So off we go again. This time we have a six month trip planned to visit parts of South East Asia then on to New Zealand before another spell in South East Asia on the way back.
We are no strangers to this part of the World, having spent our honeymoon in New Zealand 21 years ago, and over the years we have spent quite a bit of time in S.E.A.
Initially, we are doing things a little more settled than normal with no rushing around from place to place. Instead, we are going to a couple of familiar places and staying a couple of weeks in each. We are doing it that way for a specific reason, but more on that later.
Firstly, we are having a holiday for a couple of weeks doing normal things that people do on holiday including staying in hotels, sightseeing, eating out, maybe even having a few beers!! What is the reason for this deviation in routine? Well we are having a visitor. Steve’s son, Mike, is coming out to meet us for a couple of weeks.
Mike has never been to this part of The World so we wanted to show him a bit of variety. Our options were a little limited due to the time of year as October is a transition month in S.E.A. and you can get very wet if you end up in the wrong place. We decided on Indonesia as we thought that would give the best chance of better weather and a few different places to visit.
We met up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and spent a couple of days in the city doing the bigger tourist attractions. The very impressive Petronas Towers were first on the list. From the Towers you get a great view of the city from the 86th floor. Steve and Mike tried to tough out their small bought of vertigo, but jelly legs were certainly on show!
A visit to Baku Caves on the outskirts of the city was next on the list. This is a temple complex built into a cave system. It’s quite impressive and to be honest if there was no temple there, the caves themselves would be worthy of the trip.
The long colourful staircase up to the entrance is dotted with Monkeys which inevitably have become very used to (and totally unafraid of) the human visitors. Beware anyone who brings along a snack in their backpack. We saw several attempts to steal the snacks by the monkeys and if that meant stealing the backpack as well then so be it!
Our evenings were spent exploring the street food in the city and we found some great places and stalls. But we all agreed that deep-fried frog was a step to far!!
Next stop on the itinerary was Bali. We had been to Bali over 20 years ago and had a lovely time there but it was busy even then with junctions filling up with Macdonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut and we presumed it was going to be even busier and more westernised now. So when we had heard stories confirming our fears we decided to make our stop, not in Kuta or any of the other beach resorts but, in the Mountain town of Ubud.
Ubud was once the destination of those seeking relaxation, yoga and all things spiritual. Those are all still available but the village of 20 years ago is no more as it has grown into a decent sized town. It still has a really laid back atmosphere with plenty of places to eat, drink and shop either in new air conditioned premises or out in the markets that dot the town.
One of the main reasons we chose Ubud was for the White Water Rafting, which Mike had never done before. Ubud has close access to three rivers, so early one morning Steve and Mike were picked up from the beautiful guesthouse in the centre of town and off they went. Sarah decided to opt out of this one, having done it a couple of times before. She felt that box had well and truly been ticked.
We had a brilliant time. We were very lucky that the other two people in the raft were a couple of American rafting guides! “Looks like an easy day for us then”, said Steve as they all set off down the class III and IV rapids and that is how it turned out. It was probably the easiest rafting Steve had done with all the fun, but with less than half the effort. We had some great drops as we made our way down the narrow gorge with the jungle high above us on both sides. It was a really great setting. Yes, we got wet many times but it was refreshing and that’s what it’s all about.
We stopped off half way to jump into the river from some rocks and have a chat. Then it was back in the raft for the last leg. To be honest, I don’t know which was best, the rafting or the thick jungle scenery, but added together they made a great morning out.
With only two weeks to fit in as much as possible, ‘rest’ had not featured much in the planning. So after the rafting and a bite to eat we all headed off to the Monkey Forest. This is an old Balinese Temple that has become the home to about a thousand monkeys. It has become a significant tourist attraction and for a nominal fee you get to walk around the Temple grounds and get harrassed by the monkeys. These monkeys are well and truly used to tourists wandering around and have advanced well beyond being prevented access to a bag by simply keeping it closed. If they can’t open the bag, they will try and rip a hole in it to gain entry and they have sharp teeth and nails. If that fails they are not averse to a game of tug of war to gain their prize. If you think leaving a bag behind and keeping your valuables in your well-secured pockets will help, then think again. They are quite happy to bite into your pockets for whatever might be inside. Mobile phones seemed popular. “Maybe they have an Amazon account and need something delivering”, thought Steve.
We did spend some time by the pool at our guesthouse and had a very scenic if hot and humid walk through the rice fields. Oh, and we all managed to squeeze in a totally excellent Balinese massage which left us rejuvenated and ready for the next stop on the mini tour.
An early morning start and an hour in a minibus brought us to the port town of Padang Bai from where we had tickets for the two hour ferry ride to the island of Lombok, which is about the same size as Bali but much, much less developed.
On the way we dropped some of the passengers off at The Gili Islands, a short distance from the Lombok Coast. Visually these three islands are reminiscent of The Maldives and we had thought long and hard about whether to stop here or not. With more time it would have been a certainty and maybe in the future we will return here. But for now we stayed on the boat and made our way to the South of Lombok to the beach at Selong Belanak.
We had a fabulous four days at Selong Belanak. Although it is only 30 minutes from the main Southern Town of Kuta (not the Bali Kuta) it has a quite remote feeling. We had beautiful accommodation with only a five minute walk to the beach where Mike decided to try his hand at surfing. He was an instant success. On his first attempt he was up and riding the wave into the beach. Steve was so jealous as he has tried several times, in different countries, with little success. We met an Australian sheepdog once in California which was by far a better surfer than Steve.
We also took a long-tail boat ride along the coast where our Captain was 80 years old and still very much doing the business aswell as chilling by the lovely pool at our accommodation.
In the evenings headed out to eat but with only a very, very limited number of places about our choice was minimal but they were all good. Our favourite was a small ‘warung’ (these are places set up from someone’s house with only four or five tables offering a limited menu, similar to ‘Sodas’ in Costa Rica). The food at this particular warung was excellent and we ate there twice. On both occasions the bill for all three of us, with drinks, was less than £7 total. This made Steve even happier!
Mike had another afternoon on a surf board and Steve couldn’t resist joining him. “Maybe it’s easier here”, he said. To be fair he had more success than on previous occasions but he still couldn’t come up to Mike’s standard.
After the quiet location of Selong Belanak we moved the 30 minutes along the coast to Kuta. This is a nice size town with plenty of restaurants, bars and things to keep us busy for a few days, without being chaotic. Our first day there happened to coincide with Mike’s birthday. So after an afternoon walk on the beach we spruced ourselves up, put on our glad rags and hit the town.
There is a significant difference between Steve and Mike’s ability on a surf board but this pails into insignificance compared to the difference in their drinking abilities. 5 minutes after leaving our hotel we were in a bar with a table full of cocktails and beer. Then it was onto the next bar for margaritas and Mexican food and then onto another bar for more of everything.
By 10.30 it was obvious that we were fading fast and Mike was just warming up. Lucky for us 11 girls on a tour of Indonesia came to our rescue and abducted Mike. That’s something that doesn’t happen ever day. We headed back to our hotel and Mike headed who knows where. We did receive a video of him doing shots of tequila and then all communications were lost.
He apparently returned to the hotel at 5.30 am, after exhausting all the bars in town and ending up at the hotel where the girls were staying, The owner there was apparently happy to continue serving them (I bet he was!) as they passed the time jumping in the pool. He walked back to the hotel barefoot along the main street accompanied by the stray dogs as the sun started to come up and fell into bed. We didn’t see him again until approaching midday and the finer details of the evenings entertainment proved difficult to extract. Steve was just happy he got back OK and the girls were continuing on their tour that day. Otherwise it could have been the last we saw of Mike until his flight home!
We spent the rest of that day recovering by the pool at our totally magnificent hotel. We don’t normally stay in top quality places but this place was truly outstanding in every way. For quality and value for money it was definitely the best place we have ever stayed. We couldn’t belive it cost less than some campsites in Europe and The USA.
On our last couple of days in Lombok we decided to hire mopeds and take in some of the surrounding beaches. What a fantastic time we had mixing with the locals, chilling on beach chairs with a cold drink and cooling off in the sea.
Our best experience was out to Maui beach, which had been recommended by a few locals. “It’s not easy to get to, but worth it” was the general message we got. “Not easy to get to”? Has to be the understatement of the year! The tarmac road turned to concrete, the concrete turned to rocks, the rocks became hard soil and the hard soil became mud.
We spoke to a few others along the way who had decided to turn back, but we pressed on. Bouncing our little mopeds over the rocks, avoiding the huge potholes, sliding through the mud. We all got stuck at one point or another, but we helped each other out as we laughed all the way to the beach, and it was certainly worth the effort.
Although we look back now on how much we did, Mike’s time with us was over far too quickly. We all could have easily kept going. But after one more day in Kuala Lumpur, where, just to please Steve, we visited The Upside Down House, it was time to catch our flights. Mike back to The UK and us to Thailand. Let’s see what happens there!