Friday 9 December 2016

Bali and beyond...

We arrived on the Indonesian island of Bali on a flight from Kuala Lumpur on the 20th September 2016. Knowing it would be both late and dark when we got there, I’d booked a hotel conveniently near to the airport in Denpasar, so that we would be well rested and ready to explore Bali first thing in the morning.

My first impressions of Bali was that it was hot and humid and very busy.

The first thing that impressed me was a huge modern sculpture that stands at the first intersection just outside the airport. I didn’t get a photo but the Satria Gatot Kaca statue is truly breath-taking, with larger than life gods and horses and chariots embroiled in a Balinese mythological battle scene.

For our first day on the island, we planned to venture inland to a town called Ubud. The owner of the homestead where I had booked our second night’s accommodation got in touch with us to offer his services as a taxi and apparently this is a common and much less-expensive way to travel in Bali. 

Ubud is considered to be the cultural heart of Bali - and if there is one thing I love just as much as tropical beaches then it’s interesting culture.

We drove for an hour past green and picturesque rice paddy fields and through the stone carving village of Batubulan. Stone carving is important in Bali it really is amazing to see a whole village full of stone carving studios and carvings of every subject you might imagine – from small and devilish deities to life size rearing horses – all lining the streets. Bali, it seemed to me, is full of artist and art!

I knew that the town of Ubud is famous for its markets, restaurants, temples and its monkey forest, and as we only planned to spend one night here, we knew we would have a full day ahead of us if we wanted to make the most of every minute and opportunity.

Stone carvings and beautiful architecture is everywhere on Bali

The market was colourful and noisy and crazy busy
. I loved it and took my time to browse the fabulous trinkets and fabrics and spices and shoes. I bought myself a beautiful pair of sandals after haggling the seller down to a reasonable (for both of us) price. Trav absolutely hated the market and trailed in my wake with his face set with misery. He hates crowds and people pushing and waving stuff in his face. After a while, I started to hate it too – especially when being spoken to by the locals (who for no fault of their own expect you to be Australian) with constant cries of ‘good’ay mate.'

After the market we roamed the street looking for one particular restaurant. It took us many wrong turns down narrow streets to find it – and when we did eventually stumble across it – both Trav and I were convinced we’d found it purely by accident. The restaurant is called Ibu Oka and it specialises in the Balinese culinary experience known as ‘Babi Guiling’ which is roasted suckling pig. You can get this traditional dish in lots of places on Bali but this particular restaurant is world-famous and is a place of pilgrimage for lovers of roasted pork. I have to say that it was delicious and worth the effort to find the original ‘Babi Guiling’.

A stone piggy welcome

The world famous Ibu Oka Restaurant in Ubud - for the original  Babi Guiling roasted sucking pig.

Next, it was a sightseeing trip
down the main streets and then a visit to the monkey forest. The monkeys, who you can see plenty of on the street too, are very cute especially with their babies – but they will steal from you and  they apparently have a penchant for handbags and cameras.

I saw a monkey grab a bottle of water from a woman stood right next to me. It then sat down in the middle of the road, unconcerned by the traffic whizzing around it, where it unscrewed the cap of the bottle and drank the water!

The Sacred Monkey Forest is a leafy nutmeg and banyan tree forest and monkey sanctuary close to Ubud town centre. In the forest, there are many old temples and statues, all covered in moss and monkeys. It’s a beautiful and ancient looking place and it’s perfect for photo opportunities but beware because many tourists report being ‘terrified’ ‘chased’ and ‘mugged’ by the monkeys!

A cute ticket collector
Old temples covered in moss and monkeys

We stayed overnight in Ubud
 and the next morning our homestead owner drove us back towards the coast and Bali’s primary resort town - a place called Kuta. Which we had been warned was the worst place in Bali. It was.

We hated Kuta. It is a touristy, dirty, sleazy, horrible mess of a place, with fast food restaurants and a noisy beach packed with hawkers and tourists. We couldn’t wait to leave – which is why we went there in the first place – we were being taken from Kuta to the ferry point where we would travel over to the Gili Islands.

The Gili’s are an archipelago of three picture perfect tropical islands.

The larger Indonesian island of Lombok as seen from Gili Air

Gili Trawangan (known as Gili T), Gili Air, and Gili Meno, are situated off the neighbouring island of Lombok, Indonesia. There are fast boats and slow boats to take you there from Bali and I highly recommend you do a bit of online research before you make your choice of sea transport, as there have been many recent incidents of sinking, near sinking, capsizing, on board blasts and explosions, that have resulted in tourist fatalities.

So heed the warning HERE and don’t just go for the cheapest boat tickets.

The Gili Islands are a vision of paradise that have white sand beaches and palm trees and no motorised transport. Gili T is the larger and most developed of the three and it has gained a reputation from backpackers as a party island. Trav and I like to beach party on occasion, but on this trip we were looking for quiet, relaxation, diving, snorkelling, great seafood, and a beach bar with a laid back ambience, so we stayed on the boat when it made its stop here and we went onto Gili Air.

We stayed on the boat while others disembarked at Gili Trawangan

Gili Air offers that laid-back vibe we were looking for but it also has a few good restaurants and bars and dive centres. Trav went diving with Manta Divers and I went along too for snorkelling on the reef. We stayed in homestead accommodation, which was clean and basic in a small garden villa with a nice bedroom and separate bathroom and very inexpensive at around £100 - that's the rent for the whole week not the night - and the local owners were very friendly. 

Approaching Gili Air by boat
Pony taxi - there is no motorised transport on the Gili Islands
Main Street in rush hour on Gili Air

Our homestead villa for the week on Gili Air

The first few hours that we were on Gili Air, totally by coincidence, we bumped into two friends on the street (I use the term street but as you can see from our photos it was actually a sand path along the beach). Mark and Rebecca run Sunshine Divers on the Thai island of Koh Tao and we had enjoyed socialising with them during our six weeks on Koh Tao back in January. They had been travelling in Malaysia and Indonesia following the F1 Grand Prix and were taking some time out in the Gili Islands. What an amazingly small world it really is when you meet people totally by chance like that!

It was so great to see Mark and Rebecca again!

It was so great to see Mark and Rebecca again
 and we got to spend the next few days in their lovely company, going out diving, Rebecca and I relaxed at the spa and we all enjoying lunches and dinners and some really fun evenings together.

Mark and Trav's bar bill while Rebecca and I were at the spa....

Gili Air is a great place to go scuba diving

We went out with Manta Divers

Pony and cart transport for the dive tanks - poor pony!

Mark and Rebecca

Me and Trav

Getting ready to go diving!

Going in - Trav is ready to dive...

We had a great day out on the dive boat

Goodbye Gili Air

After a week,
Trav and I moved on to the smallest and least developed of these islands, Gili Meno. I was really looking forward to this non-commercial, wild and peaceful and tropical experience of this island, which boasts the best white sand beaches and peaceful romantic setting. On this island, I found a gorgeous little boutique hotel and eco-resort in the middle of an old coconut plantation and tropical garden. It also had a swimming pool and the most beautiful villas. So we decided to treat ourselves and make this place our home for the next few days and nights. 

Our paradise hotel on Gili Meno
Our room on Gili Meno - a bit of luxury

Friends we met on Gili Meno Patrick and Michelle from the Netherlands

What an amazing and totally relaxing experience we had on Gili Meno – our kind of tropical island – so no apologies for all the photos of the island!

Pony and trap taxi on Gili Meno
Main Street Gili Meno

The most beautiful white sand beaches
Fun in the sun

On the beach. Gili Air in the background
Taking a walk around the entire island and snapping away

The art shop
Fruit seller

The harbour on Gili Meno - Lombok in the background
My fav photo - a cure for the blues...

Next week's accommodation, perhaps?
Turtle sanctuary

It felt so good to eat dinner on the beach every night on Gili Meno
Romantic dinner and sunset
Another romantic dinner and a sunset - bliss.

The only downside to this part of our trip was that on our last day on Gili Meno I suffered from sunstroke. I’d spend most of the day lounging around the pool in the hot sun, drinking a few (to be fair, only two) gin cocktails when by evening I felt really very sick indeed. Not having eaten since breakfast, I made the effort to go out to dinner with Trav. We had planned a lovely last night and we had a reservation for a sunset dinner on the beach.

As it was, it wasn’t a great night, as I ended up being sick and passing out. I felt to ill too be embarrassed about it and was escorted back to our villa by a very concerned Trav. Thankfully, as we had two boats to catch and flight from Bali to Kuala Lumpur the following day, I was happy to be more or less recovered by morning.

We used Blue Water Express again for our boat transfers back to Bali and once again we had a very good sea crossing with them on their fast, safe, and comfortable boats. Then we flew with the wonderfully efficient and inexpensive airline Air Asia back to KL.

Next time here on the blog I'll be telling you about our need to settle down somewhere for a while and how that led us to house hunting on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia. Being on Langkawi also brought us back in touch with Mark and Rebecca and we had a great week with them on the island although we never did find somewhere to live. Our house hunting failure led us back to Kuala Lumpur again, where we viewed some amazing city centre serviced apartments with their own swimming pools.

We also celebrated Trav's birthday in KL and then we got TWO fantastic offers that would take us back to the island of Koh Tao in Thailand - but only after a rather stressful albeit successful visit to the Thai Consulate in KL - where we went to get our Thai entry visas. To Trav and I, it feels like a wonderful fate that we are going full circle and back to the island where we began this year.

Until next time,
Love, Janice xx