Monday, June 30, 2008

Mid Year Review of 2008 Goals

It feels like just yesterday when I sat down to write out my 2008 goals at the beginning of the year. With June ending in just a few hours, it felt that it was time for me to take a step back and look at how much progress I’ve made to date to achieve my goals. As those of you who are familiar with the goal setting process that they always preach about in those corporate trainings, no goal is of any use if it is not reviewed for any necessary adjustment required to accomplish it within the stipulated time. Apply the same process to your personal goals and you definitely would reap the same rewards and sense of accomplishments at the end of the year.

Travel to at least 2 different destinations

I’m already half way to completing this goal as I’ve already went on my Indonesia trip back in April. I’ve also already made plans to travel again in November to Cambodia to visit the Angkor Wat temples there. The plan would have me traveling with a group of people in a guided tour which would cover the highlights of what the country has to offer. I’ve mostly have been traveling by myself so it would definitely be a different experience to travel in a tour group. At least I would be going with at least one other person who I know so it would be all unfamiliar faces for me.

I still want to get in some beach or island time before the end of the year. Haven’t really had a chance to plan any local excursions yet. I have to say that I’m just itching to get back to Perhentians but with so many islands in Malaysia that I have not visited yet, why limit myself to only one. Definitely will be looking at possibly Tioman or Pangkor for an island excursion soon.

Update my wardrobe

I can safely tick this goal from my list as completed!

Part of my major clean up earlier this year was to pack up all the clothes that I have been hoarding for more than 2 years. It took me about 2 days of sorting out them out and I ended up with about 5 black garbage bags full of clothes that I no longer needed to donate to a local charity. Once that was done, I had an empty wardrobe to fill again with new clothes which of course I was excited about. For someone with not much fashion sense, I definitely have a mild obsession about going shopping to buy clothes even sometimes when I don’t really need it.

Thanks to the time I spent at the gym, I can now buy clothes that better fit me right off the racks at the stores. Not only do they fit better but I get to try out some clothing options that I would never dreamed of trying back when I was more overweight that I am now. There is a reason why they say that clothes makes the man and I am definitely relishing the freedom to be able to try them out now.

Be more physically active

I initially planned to include some time for hiking and futsal this year to complement the time I spend at the gym. While I did have a chance to do 1 hiking trip earlier this year, I have yet to get myself to a futsal game with my ex-schoolmates. With the amount of time I already spend at the gym, it’s hard to see the need to especially when I could only do them on my gym off days when I actually should be resting.

Still, it’s a goal that I currently think that is still worthy to be included in my plans for 2008. I guess I just have to seek out more opportunities to partake in outdoor activities rather than restrict myself at the gym.

Enhance my gym experience

If it has not been clear in my blog entries from the past months, most of my daily routine this year has been focused around gym and fitness. I’ve been called out as being obsessed by it and I admit at a certain level I guess I am. How else can I explain the unfailing need to arrange my social life around my gym hours and how I look forward to go to the gym more than I do to go to my day job. I fairly aware that I may be getting hooked on the endorphin rush that I get from working out since I’m always restless on the days that I don’t go. The gym has now become my prefered outlet for me to let go of my frustrations both from my personal and professional life.

The goal for 2008 was for me to join in one of the classes provided by the gym and to work out using more free weights. I happy to document that I have accomplished both of these goals. Once I got over the initial reluctance to work out in a group of strangers, I started to attend the spinning class that they have at my gym. I am now up to between 3-4 spinning classes a week depending if I was around in Sunway to go to the gym. The classes was surprisingly easy to get used to and the fact that I come out of it sweating buckets gave me a visible measure of accomplishment that I needed.

Since I always start my gym sessions with the hour long spinning class, I had only ½ hour left to do my weight training. Thanks to what I learned in my PT sessions, I am now able to cobble together a training plan using free weights that I’m currently on. I guess that eventually I would need to push myself more with the training plan but for the time being, it’s good that I could now work with more free weights.

Get my drivers license

Of all the goals that I’ve set for 2008, this is the one that is still the most elusive. I have no excuse for not doing anything to accomplish this goal in the past 6 months. I have no excuse to not put in the effort for the next 6 months to finally get my drivers license!

And that’s all, folks. Reviewed all of my 2008 goals and I think now I have a clearer picture of what I need to do for the rest of the year to accomplish those that I have not completed. You may want to do the same for your own goals if you have some that you set at the beginning of this year. It is always a nice thing to be able to feel a sense of accomplishment in what you have achieved to date.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Workout Progress – June ‘08

I’ve just noticed that I’ve skipped putting up both my workout progress and InBody scan results for the last 2 months. I think it was due to an oversight on my part after my Indonesia trip and having posted all those long winded travel reports. I’m happy to report that I’m still in sync with my fitness regime regardless of the lapse in documenting my progress. I plan to have an InBody scan done later this week as well so I have some new numbers to measure against the last that I did back in March to see if there has been (hopefully!) any marked improvements.

After completing my PT sessions at the gym, I have been working on my own program with the help of what I learned previously under PT. I’m still sticking to the 4 days gym schedule when I can and each session has been a combination of cardio and endurance training. I have been quite consistent in starting my sessions with an hour long spinning class before spending the rest of my time at the gym completing 3 supersets of total body endurance workout using a 15 lbs dumbbell. I’m quite happy with the fact that I can now complete my total body endurance workout within 30 minutes compared to the hour that it took me previously. Since I only have 30 minutes left to work out after my spinning class during the work week, I’m planning to stay with the 15 lbs weight for the moment and switch to 20 lbs once I feel that I’m strong enough to finish them within 30 minutes. Of course, I get to do more on the Sundays when I do get into the gym for a workout.

Diet plan in June

Breakfast (8 am)
- 1 sachet of Quaker Oats Flavored instant oatmeal
- 1 serving of low fat yogurt
- 1 serving of protein shake

Brunch (10 am)
- 1/2 serving of plan fried rice with tempeh goreng or greens
- 1 hardboiled egg (alternate working days – 2 whole eggs total per week)
- 1 serving of fruits

Lunch (12 pm)
- 1 Spirulina cereal 3 in 1 mix.

Snacks (4 pm)
- 1 Nature Valley Granola bar (Apple Crisps, Almond and Pecan have lowest calories)
- Green Tea

Dinner (7 pm)
Non workout days (Tues/Sat)
- buy something roughly less than 300kcal

Workout Days (M/W/Thurs/F: 8:30 – 10:30 pm, Sun: 4 – 7pm)
Pre workout
- 1 serving of protein shake
- buy something roughly less than 300kcal

Post workout
- 1 serving of protein shake

Supplements :
MuscleTech Nitro-Tech Hardcore Protein Shake – 2 servings per day
GNC Pro Performance Creatine Monohydrate – 2 servings per day
21st Century’s HerbalLipo Tea – 1 serving per week day
GNC MegaMen Dietary Supplement – 1 tablet per day
GNC Big 150 Vit B Complex – 1 tablet per day
GNC Fish Oils – 1 tablet per day

I’m still sticking with the same diet plan that I’ve been on for the past few months. I guess I’ve got used to it but lately I’ve been trying to add variety to it by switching to different flavored oatmeal and adding some raisins or prunes to the diet plan. A friend once remarked that it must be boring eating the same things day in and day out for extended periods of time. I totally agree with him and that’s why I only stick to the diet plan during the work week. Weekends would be when I indulge in other foods and I try to do it in a healthy manner although that’s not always the case. I guess as long as I don’t over do it then I should be OK as far as the diet plan is going.

Looking ahead to July, I don’t think there would be any major changes in my workout schedule or my diet plan. It’s encouraging for me to note how integrated my gym time has become in my daily schedule. I have to admit that I look forward to go to the gym on my workout days and feel a bit restless when I don’t get to for whatever reasons. The social aspects of my gym membership has also come into play since I’m more or less a regular in my spinning class and have been enjoying the group that I work out with. Still have to learn the names of the other regulars who join in the same classes that I do but I’ll get there eventually.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Indonesia Trip '08 – Day 09 : Getting Back and Closing Thoughts

It turned out that our flight back from Solo to KL was delayed for 1 hour. Since there was nothing that I could do about it, I just sat tight and finished updating my travel notes at the departure hall. Around us were similarly incensed passengers who tried to deal with the delay as best as they could. When they did start boarding the plane at 7:30pm instead of the scheduled 6:30pm, there was a rush when everybody tried to get out of the departure hall to get to the plane. I guessed that everyone was as anxious as we were to be anywhere else other than the departure hall. It was a good thing that our flight that evening was not at full capacity since we got seats fairly easily and settled down for takeoff.

The flight back was fairly uneventful but we were all looking at our watches to see if we could make it back on time for the last bus from LCCT to KL Sentral. It would just be too expensive to pay for a cab to get back to my apartment in Sunway by myself if I missed the last bus. We touched down in LCCT with just enough time for us to clear immigration, get our bags and for some of us to quickly purchase some last minute items from the duty free shop. A short incident involving misplaced items in our bags which had me sprinting through LCCT like a crazy guy later, we were finally on our way to LCCT which we reached just minutes after midnight. I missed the last commuter train and still had to get a cab back to Sunway but at least it was much cheaper even with the midnight surcharge compared to what I had to play had I took one from LCCT. I finally got home at around 12:30 and didn’t get to bed till nearly 2am even though I had to wake up early to go to work on the following day but it was all worth it for the experience.

(Yes ... that's proof that I was on the trip since people remarked that I don't have pictures of myself on the blog)

So that’s all to be documented about in Java Island adventure. After 21 separate blog entries spanning 2 months worth of published entries, I am finally done with my travel write up. True to the blogs name, I’ve definitely ranted and raved in my write ups but it simply wouldn’t be something that I produce if it did span pages and pages of text that people reading it have to scroll down. I guess that I’m not a firm believer of the adage that a “picture is worth a thousand words” apparent from the lack of pictures in my travel entries. Still, I hope that those of you who stuck with the travel blog entries as the slowly trickle done had an enjoyable time sharing my journey.

In hindsight, the Indonesia trip was a blast. Not only that I got to share it with people who share similar interest as myself but I also get to go to a place that have both intellectual and emotional resonance to me. We found out that we do travel well together once we get into each other’s rhythm of doing things. There were no Amazing Race style blowups in the group although just for fun we reenacted some of our favorite arguments much to the chagrin on the sole non-fan of the series in our traveling troupe. Other than my short stint as a painkiller popping junkie to alleviate a toothache problem, we traveled generally in good heath even after eating items on the menu that we were not familiar with and we deemed having the most strange name before ordering.

Top 5 highlights for me on the trip would definitely be :

  1. Standing on the top of Borobudur Temple complex looking around at one of the
    world wonders in South East Asia
  2. Walking around the crate lake at Kawah Putih with it’s otherworldly vista
    that was worth trying to get used to the sulfur smell coming from it.
  3. Spending the day with Patrick (our guide in Solo) exploring Candi Sethu and
    Sukuh from the point of view of a local.
  4. Spending a night at a Café Via Via listening to free live jazz performance
    and soaking up the local vibe in Jogja.
  5. Eating the most strangest sounding name foods on the menu – gudeq, liwet,
    srabi, bakso and especially the sate kambing we had the on the last day – I
    already miss them.

Indonesia was definitely quite easy to travel in once you get pass the number of touts in the attractions and how much in Rupiah you have to pay for things. It doesn’t help to begrudge the extra 10K rupiah tip that you’re giving out since considering it’s only around RM3 after conversion. Traveling in Indonesia can get a bit overwhelming but with a little patience, flexibility and planning, everything will come out alright in the end. Backpacking in Java doesn’t sound as bad as it sounds. A lot of places in Jogja and Solo do cater for backpackers with limited budget and there are ways to make your money stretch with cheaper options for both accommodation and travel. Jakarta and Bandung was definitely a bit more expensive but should not be missed if it’s your first time in Java.

I can now check off Indonesia from my list of ASEAN countries to visit in the next few years. I would definitely come back to the country since Java was just a small sampling of what the country has to offer to visitors. I’m looking forward for the opportuinity to visit Sumatera, the Riau island and Bali when I get the chance to. In the meanwhile, I’m already looking ahead for my next ASEAN country destination which if all goes well, I will visit in November of this year. As usually, I’ll put up entries about my preparations and the trip itself as the date comes closer.

(Next destination in November 2008)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Indonesia Trip '08 – Accommodation Write-Up: Istana Griya Homestay, Solo

Solo was our last stop on our 4 city tour of Java and was the one that I had the most difficulties to secure a homestay to spend the single night we had in our schedule. At the point that we were planning the trip, we had to consider trying to get a place in Solo that was relatively near to the airport since our flight home was originally scheduled at 8 am. Since Solo was to be more of a stopover, we definitely wanted to find some where cheap to stay and avoid the possibility of having to hang around at the airport overnight to catch our flight out. Unfortunately for us, there was not much available on the Internet for hostels or homestays in Solo. What little that I seen there seemed to recommend Istana Griya quite highly so I started doing some research on the place. Other than their website that gave some contact information, there was not really a lot that I could go on.

I tried to make our reservations over the Net before we left for our trip but my emails to the person listed on their website went unanswered. I did get a response from the other email address of their tour guide but he was unable to help us to make the reservation since he was not directly employed by the homestay. By the time we started our Java Island tour, I still did not have a room secured for our last night in Solo. Thanks to our travel guide book, which also recommended this homestay, we managed to get a phone number for it and I had to find a wartel to call them up while we were in Jogja. We hit another snag when we were told that they don’t accept call in advance reservations and that we would need to come personally to book our rooms. After checking the status of their current occupancy rate (fairly low it seemed), I told them that we will be seeing them the following afternoon to check on the availability of rooms.

Having not being successful in securing a room, we decided to chance it the following room and check Istana Griya first when we arrive at Solo. If it was full then we would do the backpacker’s crawl and check out the nearest homestay in the vicinity until we found one that had a vacancy. Our luck was with us the following day when they told us that they had rooms available when we arrived at the homestay after a short search around town for it. We were shown to the family sized room and once we agreed that it met our requirements, we went back to the minivan to get our bags before checking in. Had the room been too cramped or not exactly clean, we would definitely got back on the minivan and go to the next homestay on our list.

The family room that we got was actually quite big although they only have a queen size bed in it. We asked for an extra bed and towels which they provided inclusive of the room charges since we had 3 people in our room. They did provide the extra towels but gave us just a mattress instead of a fold out bed that I expected when I asked for the extra. Since we were only going to be at the homestay for 1 night, it was still acceptable since it beats having to sleep on the hard floor. Bathroom facilities attached to the room was fairly basic with heated showers, sink and a western style toilet. AC came standard with the family room and there was also a collection of furniture that we could use while we were there. A small TV that had local TV channels completed the available facilities in the room.

(Our family size room at Istana Griya)

(L: Hallway leading to the kitchen, R: Sample carving at the homestay)

The homestay itself had a fairly homely atmosphere to it. It doesn’t really look run down but I got the sense of it had been in operation for sometime. There was a lot of local handicrafts and carvings that they used to decorate the walls that lent it an air of being lived in as well as added character to the whole setup. They had a small breakfast nook set aside near the reception area where visitors could have their meals and hang out with other visitors. The breakfast menu, which was included in our stay, was fairly eclectic in terms of choice with several items clearly being their attempt at local and western fusion cooking (cheese and fried rice omelets – anyone?). The homestay also provided free coffee and tea all day round since they do not have individual coffee/tea making facilities in the room. I particularly like the entrance area to the homestay that not only had a small visually interesting garden but also a cool place to sit and whittle the time away by chatting with fellow backpackers.

(Garden at the entrance to Istana Griya)

(L: Breakfast nook, R: Istana Griya's cute guardian)

(L: Hanuman statute guarding the entrance, R: Sculpted pillar at entrance)

While the room and facilities of Istana Griya didn’t really stand out for me, what really did was the staff who worked there. I have to say that they were the most tourist friendly staff that I had encountered on the trip. They clearly know the area very well and could give us ideas of what to do with the amount of time that we had on hand. They were very friendly, accommodating and what I appreciate most was that they didn’t really come off as just wanting to throwing you a sales pitch. There was almost a laid back atmosphere among the staff and genuine desire to make the visitors stay with them the best that it could be. Whatever shortcomings that Istana Griya had in terms of their physical facilities was quickly overlooked thanks to the friendly and knowledgeable staff. If ever anyone comes to stay at Istana Griya and plan to do some sightseeing in the surrounding country side, be sure to ask for Patrick as your tour guide. We had the most enjoyable day touring the temples in Solo with him thanks to his personal knowledge of the area and funny anecdotes.

One negative point that I experienced while we stayed at Istana Griya that night was the loud noises that woke us up in the morning. This was more due to the other people who stayed in the homestay whose idea of waking up was to make as much noise as possible. Given the thin walls of the rooms, it was hard trying to ignore the loud noises coming form the other rooms. Another thing to point out is for visitors to avoid taking rooms close to the kitchen if possible since they do start their day quite early and sounds of them preparing breakfast at the open kitchen might wake you up if you wanted to sleep in.

Thin walls aside, Istana Griya was still a charming place to call home while we were in Solo. Its best selling points would definitely be the overall charm and character that pervaded the establishment as well as the most tourist-friendly staff I’ve encountered on the trip. It would not be too hard for me to recommend it for visitors who have short stopovers in Solo thanks to my first hand experience of spending a night at this colorfully quaint homestay.

Full Contact Details:

Istana Griya Homestay
Jln. K.H. A.Dahlan No. 22
Solo, Indonesia
Phone: +62 71 632 667

Email :

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Indonesia Trip '08 – Day 09 : The Last Walkabout – Solo

Since we didn’t have any definitive plans of what to do on our last day in Solo, we went to bed the night before with plans to sleep in. Unfortunately for us, we were rudely woken up at a much earlier time than we expected thanks to the sounds of the other people at the homestay who were rushing to check out to catch their morning flight. As much as we would like to go back to sleep, it was near impossible by then so the best thing to do was to wake up and get ready for the day. Since we were already low on rupiahs in hand and didn’t really have a plan for the day, we initially planned to just stay in and soak up the ambiance of the area. But fortune smiled on us that day when one of my travel companion came back with a plan to go on a 6 hour excursion up in the nearby hills. Seems that while he was walking around the homestay while the rest of us were getting ready, he met with one of the homestay’s resident guides who recommended the tour to him. The package was reasonably affordable for us and we would have something more substantial to do to fill the 10 hours before our flight back.

With our last walkabout travel plans finalized, we sat down for our breakfast which was included with our room bill and pooled the last of our rupiah together to make sure that we would have enough to pay for everything that we needed that day. Since we would be going to the airport directly after our tour of the hills, we had to check out of our room and bring our bags with us on the tour. Thankfully, the homestay provided us with a really comfortable Avanza van for us to use on the tour which was driven by the guide who recommended the trip to us. After paying the bill for both the night’s stay and the tour package at the homestay, we dumped all our bags into the back of the van and left Solo heading to the hills nearby. Early morning traffic at Solo was quite interesting as not only do you share the road with the usual suspects of cars, buses, motorcycles and becaks but also with a commuter train that comes through the main street of Solo twice a day. I had noticed some rail tracks on the main road the day before but thought that it was left behind by some disused town tram system. Imagine my surprise to see an actual commuter train chugging along the tracks amongst the other vehicles on the main street. Of course the train doesn’t have to stop when the stoplight turns red, other vehicles have to stop and give it right of way. No one wants to mess with a train on the road no matter how big their car was.

We eventually reached the edge of town and drove across the famous Solo River that inspired the song “Begawan Solo” headed to higher grounds. Along the way we saw the now common sight of golden paddy plots in between houses as we seen all over Java during our trip. As we came closer to the highlands, the cooler and fresher hill air was wonderfully rejuvenating after the 9 days of traveling. We had earlier planned to have a spa trip in Solo but since we ran out of money before, the trip was an enjoyable alternative to relax ourselves before our trip home. Along the way, our guide was pointing out all the sight to us. Being from the area, Patrick (our guide), knew everything and everyone in the area. We drove pass golden paddy fields in the lower terraces, spice orchards that filled the air with wonderful scents of pepper, cloves and lemongrass before reaching the tea plantations which blanketed the slopes in green splendor. Every little bit of land on the hill was used for cultivation and it was truly a breathtaking sight to see and smell as we drove further up the hill.

(Scenes from the drive up to Candi Sethu - paddy fields, tea plantation, clove plantations and the surrounding village house)

The main purpose of this day trip was to visit the Candi Sethu temple which was located in the hills. Unlike Prambanan that we visited before, Candi Sethu was still in used by the surrounding population. In fact, according to our guide, Candi Sethu was one of the important Hindu temples in Indonesia for followers of the faith. We were lucky that on the day of our visit there, there was a blessing ceremony that we were allowed to observe in progress. Our guide was indispensable here as he explained not only the structures that we saw around us but also the ceremony itself that we were privy to observe. A lot of what we saw there was reminiscent of temples in Bali which was not accidental since these are the originals that was rebuilt in Bali when the people of the ancient Hindu Mataram kingdom was forced to leave these lands to the Bali Islands by the expanding kingdom of Srivijaya. There are in face exact duplicates of these temples in Bali which were considered spiritually linked with each other.

(Guardian at the entrance of Candi Sethu)

(L: Temple grounds and R: Visitors waiting for their entrance prayers before begining their blessing ceremony)

(Temple grounds)

(L: Fog started to roll in, R: The LOTR moment captured)

While we were at the temples, there was this short moment when the winds changed and suddenly brought in a thick blanket of fog that covered the hillside. Patrick called it the “Lord of the Rings” moment which was kind of apt since the temple grounds do look like Mordor when it was covered in fog. For a moment, it felt like we were detached from the outside world beyond the main entrance of the temple grounds. It was quite surreal actually to feel isolated from the rest of the world that way. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on the journey that I have been these past days on our Javanese adventure and how much it has changed me. You can’t help but be affected by the experiences and sights that you experience when you’re on these journeys. That’s partly why I always look forward to the opportunity to travel when I can.

The fog that blanketed the temple area eventually lifted and it was time for use to leave Candi Sethu but not before taking the customary picture when you jump up as high as you can between the entrance pillars as the fog covered everything in the background making you look like you’re standing at the edge of the world. Time started to countdown again to our adventure’s end but we had another temple site to visit on this trip. On the way to Candi Sukuh temple, we stopped at a road side stall run by Patrick’s sister in law for some hot tea brewed using the local tea that was planted around us and some light snacks. One snack in particular that I couldn’t get enough of was “ampas soya goreng” which was basically the solid soy residue left behind after they pressed it for soy milk pressed into thin slabs and deep fried until crispy. It had the consistency of fried breadfruit (sukun) with a milder taste of tempeh and was surprisingly tasty for something that would normally be used as animal feed back home.

After our brief stop, we proceeded to Candi Sukuh which was a smaller temple complex than Candi Sethu. At first glance, the Candi reminded me of a smaller version Aztec pyramid in South America with it’s tiered structure and flat top. There were also many representation of the Garuda, Indonesia’s mythical bird, on the walls of this temple. The most striking feature for Candi Sukuh was the number of phallus representation in the area. Unlike Candi Sethu that had a more feminine vibe, the vibe at Candi Sukuh was definitely more masculine. Some of the walls had relief depicting fairly violent images of people carrying weapons and what seems like going to war. Patrick told us that the site used to be used for sacrifices including blood sacrifices which I wasn’t sure if he meant they had human sacrifices there. He may just be pulling my leg for all I know of the history of the area. There were much less visitors there than Candi Sethu that day and looking at the images at the temple, I would not be surprise if this temple was only used occasionally for a very specific reason.

(Path leading to Candi Sukuh)

(L: Closer to the temple/altar, R: Close up of wall relief at Candi Sukuh)

(L: From the top of the temple, R: Candi Sukuh grounds)

After spending some time at Candi Sukuh, it was time for us to make a move to the airport back in Solo. Before we got there, we stopped at road side eatery that was famous for goat meat sate. Patrick told us that he always bring his Malaysian tour group here and it has never once failed to impress them. Of all the things that I ate on this journey, this was the one that I worried the most. I very rarely eat lamb and have not, to my knowledge, eaten mutton before. I’ve always avoided it since I worry about it’s affect on my existing (although thankfully much less now) hypertension condition. Fortunately I had friends to look out for me should anything happened after eating the goat meat so I felt fairly safe to try it. In hindsight, I’m definitely glad that I did since it was one of the tastiest meal that we had on our trip. We had chunks of goat meat mixed with spices then compressed into meaty tubes that was perfectly grilled on hot charcoal. There was no need for any sauces to dip the meat in as the goat meat sate was perfectly moist and the spices gave it a kick to the taste buds. We had “Nasi Goreng Kambing” (goat meat fried rice) with our sate which tasted equally divine with it’s spikes of pepper and spices from the grounded goat meat mixture that they added to the fried rice. I would definitely recommend a good sate kambing meal for anyone traveling in that area.

(Succulent goat meat sate grilling away)

We made sure that we left Patrick with good comments in his guest book that they use to promote their services to the tourist that stayed at Istana Griya Homestay. We definitely had a great time with him on the tour and would recommend him to others who are interested to explore the hill sides in Solo. After taking final pictures at the eatery, we proceeded directly to Solo airport which we reached at around 2 pm. After unloading our bags from the van and saying our goodbyes to Patrick, we went to the departure entrance only to find out that we had to wait outside until our flight check in counter was called. Solo airport was not unlike Clark Field at Manila where there was not many places to sit and wait outside of the entrance. It was good that we had with us the last of the drinks and snacks that we bought earlier to tide us over since not only were there almost no shops opened for business on that day but we were also short of remaining rupiah to purchase anything.

Eventually we were let in and we made our way to the Air Asia check in counter. We’ve been fairly good on this trip in terms of not exceeding our check in weight allowances for fear of having to pay exorbitant amounts for excess baggage charges. After checking in for our flight, paying the 200,000 Rupiah airport exit tax and clearing immigration, we waited at the departure hall for our flight which was delayed. I tried to keep my mind occupied by finishing my travel notes but I was really worried about the flight delay as it would mean that we would have to deal with transportation after midnight. While I have less of an issue since I stayed in KL, the rest of my travel companions had to make plans to return to their homes in different states since we all had to be back to work on the following day.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Indonesia Trip '08 – Day 08 : Winding Down Around Town – Solo

After a few days of waking up early to get started on our day trips, we decided to sleep in on our last morning in Jogja. We had already made plans with the homestay to have them provide us with transportation to go to Solo and we were only scheduled to depart at 10am that morning. Having received a text message from Air Asia informing us that we have been bumped to a later flight the following day, we also suddenly found ourselves in a situation that we hadn’t planned for. While we were not looking forward for our Java adventure to end, we did all have our individual commitments waiting for us back home that would be affected by the flight reschedule. That morning was mostly taken up by us checking our schedules back home and trying to move things around in case that we arrived even later than planned.

After a quick breakfast and last minute repacking of our bags, we checked out of Delta Homestay fully satisfied with their service and quality of lodgings. We also got a whole minivan to ourselves for our trip to Solo which was our last stop on our Javanese adventure. We had actually booked our trip before Air Asia had direct flights coming into and out of Jogja so we had to go to Solo to get our flight back to KL. The other option was to fly back to Jakarta but we didn’t feel like backtracking our way back there. Of all the places that we been to on this trip, Solo was the one that I was most worried about. Not only did we have more time that we planned to spend there thanks to the latter flight, I was also not still unable to secure confirmed accommodations for the night that we would spend there. I could not find any homestays in Solo that took reservations online and they also couldn’t take reservations over the phone when I tried to call them while we were in Jogja. To be honest, I left Jogja that morning a bit anxious that I didn’t know what to expect when we arrive in Solo.

Our trip from Jogja to Solo took about 2 hours through green fields and towns in between. Initially we thought of stopping at the Solo Airport first before going into town to confirm the message that I received about the flight reschedule. When the others in our traveling troupe started to receive the same message from Air Asia then I was assuaged that the message that I received was not some kind of hoax. With that out of the way, we decided to go straight into town to look for a place to stay for the night. I already had a place that I’ve researched on the web before coming on the trip that I wanted to check out so that was the first place that we went to. Thanks to the rough map in our travel guidebook and some helpful locals, we soon arrived at our destination. We asked the driver to wait for us while we check out if the were any rooms available and the condition of their rooms. Luckily for us, the Istana Griya Homestay had some vacancies within our price range so we checked ourselves in after getting our bags from the minivan and paid for the trip from Jogja.

After checking into our family room (more on Istana Griya Homestay in a separate entry), we decided that first thing that we wanted to do was to look for a place for lunch. Along the way, we stopped in an optician shop as one of us needed to get a replacement for his pair of spectacles which broke during the trip. Prices for spectacle frames without glasses were ridiculously cheap here that I was sorely tempted to change mine as well but decided against it since I was already running out of Rupiahs to spend. After talking to the people of the shop, we decide to try one of the restaurants that they recommended for serving authentic Solonese cuisine that was near by. We did find the restaurant and ate there but without really knowing what Solonese cuisine was, I can’t really say if what we had was authentic to the area. I’m fairly sure that the owner was Solonese but the food seems similar to what we already had in Jogja. While it was still cheap and filling, we were all in agreement that it was not terribly exciting.

Since we had a few hours to kill before we had to get back to the optician’s shop to collect the spectacles, we decided to explore Solo city on foot and see if we can make our way to a mall that we saw earlier as we drove into town. We found ourselves walking on a fairly well built paved area which seemed to be dedicated for pedestrian, bicycle and becak use only. I’m not sure if the path that we took to the Solo Grand Mall was a dedicated path but it was quite refreshing being able to walk and not be too worried about motorcycles and cars coming down the same way. We were also quite lucky that day to be in Solo when it was having an Arts Jamboree for local school children from the area secondary schools. We walked past rows of stalls displaying art works, sculptures and performance art created by the students. It was quite fun to stumble into a unexpected free open air arts show in our walk that afternoon after thinking that we would not find anything interesting to do in Solo.

(L: Paved pathway to Solo Grand Mall, R: Art Jamboree stalls)

(L: Some of the artwork on display, R: School children after a dance performance)

(Wayang kulit and Gamelan performance on the streets of Solo)

We arrived at Solo Grand Mall just in the nick of time to get welcomed respite from the stifling heat outside. After walking around the mall and doing a bit of last minute shopping since they had items of sale, we decided to take in a movie at the Cineplex that was located at the top floor of the mall. At 15,000 Rph per ticket, it was way cheaper than watching a movie back home and we would have something to occupy our time for the afternoon. We decided to watch “Forbidden Kingdom” that afternoon although I would have preferred to watch an Indonesian movie in an Indonesian cinema but got outvoted since it was a horror movie that some people rather not watch. Nevertheless, “Forbidden Kingdom” was still an enjoyable movie to watch to pass the time. We left the mall at around 7 pm after the movie to go back to the optician to collect the glasses.

We decided to try Nasi Liwet which was a specialty in Solo. We asked the people at the optician shop again for their recommendation and was directed to a nearby “warong lesehan”. A warong lesehan was basically a street side warong with low tables set on top of mats where visitors would sit cross-legged to have their dinner. They would normally have cloth covering outside their warong that would both shade the diners from the elements outside and also act as a menu board displaying what food items that they had to offer. We decided to get both Nasi Gudeg which was similar to what we had in Jogja and Nasi Liwet which was rice boiled in coconut milk until it was cooked. Tasting like a more softer version of our nasi lemak, nasi liwet in Solo must be accompanied by sambal goreng jepan (a type of melon cooked in chilies and coconut milk), aréh sauce (thick coconut milk boiled with salt) on top of the rice, chicken and egg which have been boiled in coconut milk. While not exactly the most healthiest food to eat, it was definitely quite tasty especially when I had my pick of fried tempe and tofu to go with it.

(L: Nasi Gudeq Solo style, R: Nasi Liwet)

After our final dinner in Indonesia, we decide to walk back to the hotel and turn in for the night. On the way there, we discovered another specialty food item from the area called Srabi Solo which was also recommended in our guidebook. The srabi was a type of pancake made out of rice flour mixed with fresh coconut milk until it achieved a somewhat watery consistency. The mixture was then poured into mini woks on top of small charcoal burners and left to cook until the thicker center was fluffy and the edges crisp. Just before the center started to set, the person making the dessert would put on some type of topping that would differentiate Solo Srabi with the type of srabi found elsewhere. The ones that we saw that night had banana, sugar or chocolate rice toppings which we bought. We had the srabi as we walked back and liked it so much that we ended up buying more of it before we reached our homestay.

(Srabi Solo push cart that can be found all over the place at night)

(L: Srabi Solo with different toppings for sale, R: The chocolate rice type that we ended up buying)

At that point, we were still not sure what we were planning to do the next day. The original plan was to check out very early in the morning to catch our morning flight back to KL but since our flight got rescheduled, we would have more than 8 hours to fill before our flight the following day. We decided to leave our options opened for the following day and get a good night’s rest instead. Of course that was after a supper of srabi with hot tea while watching a concert show on TV featuring one of my favorite Indonesian bands and dancing sailors. You had to be there to appreciate the fun we had watching it that night!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Indonesia Trip '08 – Accommodation Write-Up: Delta Homestay, Jogjakarta

Delta Homestay in Jogja was the first place of accommodation that I was able to secure in the planning stage of this trip. It was quite easy for me as my family had stayed here before during their trip to Jogja earlier in the year. It was my mother who found this place from the Net and my family came back with good reviews of the place after their trip there. Looking at what they had to offer, it was definitely a place that would fulfill our accommodation requirements and within our budgetary constraints. On top of the accommodation, we also found that the budget tour packages that they offered was quite reasonably priced. Unlike the other cities that we had been to before on the trip, we had more days to spend in Jogja so we felt it would be interesting to go for a packaged tour instead of trying to get to the attractions ourselves.

I used the online contact form that they had on their website to inquire about room rates and availability. Their sales team contacted me back with the information fairly promptly and we exchanged several emails over the next few days to confirm the reservation. Details of our budget tour was also finalized through email even though at the time we were not yet sure of when or how we would be arriving in Jogja from Bandung. I really appreciated how they were willing to keep our tour itinerary flexible to cater to our uncertain arrival time in Jogja. We did however need to inform them of our exactly arrival time once we made them in Bandung the day before so they know when to send the car to pick us up from the train station. Other than a few extra emails that was required to follow up on the changes in the tour itinerary, booking our rooms and tour package at Delta Homestay was fairly painless.

Our train to Jogja arrived an hour late from Bandung and I was worried about how that delay would affect our tour plans. One thing that I didn’t have to worry about was the driver that the homestay sent to pick us up at the train station. He was already waiting for us there when we arrived and I found out later that he had been waiting there for an hour. We proceeded directly from the train station through the afternoon Jogja traffic to Delta Homestay which was located a few minutes from Central Jogja at Jln. Prawirotaman III. Since we arrived late, most of the attractions that we were suppose to visit according to the tour itinerary that afternoon were already closed and we had to rescheduled them for the day after. We were able to easily do that at the homestay check-in counter and plan for a free and easy becak tour of Jogja later that afternoon instead.

(Delta Homestay signage and garden at the check-in area)

(View of the check - in area)

I’ve seen pictures of the place from the website and my family’s vacation photos so I more or less knew what to expect. Once visitors walk pass the reception lobby, they would definitely be impressed by the resort like ambience of Delta Homestay. The centrally located swimming pool that immediately captures the visitor’s attention definitely lived up to the establishment’s tagline of “an oasis in town”. The tranquil setting surrounded by verdant greenery framed by the browns of Javanese inspired lodgings certainly made for favorable impression. Most of the rooms at the homestay faced the swimming pool with the exception of a row of single bed rooms that was closer to the reception area. Since we made reservations for 2 double bed rooms, we were lead through the area to the row of 6 units at the end of pool area to get to our rooms.
Each room had 2 single beds, ensuite bathroom, fans and AC units. We didn’t know at the time that if you reserve the room with fan only, you were not suppose to turn on the AC placed in each room during your stay. We found this out the hard way when they told us that we had to pay extra for using their AC. Since the difference between just using the fans and the AC is fairly small, I would recommend that you specify clearly in your reservation that you want to have AC in the room. Jogja can be fairly warm at night so having the AC would definitely be a good thing and worth the extra rupiahs. Other than the making sure that you ask for the AC room rate, everything else in the room should meet with visitors expectations on a similarly rated establishment. I would actually rate Delta Homestay higher on the facilities scale compared to other homestays in our trip just by virtue of the relaxing ambience that we could enjoy right outside of our doors.

(Scenes from the surrounding area near our room)

Breakfast was included in the accommodation package and they have a fixed menu of mostly bread, eggs cooked to your specification, local fruits selection and either coffee or tea. I thought that this was a bit on the light side since I was more used to something heavier for breakfast but I guess was reasonable for the price that we were paying for. We also got afternoon tea with cakes provided by the homestay for us on the afternoons that we spent at the pool. The homestay staff also provided hot water on request for us to mix our nightly teas for supper before going to bed. They also had a mineral water dispenser at the lobby area for guest to fill up their water bottles for a small fee to bring on their trips outside. I thought that this was a nice detail to have as you definitely need to have water with you and it saves you the need to find a place to buy your drinking water.

(L: Swimming pool at Delta Homestay, R: Breakfast area)

(Our room at Delta Homestay)

Delta Homestay is located at what was called the “international kampong” section of Jogja which I believed was the term they used to describe the backpackers section of town. We got a chance to explore the two street blocks that Delta Homestay was located and found that it was indeed a place for travelers with limited budget to be. There were numerous cheap places to eat around the homestay that we could actually go to a different place for every meal and still had a few that we did not get a chance to try out. There were also a number of cafés that one could chill out and soak in the vibe of being with other travelers. We only got a chance to try one of them during out trip but enjoyed ourselves immensely and I would definitely recommend the experience to anyone staying in the area. Other than places to eat and drinking establishments, the area also had a number of money changers and tour operators to service the tourist that stayed here. I would recommend that you shop around for special deals/prices when you go to them as they definitely would be competing with each other to get your business. A point to note if you need to do your laundry, send it to the laundry shop just next to the homestay. They charge about a third of what the homestay charged!

As far as transportation is concern, the best and cheapest way to travel around Jogja city area would definitely be by becak who conveniently stationed themselves outside of the homestays in the area. One would be advised to know where you want to go before haggling with the becak people for the price. Since our trip was already planned, we did not have to use the becak that often as we could have had to had we decided to self plan our itinerary. Of course that didn’t stop them from offering us becak trips every time they saw us leave the homestay. Similarly, we did not check whether is was easy to travel by angkut or taxi from the homestay to Jogja city. I would guess that one had to walk a few meters to the main street to flag one down once they figure out which one to take. Still considering the price of a becak trip, I would recommend them for shorter excursions out of the area.

The tour package that the homestay arranged for us was quite convenient and flexible. We paid the entrance fees for the attractions that we visited at the homestay itself so we didn’t have to queue for to pay them when we reached there. The downside to that was that we could not try to get in by paying domestic tourist rates which you could get away with if you looked physically like the locals. Domestic tourists actually pay about 10% of what they charge foreign tourists for entrance fees to Borobudur and Prambanan. Nevertheless, the cost of the full fee was not that high and didn’t break our bank so we paid the full fee instead. The excursions themselves were well planned and provided us with sufficient time to explore and appreciate the attractions that we were at. Most of the time we were just driven to the location as our driver would normally not be accompanying us into the attraction. I have to say that after the experiences of having to plan what attractions to visit and how we would get to them in both Jakarta and Bandung, it was a welcomed respite having someone else plan our sightseeing itinerary.

We paid a total of 414,000 Rph per person for the 4 days and 3 nights stay which was inclusive of accommodation and the budget tour package. Accommodation only rates are available on their website but I think interested visitors should check with them directly is there is any changes to the published rates. The clean facilities, relaxing ambience, proximity to places to eat or chill out as well as easy access to becak almost all times of the day are the least that I could mention about this location. Just remember to specify clearly the type of room that you want when you make your reservation and you should be fine at this establishment. If ever I come back to Jogja, this would definitely be the first place that I would check for room availability and I would highly recommend it to other visitors too.

Full Contact Details:

Delta Homestay
Jln. Prawirotaman MG.III/597-A
Yogyakarta 55153 Indonesia
Phone: +62 81 727 1047, +62 274 7477537
Fax: +62 274 372064

Email :