Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Weekends in China - Shenzhen & Guangzhou

Welcome to a pre-Christmas, bonus entry of the blog! Since our summer travels, we've been working hard - inspiring a generation of young Hong Kongers - but we have treated ourselves to a couple of weekends away up in the mainland. Firstly, Shenzhen, and then Guangzhou, two cities in the south of China, and strangely enough, after almost a year in HK, our first journeys across the border. So I guess technically... new country!

Our first venture up north was to Shenzhen in late October, a city just over the HK border, so less than an hour and a half from our front door. Although, it ended up taking us quite a bit longer...

You see, even though we're Hong Kong residents, you still need a visa to travel to the mainland, a visa that I had (because I'm so good and organised) but Aisling didn't. We had read online that there was a chance you could get a special temporary visa at the border if you're only going to Shenzhen, so we said we'd risk it. Alas, at the Lok Ma Chau border crossing, we were embarrassingly turned away at the immigration desk and had to do a walk of shame back into HK. Our weekend away had ended before it had even begun! We were told though, by a very helpful worker, that we might be able to get one at the other crossing point, about ten minutes down the road in Lo Wu. And he was right! Our Chinese weekend was back on track!

We only had like a day and a half here, so we just looked up a couple of things to visit - Window of the World and Splendid China - two miniature theme parks. The former with wonders from around the world - mini Leaning Tower, mini Statue of Liberty etc. and the latter with all of China's landmarks - mini Great Wall, mini Terracotta Warriors and all that kind of thing. They both just happened to be down the road from each other too, and we found a lovely and cheap hotel nearby, so we really had to do very little travelling all weekend. In the end, we may have only seen a small part of Shenzhen, but we saw so much of the world!

So, the first day after we arrived and got settled, we headed straight to Window of the World. And I've got to say, we loved the place! Yes, it was tacky and some of the miniatures were pretty poor, but we had a brilliant time! It's a great idea I think, as most people won't get a chance to see these places in the flesh. If it was done a bit better and given a bit more space, it could be excellent. We still had a laugh though (and got some amount of photos for the Frankie album too!).

The next day we went to Splendid China. As I said, it was pretty much the same thing again, just with Chinese landmarks. We didn't even recognise most of them, but it was still fun! And probably better laid out than Window of the World. It gave us a few places to note too when we do eventually make it up to see the rest of China. And spending the weekend walking around these miniature theme parks, not only made us feel like giants...

But also made Frankie look life sized!

In Splendid China, there was also a cultural village where you could see different Chinese practices and ways of life. It was mildly interesting, but we did go to see an ancient battle reenactment on horseback, which was pretty entertaining. Most of the entertainment came from what went wrong rather than what went right, but it was still good fun.

And here's a brief video diary from our time in Shenzhen -

Our next Chinese outing was in November, a tiny bit further afield this time, with a two hour train ride to Guangzhou. We had a more chilled-out weekend this time, just strolling around the city and visiting some nice parks and temples. Our first stop was the Canton Tower - the second tallest tower in the world. Guangzhou is a really beautiful city, so it was nice to look over it from 1,500 feet up.

We arrived there in the late afternoon, so just in time to check out the views by daylight, and after that enjoyed a nice stroll along the riverside, to see everything all lit up at night.

The next morning, we headed to Shamian Island, which was probably the highlight of the trip for me. It was nothing like we had seen before on this side of the world. It was just so... European! No surprise then that the island was a 19th century trading hub for European merchants in China. Even though the surroundings were so familiar to us, it felt so out of place! Nice, quiet cobbled streets, pillars, statues, churches - we really could have been anywhere from Madrid to Moscow!

Well, except for all the Asians...

Actually, speaking of which, there weren't just regular Asians roaming the streets of Shamian Island that day, but endless waves of Asian brides and grooms! I don't know where they all came from! Did they all just happen to get married at the same time? Did they just come here to get their pictures taken? Who knows! I'm not complaining though, it all added to the classic atmosphere of the place.

After lunch, we spent the rest of the evening strolling around the city, visiting the Sun Yat Sen Memorial, Guangxiao Temple and Liurong Temple (aka The Temple of Six Banyan Trees). They were all stunningly beautiful and really well maintained and preserved, but my favourite was probably Liurong Temple. It was kinda hard to find, but definitely worth the effort. I just love the look of the old style Chinese tiered pagodas.

Guangxiao Temple had a great ambiance to it as well, and there were even monks chanting away inside as we walked along. Here's a video if you're interested:

We forgot to make a proper video diary for our stay in Guangzhou, and we did intend to. We even have an introductory video from the train station before we left HK!

So that's all there is. We're completely up to date now, and just in time as we fly out to the Philippines tomorrow night! Thanks for reading everyone and we'll see you all in the new year! :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Summer 2011 - 7th Stop: Miri

And so, we face the final curtain. Our summer adventure has come to an end, but we'll always look back on this trip with many fond memories. We've walked along volcanic craters and lush rice terraces, seen ancient temples and endangered animals, stood high above tropical rainforests and swam down below turquoise seas, and gone from bright, white beaches to deep, dark caves. Four weeks, three countries, two happy campers and one amazing holiday!

We had a pretty action-packed month away, so we would be forgiven for taking it easy in our final city, but Miri was actually one of our more adventurous destinations. We had three full days here before we flew back to HK, giving us plenty of time to see the city and its surroundings.

Actually, one thing about Malaysia, before I start, they have flags everywhere! No matter where you go in the country, you'll see hundreds of them - along the roadside, hanging from shops, houses, cars, in the cities, in the countryside, just all over the place! And not just national flags, provincial ones too. Malaysian Borneo is split between the provinces of Sabah and Sarawak. If you ever find yourself here and are not sure which side you're on, just look around, you'll be sure to see a flag.

Our first day here was just a nice, relaxing one really, so nothing much of note to report. We arrived in from Mulu on the morning of the 28th, and spent the rest of the afternoon/evening wandering around the city, having a laugh, and doing a bit of shopping too! We also looked up some info for our trip the next day to Lambir Hills National Park.

We arrived there early the next morning, in fact, we were the first ones there! We even had to open the gate! We thought it might be quite busy as it was high-season, so we made a special effort to beat the crowds, but the crowds never came! (They probably heard about the imminent beating they were going to get...) So, we had the whole forest to ourselves! It was lovely!

After about half an hour of walking, we came upon a beautiful waterfall, backed by a leafy, forest canopy. It was like we had stumbled across some undiscovered, jungle oasis.

Well, apart from the warning signs...

After a nice, refreshing dip, we continued on our way, up to the peak of Bukit Pantu.

Compared to some of the other national parks we've been to here in Borneo, Lambir Hills didn't match up in terms of wildlife, no orangutans or bats or lizards to speak of. One thing it did have though was ants. Millions upon millions of them! In a good way though! They weren't crawling all over us or anything, they were just going along on their merry way (or rather, their Miri way... hohoho!). I'm always fascinated by ants. They're always so organised! (How do they all know what to do?!) So, it was incredible to see so many here. Have a look!

Not only were there millions (possibly even billions) of these tiny ants, but there were also a few giant ones scurrying about the place. Thankfully, we never saw more than two or three of them at a time.

I'm pretty sure if these guys had an army of the same scale, they could easily take over the world...

Eventually, we made it up to the peak of Bukit Pintu, and lazed about up there for a while, taking in the foresty views all around. As you can see, it was a pretty hot day, so after our dip in the waterfall we just wandered about in our swimming togs. Sure why not?! The place wasn't exactly swarming with people. And even if it was, they'd be lucky to see a couple of hot bods like these!

After scaling the peaks, and making it back down to ground level, we headed back to the bus stop. We waited there for a good twenty or thirty minutes, with no sign of anything, but then two guys in a car pulled up offering us a lift to Miri. I guess looking back on it now, it seems a bit dodgy... but we said 'sure! why not?!', and jumped in. (In our defence though, our hostel owner had told us that drivers travelling to Miri often pick up passengers to make a bit of extra money in tips. In fact, the guy in the passenger seat turned out to be just some stranger too.)

The one thing spurring us on that morning, as we climbed up and down Lambir Hills, was the thought of Pizza Hut for dinner! There was one right by our hostel, and we had been talking about going there all day. We asked our mystery taxi driver to drop us off nearby, but when we got to the door, we were told the electricity was gone! What are the odds?! The mixture of hunger and disappointment was excruciating... We did end up going there the next evening though, after another day trip. This time to the Niah Caves.

Niah Caves are one of the most famous tourist destinations here in Miri, but considering that we had just seen a lifetime's worth of caves in Mulu a few days beforehand, we weren't really too sure. In the end, we decided to go anyway, and we're glad we did. We had a lovely day out. We arranged through our hostel for a driver to take us there, and he couldn't have been nicer. He even made us a packed lunch!

There was another nice jungle walk leading up, and the caves themselves were definitely worth seeing. It was a very different experience to that of Mulu, where we were guided around the artificially lit caves in big groups. Here, it was just you alone in the deep, deep darkness, armed with nothing more than a flashlight.

I'm sorry, but isn't that a great photo?! I don't want to sound immodest, bigging up my own work, but isn't it though?!

We journeyed our way through the long and winding cave passages, our torch not even strong enough to see the roof above us. It was exciting though! As you moved into the heart of the caves, without the torchlight there was nothing. Absolute darkness. All in all, the caves were very impressive. Less impressive though were the "cave paintings" we saw at the end of the trail. I use quotation marks as they were little more than smudges on the wall. You wouldn't even notice them if it wasn't for the signs. We were expecting little sketches of men with spears, chasing a yak or something, but this was just rubbish! Still, it didn't take away from the day.

And here's our final video diary to wrap things up!

The next day we flew back to HK, which is where we are now! So, that's that, the end of our summer holidays, written and posted a week before we head away for Christmas in the Philippines! You can probably look forward to reading about that next Easter!

Until then...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Summer 2011 - 6th Stop: Kuching & Mulu

Kuching!!! It's fun to say, isn't it?! And so, onto the next destination in our Borneo travels. Regrettably, we only had a day and a half to spend here, but it was certainly worth the trip out west.

Having previously been to peninsular Malaysia last year (KL and Penang), this was our first time jetting around the other half of the country. We did really enjoy our time on the mainland, and admittedly we've only seen a very small piece of it, but Malaysian Borneo definitely gets our vote for the country's shining light. Sepilok gave us a beautiful introduction to the island's flora and fauna, but Kuching and Mulu really took it to the next level!

We arrived in Kuching late on August 24th, fit for bed and eager to rest up for our trek the next day through Bako National Park. Bako is unique in that it is home to seven different types of ecosystem, from dense rainforests to tropical beaches. From swampy marshlands to... four other types... I dunno, I'm not an ecologist!

After a bus journey to Bako Market, and then a rip-roaring speedboat ride down the estuary, we landed at the park headquarters. There, we found out that you could spend the night, which probably would've suited us better. Ah well, you live and learn! As things stood, we only really had about four and a half hours to wander around, which actually isn't much when you look at the size of the place (that's only like 40 minutes per ecosystem!). We still got to see quite a lot, although we could've easily spent another couple of days here.

There were various trails and climbs through the jungle for you to explore, some which even seemed to be carved out by nature itself - with bedrock and tree roots inter-twining to form natural ladders and walkways through the forest.

Then, as you journey out to the coast, you've got a number of secluded, sandy beaches, backed by the jungle. It was like something straight out of Lost.

The natural environment was obviously stunning, but the real highlights for us was the animal life on show, in particular, the proboscis monkeys! These guys are unbelievable! They don't even look real! Just check out that nose!

Have a look at one of them in action here:

Native to Borneo, they are, unfortunately, highly endangered, with only around 3,000 left on the island, and therefore, the world. Roughly 150 of those are in Bako National Park, so imagine our delight to see, not only one, but two on our brief visit! They're so strange to see in the flesh. They even make a funny honking noise which unfortunately you can't hear in the video...

Everyone was gathered round trying to get a good look at them. I kinda felt sorry for the common-as-muck macaques, desperately looking for attention, but alas, nobody was interested...

We returned to Kuching that evening for our first and last real night in the city. And it's a shame really, cause it's actually quite a nice place! And quite clean too, in terms of SE Asian standards anyway... We took a lovely stroll along the waterfront after dinner, which was all nicely lit up. It was just a generally nice place!

Loads of statues of cats too! That must be a 'thing' they have here...

The next morning we were up and off again. This time up to Gunung Mulu, another national park. And if we could've done with an extra day or two in Bako, then we definitely could've done with an extra week here! In the end, we only had two days, but we certainly made the most of our time. As soon as we dropped our bags, we were off on a trek up to, first of all Langs Cave, and then, Deer Cave - the world's largest cave passage.

Langs Cave (as seen above), was just your average cave really, stalagmites, stalactites, all that kind of lark, but Deer Cave was where things really got interesting! As I said previously, it's the biggest cave passage in the world, and not only that, it's also home to around 3 million bats, dangling from the roof above. You might want to bring an umbrella...

We walked along the passageway, through the heart of the cave, listening to the army of bats screeching overhead. It was an amazing thing to experience; the sights, the sounds, not so much the smells... well, what do you expect! We were just glad to escape without being on the receiving end of a guano shower!

The place even had a famous face at the entrance to greet you, from a certain angle anyway.

The cave interior and its inhabitants were definitely something to behold, but the best part was still to come. What's more impressive than 3 million bats inside a cave...? That's right, 3 million bats flying out of a cave!

Every evening before sunset, Deer Cave's entire bat population takes flight in a constant, hour-long stream in search of delicious insects, 30 tonnes of the stuff! Which means, not only an incredible ribbon of bats across the sky, but also a delightfully, mosquito-free environment for everyone else!

For a closer view of the bat exodus, take a look at our video diary! (It's at the end, keep reading!)

The next morning, we were up early and off again, ready for another productive day - first travelling downstream to Clearwater Cave and Cave of the Winds, which, although probably not as impressive as the previous day's caving, were still worth the trip.

And then, an afternoon stroll across rickety walkways, stretching high above the forest floor. There were a few shaky moments, and I'm sure these swaying rope-bridges have seen better days, but it was all part of the experience. We even got to see some squirrels, dragonflies, millipedes and one craftily camouflaged tree snake.

There were some amount of millipedes (possibly centipedes... I don't know!) around the place actually. And some of them were enormous! They were pretty disgusting, but in a strange way, you couldn't help looking at them...

As our final evening drew to a close, we remembered that we never made a video diary! And we were back from all of our excursions, so no more interesting backdrops. There was only one solution... to the bat cave!!! I know we had already been there the day before, but it was only a half an hour walk away (the things we do for our fans), and it was certainly worth seeing again. So, here it is!

The next morning, we were gone again. As I said before, we could've easily spent another week here in Mulu. After all, we didn't even get see its most famous attraction, The Pinnacles, which require a three day trek themselves. They look amazing though, like a giant stone forest, so definitely one for the future.

For now, it was off to our final destination, Miri.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Summer 2011 - 5th Stop: Brunei & Sepilok

Borneo, Borneo! Wherefore art thou Borneo?! After waving goodbye to Indonesia, we set sail (metaphorically) for our new island home for the next two weeks. Housing three different countries, naturally the place is utterly diverse, from the lush Malaysian rainforests, to Brunei's extravagant mosques and Indonesia's... ok, we actually didn't get to see the Indonesian part... but I'm sure it's lovely too!

We landed in Kota Kinabalu late on the night of the 18th, two days after leaving our last stop off point of Gili Air. And our travels weren't over yet! We were literally just bedding down to be up again the next morning for the 8am ferry to Brunei, via the port of Labuan. In terms of the countries of Borneo, Brunei is certainly the runt of the litter (albeit an oil-rich, lavishly wealthy, strict Muslim runt!). It's a place I never in my life thought I'd be, but one I'm glad I did get the chance to visit, even if just for a couple of days.

Those couple of days were spent in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, (or BSB as all the cool kids call it), a mini Singapore in a way; clean, pleasant and with little splashes of grandeur here and there. And like Singapore, they're equally strict on things like litter, drugs and that's even before you take into account their strong Muslim beliefs, so that means no drinking! (This is my kind of country!)

They're also equally keen to whip out the cane to enforce these laws...

On our first night in town, we went to see the Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, the biggest mosque in Brunei. In fact, we were actually walking somewhere else at the time, but when we caught a glimpse of its golden spires, it just drew us in, there was no escape! The interior of the building is described  as "jaw-dropping" by the Lonely Planet, but unfortunately, seeing as it was Ramadan, we weren't allowed inside... disaster! We were half tempted to throw on a couple of burqas and sneak in, nobody would know the difference! Alas, we  just had to enjoy the view from the outside, which in fairness was incredible too.

At that stage it was quite late, so we just got something to eat and hit the hay. Things are quite expensive here, well compared to Malaysia, Indonesia etc. anyway, so it was probably just as well that we were only here for a couple of days. One thing that's ridiculously cheap here though is petrol. In terms of Euro, it's only like 18c per litre! Not surprising I guess seeing as they're an oil producing nation. It's seems though that all Islamic countries are oil producing ones. Is there a reason for this...? I don't know...

The next day, our only full one in Brunei, we went to Jerudong Playground. Built by the Sultan as a present to the Brunei people, it is the biggest theme park in South East Asia... or at least it was... due to poor attendance, most of the rides are permanently closed, leaving the park in a semi-abandoned state. Being honest though, that's the only reason we went to see it! You can see theme parks anywhere in the world, but it's rare to find an abandoned one! Or at least semi-abandoned...

It still had opening times though! We got a bus there from BSB at around 12pm, only to see a sign saying that it didn't open til 2! Ugh... This place was really in the middle of nowhere, so all we could do was walk around for two hours, waiting for it to open. As I said, this was our only full day in Brunei, so it's a shame that we had to waste two hours of it just counting down the clock. Eventually, 2 o'clock rolled around so we went inside to the ticket office... only to find out that it didn't open til 5! All we could do was laugh really...

Well, no. All we could do was laugh... and then sneak in! The gates weren't locked, there was no staff, no security and we were in the middle of nowhere! Sure, why not?!

What else could we do! We tried to buy tickets, but nobody would take our money...

We tried to ask for help but nobody would listen to us...

We actually had great fun there, even though we didn't actually go on any of the rides... Eventually, a security guard showed up and spotted us, so we just played the dumb tourist card - "Oh, we thought it was open, oops! We wondered why there was no one around, etc.", and made a swift getaway.

The rest of the evening, we spent at the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque in the centre of BSB. Again, we weren't allowed in, but it was still beautiful from the outside.

It's surrounded too by this artificial lake, with a pier leading down to a long, intricately decorated boat. I don't know why it's there, the lake is tiny and completely enclosed, so it can't go anywhere... I don't even think it's a real boat...!

The mosque was undoubtedly an amazing sight, but if you only turn around 180 degrees, you could well be a million miles away, with a sea of stilted shanty towns all along the riverside. They seem quite out of place in a city like this, but especially when placed directly opposite this lavish, golden temple - the juxtaposition of two entirely different worlds.

(Actually, while I was taking this photo from a nearby bridge, a massive lizard ran right past me! And when I say massive, I'm talking a good four feet long! It was ridiculous! And ridiculously fast too! I tried to get a picture but it was too quick for me, running across the bridge before diving into some bushes)

We went to the cinema too that night to see Hanna, and were the only two people in the theatre! It really was a day of isolation for us...

The next morning we were off again, back to Malaysia leaving Brunei behind. Well, technically we left Brunei behind, then came back in, then left again etc. etc. ad nauseum. You see, to get from BSB to Kota Kinabalu by bus, you have to cross the Brunei - Malaysia border a good 5 or 6 times, and that means getting off the bus to get your passport stamped at each crossing. Still, my passport is filling up nicely! I only got it last October and it's already over half full!

We landed in Kota Kinabalu that evening, again just to get food, bed down, and then out the gap once more, this time up north to the monkey-filled rainforests of Sepilok!

Sepilok's main attraction, as you can see above, is its Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, set right in the heart of Northern Borneo's vast jungles. Outside contact from humans is obviously kept to a minimum here, but there are two daily feedings where you can see the orang utans in their natural habitat. And that's not all! During the feedings, some sneeky macaques wander in from the forest to pinch some food for themselves. It's hilarious really, like a pre-rehearsed routine. The orang utans don't really seem too fussed by their naughty neighbours though.

I know it's a bit of a stereotype in the animal kingdom (if there even is such a thing), but monkeys really are bundles of fun! I could watch them for hours!

Ok, I just stole that picture from the internet, but look at him! He's riding a bike!!

In between the morning and afternoon feedings at the Orang Utan Sanctuary, we wandered up the road to the  Rainforest Discovery Centre, a beautiful national park with tropical plants, jungle trails and treetop canopy walks.

We even took another video diary there, look!

And that's about it! We returned for the afternoon orang utan feeding, and then back to our jungle cabin for the evening. We had a really lovely day, and lying in bed that night, listening to a tropical rainstorm alongside the sounds of the jungle, really was a perfect way to end our brief stay in Sepilok.

The next morning we were up and on our way back to Kota Kinabalu, ready to fly out to our next destination, Kuching!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Summer 2011 - 4th Stop: Senggigi & Gili Air

**Spoiler alert** This entry is not going to be that interesting! We spent two days in Senggigi, four days in Gili Air and then the next two travelling to Borneo, so the majority of our time this week was either spent on a beach, or in an airport. On the plus side, if you like beaches and airports, you're in for a real treat!

We landed in Lombok on the evening of the 11th, ready for our lazy, lazy beach week, and it really did the trick! Most of our opening 10 days had consisted of early starts and busy schedules, and the final two weeks would be something similar, so it was nice to just have a few stress-free, sleepy days under the tropical sun.

Our first port of call was Senggigi, a seaside town on Lombok's west coast, which most people just seem to use as a gateway to the Gili Islands, but it's a nice enough place in itself, so worth the stopover. We arrived in town just after sunset, but it was still bright and beautiful enough to take a stroll across the beach, taking in the views from a small cliff-side shrine.

On the way, we were even asked by a local if we were on our school holidays!! (Although, I guess technically we are...)

The next day we went to Senggigi beach, and found a nice quiet spot along the stretch of white sand. And that's all I can say really! We just had a nice peaceful day, reading our books, soaking up the sun and watching some local fisherman at work.

There was even a girl next to us practicing the flute, it was like we had never left HK! Ok, I should probably explain that - the woman in the apartment next to us in Hong Kong got a flute (clarinet, maybe...?) for Christmas and she plays it every day, without fail, for at least 10 hours. She's after improving a lot, but considering how long she spends at it, you'd expect her to be incredible by now...

We walked back along the beach at sunset (an extremely orange sunset may I add), a lovely way to end our very brief stay here.

The next morning we were off to the Gili Islands, Gili Air to be exact, (which probably sounds more like an airline...) for our 4 day desert island experience! It's the closest of the three islands to Lombok, and only a 15 minute boat ride from Bangsal harbour (dump!), but the island itself is a world apart.

When we arrived, we were taken by horse and cart (horse and cart, I know!) to our accomodation, Juliantos, a lovely place on the waterfront, but a bit pricier than what we're used to. We had no choice really as most other places were fully booked. (In fact, we were originally planning to go to Gili Meno, but we couldn't find anywhere to stay there either!).

Hmmm... I'm trying in vain to think of anything of note we actually did here... we lounged out on deck chairs under the sun, we ate in beach-side huts under the moon, there's not much more I can say really. It was great though! I'm just sorry I can't be more descriptive...

Actually, we did go snorkeling on two of the days! As I mentioned, our accommodation was right at the water's edge, so just a hop, skip and a jump and you were in the sea! There was some nice coral and fish to look at too, considering how close we were to land. No turtles or anything exciting like that though...

The only bad thing I can think of about the place is that there's no fresh water on the island, so the sinks, showers etc, are just purified salt water, ironic really seeing as Gili Air actually means "Island of Water"- "Gili" meaning "island", and "Air" strangely meaning "water"... (Captain Planet must be a nightmare to watch over here...!)

(Actually, while looking up that picture, I just discovered that they're planning a Captain Planet live-action movie! Go Planet!!)

And that's about it for our stay in the Gilis! If you want to hear us talking about it, watch this!

We grabbed a boat back to Bangsal (again, dump!) on the morning of the 17th, and somehow found our minibus to Mataram airport. (Seriously though, Bangsal is the most disorganised place I've ever been. I'm surprised we're not still stuck there now!). We arrived at the airport a good 7 hours before our flight, but we had no choice really due to the boat times. So, we had half a day to kill in Mataram! We had a surprisingly fun time here though!

We dumped our bags at the airport (they didn't have any storage lockers, so we just asked could we leave them at one of the tourist desks) and headed to Mataram mall for the afternoon. First up, was finding something to eat. The thing was though, because it was Ramadan and everyone was fasting from 6am to 6pm, everywhere was closed! Well, almost everywhere... we were saved by good ol' Maccy D's! But as I said, because all the locals were fasting, we had the place to ourselves! I've never been in a McDonalds that was so eerily quiet...

(Actually, funnily enough Indonesia is the biggest Muslim country in the world, with 86% of its 230 million people. Who'da thunk it?!)

After lunch, we found a small cinema (and I mean really, really small. 40 seats small!) to watch Kung Fu Panda 2, albeit a very badly pirated version. Also, as you can see from the picture, the projector was right in front of the entrance, so when somebody walked in, it didn't just make a small silhouette, they blocked out the whole screen!

Despite all of this though, we had a great time! I love going to the cinema in different countries, especially in tiny places like this, it's always such a funny experience! From standing up for the Royal Anthem in Thailand, to... well, this:

So, before the film, here in Mataram on the island of Lombok in Indonesia, they run clips of flowing streams, waterfalls, flowers in bloom etc., with Ireland's own Enya playing in the background. It made me strangely proud...

Once out of the cinema, we had to head back to the airport, collect our bags from the travel desk, make sure nothing was taken out (or more importantly, smuggled in!) and then hop on our flight to Denpasar. First on board, may I add! (We didn't try to be the first ones on the plane, but seeing as we were, we then tried extra hard to do it for every other flight we had!).

It would be another day of travelling before we actually reached Borneo, with nothing much of note happening in between. A night in Denpasar, a day in Jakarta, and then on to the third largest island in the world! That also meant the end of our time in Indonesia, an amazing country, of which we only saw a very small fraction. Hopefully, we'll be back here again someday, but for now, it's off to the rainforests of Borneo!