This photo-blog is designed to work either as a standard blog with images or - by clicking any image - a photo-album. To see an image in full resolution in the 2006 journey, click to the left or right of an image in blog mode.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Asia 2014 moves to

Since returning from Asia I have decided to move the entire Tangential Asia 2014 blog to my own website at All the other previous blogs remain on Blogspot and can be accessed from the menu on the right of this page.

Here is the link to the index  page:

I have done this largely because I discovered that blogspot is all but inaccessible in China, at least on all the wireless networks I accessed, because it exclusively uses https, which the Chinese government seems to be intentionally blocking, or slowing to unusable speeds. This means that, in addition to my not being able to access Blogspot, Google search or my own Gmail account from inside China, the entries on China would not be able to be accessed from within China, making it impossible for people we met there to see what we wrote about them. Both the Chinese government and Google need to sort out their relationship in a more transparent manner.

It also gives me free reign overtime to include images in a free form way without having to stick to the blogspot protocol or do low-level html edits to stopgap.

Here are each of the chapter sections as separate links:

Tangential Asia 2014
Bali First Visit 2014

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sapa Trekking with a Vengeance

Yan on the way up the mountain

Today we fell into one of those slightly out of control experiences traveling throws at you. Sapa is full of Hmong women from the surrounding villages who try to sell you small handcraft items. They are wily and persistent and have all kinds of tricks to make you feel obliged. If you won't buy right away they tie little ribbons around you wrists as a pinky promise and chastise you if you don't fulfill the promise. Anyway we struck up a relationship with Yan and agreed to go on a walking trek to her village this morning.

In the hills above Sapa

At 9 am the valley was full of mist so we postponed till 10. Then I met another woman who offered to do it for a third of the US $15 each, but when I went back she refused and later told me she had been told off for undercutting the others. So we took off with Yan who is a very intelligent charming 30 year old Hmong women and in a band with several others we walked in the now pretty hot morning all the way through town and then up a steep winding dirt track that got ever higher and steeper until Christine was nearly expiring.

High rice paddies looking down into the valley lowlands

After a heavy hike we emerged into a winding track up and down over the highlands with superb views off the entire surrounding area, into a fairly remotes valley and highland area and eventually back to the Sapa valley where we wound down and down past maize tea cannabis and eventually rice paddies to her village of Hao Thao.

Coming down into Hao Thao

We stopped at her sisters house and were treated to a delightful late lunch of vegetarian dishes and rice before being escorted by Yan and all her Hmong saleswomen entourage down to the road where they arranged motorbikes to bring us back the 10 kms or so to town.

Cooking in the kitchen fire

Apart from being a gruelling hot climb up and down it was a very engaging experience partly because Yan is vey talkative and can engage a very informative conversation and her family is very welcoming and friendly. I'm sure it was the best way to have a meaningful cultural interaction out of the overblown tourist orbit of guided tours of the hill tribes. Christine's knees are so stiff she has to walk down the stairs sideways!

 Family lunch for the weary trekkers

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Cooling off in Sapa

Just got off the night train to Sapa. The journey was not too bad in the hard sleeper with heaps of Chinese and Vietnamese travelers - two to a bunk in one case. The air conditioning worked well enough to make us shivery after a stifling day in Hanoi.

Sapa is rapidly becoming overblown from rapid development as an Asian tourist destination

Hanoi was charming as usual with motorbikes everywhere but very much too hot. Vietnam is notorious for rejecting any slightly off banknotes even when they are good tender. We had hassles at the bank when they turned down a couple of our worn and torn US banknotes, but we repaired them with sellotape and discretely gave them to the hotel for payment.

We had a nightmare when we went to catch the train because just as it was about to leave and we had walked away out on the tracks and down the platform, there was no LC1 train at all just one SP3 tourist train. I ran headlong back to the station and a ticket guard came out to the train to sort it out. What had happened is they had decided to tack LC1 onto the front of SP3 and give the carriages different numbers.

Sapa overlooks a stunning valley

We were besieged by bus touts at the Lao Cai station when we emerged but managed to talk them down to a tolerable compromise by being resistant 75,000 each instead of 100,000 although the price should be 60,000. Then the driver got stopped by the cops half way to Sapa. Finally we got besieged by hotel touts and went with one who turned out to really help run a hotel and gave us a nice deal for 180,000 or US $8.50 a night with hot showers and wifi.

Hmong women trying to sell small crafts or walking tours

We were escorted all the way there by Hmong women wanting to sell us little bags and take us to their village for $15 each a day. They are very mischievous and tried to run off with one of our beloved luggage trolleys, one of which lost its wheel crossing the rail lines in Hanoi.

There are people wearing all manner of tribal dress here in slightly doggrel form with the odd tee-shirt underneath and western sun hats: Hmong, Dzao, Dao and so on.

Two Dzao women

I wandered out of town in the now hot midday sun and took some pictures of the sweeping valley Sapa overlooks and the rice terraces here and there. Tomorrow one or both of us may take a walk to some of the villages with one of the Hmong women who want us to go to theirs for US $15 each a day trip.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Nilai to Hanoi (again)

We made it into Hanoi after a cosy stopover in a funky hotel, New Wave 2, in Nilai - a very nondescript Malaysian town 12 kms from the KL airport. The taxi driver seemed unable to find it but it proved a much easier stopover than going into KL which is an overblown city we have seen before.

The room was a green concrete box but clean and utterly silent after our late arrival after mindight and we slept for ten hours solid.

The flight into Hanoi was straightforward and the visa on arrival process worked fine for us although some people didn't have the right exact US $45 and one couple claimed to have had all their money stolen between the plane and the immigration point.

We managed to change $20 into some Viet dong and had a very elegant meal at the Black Duck Cafe just around the corner from the Hanoi Old Town Hotel. The night markets were pulsating with life.

Today we have wandered around in the sweltering heat photographing the insane motorbike traffic, visiting the markets and finding a few things to tide us over on the train to Sapa tonight. We have already blogged Hanoi on our last visit, so this was just another easy day hanging out in air-conditioned comfort with sorties out to see the old town.

Hanoi is always a fascinating place people living and eating on the streets, shades of the French colonial past, both stiflingly hot and delightfully shady. Full of inexpensive and extremely obliging restaurants, as long as you avoid the scams and ripoffs that sometimes appear without warning.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Galungan and Ida Sang Huang Widi

Had a couple of off the radar days. We set off from Lovina and Christine had noticed a way we could loop back up to the volcano rim to head East over the road to Antosari which was supposed to be a beautiful drive.

Lonely Planet map: The little road through Selat took us up the mountain but was very steep and needed a 4wd

So we drive west along the coast and after asking along the highway found this little side road heading straight inland and followed it up and up even more steeply than the previous one.

We had no idea whether it would go all the way to the top and after passing several villages it would more steeply into the forest and gradually broke down into a stony track with potholes in the forest at times so steep that we had real trouble making way in first.

Also the jeep was just about out of oil and boiling over all the way. A couple of times we nearly turned around but then there was a patch or two of tar seal and after endless hairpins, it broke out into the summit crater area.

View from the volcano summit rim

Here we eventually gave the jeep respite with some oil and water in the crater at a small motorbike shop.

Summit lakes. The names are on the map above.

After checking several T junctions, we made it back onto the road through Munduk again we headed down and then across the saddle to the Antosari road but turned off at Peremban on another back road winding through the spice country bordering the great forest area of western Bali.

 Spices laid out at Manggissari overlooking the huge forest wilderness in western Bali

We eventually came down to the surfing beach of Medewi where we found a cosy place with a restaurant for IR 150000 - Mai Malu.

Today was a bit of a desperate drive along the busy south coast arterial route. We tried to go to Pura Tana Lot but there were queues miles long. We then got lost a couple of times in Seminyak and Legian in atrocious traffic snarls before managing to go to one of our old haunts - Poppies Lane 1 - where all our problems were solved - namely (1) a free parking space (2) an internet cafe where we could print our Air Asia boarding passes and (3) a restaurant with wi fi.

 Mai Malu

We got a bit of a shock the other morning when finally dialed onto my own e-mails rather than Xtine's and found Air Asia wondering why we hadn't checked in electronically and then insisting we print our own boarding passes which is not as easy as it sounds because internet cafes are fast disappearing from the scene with cellphones and tablets and wireless everywhere.

 Everywhere the house poles

Here is a funny story about Bali and festivals. Everywhere we went in Bali there were these waving poles made of bamboo with shredded coconut leaves embellishing them with little shrines with offerings at the base. By everywhere I mean everywhere even the most remote forgotten corners. It couldn't be a government initiative. Also there were groups of boys walking around Ubud with gongs and a tiger dragon as I showed in a previous posting.
On the last day when we were trying to leave, the roads were choked with traffic and cars with foliage medallions on them and people in their formal dress on motorbikes carrying offerings. People were even giving offerings and praying right in the main street.

Praying at the street shrine

Eventually we came upon a festival in full swing and just caught it in the moment when all the figures in the pageant were dancing and about to enter the temple. I managed to get a short sequence of them dancing at the entrance amid wild singing and gamelan clanking.

Galungan celebration on the way to Tabernan

Finally when we got on the plane the Air Asia magazine had a small entry explaining it all. The festival is Galungan and celebrates the victory of goodness (dharma) over evil (adharma) and celebrates the creator of the universe Ida Sang Huang Widi. The bamboo poles, or penjor, are erected outside every family home in Bali. The small shrines are offering to the ancestral spirits of the families who are believed to visit their families during the festival. So much for researching Balinese culture before we left!

Galungan celebration on the way to Tabernan

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Traversing the Edge of the Volcano

Richly adorned wayside temple

Today we drove off in our bumpy little Suzuki and managed to navigate using Google Maps along little side roads across to a temple Pura Taman Ayun on the main road to the second volcano.

Small roads crossing from Ubud to Mengwi

This is necessary because Bali is cut with deep valleys from the mountains and all the major roads go north and south. On the way up we spied a small green sign for Jatiluwih a UN heritage set of rice terraces which wasn't supposed to be accessible from the road we were on. The road was a tiny back road with some beautifully adorned rural temples completely more engaging than the big touristic one we had just seen. We followed more small rural roads  having to ask directions several times and finally came upon the rice terraces in in a sweeping view from across a wide valley where there were a bunch of tourists in guided taxi tours but nobody else finding their own way there.

Jatiluwih rice terraces

We then had to try to figure out how to get back across the side of the volcano without tracking back down to the steaming jungle below. I turned up a little mountain side road and found we were following a group of people on a guided tour so we figured the driver had to know there was a way through. we followed over pothole-riddled tracks and little fords until we eventually came out into some villages, at which point we passed the others and stopped to confirm we could still go this way to the summit.

Trace the northernmost wiggly line from Jatiluwih to the lake 
even if it seems to wander everywhere through fords and gullies.

On we went up and up and then up a ridiculously steep road up the volcano's rim, barely making it in first gear. Eventually we reached Bedugul and found we had made it there on the most extreme mountain back road connection possible. Suddenly we found us entering Bedugul from a side road we didn't know existed.

The view from Puri Alam Bali Bungalows

Bedugul was a terrible nexus for Indonesians escaping the tropical heat. No culture. A big mosque. Thousands of buses, restaurants, paddle boats on the lake and expensive hotels. Christine was pretty shaken around still feeling reeling so we headed on to a place called Munduk where the lonely planet said there were a few cheapish home stays.  The road wound up again in a precipitous string of hairpin bends coming to a T where we turned sharply left on a small road and wound on the razor edge of the rim in a pouring tropical rain storm.  The the road wound down and down ever more steeply emerging through a steep forested valley reminiscent of the descent from the Andes to the Amazon in Peru.

Puri Alam Bali bungalos

Then just as it began to get dark we stopped in the rain and found we were right outside one of the bungalows we were hoping to find, with the hostess standing under an umbrella in the rain trying to entice us inside, so we ended up succumbing when she offered us a room with an absolutely panoramic view of the volcano and the paddies and forest below for IR 200,000. The view form the restaurant is even more sweeping, with views both of the volcano on one side and right out past the coast towards Java on the other. 

The sweeping view from Munduk village to the north

Munduk is a little village perched on a razorback overlooking both the volcano and the whole north coastline. It has been discovered by western travelers for its stunning views and capitalized by enterprising hostelliers, but still has the charm of the fringe which you don't find in Kuta or Ubud. The views are superb and above all it's cool after two days of sweltering heat!


Christine is still feeling she has a very tender stomach so I am being forced to eat both the satay pork and the beautifully cooked side of chicken. Hope my stomach survives two dinners!

Lovina beach front

From Munduk, we traveled to the north coast and west to Lovina a beach town become a fringe tourist stop which was one of the few places where there was budget accommodation, rather than expensive luxury hotels. Immediately we arrived we were besieged by a tout trying to get us into his favoured hotels in the hope of taking us snorkeling. In the end we searched around ourselves until a man stepped out from a gateway down a little alley and offered us his beautiful new two room suite with aircon for IR 200,000. The place didn't even have a name much like in the old days of the 1970s.

Next morning there was some kind of ceremony with two young boys in a golden saffron sedan chair borne along by a festive crowd followed by an oceanic parade of men in formal attire on motor bikes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Recuperating in Ubud

A Balinesse music procession at Ubud

Made it to Satwa homestay at 4 am NZ time after a very long flight in which we swooned off a few times and the hostess threatened to report me to the Indonesian police for sitting in another vacant seat to let Christine lie down, although the ypunger air hostesses did a great job of keeping everyone cheerful.

Very hot when we arrived but our rental car guy was there waving a "Chris King" sign and we managed to get some money and pay him the correct amount in rupiahs. No visa swipe no deposit just US$65 for 5 days!

Then ensued a mad journey in the middle of the night with no map bigger than a postage stamp and mopeds everywhere beeping to try to get to Kuta and then the Losmen, which was up a side alley up a side ally in a fringe between Kuta and Legian, but managed by sixth sense to actually drive straight there with the jeep screaming with a loose fan belt (or something). I even picked the right alleyway to decide to turn off. No one knew where it was but we got right to the corner dairy where it was only meters away.

But then no one was awake so we had to break in and take a room which was like a sauna because the aircon remote wasn't working. After a difficult restless night we woke to find a nice place with a new remote a cooler room with children and babies and a big family and now are about to go and get pancakes.

Made it to Ubud during the day. Resting up overnight after a two hour journey with the most insane traffic jams I have ever seen. Indonesian corruption I'll be bound. The car is working okay though.

This morning feeling a bit queasy we head for the cool of the volcanic mountains and lakes and maybe the UN rice terraces.

Here we are bedraggled in the restaurant having lunch in Ubud.