Wednesday, December 20, 2017

UAE (Dubai, Abu Dhabi)


Dubai had been on our list as a transit stop for quite sometime. And having a direct Emirates flight from bay area definitely helps to pick this as your next stop over. So when we decided to vacation with our families, Dubai was an obvious choice and for making the trip worth our while, we added Egypt to the mix as well. But our first stop over was Dubai for four days. More on Egypt later, lets focus on Dubai for now. Our brief itinerary:
Day 0: Arrive
Day 1: Dubai sightseeing
Day 2: Dubai sightseeing
Day 3: Day trip to Abu Dhabi + Evening cruise in Dubai
Day 4: Day at the beach + fly out

When to go?

Definitely not summer! We went during our Christmas holidays and the weather was pleasant. If the winters are so pleasant, I can only imagine how brutal summers would be. So, definitely keep weather in mind when you plan your travel to Dubai. Other driving factor is your trip to India or someplace and considering Dubai as a stop over. 2-3 days are good enough for short stop over and Emirates offers great deals on air tickets.

Where to stay?

The Walk- JBR
Lots of choices in terms of neighborhoods, affordability and accessibility. Being with Family, we opted for apartment rentals and we were lucky to find a luxury 4-bed/5-bath condo near Jumeirah beach. It was in JA Oasis Beach Tower and I couldn't be happier with the location, amenities and the overall experience.

What to do?

There is a lot to do in Dubai. The country has worked extraordinarily to make this a tourist destination of choice. Here is what we did along with what else is there to do in this country.

Day 0

Reunited with La Familia
We arrived late in the evening. The airport is pretty big and it took us a while to get to the visa on arrival area. Do check the visa regulations for visa on arrival before you book your travel as they keep changing frequently. We met our extended family travelling from India at the visa counter and by the time we chatted and caught up, the visas were done and we were walking out to pick up our luggage. We ubered to our rented apartment and were pleasantly surprised at the size of the apartment and the views offered from its glass walls in the living room.
Then we headed out for dinner and there were plenty of options in the area. That was such a relief, though we expected that as much. After dinner, we decided to take a stroll in the lively neighborhood. We were actually hunting for some good eggless cake options, but we could just manage regular cake as it was my father in law's birthday the following day. Then we had some cake were off to sleep.

Day 1

The bling!
We were up bright and early, thanks to a bit of jet lag! Our first stop was Gold Souk. It is amazing to see such a huge market full of gold shops. The jewellery designs are pretty close to what we get in India, I guess to suit the south asian taste, which contributes to the majority of buyers. However, I am not sure if the whole debate about gold being cheaper is valid or not. Go figure! We didn't end up buying anything and after a few hours, it was time for lunch. So we headed out to lunch  in Meena Bazar area. We picked Athithi which had thalis and turned out to be an excellent choice.
Our next stop for the day was The Dubai Mall, the most popular and the biggest mall in Dubai. They have a lot of options for entertainment. A rainforest cafe. A huge aquarium with walk through tunnel and innumerable shops. You name a brand and you have it. So, we went shopping here but got tired soon enough and grabbed a cup of coffee before heading out to Burj Khalifa where we had our pre purchased tickets for getting to the top. A wise decision to buy them beforehand and save us some time.
View from the top
Qutb Minar of Dubai?

We got in the queue and it was pretty swift and quick moving. Once we got to the top, it was all cloudy below us. And the patches where it cleared up, it was sure to give you some vertigo. pretty damn high. I was afraid to think what would happen in case of an earthquake (a thought bound to occur if you have lived in California for over a decade!) After taking some pictures and spending some time at the top, we headed downstairs to the waterfront. Lovely fountains, that remind you of Bellagio. Weather was perfect as sun had gone down and there were just people all around you.
Then I met an old roommate of mine from LA who now lives in Dubai. We walked around the Dubai Souk, which is just next to the mall, but and old architecture gives you that middle eastern feel. Perfect place to shop for souvenirs. Then we grabbed some dinner (plenty of options in the mall to suit your needs) and headed back home.



Day 2

The Jumeirah Beach
Today we planned to head out the beach next to Burj Al Arab. This gives you the best views of the building and the beach is just lovely. Warm waters and fine sand at Jumeirah public beach. Luckily usn wasn't too sharp and we spent some good time enjoying the water and taking pictures.
Next, we headed to Madinat Jumeriah Souk, which is an old architecture styled mall. Not too huge, but has a variety of shops. They were gearing up for Christmas celebrations and I loved navigating this mall. It reminded me of old malls in India.
For lunch we had delicious, sumptuous meal at Ushna. I highly recommend this place. From here we headed out to The Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah. We wanted our niece to go visit the aquarium here. And we just strolled about in their shopping arcade. Then we walked along the Crescent road for lovely views of the sea and the hotel itself. This is the perfect place to take pictures. The light, the ambience is just perfect. Next up, we went to the Miracle Gardens. Its a fancy garden where plants and bushes are manicured in various shapes and sizes. Its pretty nice and good for a short visit. Our family loved it.
Madinat Jumeirah Souk
After some rest, we all went from a stroll near our residence, in the promenade near Jumeirah, known as The Walk, JBR. You can spend all your time doing nothing but walking around in Dubai. It has such lively areas that you can just be here and do nothing. For dinner, we went to a mediterranean place, Operation falafal. It was decent enough, but didn't suit the palates of our Indian parents!

Miracle Gardens


Day 3

Grand Mosque
We had reserved a day long tour in a family vehicle to Abu Dhabi. Its a good 90 minute drive to the city. The city doesn't have much to offer, but the Grand Mosque is a must see. It is so intricate, beautiful and peaceful that I was totally awestruck. You have to stick to their dress code and the tour guides provide you free robes to wear for this. We spent about an hour here. Just walking around and admiring the royal carpets, ceiling, chandeliers, took some time. This is a must do if you are in Dubai. Its worth your drive.
There isn't much to do and explore in Abu Dhabi other than the mosque. But we made a customary stop at the palace and then at the Ferrari World. The entry to the circuit is paid, so we skipped that and just spent some time in their lobby outside.
Walk along the Ocean, Palm Jumeirah
Our tour guides took us to shop for dates in Abu Dhabi as that is what it is famous for. Our families went crazy shopping for dates, as expected. For lunch, we had stopped at Punjab Grill restaurant. A bit pricey, but food was finger-licking good. Then we were headed back to Dubai as we had planned a cruise for the evening.
We had to show up a designated pier for our cruise. A pretty standard cruise of the Marina, in a medium sized, two storey boat. They had an Indian buffet and dance performance for entertainment. The views from the boat are good as they navigate through the downtown. Food was good enough for us and we enjoyed our time here as a family.
Later in the evening, I caught with my undergrad friend, Shashank and his lovely wife Anamika. It was so good to meet up with old friends here in Dubai.

Day 4

Dates market- Abu Dhabi
Our final day in Dubai before heading out to Egypt in the afternoon. So, we went for a run in the Jumeirah promenade (The walk- JBR) in the morning and then went to the marina beach for a quick swim. The water was just perfect. I loved the beaches here in Dubai. Mom even made a Russian friend here at the beach. haha. Then we got back, packed our bags and headed out to the airport.


What else to do:

Dubai is a city created for tourists. There are plenty of options to pick from. You can visit their extravagant malls if you are one of those shopaholics, or if you like doing touristy stuff, they have quite a few parks to visit as well:

  • Dune Bashing: This is rated as a must-do for everyone visiting Dubai. The reason we skipped it was that I get motion sick and since we were with our niece and she was just 2 years old, we couldn't have taken her along. 
  • The Atlantis: You could stay at this resort and enjoy their facilities with amazing views. Their water park is rather well rated.
  • Global Village: This park has attractions from various countries and is like a mini world. It apparently takes almost a day to visit this and it gets very tiring, so we decided to skip it and it was anyway low on our priority list
  • They have a famous ski park inside one of the malls, if you are interested. We live in California and get plenty of snow in Tahoe so we weren't very eager.

Other Pointers


  • Visa: We were eligible for visa on arrival. Looking up online for visa requirements is pretty straightforward and simple. Do that before you plan.
  • Uber vs Cab: We learnt pretty late that in UAE cabs are much cheaper compared to Uber. So, make that comparison before you take your pick.
  • If you are interested in specific attractions that need tickets, like Burj Khalifa, or even if you want to book a Marina cruise or dune bashing, make reservations before you go. If it is a peak touristy season, you may end up waiting for long or not getting reservations at all.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Singapore

This would be my second visit to Singapore, after exactly ten years. Singapore is a perfect home base for a south east Asia trip. Its modern and well connected to other popular tourist cities. We chose Singapore as our final destination in this trip as we got a great deal on the direct flight from Singapore to San Francisco. Here is our brief itinerary. Note that this was my second visit and we weren't interested in typically touristy things that Singapore has to offer for first time visitors. Scroll down to "What else to do" for those options.
Day 0 - Arrive
Day 1 - City sightseeing
Day 2 - City sightseeing
Day 3 - Fly out

When to go

Singapore has perfect weather all year round. It is a multi cultural city and makes for a perfect stop over no matter what your destination is. Singapore does get some rain in the months of August- September, but they weren't too bad for us as we were visiting in August and weather for absolutely pleasant.

How to get around

Metro train or bus is the best option. But we didn't buy a day pass as the number of trips we were making were not as many and it wouldn't have been economical. So we decided to pay per trip. Also, it may be easier to get single trip passes from the ticket counter than the vending machines.

Day 0

We landed around 7 pm in the evening. And instead of taking Metro, we decided to Uber to our hotel. We were staying at Rendezvous Hotel and getting an Uber was pretty convenient for the airport had designated Uber waiting and pick up areas. Once we checked into our hotel and settled in, we decided to head out for dinner. Singapore being a food lover's paradise had plenty of options. Yelp is a good place to search. We ended up at the Anglo Indian Cafe in Chijmes. Chijmes was a popular place with many cafes offering many different cuisines. You can simply come here for food hopping! Food was about average and we then headed back to the hotel. The walk wasn't too long and we ended up walking through a park which had some kind of exhibit or a festival going on. It was lovely and it was energizing to see such a young crowd everywhere.

Day 1


Our first stop today would be a brunch place recommended by our very dear friend, Roohi who had lived in Singapore for good 5 years. So, we headed out to Marche. The place was an absolute delight. It had different counters with different foods and you could get everything added to your tab and pay later. And food was excellent, plus you could taste plenty of things without having to order full portions of everything. I loved this concept. I wonder why we don't have something similar here in US yet!
Marche @ Somerset

Gardens by the bay
Up next was the customary visit to the Merlion statue. We took a few touristy pictures and then headed to a nearby office, where another friend, Anu was working. After meeting her, we decided to walk down to Marina Bay sands. It was lovely to see how so many runners took to this area as the evening set it. Lovely walk to the Marina Bay Sands, but the malls here were too overwhelming. Nothing that I would buy from such high priced brands.
Next, we navigated our way to the elevator to take up to the connecting bridge to walk down to the Garden by bay.
Both Marina Bay sands and Gardens by the bay have evening shows. So, we headed to Garden by the bay first.
Marina Bay Sands
It was about 20 minutes of walk in all. But the views were very pretty from the connecting bridge. We took some pretty pictures. But we didn't get tickets to the elevator or to the bridge in the Garden because we had missed the last entry time. But we waited for the show to begin. There was a cloud forest nearby which also had good reviews, but having seen quite a few rainforests in real and at California Academy of Sciences, this didn't interest us much.
The crowd swelled up for the show and people started looking for places to sit and watch. We too found ourselves a spot and waited for the show to begin. It was typical music and lights show which was interesting at first bu then became monotonous. so we headed back to the Marina Bay Sands after a few minutes.
Here we found ourselves a spot to watch this show, which was a water, light and sound show. Similar to the other water and sound shows we had seen in the past. So, after spending some time here taking pictures, we headed out to some place for dinner. The mall also had a food court which had plenty of options btw. We had some snacks here but had some room for dinner.
We headed to Vatos which was a Korean-Mexican fusion, and it was excellent. Highly recommend this restaurant. After stuffing ourselves with good good food, we went back to our hotel and it was TV time!

Day 2

Chinatown
Today we started with breakfast as Toby's as were meeting Anu here. I had mini pancakes and this place was good. Then, we headed to Chinatown for some souvenir shopping. Chinatown is just the same,no matter which county you are in. It was so hot, that we headed to our hotel for an afternoon break and decided to head out a little later in the evening.
First stop was Bugis Mall, but I didn't get too enticed to shop. So, we headed to Clark Quay. Right across the Quay was mall, which had a food court. So we headed right to the NomVNom burger place. Best vegetarian burgers outside India. Loved there veggie potato croquette burgers. Then we headed to the Orchard street was some strolling around and shopping. After a few hours, it was time to head back to our hotel.
Clark Quay

Day 3

Our flight was scheduled for early morning. So, we figured it was best to get an Uber at that time. At the airport itself, there was an excellent south Indian restaurant and I stuffed myself full with delicious dosa and sambhar before boarding the flight.

What else to do


  • Sentosa Island is a full one day trip and a lot of fun with Dolphin show, museum and sound and light show to offer
  • Night Safari here is very popular. It starts at night, so it can be easily clubbed with another activity during the day
  • Singapore has its very own Universal Studios now. So, you don't have to head out to US for visiting one.
  • Singapore Zoo is also popular, if you are going with the kids, perhaps.
  • Jurong bird park is another popular pick with tourists


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Cambodia (Siem Reap - Angkor Wat)



I had wanted to see Angkor Wat, ever since I had seen Lara Croft - Tomb Raider sometime in 2003-04. The entire sequence that was shot at the Ta Phrom temple had left me mesmerized with this location and I just added it to my bucket list. Finally, I could visit this place some 15 odd years later. Even though the forecast was that of rains, I wanted to take our chances. Hence, we added a two day itinerary for Cambodia to our trip. Here it is:

Day 1: Arrive -> Check in -> Buy tickets
Day 2: Angkor Wat  -> City sightseeing
Day 3: Depart



Angkor Wat Pointers



  • Plan ahead. You have the option of 1-day, 3-day and 7-day passes. You have to buy your pass yourself, as your picture is on it.
  • Ticket office is a few miles outside the Angkor Wat complex. So, factor in time for that.
  • You can buys the pass for next day beginning at 5 pm today. This gives you an extra evening entry into the complex a day before your pass is valid.
  • Carry cash, notes in good health. Else, you might be forced to use cards at the ATM.
  • Hire a cab to take you around inside the complex. Super convenient. You can hire a romrok too given the weather is pleasant.
  • Book a good hotel, the staff will help you for almost all your needs.

Where to fly:


If the plan is to visit Angkor Wat, then Siem Reap airport is your best choice. It is a tiny upscale airport catering mostly to Angkor Wat tourists. It has plenty of connections from other South east Asian countries. However, if you plan to visit Phnom Penh and other cities, you can explore other airports.
Also, when I was exploring options to visit from Thailand, there were trains and buses too. The reviews weren't that great, especially for the immigration check as apparently they are time consuming if you enter via road. But I didn't explore much.


Day 1:


We arrived around afternoon and our hotel had a airport pick up and airport drop included in our booking. We were flying via Kuala Lumpur again as we had our bookings via Air Asia. Immigration and baggage pick up were very quick and easy. We had gotten our e-visa online before we had left USA.  We however, got some local currency at the money exchange counter. You can totally avoid it as US dollar is the defacto currency here. But, they are very particular about the quality of your notes.
Dinner at Dakshin
View from top of Angkor Wat temples
We were greeted by hotel staff and taken to our hotel, The Privilege Floor, Lotus Blanc which was just 15 minutes away. Our check-in took sometime as they explained us all the options to go to nearby markets, Angkor Wat, etc. To be honest, my information on Angkor Wat was much more updated than theirs. They didn't know much about the tickets and times of visit. Our plan was to go get the tickets for the next day, which starts selling at 5:00 pm or so and then go see sunset.
So, we hired a romrok to take us to the ticket office, which is a little farther than Angkor Wat. Here, we had to wait for sometime for the ticket counter to open. Closer to the opening time, long queues started forming. So, we stood in the line and the ticket counter opened up. When we asked for our ticket, they refused to take credit card in spite of having big labels saying we accept visa and MasterCard. Then, we tried to scramble for cash. We found 20$ bills, but they refused to accept some of them saying they have a mild tear, they are folded, etc. Basically, they want you to use their ATM to withdraw cash and use that. We did have an argument with these folks about the mismanagement, but they were very non chalant and used to this everyday affair. 

Anyhow, after we were done getting our tickets, we headed straight to Bekhong hill for a sunset view. But they allow only a fixed number of people to enter the complex. And we were pretty late. For a sunset at 5:30 pm, the queues start forming at 3:30! So, we were pretty late and didn't get in. We walked back and got back to our hotel. 
After a brief rest, we decided to head out to the Siem Reap market for some dinner. There were a few Indian options and my spice buds were dying for some good desi food, so we headed to Dakshin and I ordered a south Indian thali and ate to my heart's content. Loved the food. Super authentic and super tasty. The area was lively, but we were tired and decided to go home and take rest for the early sunrise the next day.
Bayon Temple Complex


Day 2:


Angkor Wat temple
We had asked our hotel staff to give us boxed breakfast so that we could go watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat temple. We had hired a cab for the day to save ourselves from scorching heat and long walks with in the complex. Best decision ever. 
We got up early and headed to the complex while it was still dark. All the crowd were heading in one direction, so we couldn't get lost. Get there early to grab your spot next to the pond where you see the reflection. There are two of these, one on either side of the temple. The one on the left (while you face the temple), is the better choice. And, you cannot go wrong with this picture. It is magnificent. But all the street vendors trying to sell you all the stuff kind of get on to your nerves. Plus, wear mosquito repellents. Plenty of tiny little ones here.
Bayon temple
After the sunrise, we headed inside the complex. I loved it. It was my first time going to a Hindu complex that was so ancient and old. I was absolutely in love with it. Then, as you walk further in, there is another queue to get into the central, tallest complex. Luckily, we were on time and got in that queue. It was a steep staircase to get to the temple. This temple is layered vertically. This was the highest courtyard inside the temple. Good views and really high. After a few minutes we came down. Stairs were so steep that I had to sit on every step and come down. Just couldn't climb down the steps normally. 
Leper King
Once out, we were hassled by some vendors to have breakfast at their shop, but we managed to evade and get to our car. Here we had breakfast, breathed some cool air and headed to our next  temple, Bayon temple (the face temple). Another beautiful complex and we got some awesome pictures here. We did not hire any guide, as we wanted to spend less time and thought we'd read the history and details once we get to our hotel. It was just too hot and humid to have any patience for guides.
Once we were done, we headed to Ta Phrom temple via Terrace of Elephants. It makes for a few good shots.
Terrace of Elephants
I had wanted to visit Ta Phrom since so many years and finally here it was. This temple is currently under restoration in partnership with Archaeological Society with India. One of the guards here, was kind enough and led us through the temple and took pictures for us. He gave us a good "photo tour" here and Sumit and I were happy kids. We tipped him well after we were done. Half of this temple is in ruins and the other half is in roots, literally. Beautiful. Then we headed to New Delhi restaurant for lunch. Average food, but a decent Indian option. After this, we went to our hotel for some well deserved rest from the heat and humidity. Btw, while flipping channels I was happy to see some desi channels here, dubbed in their local language. Was hilarious.

After this break, we headed to Bekhong hill. We reached 3:30 pm and were able to get in. View was good, but just 30 minutes before the sunset, it started raining and we had to head back. So, in other words, we didn't see any sunset here.   

Later in the evening, we headed to the marketplace. Strolled on some streets, Pub street looked really lively. I got henna done at one of the shops. Picked up some souvenirs. I had wanted to get the fish pedicure, but since I had an open wound on my ankle, due to the bike fall in Bali, I decided not to take a chance.
Ta Phrom Complex

Pub Street

Day 3:

We had our flight in the evening. So we slept till late and then spent time at the hotel They had a great pool and a private restaurant for breakfast. Then we packed and headed to the airport for our final destination of this trip. Luckily it was a direct flight. We spent some time in the airport lounges, thanks to our priority pass form Chase! Cambodia was brief and sweet. 

Other pointer:


  • We didn't go to Tonle Sap Lake due to immensely horrid reviews online.
  • Make sure to carry US currency. Everything is one dollar here. No one uses local currency
  • You could visit other towns of Phnom Pheh  and some beach towns, but we skipped.
  • Make sure you plan keeping you flights in mind. Some airline fly only on certain days, so it can be tough to coordinate. Like, we had to shift our trip by a day to find a direct flight to Singapore.
  • Most of the people speak or understand English. But, bargain the hell out of everything. Most of the places, people are trying get the most money out of you.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Indonesia (Bali, Yogyakarta, Gili Air)



While picking countries for our trip this time, weather was the deciding factor. It looked like Indonesia was one of the few countries that doesn't have much rains during this time(August) of the year. So, Bali it was. Here is our itinerary for Bali. 

Day 0: Fly in
Day 1: Pool dive in Seminyak -> Sunset at Tanah Lot
Day 2: Day trip to Yogyakarta
Day 3: USS Liberty shipwreck dive in Tulamben
Day 4: Ferry to Gili Air
Day 5: Free/dive day in Gili air 
Day 6: Ferry back to Bali -> Temple visits -> Ubud
Day 7: Sightseeing in Ubud
Day 8: Sightseeing in Ubud
Day 9: Fly out

Where to fly


We were flying in from China and most of the connections were via Kuala Lumpur. The Denpasar(DPS) airport in Bali is located south of the island. That's the only international airport catering to many international flight. Since the visa was on arrival, we hadn't applied for anything earlier. We had to stand in the queues, but they were very fast moving. It didn't take us long to clear immigration.

When to go


Our travel dates were fixed, so we searched for non-rainy places in August in south east Asia and it turned out that Bali has good weather conditions in August. But definitely check for weather conditions before you plan. If it rains, it will not be fun.

Where to stay in Bali


This was a big question. You got to choose from plenty of options like Seminyak (an upscale town with lots of traffic), Kuta (more posh than Seminyak), Ubud (a very touristy part of the island, with crazy traffic) and Nusa Dua (private beach resorts in south of the island). We decided to stay in Seminyak for a few days and then Ubud. We were also heading out to Yogyakarta and Gili islands in between. 

Day 0


Our incoming flight from Kuala Lumpur was delayed by 4 hours. So we reached around midnight. Luckily, the hotel we were staying at provided airport pickup, so it worked out pretty well. Else, we figured that the taxis from airport don't charge you a fair amount. They charge exorbitantly over the metered price and there is no other mode of transportation into the city. Once we reached our hotel (Ossotel Legian Bali), I was so happy to find out they had 24 hour room service and I ordered a bowl of soup as I was super hungry. The weather was just perfect and the rooms in the hotel were nice. There was door on the backside to lead you to the beach. But this day was over and we had something exciting to do the next day.

Day 1


We had to head out to the Scuba Diving office for a pool dive before our scuba dive session. Luckily breakfast was included and the hotel had a pretty decent restaurant where we had breakfast and then headed out to the office of Adventure Scuba Diving which wasn't very far away. The office and the pool are located in a very well built house/office building. Our instructor was very nice and very calm. He gave us all the instructions and we were ready for Scuba diving in the pool. Since the instructor was holding my hand all through the dives to the pool bottom, I felt very comfortable and felt that I will be ready for the real dive day after. Once we were done with the pool dives, Sumit and I started walking back to our hotel as there were no cabs nearby. Plus, walking was faster as the cabs were all stuck in a traffic jam. 
Butterfly tattoo
While walking back to the hotel, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant, Kopi-O. All through the island, cold coffee was just awesome. We also ordered some fried rice and some chips. Everything was good. Then we walked back to our hotel through the streets lined with shops  and did some shopping too. Bargain hard. Don't be shy to quote as low at 20-30% of the asking price. On our walk back, we realized that for our evening trip to Tanah Lot, cab will be a bad idea, we should just rent a scooter. Luckily we had a scooter rental right across our hotel, but it was  2 day rental, we somehow convinced him for 2 days and got the deal. Also, the laundry service was right across the hotel and they charged per kg. Very cheap to get laundry done in Bali.  
We snaked through the heavy traffic on our way to Tanah Lot. Directions on Google maps are very accurate. We made it just before sunset. But by the time we reached from the parking lot to the temple, we couldn't go in, as they close the entryway sharp at 5 or 6 pm I believe. So check before you go. But we got some beautiful shots. The weather was just too good. While walking back to our scooter, I decided to get a henna tattoo from one of the shops and then we headed straight to Seminyak Square.  
Plenty of options here to drink, dine and party. We ate vegetarian burger at Nirvana restaurant -burger bar. Then we headed to Gelato shack for some awesome gelato. One of the best gelatos I have had. After this we were headed to the scooter rental and our hotel as we had an early morning the next day.

Day 2


Borobudur
Parambanan

We had booked a 10 am flight to Yogyakarta. There is one hour time difference and its an hour long flight. So we reached around the same time. We had already booked a driver for our tour. We had booked him after looking at a lot of tripadvisor reviews. Here is the link to our Yogyakarta driver. We drove straight to Borobudur, where we got a guide with the ticket purchase. It lived up to its expectations. Then we headed straight to Parambanan. Here we didn't hire any guide, just the tickets. Spent an hour here and also took some clicks during sunset. I was thoroughly impressed by the scale of these temples. I have never been to Hindu temples outside India, so I found this quite fascinating. Both Borobudur and Parambanan are worth a visit I'd say. We grabbed our lunch and dinner at an Indian restaurant close to the airport, Taj Indian Kitchen. Traffic here wasn't as bad as Bali. Also, while driving and from the top level of Borobudur, you can see some of the active volcanoes. And of course, our return flight at 9 pm was delayed by an hour or so. So we reached around midnight again. This time since our hotel wasn't picking us up, we had to pay that extra surcharge to the taxi drivers.




Day 3



Today was our big scuba diving day. We were picked up bright and early in a mini van from our hotel and we were headed to the north of the island, for Tulamben shipwreck dive. Our hotel gave us packed breakfast since we were leaving before the regular breakfast time. It took us about 3 hours to reach there. 
Once we reached, our instructor gave us some more instructions and got our gear ready. We had 2 dives to go to. We  were located at a restaurant by the beach. While our instructor got our gear ready, we changed into our swim wear and diving suits. And headed out to the beach. Here we dived about 10 meters. The fish were exquisite. We had no trouble equalizing and it was a whole different world. Diving was so much more comfortable than the pool dive. We took a few pictures, a video and spent about 30 minutes under water. But I couldn't let go off my instructor's hand. I was nervous being all by myself. The best thing our instructor had said was, "There is nothing that can go wrong, which I can't fix". After we got done with our first dive, we came back to the restaurant and our lunch was ready. We took about an hour long break and then walked to the shipwreck dive site. It was a few meter away and was super crowded being a popular dive spot.  
Happy Divers
We dived in, but I had trouble equalizing, so we went only till about 7 meters instead of 12 meters we could ave. But looking at the ship wreck was a new experience. I wish we could have gone a bit deeper to experience it more up close. 
Once done, we headed back to the hotel and it was another 3 hour long drive and we slept through it mostly. Once back, we freshened up and headed straight o Queen's Tandoor in Seminyak, an India restaurant. There was wait, so we strolled the streets and went to the shops nearby to kill time. Didn't buy anything in particular. Food here was decent enough, but costlier than other places we had been to. Once done, we thought we'll Uber. But the Uber cancelled on us, since there was a lot of traffic. This we realized later, was a norm. We somehow managed a taxi and got back to our hotel.

Day 4


Manta Dive Gili Air resort
Today we were leaving for Gili Air island. We had picked Gili Air as the reviews said it was more of a laid back place and that's what we were looking for. Gili Trawangan is a party island and Gili Meno is very laid back as well, but has fewer resources than Gili Air. So Gili Air it was. The way to get to the islands is either via ferry or by air. Make sure you book your ferries timely, because only a few providers have good ferry boats with good reviews and the frequency isn't as much as you'd like. We had booked Gili getaway one way and Blue Water Express for our return. Both had good services.  Here is the link to book the ferries. Make sure to book a "fast boat". And don't hesitate to look at other ports in Bali if your best option isn't available, as the transportation from your hotel is included. 
So, we were picked up at the given time, bright and early from our Seminyak hotel and driven to the Serangan port. Everything was smooth, check-in, bag tags and then we had to wait. They were giving a sea-sickness tablet, which I took as I knew I get sea sick. I am glad I did as the waters were really choppy and I slept through most of my ride. Also, make sure to pick the side of the boat where you won't get any sun. It took us about 90 minutes to the get to the Gili Air port. Since there are no motorized vehicles on the island, you can hire a horse cart. But, remember, everyone is trying to rip you off for some money. We were asked for some horrendous amount for 0.5 mile distance. So, we decided to walk. Good call. There are no paved roads here, btw. 
All meals by the beach

Our resort, Manta Dive Gili Air was located by the beach, like all the resorts. There was check in cabin where we checked in and were walked to our cottage. There were a couple of pools and across the road was a restaurant by the beach and some hammocks. This was the perfect place for a vacation. Once we got a bit settled, we got some food from the restaurant by the beach. The weather was perfect. Not too hot, not too humid. Then we rented a couple of bikes to go around the island. It would take only an hour on the bike. But we were 20 minutes into the ride, and I tried to ride in sand and bang, I fell. I had a huge cut in my ankle and I wasn't a happy kid. So, we cut short and walked the bike back to our hotel. Rest of the evening was all about a grumpy kid who fell off the bike. But, I wish we had continued further. The bikes were rusty and old, so we didn't. So rent better bikes and complete the loop, at least view the sunset on the other side :)




Day 5


Right way to vacay
It was what I call, "free vacation day". Sumit had plans to go diving, his briefing was happening in the same restaurant where I was killing time. So, I just sat close by and observed what was going on. Once he left, I knew he would be back only late afternoon. So, I decided to go get a massage. I looked up online and decided to go to H2O Yoga and meditation centre and I didn't like it much. Now mind you, I get sports massage done mostly, so unless the masseuse is working on the knots, I am not too impressed. But after the massage, I walked back to hotel and on my way stopped for a Crepe. Again, everything here is by the beach. Nothing happens inland! Then stopped by a few shops, but they were so much more expensive than the Bali island.
We snorkeled here a bit
I spent rest of the day on the hammock, reading a travel guide, drinking cold coffees, eating and browsing facebook. Perfecto! 
Once Sumit got back, we went to Cabalito De Mar for dinner. Really good location. Beautiful beach views, lovely weather and good food. I could just eat and eat. Then we got back and it was movie night. It was our last day on the island and next time I am going to stay here for a few more days.
Btw, Sumit had a great dive and saw many fish. He dived independently and was super excited to have done it all by himself, of course under the supervision of his dive master.

Day 6

Ditched plans to go for a run and see the other side of the island. I was on a vacation! Packed up, had breakfast and checked out. Glad I had booked this resort, Manta Dive Gili Air. Everything was smooth. Even before we had arrived, we had made a few calls to ask which fast boats would work best and about booking dives, etc. and the lady on the phone was super polite and super helpful. Except for a patchy wifi connection in our cottage, everything was just great. 
Pura Besakih with Mount Agung in the background

Again, a horse cart was horrendously expensive, so we just walked. We had booked Blue Water Express and they were pretty good too. I took the sea sickness tablet and it got me through the choppy water ride for the next 90 minutes. We had booked our return to Padang Bai as we wanted to visit a couple of temples on this side of the island and it made sense to land here. We had booked our driver for the day and he was picking us up. 



We were headed straight to Tirta Ganga first. I am glad we came to this side of the island. Beautiful lush green scenery. The temple wasn't too big. It had stepping stones in the water ponds. Lot of fish in the ponds. Was fun hopping on those stones. After a few pictures we were headed to Pura Besakih. It is the biggest temple on the island, with Mount Agung in the background. The tickets include a guide. But you need to buy some flowers, incense, etc. to actually enter the temple, else you can roam around in the complex. It was a very different architecture for temples. But then if you have seen one temple on the island, I guess you have seen them all. It was nice to see separate temples for Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Once we got done, drive to Ubud was another two hours. So we drove back to Ubud and there was just crazy traffic. Ubud is so much more crowded than Seminyak. Anyhow, we reached Ubud and checked in to our hotel, Komaneka Rasa Sayang. Not the most high end hotel, but a luxury hotel as per my standards. Great location, great staff, a balcony and a spacious room with a cookie jar.

Once we settled in, we headed to Ganesha for dinner. It was walking distance from our hotel and excellent food. Crispy chili potatoes were too goo. Highly recommended. We landed here for dinner the next two days as well. A very popular street and had everything you'd want. Then we asked our hotel staff to arrange a scooter for next two days the next morning and called it a day. 
Tirta Ganga


Day 7


Goa Gajah
After a late morning, we picked our scooter from the hotel lobby and headed straight to a laundry shop across the hotel. Then we went to the monkey forest. Everything was neatly inside our bags. The monkeys were too aggressive and I felt scared. Plus, I have seen quite a few monkeys in India, so I was okay doing this quickly. There were a lot of tourists, but I possibly wouldn't have kept calm if a monkey would have tried to snatch something from me. So, we quickly went around and I just wanted to get out. We stepped out and I felt so relieved. Whew! 
Then we headed to Queens in Ubud for lunch. Not that great food. Then, we drove to Goa Gajah. Paid entry tickets for this small cave temple. The cave entrance is pretty, but that's about it. Inside is a small dingy cave set up a temple and that's about it. A bit underwhelming I felt. Next, we drove to Tenguengen falls. Hiked all the 150-200 steps to the falls and back up. Too crowded, but I love waterfalls. Weather was good and the coconut water at the end of our hikes was the best. It was fun driving around the city on our scooter. We then headed straight to the Ganesha for dinner. Ordered chowmien and hara bhara kabab today. All good. Once we got back to our hotel, we looked up online for massage parlours and booked an appointment for the following day.   

Too many monkeys for my comfort

Day 8



Today we were headed to the rice terrace fields. It was hot and humid, so we ditched the hike around the fields. Just took a couple of pictures and spent time souvenir shopping around the area. Then, we drove back and went to Buda bar for some snacks. Decent snacks. After this we spent some time at the pool hotel and  headed for our massage at Shambalaya. Great pick. Good experience. Then we headed for dinner, straight to Ganesha for a simple dinner of dal and rice. 
Rice fields


Day 9


Our flight was early morning so we had booked a taxi to the hotel and we were ready to go. But Bali is one of the best vacation places to go to as everything is made convenient for tourists.

Where else could you go?


  • Komodo islands for Komodo dragons. But the reviews were so bad, that we dropped the idea
  • Jakarta for urban Indonesia
  • Lombok islands 

Other pointers

Renting a scooter is the best option

  • Rent a scooter. Cab is a bad idea. Scooter will take half the time.
  • If you are booking a cab for the day, make sure you do that before you land in Bali. Drivers here are very busy so you need an advance booking.
  • Food is good here and options are plenty. 
  • While shopping, bargain, bargain, bargain. Go down to 20-30% of the asking price.
  • Uber also works here, but during rush hours, drivers cancel their rides. Its a norm. So they aren't reliable.
  • In case you are planning to book fast boats to any of the nearby islands, book them in advance too. There is a very high demand and only a limited options. We had to book our hotel reservations according to availability of the fast boats.
  • If you are planning to get massages in one of the better places, book them a couple of days in advance as these are mostly booked too.