Where The Adventure Began –
The beginning of my South East Asia travels was in Bali,
Firstly, what a great introduction to South East Asia! The moment we stepped off the plane we were bombarded by taxi men, shouting and vying for our attention, they were grabbing at our clothes and quoting the most ridiculous prices all these people and the heat bearing down on us made me a little dizzy. Our first night in Bali was just a rest stop between the airport and getting to Ubud. We stayed in Denpasar and just slept and ate and took a dip in the pool before heading off in the morning.
In all we spent 9 days in Bali, 1 night in Denpasar, 3 days in Ubud, 5 days on the Gilli islands and 1 night in Kuta before flying out to Singapore.
Ubud is a beautiful cultural hub in central Bali. We were still confused with the Indonesian Rupee but we paid the same price for a two hour journey from Denpasar as we had the day before for a fifteen minute journey from the airport. In Ubud we held monkeys in the monkey forest (and saw a woman get bitten for not following the rules), I did a yoga class in the yogabarn, we got massages for 7 NZD (4 euro) each, walked in the rice fields and took in the beautiful scent of wafting incense from the offerings outside every building. The food in Ubud was the best we had in Bali, they have a huge range of restaurants as well as street food, we ate noodles nearly every day and satay featured heavily in our diets. I think if we stayed in Ubud for two weeks I would still be raving about how much there is to do there, it is one place I would love to return to, I feel like I didn’t really get to grips with the spiritual side of the city, the temples and altars are still a mystery to me.
From Ubud we booked a taxi and boat to Gilli Trawangan, (Gilli T) the party island of the Gilli’s. There are no motorised vehicles on the Gilli islands so you are greeted off the boats by a barrage of people offering you a horse and cart instead of a taxi and yes, they are just as persistent. Gilli T has beautiful beaches but the wind and tide could put you off too much sunbathing. We took a bicycle around the island and everything we needed was in walking distance. There are bars and restaurants all around the coast but the area around the main pier seems to have the most action. Each night the party seemed to move to a different bar but if you want to take it easy they have bean bags on the beach perfect for cocktail sipping. It pays to remember though that the Gilli Islands are mainly Muslim and it is only right that we should follow their customs when away from the beach and keep the bikinis covered up. I witnessed a few tourists with a bit too much drink on them and not enough clothes wandering around beside the local mosque.
Gilli Meno was like the anti-thesis to Gilli T, there is no nightlife and plenty of beach lounging and not much else. The food wasn’t amazing and the service took years but none of it really mattered. We crashed a 40th birthday in the eco hostel on the beach and enjoyed a sing song around the fire. We skipped Gilli Air but I would happily return to to the islands again to see it!
After 5 days on the islands we were fully relaxed and ready to get on with the travels. After making a booking with a dodgy travel agent in a back alley we had a harrowing journey through Lombok and down to Kuta which included a wooden fisher boat, a mini bus (with a floor too hot to put your feet on), a local ferry (with two squat toilets for the 500 people on board) and another min bus (with a door that didn’t close and multiple seats that were actually just stools put in the back of the van). The journey ended with our delightful mini bus driver pulling up in a random street in Kuta, opening the doors and telling us all to get out, including a family with two young kids, despite promises to drop us all to very different places. South East Asia lesson number one: pay when you get to your destination!
Kuta was not my idea of a good time. It was like a holiday street in Marbella, tourist shops everywhere, hawkers and western restaurants. We were only staying for one night so we settled for Italian food, which wasn’t too bad actually. Our hotel room in Kuta was probably the nicest room we stayed in, in luxury terms and it was the cheapest too (12NZD).
Lessons Learned –
Our accommodation in Bali was mostly lovely. We stayed in bungalows or hotels because when we budgeted, staying in a private room was the same price, if not cheaper, than staying in hostels. Our bungalows cost an average of 15 NZD a night, they were basic accommodation but all had private bathrooms, comfy double beds and included breakfast (mainly banana pancakes, nom). This was my first outing into the backpacking world so I had pre-booked our accommodation on booking.com before we left New Zealand, this was another learning curve we gleamed from Bali;
It seems, from what we experienced that booking a room online is almost always cheaper than booking at the desk, unless you are an awesome haggler but booking accommodation weeks in advance is unnecessary and often leaves you feeling a little stuck in plans. I would advise you to book where you’re going when you’re in the country and have a feel for the place. We were constantly getting suggestions from other backpackers and seeing things we would like to have done but because our places were booked we felt we had to follow the pre-planned route. Backpacking is different to any other holidays and its hard to know what to expect until you’re in the thick of it.