With only a couple of days left in Indonesia, we opted for relaxation over adventure. Bali is a huge island with a variety of destinations, but most of them are hard to get to without your own transportation. Loads of tourists rent scooters claiming that “it can’t be that hard to drive one of these dinky little things,” but I had seen enough bandages and road rashes throughout my travels to make a vow to learn this skill at home where I get free healthcare in excellent facilities. Besides, we’d heard good things about Seminyak, Bali’s trendy cosmopolitan strip not far from the airport we’d be flying out of.

Seminyak is upscale Bali. Highly westernized and catering to a mainly Australian demographic (Bali is pretty much Australia’s mexico), the city is packed with nice restaurants, creative cocktails, stellar coffee, fancy spas, and beautiful boutiques. Prices were close to international but the quality was world-class to match. Pretty much Vancouver on the equator so we felt right at home.

Our “splurge” meal was consumed at Sarong, listed as one of the top restaurants in South-East Asia, and it was pretty close to perfect. The panang curry with wagyu beef and the perfectly cooked tandoori snapper might go down as some of the most memorable dishes I tasted in SEA. The hardest thing about life in Seminyak might have been choosing from Sarong’s menu.

If you’d rather spend your Rupiah on a liquid diet, a morning coffee at Revolver or Anomali is a must, and so is an evening cocktail to watch the sunset at the Potato Head Beach Club. I don’t know where the silly name came from, but it certainly doesn’t do the place justice. The massive beach-front complex has several restaurants, lounges, bars, swimming pools, bars in swimming pools… It’s the type of place that made me understand why the local boutiques sold so many expensive swimsuits. This is a world where you could wear a bikini to the bar and still be overdressed. We were lucky enough to catch a breathtaking sunset with at least four different cloud types including a thundercloud that performed a lightning-filled encore after the sunset had finished its colourful act.

Nature’s grand finale to a beautiful journey in Indonesia.

Indonesia

Seminyak

Gallery

My first nights in Bali had only helped solidify my generalization of Bali as a land of crowded beaches, ridiculous night clubs, and generic chain resorts, all disconnected from indigenous culture.

Then I set foot in Ubud.

Sure it still attracts busloads of tourists, and the success of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love has only made things worse, but Ubud has found a way of nurturing a tourism industry without losing its identity. If one were to compare it to Thailand, Ubud would be Bali’s Chiang Mai.

The hour and a half drive north from the airport to Ubud took us away from the coastal landscape and into the lush greenery of central Bali’s rice paddies and mountainous jungle. Our first mission was to find food and wifi so that we could book a place to stay. Compared to our Raja Ampat adventure, the amount of choices we had was overwhelming. The city caters to all types of interests and budgets.

We laughed at the absurdity of the morning’s adventure as we dug into the first proper meal we’d had in over a day then cabbed over to our hotel. We chose a place in the south near the famous Monkey Forest, which is aptly named, rest assured. The forest is packed with these critters scurrying through trees, getting into fights, and grooming one another. But be warned, if you so much as have crumbs in your pockets the monkeys will aggressively relieve you of them.

We filled our days in Ubud with ease: long walks through rice fields accompanied by croaking frogs and lit by fireflies, stellar food that varied from organic salads at Sari Organik picked fresh from the farm next door to roasted pig (Babi Guling) at Ibu Oka to fried duck at Bebek Bengil, rich culture in the temples and galleries, lavish massages for next to nothing, and of course an obligatory yoga session at the famous Yoga Barn. This temple of fitness offers everything from beginner yoga classes to advanced colon hydrotherapy. Here we witnessed a quintessential Bali moment when a grey-haired goddess noticed a wandering butterfly that had fluttered its way into the yoga studio, cradled it in her hands, and released it back into the gardens to the sound of a roomful of “awwws.” G and I could barely contain our laughter.

Most visitors in Ubud make the Yoga Barn part of their daily routine, instead I chose Seniman Coffee as my daily pilgrimage. I had been internet and coffee deprived in Raja Ampat so finding a beautiful cafe with a piccolo latte and a 10mbs wifi connection was a godsend. G and I burned through a loyalty card in just three days and we even spent our last night in a hotel closer to the cafe so that we could use its connection to plan our next adventure and Skype our banks to unblock any cards that had been flagged for fraud after the excessive cash withdrawals needed to pay for our reckless journey into Raja Ampat.

We hired a driver on our last day in Ubud  in order to explore some of the surrounding temples and to reach our next destination in Seminyak. A private driver sounded a bit lavish when Georgia proposed it, but it turned out to be a very economical way to explore some of the harder to reach places on a day that would have otherwise been a simple transit from point A to B. Our driver even took us to one of his favourite places where you could try free samples of local coffees while staring out over rice terraces. The main draw was the chance to try the famous Indonesian Kopi Luwak. You know, that really expensive coffee made from the beans that a civet shits out? I had no intentions of ever trying this foul-sounding concoction but after learning about the process I had to admit I was curious enough to try it. It was surprisingly good, but certainly not enough to justify the price, not to mention the bitter aftertaste it leaves after witnessing the poor living conditions of those civets. The rest of the day was spent hopped-up on caffein exploring Gunung Kawi and making our way west to find new adventures in Seminyak.

Indonesia

Ubud: the soul of Bali

Gallery

DSC_7578

Indonesia

Ubud, Bali

Image

Any traveler I’ve met who’s been through Indonesia has uttered the word “Gilis” with a touch of nostalgia in their voice and longing in their eyes. The three small islands sit off the northwest coast of Lombok and are easily accessible from Bali courtesy of a vast fleet of speedboats competing for tourist dollars.

We decided to check out Gili Air since it had exactly what we were looking for: handful of dive shops, good restaurants, and enough of a nightlife to attract other young travelers. If Gili Trawangan is the crazy party island and Gili Meno is the sleepy beach island, Gili Air is Goldilocks’ “just right” destination.

Each island has a distinct flavour but the basic ingredients are simple: white sand beaches, rustic bungalows, no cars or motorcycles, countless loungers, and plenty of “chillaxing.”

We bargained our ferry tickets down to half price since it was low season, arrived on the island around noon, found a trustworthy dive shop by one, and started our advanced certification by two. So efficient that I barely had time to shave before our first dive, leading me to sport an Amish beard for a day.

We spent the next three days diving in the bathtub temperature waters surrounded by turtles and the professional crew from Manta Dive. When we weren’t underwater, we spent our surface intervals on pristine beaches and funky restaurants.

We celebrated our advanced certification by booking ourselves into a beachside bungalow, doing some bamboo yoga, partying with some fellow Canadians who just complete their open water, and buying onwards tickets to Raja Ampat, famous for its diving and boasting the title of “the most biodiverse place in the world.”

Indonesia

Gili Air

Gallery

The next leg of my trip was pretty much a blank slate.  The only thing I had to do was book a plane ticket to land in Bali around the same time as Georgia. She bought the guidebook, booked the first hotel, and compiled a rough to-do list. The idea of having a travel partner who could ease the burden of constant logistical stress was so appealing that I decided to forgo any intensive research and just submit myself to playing it by ear.

We spent the first two nights living posh in a deluxe villa on the outskirts of Jimbaran. I’d been warned that Georgia miscalculated the currency conversion when booking so I knew the place would be a step up from the dorm rooms I’d grown accustomed to, but nothing could have prepared us for the free upgrade that landed us in a two bedroom villa with a private pool, kitchen, and house-wide sound system.

Needless to say we didn’t get out much, but we did manage to visit the famous Jimbaran beach for sunset and BBQed seafood at Menega Cafe. If you can’t remember the name when you’re there, here’s a hint: go to the restaurant where no one is chasing after you trying to show you a menu. The fish was perfectly cooked, the beer was cold, and the waves were literally washing over our feet. A perfect reunion date with my favourite dinner partner.

After two nights in our paradise villa, we moved up to Sanur, home of cheaper accommodation, a great restaurant called Three Monkeys, and travel agents who could help us get to our next stop: Gili Air.

Indonesia

Next Stop: Indonesia

Gallery