Ferry to Batam from Singapore

Tropical Playground Island – Batam, Indonesia

From Singapore it was only 16 Singapore dollars to get to Batam. I was surprised when I arrived that I had to get a $25 visa, since the last time I visited Indonesia (in early 2001) there was no fee.

Indonesia Whorehouse IslandThe immigration officer was smiling at me in a strange way and kept asking me where I would be staying. I told him at ‘the resort’, he asked me if it was a certain one and I just said, “Yes, that’s the one.”. Then he wrote his phone number down and said “Tonight, you and me.” Frankly that was enough to make me want to leave Batam right away…C R E E P Y !

Anyway, I wasn’t totally decided on whether to stay or go. As usual, I’d come without a plan and without a clue so I figured to wander around. I thought I would be able to find a ferry from Batam to Jakarta, but it turned out that no one could really give me an answer.

Ferry to Batam from SingaporeI went to a nearby mall and sat down in an A & W Rootbeer where I had the first rootbeer float I’ve had in about twenty years and I looked at the web with the malls free wifi. It looked like there were ferries, but pretty much every source said they were next to impossible to get. It looked like if I wanted to go to Jakarta I would need to do it by Pelni lines but there were ferries to Bintan and Sumatra…but I wanted to go to Jakarta.

Batam actually is a little bit creepy by itself since it is known as a sexual playground for businessmen from Malaysia and Singapore who are looking for cheap Indonesian prostitutes. The island is obviously not all prostitutes, but with more than a million residents on the 45 x 25 km island, there are certainly enough. Batam has some special economic privileges which make it a kind of economic experiment for Indonesia, certainly the island seemed more prosperous than I remembered Indonesia being.

Batam IslandI took a look online to see how much a trip to the airport would cost me by cab. It looked like 75,000 IRP was the going rate. I found a friendly cabbie and talked him down to 50K (about $6.50). I told him I was going to buy a ticket at the airport and he informed me I was going to pay twice as much. I usually find this to be true, I don’t know why…it seems like the airport should be the cheapest place to buy a ticket….

Batam Resources
Batam Island Hotels
Batam Hostels
Batam Travel Insurance

Anyway, we dropped by his friend’s travel agency and I got a flight to Jakarta for about $25 on Srivijaya Airlines. Basic, but at least they give you a candy and some water to make you feel like you are welcome.

In a nutshell, I didn’t see much of Batam, it’s prostitutes, or it’s naughty nightlife. I’m sure Mr. Creepy Customs agent would have been happy to introduce me around…but I was pretty happy to miss the notorious sights of Batam. The taxi driver told me it was about 400,000 rupiah to get a girl for the night (in case you are wondering…). He also told me (as Indonesian cab drivers often do) that he had ten girlfriends and a wife. Despite that, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy.

On the way to the airport, he told me about the other sites I should come back to see including the Grand Mosque (Mesjid Raya) at Batam Center and the beautiful Melur Beach. Frankly, Batam looked like a fun place to hang out for a couple of days. The water around it looked like it would offer some great diving and there were plenty of small islands in the distance that would have been pretty fun to explore. There are also monkeys on Batam, which as you might guess, moves it up in my estimation.

airport in BatamIt was very nice to be in Indonesia. Despite the similarity of Malaysia and Singapore, there is only one Indonesia and the tastes, smells, and sounds are unique. Once at the airport I settled into a Nasi Goreng stand and started drinking thick Indonesian coffee and eating some of the best food on the planet. I totally love Indonesian people because of their smiles, the way they laugh, and the way they deal with everything. In Indonesia, I was still ‘touted’ like I am in Turkey or Morocco or other parts of Asia, but no is always said and responded to with a smile. The smile really does make a difference.

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The World Through A Photographer’s Lens – Southeast Asian Festivals

Photos and Words by Dave Stamboulis

Around the World Through a Photographer’s Lens is a weekly feature from Award Wiinning travel photographer and writer, Dave Stamboulis.  Every Monday afternoon you can find Dave’s work here at Vagobond. See the world through a photographer’s lens.

Festivals play a big part in SE Asian life. Every season or Buddhist holiday heralds a new festival. Here are a few of them…

1) A young boy becoming a novice monk at Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son, Thailand.  Getting the head shaved is the first step to becoming a novice monk.

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2) Songkran New Year, also known as the Water Festival, celebrated with vigor in Luang Prabang, Laos

A young boy becoming a novice monk at Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son, Thailand

3) Songkran in Thailand involves massive drenching

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4) The Rocket Festival is celebrated before planting season and features plenty of home made rockets to go with the festivities, held both in Thailand and in Laos

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5) Young novice monks to be at Poi Sang Long, which comes from the Burmese Shan State

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6) The entire town of Mae Hong Song celebrates Poi Sang Long, during which time the novice monks are not allowed to touch the ground for 3 days, and are carried throughout the town by their relatives and friends

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7) Hmong girls celebrating the new year in Luang Prabang, Laos

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8) Poi Sang Long Festival, Mae Hong Song, Thailand. The best fan of them all.

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Bulgarian Cuisine

My Introduction to Bulgarian Food and Drink

Bulgarian CuisineI loved Bulgaria when I was there even though it was cold, I didn’t speak the language, and I was just a little freaked out by all the old school communist nostalgia. One thing that didn’t freak me out was the food. While I didn’t eat everything, what I did have was a great experience of culinary East meets West.

My three favorite meals were 1) cooked by my friend Peppy 2) cooked by my friend Boris’ grandmother and 3) in a great restaurant called Pop Lipite or “Under the Linden Trees” where I had dinner with my friend Katya one evening.

Bulgarian sausageBulgarian cuisine is essentially Slavic, but it has a lot in common with both Turkish and mediterrainean cuisine. there are many sausages and roasted meats including the Karnache sausage pictured which is always coiled and very typical. Village food was a bit heavy on meat for my tastes, but also utilizes a lot of vegetables, herbs and fruits.

 

 

Bulgarian saladAt Pop Lipite I had my first taste of the famous Bulgarian Shopska Salada. It is made from thick juicy tomatoes, perfect cucumbers, onion, roasted peppers, and sirene- the delicious brine cheese you find throughout the Balkans. Oh…and don’t forget the parsley. Of course, with every meal in the Balkans, Rakia is an essential. The delicious and amazingly stiff plum liquor is a mainstay and compliments the shopska salad very well.

 

Bulgarian CheesePop Lipite was a great experience. Since 1926 this traditional place has been a gathering spot. Folk music, big timber beams, and a traditional decor made this a warm and wonderful spot. The great food and company helped too.

In addition to salads, Bulgarians food also uses a lot of yogurt, soups, meats, and pastries. Grilled meats and sausages are very common in Bulgaria but you are more likely to find pork or lamb than beef. The beef is used primarily to produce butter, sirene, and of course yogurt which some claim originated in Bulgaria.

 

Bulgarian PotatoesPeppy made a potato dish that exploded my tastebuds. It was roasted potatos, chicken, and big white beans which I’m told are common in many Bulgarian dishes. The chicken was especially delicious, I should ask her for the recipe. Staying with Tim and Peppy was great as the food was always delicious. Tim’s mom owns a restaurant and he’s no slouch in the kitchen either and it was a treat to eat some truly American food while there.

 

 

 

Bulgarian PastryBoris’s grandmother served perhaps the most traditional of meals with lots of sausages, meats, dried fruits, shopska salad, piroshka which are fried dough filled with cheese (yummy but probably not so good for the heart). Speaking of which I also tried the amazingly scrumtuous Banitsa which are a pastry filled with spinach, leeks, and cheese – oh my!

 

Onions and garlic are very common in Bulgarian foods and you find them heavily used in the many soups and savory stews which make up a large portion of the cuisine. My favorite soup? Taractor which is Bulgarian Soupmade with cucumber and cold yogurt. Yes, it’s like eating tadzikhe sauce with a spoon. The Bob Chorba (sounds like an insurance salesman) was a close second and is made with beans, onions, and lots of garlic and chili.

Boris’ grandmother served us a kind of shredded bread/pasta with milk, sugar, sirene cheese or salt, it was not really my cup of tea at all. On the upside, I think it was probably cheap and healthy.

Of course, if all of this doesn’t sound great to you, you ccan find plenty of kebabs, pizza, and burgers too.

Bulgarian wineAnd, I should also point out that Bulgarian wines are fantastic and not in the least expensive – but be careful of the home made village wine. It will kill your head in the morning!

 

As always, if you are heading to Bulgaria and want to ask me anything about it, my travel advice is free for the asking or you might find the resources in the box below to be helpful.

 

Bulgaria Resources
Bulgaria Cuisine and Recipes
Hotels in Bulgaria
Hostels in Bulgaria
Travel Insurance for Bulgaria
Bulgaria and Around the World
Last Minute Flights, Hotels, Cars

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