Monday, October 8, 2018

Devil's Pool - Victoria Falls - Zambia

The main reason why I went Africa was this Devil's Pool tour in Victoria Falls, Livingstone, Zambia. I saw it on YouTube like 3 or 4 years ago and ever since that I was planning to visit it.

What got it late my visit to Africa was the bribery cases in Africa. I've heard the stories like a policeman randomly check your passport and don’t give it back without you giving him some money. I was not brought up that way by my parents so by all means bribing someone is something I don’t like. I was collecting information about this issue for years like how to get rid of such situations in Africa solely because of visiting Victoria falls. Anyway, there was this point came where I need to visit Africa negating these bribery cases. So I went Africa. I was in 2 African countries within 1 week, I did NOT encounter a single situation such that. I'm glad I made this tour.

Victoria Falls is the world's largest waterfall. Victoria Falls is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. It is around 2 times wider then the Horseshoe Falls and 3 times higher than the Niagara. This was first discovered by David Livingstone. He was a Scottish citizen and He name the waterfall after The Queen Victoria. Locals in Zambia call it "Mosi-oa-Tunya" which means 'The Smoke That Thunders'. And Victoria falls separates Zambia and Zimbabwe. The waterfall is in Zambia and the other side is Zimbabwe. Zambezi is the name of the river which creates this marvelous natural wonder. Devil's pool is only accessible from Zambian side, so you need Zambian Visa if you're coming from Zimbabwe side. There's special visa call 'Kaza visa' for tourists who visit both Zambia and Zimbabwe. Visa fee is $50 and they add up a service charge too.

Devil's pool tour is operated by the Hotel(Tongabezi Lodge) who owns that part of the river. And I must say it is well organized, properly managed and conducted under careful eyes of guides. So far no casualty has been recorded attempting to dip in the Devil's Pool. This is only possible during low water seasons, mid August to mid January. You can see the available time stots from this site and book the tour using the same site. This is the site allocated for information related with Devil's pool This is Tongabezi main site But when I was trying to book via online, the site had some issues. So what I did was, I asked my accommodation people to book a slot for me. When I came to my accommodation they gave me a receipt and I paid the amount at the Tongabezi hotel.

You need to get to the Tongabezi hotel to start the tour. Taxis are available and that's how you can get to the hotel. On the way you can discuss with the driver about the pickup time and ask him to come back and pick you up. Since it's a luxury hotel and if you get a hotel cab it would be too expensive. Devil's pool tour Guides pick you up at the hotel's deck. And then you've 5 minutes boat ride towards the edge of the waterfall. You stop your boat at the Livingstone island and then it's a 5 min walk and 5 min swim to the Devil's pool.

Devil's pool was first discovered by the local fishermen. They were used to catch fish here and later tourists came and took photos and then the word went out. They carry 5 tours per day. I specifically went for the morning tour as I learned on internet during morning sessions there could be a chance that I would see a rainbow. And I wasn't disappointed. The tour is like 1 1/2 hours. After that you can enjoy a lovely breakfast.(Or lunch or evening tea depending on the time you select the tour)

I faced no issues related with Zambia except for their eVisa. I applied using their official website I had a nightmarish time close to a period of month trying to get the Visa. I wrote to their immigration, I wrote to their other embassies, I called their consulate here in Sri Lanka dozens of times, I applied again for visa through an agent but nothing worked. 2 days prior to my departure, I still did not get visa, I was at my flight booking agents to change the flight tickets. I was like just about to confirm the new flights, I just checked my phone email inbox and saw a new email notification. That was Zambian visa. Fairy tale end. Getting Zambian Visa was mentally torturous but still worth it comparing the experience. 

Zambian immigration responded me on my last day in Africa. I was in Kenya at that moment. They were very slow to respond. What worked for me was, Like 6 days prior to my departure, I was desperate, I humbly asked my Zambian accommodation people whether they can give a call to Zambian immigration and check the status of my application. They went a further step ahead, they contacted someone at their tourism board and he/she contacted Zambian immigration. He/She was the influence who got me visa as I believe. Pure luck! My accommodation was Fawlty Towers Backpackers and unless for them I would not have made it. It was a good joint in the town to spend some quality relaxed time. From Fawlty Towers Backpackers to Tongabazi hotel taxi fee is 60 Kawacha(Like 5 or 6 dollars). But make sure you negotiate with your driver before you get in the car. And cars are available right in front of Fawlty Towers Backpackers.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Malacca (Melaka) Malaysia

Malacca (Or Melaka) is the historic city of Malaysia. This historical city has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 7 July 2008. Malacca was a fishing village first, like in 1300. Then Malay sultanates controlled it till the Portuguese conquered it in 1511. Malacca was important to them as it was accessible in all seasons and on the strategically located narrowest point of the Malacca Straits. In 1641, the Dutch defeated the Portuguese in an effort to capture Malacca. Malacca was ceded to the British in the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 in exchange for Bencoolen on Sumatra. From 1826 to 1946, Malacca was under the rule of the British. Malacca went briefly under the rule of Empire of Japan in 1942–1945 during World War II.

Since Malacca straights plays a vital role in sea trade, and Old city of Malacca situated at the narrowest part of the straights, You can probably understand the amount of sailors from different parts of the world hovering around the old city back then.

How to get to Malacca

I travelled from KL, by Bus, which was the easiest. You can book buses online. There are several bus services operating to Malacca(Or Melaka Sentral Terminal). I took KKKL bus liner to go Malacca(RM 14.50) and Transnational service to get out of Malacca.(To KLIA2 RM 24.50). out of the 2 bus services I used, I could safely say KKKL is much better, more leg space and comfortable.

Journey is like 2.5 hours. In fact you cover 95% of your journey in 2 hours on highway and rest 30 mins traveling main streets of Melacca facing obvious traffic. Traffic is much less though.

Once you get to Melaka Sentral Terminal, You can book a Grab to reach your hotel.

Booking a hotel

I used Agoda. 2 most important things.

1.     Book accommodation anywhere within 10 min reach from Jonker street
2.     Night market operates on Friday, Saturday and Sunday

All most all the Historical sites are within the reach from Jonker street. So you can cover all that by walking. Or else you can rent a fancy trishaw, which I haven’t tried.

Another accommodation booking tip is, try to go for an A/C room if possible. Heat is unbearable sometimes. Especially if you’re an European.

Getting out
Same way, by bus is the easiest and cheapest. There are buses operating to KLIA and KLIA2 as well. My ticket to KLIA2 was RM24.50 and it was a 2 hours journey.

 St. Paul’s Church

The ruins of St. Paul’s Church are at the summit of St. Paul's Hill. It has been in ruins for more than 150 years. To this little mountain top, you can clearly see the Malacca straights.

St. Paul’s Church was enlarged to two stories in 1556 (after the Archbishop of Goa in India handed over the church to the Jesuits in 1548); between 1567 and 1596 the Portuguese added gun turrets to the chapel and it became a fortress. In 1590 a belfry tower was added to the front of the church and it was renamed the Igreja de Madre de Deus (Church of the Mother of God). When the Dutch invaded Malacca in 1641 it was badly damaged (the belfry tower was destroyed) but the complex was later repaired and renamed St. Paul’s Church, it was primarily used as a Protestant church for about 112 years until Christ Church was completed in 1753. After that, St. Paul’s Church fell into disuse. Under the British administration, a lighthouse was built and it eventually ended up as a storehouse for gunpowder.

A’famosa Fort

A’Famosa was built in 1511, the settlement used to sprawl across a whole hillside but now only a lone gate (Porta de Santiago) remains. One of the oldest surviving European architectural remains in Asia. Originally constructed by Alfonso de Albuquerque (who led the Portuguese invasion on the Malacca Sultanate), the remains of the fort is now a crumbling whitewashed gatehouse and is located downhill from St. Paul’s Church

Jonker Walk/ Jonker street

Probably the most remarkable place to visit in Malacca. The road starts from across Melaka River near the Stadthuys. The road is filled with historical houses along its left and right sides dating back to 17th century. It also has shops selling antiques, textiles, foods, handicrafts and souvenirs.

Flor do Mar dutch ship

Not the original ship, but a replica of the original ship. This is a Naval Museum in Malacca now. For a foreigner entrance fee is RM 10. It absolutely worth to pay the price and see the museum. I never thought I’d get inside a Dutch ship one day. Probably the part I enjoyed most in my time in Malacca.

Queen Victoria’s Fountain

The Queen Victoria Fountain was built in 1901 by the British. This fountain is still functioning well and is probably the only functioning colonial water fountains in Malaysia.  The fountain is a famous backdrop for visitors who come to Malacca. On the tip of the fountain says 'Victoria Regina 1837-1901, erected by the people of Malacca in memory of a great Queen.

The Queen Victoria Fountain is probably one of the last traces of the British colonial era in Malaysia and it symbolizes the glorious days of the British colonization in Malaysia.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

7 Falls Zipline - Philippines

First time I saw this zipline video on a Youtube video and ever since I wanted to do this. And my main purpose of visiting Philippines was the Zipline. If you’re planning this trip, this is how I planned it. 

You’ll have to get a flight to General Santos airport. Air fare is not that costly. Internally I took 4 flights in Philippines with Cebu pacific airline. Nothing to complain with the service.

Once you arrive at GenSan airport there will be people holding boards for taxi. You can go to one of them and ask to drop you at General Santos City bus terminal. The people who are holding boards have 100 pesos as the fare, but the driver took 300 pesos from me. He said it’s a fixed price, and to be fair it’s like a 20km, 30 minutes, ride.

At General Santos city bus terminal(Or GenSan City bus terminal or Bulaong terminal) take the bus(Yellow bus) to Koronadal( Or Marbel). It’s displayed in the bus windscreen and it shows how many stops (1 stop, 2 stops) as well. Take the direct bus to Marbel. Bus fare is 85 pesos. It took like 1 hour to Marbel bus terminal.

From there you have 2 options.

Option 1
Take another bus(Yellow bus) to Surrallah Integrated bus terminal, and then take a van or Jeepany to Surrallah bus terminal(Or Lake Sebu). Bus fare is around 30 pesos. Surrallah Integrated bus terminal to Surrallah bus terminal(Lake Sebu) Habaal-habaal ride will be like 100 pesos.

Option 2
Once you get off at Marbel terminal, take a van straightly goes to Lake Sebu. Do don’t have to bother finding a van, there are people shouting at you saying different destinations’ names and you just need to pick the one who’s shouting “Lake Sebu sirrr, Lake Sebu maam”.

I took the Option 2, as it was one less headache to bother. Van fare is 80 pesos. On your way you’ll pass Surrallah Integrated bus terminal. Then you’ll arrive at Surrallah bus terminal(Lake Sebu).

Here something interesting happens. It’s good for the tourists. At the Lake sebu bus terminal, they collect your information and they give you a motor bike driver and whole throughout the tour he’ll be with you. The drivers know each and everywhere and tours are listed and priced. For the 7 falls it’s like 40 pesos, half day 300 pesos and likewise. Those are very fair prices. Other thing is, if something bad happens they would know how to trace you, as they know with whom you went with. Get the mobile number of the driver and whole your tour can be done with him. Once they get your details and they will give you the driver, and he’ll take you to your hotel.

Why motor bike rider?
Roads in Lake Sebu are terrible as it can be. Not even bikes can make it sometimes, a tractor would be the ideal. The motor bike drivers know every place there. I stayed in Sun rise garden lake resort, just it is the closest to the zip line and I thought I would make it alone. But I’d recommend Lake Sebu Mountain Log Resort. They do email replying as well.

Simple fact I recommend Mountain Log Resort is, From my GenSan airport to Lake Sebu ride wasn’t pleasing as much as I thought. I was travelling solo, felt so isolated once I got there. All I wanted was getting off from that place as soon as I could once I’m done with Zip line. So I asked a cab from Sun rise garden lake resort people and they told me fare is 3500 pesos. Considering the mental stage I was in, I’d have agreed to 5000 even. But the thing is, before my tour, during the days I booked my accommodation; I sent few emails to several other places as well. Mountain Log Resort is such place and they offered airport pickup for 2500 pesos. So the normal price should be like that. Another thing to suspect the fare was, we normally pay the driver after the tour. But next day morning when I went to the reception, they asked me to pay it at the reception itself. I felt they cheated. So that’s why I don’t recommending them.

So, zip line.

On weekdays Zip line fare is 250 pesos and weekends and holidays its 300 pesos.

There are 2 zip lines, 740m and 420m, for a one ticket you can ride both the zip lines. And there are photo booths as well. For 200 pesos you can get a softcopy of your both the zip lines’ rides. There are 2 more photo packages as well.

Once you get to the other side of the zip line, there’s another zip line to come back again. But bit lower to where you’ve originally started. By the time you reach there, your motor bike driver will be there to pick you. He’ll pick you from there and take you to your hotel or maybe other places you want to visit in lake Sebu.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this for a Solo traveler, but I had no harm there, and definitely worth the amount I paid for the zip line considering the adrenaline rush goes through your veins.

I arrived at the Zip line starting point like 11 am, and I saw the reception has “CLOSED” board. I was so daunted. But the motor bike driver asked me to wait and brought the news they are having lunch and once they finish they’ll open the counter. I was little surprised to hear 11am lunch but it was just my 2nd day in Philippines so I thought these people must be having early lunch. Later 3,4 days I figured the reason. There was a small boutique there, and an old TV. Rather than having the lunch, most of them were around the TV watching a boxing match, even my motor bike driver. That day I thought as they don’t have anything to do till others finish their lunch so they watch it, but after 3,4 days in Philippines I figured what a fad they have for Mani Pacciquo. They worship him. That was a Mani Pacco’s match and all were watching it. To worsen the things, Mani Pacciqo’s born city is GenSan. Then same-city-fit as well. So I had to stay till 1.30pm till Mani Pacciqo finishes his match. Anyway, I’m glad that ever after such long awaiting, I got to do the zip line ride. Though it says 7 falls zip line, you can clearly see 2 waterfalls only. But there are 7 waterfalls. Ever since I mentioned to a Filippino that I went GenSan, the reply comes as “ aaah Mani city, you went Mani Pacciqo’s city”

How to visit Banaue - Philippines

There are 2 bus services that can take you to Banaue. Which is cheap, or else you can hire a private vehicle. Bus journey is like 10 hours. All the buses leave at night. 2 bus services go to Banaue. Florida and Ohayami. Florida is a the super luxury one which a toilet inside the bus. Ohayami is luxury but you don’t find a toilet there. You’ll get 2 breaks during the journey. As it’s night, you can have a good sleep. 

I booked these buses through Absolutely a fantastic customer care which I’ve never experienced in my life so far. My email thread with them led like 20-25 email thread but they were really helpful with finding me the every bit of detail I wanted. So I highly recommend them. Bus fare for each bus service doesn’t exceed 600 pesos including Pinoy Travels commission. Compare to their email supporting service, that small commission of 50-60 pesos is worth paying.

 I’ll direct you from Manila airport. You’ll have to get to Florida or Ohayami bus terminals. Both situated closer to each other.

Getting to Florida bus terminal from Airport was bit messy for me. I was coming from Palawan. Airport to Bus terminals are like 15 km away. 

But Pinoy Travels guys have advised me due to Manila traffic it could be a 1 hour ride. As well as taxi fee is like 200 pesos. I realized the value of their advices as once I landed in airport, I came out and was looking for a taxi, One guy came to me and asked for 2500 pesos for taxi fee. In Philippines white taxi cars have meters and yellow taxi cars don’t have meters. Never get into a yellow taxi without confirming the fee. Issue with white cars is, if you don’t know the surrounding well, drivers will take rounds till their fee get more. Best solution is Uber. As prices are fixed. That Uber tip was also given to me by Pinoy travel guys. Those tiny little information matters a lot. Bus departure times from Manila are, 10.45pm(Florida), 10pm(Ohayami). And Bus fares are 530 pesos(Florida) and 450 pesos (Ohayami). Only Ohayami buses operates Banaue to Manila. Departure time is 7pm and bus fare is 450 pesos.

I took the overnight Florida 10.45pm bus to Banaue. I reached Banaue around 7.30am. Joel was there to pick me. It is a free picking and dropping. The main reason why I selected them, One less trouble of getting fooled by Taxi. But when I reached there, It was a place where you cannot find lot of luxurious stuff. Climate is fine. Bit cold. Unpredictable rains, landslides as well. One thing to note about bus journey is, as per the reviews I've read before going, Bring your warm clothes as bus drivers used to put the maximum A/C on. But for my case, I didn't notice it much. Maybe I was sleeping or Maybe bus drivers have learnt their lessons after many complaints. 

As I figured there're 3 key personnel in this place. Denvil, Joel and Ronie. All are very friendly, very helpful and you can trust your life getting isolated with them. First day I did the Banaue view point trail with Denvil. He took me safely. I was travelling solo but he took the every measure to keep me safe. Next day I did the batad trail with Ronie, which is absolutely fantastic. Joel took us to the starting point by his van. It was supposed to be a habal-habal ride. But previous evening I showed Joel 2 nasty cuts in my legs during a random chat. So Batad trail morning he told he'd take us there from van. They are such nice people. If you want to see original rice terraces, You should visit Batad. 

It is one of the 5 UNESCO world heritage sites there, Banaue rice terraces are not a UNESCO world heritage site due to some modifications made later. If you want to see original rice terraces, You should visit Batad. It is one of the 5 UNESCO world heritage sites there, Banaue rice terraces are not a UNESCO world heritage site due to some modifications made later. 

I've attached in the photos about the trail and the prices. 

For a solo traveler I thought Banaue is bit expensive, But for a group it may not as costs are divided. Let's say you want to do the Batad trail, Guide fee is 1300 pesos and Habal habal fee is 1000 pesos. Habal habal will wait till you come from trekking. It's like a 4-5 hour trek. 

I stayed at Bogah Home stay. Rice Home stay is situated in the same place. Only divided by 2 boards. The place has food you want, Coffee, tea and other soft drinks. Rooms are comfortable. 

Hot baths available. WiFi is considerably fine. I spent 2 days(1 night) here. Ronie escorted me to the Ohayami bus terminal. That was also free. 

No ATMs in Banaue. But there's a joint you can do foreign exchange. 

I was traveling solo. But Denwil, Joel and Ronie took a good care of me. I’d suggest these guys to anyone who wish to visit Banaue, You can trust your life with these 3. 

I couldn’t do a separate video on Batad but Ronie took me to see a waterfall as well. 

Also Joel drove to show me several other rice terraces as well, which were not included in my tour I booked with them. Couldn’t visit the last one due to a heavy landslide. I’d highly recommend these 3 people and Bogah Homestay if you’re planning to visit Banaue. 

In case you interest, I’ll leave the Facebook accounts of them so you can contact them before you plan your tour. 

Whale Shark Watching - Oslab Cebu Philippines

I came to Cebu-Mactan airport. Then I took a taxi to South Bus terminal(Taxi fee is 300 pesos, but I gave 350) Don't mess up the bus terminals, as there's North Bus terminal as well. 

At Southern bus terminal you should take Yellow bus goes to Tan awan via Oslob. Every 20 min a bus leaves. I asked the bus driver and bus conductor to drop me at the whale shark briefing center, as my stay was very closer to that. Bus fare is 165 pesos.

Reviews I read said Bus terminal to Oslob was 3 1/2 hours journey but it took 4 1/2 hours. So it was the most mentally torturous night I spent in Philippines, as very next day I had a flight to catch at 2.20pm after watching whale sharks. So I gathered as much as details from Stop 'n shop people, the place I stayed and they instructed me well. So I went to the briefing center around 5.30am, 3 min walk from Stop 'n shop, got myself registered, Sharp at 6am they started briefing and by 6.10am I was on a boat to see whale sharks. Snorkeling with whale sharks fee is 1000 pesos and you get 30 mins, Diving with whale sharks is 3000 pesos and you get 1 hour. But I felt more fun is with snorkeling.

It was a quite short stay. But I heard there are waterfalls that you can visit in Cebu, I wish I could too but my sole intention was seeing whale sharks in close proximity. It was an amazing experience. Very cheap as well. It doesn't cost you much. Good for solo travelers too, very very exciting adrenaline rush for very small amount. Absolutely worth the experience.

BTW by 7am I came to my hotel and took 7.30am Yellow bus back to Cebu. Every 20 mins you get a bus. And I managed to come to the airport 2 hours before the flight.

Stop 'n shop tourist Inn

The best place I stayed in Philippines. It was like 6.30pm I arrived there. Went there only to watch whale sharks. 3 min walk to the whale shark briefing centre. Clean rooms, Clean toilets, hot water bath, clean linen and even they've kept you a kettle and Milo. Life saviors. 2 girls who talked with me were very kind and much helpful with the details I wanted to know. Without a doubt I'd suggest this place to anyone. Perfect budget joint.

[P.S. They didn't pay me for this. Just sharing my honest idea]