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Three things to do for a full night in Phuket: #2 – Get your massage on!

Everyone knows that massages are super expensive in North America. The prices can be sticker shocking even for people who’ve never left the continent. I can only imagine what South East Asians must think when they come to places like NYC and Toronto and see what these people charge. Yet another reason, I don’t go to spas back home. However, when I come to Asia – I go “buckwild” on massages.

#1 : Get some food in your system
#2 : Get your massage on:

#3.1 :Ride a Tuk Tuk

So when you finish your dinner on Rat-u-Thit, then wander anywhere on the street and look for the signs or the loads of ladies that are hustling for massage services (no dirty massages either)

I’ve been here for three nights, so far and each night has started with an hour long foot massage for 200 baht. The foot massage includes the following

  • Massage of both feet and thighs
  • Shiastu massage of upper back
  • Head massage and neck effleurage
  • Khmer Shoulder massage

You’re going to ask, then why is it called a “foot massage” … well in reflexology, they assume that the feet contain nerve connections to all parts of the body. Hence a massage of feet must also include a component where they close the stimulation loop … “touch a pressure point on the foot that affects your head, then we must also close the pressure point in the head”

The prices listed above are the actual prices with your tip being optional. So for an hour, a foot massage would cost the equivalent of 200 baht/30 = $6.70 CDN – which is a phenomenal deal.

Three things to do for a full night in Phuket: #1 – Get some food on Rat U Thit.

So you’ve had a long day touring the Phi Phi islands, or Phang Nha or speedboating to Krabi. You’re sore and tired, possibly sunburnt and dehydrated … you now have two choices

  1. Be a sucker and call it a night, by hitting your hotel/hostel/resort/camp – ULTRA WEAK!!!
  2. Make a hardcore long night of things on Bangla Road, cause you put the “S” on Superman’s chest!

If you’ve met anything who has visited Phuket, then there is no introduction I think is needed for this place. Phuket’s nightlife is storied but Bangla Road is on a next level of things – it has something for everyone. By day, this place is completely boring and stale in most tourist ways, but it erupts at night after 9pm. It’s also the heaven to those ‘desperate old, ugly white men’ – like seriously, it can be a bit much to look, sometimes!

#1 : Get some food in your system:

First thing to do is to get off Beach Road. You have a million choices for dinner, but instead of having dinner at your hotel or at some touristy restaurant on Beach Road, I would walk one street parallel off Beach Road to Rat-U-Thit 200 Pee Road. This is the second busiest road in Phuket and runs parallel to the Beach Road for over two kilometres.

However, I really do hate the name of the road though for two reasons:

  1. Any blasted name with Rat will make me hate it. Period!!! Thai people, you want western people to do more – then don’t have vermin in street names, especially since western people think that Asian/South Asian people actually eat the fucking things.
  2. I have no idea how to say Rat-U-Thit 200 Pee Road with any sense of normalcy. These are my issues though, it might be something special in Thai … I could go research it, but why bother; I’m OK with my thought process on this one.

Anyway, for places to eat, I would just go with anyone of the street restaurants. The touts encouraging you to come in and eat, can be a bit annoying but a firm head shake is all one needs. At random, we picked a place where we saw Thais and tourists eating at : Champion Seafood

It can look a little sketchy to the Western eye – but don’t let that put you off. I find it’s best just to ignore certain things and go with the flow. Everything that you would expect in regular restaurant will be found on the street – just no A/C. If you’re too hot, ask for a cold napkin or a beer.

Once you’ve sat down, review the menu and ask the prices for their seafood. All seafood is sold by weight – so if you want to avoid any nasty surprises – do this first and everything should be smooth after that. Everything will be fresh or on ice having been caught that day.

As for the food … it really shouldn’t be anything but awesome. Our dinner included the following menu

  • Chicken Pad Thai (50 baht … yep)
  • Stir fired Morning Glory (100 baht)
  • Seafood fried rice (50 baht … seriously!)
  • 1/2 kilo of fresh prawns – good with chili garlic sauce (350 baht)
  • Seafood Tom Yum Goong (150 baht … absolutely phenomenal taste)
  • 2 large 1/2 litre Singhas (@120 baht)

For a grand total of 940 baht.

Pad Thai, Morning Glory and Tom Yum soup

I think the most innovative part of the meal, was the steaming Tom Yum Goong, in a bowl heat by coals in the center. This is the only way, this soup should ever be served.

After your meal … then you need to move on to the #2 thing to do.

5 notes for eating on Rat U Thit and being happy about it

  1. Don’t look too hard at your surroundings. If you’ve travelled, then you’ve seen worse.
  2. An average meal for 2, without large Singhas should be no more than 250 baht (8$ CDN)
  3. An excellent meal for 2 with large Singhas and 1/2 kilo of fresh prawns, will set you back 950 baht (30$ CDN)
  4. Do ask for the menu and assume nothing unless you see a menu and listed prices.
  5. You will get a bowl of lime water for washing hands – I recommend using your own hand sanitizer or wet naps.

Borobudur is a wonder … even thought the sunrise tour is overrated …

In my first post about Borobudur, I mentioned my lack of enthusiasm for the whole “sunrise” experience. This being said, one of the main reasons for me coming to Yogyakarta, was to photograph and see Borobudur.

After the morning debacle with our guide Daniel (who you can email directly here … he is awesome, friendly and well known at Borobudur – since he works there – [email protected] 😛 ), he felt really bad about the poor sunrise, so he took us through the employee entrance (i.e. “We didn’t pay again to get in“) … VIP style. It was awesome not getting hassled or anything.

If you’ve been to a couple old temples or ruins in the world … Angkor Wat, Teotihuacan, Pompeii; one could argue that they all look alike in some way. This is remarkable when you think about places/structures that are 1000’s of years old, geographically and culturally independent and yet supposedly people never travelled around before Columbus discovered the “New World”. Think about it!

Anyway Borobudur, is pretty phenomenal in the overall context of sacred places. The structure is remarkably well maintained through grants from the Dutch government.

The bas reliefs are stunning in their detail and complexity. The reliefs show the stories based on the manuscripts of Lalitavistara, Jataka-Avadana and Gandavyuha. The Lalitavistara reliefs, consisting of 120 panels, tell us about the life of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. It starts with the descent of Buddha from the Tushita heaven. Born as Prince Siddhartha, Buddha’s childhood was isolated from the outside world’s misery. Accidentally witnessing the misery of sickness, decrepitude and death, young Prince Siddharta decided to escape from the worldly life and commencing his search of freedom from suffering. Siddhartha’s long and painful search finally led him to the highest level of enlightenment and made him Buddha, the Enlightened One. This story ends with Buddha’s sermon in the Deer Park near Benares.

Even the floor is a jigsaw puzzle all put together without cement/mortar/plaster – each section with its own keystone that unlocks the floor for cleaning. Daniel was also clear to mention that under the floors, there are a lot of snakes.

At the top, there are, 72 stupas circle the huge main stupa that crowns the top of the temple. The circular form represents the eternity without beginning and without end, a superlative, tranquil, and pure state of the formless world. There are no reliefs on the three circular terraces.

All but the largest central stupas on the upper levels contain a (more or less) life-sized statue of the Buddha kneeling, although many of these statues are missing or damaged. There are also many alcoves along the lower levels which contain similar statues but many of these are missing or damaged as well.

5 Essential Details for seeing Borobudur and being happy about it

  1. The lighting is best for photography around 2pm – the harsh overhead sunlight at noon make pictures taking tough
  2. Read about the structure, the history and the details of the reliefs. It will put a lot of the structure in perspective.
  3. Find a reliable guide to take you around and explain the history of Borobudur. Getting from Yogyakarta to Borobudur takes an hour by car. Vehicles with a driver can easily arranged for about $30 a day.
  4. Plan to climb some steps. Stop a while, take some pictures and enjoy the daytime view
  5. It should take about 2 hours to walk the grounds and take pictures.


[smugmug url=”http://www.rishisankar.com/hack/feed.mg?Type=gallery&Data=18175258_LZF7B2&format=rss200″ title=”Borobudur” imagecount=”5″ start=”1″ num=”5″ thumbsize=”Th” link=”smugmug” captions=”false” sort=”false” window=”true” smugmug=”true” size=”L”]

Monday Morning Consultant – Bali Edition – The Lagoon Resort and Spa Nusa Dua Review

Heading into Bali, I tried to book for 4 free nights at the W Bali Resort in Seminyak, but due to the lack of availability of “standard” rooms, I couldn’t get the first night in – so instead I had to book 1 night at the Lagoon and 3 nights at the W Bali.

As for the room, I would have liked my free room to be a suite, but it can’t happen everywhere, even just for one night. This hotel is a “luxury collection” hotel, but in the end – no upgrade, even for one night is a pisser. There is super extended check out though till 6pm .. we left at 6:30pm for Platinum SPG guests – which was actually pretty nice.

The room was a standard resort room with enhanced bathroom.

The bathroom was a standard bathroom with a jacuzzi tub.

There are no truly special platinum upgrades that the hotel offers outside of the free internet – which is standard in any SPG hotel across the world (forget that it is 20$ USD a day). The hotel doesn’t also have available Wi-Fi, which is really becoming a pain in my ass – each hotel so far, has had great wired connections but little or no Wi-Fi presence throughout the hotel.

The hotel is pretty spectacular from the lobby at night.

Where this hotel does excel, is the actual lagoon swimming pools, grounds and waterfalls. At night, you get the sense of what is available in the day time.

As for the daytime

The daybed at the  beach are amazing .. just out of the movies

Overall :

Great hotel, just no upgrade because of Hilary Clinton – so I can’t fault the hotel for this one (The staff at the hotel were profusely apologetic about the lack of the upgrade). Great resort ground and pools, definitely a honeymoon type resort.

Platinum upgrades and lounges are generally not available here. No Wi-Fi connectivity – I found a signal but the staff has no idea on how to allow access to it (Two front desk people I spoke to on this)

I’m not a resort person and we’re moving on to the W Resort in Seminyak. We’ve been told that it “was just as nice” as the Lagoon Nusa Dua.

Hiking to Candi Selogriyo / Selogriyo Temple with some more rice terraces

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2011 will be my year of Rice Terraces. The last couple months have been rice terraces in Philippines and Indonesia.

After going to Borobudur, we head up to an “obscure” temple in the mountains. Candi Selogriyo is a small Hindu temple, built earlier before Borobudur temple. It is located at the head of a small valley, with many terraced rice-fields on the slopes.  This is the Java scenery one sees in magazines.

Selogriyo is about 30 km. away from Borobudur, and journey by car or motorcycle takes about one hour (each way), over paved, winding country lanes.

Walking through the village, you can see the backbreaking work needed to grow the rice and harvest wood etc. Never take your food for granted. I couldn’t even imagine walking up and down those terraces to plant and harvest rice every day.

More or less these guys struggling to move tree down mountain .. regardless of how illegal the forest cutting is here … people have to survive some way or the other.

After the  2 km walk watching lovely mountains and rice paddies, you get to the main gate.  The temple is then reached after climbing about 200 steps.

When you’re as out of shape as I am right now, it is always best not to think about the steps but just all the lovely scenery that you just chewed through as well as a snapshot into the existence of other people around you.

As for Selogriyo, itself … well the journey is the highlight …

5 Essential Details for seeing Candi Selogriyo and being happy about it 😀

  1. The beauty is in the journey, not the destination. The main attraction is the actual walk through the mountains and rice paddies
  2. Tip the caretakers at Candi Selogriyo. 20000 rupiah should be reasonable. They work hard with only three people a day seeing their work.  You can sign the guestbook for details.
  3. Find a reliable guide who knows the trail. It is a lovely hike in July, where the weather is cool and the heat isn’t overbearing. It takes about an hour from Borobudur to get there, so plan your time accordingly.
  4. Plan to climb some steps. Maybe about 200 steps in all, as well as a 20 min steep-ish walk. There will be some mud in parts, so plan for you feet to get dirty.
  5. The entire walk back and forth will take about 60-90 mins depending on how many pictures you take and how much scenery you chew.


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5 Misconceptions I had of Yogyakarta and Prambanan …

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A couple misconceptions I had before I got to Yogyakarta … since I think every preconceived idea of Indonesia has been shattered with my arrival into Yogyakarta.

  1. Yogyakarta is some dusty temple town that will be easy to get around.
    FALSE : “Yogya” is pretty god damn big and you will need a driver to get around.
  2. Since Yogya is a small town, I will be able to saunter into town, see 10 main attractions in 3 days and leave full satiated never wanting to come back
    FALSE : There is so much around Yogya, that one could spend two weeks here and still not see everything around and all the cultural shows
  3. Prambanan would be some small temple that can be done in an hour
    FALSE : If you only visit the main temple, then sure. If you visit the entire complex and surrounding smaller temples and ruins, then you will easily spend a full exhausting 10 hr day in the heat walking around with no pool time 😀
  4. There would be ridiculously spotty technology here and I wouldn’t be able to do anything I needed.
    FALSE : See #2 … there are about  700,000 people. The city is broken up into 14 districts and there is all the technology and connectivity you need.
  5. Thailand/Philippines have the craziest drivers in the world.
    FALSE : Patently and utterly false. Indonesia now truly tops my list of world’s most insane driving. The only thing that is even remotely followed, would be street lights (and they are optional at late night). The only thing that even comes close to what we experienced driving here, would be the following clips from the 1981 Sega smash hit video game : Turbo. (Yes, I played this game in something called an “Arcade” – I am officially once again … OLD)

Now this being said, getting from my hotel (Sheraton Mustika) to Prambanan was a easy 15 minute taxi ride. You get into the parking lot, walk to the tourist entrance and you’re in. Simple and easy!

I would suggest that you do some requisite reading about the place before, since the tourist information is lacking in much detail. There are tons of explanations of the Siva, Vishnu and Brahma temples.I also would start at the Sewu temple about 1km away walking in the complex and then work your way back to the main temples.

Once you’re finished with the Sewu temple which is pretty impressive, then you’re backtracking past the smaller ruins into Prambanan itself.

5 Essential Details for a Prambanan Hindu Temple day trip

  1. You should really stay in Yogyakarta. It is a easy day trip from here and there are multiple daily flights from Jakarta (CKG) to Yogyakarta (JOG) … if you’re looking to rush it.
  2. The foreigner entry price is 13$ USD … which is steep, if you’re a backpacker – but assume that your money is going to help the conservation effort. (That’s what I would like to think)
  3. Find a reliable driver that will take you around. A good tourist price that will make you feel good about yourself, is paying 3.50$USD an hour (30000 rupiah). This will include gas, vehicle and the driver’s time.
  4. 9am would be a reasonable time to head in. It’s not too hot and the tour buses haven’t started coming in.
  5. 3 hour for the entire complex would be quite realistic, although you could completely power through the thing in 1 hour, but if you did do that, then you should question why you’re actually going in the first place.

You want to learn about Prambanan …

My photolog …

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Tuesday Morning – Overrated!!! Sunrise at Borobudur

In typical fashion online, when one person has a great opinion of something, it tends to spread viral, especially if those people have a smaller frame of context. In the true tradition of overpriced and overrated, watching the sunrise from Borobudur would fall into this category.

On a sunny, clear morning, you’ll get the “mystic” sunrise from Borobudur – but this is just a sunrise from a high place with a jungle background. You get fantastic descriptions like this  …

A white mist shrouds the plain and the first birdcalls across the valleys announce the imminent arrival of another dawn. Slowly the mist dissipates in the rising sun to reveal the spires and Buddhas that meditate in bliss and gradually the forms coalesce to unveil a temple that many who have seen it, consider to be the finest example of Buddhist architecture ever raised to the sky by man – the magnificent temple of Borobudur.

It’s alright but you would pay double for the privilege to either a tour group or do the Borobudur Sunrise Tour available with a stay at the Manohara Hotel. Both the hotel and the organized tours cost north of 60 USD for two people, just to get in with a sarong and a complimentary flashlight. Part of the expense seems to be that the entry fee for non-Indonesians is 15 USD. It also costs more to be doing it alone, as the hotel price includes entry fees for 2 people (according to Wikitravel).

For that fee, to enter the temple on a cloudy day, you’re going to get something like this

There of course, is an alternate way behind Borobudur only known to the locals and now me too … along with other intrepid tourists who find a morning guide at Borobudur 🙂

Save your money trying to see the sunrise at Borobudur and instead wait for a couple hours or go on the Nirvana trail …

Monday Morning Consultant – Yogyakarta Edition – Sheraton Mustika Review

For the next couple days, we’re going to be in Yogyakarta, hiking up and down temples and monuments. Again, using the SPG promo and points, we have a couple nights using “Cash and Points” at the Sheraton Mustika – which amounted to 30$ and 2800 pts a night.

  • Plaudit #1 … Sheraton Towers, Singapore
  • Plaudit #2 … Le Meridien Jakarta, Indonesia.
  • Plaudit #3 ..
    This hotel is nice!! It’s gets two exclamation marks for service, lobby decor and a quite decent lounge. The security coming in wasn’t too bad at all, unlike Manila or Jakarta.Usual check-in procedure shows that the Gold Status means nothing. Platinum check-in resulted in an upgrade to a Jr Suite. Upgrading to a full Executive Suite would be another 200$ USD?!?! Seriously … I’m going to have a chat with someone on Flyertalk or  SPG corporate and find out what the deal with that is … I don’t expect a Presidential Suite upgrade, but I would like the procedure for the Exec Suites to be clear.

As for the room itself … I really cannot complain at all for 30$ a night. Coming into the suite, everything is awesome. Clean and refreshed.

The Kartanegara Suite comprised the following

  • One full bathroom
  • Living Room
  • Dining Room
  • 1 Master Bedroom

Living Room

Master Bedroom


View from the room

As for the pool facilities … they are rather nice 😀

As for Platinum Status … you have access to a great lounge that serves full breakfast and hot entrees as well as complimentary alcohol in the evenings. This is what our lounges used to be like in the US and Canada … but once again, we lead the way in stripping down the benefits for the highest revenue guests.

This was our breakfast selection in the mornings 🙂

Service Level:

The service was fantastic in the lounge. They were incredibly attentive and cheerful and accommodating and definitely was the highlight of the stay the hotel. They made every effort to accommodate me and the woman,  even with me at my grumpiest in the morning.

Overall :

I would definitely recommend this hotel, not only as a Sheraton but just in general. A great stay and it sets the bar for the others further in our trip. It’s too bad the hotel wasn’t in the Q2 promotion hotel list, but with status and points … this was an awesome stay and I’ll be sad to leave.

Getting my inner Muslim on … Istiqlal Mosque travelogue

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Generally Mosques aren’t the most elaborate of places – they tend to be open spaces where the masses can congregate and worship together unless there is some reason to make a ridiculously opulent and large mosque, as was such for the Hasan II mosque in Casablanca.

The biggest Mosque in Jakarta and South East Asia is the Istiqlal Mosque. The idea behind it was that the largest Muslim population in the world, should have a Mosque befitting the size of the community.

Getting there:

It is definitely a building of stature and getting there in Jakarta is quite easy. From the Le Meridien, it cost about 90000 Rupiah (10$ CDN to have a “Blue Bird” taxi driver pick us up, drop us off, wait on us and then back to the hotel).


The Mosque is supposedly open 24 hours a day, but I wouldn’t recommend testing that theory. We got there around 7pm and came back to the hotel around 8:30. The mosque was practically empty except for those who came for the last prayer, so we enlisted the help of a friendly guard to walk us around and show us the mosque.

The facts from Wikipedia – pics by me:

The rectangular main prayer hall building is covered by a 45 meter diameter central spherical dome. The dome is supported by twelve round columns and the prayer hall is surrounded by rectangular piers carrying four levels of balcony. Staircases at the corners of the building give access to all floors. The main hall is reached through an entrance covered by a dome 10 meters in diameter.

The interior design is minimalist, simple and clean cut, with minimal adornment of aluminium geometric ornaments. The 12 columns are covered with aluminium plates. On the main wall on qibla there is a mihrab and minbar in the center.

On the main wall, there is a large metalwork of Arabic calligraphy spelling the name of Allah on the right side and Muhammad on the left side, and also the calligraphy of Surah Thaha 14th verse in the center.

Outside the mosque is another large courtyard, where you can see the flame of the National Monument.

Three Minutes in Istiqlal Mosque

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