Our last two Christmas holidays, we travelled around South Australia. This time for 2015/2016, we decided to go a bit further away.. to Indonesia. As soon as Domi finished her work at AIB, we boarded to the island of Bali . We spent a few amazing days on the Indonesian soil.
Just a five-hour flight straight from Adelaide, and there we go! We spent Christmas and the New Year in Indonesia. You know, this country made up of thousands of islands in South-East Asia. Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
Denpasar: a bit of Australia in INDONESIA
When we landed in Bali (Kuta, Denpasar to be more specific), we were already sweaty and tired. Then, we made our way out to go to the hotel. However, we did not expect hundreds of taxi drivers trying to catch your attention. Many “taxi” calling could be heard. But, the Steve in need of nicotine walked away from them to smoke a necessary cigarette.
We only stayed one night and one morning in Kuta. Luckily, we left this bad area. Bali, in general, is well-known to be the home of some wild party/junkie Aussies. They usually come to Indonesia to enjoy their cheap drinks and drugs. Sad to hear and see, but I’m not the only one who thinks so.
So the next day of our arrival, we got a bus shuttle to Ubud, our next destination. Every hotel/hostel partner with a taxi/bus/boat driving company. Making it really convenient for the many tourists visiting Indonesia. We learn throughout our travel that it is common to Indonesian people to be helpful and friendly to foreigners and especially tourists who support the national economy.
Ubud: the jungle of Bali
After a few hours in a private taxi with A/C filled with interesting cultural discussions with the driver, we arrive in the city of Ubud. We found out that Balinese names point out their birth order: for example, Wayan, our host, is the name of the firstborn ; Ketut, the owner of the hostel we stayed in Kuta, is the name of the third.
We stayed at Wayan’s family compound in the jungle of Abiansemal (Ubud region). Just for the picture, no bus comes all the way there, you need your car or motorcycle to move around. Former tourist guide, Wayan welcomed us like we were King & Queen. His family compound accounts for various guest houses. Therefore, we spent every night with his family members and other guests, drinking altogether and eating Wayan’s wife, Ayu’s cuisine.
On December 25, they cooked us an amazing dinner with chargrilled fresh fish and some delicious stir-fried rice. On a huge dining table, we were feasting with a few Dutch, a British-Latvian couple and an American-Canadian, both pairs living in Hong Kong. What a good mix!
On that night, we tasted the local alcohol: arak, a fermented sap of sugarcane. Not so strong to all appearances, but it gets you happy enough to have a good time. This is when serving these several glasses of arak that we decided to go to the sunrise trek to Mount Batur with the British guy, Charles.
Alarm clocks at 2am, we went onto a bus shuttle for about 2 hours, picking up a few other people at other hotels. This is when we started the trek at 4am with Charles from Wayan’s place, and an American-Chinese girl, May. We filled up our bellies with a pineapple pancake with maple syrup and a Balinese coffee ; then, with a flashlight in our hand, we climbed up the mount in the complete dark with tens of other tourists. After about one hour of going up in dark dusty ashes (from the mount volcano), we ended up eating our second breakfast, volcano-boiled eggs with bread looking at the sunrise. We even high-fived a few wild monkeys.
After getting to the bottom of Mount Batur, we visited some rice terraces and died on our bed taking a nap until 7pm. Sadly, we left Wayan and Ayu’s place to travel to the Gili Islands. Until the last minute, they’ve been really friendly and accommodating as they booked the bus shuttle and boat ride to the Gilis at a discounted price for us.
Gili Islands: the Indonesian paradise
A huge highlight of our trip: the Gili Islands. There are 3 of them, they each have their own personality. Gili Air is the smallest and closest island to the “mainland”. Indeed, it is a quiet retreat. Gili Meno is the quietest island, perfect for families and honeymooners. Finally, I like to call Gili Trawangan the “party island”. It is ideal for young and single people or tourists in search of entertaining nightlife.
☀ Gili Air: the awesome island
We first started with Gili Air (“air” meaning water) as recommended by the Dutch from Wayan and Ayu’s. Probably our favourite out of the 3 islands because it was not as quiet as Gili Meno, and not as crazy as Gili T. Visiting the entire island took us about 1 hour. We decided then to rent bikes to make our way around more fun. No motorised transport is allowed on any of the 3 islands, people can only either walk, ride bikes or hope on a cidomo (a small horse carriage).
Steve & I stayed at a “resort” with swimming pool and breakfast included. All of this only cost us a few Indonesian rupiah. The bedroom was spacious and the outdoor show was awesome. Later, we rented bicycles with fat tyres to ride on the beach. We rode all around the island. Also, we got masks and fins to explore the Indonesian seabed. We glimpsed some corals, fishes and 1-2 sea turtles. What a great activity to cool yourself down during these warm holidays.
☀ Gili Meno: the honeymoon island
After stunning Gili Air, Gili Meno seemed a bit boring in the sense that it was peaceful and relaxing. We had, quote from Steve, “the best pizza ever” at the restaurant/hotel we stayed at. Eating in these little wooden compartments with an outstanding view of the ocean while playing some card games (I destroyed Steve at rummy, don’t tell I said that) made every meal even more enjoyable. We also ate a huge platter of fresh seafood (fish, shrimps, octopus) along with local cocktails, all together with the company of a few skinny hungry cats.
While having a drink in Gili Meno, an Indonesian dude approached us – Indonesian people are really friendly and would suggest to help you if you look lost, or would bring to your attention some unmissable touristic activities, or simply say “Hello”, for the sake of it.
At first, he just wanted to sell us some weed, but then he asked us what we were doing for New Year’s Eve. We looked at each other intrigued and indecisive knowing that Meno is really quiet, and we hoped to hear some interesting plan from him. Then, he told us that a special boat would leave Gili Meno to go to Gili T. (the party island) by 11pm and come back by 3am on the same night. Looking at each other again, we thought “F*** it! We live only once! Let’s do it!” And that’s how we first experienced crazy Gili T.
Travelling on a boat at dark night was a first for the two of us. It became even more exciting when some locals started firing fireworks on the boat’s roof – we kept hearing fireworks 2-3 days before and after NYE. On the boat, we met this awesome little Indonesian guy, Robbie, who took us under his wing. He introduced us to all his Indonesian friends (only men, a few women were seating with us, but did not drink or did not join us to dance). We discovered the local shot (vodka with an energy powder). After a few shots (disclaimer: this mixture was energising, but also treacherous), we finished our NY celebration to a club dancing all together on the dance floor or on the bar counter.
☀ Gili Trawangan: the festive island
The next morning was quite a difficult one. It got even worse when we had to wait for the local boat to Gili T. under a sharp sun. Once we arrived there, we thanked ourselves for having booked ahead a nice and comfortable hotel room. We spent the day vegging out and trying to recover from the worst hangover ever.
Visiting and enjoying Gili T. wasn’t so easy for us. Unfortunately, Steve & I had to recover from our crazy NYE celebration. During our few days on Trawangan, we had trouble riding bicycles and thinking properly. However, we made sure to enjoy our last fresh fruit juices and nasi goreng before flying back to Adelaide.
Our overall experience of Indonesia
After our stay on the “Emerald of the Equator”, we fell in love with the culture, the people and the food. The best of Indonesia is their relaxed way of life. We would really recommend visiting it to every adventurous traveller – not to the wimps and comfort-seeker voyager, though. Also, this is a good destination for the transport experience: bus shuttles in narrow streets, crazy car traffic in Indonesia and boat ride to the Gili Islands. Finally, bonus points to the Gili Islands beaches (minus the corals which destroy your feet), the traditional food and the generosity/warmth of Indonesian people.
We promised our hosts from Ubud and our friend Robbie from Gili Meno that we’ll come back. A good reason being that Indonesia accounts for thousands of islands. So we better start saving up annual leave and money for a trip back to amazing Indonesia!