Apr 24 – May 18
Getting to Bali
It’s always comforting to fly with airlines you’ve never heard of, Lao Aviation’s prop plane and now Bouraq Airlines, a little known Indonesian airline. But, it was pretty efficient – we had to transfer planes in Surabuya on Java with only 45 minutes between the landing of one plane and the departure of the next so we were worried that we didn’t have much time to get through immigration and then find our way to the next plane but as we got off the plane we were ushered into cars which took us directly to the front of the immigration queue and then rushed through the airport and onto the next plane with no hassles which was brilliant.
Battle of the Holiday Destinations – Bali vs Thailand
- Beaches – Thailand won hands down with white and powdery fine soft sand. Bali had nice beaches but they weren’t tropical island idyllic
- Sea – For surfers and playing in the waves Bali is great because there is good surf – not too strong so good for beginners like Richard. For swimming Thailand is better as the water is much warmer, calm and a beautiful turquoise colour
- Sightseeing – Both are great with beautiful gold Buddhist temples in Thailand and stone Hindu temples in Bali. Both have wonderful natural sights such as waterfalls and mountains. Bali has volcanos and rice paddies which are stunning
- Shopping – Both are great for shopping but the arts and crafts in Bali are slightly more authentic and less tacky. Be careful what you buy though as I had trouble coming into Australia with a scrapbook I’d bought but that’s another story….
- People – We found Bali very friendly and apart from the hawkers on the beaches (who sit down with you until you buy something) we didn’t find there were as many people agressively trying to sell us things as in Thailand
- Religion – Thailand is mainly Buddhist and Bali is about 90% Hindu and both places are very religious. As a result there are lovely temples and we were lucky to be in Bali during a major festival and saw some processions and decorations around. Both are hot on their offerings which they make every day. In Thailand these tended to be food and drink offerings on ornate shrines but in Bali the offerings are far more simple, made from plants and flowers and put on the ground as well as on higher ground for the bad and the good spirits. We were constantly tripping over the offerings as they were often in the middle of the pavement but apparently as long as the incense stick has stopped burning it is OK to tread on the offering and so the remains of offerings are strewn all over the floor.
We spent three and a half weeks in Bali – relaxing, swimming and partying with a bit of sightseeing. It was a bit like a holiday within a holiday; after all the rushing about it was a chance to get our breath back before we hit Australia where we knew we would have to start thinking about doing some work. We had a lot of fun inspecting hotels and villas and ended up staying in five different places while we were there because there were such lovely places to stay we wanted to try them all: two in Kuta and then three at the next beach along, Seminyak. The first place we stayed was the worst of the lot and doesn’t really deserve a mention but the next four places were a real treat and one or two of them almost made us forget that we weren’t at home they were so comfortable.
Kuta – Party Town
Kuta is well known as the party capital of Bali – loud, raucous and that was just us. We met up with Amanda again and also spent some time with Manouck and Nena drinking extra large local gin and tonics at the Sari Club. They played great music the first night and then played the same songs every night so it got a bit boring and the music wasn’t quite in sync with the big video screen but we still managed to boogie a few nights away. It was always dead at 9pm but by 10.30pm was absolutely packed and kicking and it stayed open until 3am but I only managed to stay until the end one night. Richard, Amanda and Manouck had deserted me a long time ago but Nena and I danced the night away and then when we were kicked out headed to a club, Double Six, finally rolling home at 6am.
Most of the time Arak was the death of the evening. Arak (the local spirit) was the roughest alcohol
I had in Bali (or anywhere). The trouble is it tastes nice when it’s mixed with fruit juice or lime (Jungle Juice and Arak Attack) but comes up and biffs you over the head in the morning. It’s about half the price of other local spirits though and because it tastes so nice it is very tempting to drink it
but a very bad idea. We also went to the local Rock bar there which had good bands playing great versions of classic rock songs.
Whenever, Wherever? There are lots of songs that have followed us around Asia but the one that has been the biggest hit is ‘Whenever, Wherever’ by Shakira. I don’t know what people at home think of Shakira but the title of this song seemed very apt to us travelling folk and since we haven’t been able to get away from it it’s become a bit of an anthem for us – in the end I had to buy the album!!! (pirate version, 80p – none of this full price malarky)
As well as the partying in Kuta it was a nice place to stay. Busy, lots of shops and some nice restaurants such as the well-known Poppies which is a hotel that has a lovely restaurant in a garden setting – the steak and Mexican coffees tempted us back three times. We stayed in a nice hotel in Kuta, Hotel Barong. It was just a holiday hotel really and didn’t have a lot of character but it was very comfortable and had two nice swimming pools and a lovely swim up bar.
We visited Ubud for a day which is the arts and crafts capital of Bali. There were literally hundreds of lovely shops with beautiful Balinese paintings in them but I resisted. Instead of shopping we went to the Puri Lukisan Museum which had traditional types of paintings, mainly depictions of Hindu stories and folklore but there were also a few modern paintings and for a quick look around the former Royal Palace and the outside of some temples. The scenery in the area is lovely with temples and rice terraces and the people in the rice fields wore conical hats which reminded us of Vietnam.
We stayed in three different places in Seminyak, all lovely but we did manage to drag ourselves away from them for one day to go on a day trip to see some of the main sights on the island. We went with Nice Tours (it was quite nice), on what was supposed to be a shared tour but as we were the only people booked on it we had a driver, Mr Putu and a guide, Yodi to ourselves.
Barong and Kris DanceAt 9am we thought we might fall asleep during the dance but it was really enjoyable. The dance told the story of a fight between the mythical Barong (a lion like creature) which represents good and the Rangoon (a witch like creature) which represents evil. At the end of the fight the Barong has the upper hand but doesn’t actually defeat evil because it is supposed to show how good and evil will always exist together in the world. Great costumes.
On every tour in SE Asia there is the obligatory shopping stop, in this case disguised as a tour of a gold and silver workshop and painting workshop – the tour was mainly around the jewellery and paintings that were for sale and we didn’t see any silver or goldsmiths but eventually we escaped.
Elephant CaveThere aren’t any elephants in Bali but at some point somebody thought the entrance to this Hindu temple looked like an elephant (with no trunk) and the name stuck. For those of you that have ever wanted to see Richard in a skirt (if there is anybody left that hasn’t!) take a look at this picture – very attractive.
Kintamani VolcanoThe volcano at Kintamani was impressive but not the highest on the island. The volcanic cone is a mountain called Gunung Batur and is 1717 metres high and there is also a crater lake called Danu Batur (Lake Batur) aswell as other smaller craters. We had lunch at a restaurant 400 metres up a mountain which had a great view over the volcano. I’m not sure when it last erupted but the village of Batur was originally down in the crater and that was wiped out by a violent eruption in 1917 which killed thousands and destroyed more than 60,000 homes before the lava flow stopped at the entrance of the village’s main temple. This was taken to be a good omen and the village was rebuilt but the volcano erupted again in 1926. Luckily the Dutch administration at the time had anticipated the eruption and evacuated the village so not that many lives were lost. This time the village was relocated up on the crater rim and the surviving shrine was placed in a new temple.
Kartha Gosa used to serve as the Hall of Justice in the 18th century and has wonderful classical paintings on the walls which have a language which doesn’t exist anymore and which no one can interpret, although the pictures portray visions of heaven and hell. We couldn’t resist playing on some musical instruments which were lying outside the museum. It was a bit like a xylophone but made of bamboo and somehow sounded melodic and mellow even though we didn’t know how to play a tune.
Nice places to stay….
We spent almost a week in Hotel Prince. It gave us a change of beach and a chance to make our own meals as it was a one bedroom apartment
with a kitchenette. It also gave Richard a chance to continue with his surfing lessons which he’d started when we were in Kuta.
Kuta is a good place to learn to surf because the surf isn’t too big – it’s a fairly basic beach break, with a 1 to 2 metre swell most days.
Good for novices. The surf school was run by a mix of Aussies and local Balinese guys, they were pretty good instructors, and it wasn’t very busy, so it was pretty much one-on-one tuition. The first lesson I got the basics of riding the board in, and managed to stand up once for a few seconds. The second lesson we carried on from the first and I got to stand up a few more times (briefly!). It’s quite tiring as you are constantly pushing the board back out into the sea to have another go – three hours at once was enough, so I was doing half-day lessons. By the third lesson I was getting a bit better and managing to stand up about every other go – and then disaster….
As I was standing in the shallow water discussing with my instructor where I was going wrong (a fairly lenghty conversation at times!) a larger than usual wave came in an as it washed back out it dragged the surf board with it. I’d got hold of the board with one hand at about ankle height, but as the water rushed out I sort of fell forward and pushed down on the board, combined with the wave dragging the board out and the water getting shallower my foot got trapped between the boards fin and the beach, and with me pressing down on it and the power of the water my foot got pretty thoroughly crushed. At first it didn’t seem to be too bad – just hurt a lot, so I limbed back out for another run in on the board, but it was pretty hard to get on, and when I tried to stand up it was agony. I got into the shallows again and had a look at my foot which had by that time started to swell up alarmingly, and had a smallish cut. The instructor took one look and took me back to the school offices, where they got an ice-pack and had me sit with my foot up for a while. Given that my foot had swollen to about twice normal size it was pretty obvious that I wasn’t doing any more surfing that day, so they gave me a lift back to the hotel.
A real shame, as I felt I was starting to get the hang of things and had hoped to have a some more lessons before we left – but the foot was definitely not well for the next week, in fact as I write over three months later it is still marked, and I can feel where it was hurt if I bash or rub the foot. Obviously it was my left foot – the same one as the rat in Vietnam bit…now I’m just waiting for the third accident for that foot! Anyone with a particularly ghoulish fascination in nasty images can click here for a piccy of the swollen foot. Unfortunately we were moving from Hotel Prince the next morning and I could barely stand up, never mind lug bags around, so Jo had to do all the moving, and for the next few days I lay around with my foot up (little change from normal I hear some cry…). Maybe once Australia warms up a bit I can continue my surfing lessons, with a lot more respect for the damage a surf board can do to me!
This was the most beautiful place we’ve ever stayed and because of Richard’s accident we had to sit back and enjoy this lovely villa – we were stuck there for three days and it was wonderful. In fact, we had the run of the whole complex because the three other villas weren’t occupied, so one day when we didn’t have any hot water we sauntered into one of the other villas to use the bathroom there. The villa had an open downstairs area overlooking the small swimming pool and with a small kitchen attached (with a blender to make those yummy fruit shakes). There was also a lovely bathroom downstairs that had wonderful natural light coming through the ceiling and a stone floor, walls and bath so that you felt it was outside but without the dirt and nasty creepy crawlies you get in an outside bathroom. Then there was a big wooden staircase up to the bedroom which had a small balcony. The furniture was all wonderful, dark, heavy wood and decorated with traditional furnishings but is was the little touches that made it such a wonderful place to stay. Huge vases of flowers around the villa, boxes of tissues, orchids, fluffy towelling robes, free soft drinks in the fridge and a bowl of exotic fruit. A perfect place to be stranded.
Hotel Pelangi Bali
We spent our final three days in Bali in the expensive Pelangi Bali Hotel, a beautiful hotel on the beach which had more amenities than the Villa Jepun and was certainly luxurious but didn’t quite have the charm. A wonderful place to stay though and we spent our last days in Bali relaxing by the pool overlooking the beach and the surfers.
So that was South East Asia….now onto our ultimate destination – Australia