And so it begins...

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by Malindi, May 2, 2012.

  1. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    Steve, glad to see you find the RR of use. Check the website as well. I posted all my Garmin GDB files under the "Countries" tab. Makes it easier to find hotels ... :D
  2. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    (added to my website as well)

    My friends Andy and Linda released a new video clip the other month, which is quite well done. He is a musician with a band in Melbourne called Legends of Motorsport and she is a movie editor. With some careful planning, they shot a short clip combining scenes from Morocco and Bolivia. It's amazing what one can do with a guitar, a crappy laptop and a decent camera. Link is here.
  3. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    June 1, 2013 - After a few days relaxing in Bangkok, it was time to get the bike back from Moritz's place. The next item on the agenda was to extend the temporary import permit for the bike, a process which I was not looking forward to.

    My arrival at customs came at an opportune time. There apparently was a strong focus that day on "customer friendliness". In no time flat I was assigned the head of the department, his boss, the boss' secretary and a photographer. After a polite conversation, my paperwork was reviewed while the photographer clicked away in the background.

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    It was quickly decided that the department head would walk me to the right office to help me out. He apparently had trouble finding the building his underlings were in and had to ask around. When we entered the fairly sleepy set of offices, everyone veered up from their usual slump and started typing away like mad. It was clear this guy hadn't been in to see his staff for a while. After being assigned to a frightened underling, her boss hovering over her, my paperwork was processed post-haste and I was out of there in about half an hour, a world record in Thailand no doubt.

    My next stop was Mae Sot, a grotty border town used as a visa run by expats. Aside from the evening market, there was not much there and I pressed on the next day to Mae Sariang. On the way, I came past a Burmese refugee camp, set up against a hill with six thousand people sitting around doing nothing apparently, having built their own housing from scrap wood.

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    I stopped to take a picture and was immediately swarmed by kids in various states of dishevelment.

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    The military police came by and hurried me on shouting "No photo! No photo!". I think the Burmese border is a little more porous than last year as there are heaps of military checkpoints this year, all of which waved me through. A situation similar to the one in South America plays out here too. All the guys on guard are immersed in their iPhones or what not and by the time they hear you, it's too late to wave you down.

    In Mae Sariang, I went to the same hostel Anna and I went to last year and spent a day looking at the water and working on my pictures.

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    The roads from Mae Sariang towards Pai and on to Chiang Mai are simply amazing, some of the best roads I've encountered thus far.

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    All turns and hairpins. They even have a tee-shirt for it.

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    I managed to break the sidestand for the third time on this trip by scraping it and stripping one of the U-bolts holding it to the frame. I now also know why I scrape the right bag but not the left bag. It sticks out five centimeters further from the center. In Mae Sariang, I ran into an English couple who live in Singapore. We bumped into each other over the next few days and had lots of good laughs.

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    An evening stop in Mae Hong Son tempted me into experimenting with some freehand night shooting, with varying success.

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    I decided for the lazy option in Pai and jumped into a nice resort for three days. I don't think they were thrilled with the bike.

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    Sometimes the unthinkable happens and a very pretty girl came up to me in the street and started talking to me spontaneously. We hung out for a few dinners and since she needed some passport pictures, I volunteered my services.

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    My next stop is Chiang Mai, where I will be for a month, finally settling down and putting a number of ideas on paper that have been bouncing around in the back of my head. A month of regression testing and other fun stuff. It'll be a busy month on the photography front as well, but no ride updates.
  4. slide

    slide A nation in despair

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    How about some more on the girl?
  5. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    She's a German 20 yo who has been traveling for the last year. She hitchhiked through parts of Thailand and bought a motorcycle to run around the top of Laos (Honda Silverwing). Busy trying to get into some social awareness program in Sweden at the moment. Too bad she wasn’t a bit older or the story might have been more interesting…
  6. slide

    slide A nation in despair

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    Yeah, may make an interesting interlude. Sweden a bad place now. Immigrant riots and all that.
  7. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 10, 2013 - Chiang Mai has been an incredibly welcome stop on the whirlwind that is world travel. It has been good to establish a routine again and live a somewhat more normal life, with working hours and some focused goals.

    The first few weeks were consumed with pursuing an idea I'd had for a while around correlating publicly listed company information and dividend data. I won't bore you with the details, safe for the interesting fact that yield data for perpetual preferreds is mispriced on Yahoo Finance versus the Canadian exchange from which the numbers originate. After gorging on masses of data and getting to a point where I had a few "aha!" moments, it was time to dig up the camera and figure out what all the buttons did again, a mix of financial ideas and photographic composition floating in my Pad See Yie and yoghurt Mango shake nurtured brain.

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    There are a number of reclining Buddhas around Thailand, this one in Wat Chedi Luang.

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    Wat Chedi Luang at night.

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    A wat I had missed on previous visits was Wat Srisuphan. It's coated with plated silver.

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    Door detail.

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    One day I was out for a ride and cursed myself for having parked the rear wheel in an oil puddle, until I looked closer. I had a massive oil leak. Within seconds of parking back home, a small oil puddle formed.

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    Upon closer inspection, it was immediately obvious that I was not going to go too far with this.

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    A quick look-see after popping the wheel off confirmed my fear, a leaking final drive seal. A few postings to gt-rider.com, rideasia.net and thaivisa.com resulted in the phone number of the parts manager at BMW Motorrad here in Chiang Mai. I got lucky, as the final drive seal in the newer bikes is the same diameter.

    Two days later, I had a new $28 seal in my hands. Another very welcome email was an offer of help from Marc, an expat Belgian with a rich history in the motorcycle community worldwide. I forgot how many bikes he has sprinkled around various continents, but he's in cahoots with a lot of the core Adventure Rider crowd in the US and Mexico and stores a few bikes at his place for various people.

    He appreciated my predicament as he'd bounced on an R80G/S through Africa for about 100,000 kms while he lived all over the continent there. So on the lift she went.

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    The fix took some doing, as the newly purchased seal puller gave up the ghost after a few tries. We did it the old way, drilling holes in the seal and rigging a few drywall screws in it to yank the seal out.

    Marc's place is huge and sits in the middle of a small walled forest which he landscaped.

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    The views from the top floor are amazing.

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    With the bike fixed, we chatted away the afternoon and had lunch. At one point I had my finger on the starter after saying my goodbyes when Niki, Marc's wife, convinced me to stay for dinner as well. A long evening followed during which I got the back story on life in Thailand, expats and their Thai "girlfriends", politics, business and all sorts of other bits and pieces that are never obvious when you are a mere tourist.

    The surprises were not over, as the next day I ran into Lotte again, the impromptu model from Pai.

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    We spent a few days hanging around talking about life and drinking coffee.

    During all of this, my motorcycle decided to spring another leak, this time at what looked like a dry-rotted pushrod seal. It seemed that with the bike sitting for a few weeks in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, some of the seals had succumbed to the heat and humidity. Or maybe they were just old. Not having any idea on when I would leave Chiang Mai, I decided to ignore it and shoot more pictures.

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    During the past year, I had kept in touch with Christina, a fellow traveler I ran into in Zaruma, Ecuador, back in October of 2012. Since then, she'd traveled the Silk Road and spent time in Turkey, Iran, the 'Stans and eventually made her way to Kashgar in China. Sick of China, she decided to detour and visit Chiang Mai. We spent a wonderful two weeks together before she went off to Vietnam.

    "Hey dude, why are you drilling a hole in my engine?"

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    Eventually I had to deal with the leaking bike again. I spent a good few hours and a few liters of gasoline cleaning off all the crud and oil stuck to the engine. Still unable to determine the exact cause of the oil leak, I decided to contact Joe, a German expat and local bike mechanic. Since I knew I'd stripped one of the bolt threads holding the oil cover on, I would have to repair it eventually. Following advice from other Airheads, I used some RTV to seal the crumbling pushrod tubes. It's not pretty looking, but it works.

    The thread was Heli-Coiled but still oil was dribbling out from under the oil filter cover. Upon much closer inspection, I found that the O ring was perforated when held up to the light. My last O ring went into the bike and magically, it stayed dry.

    Riding away from Chiang Mai, you quickly leave the city, with roads meandering along rivers and through small villages. Wats in tiny villages pop up with alarming regularity and compel you to stop and take more pictures.

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    Hours can be whiled away in various coffee shops along the way.

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    My daily routine includes a stop at Pa Fruit Shake, the best shake in town, mere steps from the hotel I am staying at.

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    In a few weeks I will move on to Laos and potentially Vietnam, as I've found out you can actually enter Vietnam with your own bike at one of the border crossings. More adventures await, for sure.
  8. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 20, 2013 - Riding north of Chiang Mai, Christina and I bumped into all sorts of temples, Wats and other interesting sites. Initially, we rented a Honda Wave or something similar, but at one point we decided to take it up a notch and see if we could us the G/S and I created a small rear seat using the top of my backpack and some clothes. It worked really well.

    This allowed us to venture quite a bit further afield.

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    During the space of a week, we drifted northwards towards the Burmese border, following the Ping River. The GPS was incredibly accurate and invaluable, even on the smallest roads. At one point, we spotted a large Buddha in the distance and detoured to find it.

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    The Buddha was not really the most interesting site here, as next to it, we found a very small Wat, all in white.

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    It took me a while when we got back to find the name of this place, using the GPS's lat/lon reading, various searches and Google maps. Aside from one monk, we saw no one.

    Further north, the Burmese influence becomes more obvious.

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    Try as I did, I was never able to figure out the right name for this tower-like structure, which houses a mediation centre for locals.

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    We rode hundreds of kilometers on back roads, stopping for only a fraction of the Wats we saw.

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    Most were abandoned and we didn't have the impression they saw a lot of tourists, based on people's reaction when they encountered us. We didn't quite get the effect I experienced in Vietnam in 1993, where people would leave their houses to come and stare at the tourists, but it certainly was not too far from it. Being off the major roads and digging through the occasional dead-end dirt road probably put us off the beaten path.

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    The bike got an oil change, a valve check and a tire kick to make sure it's ready for Laos.
  9. slide

    slide A nation in despair

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    Interesting that your snaps don't show a single human or any living thing aside from the vegetation. The places seem well cared for - that is not abandoned.
  10. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    It's all part of the Matrix ... they just got rid of all the sentinels for us ... :-)
  11. hardwaregrrl

    hardwaregrrl ignore list

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    Just had to pop in here and say "hello". Thanks so much for the beautiful photos and commentary. Glad you're enjoying yourself!!:thumb
  12. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    July 27, 2013 - The last day in Thailand saw me stop in Chiang Rai, a mostly drab town north of Chiang Mai with none of its flair or infrastructure. It's about as boring as a Thai town gets it seems. My only purpose for being there is that it's on the way to northern Laos and that it has a white Wat which is truly spectacular.

    Unfortunately, Wat Rong Khun is fully "touristed", with mandatory tour guide included in the admission price. It was quite busy so I opted to take a shot from the outside only.

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    The ride from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai was very pleasant, with lots of curves and great riding. The next day, I checked out of Thailand and lined up for the crossing at the Mekong.

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    From the border I headed towards Luang Namtha. The road is brand new and a virtual racetrack with nothing but curves and vistas. It's certainly up there in terms of riding roads to make a mental note of. Here the rice paddies were much more prevalent than in Thailand it seems.

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    Laos is desperately poor compared to Thailand, a fact easily seen in the kids that always seem to pop out of nowhere when you stop for pictures. I've since been told that healthy Asian kids get born with lots of thick black hair and that the telling sign of malnutrition is thinner brownish hair, sadly all too common here.

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    My trip to Luang Prabang from Luang Namthat didn't go totally as planned.

    I’ve proven that it’s actually quite possible to run an old BMW on diesel. For quite a distance too, 53 kilometers all told. I filled up (or rather, someone did it for me) with “regular” and a few miles further, the engine power decreased, I had horrible pre-detonation at anything above 3,000 rpm under load and the bike acted sluggish. Since I was in the middle of nowhere, I kept going, thinking I had some bad gas. The bike ran fine, it sounded like nothing was amiss, as long as I didn’t open the throttle too much. The next gas station came in sight, and I stopped for a closer look.

    As soon as I stopped, I smelled something was not right. Not having much experience with diesel in a motorcycle, a station attendant smelled and tested the gas from the float bowl and pointed with a broad smile and thumbs up to the diesel pump, thinking I wanted to fill up. Since my Laotian is non-existent and no one spoke French (quite common in the cities here), it took some doing and disbelief on their part that I wanted to dump a full tank of diesel and replace it with something else. Initially, they were worried I could not take the diesel with me in the open bucket, till they realized I was quite happy to leave it behind. Seeing that draining from the carbs was going to take ages, a hose and a few larger buckets appeared on the scene out of nowhere.

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    In no time flat the tank was empty and I filled up with “regular” again, this time it was the right thing. The bike sputtered to life and minutes later we were racing along again, as if nothing had happened.

    Luang Prabang has changed considerably since I was here in 2000. Despite all that, it has managed to keep the quiet feel it had back then.

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    A stroll along the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers always delivers in terms of photographic opportunities.

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    Carrying the heavy 70-200 mm zoom around sometimes pays off.

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    The same two monks, shot minutes apart.

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    When no one is looking, the little screen dominates.

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    I'm planning on being here for about ten days or so, focusing on photography. Christina will join me here and we'll travel around Laos for a few weeks before heading off to Indonesia and Nepal. The bike will stay in Thailand for a few months while we are gone.
  13. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    Thanks for stopping by. I am having fun indeed. :D
  14. slide

    slide A nation in despair

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    That's a nice snap of the three girls but they appear to be picking lice out of each others' hair.
  15. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    August 8, 2013 - The rains started for real when I was in Luang Prabang. For three days I was basically confined to my hotel, safe for a few hours in the afternoon here or there, lest I wanted to get soaked to the bone within a few steps of venturing outside.

    Gone were the days of riding in the morning and stopping in the early afternoon to shelter from the monsoon.

    I ended up doing far less photography than I planned on. The upside of being stranded in Luang Prabang was that both Marc and his buddy Rob were also holed up in Luang Prabang. We had breakfast and dinner most nights together and the conversations ranged from the philosophical to the absurd, underpinned by lots of travel tales from years gone by. They were on the way to Vietnam and managed to get in with the bikes for a week. It's hit and miss getting into Vietnam with your own bike, and where it was previously allowed at one border crossing, that option had, at least for now, been closed again. It took Marc's credentials as a former professor at a Ho Chi Minh city university to get them past the paperwork.

    A stop in Vientiane on the way back to Chiang Mai left an impression. The town had changed so much it seemed someone had smacked New York City overtop of Venice. Nothing remained of the romantic old dusty town I knew and the next day I left for Thailand.

    A planned leisurely ride back via the Mekong on the Thai side came to an end late on the first day as relentless rains had washed away sections of road in two places. I headed south for better roads and made Chiang Mai by noon the next day. In Chiang Mai, I dropped my bike and most of my gear at Marc's place and left pronto for Bangkok to meet up with Christina. We flew to Jakarta and managed to arrive at the start of Idul Fitri, the long weekend after Ramadan, when everyone travels all over the place to go visit family. It's similar to Thanksgiving in the US, everyone going home at the same time. But then imagine this on an island half the size of the UK with 130-plus million people and an infrastructure unable to support it. After waiting for an hour or more for a cab at the airport at 1:00 AM, we decided to share a ride with a British banker willing to detour his ride for us.

    Jakarta held little appeal and we left towards Bogor as soon as we could.
  16. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    August 9, 2013 - We arrived in Bogor after a two hour train ride. It was a slow train, with few seats and mostly standing room. We were lucky to get some space as consecutive stops saw the train filled to the brim with people.

    Interestingly enough, very few people had any luggage with them. The train was jam-packed by the time we got to Bogor and it took ages to get out of the station, crossing railroad tracks towards any exit we could find.

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    People in Indonesia are very friendly with a constant "Hey Mister!" following us. More often than not, we are the ones being framed in cameras and cell phones. People pose willingly for photos and reluctant kids are shoved in front of us, so we happily oblige. We then show the kids the results on the camera, which always makes them smile.

    Bogor was our first stop and the main appeal of this town was its reputed botanical garden. We found it to be a large park, with lots of people picnicking amongst the trees and waterways, but didn't see much of real interest. If you can look past the litter and have an affinity for trees, it might be worth your while, but to us it was a bit of a bust.

    Our introduction to Java was a sobering one. There is litter everywhere. In a lot of places, the infrastructure is in tatters. It's also very busy.

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    Traditional rickshaws still ply their trade in Bogor.

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    Aside from the botanical gardens and the fact it's not Jakarta, Bogor has little going for it, so we moved to Bandung the next day.

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  17. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    August 11, 2013 - Bandung is a different place, a much larger and more modern town, filled with shopping centers for Asian tourists. Westerners come here for the volcanoes and tea plantations and Easterners come here to shop. The guide we hired for a day lamented Western tourists were too much work. At least with the Chinese crowd, he could drop them off at consecutive malls for a few days and take a nap. I think he was only half kidding.

    After failing to find a motorcycle rental place, we took a bus to a local volcano and hiked the last eight kilometers to the rim. It was certainly worth the effort.

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    Earlier, we managed to lose ourselves in the depths of Bandung, small communities hidden behind bigger buildings, with impossibly narrow streets through which people maneuver their mopeds.

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    The highlight of our stay in Bandung was the day we hired a car, driver and guide to take us around to a few places we wanted to visit. Since local transport is byzantine to figure out and sporadic at best, it seemed the best option.

    Our first stop was to actually visit a real rice field, during the harvest.

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    For every hundred kilos of rice harvested, ten kilos goes to the workers, that's how they get paid. Seeing the effort involved, the heat and the methods used, the Western world can thank McDonalds for the availability of hamburger-flipping jobs for those who need them.

    The next stop was a tea plantation, much more serene and civilized. It takes ten years or more to grow a plantation before you can harvest and then it's only good for thirty five years before the quality diminishes. There is no decent tea to be had in Indonesia. All the premium stuff ends up in the West.

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    Our last stop was decidedly local. A small area where locals came to enjoy the heat of the volcano. There were various natural hot springs, some too hot to touch, mud baths and sizzling rocks here and there. It all had an eerie feel.

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    Bandung was a much better place to be than Bogor. Still, we were not too excited so far about Indonesia. There is no prolific street food culture similar to Thailand, Malaysia or Laos. Although people are very friendly, litter is everywhere and people smoke where they see fit, be it at breakfast in a hotel or anywhere else.

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  18. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    August 15, 2013 - We took the train to Yogyakarta, this time a first class air-conditioned ride snaking through beautiful landscape. Yogyakarta feels very much like Chiang Mai in a way. A city spread out far and wide, with a dense core centered within crumbling fortress walls.

    This is where all the tourists seem to congregate, as we saw nearly no one when we were in Bogor and Bandung. We settled in the middle of the new tourist district and rented a moped to get around. Yogya is spread out, and seeing the place by moped is the best way to get around.

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    The best part of Yogya are the backstreets, impossible to figure out and always leading you somewhere unanticipated.

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    A local vendor watching a performance.

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    The moped got a workout and we rode out to the Merapi volcano. Without the comfort of a GPS, it took a few stops to ask directions but it turned out to be quite an easy ride. We crossed some pretty rough road and steep hills, pegging the throttle of the poor Honda bike at max with the little engine screaming to get us up various hills. A hundred miles two-up was the tally for the day.

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    Unfortunately, the clouds obscured the view. We saw what we missed a few days later when we flew over Merapi, direction Makassar.

    On two occasions we basically ventured completely off the map, just to see what was at the end of the road. Both times, we were rewarded. The first time, we ran into a local fishing competition.

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    The second time, the price was even greater. We stumbled upon a local dance of some sort. It was very elaborate, with costumes, masks and live music. People were dancing as if they life depended on it. At least four or five dancers were carried off either exhausted or in total convulsion. We were not sure if it was all an act or the result of some happy chemicals as part of the ritual. We were spellbound for at least an hour looking at all this. Being at least fifty kilometers away from Yogya, there wasn't a tourist in sight.

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    We went to Borobudur with the intent of visiting the one temple there, but didn't think it worth the $20 entry fee after seeing some of the local pictures for sale. An entrance ticket to the Thaj Mahal is half that price.

    Instead, we found some local temples, rarely visited, let alone by Westerners. We saw maybe five locals while we were there.

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    We were pretty much done with Java at this point and were looking for an escape to more serene surroundings, so we packed our bags and headed to Makassar, the capital of Sulawesi, one of the bigger islands in the Indonesian chain.

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    The one upside of traveling in Indonesia is that flying here is unbelievably cheap. A ninety minute flight will set you back $42 all-in. All you have to do is battle the hordes to get through security and engage in hand-to-hand combat to retrieve your belongings from the security screening belt. As friendly as Indonesians are, they turn into something entirely different once you're in an airport. We never figured out why.
  19. slide

    slide A nation in despair

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    Since Islam overtook the place a long time ago, those temples must be really really old. Interesting that no fanatic group ever decided to destroy them or are there Buddhist and Hindu elements still around?

    What's the story behind the statue of the girl with the eating arm?
  20. Malindi

    Malindi Zen Adventurer

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    Islam and other delusions live happily side by side. You can get waited on by a head to toe covered Muslim woman at a cabaret show with 95% flesh exposed and little kids running around with scantily clad girls drink beer and smoke cigarettes. It all seems to live happily side by side here. No idea on the girl, it was just a weird thing to see in the middle of nowhere.