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


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.