Friday, 16 October 2015

Travel Diaries: Labuan - Malang

Labuan - Malang
This month I went back to Labuan — here’s some more detailed travel tips.
Air Asia now has nonstop flights to Kota Kinabalu from Jakarta three times a week. Make sure you get a hot seat in the front rows for an extra $20 or so (you can move to the nearly always empty hot seats in rows 12 and thirteen during the flight then back to the front for landing so as to get the jump on immigration both ways). Pre-order the nasi lemak — always delicious. 

“Malaysia Boleh” poster at Labuan airport

Typical Labuan bride

In K.K. catch a taxi to the main airport from Air Asia's budget terminal (RM25) or wait for the shuttle bus (RM5). The airport is very spacious and modern and has great shopping and restaurants. The flight to Labuan is just a 30 min hop. Immigration and customs are very friendly at both terminals. One can detour into Sabah and dive or climb mountains; they even have a gay bar in town called Q Bar a man told me.
Labuan is a duty free island so everyone's pissed all the time. I like to stay at the Dorsett Grand Labuan (the old Sheraton) on the harbor which at $100 on inc. lavish breakfast for two (if you get lucky) poolside is a great deal. Its near the best beachside harbor view seafood restaurant in S.E.A. — outside ‘Lim’s’ at  Tanjung Pinang, Batam creepy Batam — called Mavillas. $40 for scampi, tiger prawns, baby kailan and beers, for two (if you been been lucky).
Crab’s Claw Heliconias and dwarf plum Cordyline flower arrangement I made from a garden in Labuan
There are great malls for dumb cheap shopping and some pretty lousy beaches. There are bars with road bumps but I don't go there. Basically, unless you're working in Labuan or have good friends there, there's no real reason to visit. The people are very nice (Sabahan and Salakahs (Sulu Seasons) and a smattering of Indians and Chinese who drink a lot, and lots of pinots providing support services for the otherwise unsupportable .
Flying back from K.K. you can get Gordon's Gin at ten dollars a bottle and you can sit in massage chairs for free if you can stand the siren that beeps if you don’t put 3 ringgit in the blue-glow illuminated slot. 

The diarist camps it up on Alun-Alun Tugu, Malang
25 October 2015
My new favourite hotel in Indonesia is the Tugu Park, Malang — it has really raised its game.
One can now fly non-stop into Malang from either Jakarta or Bali — avoiding the hideous drive from Surabaya’s Juanda Airport — and take in the architectural delights of the 13th century Candi Singosari (see below) before arriving at the Tugu Hotel in time for high tea on the terrace.

Top: The entrance gates to the Tugu Park Malang off Alun-Alun Tugu; Bottom: Florist at the Tugu Park

Top: Special touches are pervasive when staying at the Tugu Park. One feels desired; Bottom: The dining room at Tugu Park, Malang
The hotel is part museum/part love-nest: the late, great lothario President Soekarno would have loved it. The public areas and function rooms eek romance. There is even a Soekarno section with photos of the nation’s father with Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe!
The Tugu chain owner, Dr. Anhar, deserves a medal for his efforts in the realms of cultural conservation and liberace-inspired decoration.
Walking around the rooms — between poolside dining and Saturday Night Fever cigar lounge — one discovers treasures including Shang Dynasty Chinese Foo dogs, Singosari era deities, ancient Balinese masks and a collection of rare 19th century Chinese Wayang Golek puppets including a very rare Barong Bangkung (Boar Barong) which is intriguing (I always thought that the boar barong was unique to Bali).

Shang Dynasty Chinese to Foo dogs

Top: Chinese Wayang Golek & Bottom:Barong Bangkung
Staying at the Tugu Park improves one’s knowledge and one’s libido — the hotel is positively stacked with hotties who feign and tease and make the hurt feel good, and an excellent Arabian Nights-style spa complete with hammam.
I was travelling with famed photographer Tim Street-Porter and his stylish personal trainer-wife Annie Kelly who also adored the hotel.
“Better than the Hotel Bel-Air before the Sultan of Brunei turned it into a Marriot,” they said.

Candi Kidal

Top: Candi Jago; Bottom: Candi Badut
On the second day we went to my favourite candi,  Candi Kidal, the pretty candi, and then on to the magnificent Candi Jago (Jahagu) and then the enigmatic 8th century  Candi Badut, a Central Javanese temple that seems to have been a precursor to all future candi in East Java.
We also visited the almost complete Museum Empu Purwa with its fine collection of Kediri and Singosari, 10th – 13th century antiques soon to be housed in a very ugly building.

The magnificent Candi Singosari (photo Tim Street-Porter)

Detail from Bhairawa statue at Candi Singosari
Day three we witnessed an ISIS-inspired Muharam procession around the alun-alun Tugu square in front of the hotel. The square is peopled with giant plastic munchkin-land flowers and a social-realist obelisk. Government buildings from the colonial era ring the park.
The Tugu Park sits smack in the middle of Malang’s historic Art Deco Colonial house district, so there is much to admire for architectural voyeuris.

Tim Street-Porter photographs grafitti in the carpark at Candi Badut
Muharram procession in Malang
From Malang we drove to Batu, the old Hill Station during the Dutch colonial era, for a swim at Selecta, the floral clock of the public swimming pool world. From Batu we drove west along a scenic mountain drive to Pare to visit the Hindu relics from the Majapahit era there.
The drive from Malang to Kediri, the 10th century capitol of the Kauripan Kingdom, is about 3 ½ hours — it’s good to break the trip with diversions in a couple of places.

Indonesian-colonial Art Deco — style mayoral offices on the Alun-Alun Tugu, Malang