Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bukit Lawang - trip report

I've been here in Bukit Lawang for about 10 days now and have been collecting a bit of information and photos of some accommodation and yummy food options.  I'm staying up the top end of the path, so I'm just writing about this area.

Getting here:

I booked a driver to pick me up from Medan airport which cost 400,000.  When we arrived, a motorbike met the car and took me and my backpack up to the place I'd booked (Jungle Tribe).  It is a solid 10 to 15 min walk up to the guesthouses at the top of the path, and the path is kind of steep and crumbly in stages - if you have any kind of difficulty walking or carrying heavy things (which I do) then it would be a really good idea to organise for a motorbike to take you up the path.  (You do have to get off and walk at one stage, because the path is too steep.)

The overall vibe: 

About a month ago I read a post on TT where the poster described Bukit Lawang as a kind of backpacker hangout and said he didn't like it.  (Can't remember the exact words, but that's what I remember.)  When I arrived I could see what he/she was talking about - there's no real town here - there's a kind of settlement with shops, and a housing estate (on high ground) where locals live, then a string of tokos, guesthouses and restaurants going up the river.

 So, yes, it does feel like a bit of a backpacker ghetto in that way (reminded me a little of Kuta at the bottom of the path).  But, the setting is just so beautiful, with the jungle and the river, that the similarity to Kuta ends pretty quickly.  Especially up the top end of the path, it is so quiet and peaceful here - no cars, few bikes, and no mosque noise once you are up the path a bit.   At night all I hear is the river and the sounds of the jungle - it's just gorgeous.  Also, the locals are really friendly and laid-back - very warm, and not tourist-jaded.

I notice there are quite a few families here with children, and this would be a fantastic place for a holiday with kids.  There's just so much to interest them - lots of wildlife, tubing and swimming in the river, and very friendly locals who are great with kids.

Most backpackers seems to just come for 3 days - they do a trek, then leave.  But, if you were looking for somewhere to just hang out and relax for a few weeks, you probably couldn't get many places as beautiful and serene as Bukit Lawang!


Jungle Tribe

I am staying at the Jungle Tribe  It's a small place right up the top of the path, with just 2 rooms, one above the other.  It faces right onto the river.  I'm in the bottom room, which is large and clean and has a beautiful private balcony and garden area with steps leading right down to the river.  I love it.  I just booked in for 2 nights, thinking I'd look around once I arrived and move somewhere else (I'm staying a month), but I liked it so much I just stayed.

Private garden from lower room, looking over river

Bed area in lower room. 
Jungle tribe - from the river

The top room is beautiful - large, light, with a sitting area inside the room, and a really big balcony with a hammock and chaise-lounge on it that looks out over the river.  The bottom room is 150,000 a night, and the top room is 250,000.  (They do give discounts for long-term stay).

Top room - balcony and hammock (with manager, Bowo). 

Top room - sitting area

Jungle tribe - top room balcony

(I am almost tempted not to recommend the Jungle Tribe, because there are only two rooms and I want to come back one day, but that would be selfish!!)

The tribe also has a restaurant with excellent curries, particularly the pumpkin and pineapple curries (both 30,000).  The gado gado is also very good (also 30,000).  

Jungle Inn

Jungle Inn - landscaping
The Jungle Inn has some really lovely landscaping and designs to its rooms.  They are building 2 new rooms which look out over the river and should be ready in a few months.  They are large, and really light and one has a beautiful outdoor shower.  Both have large balconies.  The rooms are connected, so they can be used as one big family area.  They'll cost 300 to 350,000.
Jungle Inn - new room, still under construction
At the Jungle Inn restaurant they make yummy fresh yoghurt. Yoghurt lassies are 15,000 and delicious! 

Cheap rooms

Directly across from Green Hill are some cheap rooms built above the laundry.  They look very basic, just a rickety wooden building with shared bathroom but hey - they're cheap!  (Around 60 - 70,000).

In between Green Hill and Garden Inn is a new guesthouse run by Paden and his French wife Maree.  This place is really solidly built - lots of concrete and tiles and is 3 stories. 

New guesthouse, next to Garden Inn. 
The windows have good screens on them, so if you are someone who is bothered by mosquitos this might be a good option.  The rooms are large, clean, and have some nice comfy chairs outside for lounging as well as big balconies which look over the path to the river.  There is a family room as well as normal sized rooms.  Prices - 100 to 200,000.

OK...onto the food!

The food in Bukit Lawang is a bit more expensive than other places I've been to in Sumatra, but, the standards are also pretty high.  Most places do a lovely curry with cinnamon, star anise etc - very tasty!

One of the cheapest places to eat is a new restaurant called Rumah Makan Lexman.  It is just after the internet cafe, and before Green Hill.  The people that run it are lovely, and the food is anywhere from 30% to 50% than at the guesthouses.  I really enjoy the coconut pancakes (8000rp), banana porridge (8000), and vegetable curry (10,000).  They also do takeaway. They are open from 7am to 5pm. 

Rumah Makan Lexman

Monday, April 9, 2012

Kuta - some recommendations

I’ve just spent a few weeks in Kuta and thought I’d give a few recommendations.

Kedins II

I’m staying here and really recommend it. It costs 125,000 for a single, and 190,000 for a double. They give a small discount (around 10%) for long term stays. I’d describe this place as flashpacker – the rooms are large, clean, with good mattress’, clean sheets, ceiling fan, bedside tables and wardrobe space . The rooms are set around a little garden and pool.

Kedin’s II is in Gang Sorga, off Poppies 1. This whole area is very quiet at night. There are no bars or nightclubs nearby, and the Gang has little speed-bumps so motorbikes have to go slowly, so they are quiet. I was telling a friend the other day that it is quite ironic that the quietest place I’ve stayed at in Indonesia is in heart of Kuta!

About once a week I get woken by other travellers coming back from clubbing, who are drunk and noisy, but the staff are onto this and usually ask them to quieten down, so it’s not a big problem.

One annoying thing about Kedins is that they don’t take reservations. But, there is a constant turnover, so if you turn up before midday you’ll probably get a room.

Kedins II phone number: (0361) 763 554

Hotel Sorga

Right next door to Kedins, this is a hotel, and not so much a backpacker place. I stayed here one night because I was arriving in Bali in the evening and wasn’t sure Kedins would have a room. The prices are around AU$28 a night for A/C and, I think, about AU$24 for a fan room. I highly recommend this place as a budget hotel. The rooms are large, the A/C is strong, there’s a little balcony for each room, and the whole place is very quiet and peaceful. They have a little restaurant, and the food is basic but not terrible.


Krisna Massage

If you walk out of Kedin’s or Hotel Sorga, turn left, go to the end of the lane-way, and turn right. About 40 metres up is a little massage place called Krisna Salon and Spa. There’s a girl who works there called Lucy who gives an excellent massage. She has a great ‘touch’. (I’m a bit addicted to massage so I tried a few in the local area before finding Lucy – she is great. I’ve had 3 massages with her, and all were really good.)

The Balinese massages cost 50,000. She will come to your hotel , and the massage then costs 100,000. The salon’s phone number is: 081 706 62213


If you walk out of Kedins II or Hotel Sorga and turn left, there are a couple of nice restaurants right at the end of the lane-way.

Warung Pama – this place serves Indonesia, Western, Indian and Thai food. I eat there most days and the food is cheap, but pretty good. I particularly like their Indian food. They do take-away.
Accross from Warung Pama is a little Greek food restaurant. It’s nicely decorated, small and cute, and the food is nice and fresh.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lake Maninjau

Dawn at Maninjau - taken out the front of Bayua Beach Inn.

I arrived at Lake Maninjau last week.  The last time I was here was 5 years ago, and, sadly for the locals, tourist numbers are WAY down now.  So, if you’re looking for somewhere quiet, beautiful, and not very touristy – come here!!  

Over the past 5 years I think I’ve spent about 2 years travelling to different places in Indonesia and SE Asia – and I think Maninjau is my favorite place.   It is beautiful, the locals are friendly and have a fascinating culture and the guesthouses are quiet and well-run. I think it’s a hidden gem on the SE Asian backpacker trail. 

I flew into Padang from KL, on Air Asia which is just a 1 hour flight, and then got a taxi to Maninjau.  A little tip if you are arriving at Padang airport on an international flight – this is one airport where it is worthwhile trying to get off the plane quickly because the immigration queue was long and took absolutely ages, and I already had a visa.  (If you wanted a VOA you had to get one at a separate window and then join the end of the queue at immigration).

The taxi cost 300,000 from the airport and took about 2.5 hours.  My taxi driver was named ‘David’ and I only mention him because he was a complete letch (tried to show me p@rn on his mobile!) so, all the ladies out there might like to avoid David. 

There is now an ATM in Maninjau (previously I think the closest ATM was in Bukittingi, 1.5 hours away).  The internet in Maninaju is a lot, lot better than it was 5 years ago.  It was pretty much unusable then, but now it’s quite fast (almost the same as I have in Australia).  And, it’s really cheap because the internet is mainly for the locals – it costs 3000 for an hour.  There’s a café about 100metres south of the main Maninjau intersection and also a café in Bayua.  

I have looked at a few different guesthouses so here’s a little review of them.  I'm sorry, I only have photos of Bayua Beach Inn, not the others.

Arlin Gueshouse
Lovely quiet place, quite a walk in (maybe 500 metres?) through the rice-fields but it’s a beautiful walk.  There is a café there and I had breakfast with a few other tourists and the food seemed pretty good – just standard stuff.  I didn’t stay the night but I looked at the rooms and they were large and clean, they cost 150,000 per night.  

The travellers I spoke to said they had a good night’s sleep, except that at about 5am some animals, which they thought were monkeys, (but the people working at the café said were River Cats ??) jumped on their roof and they said it was quite loud, but only lasted 10 mins or so. 

The only other drawback they said was there was no door to the bathroom, it was just around a corner in the room, so didn’t offer a lot of privacy. 

The bungalows here don’t face onto the lake, so there are no direct views of the lake from the front of the bungalows.  The beachfront I thought was OK – I didn’t think it had a such a great aspect on the lake, I liked Lillies and Bayua Beach’s location more.  

Lillies Guesthouse
I stayed here a night.  The bungalows here (only 2 of them, I think) have a lovely location, they face straight out onto the water.   The bungalows are simple, but at the front they have a little balcony with a desk and a day bed, which I really like.  It was great to just spend the afternoon on the daybed watching the lake in front of me.  The drawback to these bungalows is that they have no bathroom; you have to walk about 15 meters to get to the very simple bathrooms. 

The food here is standard, but it was well made and nicely presented, I really liked the food I had.  The rooms here are 50,000 a night.  Lillie’s is very peaceful during the day.  During the night I got a bit of motorbike noise, although it quieted down pretty early.  Lillie’s is not too far from the mosques, so the sound of them woke me up – but I am an extremely light sleeper, so I don’t think it would be a problem for most people. 

One thing that a couple of locals told me about Lillie’s was that sometimes things get stolen from the bungalows.  (I guess because they face right onto the beach people can easily see what travellers have (i.e. a laptop) and when they go out.)  So, good to be careful with your belongings at Lillies.
Bayua Beach Inn, from the road. (It's the white building).

Bayua Beach Inn
For some reason this place is still not mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide, it’s my favorite place to stay.  They have changed it a little over the past few years.  The owner closed down the café attached to the inn and opened up a café 300 metres away along the main road (called ‘No Name Café’).  There’s still a kitchen here though, so it’s possible to buy food and cook it here.  There are also 2 makan Padang restaurants about 100 metres walk away. 

There are three bungalows here, all simple but nice, with bathrooms.  They cost around 70,000 a night (I’m not sure of the exact nightly price because I’m staying here a few months so I have a long-term price). The bungalows look out onto the lake, but there are trees in the way so you get more a view of the garden than the lake.  This place is fairly quiet, although it gets a bit of traffic noise.  It’s further from the mosque than Liilie’s so that noise didn’t bother me at all. 

I love the location of the inn, it’s on a little rocky headland and you get lovely views of the lake. There’s a small beach, but it’s fairly rocky.  The swimming here is good. There’s also a canoe so you can practice canoeing on a rudder-less canoe – very difficult!  (Those fishermen make it look so easy!) 

I have to give Bayua Beach Inn top marks for customer service.  The guys that run it couldn’t be more helpful .  A few days ago one of the other tourists staying here wanted to go to see a waterfall that is a 3 hour round drive from here.  Aris, the manager, was going to take her but wasn’t sure the roads were OK,  so in the morning he did the whole drive by himself to make sure, then took the tourist in the afternoon.   This is just one example, but they really go out of their way here to make sure guests are happy. 

There is a website for Bayua Beach Inn (just google it), but  Bob (the owner of the inn) died a few years ago so his e-mail and phone number aren't in use anymore.  But, the phone number for Bambang is correct, although it's probably best to sms him rather than call because his phone is often out of range. 

If you come to Maninjau by bus from Bukittingi you can get an Ojek to any of these gueshouses.  The Ojek drivers know them, so they will drop you off at the start of the paths that lead to the guesthouses. Coming from Maninjau, Lillie’s is first, then Bayua Beach Inn, then Arlin.  

I have been told by a couple of travellers that Bukitinggi is really, really noisy now, and that they got hardly any sleep.  The mosques have always been a bit of a problem in Bukitinggi, but now there are lots of young men with loud motorbike who race each other in loops around the streets, (particularly the street where the Orchard and Kartini hotel are, as well as a few other hotels).   The travellers I spoke to said, if they were lucky, the town would quieten down between 1.30am and 5am!