventually just did as the locals did and drove our scooters into a warren of tiny rutted alleyways, somehow managing not to scrape ourselves or our bikes down the sides of people’s houses, till eventually we popped out on the quay and got to see some of the fishing boats and dinghies at close quarters, and to see what conditions the fishermen lived in when they weren’t out casting for squid and scallops…
We were tempted to keep going around a headland as we saw a beach on the other side that looked like it needed investigating. However, the pavement and packed earth had run out and in between us and the beach was the motorcycle’s bane: sand. We were about to turn around and give up when a toothless grandmother laughed at us and pointed through the sand. Shamed, we duly attempted and conquered the sand challenge. When we came to the beach we dismounted and walked down to observe some scallop fishermen freshly arrived and disgorging their catch via the dinghies to women waiting on shore, who were busily shucking the scallops and discarding the shells onto the beach in great mounds (there were countless thousands of old shells about). It was a fascinating scene, and they were very surprised that we as tourists had made it around to see them. They were friendly enough, though, and we felt we were well off the trail.
I don’t want to over-romanticise this experience though; the beach was filthy, very different to the sanitised versions at the resorts nearby which were cleaned obsessively. This beach was an environmental disaster of discarded shells, rubbish, excrement, and a recently-dead dog. The entire place smelled like three-day-old shit, and we made our excuses. Getting back off the beach involved driving through someone’s patio (seriously) and driving through a family of four eating their dinners on either side of an alleyway, who only pulled their dishes and drinks away at the last moment. We continued back into the main resort strip and found a place for lunch, where we remarked that the three-day-old shit smell seemed to pervade the town. It was only a few minutes later that we discovered to our horror that I had trod in some of the three-day-old shit and was tracking it around. This was special stuff, probably banned under the Geneva convention, and suffice it to say that after multiple cleaning attempts and an overnight soak I was forced to throw this set of beloved sandals away. That’s some serious shit.
The next morning we got up early and walked down the road from our resort to climb the red sand dunes, a famous local attraction which is probably best explored using a jeep, and the main idea is to do sand-surfing – or at least that’s what all the touts would have you do. Of course I skipped the sand-surfing and went photo-surfing instead….
Of course, we didn’t spend all of our time sightseeing. There was a beach to play in, as well, and we did. But nobody wants to see other people’s beach pictures, so I’ll suffice with this one:
After three days and two nights in Mũi Né we decided to push up the coast to Hoi An, with a one-night stopover in Nha Trang, another beach resort, to break up what would otherwise be an 18-hour bus journey. As it happened, the five hours to Nha Trang did us in, as we had inadvertently booked a sleeper bus – for an afternoon journey. It was fairly hellish, let’s just leave it there. Once in Nha Trang we agreed that we needed to find some other way to continue on to Hoi An the next day. As it happens the urgency of this decision was removed from us by some dodgy shellfish and an ensuing everything-must-go bout of food poisoning. So we ended up spending two nights in Nha Trang, recuperating and preparing for the next journey. As it happened we lodged in the Sheraton on the main strip, so this was not what you would call a hardship to extend our stay. We checked out the town, but it was roasting hot during the day so we mostly explored at night (somehow seeming to end up at the Sailing Club each night) or during the early mornings.
The view from our hotel’s rooftop terrace was pretty striking at night, watching untold thousands of scooters cruising up and down the strip, and the otherworldly construction side next door:
Of course we did manage to get out onto the beach here, and because it was the start of a bank holiday weekend there, there were genuine Vietnamese tourists visiting the beach in droves:
Early on the final morning in Nha Trang we went up to the fishing marina and saw the fishermen getting about their work. We carried on around the bay to another set of Cham temples on a hill overlooking the harbour.
That was it for Nha Trang, and we headed out to catch our chosen “cheating” transportation up to Hoi An: Vietnam Airlines.
You can see more photos of Mũi Né and Nha Trang in my Flickr set here.
Next time: A photo report from the charming old colonial town of Hoi An. Reports from Hue, Saigon, Sapa, and Ha Long Bay will follow…