Explore Asia: Checking off two countries on my travel wishlist
By: Mark Chung
October 2011 marked the fifth consecutive year I have completed the 20-plus hour journey across the Pacific to visit one of my favorite regions in the world, Southeast Asia. For my buddy Marek from Poland, it was his first time visiting Asia; he was so excited he barely slept the week before the trip.
Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam were all destinations of the past and some of my greatest travel memories, however, this time I had to visit two countries that have been on my “wish list” for some time: Indonesia and Malaysia, and more specifically, the cities of Bali and Jogjakarta in Indonesia and Langkawi in Malaysia.
Bali, a.k.a. “The Island of the Gods” is not only world reknown as a surfer’s paradise, but is also famous for its world class diving, diverse geography and its many archeological sites.
Our days consisted of visiting various temples, surfing, snorkeling, enjoying ice cold Bintang (Indonesian beer) on the beach and of course, feasting on traditional Indonesian cuisine such as chicken satay, rendang padang (slow cooked beef curry), and nasi goreng (fried rice) to name a few.
One day we ventured north to the famous rice terraces near Ubud, where we were amazed by their beauty and grandeur, stacked one on top of another like a giant staircase. Driving back from Ubud, we visited a coffee plantation where we sampled a variety of coffees, one of which was the famous and extraordinarily expensive mongoose coffee, whose beans are extracted from the feces of a mongoose! Yes, feces. The mongoose is known for eating perfectly ripened coffee beans which their digestive enzymes help to enhance the flavor of. After processing they can be sold for as much as $600 per pound!
Thanks, but I’ll stick to my $6.99 bag of Dunkin’ Donuts Original.
After Bali we hopped over to Jogjakarta on the island of Java, our base camp for exploring one of the largest Buddhist shrines in the world, Borobudur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built around 800 A.D. and abandoned by the indigenous people over 500 years ago, it lay hidden in the jungle under volcanic ash until it was rediscovered in the early 1800’s.
Upon arrival we hired a guide to give us a tour of the monument and talk us through many of the 2,500-plus relief panels carved into the walls depicting the life of Buddha. To properly visit the shrine, we entered from the east gate and walked clockwise around and upward until the pinnacle was reached.
If ancient archeology and the history of Buddhism are your thing, then Borobudur is a must!
Our last stop was a small group of “off the beaten path” islands off the west coast of Malaysia known as Langkawi, home to some of the most beautiful, unspoiled stretches of white sand beaches I’ve ever seen. The landscape is diverse with towering limestone cliffs and jungles rich with wildlife.
We spent a fair amount of time engaging in various beach activities but in the end, what made Langkawi memorable were the evenings we spent chilling at the Babylon Mat Lounge, a sleepy low-key reggae sand bar on the beach.
Nothing beats hanging out with a good friend, drinking cold beer and sharing a hookah and good conversation with familiar strangers in a foreign land… life simply doesn’t get much better.