INDONESIA

Off the well-trodden track in Yogyakarta

By on 27th December 2015
Yogyakarta

Our beautiful week in Gili Trawangan had quickly come to an end. We were so sad to leave this paradise, but after 6 days of just chilling out, soaking up the sun, watching beautiful sunsets and just generally living island life we had to pack up and move on. We booked our return journey to Bali on one of the Samayan fast boats and off we went.
The journey back to Bali was slightly more comfortable. As soon as we arrived in Padanag Bai we were led to a minibus with 6 other travellers all heading to the airport in Denpasar. It took about an hour and a half to get there and then we just had to wait for our flight from Bali to Yogyakarta.

We decided to move unto Java, which is the biggest out of the 14000 islands in the Indonesian Archipelago, and we had Yogyakarta and Jakarta on our itinerary before leaving Indonesia. There is so much to Indonesia, it is a wonderfully diverse country, but we were getting a bit strapped for cash and so had to miss out on a trip to Flores and the Komodo islands. We were also thinking whether to visit Borneo and Sumatra, but on this trip we just couldn’t make the timescale and our budget work. Indonesia is a huge country with thousands of island and even though there are islands that are more geared towards visitors than others it still takes an awful lot of organisation to make sure you see everything in the 1 month your visa allows you to spend in the country. Indonesia is definitely a country to re-visit for me. I desperately want to go to Flores (as well as re-visit Bali and the Gilis of course…!)

In the meantime it made sense for us to slowly start moving up in the general direction of Thailand since that was going to be our final destination on our trip. So we flew to Yogyakarta which is located right in the middle of Java.

Yogyakarta isn’t exactly a tourism hotspot. You would be forgiven for wondering why exactly we headed there. Well, the simplest answer if I want to be perfectly honest is that the guidebook we had with us (Rough Guides to South-East Asia on a Budget) listed it as one of the unmissable places in the whole of Indonesia due to its amazing Buddhist temple complex, Borobudur. I saw a photograph of Borobudur and I was mesmerized by it, so I was really looking forward to visiting there. It was also nice to be going against the tourist crowds – with Bali and the Gilis being so touristy it felt nice to be back in true backpacker-mode and seeking out places that weren’t necessarily on the usual traveller route. I’m sure plenty of tourists do visit Yogyakarta (also known as Jogja by locals), but when we were there we only saw a handful of backpackers, if that…

We booked our accommodation just outside the centre of Yogyakarta, which afforded us our cheapest accommodation on this trip so far: £10 per night for the two of us in a private room with bathroom and a balcony overlooking a lush jungle terrace. Ok I make it sound nicer than it actually was, but we had quite a nice time there. We had breakfast on the terrace every morning where we were serenaded by a local guy playing local music and singing along beautifully. There were also many many birds in ornate birdcages accompanying him with their birdsongs (which was lovely, except it made Adam a bit uncomfortable seeing those beautiful birds all locked up).

We walked into Yogyakarta centre on our first day with two objectives: to have a wonder around the city and to book our trip to Borobodour.

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

 

First we headed towards the Kraton, which is the political and cultural centre of the city. It is also called the Sultan’s Palace and it is effectively a walled city within the city with its own shops, mosques, schools and art centres.

Now you would think having been on the road for almost three months in South-East Asia we would have learnt a trick or two about scamsters. Well let me tell you – our naivety and trusting nature is unwavering. We already fell for a practiced speech of a less-than honest fraudster in Bangkok and instead of learning from our mistakes we fell for it again in Yogya!! The difference was that we didn’t even realize what was happening after way after it had happened.

Basically we never made it to the Kraton. On the way there we got approached by a young man, who was perfectly pleasant and he seemed like he genuinely just wanted to help. However when he told us the Palace was shut and he asked us if we had a map, he’ll show us where to go instead, I have to say I got really suspicious and did not want to give him our map. However Adam did not suspect a thing; as if he had total amnesia about our Bangkok adventure and he happily obliged, handed over our map and chatted away with this guy. I kind of felt a bit cynical and told myself to stop being silly and to be more open and nice to kind locals…

He tried to persuade us to go to a local art-centre instead where local art students exhibit their beautiful and unique Indonesian batik art. And because it’s just students we don’t have to buy anything, we can just just look, he reassured us.

This guy’s scheme was way more sophisticated than the Bangkok guy’s was – he could tell I had my suspicions. When we said our goodbyes Adam and I quickly started walking in the opposite direction to the one he suggested. 5 minutes later we were approached by another guy, a very jolly looking fella, who started talking to us as we were walking along. Just normal chit-chat, where are you from, where are you going, etc. He then told us he is going to the hospital and he will take us to this batik shop as it is on his way. I immediately knew what was up, but Adam just kept chit-chatting, he was so nice, not suspecting a thing, just thinking what a lovely man this was. He was lovely, no question about that, but somehow, even though we tried not to, we still ended up at the batik house. He walked us all the way to the front door. Conveniently, it was right on his way to the hospital!! Hmmmm….

We went in the shop, and I have to admit it was really nice in there. The art was stunning and we had a little look into how it was all made. In the end we loved the displayed batik pieces it so much that Adam decided to buy me a couple of them for my birthday 🙂 And because they are basically textile we could easily wrap them up and carry them with us in our backpacks and not only that but we will actually have something to put on our walls once we get home!! 🙂

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Adam did not suspect anything until a bit later I just kind of muttered to him that ‘you do realize we just got scammed again’. He didn’t want to believe me, but when it finally dropped he was gobsmacked! Oh dear, we really are so naive and easily-led.

So the moral of the story, children, is this: don’t fall for this if you’re in Yogyakarta or indeed if you are in Bangkok. Learn from our mistakes! 😀

After our detour to the batik shop we headed to the Khao San road of Yogya, Jalan Sosrowijayan. I did mention already that this city is a bit less known for travellers, didn’t I? Anyway the street was almost deserted. Still, we had some nice lunch and drinks on a terrace above the street, had some of the traditional local Nasi.

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

 

We then went to one of the tourist office guys and signed up for our trip to Boroboudur next day. This is after all why we were here, Indonesia’s most important cultural sites, 4am start, bring it on!

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

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INDONESIA

10 cool things to know about Gili Trawangan

By on
Gili Trawangan

In my last blog post I talked about how we got from the heart of Bali, Ubud to the Gili Islands. I hope you enjoyed the photographs I shared of Gili T (as it is affectionately known). Those are some of my favourite photographs of our whole time away in Asia. I just look at them and feel happy. I look forward to sharing more Gili Trawangan photos in this post. But first things first: I have to tell you a little bit about this amazing island.

 

10 cool things to know about Gili Trawangan

  1. location

The three Gili Islands are located between the island of Bali and Lombok. They are about an hour and a half fast-boat ride from Bali and a ten minute fast-boat ride from Lombok. They are actually just off the coast of Lombok. Most travellers make the journey to The Gilis from Bali. However as Lombok is now getting more and more popular as a tourist destination, you can also just spend your holiday in Lombok and go to the Gilis for a day trip. You can of course fly into Bali. The international airport in Denpasar is only about an hour and a half away from Pedang Bai, where you can catch your fast-boat to the Gilis. However Lombok also has its own international airport and you can catch a 3 hour flight here from Singapore. You can then get an airport transfer to Bangsal, the departure point for boats towards The Gili Islands.

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

 

2. horse carts

Once you arrive on Gili Trawangan you will immediately notice that there are no scooters here. There are no motorised vehicles of any sort in fact as they are not allowed. Instead, the main modes of transportation here are cycling, walking or taking a ride on a Cidomo. A cidomo is a horse-drawn cart, which the locals use for transporting everything from building materials, to shop supplies as well as passengers and their luggage. Adam and I loved the idea that the locals were trying to preserve the authenticity of the island by not allowing any motorised vehicles. I hope this will stay like this for a long time. On the other hand, the cidomos can be a bit controversial. Some people might not like the way the horses might be treated. We took a ride a couple of times on a cidomo, and one of the guys was certainly a bit heavy handed with the whip. However the island is small, you can get anywhere on foot.

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

 

3. supplies and water

Every morning boats upon boats arrive on the shores of Gili Trawangan and bring in new supplies, food, drinks, ingredients, materials and so on. It’s fascinating watching the locals work together on the shore to get everything off the boats and distributed as quickly as possible.

Interestingly the Gilis also don’t have their own fresh water supply and water is also transported here from Lombok. On Gili Trawangan desalinated water is now available, but many accommodations still only have salt water showers. You should not drink tap-water, but bottled water is available everywhere as it shipped in from Lombok every day. As an alternative you can also drink coconut water, which is the most refreshing drink ever! I loved it! I drank it at every possibility I had. A whole coconut cost about a £1. Bargain, if you think how much you pay for a teeny-tiny carton of coconut water in the UK!

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

 

4. religion

When you first arrive from Bali you might notice that the Gilis are no longer Hindu. In fact Bali is the only Hindu island in the whole of Indonesia. The Gilis are home to the Sasak people who are predominantly Muslim. All three of the Gilis have a mosque and the call to prayer can be heard on the islands 5 times a day, the first one at around 5 am.

 

5. diving and snorkelling

Earlier in our travels we spent a couple of weeks on the Thai island of Koh Tao, which is undoubtedly the scuba divers’ number 1 paradise destination. Adam did research other Asian scuba diving sites and Bali kept coming up. Now what we also discovered is that the Gilis have amazing diving sites! So much so that I believe the first tourists who discovered the islands’ potential were travelers looking for diving opportunities. Now Gili Trawangan beachfront is lined with scuba diving schools so you can take your pick who you want to learn with! But if you don’t feel like scuba diving, you mustn’t miss snorkeling! There are plenty of opportunities to go out as part of a small group on one of the snorkeling boats circling all three islands. Even if you don’t feel like going with a group, you can grab and rent snorkeling equipment on every corner. This is what we did and we only had to swim about 20 meters off-shore to come across a stunning giant turtle! We came about as close to it as possible without touching it (try not to touch the wildlife underwater while diving or snorkeling).

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

 

6. nightlife

Gili Trawangan is not exactly the sleepy paradise island that you may think it is. Out of the three Gilis, Trawangan has definitely grown into the party destination. The East side of the island is lined with restaurants, bars and pubs and walking along this stretch after sunset means that you will inevitably end up in one of these establishments for a drink and dance. You should definitely start your evening in the night market – this is where most people on a budget come for dinner. It’s basically rows upon rows of street-food carts with the most amazing dishes at a fraction of the price of a restaurant meal. There are party boats 3-4 times a week as well if that’s what takes your fancy, I’ll be honest we didn’t really go for that. We went to a full-moon party while we were on Gili-T, but it was sooooo windy by the sea that night that we left before the crowd really got going. We’re a bit old now, so we don’t hang around if we don’t love something 🙂 The music was good though, so maybe next time we’re there. There is of course an Irish bar here, like in most places in the world and that seemed to be the most happening place while we were on Gili T.

 

7. sunsets

I have to say I love a good sunset-watching. And I honestly do think that the sunsets we saw on Gili Trawangan are amongst the best ones we have ever seen. There is a bar on the Western side of the island, the Paradise Sunset Bar that is THE place to be for a bit of sunset watching with cocktail in your hand, reclining on a giant bean-bag on the beach, with quiet chill-out music in the background. You can’t beat it.

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Another popular spot for watching the susnset is on the top of Sunset Hill, which is a 100 metre high lookout point on top of the island. It takes about 15 minutes to walk up there from the village. You can usually find another group of people sitting in the grass with a bottle of beer for the exact same purpose. Just make sure you have a torch with you – once the sun dips below the horizon it gets dark really quickly and you still need to quickly find your way back down.

 

Gili Trawangan

 

 

Gili Trawangan

 

 

8. police 

There are no police on Gili Trawangan. The island is run by the village head. He gets to make the final decision on most matters, for example he banned gambling, pool tables and even dogs!!! Yes, you heard it right – dogs are not allowed on Gili Trawangan, there’s not one of them on the island. Although there are no police, the island still feels very safe.

 

9. cats of Gili T

As I have already mentioned there are no dogs on Gili Trawangan! They are banned the poor things. I guess it’s because the main mode of transportation is by horse cart and dogs do like to chase and bark at horses! They also like to jump up and down guests and poop in the sea… So as lovely as dogs are they are not allowed on the Gilis. Which however means that the cat population on Gili T is thriving!! I love cats so I was more than happy to share my spot with a lazy snoozing cat, wherever we went. 🙂

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

 

10. yoga

Aahh I was so happy finally, for the first time in our travels I got to do some yoga! I’m glad I found a really cool yoga studio on Gili Trawangan. It wasn’t one on the beachfront, which I’m sure is pretty popular. The one I went to is owned by an American girl who married a local guy and together they built their dream home right in the middle of Gili T with a beautiful yoga studio in tow. When I went she was still very much in the early days of her business, but I really hope that as the island becomes busier and infrastructure more developed, her studio will be discovered and she will get lots of business, because by far she was the best yoga teacher I have ever practiced with! If you’re on Gili T, check out this yoga centre: Soraya Yoga

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

So there we are, hope you like my little list of cool things to know about Gili Trawangan. This island is definitely one that I would love to vis

it again in my life. If you are ever in Bali, you really must as it is so easy to get to, you cannot miss it!

 

 

 

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INDONESIA

Getting to the Gili Islands

By on 1st December 2015

I challenge you to find something more intriguing on Earth than this – the largest of those 3 tiny islands measures only 6 square kilometres. When I first heard about this place we were already in Indonesia. These are the Gili Islands, the hidden gems of South-East Asia. They are not quite on the radar of holidaymakers, but they are becoming more and more popular with travellers. Make no mistake, they will not stay hidden for very long (judging by the number of developments going on and their close proximity to Bali, I wouldn’t be surprised if they soon became the next big dream destination).

gili-trawangan
image from: http://www.visiongilitrawangan.com/

 

 

Getting to the Gili Islands – from Ubud to Pedang Bai

It is super easy to arrange your onward travel from the spiritual and cultural centre of Bali that is Ubud towards the Gili Islands. There are numerous travel agencies along the main roads in Ubud town and your accommodation is most likely to also sell trips and tickets. You can buy early morning coach / minibus tickets to Padang Bai and the coach arrives there in time for the scheduled boat departures towards the Gili Islands. You can buy combined bus and boat tickets, but we decided to buy only the coach tickets as we wanted to spend a day in Padang Bai. Once you’re in Padang Bai you can then research the different boat companies and their prices and packages. Here is a useful website that we used when looking up the options:

http://www.gili-paradise.com/fast-boats/

We got the 11am minibus from Ubud to Padang Bai. The journey took about an hour and a half and it was a great way to see some more of the beautiful Bali countryside. When we got to Pedang Bai most people went straight to the marina, but since we decided to spend a night here we headed to our accommodation. In the afternoon we had a nice walk around town, ate some Nasi Goreng and drank some Balinese coffee in a local restaurant and then walked around to find our boat tickets for the following day’s trip to the Gilis.

There are several companies in town, most have a ticket booth or office along the main drag by the sea. We found a good deal through our hotel. They were selling tickets on behalf of Semaya One company whose tickets usually cost 1.2 million rupiahs (£58) per return ticket. we got these through our hotel for 950000 each (£45), which we thought was a bargain!! These were open ended tickets and included our transfer to the airport once we were coming back from the Gilis. This was a pretty good deal we thought for a fast boat. You could find tickets for 2 million rupiahs, so we were happy to have found a bargain. I was a bit worried that the boat might not be up to scratch, but it was OK.

There is an option that is much cheaper though – getting the public ferry that departs from Padang Bai every hour, but the journey takes about 5 hours. The ferry tickets only cost 40000 rupiahs per person each way (£2 !!!!), which is a massive saving of almost all of the cost of the fast boat ticket 😀 However do not underestimate how hot it gets on the boat. We were sweltering in the fast boat out on the open sea, with not a cloud in the sky, temperatures hitting mid-thirties… I don’t know how we would have coped with that heat for 5 hours…

Padang Bai itself is a small town and most people ususally just pass through on their way to the Gili Islands. However actually there are many diving schools here and we did see loads of scuba divers, so it looks to be a popular place to learn to dive. As well as the main marina area the town has two small beaches: the Blue Lagoon Beach and the Bias Tugal Beach. If you are stopping over here like we did, I recommend you definitely visit one of these beaches as the main marina area is not very nice, there’s way too much rubbish there for my liking. But the other two beaches are nice. Of course they are nothing to rave about compared to the Gilis, which is probably why Padang Bai is just a stopover, or a won’t-even-stop-over-just-get-straight-on-the-boat sorta town.

Here are some photos of Pedang Bai:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting to the Gili Islands – from Pedang Bai to Gili Trawangan

The boat-trip was hot, and crowded and a bit disorganized to be honest. But it was fine, the main thing was that we got there! The boat first stopped at Lombok, then Gili Air, Gili Meno and finally Gili Trawangan, which is where we got off. This is where the adventure started! On Gili Trawangan (and I suspect on all three Gili Islands) there isn’t really a marina as such. The boats cannot come all the way to the shore or anchor by a pier. They come as close to the shore as possible and the rest you have to do yourself!!! We had to jump off the boat with all our bags, straight into the crystal clear sea! It was amazing. Adam was so happy, this is exactly the type of island he thought the Thai island of Koh Tao would still be. The Gilis are still very much undeveloped compared to other islands in the region. Trawangan is the largest, most developed out of the three and even there we had to jump off the boat 🙂 It was fab!

Gili Trawangan is only 3km by 2km and most accommodation is on the East side of the island, which is where the boats arrive. So really you will not have to walk that far in each direction to find your room. But bear this in mind: there is no motorized transportation on anywhere in the Gilis! No cars, no motorbikes. Only horse-drawn carriages, which is so cute, and it’s one of the things we loved most about the island, I hope they will never change this. So if you need to go a bit further away from the marinas, or have big bags, you will have to hail a cart. Don’t worry, the carts are always waiting at the marina for the boats to come in.

The cheaper accommodations are towards the centre of the island, this is where we booked a room and so we started walking. Our lodge was 1 km inland, so it took us about 10 minutes to walk there. We had an amazing, air-conditioned big room with a terrace overlooking a lovely garden for about £25 a night. The Gilis are more expensive to stay on than a lot of other places in Indonesia, but it is still do-able on a budget. It just meant we weren’t by the sea. But when the island is so small, it doesn’t really matter. I think one thing that is definitely an advantage of staying in a resort by the sea is that the hotels have their own strip of beach and almost the whole length of the the East side of Gili Trawangan is basically taken up by restaurants, bars and hotels.

We originally planned to stay 4 nights on Gili Trawangan, but in the end we stayed for 6, we loved it so much. It is one of those places that I would definitely visit again. Along with Bali. It is so easy to get here from Bali; if you are visiting Bali, you must visit the Gili Islands at least for a weekend. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in my life. When I think back to our travels, the first place that pops into my mind is the beach on Gili Trawangan. I will never forget the blue water, the white coral beaches and the deep blue sky. Just mesmerizing.

In my next post I will write a bit more about Gili Trawangan and some of the interesting facts about this tropical paradise. Can’t wait to show you more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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