– Indonesia (east Java and Bali), July-August 2015
– continental Malaysia, July and August 2015
– continental Malaysia (west coast) and Singapore, October and November 2013
– Malaysia (Sarawak, Tioman) and Singapore, July 2010
– Sumatra, continental Malaysia (west coast) and Singapore, July 2009
[scroll down for earlier reports]
Indonesia (Java and Bali), July-August 2015
route: [by Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur] Yogyakarta – Dieng Plateau – Solo – Gunung Lawu – Solo – Malang – Bromo-Tengger-Semeru NP – Malang – Jember – Banyuwangi – Kawah Ijen – Lovina – Munduk – Sidemen – Ubud – Ngurah Rai Airport [by Air Asia to Kuala Lumpur]
Very useful resource for travel around Indonesia: http://www.travelfish.org/country/indonesia Somewhat out of date but anyway much better than the current edition of the LP guide, especially for finding budget accomodation.
Whenever possible, we travelled by train on Java and our experiences were very positive, much better than when travelling by bus. The train stations are well-organized and much less crowded than bus stations, staff at ticket windows usually spoke some English and were very willing to advise the best option. There are large screens showing ticket availability at each big station. Usually it is enough to book a ticket 1 or 2 days in advance, sometimes there are available tickets right before departure. Tickets can also be bought online on http://en.tiket.com/ (quite user-friendly, in English, accepts international credit cards) but in such case they need to be printed from a special kiosks at any station (booking code needed), no later than 1 hour before departure.
Map: we used the Maps.me application on a GPS-enabled smartphone and it was very useful, showing even small paths in the hills and indicating exact position.
Yogyakarta airport does not offer visa-free entry and exit (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_policy_of_Indonesia for a list of eligible airports and seaports), so we had to buy visas on arrival for $35.
The airport is linked with central Yogya (Malioboro) by Transyogya bus 1a, 3600 Rp (the same bus goes to Prambanan). Transyogya bus routes go in loops, the same bus stop (“halte”) on Malioboro serves both directions.
Accomodation: Losmen Lotus, in Sosrowijayan, in a small lane between Gang 2 and 3, enter the lane opp. Tiffa Losmen. Price 180k Rp, ac, ensuite bathroom, small balcony, basic breakfast included. Nice place.
There are good reliable moneychangers with very good rates in Yogya – Baruman and Mulia in Inna Garuda hotel in Malioboro. Their rates are comparable to best rates obtainable on Bali (see http://www.balibestrate.com/).
Borobudur and Prambanan can be visited on a combined ticket for 375k Rp (listed price is $30, so it is better to pay in Rp). The ticket is valid for visits on two consecutive days (it would be too overwhelming on the same day). This ticket is valid for daytime visits, sunrise is much more expensive (see http://borobudurpark.co.id/ticket-price).
In Prambanan we also visited the Plaosan temples a few kilometers from the main complex. We paid 50k Rp for the becak ride from the entrance to the main complex to Plaosan temples incl. waiting time and back to the bus stop.
For Borobudur we took Transyogya bus 2b from near Tugu station to Jombor bus station (alternatively a taxi would be 40k Rp). It was much easier to come back from Jombor station with bus 2a going directly to Malioboro.
From Jombor to Borobudur the cost was 25/30k Rp by a local bus (overcharged by the conductor, as a comparable distance to Magelang was only 12k Rp). After visiting the main temple we also took a long walk to two other minor temples Candi Pawon and Candi Mendut (the second one has also an an active modern Buddhist monastery nearby). We stayed in Borobudur until ca. 5.30 pm. At that time the Borobudur bus station looked already quite deserted, so we took probably the last bus back to Yogya.
We went to Dieng Plateau by a combination of local buses. The departures were very frequent on the way, we never waited for more than ca. 15 minutes for the next bus. On the downside, the buses were sometimes crowded, always very slow (picking up and dropping passengers every 1km or so) and unreliable – when they decide that they don’t have enough passengers to continue, they would just drop you off, charging only a part of the fare, and you’d need to take another bus going in the same direction.
Yogya: taxi from the Tugu station to Jombor terminal: 40k Rp
Yogya (Jombor) – Magelang: local bus, 1 hr, 12k Rp
Magelang – Wonosobo: local bus, 2,5 hr, 25k Rp, very scenic route
Wonosobo – Dieng: local bus, 15k Rp, 1 hr
In Dieng we stayed in Bu Djono hotel right near the main intersection, 150k Rp for a large but basic double room with bathroom (reliable hot water). The manager gives reliable advice on trekking in the area.
From Dieng we hiked to Gunung Prahu (2565 m). A very nice and easy hike, 2hrs up from Dieng, starting from a side road going sharply up at the end of the village at the exit to Wonosobo. Shortly after the trail passes a school and a cemetery above the village (well recognizable by tall trees). The trail is very well marked by “puncak” signposts. Once on the top it is worthwhile walking along the wide ridge for another 30 minutes or so. Great views of the neighbouring 3000+ volcanoes! Total incl. descent 5 hrs. Before the hike we needed to register and buy entry tickets for 10k Rp in a booth a few steps from Bu Djono (apparently some insurance was included). The tickets were not checked anywhere on the trail. See also: http://www.gunungbagging.com/dieng/
We also did some walks around Dieng, including Kawah Sikidang and Arjuna temples (combined ticket for 25k Rp) and Telaga Warna (no ticket, as we went there in the late afternoon and there was nobody to charge entry fees).
From Dieng we went to Solo, which was possible in 1 day but exhausting. Buses via Wonosobo and Magelang (slow, unreliable, with an additonal change on the way) to Yogya, then a Transyogya bus to the Tugu station and a train to Solo. We wanted to catch a local Prameks or Madiun Jaya train (schedules: http://www.prameks.com/) but finally went with a long distance train for 40k Rp as Prameks was only in 3 hrs and Madiun Jaya was sold out.
We stayed in Cakra Homestay, an incredibly atmospheric place, a large compound full of artefacts, with a nice inside garden, looking like straight out of a nostalgic film set in a tropical outpost in 1920s. They also have a nice pool which was a life-saver after an exhausting hike to Gunung Lawu. Price 200k Rp for a basic AC room (ensuite bathroom, seating area with a nice view at front) with a symbolic breakfast. On the downside, the staff was not reliable – we asked them to book a taxi in order to reach a morning train and finally they told us that there were no taxis available. Luckily we planned enough spare time to reach the station by becak.
Gunung Lawu (3260 m)
We used Solo as a base for a 2-day hike to Gunung Lawu, staying overnight near the summit.
First we went from Solo (Tirtonadi Terminal) to Tawangmangu by local bus: 1,5 hr, 15k Rp. From Tawangmanggu we went to the trailhead in Cemoro Sewu by chartered minibus for 80k Rp. Started from the Cakra Homestay in Solo at 8.30 a.m. and started hiking at 11.30 a.m.
The steep hike from Cemoro Sewu (ca. 1900 m) to the warung Mbok Yem (ca. 3150 m) in Argo Dalem area near the top took 5 hrs. Very well defined path, paved with stones. There is another warung some 300 meters before Mbok Yem on almost the same altitude, when the trail reaches the summit area. Both offer very basic accommodation (just a place on the floor with sleeping mats, free of charge) and simple meals and drinks. The place was not heated and it was very cold at night – the temperature was just a few degrees above freezing. There are also a few bigger buildings in Argo Dalem but they were either locked or totally deserted, so they are presumably only used for major pilgrimages.
In the morning we went up to the top (3260 m) for the sunrise, then returned to the warung for coffee and started the descent via an alternative trail, first crossing the northern side of the summit area westwards and then turning south-west and down to Cemoro Kandang. This trail had much better views than the ascent trail from Cemoro Sewu. It was well-defined but very dusty (a face mask would be a good idea) and must be extremely slippery in wet weather. The descent to the road at Cemoro Kandang took 5 hrs. After a lunch at a roadside warung we hitched a ride from local guys on motorbikes back to Tawangmangu, then took a bus back to Solo.
See also: http://www.gunungbagging.com/lawu/
Solo to Malang – 7 hrs by Malioboro Ekspres train, ticket bought 3 days in advance via http://en.tiket.com/ (we needed then to print it out from a kiosk at the station). Price 210k Rp for eksekutif class.
We found Malang to be a very nice city to spend some time – walkable and peaceful, very pleasant climate, with some nice places to explore including a pet market and a large Chinese temple complex. We stayed in two places:
Hotel Emma, on the main street opposite the train station, some 200 m northwards. Price 175k Rp for a double room, ensuite bathroom, no AC. Quite average.
Hotel Helios, on Jln Pattimura, some 10 min walk from the train station. Very nice room for 250k Rp, AC, breakfast included. On the roof there is a hostel and a bar – nice for beers, average for food.
Bromo – Tengger – Semeru area
We wanted to skip the typical Bromo tour experience including access from Probolinggo (famous for bus station scams), short sleep at an overpriced hotel in Cemoro Lawang and a very crowded sunrise from Penanjakan. After some reading we decided to spend 3 days in the area and access it from Malang via Ngadas on the south western slope of the Tengger caldera. Our plan was successful, albeit with some adventures. The Maps.me application was excellent for navigating the area by ourselves.
Day 1: In order to save time in the morning we decided to catch a taxi from Malang to Ngadas and ask the driver to go by the meter (the cost is 3600 Rp per 1 km). That was an error, as no taxi would go beyond Gubukklakah – the road is simply too steep for sedan cars. To make matters worse, the taxi driver lost his way and dropped us in Poncokusumo in result, a village on a road parallel to Gubugklakah (we duly paid 110k Rp according to the meter). In Poncokusumo we negotiated with local ojek drivers who agreed to take us to Ngadas for 150k Rp for two ojeks (75k for one). They first took a nice back road between Poncokusumo and Gubukklakah and then continued along a spectacular steep road to Ngadas. The road was so steep that we needed to walk along the motorbike for a few steepest parts. All this odyssey took us almost 3 hrs – started from Malang at 8.30 am, started walking from Ngadas at 11.10 am.
Alternatively, there are angkots (minibuses) to Tumpang and then onwards to Gubukklakah, but most probably no public transport to Ngadas.
Some 3-4 kms below Ngadas there is a ticket booth on the main road. Entry ticket to the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park for foreigners was a steep 217.500 Rp on weekdays, 317.500 Rp during weekend. The ticket said it was valid for one day only but according to some reports on the internet its validity is 3 days. Just in case we managed to avoid ticket booths on subsequent days.
[A warning to visitors visiting the Bromo area from the main access point in Cemoro Lawang – there were many reports that local guides in Cemoro Lawang were issuing some bogus slips of paper or fake receipts instead of real tickets, pocketing the money. This happened especially to people taking jeep rides to Mt Penanjakan for the sunrise. A genuine ticket has a series and a sequential number and is printed, not written by hand. Just refuse to pay as long as you don’t get a real ticket. It also seemed that in Cemoro Lawang nobody seemed too interested in selling or checking tickets of daytime visitors, concentrating on the sunrise crowd. There are also many paths into the Tengger crater and towards Bromo which avoid the ticket booth located just at the main road in upper part of Cemoro Lawang.]
From Ngadas (alt. 2100 m) we hiked to Jemplang (2350 m) on the rim of the large Tengger caldera in 45 min, some 2.5 kms on an asphalt road with some traffic. In Jemplang the road branches off – right to Ranu Pani, starting point of the hike to Gunung Semeru, left and down into the Tengger caldera and across the “Savannah” and then the Pasir Laut (Sea of Sands) to Bromo and Cemoro Lawang. [WARNING: there were big signs that the road between Jemplang and Bromo would be closed for reconstruction from mid-August to December 2015]
From Jemplang it took us 4 hrs to reach Cemoro Lawang (2200 m), hiking via the bottom of the Tengger caldera, named first “Savannah”, then Pasir Laut (alt. ca. 2100 m), including a visit to the Poten (Hindu temple under Bromo) but leaving Bromo crater for the next day. The walk was extremely dusty, face masks were very useful. Most parts of it were sand tracks rather than a proper road, passable to motorbikes and jeeps.
In Cemoro Lawang there were plenty of homestays of varying price and quality. After seeing a few places (easy to walk around, the village is small) we found a nice clean place for 150k Rp (large room, hot water, bathroom inside). There is definitely no need to stay at the overpriced Cafe Lava, no matter what the LP guidebook says. There are also a few places to eat with reasonable prices and acceptable food – we had a good dinner at a warung in the large building on the main road short distance up from Cafe Lava.
Day 2: We decided to skip the crowded sunrise jeep ride, slept until 7 am, had breakfast in the village and started hiking towards the Penanjakan viewpoint at 8 am. From Cemoro Lawang first we took a gently ascending village road going broadly parallel to the crater rim which eventually turned into a steep path. It took 2 hrs to reach the viewpoint near the summit (some 2700 m). Our plan was to continue descending to the other (western) side of Penanjakan and descend into the Tengger caldera from there, crossing Pasir Laut towards Bromo. We hiked only as far as the junction with the Wonokitiri road (ca. 2400 m). Seeing strong wind whipping up clouds of dust in Pasir Laut, we decided to take an ojek from the junction to Poten (Hindu temple under Bromo), paid 75k Rp per motorbike. We visited Bromo (a climb of ca 150-200 m up along stairs, up to ca. 2300 m) and then took another ojek ride across the Pasir Laut to Savannah for 50k.
From Savannah we wanted to check out an old path up to the Tengger crater rim, joining the road from Jemplang to Ranu Pani at the top. The path is shown on maps.me but it is overgrown and barely recognizable in the lower part. It starts near a visible group of trees, becomes very visible in the steeper part where the path is carved into the slope. Anyway, it is overgrown with tall grass all the time, so it may be unsafe if there are poisonous snakes in the area. Starts at ca. 2150 m, goes up to ca. 2500 m on the crater rim.
From the crater rim there were some 3-4 kms down along the road to Ranu Pani. The upper part of the village has no accommodation. The lower part located at the lake (ca. 2100 m) has Pak Tasrip homestay (170k Rp for a basic dbl room, shared bathroom, hot water, nasi goreng for breakfast included) and all tourist infrastructure at the Semeru trailhead. There are some shops with trekking gear, “base camp”, places for renting tents and sleeping bags. A guide to Semeru can be hired for 500k Rp according to Tasrip.
Day 3: We hiked to Ranu Kumbolo, the first part of the trail to Gunung Semeru. Took us 3hrs 15 min there and 2 hr 30 back. It was a very nice hike across a primordial-looking forest, with some spectacular views of the puffing Mount Semeru. No steep ascents, from ca. 2100 m to a pass on 2500 m and down to Ranu Kumbolo lake at ca. 2400 m, with a distance of 10,5 km or 13 km (according to various signs).
After the hike we managed to get to Malang in the same day. From Ranu Pani we took ojek to Tumpang (150k Rp per motorcycle, 1hr 10 min ride). From Tumpang we took angkot to Arjosari bus station and another angkot from Arjosari to central Malang. Altogether we started the Ranu Kumbolo hike at 8 am and arrived to Helios hotel in Malang at 5.30 pm, with some hurry (skipped lunch) and a dose of luck, as we did not wait for transport.
Malang to Banyuwangi
From Malang we first went to Jember by train (Tawang Alun 210, 65k Rp for ekonomi class ticket, dep. 15.45, arr. 20.32). The same train goes on to Banyuwangi (arr. 23.30).
In Jember we stayed a night in hotel Ria near Matahari Department Store. The choice was between 198k Rp “executive room” which was acceptable, and somewhat cheaper but much worse run-down “deluxe” and “superior” rooms.
Jember – Banyuwangi: Mutiara Siang train, 65k Rp for bisnis class, dep. 13.00, arr. 15.30. A very scenic ride, taking a daytime train was a good choice.
In Banyuwangi we stayed in Permata Indah Permai hotel (77k Rp for a basic but clean room, bathroom, no AC). The hotel is located on the main road between Banyuwangi and B. Baru train station, literally in the middle of nowhere. It was extremely noisy during the night as traffic noise resonates all around the building. Taxi from the station was 25k Rp. There is a simple restaurant and a shop on the hotel premises. We went for a short walk along the main road and soon found a simple roadside warung some 100 m in the direction of Banyuwangi, on the opposite side of the road, serving delicious crab (40k for a big serving).
We chose Permata Indah Permai just because the owner arranges shared car trips to Kawah Ijen for 150k per person. Add 100k Rp for entry ticket (150k on weekends and holiday) and that’s the total cost of Ijen visit.
The jeep left the hotel at 1 a.m., allowing us to see the famous “blue fires” in the crater while still in the dark. The way from Paltuding (where the car stops) to the crater rim and down to the crater is very obvious. Then we had plenty of time for seeing the crater after sunrise or seeing the sunrise from the crater rim. On the way back short visits to a coffee and rubber plantation and a waterfall were included. We were back at the hotel before 10 a.m., allowing us to take a shower and short nap before checking out at 12 noon and proceeding to Bali by ferry.
There are a couple of other places to stay nearby (within walking distance) which may be of a better standard. Visitors staying in other hotels can still use Permata Indah Permai for the Kawah Ijen trip – one person in our jeep stayed in a more upmarket hotel in a city center.
We took a bemo from the hotel to the Ketapang ferry terminal for 15 k for 2 persons. Ferries to Bali are very frequent. Cost 7500 Rp, 1 hr.
On the Bali side the bus station in Gilimanuk is located right next to the exit from the ferry terminal. Unfortunately the Gilimanuk bus station was infested by annoying scammers. When we entered the bus to Singaraja (for Lovina), two of them went straight to us and demanded 55k, then 50k per person. We refused to pay, as the scam was obvious – they did not ask any local passengers to pay. They insisted that we leave the bus but we simply ignored them. I asked a local passenger for the correct price in broken Indonesian and he told me that it would be 30k. Finally we paid to the conductor once the bus was underway and he collected fares from all passengers. The conductor demanded 40k per person, probably also overcharging us.
In Lovina we stayed in the central Kalibukbuk area in Puri Bali hotel (http://www.puribalilovina.com/), a very nice place located in a large compound with a beautiful garden, with a small swimming pool. The rack rate of 350k Rp for AC room with balcony (breakfast included) was very easily discounted to 800k Rp for 3 nights. The place was maybe 5 minutes walk to the beach but the beach was not so great – the water was a bit murky and some places in shallow water were muddy.
The best place to eat by all accounts was Warung Ayu, on the street between Puri Bali hotel and the beach. Great local food, fresh grilled fish and cold beers for very reasonable price. The place is small, so it can get full. In such case it is worth waiting for a free table!
We had to change money in Lovina. All moneychangers there are small places operating in shops or hotels, not inspiring much confidence. After asking on Tripadvisor forum, we used Tip Top, a shop on the main street near the ATMs – the rate was decent and the transaction was honest.
Lovina to Munduk
We hired a car with a driver for a full day to combine getting to Munduk, our next destination, with some sightseeing. We booked it for 600k Rp in an office near the dolphin statue.
Pura Beji in Sangsit: 10k Rp
Pura Ulu Bratan: 30k Rp
Pura Batukaru: 20k Rp
Jatiluweh village: 20k Rp per person, 5k for car
Parking at temples was usually 5k
In Jatiluweh we found a dish definitely worth trying for carnivores: babi guling, assorted pork meat.
Contrary to what can be found on the internet, there is plenty of inexpensive accommodation in Munduk. The central area of the village is quite compact, so it is easy to walk around and look. We stayed in Taman Ayu homestay, paid 200k Rp for a very nice room with balcony with a spectacular view (breakfast included). They also have a good warung with inexpensive dishes, on a terrace upstairs with views. The location is very good for hiking, as it is right on the starting point of the trail to the waterfalls, overlooking nice coffee and cloves plantation. The owner gave us a hand-drawn map of the trails. They were also shown in detail on maps.me, so the hike was perfectly possible without a guide.
After Munduk we went straight to Sidemen, hiring the same driver for the day for 600k Rp.
Sidemen is a more upmarket destination, as there is virtually no cheap accommodation in the village. From what we have seen there might be just one or two basic places in the centre of the village. All other places charge at least 350k Rp for a double room.
We stayed in Embang Homestay, paying 350k Rp for a very nice bamboo cottage with almost de-luxe facilities and breakfast.
We took a round walk to the temple on the top of the hill opposite Sidemen, than along the hill to the southern side and down back to Sidemen. A full loop took 7 hrs. Jero from Embang Homestay gave us a basic hand-drawn map. Together with maps.me it was enough for orientation.
From Sidemen we went to Ubud by a shuttle minibus for 95k Rp per person.
We stayed in Ubud Tude Family Homestay located in Gang Menda off Jalan Sugriwa. Price 200k Rp with breakfast, no AC (but not needed).
Ubud has some reliable places to change money with very good rates. We used Dirgahayu Valuta Prima (http://www.balibestrate.com/).
We can recommend two places with excellent food: Warung Dicarik in the ricefields, some 20 minutes walk from the Ubud palace (follow the signpost to the ricefields from the main road ca. 200 meters to the east from the Ubud palace) and Warung Laba Laba on Jalan Hanoman.
We made several walks nearby Ubud in nice landscapes of rice paddies and villages.
One walk that I have to warn against is the Penestanan and Sayan walk, described in the LP Bali & Lombok guidebook. Some seedy would-be-guides started harassing us as soon as we started descending to Sungai Ayung valley from near the Sayan Terrace hotel. They demanded 100k Rp per person. After some time we got rid of them, refusing to pay anything but then we realised that the path along Sungai Ayung has been obstructed in several places by locals putting up improvised gates and extorting money for letting us pass through them. They all started from 50k Rp per person but each time they finally settled for 10k after some unfriendly negotiation. They all had large sickles or machetes – maybe local farming tools but they definitely used them for the threatening effect. It all looked quite uneasy and I wonder whether they would soon resort to mugging tourists passing along the path. Furthermore, the path was very narrow and slippery in places, with several places where falling several meters into the river was quite possible.
Ubud was our last place in Indonesia. From Ubud we took a taxi to the Ngurah Rai International Airport for 300.000 Rp. Took 2 hrs in heavy traffic even though we skipped the worst part of it by giving the driver additional 10.000 Rp and asking him to take the toll road to avoid the most congested part near Kuta. Alternatively, there is also an airport shuttle from Ubud for 60.000 Rp per person. Plan at least 3 hrs, possibly even more, if it does not take the toll road.
continental Malaysia, July-August 2015
This time we spent about 2 weeks in Malaysia (2 x ca. 1 week), visiting it on our way to and from Indonesia. Route: Kuala Lumpur – Cameron Highlands – Ipoh – Pulau Ketam – Kuala Lumpur; Kuala Lumpur – Kuantan – Marang – Pulau Kapas – Kuala Lumpur
Getting to and from the airport (both KLIA and KLIA2) – bus from Sentral station (the bus stand is not signposted – take the stairs under the escalator leading to Nu Sentral mall, down to the parking lot) or from Pudu Sentral, 10-11 RM, 1 hr; or train from Sentral station, very well signposted, 30-35 min, much more expensive at 35 RM.
There are several inexpensive food options at KLIA – a food court two floors below departures or food joints right at the bus stand, priced slightly above comparable places downtown, still quite cheap.
Accomodation: this time we stayed in 4 different places in KL, all in similar price range and all quite decent (clean room, ensuite bathroom, AC). We found Brickfields area near KL Sentral a very good choice for easy transport links both to the airport and around the city. For getting out of KL it is just a few train stops from the giant TBS bus terminal (actually easier to reach than the more central Pudu Sentral).
– Winsin Hotel in Chinatown (http://www.winsinchinatownhotel.com.my/), booked by booking.com, 88 RM. A short walk from Pudu Sentral bus station.
– Signature Hotel @ Little India , Jalan Thambi Abdullah, Brickfields, some 15 min walk from KL Sentral station, 92 RM (79.20++ on booking.com). Very good, better quality than the other Signature right near Sentral.
– Signature Hotel KL Sentral, Jalan Thambipillay, a very short walk from KL Sentral, walk-in 90 RM. Slightly more worn down than the previous one but better location for the transport.
– Prescott Hotel KL Sentral, 93.50 RM, a bigger more upmarket one but good deals available on booking.com.
Changing money: surprisingly we found moneychangers with decent rates both inside Sentral station (another one in Nu Sentral mall) and Pudu Sentral bus station, open even on Sunday.
Moving out from KL by bus: when staying near KL Sentral, it is actually easier to reach the new big TBS bus terminal, just four stops on a Komuter train. An alternative, older and more central Pudu Sentral (near Chinatown), is worse organized and full of ticket touts trying to overcharge passengers at least by a few ringgits.
For durian lovers – we found a very good place with several durian stalls on a food market between Chow Kit and Kampong Baru, on Jalan Raja Alang, near a big Sikh gurudwara.
Trips around Malaysia:
KL Pudu Sentral station to Tanah Rata – bus, 45 RM, ca. 3,5 hrs
Tanah Rata: Bird’s Nest Hotel, 100,70 RM, booked via booking.com. Clean room with bathroom and nice window view. Very central location in Tanah Rata but away from the main street, so avoiding the noise. We booked it much in advance, as we travelled during Hari Raya high season. Otherwise cheaper accommodation should be easy to find in Tanah Rata, as the place is quite compact.
In the Cameron Highlands we did some hiking and visited the tea plantations. For getting around we used a combination of taxis (there is a useful taxi stand in Tanah Rata, near the bus station) and hitch-hiking. Maps.me application and a GPS-enabled smartphone was very useful in navigating the Cameron Highlands, as it shows most paths and hiking trails and can be used off-line. The map sold locally was almost useless. A basic description of the trails can be found at http://www.cameronhighlandsinfo.com/jungle_trekking/.
– Trail 10, from Tanah Rata. The whole loop via Gunung Jasar (1670 m) to the power station took some 2,5 hrs. It was quite obvious, except the starting point, near Oly appartments, which was like entering into private property by a gate. The actual summit of Gunung Jasar is a bit behind the empty place with a power line pylon. It can be combined with walk back to Tanah Rata via Parit falls. Other combinations were not available, as Trail 11 does not exist anymore and the branch-off to trail 6 was signposted as blocked.
– Trail 1, from Brinchang. Starting point above the town, near Multicrops market. It took us 2 hrs to reach the top of Gunung Brinchang (2030 m; some 450 m altitude gain from the starting point). The trail was very steep and muddy but obvious all the time. From Gunung Brinchang we walked some 20 min to the Mossy Forest, then ca 1 hr to the Boh tea plantation and another 45 min or so across the plantation to the visitor centre. From the plantation we hitch-hiked back to Tanah Rata (there were no taxis at the plantation but I saw one of the caretakers in the visitor center calling for a taxi for another tourist).
We skipped Trails 9, 9a and 9b near Robinson Falls because of many reports of robberies and attacks on hikers occurring there recently.
From Tanah Rata to Brinchang a taxi costs 10 RM. Otherwise it is walkable along Parit falls and a golf course, quite pleasant, with only last 5 min before Brinchang itself along an unpleasant main road.
We also went from Tanah Rata to the Cameron Bharat tea plantation, at the main road. Taxi from Tanah Rata was 15 RM, the road is not walkable from Tanah Rata. There are very nice plantation walks, including quite long ones, from the lower viewpoint, much shorter ones from the upper viewpoint.
There are a few good inexpensive South Indian restaurants on the main street in central Tanah Rata. We also liked May Flower, a Chinese place specialising in the local “steamboat” hotpot on Camelia str. one block away from the main road in the center of Tanah Rata.
From Tanah Rata we continued to Ipoh by bus, booked at the bus station a day in advance. Took 2 hrs, 20 rm.
The bus dropped us at the new Aman Jaya bus terminal, far from the city. From there we took a shuttle bus to the Medan Kidd local bus station near the train station.
We stayed in DG One Stop Budget (Bajet) Hotel for 69 RM (AC, ensuite bathroom), near train station in the old town.
It was our second visit to Ipoh after 6 years. We found the old town quite more lively compared to the previous visit, with an interesting street art scene.
We wanted to take the fast ETS train from Ipoh to KL (schedules: http://www.ktmb.com.my/index.php/2013-10-22-03-44-57/ets-train) but they were fully booked on the same day until late afternoon. Book a day in advance if possible. The train seems much better, as it is faster and the train station is in central Ipoh. Anyway, we had to take the bus, from the Aman Jaya bus terminal to Pudu Sentral (dropped us at KL Sentral), for 23 rm, 3 hrs.
We decided to head for one of our remaining nights in Malaysia to Pulau Ketam (see http://www.pulauketam.com/v3/), a Chinese fishing village on a mangrove island near Kuala Lumpur, known for its crab dishes.
Transport: KL Sentral to Pelabuhan Klang 1,20 hr by Komuter train, 4,30 RM
P. Klang to Pulau Ketam 30 minutes by speedboat 10 RM or ferry 7 RM.
Accomodation: Sealion Hotel , (http://sealion.com.my/index-sealion.html), 68 RM, a decent double room with AC and bathroom. There is another hotel inside the village, on the second main street with restaurants.
Local seafood was very good but not that cheap. We spent 147 RM for a big crab & fish feast for 2 persons, washed down with a few beers, in one of cheaper places. There are no real menus, so ask for prices before ordering.
Another attraction of Pulau Ketam are its many colorful Chinese temples. We had luck to see a temple festival with Chinese opera on stage near the temple and strange shamanistic-like trance rituals inside the temple.
Kuantan and Pulau Kapas
Looking for a few days at the beach, we opted for Pulau Kapas off the Terengganu coast. We went there with a break in Kuantan.
KL (Pudu Sentral) to Kuantan – bus, 24.20 RM, 3 hrs. Arrived to Hentian Bandar bus station on the outskirts of Kuantan. City bus 303 links it to the former bus station near the city center.
Kuantan accommodation: Hotel Elite Boutique on Jalan Besar, 70 RM, very small room with no window but clean and nice (AC, ensuite bathroom)
Kuantan to Marang –we took the 11.30 bus from Hentian Bandar terminal going to Kuala Terengganu, 3 hrs, ca. 19 RM. Asked the driver to drop us in Marang. From bus stop it was a short walk to the jetty.
Boats to Kapas are run by MGH, a company with office at the jetty. Price: 40 RM return. Schedule: http://www.kapasisland.com/mgh-boats.htm. They add extra runs in case of need. The boats are small and the return ticket is open, so it is a good idea to call them or ask the lodge owner to call to confirm return boat. If the boat is full, they won’t let you board it and will send another one to pick you up – plan an extra 1 hr or so for such case when leaving the island.
Kapas is a very small island – a lazy stroll along all accessible beaches of its western coast (facing mainland) takes maybe 30-40 minutes. From every accommodation option you can easily walk to other places to have food or spend time on a different beach (good idea, as some are good for swimming, other ones better for snorkeling). Add a jungle walk to the eastern coast and that’s everything you can explore on the island. There are two well-marked paths – shorter one starting at the back of the Kapas Island Resort and a longer one starting at the stairs between Captain’s Longhouse and Kapas Turtle Valley. The whole loop took us 1.30 hrs of a slow walk (there were plenty of mosquitoes).
Most accommodation on Kapas was full even mid-week (August is high season). MGH can probably help with booking, so it may be a good idea to contact them a few days in advance. After walking around almost all places, we finally stayed in Pak Ya Chalets – perfect beachside location, with the beach directly at front good for swimming. On the downside, chalets were ramshackle and quite dirty and there was some sewer smell. 70 RM/night, inside bathroom, fan.
Food on Pulau Kapas is mostly mediocre and quite overpriced, with limited choice. Quite striking, as there is a great fish and fruit market just near the jetty in Marang. One lucky exception to the rule was Koko restaurant – still not cheap (mains 15-20 RM) but excellent. Beer was available in several places on the island but also pricey – 10-11 RM for a small 0,33 l can.
See also http://tezza-thailandbeachesandislands.blogspot.com/2011/04/blog-post.html for more useful information on Kapas.
MGH was very helpful for getting out from Marang and onwards travel. They have a bus schedule and happily booked a ticket to KL for us (43.50 RM + 5 RM booking fee, 7 hrs). As there are no bus company offices in Marang, tickets can be only bought at Kuala Terengganu. Bus drivers do not sell tickets to passengers, so it was not possible simply to flag down a passing bus in Marang. We left money to MGH guys before going to Kapas and picked the tickets up from their office at the jetty in Marang when going back from the island. With tickets on hand we were able to board the passing bus from Kuala Terengganu to KL at the Marang bus stop.
Malaysia and Singapore, Oct and Nov 2013
This time we visited Malaysia and Singapore on our way to Nepal, as the cheapest connection was a special offer flight to Singapore and Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu. That gave us 4 days on the way there and 11 days on the way back.
Route: Singapore – Muar – Kuala Lumpur + Kuala Lumpur LCCT airport – Langkawi – Penang – Taiping (incl. Kuala Kangsar) – Singapore.
We stayed in Geylang again (MRT Aljunied). We booked hotel via http://www.booking.com/ and our choice this time was New Happy Hotel (http://www.newhappyhotel.com.sg/), at S$ 65 for double room (AC, ensuite, wi-fi), very small but clean and comfortable enough. The surroundings are great for good and cheap food, durians and a beer at a street eatery. As there are lots of budget hotels in the area, it slowly becomes backpacker haunt no. 1 in Singapore.
Getting to Muar – we took a city bus from Queen Str. bus station near Lavender MRT across the Causeway to Larkin bus station in Johor Bahru. From Johor Bahru we took a bus by Mayang Sari company, 16,70 RM, ca. 2-2,5 hrs. Buses are frequent, we just took the first available without bothering to check the timetable.
We stayed in Hotel Kingdom on Jalan Sisi, a basic old-style Chinese hotel. 40 RM for a double (AC, ensuite, no wi-fi), a bit run down but OK for one night. Muar is not a place of particular interest but a pleasant place to stay a night, have a walk among shophouses and on the waterfront and some food in one of the foodcourts.
Muar – Kuala Lumpur – bus, 17,60 RM, ca. 3 hrs. Again, we just arrived at the station and soon were leaving on the first bus available. The bus dropped us at Terminal Bersepadu Selatan, a giant new bus station on the outskirts, from where we took a suburban train to KL Sentral.
Hotel Winsin (http://www.winsinchinatownhotel.com.my/) in Chinatown, again booked via http://www.booking.com/, 88 RM for a quite comfortable double room (AC, ensuite, wi-fi). Just opposite there was a moneychanger offering fabulous rates for euros, just a fraction of percentage point below interbank rates.
Getting to LCCT – we took a bus from the parking at the KL Sentral station. There are two companies, one for 10 RM, another for 8 RM, departures every 15 – 30 min. Took ca. 1 hr to LCCT.
On our way back we slept at the LCCT at Tunes Hotel, within easy walking distance of the terminal. Booked via http://www.tunehotels.com/ well in advance and we got a very small room for ca. 120 RM per night including AC. It gets more expensive for late bookings. There is a 7/11 shop (open 24 hrs) and an Indian fast food restaurant at the hotel.
We stayed in Rainbow Langkawi GH in Pantai Cenang (http://rainbowlangkawi.yolasite.com/). High-season price was 80 RM for a large double room (ensuite and AC) with a balcony. Wi-fi worked only in the bar and reception area. Quite nice and laid-back, a short walk of maybe 5 minutes to the beach, within walking distance of many restaurants and shops.
Altogether we had mixed feelings about Langkawi. It was nice to chill out for a few days but it was very touristy and crowded, far cry from a secluded tropical paradise. The beach was not so great for swimming, sea a bit muddy at some places. It was also much more expensive than anywhere in the mainland Malaysia, in particular restaurants. Another drawback was the total lack of public transport – the only transport available were expensive taxis (from Pantai Cenang 30 RM one way to the Langkawi cable car, 40 RM to the Crocodile Park, 30 RM to Kuah, 17 RM to the airport). That makes it even more attractive to rent a motorbike, but beware – every evening we saw police controls quite obviously targeting foreign-looking motorbike riders. Finally, there is some safety problem – a thief on motorbike tried to snatch my wife’s bag on a side street from Rainbow GH inland, the only such incident we had during our 3 visits to Malaysia. Luckily he did not succeed but we were too astonished to take note of his license plate. Other tourists later told us that they had some property stolen from balcony at front of their hotel room.
Langkawi Cable Car (30 RM) was incredibly crowded. Luckily, the tickets are sold for a specific hour, so we bought our tickets, went for a walk up Telaga Tujuh waterfall (ca. 1 km by road from the cable car entrance, and then ca. 30 minutes up) and were back in ca. 2 hrs right for our entry time. Sadly, the Skywalk was closed for repairs until further notice and it didn’t seem like it would open any time soon.
Langkawi – Penang – by ferry, 3,5 hrs. Ferries leave from Kuah. It’s either 64 RM for the ferry + 30 RM for a taxi from Pantai Cenang to Kuah or 84 RM per person for a package consisting of the ferry ticket and drop-off by car. It needs to be booked at least a day in advance. The ferry cabin was not very good for views (tinted windows) but there was a small upper deck.
So far from our experience Georgetown is the city no. 1 in Malaysia. Great and inexpensive street food, many interesting sights and vibrant culture. Our discovery this time were Clan Jetties on the waterfront – a bit touristy during the day but very climatic after dark. We stayed in Kim Sun Hotel on Lebuh Campbell (parallel to Lebuh Chulia), 68 RM for double room with bathroom, AC and wi-fi, a bit basic but clean and very conveniently located for wandering around the city.
Butterworth – Taiping (Kamunting) – by bus, a bit more than 1 hr, 8,50 RM. From Kamunting it was 30 minutes or so by city bus to downtown Taiping.
Taiping – we stayed at Peking Hotel, a few steps from the city bus station, a climatic if somewhat rundown heritage building. 65 RM for a large double, ensuite, AC and wi-fi. Rooms upstairs are much nicer than at the ground floor.
From Taiping we made a half day trip to Kuala Kangsar, by local bus, ca. 4 RM, less than 1 hr.
Taiping (Kamunting) – Singapore – Initially we wanted to travel by train (http://www.ktmb.com.my/), but we gave up when we found out that we would arrive at 10 p.m. at Woodlands station which seems to be in the middle of nowhere – a bus ride and then long MRT ride to our accommodation, which we would probably reach around midnight. Finally we went by bus (ca. 9,5 hrs, 65 RM, only two buses in the late morning, 10.30 and 11.00 a.m., more overnight). The bus dropped us at much more convenient Golden Mile Complex. short walk from MRT Lavender.
Malaysia, July 2010 (mostly Sarawak)
route: Singapore – Kuching – Sibu – Kapit – Belaga – Niah – Miri – Johor Bahru – Pulau Tioman – Mersing – Singapore
Time: 20 days
a good budget place to sleep – Hotel 81, a chain of budget hotels. Most are in Geylang district, near Aljunied MTR station, quite close to the airport. In theory it’s a red light district but definitely a Singapore sort of red light district… We found the area actually quite nice – safe, with a lot of great food, durian stalls (starting from S$ 2 per fruit) and some nice architecture too. The brothels are rather discreet, and none of their trade actually reaches hotels of the Hotel81 chain.
Changing money – best rates were offered by moneychangers in Little India. Airport rates were relatively decent as well.
Singapore-Kuching – we took a flight by Air Asia (http://www.airasia.com/). Other options include Tiger Airways or taking a flight from the Johor Bahru airport, which might be cheaper but is definitely farther away than Singapore.
sleeping: we stayed at Furama Lodging House (http://www.furamalodge.com/), 70 RM for a small double (AC and bathroom) or 90 RM for a much larger one. Better to book by e-mail. Very convenient location at the Jalan Green Hill, impeccably clean, friendly staff, cheap and reliable laundry service.
Orchid Pension just next door may be an alternative for shoestring travelers – at 45 RM per double, less clean.
Changing money – best rates are offered by Mohamed Yahya and Sons in the underground part of Sarawak Plaza. Much better than anywhere else in downtown Kuching and else in Sarawak except Miri.
Taxi prices in Kuching: airport 26 RM, jetty 20 RM.
A tip for beer drinkers – Chinese beer in Kuching and elsewhere in Sarawak is way cheaper than in continental Malaysia, starting from 7-8 RM for a 0,6 l bottle. Decent options are Tsingtao and Pearl River. Tiger beer is available mostly in 0,3 l cans, starting for 5 RM.
Trips from Kuching:
Semenggoh – an organized trip to the orangutan feeding at 9 am (entry included) costs 35 RM per person, to be booked at several hostels the evening before. Otherwise there’s a public bus from the local bus station at 7.30 or so, but it would require walking the last 2-3 kms to the feeding site. Hiking trails around the Semenggoh reserve were closed and visitors were asked to leave the area after the feeding.
Jong’s Crocodile Farm (http://www.jongscrocodile.com/) near Siburan – best reached by public bus towards Serian, alight just after Siburan and walk for 1-2 kms along a side road (signposted). Crocodile feedings at 11 am and 3 pm every day. Entry 16 RM. Avoid the photo exhibition if you are faint-hearted – there are some very graphic pictures of victims of crocodile attacks.
Santubong – shuttle bus for 10 RM. Hiking trails start at the Green Paradise Cafe (1 RM entry fee) where a makeshift map is distributed. After the hike it was great to have a swim in the sea at the Damai Beach Resort – entry and use of beach facilities for day guests for 3 RM.
Muara Tebas – an interesting and picturesque Chinese temple complex and some nice seafood places at a village near the Bako peninsula. We reached it by hiring the whole minivan for 30 RM, went back for 10 RM per person.
Bako Nat’l Park – transport: Petrajaya bus to Bako village for 3 RM per person, then a boat for 47.50 RM per load of up to 6 persons. It’s best to book accommodation in the park HQ in advance, as it fills up quickly – either on http://www.sarawakforestry.com/htm/snp-np-bako.html or after arrival in Kuching at the Sarawak Forestry office in the old court building in the centre. Even if booking by internet is rejected it is still worth to ask again at the office – in our case they found a room for us 4 days in advance. Budget options (standard for all Sarawak national parks) include doubles for 52.50 RM or dorms for 14 RM per person or 42 RM per whole room (4 beds). Both options are very comfortable and dorm rooms have en-suite bathrooms (contrary to what some information on the web says). There’s a canteen with simple cheap food and drinks at the park HQ.
It’s definitely worth to stay overnight or even 2 nights in Bako. It’s easiest to see the proboscis monkeys early in the morning near the park HQ. The rangers organize an evening guided jungle walk (10 RM per person) showing a lot interesting details, very interesting if you have little jungle experience.
from Kuching up the Rejang river
Kuching-Sibu – ferryboat at 8.30 am, 5 hrs, 45 RM. There is an upper deck with open views.
Sibu – Riverview Hotel just near the jetty, 35 RM per dbl (quite basic but with bathroom and AC). There’s also a great food joint nearby – Hai Bing Seafood.
From Sibu upriver there are only rocket-style speedboats with no open decks. Sometimes the crew would let you to sit on the roof but it seemed a bit risky – the boats were travelling up to 80 kms per hour.
Sibu-Kapit – frequent boats, 2 hrs, 20 RM. Deep-freeze AC, no open doors on our boat.
Kapit – New Rejang Inn, 60 RM for a nice double (bathroom and AC)
A permit is technically needed for travel upriver from Kapit but nobody checked it and barely anybody bothers about it. It is issued by the Resident’s office in an administrative building a short minibus ride out of central Kapit.
Kapit-Belaga – boat at 9 a.m., 5 or 6 hrs (as far as I remember), 35 RM. This was definitely the best part of the Rejang trip – with extremely picturesque jungle views, beautiful rapids and several longhouses along the river. The boat doors were left open, allowing for a quite wide view.
Belaga – Sing Soon Huat, 35 RM for double with bathroom and AC, basic.
Belaga to Niah Caves
Belaga – junction on the Bintulu-Miri road, 50 RM per person in a jeep, 7.30 a.m., took ca. 4 hrs (it operates daily as shared taxi between Belaga and Bintulu). The driver needs to be contacted on the previous evening, we asked for a contact at our hotel.
Belaga junction – Niah junction – a Bintulu-Miri bus (very frequent), 10 RM
Niah junction – Niah park HQ – taxi for 25 RM. For a ride back a park ranger arranged a cab for us for 30 RM. It’s quite advisable to go straight to the park HQ as it’s a few kms behind Niah village and park accomodation is quite nice (no cheap doubles, only dorms for 42 RM per whole room, very comfortable). No troubles getting a room on arrival, it didn’t seem very busy.
A walk from the park HQ to the Niah Caves and back took us 4 hrs. Boats are available to cross the Niah river back to the HQ until 7.30 p.m. – we barely made in it time from the caves when we watched the evening bat migration. In case of being late it’s better not to swim in the river – Niah village was the site of the last deadly crocodile attack on a human in Sarawak in 2001.
Niah junction – Miri – bus, 2 hrs, 12 RM.
Sleeping: Brooke Inn on Jalan Brooke, 50 RM for a decent double (bathroom and AC), very friendly staff.
Trip to Miri Crocodile Farm (http://www.miricrocodilefarm.com/) near Kuala Baram – by bus to Kuala Baram from the local bus station. Entry 12 RM. No feedings on weekdays, a bit less interesting than Jong’s farm near Kuching but nice to see nevertheless.
Taxi to the airport – 20 RM.
Miri – Johor Bahru – a flight by Air Asia
Airport shuttle bus (8 RM per person) passes near the Tune Hotel and the very friendly driver made absolutely no fuss to drop us there, even if it was not an official stop.
Tune Hotel at Danga Bay (http://www.tunehotels.com/) – a business class hotel, booked on their webpage for 25 RM per double (AC included). Very friendly and helpful staff, free internet in the lobby. Highly recommended. A taxi from Tune to Larkin bus was some 10-15 RM.
Johor Bahru – Mersing – bus, 2,5 hrs, ca. 10 RM
Mersing – Pulau Tioman – ferryboat 35 RM + 5 RM park entry fee. The ferry serves several places on the west coast of Tioman, tell the crew where you want to alight.
We stayed at Panuba Inn (prices and other info here http://panubainnresort.com/). Nice place on its own small bay, a short jungle trek (10 minutes along a quite strenuous path) away from Air Batang.
Very good info on Tioman is available here: http://tezzasthaiinfo.blogspot.com/2007/07/gorgeous-tioman-island.html
Sumatra and continental Malaysia, July 2009
Route: Singapore – Padang airport – Bukittinggi – Maninjau – B.Tinggi – Danau Toba – Berastagi – Medan – Bukit Lawang – Medan – Penang – Ipoh – Pulau Pangkor – Kuala Lumpur – Melaka – Singapore
Timing: 14 days in Sumatra, 13 days in Malaysia, 2 nights in Singapore
It turned out to be much less sterile and dull as conventional wisdom says. From our very limited experience (2 afternoons) we can say that Kampung Glam, Little India and Chinatown are quite lively and all of them could be a nice first glimpse of Asia.
[Update July 2010 – another place to explore is Geylang and its durian stalls. Contrary to its reputation as red lights district it’s not dangerous at all and most business going around there is fully respectable. No worries to sleep in a hotel there as well (see another update below).]
Accomodation – we slept in Cozy Corner Guesthouse (http://www.cozycornerguest.com/). Booked via e-mail, 40 S$ for double with AC, shared bathroom. Very basic (rooms much worse that pics on their website), but OK for one night. Great location for Kampung Glam, Little India and street food. A short walk from Bugis MRT station – ca. 30 minutes ride by MRT from the airport, 1,60 S$ +1 S$ refundable deposit (no free tickets at the airport contrary to what the LP says).
[Update July 2010 – see also http://www.hotel81.sg/ for another idea on cheap place to sleep in Singapore. It’s a decent hotel chain, offering comfortable doubles with bathroom. When booked via http://www.booking.com/, a double room was 55 S$, much better quality than Cozy Corner.].
Prices in S’pore: quite good meals in street eateries started from 3 to 5 S$, beer from 5,5 – 6 S$ per large Tiger.
Singapore to Padang (Sumatra) – Tiger Airways, from Changi Budget Terminal. Cost 44 S$ per person (one way), booked a month ahead on their website. Took one hour.
Some general info:
Food price – 10K – 25K per dish at a simple restaurant
Beer – 20-25 K for a large Bintang (drinkable). Available in traveller cafes in Muslim areas or virtually everywhere in Christian-dominated places like Danau Toba.
Accomodation – 50 K – 125K per acceptable double (ensuite bathroom) in the budget range
Internet – from 3-4K per hour to 15 K in touristy places
Laundry – between 25K and 50K per a big load
Mosquitoes: they were there and they did bite, in every place we visited, even in spite of our daily use of repellents. We took Malarone as malaria prophylaxis.
On arrival at Padang airport we bought our visas on arrival – 25 US$ for a 30 days visa. It’s also possible to get a 10 days visa for 10 $. We haven’t been asked for the return or onward ticket, although it seems to be officially required. There’s a moneychanger just behind the exit but his rates were poor (13.500 Rp. per 1 euro, while www.xe.com/ucc was showing ca. 14.400).
From Padang Airport we took a cab directly to Bukittinggi for 222K Rp. (fixed price from the airport counter). Took about 2 hrs along a busy road.
We went to Kartini hotel we knew from some favourable recommendations (according to other tourists, 115 K for a comfortable double) but it was full, so we finished in Orchid Hotel just across the street. We paid 100K Rp. for an average double with bathroom (hot water). There are some cheaper rooms without hot water. It was quite noisy from the neighbouring mosque but tales about getting a ‘blast’ from the muezzin were exaggerated. Generally I don’t recommend them – the manager seemed friendly but he overcharged us 50K per person for the Merapi climb. He first promised that we could have a rest after the climb even after the check-out time but then, probably realising that there’s no more money to be made on us, he insisted that we leave after a shower.
Bukittinggi was quite chilly in the evenings (alt. ca. 900 mts), so there’s no need for AC.
Changing money – there are several moneychangers on Jalan Ahmad Yani but they mostly don’t display exchange rates, so it’s the matter of going around and asking them (waiting till the lady comes from the neighbouring shop etc.). Rates are poor, the best what we could get after some haggling was 13.850 per euro. Only big denomination banknotes in very good condition are accepted for the going rate. We also asked at some banks but they either wouldn’t change foreign currency at all or would accept only US dollars.
Sights – Bukittinggi in itself is nice to stroll around but there’s nothing particularly interesting. We found the large labyrinthine bazaar to be the most interesting place in the town and a good place for some shopping. Generally the best about Bukittinggi lies in the surroudings – climbing Gunung Merapi was an awesome experience, chilling out on Lake Maninjau a bit less so…
Climbing Gunung Merapi
We arranged a guide via Orchid Hotel and paid 300K per person. Later other guys who were on the same trek with us told us that they paid 250K via other places, so Orchid is best avoided. The price included transport to and from the trailhead, some food (a little, it’s better to take some snacks additionally) and coffee prepared by our guide in the morning. We took 3 bottles of water for 2 persons and it was just about enough. A headlight was absolutely necessary.
The trip started at about 10.30 p.m. by going with a minibus to the trailhead near the ranger station above the village of Kota Baru. We started walking around midnight, first along a dirt road across some fields, then across a bamboo bridge and from there steep uphill along a rough and slipperry path (would be really tricky after a rain). It was pretty well trodden and even marked, in daylight finding the path by oneself wouldn’t be difficult. Sadly, the amount of rubbish on and around the path was incredible. We passed a lot of locals camping on the trail. At around 4 a.m. we stopped for a little sleep just below the tree line and ascended to the crater rim just with first hints of daylight. Then we sat for a while on the top and observed the surrounding landscape gradually getting first touchs of the rising sun – an incredibly fascinating spectacle. There was a very good view of Singarak lake and surrounding hills below, some shrouded in mist, as well as the Singgalang volcano just across, catching the shade of Merapi on the moist air on its slopes.
We were back at the ranger station at about 11 a.m. and in Bukittinggi at noon. After a shower we were kicked out of the hotel (in contradiction to the previous promises of the owner), so we decided not to stay another night in B. Tinggi and went to Maninjau.
First we took an opelet from Jalan Ahmad Yani to Aur Kuning bus terminal. The bus station in Bukittinggi is a hopelessly Third World kind of place – chaotic, confusing, dirty, full of touts and with occassional scam artists – as we have seen later that’s a description that suits the public transport in Sumatra in general. First we bought our tickets for the next trip to Parapat and then we located the Maninjau bus.
The trip of ca. 40 km costed 13K, took 2 hrs in very cramped conditions and involved two additional lengthy waits – one at the station till the bus gets full and another at the crossroads to change into another bus.
We made the mistake to trust the guidebooks and went 5 km or so further than the Maninjau village to Bayur, expecting a kind of tropical paradise. It looked idyllic indeed but as we checked both accomodation options there (Lili’s and Batu C) it turned out that they both offered only basic cottages at the lakeside, without even a proper shower. The nearest place to eat was 5 kms away in Maninjau and they did not even sell bottled water, coffee or tea. Quite a bad news, as we were hungry and exhausted after the Merapi hike.
We walked back towards Maninjau and finally found a much nicer place at 44 Cafe and Homestay – a couple of basic cottages (with bathroom shared between two rooms) and a simple restaurant at the lake. Accomodation costed 30K per room, the hosts were friendly and served great food with chilled beer. Water in the lake was not enticing – a bit greenish, with a lot of algae and some snails. At the end of our stay I saw two locals shitting to the lake under nearby trees, so even if I come back to Sumatra I won’t definitely swim in Maninjau.
Another drawback was the road from Maninjau to Bayur and beyond – narrow and full of racing cars and motorbikes. We thought about renting bicycles but gave up, we are not that suicidal. The part from Maninjau in the opposite direction was much more peaceful but doing a trip round the lake would definitely require negotiating some heavy traffic.
From Maninjau to Parapat
From Maninjau back to B.Tinggi there’s no bus schedule, so one must simply wait at the roadside and flag the bus down. Before any appeared, a minibus stopped and took us for 20 K per person.
Going from B.Tinggi to Parapat and eventually to Medan is the tricky part, as it requires travelling the Transsumatran Highway, ca. 300 km of very bad road in anything from 14 to 30 hrs. We had tickets but it turned out that departure times and even which bus belongs to which company are very relative in Sumatra. We had previously booked our tickets to Parapat for 155K/per person, departure at 2 p.m. (of course Mister, AC, very clean, executive class) at the second or third office just at the entrance to the station, recognizable by a huge portrait of Saddam Hussein on the wall. When we arrived, some other passengers pointed to a dilapidated-looking bus and told us that it was the only one to Parapat/Medan, departing at 2.30. We boarded it with our luggage and I went to ‘our’ ticket office to confirm it. In the ticket office I was told that it was not the right bus, but our bus was coming from Jakarta, late, uncomfortable and full (story no. 1) or had completely broken down (story no. 2, 10 minutes later). However, we could stay on the bus which we boarded if we pay 60K more. This I flatly refused and went back to the bus. The office guy followed me and finally I gave him 20K. On the bus we met a sympathetic Russian couple who actually had tickets for the day before but their bus had not materialized, so they had been just told to come the next day.
At 3.30 p.m. we finally departed and the bus surprisingly turned out to be not so bad – AC worked, the seats were reclining and we actually had quite a good sleep. We reached Parapat at 7 a.m., so the ride took 15,5 hrs.
BTW, for those reading Russian – the website of our Russian travel companions:http://indostan.ru/ Loads of travel information on SW Asia.
In Parapat the bus dropped us at the main transit road (close to the ‘bus station’). We took an opelet (2K) to the jetty and then, after a short wait, the ferryboat to Tuk Tuk on the Samosir Island (7K, 45 min.). The ferryboat goes around the peninsula and drops passengers at the places of their choice. We followed the advice of a German couple and went to Lekjon Cottages, close to Anju Cottages. It turned out to be a good choice – we paid 50 K for a really comfortable large room with bathroom (hot water) and a big balcony with lake view. They also have a restaurant with quite good food.
Toba was much better for swimming than Maninjau, with much cleaner water, but that’s definitely not the place to learn swimming – it gets very deep just at the shore. We also rented bicycles (20K per day) for a trip to nearby villages of Ambarita and Tomok – quite enjoyable as there was not much traffic on the road.
Internet was quite expensive in Tuk Tuk, the cheapest place was Bagus in the ‘centre’ (10K/hour, but overpriced food).
Danau Toba – Berastagi
It seemed to be logistically difficult but turned out to be really simple and one of few bus/minibus trips in Sumatra with nobody trying to overcharge us. First we caught the ferry directly from our hotel to Parapat (7K, less than 1 h). In Parapat directly at the jetty there was a minibus to Pematang Siantar (9K, 1h 10 min). In P.Siantar we quickly changed to another pretty crowded minibus to Kebanjahe (16K, 3h 15 min). Quite unforgettable experience to observe the driver’s assistant climbing to the roof of a speeding minibus on a winded road with the wad of banknotes in his hand :) A job well done – he has covered the luggage on the roof just before rain, with the driver not even slowing down. From Kebanjahe it was another 30 min with an opelet to Berastagi (3K). We just told the drivers/assistants in each minibus that we wanted to continue to Berastagi and they just showed us the next vehicle.
We stayed at Wisma Sibayak at the lower end of the main street (with a big cabbage monument). Paid 100 K for an OK double with bathroom (no hot water) and balcony. There are also cheaper rooms with shared bathroom and a restaurant (beer available). The managers of the place are really helpful as regards travel information. They have also prepared a makeshift map for climbing the Sibayak volcano – available for free and really helpful.
In Berastagi we found one of the best places to eat we came across in Sumatra – Rumah Makan Famili Baru, a Muslim restaurant (no beer) at the upper end of the main road, just at the monument of war veterans. Our tip: fried sweetwater fish on a banana leaf (‘nila bakar’) for 25K.
We asked at the travel office at Losmen Sibayak for ferry tickets from Medan to Penang – they quoted 183 RM converted into rupiyah at a rip-off rate, turned out double the price in Medan.
Climbing Sibayak volcano
We decided to go by ourselves and with the help of the Wisma Sibayak map and some route descriptions from their guestbook it turned out to be pretty simple. We also asked at Wisma Sibayak for prices for hiring a guide for Sibayak and Sinabung volcanoes – it was 250K per day.
We first walked to an opelet parking and entrance fee checkpoint in a cafe at the trailhead (40 min walk, also accessible with an opelet). Most of the remaining track was an asphalt road along a long forest covered hill (apparently old caldera), first uphill, then quite a long part downhill and finally some curves sharp uphill. On this part there’s one possibility to go in the false direction – on the downhill part another asphalt road branches out to the right (with a makeshift wooden shelter at the crossroads) and starts to descend sharply into a valley with fields. That’s the wrong way, stay on the road going straight ahead. The asphalt road finishes with a parking and some empty water pools (1,5 – 2 hrs from the trailhead). A few steps before the pools climb uphill to the left on a piece of barren eroded ground and find a well-trodden path in the forest. Contrary to some older route descriptions there are no more bamboo steps on this spot. After ca. 10-20 meters the forest path turns into a wide concrete-covered one. If there’s no concrete, you are on a wrong path, so walk back to the road and look for another one. The concrete path goes directly to the crater which is about 30 minutes away.
The crater and the views around were way less spectacular than Merapi but there were much more sulphurous fumes rising from the volcano.
We walked down taking another path from a pass on the crater rim (on our right side as we arrived), just below a peak with antennae. The path down is well visible and wide, with some traces of concrete steps. Again, if you walk down and don’t see any concrete steps for ca. 100 meters, go back to the crater rim and look for the right path. The path passes through some nice forest with giant ferns and bamboo and took us less than 2 hrs to reach hot springs in Semangat Gunung. There was no opelet from the springs, so we walked all the way (ca. 1 h) to the main Berastagi-Medan road and flagged down a bus there.
Berastagi-Medan (Pinang Baris bus station) – small bus, 8K, 2 hrs.
Medan (Pinang Baris) – Bukit Lawang – minibus, 3 hrs
There are some scammers who apparently set up a ‘partnership’ with the drivers of Bukit Lawang minibuses. They demanded 50.000 Rp. for the ride (should cost 10-12K) and the driver told us to pay them. After some haggling we finally paid 25 K but heard from other tourists that they paid 50 K, so it was not a one-time scam.
BL was the only place we visited in Sumatra where finding accommodation was a bit complicated. We met a ‘friendly local’ on the bus and he stuck to us as we were looking for accommodation, talking to anybody we asked about rooms. As a result everybody in the guesthouses upstream answered us they were full. Perhaps they were indeed (it was Saturday afternoon after all) but I have strong suspicions that we were considered ‘prey’ of our ‘friendly local’ and so the local arrangement is to let him lead us to his place and pocket the commission… Friends of us who visited Bukit Lawang some years ago, when it was almost deserted, had exactly the same problem.
We stopped for a meal at Sam’s Bungalow, near the end of the path, our ‘friendly local’ all the time sitting at the neighboring table. Then we went downstream and finally got rid of our unwanted acquaintance having to say him in a few soldierly words what we think of his company. Afterwards we found a room in Wisma Leuser Sibayak, downstream just across the river, directly at the suspension bridge – 50 K for an average room with bathroom and fan (the place was friendly but not so great for views). The next day we went to the morning orangutan feeding and asked for a room at Jungle Inn again – this time they had one for 50 K (with bathroom and a small balcony, most basic of their rooms but still quite comfortable and climatic). They have also more expensive rooms for up to 350 K. Next door, Sam’s Bungalow is a pretty similar place and has better food (in my opinion). Both places offer nice view across the river, we have observed the semi-domesticated orangutans hanging around at the feeding station directly from their terraces.
Jungle trek: We had a very good experience with our guide to the jungle, even if we did just a one-day trek (in fact about 5 hrs). We did not choose any of the guys approaching us in the village (sometimes seemed pretty murky) but went to the orangutan feeding at the national park entrance the day before (entry 20K). We just spoke to one of the park rangers who guided us the next day. He turned out to be a very knowledgeable and environmentally conscient guy, with more than 10 years experience of working with the orangutans, a degree in ecology and reasonable English skills, in addition he was quite good at sharing his knowledge with us. He even picked up trash left over by other guides. If anybody has deep interest in nature and would like to do some more serious treks, IMHO a park ranger as a guide would be the best choice. For those planning a visit to Bukit Lawang, I can send you his contact details via e-mail (meczko [at] poczta.onet.pl) or you can do the same thing like we – go to the orangutan feeding and speak directly to one of the rangers.
The ‘standard’ 1 or 2 days jungle trek is nice but you don’t experience really wild jungle. It’s simply a walk around some paths quite close to the village and meeting the semi-domesticated orangutans (reintroduced to the jungle) which still hang out close to humans. We met other groups of tourists virtually every half an hour or so and when we finally saw the orangutans there were about 20 people around. So it’s more similar to an interactive zoo – quite interesting but not a real wildlife experience. Some of the guides (not our guy, though) and also some tourists behaved quite irresponsibly – they shouted in ‘ape-like’ way trying to lure the apes (effectively rather scaring them) and fed the orangutans, putting them to risk of contracting diseases from humans. Our guide told us that a large majority of baby orangutans born in Bukit Lawang actually die from human-borne diseases. Because of heavy tourism serious conservation efforts have been moved elsewhere.
There is a fixed price for the jungle treks – 25 euros per person per day, which is quite high compared to general level of prices and earnings in Indonesia.
Bukit Lawang to Medan – minibus, 2,5 hrs, 15K (haggled down from 25K)
A becak ride between Pinang Baris station and city centre (to Mesjid Raya or Jalan Pemuda) costed us 25 – 30K (down from initial 50K).
We decided to sleep two nights in Medan and experience a big Indonesian city. It was quite interesting but I wouldn’t call it enjoyable – a kind of Third World urban planning nightmare, totally hostile to pedestrians, with intense chaotic traffic and a general rule that a richer driver with a better car has absolute priority. Pedestrians are obviously at the very bottom of the hierarchy. The narrow pavements were usually occupied by parking cars and motorbikes and sometimes by stalls, without leaving even a narrow passage. In the evening the center seemed pretty deserted – presumably barely anybody walks here, anybody just takes a bus, becak or drives. One of the curiosities was Sun Plaza – a big glitzy shopping mall, looking like in any rich country, with a huge parking and barely an entrance from the street for pedestrians.
Accommodation: we went first to UKM hotel just across the street from Mesjid Raya but it was full, so we went a few steps further into the back lane to Wisma Yuli. The room seemed OK at the first glance (125K for a double with AC and bathroom) but it turned out later that their water supply looked suspicious (greenish water, definitely not from the city grid) and they needed to switch the water pump to get the water running. Next morning we went to Pondok Angel Wisata on the opposite side of Jalan SM Raya (the same side as Mesjid Raya) and it was a much better choice, with a clean double for 120K (with bathroom and AC). They have a restaurant and there’s another ‘traveller cafe’, Corner Cafe Raya, almost next door.
In Medan we got the best rate for changing euros – 14.070, from a moneychanger at Jalan SM Raya, opposite Angel Wisata. When starting a Sumatra trip here it’s a good idea to change money for the whole trip.
In addition to struggling trying to walk across the city (distances are not so big after all), we made a trip to the crocodile farm (‘taman buaya’) on the Asam Kumbang outskirts a bit further that Pinang Baris, in fact not far from the bus terminal. A return becak ride including waiting time costed us 100K (probably overcharged). Entry was 5K. There are literally hundreds of crocs, mostly Crocodylus porosus, some as long as 5m. Some are kept in a big natural-looking pond, a good place to make pictures of scary crocodile-infested muddy waters of Sumatra :) Other ones were in quite small concrete enclosures.
Medan to Penang ferry:
Contrary to what the website says (http://www.langkawi-ferry.com/schedule.html) we were charged 140 RM per person for the ferry ticket (additional 30 RM of ‘fuel surcharge’), converted into rupiyah at a honest rate + 35K departure tax. We bought our tickets at King’s on Jalan Pemuda (http://www.langkawi-ferry.com/contact.html) a few days before, but the ferry was quite empty, so probably a day before would be enough. Bus transport from the office to Belawan jetty was included in the ticket. In fact we needlessly came to the office on Jalan Pemuda, as there was another travel office served by the same bus a few steps from our hotel on SM Raya. We were told to come to the office at 8.30 a.m. at the latest, but the bus arrived at about 10 a.m. and the boat first departed at noon.
Taking the ferry turned out to be not a good idea – we hoped for some views, but instead were locked into an iron can with obscured and dirty windows, deep-freeze AC and no access to the upper board. Flying seems a better idea and it can be cheaper even if booked shortly in advance (see http://www.airasia.com/).
[UPDATE Sept. 2010 – from some posts on the internet it seems that the ferry service has been suspended and flying is now the only direct way of travelling between Medan and Penang.]
Malaysia turned out to be the positive surprise of our trip. Perhaps less ‘exotic’ than Sumatra but more diverse, with an interesting mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures. People were really extremely friendly, in a gentle unassuming way. No question of trying to extract money, they were just happy to have a chat, explain us the way or the symbols at a temple, give us a lift when we walked along an empty road etc. In addition Malaysia is a very easy country to travel – English is widely spoken, prices are only slightly higher than in Indonesia, public transport is efficient and comfortable. Usually it was enough just to show up at the bus station to depart in a comfortable bus within a few minutes. Most bus companies are private but prices are regulated by the state – in general it was ca. 30% more than prices indicated by our LP guide published in 2007.
Some practical details:
Food– anything from 3 to 10 RM per dish at a foodcourt or a simple restaurant and a great choice of Chinese, Indian and Malay food.
Beer – heavily taxed and expensive, from 11.5-12 RM for a large Tiger, in simple restaurants often cheaper than in shops (14.50 RM in 7/11). A new Malaysian brand called Jaz was available even for 10 RM per 0,6 l but after having tried it we decided to stick to Tiger.
Accommodation – in the budget range 30 – 70 RM per double with private bathroom and AC
Internet – 3-6 RM per hour
Laundry – 4-5 RM per kg or 10 RM per one washing machine
Mosquitoes: we got bitten a few times, in most places we visited, even in spite of our use of repellents. According to travel advisories, risk of malaria is negligible in continental Malaysia, so we only finished our prophylaxis pills as prescribed for Sumatra and did not continue to take them.
We went to the budget hotels neighbourhood on Lebuh Chulia. Several places were either full or had only non AC rooms. Finally we found a room in Oasis (previously called Swiss Inn) – quite basic and a bit grotty but OK for the price, 35 RM with private bathroom and AC.
There are lots of moneychangers around Lebuh Chulia. In contrast to Indonesian practice they display exchange rates but it’s possible to get a few sen more if you ask (we got 5 RM per euro in a place with displayed rate 4,95).
Moving around Penang on public buses is quite easy, even if there are no schedules at the bus stops and bus numbers are completely different from those indicated by LP guide. Most buses depart from the station at Komtar high rise building and almost everybody around is happy to explain if there is some confusion. We went to Kek Lok Si temple on bus no. 204 (1,50 RM) and later started to walk from there to Penang Hill cable car (not that far, seems to be a ca. 20 minutes walk) but were quickly given a lift by a local guy. From the top of Penang Hill we started to walk down towards the botanical gardens but again were quickly given a lift by another kind driver. A short walk below the botanical gardens (not particularly inspiring) there are two interesting Hindu temples (as we heard, a centre of local Thaipusam celebrations in January/February). Then we walked further to the Burmese and Thai Buddhist temples, situated on the opposite sides of a small lane near Jalan Burma. Both were already closed but the guard at the Thai one opened the gate for us.
We also visited the Snake Temple in Bayan Lepas near the airport (by bus no. 401 from Komtar). In addition to the numerous green vipers in the temple, there’s a small but interesting snake exhibition (5 RM) and it was quite interesting to have a chat with the owner (she told us she is around only on weekends).
Penang – Ipoh
We decided to take a ferryboat to Butterworth instead of a city bus to Penang bus station. Ferries depart very frequently and are free of charge in this direction. Butterworth bus station is just at the jetty and despite travelling on Sunday we found a bus to Ipoh immediately. It took 2,5 hrs of a comfortable trip, for 18 RM.
We took a bus from the long distance bus station at Medan Gopeng to city center for 1,10 RM. Stayed at New Caspian Hotel for 60 RM for a very comfortable and clean double (AC and private bathroom).
Ipoh is a bit off the tourist track and it was quite enjoyable. Old town was quite deserted and we found the new part much more interesting. We visited all three cave temples around Ipoh in one day by city buses (from city bus station) without hurrying.
Perak Tong – a short ride by a bus to Kuala Kangsar, 1,50 RM
Sam Poh Tong – bus no. 66, a bit behind Medan Gopeng bus station, directly at the end of the built-up area on Ipoh outskirts.
Kek Look Tong (definitely worth visiting, not less interesting than the previous ones) – quite as described in LP. Road signs pointing to the temple indicate some other names but are quite obvious to decipher as pointing to a Buddhist temple. Ca. 30 minutes walk from Sam Poh Tong, first a short unpleasant part along a busy road, then across a quiet residential district.
Ipoh – Lumut – Pulau Pangkor
Short distance bus from the Perak Roadways station just across the street from the city bus station in Ipoh, 8,40 RM, ca. 2 hrs. The Lumut bus station is a few steps from the jetty, ferryboat to Pangkor Town costed 10 RM (return) and took 30 min. From Pangkor Town we took a pink minibus taxi to Teluk Nipah for 12 RM per whole car (fixed rate).
In Teluk Nipah prices go down very quickly with distance from the seaside, starting from ca. 90-100 RM per double on the main street on the waterfront. Some 50 meters inland we found a very nice cottage for 50 RM (weekday price, private bathroom, AC and small terrace) at Sunset View Chalet, in a rose garden. That’s a perfect place for birdwatchers, as the owner is crazy about birds, knows a lot about them and is eager to share this passion with his guests. Every day at 6.30 p.m. he feeds the hornbills of the common sort (quite numerous) and he also showed us giant hornbills on a nearby tree.
Teluk Nipah was perhaps not a spectacular place but nice enough to spend 2 lazy days – nice sandy beach, quite clear water, acceptable food and nice nature – a lot of birds, some monkeys and monitor lizards. We planned a bicycle ride around the island but gave up after seeing the really dilapidated bicycles on offer (15 RM per day), which seemed likely to break down after a few kilometers.
Pulau Pangkor-Lumut-Kuala Lumpur
After taking a cab (12 RM) to the jetty and a ferry to Lumut we took a Transnasional bus to Kuala Lumpur’s Puduraya bus station (24,40 RM, ca. 4 hrs). Puduraya is a short walk from Chinatown, where we stayed in Grocer’s Inn on Jalan Sultan (http://www.grocersinn.com.my/, 50 RM for a very basic double with AC, shared but very clean bathrooms, a space to chill out on the roof). It was OK for one night but for longer stay I’d rather suggest looking for some better place.
The next morning we went to Batu Caves (by city bus from near Chinatown, just as described in LP guide) and were back by early afternoon to take a bus to Melaka.
Puduraya may seem confusing but the ticketing system is quite simple – there are many ticket booths of several companies but they all sell tickets for the same buses, charging the same, regulated prices and then settle the bill between themselves. Just go to any window displaying your destination, they will check the nearest departure by CB radio and sell you the ticket. Avoid the ticket sellers touting their business around the station, even if by any standards they operate in pretty innocent way. We made the mistake to buy a ticket from one such girl. As it turned out she sold us tickets for a non-existing bus and overcharged us by 2 RM. To our great surprise it was a mistake rather than a scam – we located her easily, she reimbursed us the money and we bought the right ticket at the nearest booth.
KL-Melaka ride took 2 hrs by Mayang Hari bus company, 13.20 RM.
The main bus station Melaka Sentral is located out of the city, so we took city bus no. 17 (1 RM) which passes through the center (at front of the Christ Church), between the Mahkota and Dataran Pahlawan shopping malls to the budget accommodation area on Jalan Melaka Raya and continues towards the crossroads leading to Medan Portugis on the other side of the city. For the ride back to the bus station, the 17’s route is a bit different – along a highway south of the Melaka Raya neighbourhood towards the seaside (a few steps from the hostels) and then along the Western end of Chinatown.
Accommodation – the hostels listed in LP had only non AC rooms available, so we checked some of the neighbouring hotels and stayed at Mesra Norhayati at Jalan Melaka Raya 1, recognizable by a sign with a ferryboat. An average double with AC and private bathroom was 55 RM. Little English was spoken but after our previous stay in Indonesia we managed to communicate in Bahasa Malaysia :)
There are buses every one hour (4,5 hrs, 24 RM), crossing the border at Woodlands Checkpoint (main causeway) and arriving to Kallang Bahru bus stand near Lavender MRT station. The ride in opposite direction costs about double the price – twenty something S$. Kallang Bahru is actually not a bus station but a parking with a few ticket booths. There’s no left luggage facility there, so we had to go to the airport to leave our stuff (ca. 8 S$ per 2 backpacks) and then back for an afternoon stroll and some food in Chinatown.
[Update Sep. 2010 – it seems that left luggage facility is also offered by Inn Crowd hostel in Little India (http://www.the-inncrowd.com/storage.htm), at much cheaper rates than the airport facility.]