A visit to Thailand and Indonesia

Bangkok, Hua Hin, Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Borobodur, Bali, Mount Bromo, Surabaya
March-April 1987

26th - 27th March. We stayed at the Ifield Court Hotel near Gatwick, and had a very good meal.   In the morning there was a gale blowing. Our Garuda flight had no trouble taking off at Gatwick but we were three hours late leaving Amsterdam because Paris was closed!  Flew on through the night.


28th.  We arrived in Bangkok and got a limo to the Raja hotel. After an introductory swim and sunbathe we had a beer and watermelon pips at a hostess bar, then crunchy locusts at a street stall.  Then after a look at the Three Bells department store (where Jamie played on a computer most of the time) we had a selection of kebabs, rice, fish batter rolls and beer at a pavement café.

29th. We did the temple tour. Three hours at Wat Pra Kheo, an hour at Wat Po, a walk down to the river to photograph Wat Arun, then to Wat Traimit to see the Golden Buddha.  We met a lady who told us about Buddhism and the story of the Golden Buddha - it was discovered when it was being hoisted up from the basement into a new side chapel which had been prepared for it. The main chapel already contained a big Buddha and the new chapel was quite small because this Buddha was not considered important. While it was being lifted by crane it dropped to the ground, and everyone was worried because to damage a Buddha was a sin. While a monk was cleaning the Buddha he noticed something shining under the plaster; when the plaster was removed it was found to be solid gold. Unfortunately no photographs were taken so there are no before and after pictures. The Buddha was found to be in nine sections to make it more moveable - it is made of 18 carat gold and weighs five tons. The only modern part of it is the flame of knowledge on his head. His eyes were star sapphires set in mother of pearl.

Bangkok Emerald Buddha temple  
Bangkok Wat Pho  
Wat Pra Kheo, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Wat Pho, Bangkok.

When someone goes into a Buddhist temple they buy a lotus flower, a yellow candle and three incense sticks from a stall on the way in. They light the incense sticks and the candle and say three prayers for Buddha's birth, teaching and monks. Then they go into the main chapel and bow three times before Buddha, saying the same three prayers, and leave the lotus flower as an offering to Buddha. Afterwards they rub gold leaf on some of the smaller Buddha images, on his hand if they want money, heart if they want love and head if they have a headache! If there is any gold leaf left they rub it on their own forehead for luck.
Bangkok Emerald Buddha temple  
Lighting incense sticks at Wat Pra Kheo, Bangkok.

Afterwards we went to the Oriental Hotel for a snack, and back to the Raja because we were all suffering from heat exhaustion. Later we went across the road for an Italian meal and felt better.

30th. We went to Jim Thompson's house.  Afterwards we had a sunbathe at the Raja, followed by a Thai lunch and a haircut. We went to the Indra Regent hotel to have a look but decided not to stay there. After a couple of beers we had an arabic dinner at an Egyptian restaurant.

Jim Thompson's house  
Jim Thompson's house  
Jim Thompson's house, an old-style Thai home in Bangkok......

31st. We hired a car from Inter-rent and after an hour trying to find the way out of Bangkok, found the road to Hua Hin. We stopped for lunch at a roadside café and had an excellent fried mixed everything. Arrived at the Royal Garden Resort, Hua Hin, for a spot of luxury living. We swam in the sea and the pool, both of which were beautifully warm. We had a huge Thai meal that we couldn't finish.

1st April. Hua Hin. We walked into town to see the fishing catch being landed. Then back to the hotel for some more exhausting sunbathing punctuated by flops into the pool.

Hua Hin fishing  
Hua Hin fishing  
The fishing harbour at Hua Hin, Thailand......

We drove back towards Bangkok, stopping at Phetburi where it was too late to climb up to the temples on top of the hill, but just in time (with the help of a schoolteacher guide) to go to the Khao Luang shrine in a huge cave in the hills.  Then on to the same roadside café for dinner, and into Samut Songkram where we found a very reasonable hotel, with airconditioned deluxe three-bedded room for £5.50. We would have had a good night's sleep but for the sunburn.

Khao Luang shrine  
Nakorn Pathom chedi  
Inside the Khao Luang shrine. The biggest chedi in south-east Asia, at Nakorn Pathom.

Thurs 2nd. Up early and to the floating market at Damnoen Saduak. We had an hour boat trip round the canals, which were very peaceful away from the main market. Had coconut cream thingies for breakfast from one of the boat-shops, then back to the main market which was now extremely busy.

Damnoen Saduak floating market  
At 'street level' at the floating market at Damnoen Saduak.

Drove back to Bangkok, arriving an hour late but the Inter-rent lady didn't charge any extra. Checked back into the Raja and then went to the food market at the Ambassador for lunch. Back to the Raja and collapsed for the afternoon, then back to the Ambassador for dinner.

3rd. We caught a phut-phut down to the Grand Palace again, this time to see the palace, not the Wat. We saw as much of the palace as was open then, inevitably, looked round the Wat again. We had a long, leisurely look after all the package tourists had gone, and walked all round the walls looking at the Ramayana backwards.

Royal palace Bangkok  
Bangkok Wat Pra Kheo  
Ramakien in Emerald Buddha temple  
Above left:  The Royal Palace, Bangkok.
Above:  In the gardens of Wat Pra Kheo.
Left:  A scene from the Ramayana, painted around the walls of Wat Pra Kheo.

Then we went across the road for a drink and a Chinese soup, and bought some wind-chimes after trying out each one for quality of sound.

We went down to the landing stage on the river and Sheila had mango and sticky rice at one of the stalls, after which we went to the wrong pier and got on the wrong boat - it was just a ferry to the other side. We crossed back again and tried a different pier, and got one of the long-tailed boats for a fast, spray-filled ride along the canal, dropping people off at their front steps as we went. All the way the canal was lined with wooden stilt-houses that apparently only had access to the canal - there was no road at the back, until we arrived at the boat's destination which was a small town, name unknown. We stayed on the boat for the ride back to Bangkok, stopping whenever someone hailed it from their front steps to pick them up to go into town.

We then got a phut-phut to the Central department store, and found that everything had moved (since we were here a few years ago). The restaurant had moved from the basement to the second floor, but the food was still excellent (especially the prawn and baby corns, and the hot and spicy soup was really hot and spicy!) The children's motor cars had been replaced by dodgems, but on the same floor were a huge Lego display and tanks of tropical fish, including a shark. Sheila bought a wok shovel.  Then, much refreshed by an hour in the air-conditioning, we got the bus back to the Raja and rushed to get the laundry before the shop closed. This accomplished, we had a leisurely walk along to the Ambassador food hall, buying cassette tapes and Lacoste jumpers as we went.

Indonesia, Java

4th. We flew to Jakarta. The flight was on time and everything was well-organised on arrival. We booked a hotel and got a minibus through the town centre to it. Had a short walk round in the evening and an excellent meal at the Sabayan Satay House.

5th. We walked across the big square to the main mosque and back via the President's palace. We booked the overnight train to Jogjakarta and a car from the hotel to the station with the bell captain. In the afternoon we went by bus down to the harbour and had an hour's paddle-boat round the big ships, then lunch at the Café Venezia.

Jakarta main mosque  
Jakarta harbour  
Inside the main mosque in Jakarta. Cleaning one of the ships in the harbour at Jakarta.

From the hotel, where our car to the station didn't arrive, we went to the station, to find that our first-class airconditioned sleeper was actually a second-class non-airconditioned seat. We were cross at first, but decided to stick it out and it was a very interesting journey. Sheila slept on the floor (we bought a mat for the purpose and they handed out cushions), Jamie slept on the seat and I talked to a chap called Jati who worked for VSO teaching English to Vietnamese refugees.

6th. Yogyakarta.  We arrived in Jogja and went to the Rose Guest House, that Jati had recommended. Even at 7am the pool was beautifully warm and the setting was lovely with the rooms and restaurant clustered around the central garden and pool. We set off in a convoy of Becaks (bicycle-taxis, two of them) and saw the Sultan's palace, the Water Palace and the bird market.

Sultan's palace Yogya  
Taman Sari water palace  
A gamelan orchestra inside the Sultan's Palace in Jogjakarta. A gateway in the Water Palace, Jogja.

Then back to the Rose Guest House to collapse in the pool and have a cautious sunbathe - the last one's still peeling off. Sheila did yet another mammoth over-ordering for lunch and, even though it was good, we left half of it. After a lazy afternoon we set off for another Becak ride round the town amid huge convoys of bikes, cars with no doors and trucks, all supporting political party number '3'. Had an evening meal at the Garden restaurant and watched the puppet show, which went on rather a long time and was rather difficult to follow.

7th. We were up early and went by car to Borobodur, which was very impressive indeed.

Above and left:  The very impressive and atmospheric Borobodur temple.

We also stopped at Pawon and Mendut, then back for a much-needed bowl of soup and out again to Prambanan. A full day!  We had dinner at what the locals said was the most famous satay house in Yogya. It was tasty, but chewy!  Jamie rode there and back on the man who recommended it's motorcycle, we took the more sedate Becac.

Indonesia, Bali

8th. Up very early to fly by Merpati Airlines to Bali. After a false start at the Sunset bungalows, we found the Sari Beach Inn, a perfect guest house - picturesque, cheap, with a swimming-pool and air-conditioned room, right on the beach.

Bali Sari Beach Inn  
The lovely Sari Beach Inn on the beach in Kuta, Bali.

After swimming and cautious sunbathing we walked along the beach, then inland and caught a Bemo into Kuta. It's Blackpool for Aussie dropouts! Had a very nice meal of steak and pizza, as a break from Thai/Indonesian food, then walked back, investigating the huge tape shops along the way. Stopped for a waffle and ice cream to break the journey.

9th. Had a much-needed lie-in then walked down the beach again to the Sari hotel and used their sun-beds while they arranged for jeep hire. Had a massage, which was very relaxing except for the finger and toe-cracking! After sorting out money-changing, jeep formalities and eating, we went to explore Sanur and Denpassar. Sanur is very tasteful but is just one big resort. Denpassar is busy, with complicated one-way systems. We stopped for a drink at the old-style Bali Hotel, but it wasn't really very old-style. Back in Kuta we had a turtle steak while our films were being processed at the photo-shop opposite.

10th. We got up early(ish) and drove up into the hills. We went through the stone-carvers' village and the gold and silver-smiths' village and stopped at the wood-carvers' village. They produced incredibly detailed and intricate work, but a bit too big to ship home.

Bali masks  
Trying out the traditional masks at the wood-carver's village!

Then we went on to Ubud and stopped for lunch at Café Ubud, then drove around looking at places to stay - there were some lovely places with superb views. We had a drink and a swim at the Tjampuhan, one of the only two swimming-pools in Ubud, but didn't stay there as the rooms were rather small. Instead we went and stayed at the Kampung Aman with cool airy rooms with soap, towels, shampoo and boiled spring water and lovely views over fields and forests, all for £5 a night!

We had tea at the Lotus Café, then went to see the Kechak (monkey) dance and fire dance at Bona. The dancing was fascinating, but ruined by the constant flashes from the tourists' cameras. On the way back we passed the Legong dance in progress at Mas, and stopped to watch the second half from a superb position at the front. Finished off with a cheesecake at the Lotus Café.

Sat 11th.   Had a lovely leisurely breakfast on our veranda overlooking the fields, with various countryside and farmyard noises from off-stage.

Bali working in the fields  
Rural life goes on near Ubud in Bali.

We set off to drive to the north of the island. We stopped at the Elephant Cave which was very old but not very big; at the Holy Spring of Tirta Empul in Tampaksiring, and at the Gunung Kawi burial towers, which were not as impressive as the book suggested. We stopped at Penelokan for lunch overlooking the lake in the volcano's crater, which was every bit as impressive as the book says, but the buy-buy-buy hassle is really bad here.

Lake Batur Bali  
Batur temple Bali  
Lunch overlooking Lake Batur. The colourful Batur Temple, Bali.

We stopped at Batur temple which was colourfully decorated, probably for a festival, and at Singaraja to see the sunset over the harbour, then went along the coast to the west looking for somewhere to stay. After a lot of messing about we ended up at the Mandham Losmen (not bad for £2) and had an excellent meal at the seafood restaurant up the road.

Bali Singaraja harbour  
  Benoa port sunset
Evening at Singaraja harbour. Sunset at Benoa port.

12th. On a recommendation from the man at the Losmen, we drove a bit further up the road to the hot spring near Banjar. It was lovely, 39 degrees in the upper pool and 36 degrees in the lower one, so we all had a hot bath. On the way back through the mountains we stopped at the Gitgit waterfall, then pressed on back to Legian to return the jeep, less than an hour late. We checked back into the Sari Beach Inn for a lazy afternoon and evening.

13th. A totally lazy day sunbathing and eating.

14th. Up early (hired the jeep again) and drove to Tannah Lot before any other tourists, in fact even before the souvenir stalls had opened. We walked along the clifftop a little way for impressive views.

Tannah Lot temple Bali  
Taman Ayun temple Bali  
Tannah Lot temple from the clifftop. Taman Ayun temple at Mengwi, Bali.

We drove to the Taman Ayun water temple in Mengwi, which was very pleasant but the tourists had arrived by then. Then all the way down to Uluwatu temple perched impressively on top of a cliff. On the way back we diverted to the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel for an excellent lunch/tea in truly impressive surroundings. In the evening we went to Sanur, which seems dead after Kuta, and had a look at the Hyatt and La Taverna, but La Taverna seemed dead after the Hyatt. Not finding anywhere to eat in Sanur we came back and had an excellent pizza and Australian red wine in Kuta.

15th. Another lazy day around the hotel.

16th. Sheila leapt up in a get-up-and-go mood, so we hired the jeep yet again and went. With the aid of a better map we found the Sada temple in Kapal, which was lovely and restful because of the grass in place of the usual dusty yards.

Sada temple Bali  
Sada temple Bali  
Sada Temple in Kapal, Bali.......

Drove on up the mountain and stopped at the 'half way' (Green Valley) restaurant for breakfast. We reached Lake Bratan and stopped first at the vegetable market and then at the Ulu Danu temple on the lake.

Candi Kuning market Bali  
Ulu Danu temple Bali  
A vegetable stall in Candi Kuning market in Bali. The lovely Ulu Danu Temple on Lake Bratan.
Then, round the corner at Bedugul, we went parasailing on Lake Bratan...... .... it was great fun!
Parasailing in Bali  
Parasailing in Bali  

We drove back in time for Sheila's sunbathe, then down to the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel for dinner.

17th. Another lazy day sunbathing, etc.

Indonesia, Java again.

Sat 18th. Up very early for a full day of travel - a taxi to the bus station, express bus to the ferry, a ferry from Bali to Java, a bus again to Probolingo, then a local minibus up to Ngadisari, the village before Mount Bromo. The minibus was licenced for 9 passengers, but at the peak of the journey it had 25 passengers, two chickens and assorted vegetables inside, plus a couple of dozen baskets and 25 kilos of rice strapped to the roof. And all this up some extremely steep gradients! From Ngadisari the last leg of the journey up to the guest house on the crater rim was by horse, which would have been fun except I had a large overnight bag balanced on my knee and the heavy camera case over my shoulder, and didn't feel at all stable. At the top there was just time to look across the huge crater to the smoking cone of the volcano before darkness fell and we settled down for a lengthy wait for the dinner we'd ordered. Most of it did arrive eventually, but not in the sequence we expected - main course before soup, for example.

19th. Up even earlier, at 4am, to walk through the thick morning mist in the crater to the volcano's cone. At first there was silence and darkness, then the sounds of other people walking or riding through the mist, until by the time we were climbing up the cone we were part of a large convoy. We climbed up out of the mist and onto the crater rim, where there was almost a party going on - being a holiday, Indonesians had come from far and wide to see sunrise over Bromo, and the rim was extremely crowded. We sat there trying to get our breath back after the climb, taking in lung-fulls of sulphurous smoke from inside the volcano, and while it was still dark we could faintly see the red glow at the bottom. The sun rose over the mist-shrouded valley, the desolate volcanic peaks and the crowds of holiday-makers, and then we made our way back, this time on horseback.

Mount Bromo sunrise  
Sunrise at Mount Bromo.

After a relatively quick breakfast at the hotel we returned to Ngadisari on horseback and bought a ticket on a supposed express bus all the way to Surabaya. In fact the journey down to Probolingo was on another '9-passenger' minibus (which only reached a peak of 18 this time) then the express bus from there. The times all fitted quite well and we arrived in Surabaya at about 12:30. Spurning taxis, we followed the other overlanders to the Bemo station and crammed ourselves and our luggage in the back for the ride to the railway station. Here we found things well organised and were able to book our sleepers on the train to Jakarta with only one problem - I had to change a traveller's cheque to pay for the tickets and as it was Sunday all the banks and money-changers were closed. We finally reached an agreement with a taxi-driver at the station, that he would take us for a two-hour sightseeing trip, stopping at possible money-changers and hotels on the way. The only open money-changer in the city couldn't help because they only took traveller's cheques in dollars (ours were in pounds) and when the cashier at the Hyatt Hotel said they only cashed cheques for residents, a major problem seemed to be developing. However, after a little persuasion the Hyatt did very kindly cash the cheque, and we settled down to enjoy the rest of our sightseeing trip. I suppose it was worthwhile from the point of view that we now know there is nothing to see in Surabaya. The train duly left on time and around 5pm we went to have 'lunch' in the restaurant car, intending to come back later for dinner. However, we were all so overcome by tiredness that we put the beds up and were all asleep before 8pm.

20th. We got up at a leisurely pace (the train was also going at a leisurely pace and was obviously going to be late in Jakarta) and had fried eggs for breakfast in the restaurant car. The sleeping compartment was ideal as it had room for three people, in three tiers for sleeping or on one 'bench' seat with the other two beds folded away. Blankets were provided free but we had to rent the pillows for 350 Rupiah (14 pence) each. We finally arrived at Gambir station and tried to find a taxi with a meter to take us to the hotel about half a mile away. Having loaded all the luggage and got into a taxi whose driver promised faithfully that he had a meter, he turned round and said - 5,000 Rupiah! The taxi had no meter at all! We piled out and immediately went to the next taxi, who proudly showed us his working meter, but the first driver rapidly dropped to 2,000, so rather than unload the luggage we agreed. The next surprise was when all the nearby taxi drivers had to push his taxi, full of us and all our belongings, to start it! We eventually arrived at the Sabang hotel and had a leisurely lunch at the Satay House, a sunbathe and dinner at La Venezia.

Tues 21st. Jakarta again.  I got up early and had a marathon walk round the port, the old Dutch part of town and Chinatown, while Sheila and Jamie had a lie in. Then off to the airport to fly home.

Jakarta town hall  
The Dutch-style town hall in Jakarta.

If you would like to read about our other travels, please click here ........ globe