I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Indonesia. It was my first time to Southeast Asia and I wasn't sure what to expect. My interest in Indonesia started when I saw photos of Borobudur. It looked as grandiose as Bagan or Angkor Wat, although I had never met anyone who had actually been there. It looked so exotic - the largest Buddhist temple in the middle of a jungle landscape filled with volcanoes. Where else in the world can you experience something like that? When I saw a travel deal to go during the less touristy "rainy season", I knew I had to jump on it.
In this tour we visit central Java in the city of Yogyakarta (often called “Jogja”) to see Borobudur and Prambanan, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We saw all this on a day trip from Bali with Bali Agung Tours.
When we landed in Jogja, it was clear that we were in an entirely different place than Bali. Same country, yet so different. First off, the airport was much less developed than the one in Bali. When I exited the airport, I saw motor scooters buzzing about the streets, one of which was carrying a pack of raw chickens hanging off the bike. The call to prayer echoed throughout the streets at different times in the day. Welcome to Java!
Visiting Bali and Jogja are like visiting two countries in one - the cultures are completely different. Unfortunately, many tourists only visit Bali and miss this unique cultural opportunity. Indonesia's oldest religions are Hinduism and Buddhism, however only Bali remained predominantly Hindu and the rest of the country is predominantly Muslim. Instead of Hindu temples, Jogja has mosques. And instead of beachwear and Hindu sarongs, there are colorful hijabs. Also, Jogja is recognizably less "Western" - although I did spot a Dunkin' Donuts and a McDonalds. In addition, Java has its own cuisine, traditions and customs.
We start at Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia dating back to the 10th Century. It contains temples dedicated to the three main Gods of the Hindu Trinity - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The carvings on the outer part of the temple depict the love story of Rama and Sita.
Outside the temple, we saw many school children who came up to us to say hi and practice English. It was clear that we were the only English speaking tourists at the site. They were so friendly and sweet, and their English was great. We took selfies with them - many, many selfies.
Next we head to the Sultan's Palace where we see a glimpse into the Indonesian heritage and customs passed down through history. The Sultan is famous for traditionally having many wives, whose pictures were adorned throughout the grounds. In fact, our guide mentioned that he chooses his wives during a dance performance by pointing at the girl that he likes.
We watch the Wayang, or Shadow Puppet performance, which is an Javanese art form listed with UNESCO. The puppets are etched in intricate designs and the stories are accompanied by the traditional gamelan music, which is a gentle gong/percussion sounding music.
We visit a batik art shop to watch how this unique Javanese art form is created using wax and color on cloth and silk. This is a significant art form for the Indonesian culture. The batik technique is also applied to clothing in Indonesia. We went home with two batik paintings for our walls.
Next we try the local cuisine including snake fruit. This fruit is found in Southeast Asia and has a skin similar to a snakeskin, which you peel to reveal fruit that looks like garlic cloves. It tastes similar to a pineapple or Asian pear.
Finally, we reach Borobudur, one of the top three temples in Southeast Asia. Built in the 9th Century, it is was built as a monument to educate about Buddhism. It is the largest Buddhist temple complete with nine levels, a number signifying perfection. There are 504 Buddha statues, each in different positions ranging from meditation, teaching, to enlightenment.
The ground level of Borobudur is filled with motifs and carvings depicting temptation and as you walk clockwise, it tells the story of the Buddha's life. When you reach the top, all desire has been controlled and you reach enlightenment, or the heavens. At the top, you walk clockwise three times for good luck, as well as view the stupas (or bells) and take selfies with the locals.
Central Java was a dream come true. It gave me an entirely different perspective on Indonesia and made me realize that the country is filled with so much diversity. I hope that you get the chance to travel there soon. Comment below on your favorite destination in Indonesia! Terima Kasih Indonesia!
Perth is known as the most remote city in the world. It has an edge of the world feeling, yet it is also strangely familiar (comparable to San Diego in terms of weather, demographics, size, and vibes). Same climate, sunny weather, surfboards, and carefree locals. It also features many unique places to photograph - that's if you can get past one minor thing...
Behind the scenes video.
It took three flights and 24 hours to get to Perth. It was my first time back to Australia in 25 years, so I was so excited to get another glimpse into the land down under. In fact, Australia was the first international destination I had ever been to (Sydney and Melbourne) and I was fascinated by the unique wildlife. I decided to visit the west side of this country and see Perth because it is relatively close to Indonesia, where I had been staying.
However upon arrival, I had the strangest customs encounter of my life.
"Why are you here?" - the customs officer asked
"I am visiting Perth" -me
"Do you have family or friends here?"
"What are you planning to see?"
"Pinnacles National Park"
"That's two hours away"
"I know. I am headed there right after this."
"You are going all the way there in a day?"
"Yes" - Mind you, it's 10am at this time.
"When does your tour start?"
"I don't have one. I am renting a car"
"When do you leave Australia?"
"Tomorrow at noon"
"That's an awfully short trip"
"Yes I know"
"Why such a short trip?"
The questions went on...
"What else are you planning to see" "Where are you staying" ...
Then a second officer asked us the same questions. They didn't stamp our passport. They didn't wish us a nice trip. They were in complete shock that they had visitors. Granted we were there for a short time, but with a welcome like that, it would seem like no one travels there. However, the Pinnacles and Nambung National Park attracts over 190,000 visitors per year.
Let me break it down for the travelers and customs officers out there on what Western Australia has to offer. Yes, Perth is remote but it is a city surrounded by many natural wonders, wildlife, and wineries which warrant it a visit.
I'll let the photos do the talking:
1. Pinnacles and Nambung National Park
Two hours north of Perth is the Nambung National Park. The drive is mostly isolated, starting with about 25 miles of upscale suburbs, and the next 100 miles of lone range outback scenery. Along the way, we spotted some road signs that said "wildlife in the area" with a picture of a kangaroo and an emu. That's something you don't see everyday.
Finally the scenery started changing. Pure white sand dunes emerged along the Indian Ocean on the left side of the road, which was indigo blue. Then we reached the Pinnacles. This national park features golden sands and thousand of tall stone pillars, some reaching 3.5 meters tall. They are like ancient desert sculptures. Visitors can walk, hike "aka bushwalk", or drive through the park. It looked like we were on another planet.
The park had a small visitor center but no restaurant, so we headed into the nearby town of Cervantes, a small cray-fishing town next to a windsurfing beach. Small - meaning one gas station, a handful of houses, and a bait shop.
On our way out of the park, we spotted a little critter along the road. It was a kangaroo! The kangaroo was eating grass along the roadside. We stopped to take photos of him. He continued to eat grass for a few minutes. Then he hopped away into the bushes. His feet were like spring boards (below is the kangaroo in mid-air). It was one of the coolest moments in all of my travels.
We reached a "country club" restaurant which was a very basic looking bar where you could order food. They sold the catch of the day, lobster, and Western Australian wine. It was a great ending to a rather strange start in Australia.
2. Fremantle Harbor
Fremantle is a city with a 200 year old history, beautiful 19th century buildings, naval sea port, and al fresco restaurants. It is also Perth's port. We stayed at the Be Apartments, located alongside the harbor. The apartments had harbor views and even included bike rentals. The city had bike and walking paths that wind through the city streets and parks. There is enough to do in this town to warrant a weekend visit.
3. Swan Valley
The Swan Valley is 3 hour south of Perth and contains Western Australia's numerous wineries. They are known for their tasty and pallet cleansing sauv blancs, as well the beautiful nature along the Margaret River. In our short trip, we did not have time for this, but we did taste the wine which was excellent.
The next day we had to leave. This time I asked the customs officers for a stamp on my passport (one of my proudest stamps and most difficult to obtain!).
So there you have it, that why we traveled all the way to Western Australia. Sometimes the places that are the hardest to get to are also the most rewarding. If you can get past the long flights and snarky customs officers, you will surly enjoy a treat in Perth.
Welcome to Taiwan! In this 24 hour layover trip, we scope out the top most instagramable places to photograph. We cover the northern coast, then head into the mountainside to Jiufen where we try street food, and finally Pingxi to make the magical sky lanterns. We booked our tour with MyTaiwanTours which took us to all these amazing sights.
Behind the Scenes Video:
We travel from Taipei to visit the northern coast at Jinguashi. We visit the Yin-Yang Sea and a copper and gold mine dating back to the era of Japanese rule over the island. The ocean even turned a copper color from the mine. We also visit the Gold Waterfall which is right next to the copper mine.
We travel a few miles north into the mountains to visit Jiufen, the town that inspired the classic anime movie "Spirited Away" by Hayao Miyazaki, Japan's equivalent to Walt Disney in film making. Jiufen is a lively and quaint area that includes tea houses decorated with lanterns and winding allies filled with street food. It can get quite crowded here during the weekends, so try visiting during the weekdays if you can!
3. Night Markets / Street Food
Taiwan is a foody nation. Some call it the country that never stops eating. There are numerous night markets in the city selling everything from sweet, savory, and exotic snacks. We wander the cobblestone streets and alleyways filled with food vendors and try the bubble tea and Taiwan's traditional dish - stinky tofu.
4. Pingxi / Sky Lantern
Pingxi is a unique area where you can make sky lanterns and release them in Shifen Old Street to send the wishes to the heavens. Our lantern's wish was "Peace Love and Taiwan!". Even if you don't make a sky lantern, they are fun to watch as the sky is filled with glowing lanterns which look like mini hot air balloons. The tradition combines culture and art and draws tourists from all over the world. There is also the famous Sky Lantern Festival in February.
5. Elephant Mountain
Many people go to Taipei 101 observatory for the skyline view, but the only problem is that Taipei 101 will not be in the photo! The best way to get the iconic Taiwan cityscape photo is from Elephant Mountain which is a relatively short and steep hike. We didn't quite have time to do this hike during our layover, but the Elephant Mountain hike offers one of the best (and free!) views of the city.
What are your favorite places to photograph in Taiwan? Comment below!
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We are two adventurous young professionals who turned our passion for travel into a blog to help others travel more.