INDONESIA

Jakarta, city of contrasts

By on 3rd April 2016

I can see Adam at the back portion of the bus, his head is bopping away above all the other men’s heads that surround him. He is holding unto the railing, looking out the window, out into the city. Every now and then he is looking over to me, trying to find my gaze, making sure I am still on the bus. I’m sitting right at the front with the other female passengers. We are in Jakarta – the capital of Indonesia. Major culture shock.

Perhaps for the first time on our travels we failed to do our usual research. Perhaps we had become a bit complacent, having been on the road for three months, perhaps we have seen so much, experienced South East Asia in a way that allowed us to feel that it is OK to be unprepared when visiting a new place Рafter all, everywhere we had visited so far had been easy, fun and  self-explanatory.

Not Jakarta.

The capital city of Indonesia, a sprawling metropolis of 10 million residents is by far the biggest place we are visiting in Asia. And at the same time it is by far the least touristy.

We arrived on a cheap flight from Yogyakarta. At Yogya airport for the first time I felt that I had to change my clothing as I felt I was inappropriately dressed. All throughout our travels I always made sure I dressed in culturally and religiously appropriate clothing out of respect for the locals and I just think that is the right thing to do. For the first time, sitting in the terminal at Yogya airport waiting to board our flight, I went into the toilet and changed my shorts for long jeans. I felt uncomfortable even walking to the toilets, with locals fixing their gaze at me. Apart from us there were only a couple of other tourists at the airport. They didn’t seem too bothered, they were dressed in far less clothing than I was, but maybe they just aren’t that sensitive to prying eyes.

This quickly gave me an indication on what to expect in Jakarta. The city was blisteringly hot and humid, but I always made sure I covered my shoulders and legs at all times. This is a Muslim country, which is easy to forget when frolicking around on the Hindu island of Bali, packed with tourists in their bikinis most of the time. Even though Jakarta is religiously diverse, 85% of the population are Muslim. The only place where we saw tourists were in the shopping centre near our B&B and in here it seemed tourist felt they could wear very little, but as soon as we left the shopping centre complex we hardly saw any tourist and definitely no uncovered body-parts.

Wherever we go we try to explore the place by using local public transportation. Figuring out the transport system is definitely a fun part for me – it’s like cracking the local code, it takes a lot of forehead wrinkling, but then in a light-bulb moment suddenly all becomes clear. That’s not what happened in Jakarta. Although perhaps had we stayed a bit longer we would have become much better versed in the transport system. But while we were here, we just couldn’t crack it. The first time we were waiting for the local bus, we committed – what I perceived to be – a major mishap. When waiting for the bus here people queue up at little walkways elevated from the ground high enough for each to lead exactly to the bus doors. Quite innovative actually. However what we failed to notice – and to be honest didn’t read about it anywhere in any of our guidebooks or online travel guides or forums – is that men and women were queuing up at separate doors. Women at the front two queues, men at the back two queues. Adam and I both queued at the front. We both got on the bus at the same door and then stood together at the front, trying to work out our route together, to make sure where we needed to get off the bus. Each bus has a conductor on board. Sure enough the conductor tapped Adam gently on the shoulder and instructed him to move to the back of the bus. We didn’t really understand at first why, until kind local ladies explained. They actually tried to reason with the conductor, trying to convince her it was OK, and that they didn’t mind sharing their bus space with a tourist man. But Adam graciously moved to the back anyway. From then on we just had to communicate over the crowd to make sure neither of us missed our stop! ūüôā

So what did we get up to in Jakarta, while we were there for 4 days? To be honest – not that much. We found the city to be a bit underwhelming. There wasn’t enough things to do for tourists and the fact that wherever we went we almost became the tourist attraction ourselves didn’t really help us relax while exploring the city. Because there are so few tourists here, wherever we went locals were sniggering behind our back, following us, constantly asking to take photos of us. It wasn’t a problem at all, and we found it sweet, but it does make it a bit difficult to move around and just explore a place in peace. Is that perhaps why so many tourists just stuck to shopping malls and leisure complexes rather then venturing out in the real city?

Regardless, we tried to see as much as possible – even though our tourguide, Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring doesn’t really have any solid offerings on what are the most worthy attractions to visit and see in the city. Here are a few pics and captions to give you some ideas of our time here:

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts
Travelling in a local tuk-tuk – some of the traffic in Jakarta is just ridiculous, travelling by one of these definitely has its advantages and disadvantages. They are small enough to pop in an out and between cars, but because they are open you end up engulfed in exhaust fumes.

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts
On our way to the Freedom Monument. It took us over an hour to queue and get to the top as there is only one lift takes people up and down it at 8-10 people at a time. The views are well wort it though and there is an interesting exhibition at the base of the monument about Indonesia’s history and the country’s fight for independence through the centuries.

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts
Views from the top of the Freedom Monument over the city were beautiful

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts
Some schoolchildren on a day-trip at the top of the Freedom Monument. They really wanted to have pics with us ūüôā

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts
At the National Museum of Indonesia. This is a really great museum and well worth visiting. We sent a few hours here just wondering around the halls and exhibitions. My favourites were the ethnography section and the exhibition about the different architectural styles of Indonesia. They had beautifully built small models of different house styles across the 17000 islands that make up the Indonesia – it is such a diverse country!! Also, try the red velvet cake in the museum cafe) – we had two slices it was that good!!! ūüôā

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts
We had a nice coffee and some finger-food at Cafe Batavia. Only finger-food, because it’s quite a pricey restaurant. It’s got absolutely fabulous interiors though and some nice views overlooking the main square.

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

 

And what did I love about Jakarta? I absolutely adored the couple we were staying with in their B&B. They were such gracious hosts, even though perhaps we weren’t the best guests at this point – we were just tired a lot of the time while we were staying here and also spent a lot of time trying to sort out our onward travel from here, so we spent much of our time with heads in phones and guidebooks, buying flights, booking accommodation, adding up finances, working out dates… We had a lot of decisions to make while we were here. What I loved most about B&B Tomang was the breakfast we received every morning. I swear the lady of the house must have been a chef before as every morning we couldn’t believe the spread that was waiting for us on the table in the dining room, it was so lovingly prepared and so different every day, real Indonesian food, really awesome!! If you’re ever in Jakarta on a budget, stay here!!

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

 

Something else I really loved about Jakarta¬†was how helpful and kind locals were here. For example when they kindly reassured us on the bus that Adam’s presence at the front was not offending¬†the travelling ladies. We also got completely lost on our way back from the Kota area toward the Freedom Monument – we got on the wrong bus line and didn’t realise until we had already travelled 40 minutes in the wrong direction. Because we were sitting in different parts of the bus it took us a bit longer to realise, but then I suddenly started to get agitated and I think the two ladies sitting opposite me noticed my body language and my worried looks over to Adam. Even though they did not speak English, somehow they managed to decipher from me where we needed to be and showed me how to get there on the bus map. Not only that, but then they got off with us at the next bus stop and walked us around to the correct stop. They then told the men waiting for the bus at Adam’s door where we were going and for the rest of the trip on the now correct bus the men kept passing the message to new passengers to make sure we got off at the right stop! Even though they did not speak English, the changing passengers passed our stop name around and when it was time for us to leave the bus they tapped Adam on the shoulder and signalled to him that we needed to go. Amazing.

Or when we were trying to cross an incredibly busy street in Kota and the road-workers noticed our predicament, one of them casually walked out into middle of the busy street, held up one arm to stop the traffic, like a trusted lollipop lady, and waved to us to cross. We couldn’t thank him enough.

We did spend quite a lot of time in the mall, because it was so close to our accommodation and its air-conditioned halls were an easy escape from the sweltering heat outside. It also had a good selection of cafes and restaurants and also some nice shops where I could add a few basic pieces of clothing to my travel wardrobe collection, which let’s face it by now I had really become tired of.

As we got to Jakarta, we were coming to the last week of our Indonesian visa. We figured that after staying here for 2-3 days we would¬†still have enough time to hop over to Sumatra and then head back to Thailand. We had to stretch out right until the end of our visa, because these days you can only get a 30 day single entry tourist visa to Thailand and that would have taken us to the date of our return flight to the UK. So we calculated it all out you see… ūüėČ

Of course once we got to Jakarta and actually set down to work out a plan of action for the coming days we quickly realized that we didn’t have enough time OR money to make it to Sumatra, especially as we would have to come all the way back to Jakarta before flying to Thailand. So we decided to not visit Sumatra and to stay put in Jakarta until the last day of our visa. But because, honestly, we didn’t find Jakarta that exciting, and it was way too hot and intense for us, we decided to leave Indonesia a few days before our visa expired and have an extra stop which we had never even planned for.

Stay tuned for my next blog post to find out where that was. I’ll tell you one thing – unexpectedly, it was one of my favourite stops on our whole journey! ūüôā

Until then,

Andrea x

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INDONESIA

Visiting Prambanan Park

By on 1st April 2016

Yogyakarta tourist offices organise whole day trips both to Borobudur, which is the largest Buddhist Temple in the world and to Prambanan Park, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. However it is also possible to visit both temple complexes on the same day. This is especially possible if you have your own transportation, but tour operators also cater for those who wish to see both sites in one day.

This is what we opted for. We travelled to Borobudur in the early morning hours, spent around 2 hours there in total and then got back in our minibus and travelled towards Prambanan.

Here is a map to demonstrate where these temples are in relation to Yogyakarta:

 

Visiting Prambanan Park
map sourced from http://www.besttravelpictures.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Borobudur-Maps.jpg

 

 

As you can see the two temples are in opposite directions from Yogyakarta. So once we finished visiting Borobudur the minibus then started travelling towards the centre of Yogyakarta. It takes about an hour when there is no traffic, but with the mid-morning traffic it took about two hours to get from Borobudur across to Prambanan and then about another 20 minutes to Prambanan. The worst thing as that there was no air-con on the bus, it was really cramped on board and there were no curtains on the windows. The bus was like a tin can soaking up the sweltering heat and no-one had any water with them!! It was hellish.

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

 

The first thing everyone did when we finally stopped at the car park of Prambanan Park was to seek out the one and only facility where we could get some water: a vending machine by the ticket office.

Prambanan was a nice surprise to us. With the emphasis is usually on Borobudur, visitors may give this temple a miss, however I think it is definitely worth the visit. It very much reminded me of the temples of Angkor in Cambodia, but it was a lovely manageable site. Dozens of temple spires broke up the brilliant blue of the sky, tourist were everywhere, but mainly actual tourists, not locals, which gave us a bit of a breather from the past few days whereby we ourselves have become tourist attractions (more on that in the next post).

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

 

We walked around and explored the sites, up and down steep steps, in and out of shrines and covices, got to talking to another visiting couple, which was very nice. We visited a couple of the museums nearby and then had a bit of lunch in the nearest restaurant before heading back to our minibus and then to Yogyakarta.

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

All in all it was a long day what with visiting two of the most important religious sites in the whole of Indonesia in one super hot day, but it had to be done. It was well worth making to journey to Yogyakarta for this – I could highly recommend it. If you are in the area you can also hike up the nearby Mount Merapi –¬†the most active volcano in Indonesia. You can actually see the volcano from Prambanan. I think all three – Borobudur, Prambanan and Merapi – could be done in one day if you are super organised and maybe if you hire a driver and car.

Next stop on our itinerary is Jakarta, until then,

Andrea x

 

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FEATURED | INDONESIA

Borobudur – the world’s largest Buddhist temple

By on 23rd March 2016

The day after discovering Yogyakarta town we were signed up for an organised tour of the temple of Borobudur Рthe whole reason we were here in Yogyakarta. I read a lot about this place, the Rough Guide to South-East Asia on a budget listed it as one of the top things to see and do in the whole of South-East Asia, so there was no way we were going to miss it.

The day started super-early; we were getting picked up from our B&B at 5am. Most tour opearators also offer organised trips to the temples at sunrise, which means you would have to be in the temple by about 6am. That would have meant a 2 am start for us. We didn’t go for this option, instead we opted for¬†being at the temple between 7 and 8 am. However if you don’t mind early starts I would definitely recommend going on the earlier tour to catch the sunrise. We caught some of the early morning mist lifting, but I can see what we may have missed in those first two hours of sunlight.

Our minibus picked us up on time and then proceeded to collect 6 more passengers from town. The journey time to the temple in total was about 2 hours including collecting everyone and driving out of town for about an hour and 15 minutes.

When we got to the temple we all walked up to the ticket office where there was already a queue forming mostly of local children on school-trips. Everyone was handed a blue sarong to wear, even those who were wearing long trousers (like I was, I came prepared, but still had to wear the sarong. I didn’t mind, it was a cute sarong, but Adam also had to wear it. He wasn’t amused at first, but got used to it :-))

The temple of Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, an important UNESCO World Heritage site, a jewel in Java’s and indeed in Indonesia’s crown. The temple was built in the 9th century and has been standing for 1200 years. The whole temple is built in the shape of a stupa. It has three levels and at the top level there is a main stupa surrounded by 72 smaller stupas, each hiding a Buddha.

It truly is a beautiful place; surrounded by volcanoes and limestone cliffs, a place where a man-made structure and the beauty of nature forms a perfect whole.

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

 

Borobudur

 

As we were walking around the site more and more visitors kept arriving and making their way up the steep steps towards the top tier of the temple. By the time we got up there there were tourists and local school children everywhere. The children were very sweet, they kept talking to us and smiling at us shyly, we even caught a few trying to take stealth photographs of us. One group of children aged between 12 and 16 started talking to us and asking us questions about where we were from and if we were enjoying the temple. We found out that they were actually undertaking their English language exam at that exact moment; their teacher was sanding behind them watching them intently. Part of their examination was that they had to speak in English in real life situation. Their English was great and they were very sweet, kept walking around with us and taking their tun to ask us questions. We also asked them about their school, their lessons, etc to make sure they also got to talk. Nut in the end we had to make our apologies and leave them as we had to start climbing down and get back to our minibus, where we were meeting the rest of our group.

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

 

 

Borobudur

 

 

I decided to dedicate the second part of the trip to the Prambanan Park a separate blog post, just because I think Borobudur deserves its own space ūüôā

Until then,

Andrea x

 

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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 ūüôā 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!! ūüôā

 

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! ūüėÄ

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 ūüôā 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. ūüôā

 

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 ūüėÄ 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 ūüôā 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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Ubud, Bali – 9 reasons why you should believe the hype

By on 24th November 2015

Our 10 day beach holiday in Kuta and Seminyak¬† had come to an end¬†and with¬†renewed excitement we left the southwestern shores of Bali and headed towards the heart of the island, Ubud. We asked our accommodation in Ubud¬†to send¬†a taxi for us, it cost 300000 rupiah (¬£13) to drive to Ubud, which is about an hours’ journey.¬†This certainly isn’t the cheapest way to get to Ubud from Kuta – there is a shuttle bus that goes between the two towns quite regularly, however this is something you weigh up for yourself – this seemed like excellent value to us. We did not have to pay the driver as he was working for the hotel, so we paid the hotel at the end of our stay.

The drive to Ubud was uneventful, however it amazed me how busy this part of Bali actually is. We sat in traffic jams for the most part getting out of Kuta and the traffic only eased up about halfway when we started driving on country roads, amongst small villages and further and further into the jungle.

Here is a map of Bali, as you can see Ubud lies at the heart of the island. (And not just geographically speaking, it is literally it’s beating heart. But more on that later.)

 

bali_map
map source: http://balibeautytour.com/bali-map

 

Ubud is¬†not by the beach and so many tourists don’t actually come this far inland. They may visit for a day or two. Most tourists come here off the back of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. The film adaptation of the book of the same title (with Julia Roberts in the starring role) was filmed here and since then the town has exploded with tourists and has a huge population of long-stay travellers, expats and nomads. Some of those travellers would probably say that its recent popularity is damaging to Ubud – this eventually happens everywhere that is popular with tourists. I wouldn’t know, I had never visited Ubud before the masses of tourists arrived. But to me, Ubud still is as authentic as you imagine, as you really imagine Bali to be. It’s magical.

If you are lucky enough to spend some time in Bali, the best advice I can give you is to make Ubud your base and explore the island from here, or to spend half your time by the beach if you are after a beach holiday, but spend the other half in Ubud Рyou will not regret it! Staying in Ubud for 5 days made me fall head over heels in love with Bali (which after Kuta and Seminyak I was worried would never happen).

So what was so special about Ubud for me? What did I find here that I did not find in the other areas of Bali that I visited? What was it about Ubud that now once I’d left made it the number 1 place that I would like to return to on my next visit to Asia?

 

1. spirituality and religion

Throughout our South East Asia travels, Bali is the only place where Hinduism is the main religion practiced.  Indonesia itself is the world largest muslim country by population and Bali is the only island out of the almost 14000 Indonesian islands where Hinduism survived and is practiced daily. Although we started our time in Bali by spending time in Kuta and Seminyak, it was really upon arriving in Ubud that the presence of Hinduism really became prominent to us. Its manifestations are unavoidable and I loved that. What you will notice first is the little offerings of food, flowers and incense that appear on the floor regularly throughout the day, everywhere you go, in front of doors, on statues, spirit houses and basically everywhere. You have to be careful as you are walking around not to step on them. These offerings are a daily gift that are meant to please and appease the various gods and demons of Balinese Hinduism. The offerings are made by women throughout the day. You can observe women placing these everywhere, dressed in their beautiful traditional Balinese sarongs and lace or embroidered fitted blouses. Spirituality is so strong in Bali, it is almost touchable and Ubud is often referred to as the spiritual centre of Bali. People here believe in an invisible force that is both good and evil and controls all living things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.people

The people of Bali are the warmest, nicest, gentlest people you could ever meet. Our hosts at the bungalows we were staying in in Ubud were just lovely lovely people, so helpful and kind and gracious, always with a smile on their faces. When you first arrive in Bali and you visit the touristy areas of Kuta and Seminyak, like we did, you may get a bit overwhelmed by the constant touting of the locals there. It can be a little bit frustrating at first, because it is literally constant. However, we tried to look at it like this: in the most touristy areas locals livelihoods depend on ‘harassing’ tourists. For them, giving you a ride, or selling a T-shirt with a vulgar slogan, or flogging a wooden carved penis (really, you can buy these on every corner) is what will put dinner on the table that evening. In Ubud, this is more subtle. It is still there – of course it is, locals will take advantage of the tourist market wherever you go, but in Ubud, I found it a lot easier to say ‘No thank you’ with a nice big smile and a tip of the head. And they would smile back at me and accept it with an ‘OK, have a good day’.

 

3.culture

Ubud is the cultural heart of Bali. Wherever you go in the town you happen upon museums, workshops, art studios, galleries, craft industries, temples, beautiful architecture and dance shows. Balinese dance performances are an amazing spectacle for visitors, you cannot miss going to one of these while you are in Ubud. Tickets are sold for evening performances through hotels, but also just on the streets, so it is really easy to come across them. We went to see a Kecak dance performance – tickets cost 75000 IRD per ticket and the performance sold out! It wasn’t even high season when we visited, and there are several performances at different locations in the city every night, and it still sold out, that’s how in demand these performances are. All proceeds go directly back to the community, which is fantastic.¬†For the Balinese, dance is a part of their religious traditions and is as important as visiting a temple.¬†Each dance tells a different story in Balinese Hinduism and the kecak type of dance is the most popular out of all of them. It is basically a group of 50-100 men chanting a hypnotising ‘chak achak achak’ song meanwhile forming a circle around the centre, throwing their hands up in the air, swaying, almost in ecstasy by the end of it. In the centre of the circle the theatrical dance performance happens with elaborate costumes worn by dancers who dance the Hindu story of¬†Ramayana.
The dance lasts about 1 hour and it is spectacular.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.nature

Ubud is in the middle of the jungle. It is surrounded by lush trees and rice terraces. Rice is grown everywhere. If there is a tiny slither of land in between two houses, rice will be grown there. If you drive or ride a scooter out of Ubud town, the surrounding countryside and villages are just a stunning landscape of jungles, hills and valleys and rice fields and rice terraces carved into hillsides.

Ubud is also famous for its monkeys! One of the most popular tourist attraction in the whole of Ubud is the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. It is a nature reserve and a Hindu temple complex. The forest is home to a population of about 600-700¬†¬†cheeky macaques monkeys. Now you can hear good things and bad things about visiting the forest, as the monkeys can be intimidating, so it is a personal choice you have to make if you want to visit the Monkey Forest (please also get your rabies shots before visiting Bali as it’s well know its monkeys and street dogs can bite). Of course the monkeys are not just confined to the forest and they do go on walkabouts on the streets of Ubud, on rooftops and into gardens. Every morning at around 7am I went out in the garden of our bungalow and watched the monkeys play around in the garden, looking for food and just generally doing their daily rituals and patrols. We also had lizzards and geckos visiting our rooms regularly, they are cute little creatures and with the amount of mosquitoes in Bali, you really don’t mind these little guys hanging around, that’s for sure ūüôā

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.holistic

People from all over the world travel to Ubud to be rejuvenated, to reconnect with themselves, to re-energize, to get fit, healthy and happy. The spirituality of the place is palpable and there is no shortage of activities, holistic treatments, workshops and healthy eating restaurants that take advantage of this to cater to all visitors looking to be pampered or find themselves. You walk down the streets and the town is full of people in their yoga pants with a yoga mat under their arms, heading to the various yoga centres for their daily yoga session. Every other shop is a massage parlour (you will get the best massages and spa-packages in Ubud). There are so many restaurants specializing in vegan, raw, clean food, it is really easy to be on holiday and stay healthy instead of overindulge! There are also many many practicioners (locals and expats) offering crystal bowl tuning, tarot card readings, raw food courses, chiropractic and a vast array of healing practices, and if you have serious health issues, you can also seek out a Balinese healer (balian). Remember Eat, Pray, Love?

 

6.activities

Ubud is ideally located in Bali to serve as a base from where you can explore from. Apart from the various art classes you can do in town, and all the yoga you can take part in, the massages you can enjoy or the dance performances you can attend, there are activities round here that will also satisfy those other than the art-lovers and those seeking self-discovery. You can go on bike-tours around the town and around surrounding villages as well as rice fields and jungles. You can go river rafting and tubing , canyoning and rock climbing if that’s what takes your fancy. One of my favourite day out was when we hired a scooter and braved the crazy roads around Ubud to ride to the Tegalalang Rice Terrace. It’s not too far, only about 10-15km, but the roads can be very busy driving in and out of Ubud. Once you leave the outskirts of the city though, it’s going to be the most memorable ride of your life. We had a crappy little scooter, awul helmets, I clung unto Adam as tight as I could, but we still had the best ride – we passed by little Balinese villages, craft markets, locals dressed in their beautiful regalia, gorgeous rice fields and terraces, waterfalls, all the while surrounded by jungles and hills and valleys… I can’t even describe it. (no pictures I’m afraid, clinging unto Adam with all my might at this point :-)) When we arrived at Tegalalang Rice Terrace (you cannot miss it by the way, it is by far the most popular tourist attraction in the area) we were awed by the beauty of the emerald green terraced hillside. We walked down, then up, then down and then up again to walk along the ridges, investigate the way the locals grow this vital grain – who knew the humble rice can looks so spectacular? Unfortunately the biggest torrential rain came down in the middle of our visit and we got soaked to our bones! I had never ever seen that much rain before in my life and it didn’t stop until we got back to Ubud. Our little scooter just about managed to get us back to town, but let me tell you it felt pretty much like riding in a bathtub! We managed to get some lunch in before we had to leave though and we had this for our view (in torrential rain, still pretty amazing though):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My other favourite activity while we were here was climbing Mount Batur. Check out this site for details:

http://www.baturtrekking.com/2015/07/mount-batur-trekking.html?gclid=Cj0KEQiA1dWyBRDqiJye6LjkhfIBEiQAw06ITuukU9eIMT4TWR3bSGpVHQv2HOVRm2ZPSgyiQo9L5aoaAr1b8P8HAQ

We got a pick up from our accommodation at 2 am and drove over an hour to the foot of the volcano. Our group was made up of 10 climbers including 2 guides – one leading us, one following us, but there must have been hundreds climbing that mountain on that morning. The climb started at 3.30am in complete darkness and we climbed and climbed and climbed for 3 solid hours before reaching the summit to watch the beautiful sunrise. We had hot tea in the guides’ hut on the top of the mountain and had bread and boiled egg given to us by our lovely guide Ketut all the while trying to chase away the cheeky macaques monkeys who were desperately trying to steal our breakfast..! ūüôā If you are here and possess relatively good fitness, you cannot miss this, it is so worth the effort! It was hard work, I won’t lie, I almost gave up at one point. But at the same time it was an incredible achievement for both Adam and I as all of our group apart from us decided to stop at the lower crater while Adam and I did not want to stop there and went all the way to the summit with Ketut! I will never forget climbing that volcano in darkness, just a line of torches in front of us, all the way up the mountain, like little glowing ants in the distance, showing the way to the top. Amazing.