Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Andaman Islands

Let me start off by saying that 5 days is NOT enough.

Havelock Island sunset

Flight - You can catch direct flights to Port Blair from Calcutta and Chennai. We left Bangalore at 5am and reached Havelock Island at 5pm (Flight Bangalore-Chennai 2 hrs, Chennai-Port Blair 1.5 hrs, ferry ride Port Blair-Havelock 2.5 hrs and many hours to kill in between). Flight costs about US$350, which is pretty much the cost for a Bangalore – Port Blair all throughout the year. Geographically, Andaman is closer to Thailand but Andaman follows the Indian time zone, hence sunrise at 5 a.m. and subsets at 5 p.m. We were told by a local auto-rickshaw driver that a boat ride from Thailand takes about 30 minutes.

Hotel - My first choice was Pristine Resort, which offers huts the size of a single bed with shared bathrooms at Rs100 (US$2) or a double story hut at Rs1000 but because my roommate is inclined to stay at luxurious hotels, we instead stayed at Wild Orchid that costs about Rs5000/night (US$100).

Havelock is a tiny island. We rented a motorbike for 2 days and rode around the north side of the island. On the ride to the east coast to Beach #7, we passed the very tranquil and simple lives of the local villagers.

Beach #7, Havelock Island

Beach #7, Havelock Island

Elephant ride on the beach.

There’s really not much to do on the Andaman Islands unless you scuba dive or snorkel. We took a Scuba Divers course (2 chapters short to be fully certified with Open Water Diving) at Barefoot on Havelock Island. Preparing to dive is as complicated as preparing to go to space. My first dive was scary as hell but once I was 12 meters underwater, surrounded by colorful corals and circled by what seems to be a thousand blue yellow fishes, I was in a state of bliss. I had some problems equalizing the pressure in my ears on every dive and some saltwater got into my right ear and blocked it for a few days, but regardless, I find it easier to learn how to dive than to learn how to surf.

Dive boats on Havelock Island

Port Blair laundry. According to our auto-rickshaw driver, the island's laundry used to be done on the beach but had caused some polution, so they were moved to this little pond and now is free for all to use.

Port Blair Cellular Jail, aka "Kala Pani" or "Black Water" known to house many Indian freedom fighters back in the early 1900s.

More Andaman Pics

Friday, March 13, 2009


… is also known as Mumbai and reminds me a bit of New York City. Most of the time it feels like I’m no longer in India. I have nothing against the rest of the country but Bombay seems to me to be a tad more civilized. Here’re some reasons to back up my statement:
1. Queuing at the bus stop

2. Turning on the meter in a cab (the meter is actually outside the vehicle, can you spot it?)

Visiting Bombay with "A" was like traveling on steroids. Even though I never made it to Daravi Slum for a slum-tour (which is one of my must-do while in India), I think I saw more of Bombay in three days than any Bombayite would’ve seen in three months.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus)

Gateway of India

Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue

Prince of Wales Museum

Elephanta Caves – an hour boat ride and you’ll be in a completely different environment. There’s a 5 minutes horizontal and 10 minutes vertical hike to the caves.

The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower - It is as extravagant as they make it out to be.

Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat - Apparently 136 yr old, Bombay's oldest and biggest human power washer machine.


We spent a night at Taj President (the sister of and not to be mistaken with Taj Mahal Hotel) just for the fun of it.
Price: Rs11500/night

Gordon Hotel; highly recommended not because it’s allegedly the first boutique hotel in Bombay but you will find the most adorable objects in your rooms. If you are planning to party in Bombay and stay out past 2:30am, you should consider the rooms above the nightclub, which are way more affordable than the quiet rooms.
Price: Rs8000/night incl. breakfast (for rooms above the nightclub, because we stayed out past 2:30am every night)

I don’t recall partying in NYC being as hectic as partying in Bombay. On Saturday, we started off from South Bombay at Indigo Restaurant (highly recommended), then drove up to Malabar Hills and hung out at the Hanging Gardens (which is next to the Parsi Tower of Silence - a Parsi cemetary where bodies are not cremated but corpses are laid out within towers and pecked by vultures or let decompose naturally and where we were told by the tourist police to scram), then to the Dome (a rooftop bar), then Blue Frog (a must-go super cool lounge), then China Club (where I saw maybe a few hundred Bollywood superstar look-alikes) and finally to Bling (where Bollywood music was played). I think I missed a venue. We got to bed at 4:30am, drunk and happy.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Drive in Malaysia

I was very spoilt by how mobile I was in New York City. At any given day, nobody knew where I went or how I got around. The lack of mobility would be my biggest complain coming back to Malaysia. My biggest regret would be not renewing my driver’s license when I had a chance, four years ago.

The LRT system in Kuala Lumpur is reasonably convenient if you want to get to and around the city. If you are stuck in your suburban home like me, and the nearest supermarket or mall is about 15-30 minute drive or 50-120 minutes walk, it suddenly seems like the LRT is pretty damn useless. My brothers, dad and friends have been my drivers for the past few weeks and it’s time for me to take over the road.

How to renew your very-expired Malaysian Driver’s License
1. Fill out the e-rayuan form on the JPJ website with your information and hit submit. http://portal.jpj.gov.my/v5/index.php/en/erayuan-lesen-memandu-tamat-tempoh
(Confused? Yeah, I was too.)
2. You wait.
3. You get impatient after a few weeks (because your friends are hinting about not wanting to be your driver) so you go back to the JPJ site and login with your IC number and you find out the status of your e-rayuan is “berjaya”.
4. You are puzzled and (still) unsure what to do next. You call the JPJ toll-free number on the site. Someone on the line tells you that your appeal (rayuan) is successful and now a JPJ letter will be sent to you with your next steps.
5. You ask the person on the other line why this little simple information isn’t explained on the website. The person sheepishly says, “…oh ye, website will be updated soon, soon.”
6. You wait.
7. Your letter finally arrives (total wait time is 4-5 weeks). Instructions on the letter indicate you need not retake driving classes or the written test. However, you will need to get an “L” license and take a “special” test, which you can register with any driving school.
8. To get your “L” license, you will need to go to one of the JPJ headquarters (for Petaling Jaya residence, HQ is in Shah Alam. Take a GPS with you). You will also need to bring with you:
i) 3 license-size photos
ii) RM80
iii) Photocopy of your IC (front and back)
iv) A black or blue pen to fill out a form

You have to do #8 within 60 days of the date indicated on the letter but after getting your “L” license, you have 3 years to take your test. Yes, I find that strange also but not complaining since I left shortly after this and is now in India. Best of luck.