Upon arrival in Denpasar, our languid bodies were met by a barrage of screaming men. Taxi drivers in matching blue shirts inundated us with offers, although to say the word ‘offer’ would imply they were being polite. We were accosted, having our personal space well and truly invaded and being forced to raise our voices to beg them to leave us alone. Which was futile anyway. Their forceful approach was exacerbated when we mentioned that we had booked an Uber – something that truly aggravated them. Uber was going to charge us 30,000 IDR whereas they were asking for a downright ridiculous 200,000 IDR; even price aside there was no way in hell I would feel comfortable getting in the car of any of the men who importuned us, nor give them my money after the way we were hassled. Uber is actually banned from the airport so you will need to arrange a pick-up outside otherwise you’ll end up going in circles for 45 minutes like us and our poor taxi driver. If you can’t get an Uber try Grab Taxi, which is South East Asia’s answer to Uber. Just be wary of the taxi drivers as they are known to physically attack uber drivers as you’ll find out in my Malaysia blog post later; if anyone asks, say you’re being picked up by a friend, or driver and do them a favour by always sitting in the front.
For the two nights we were in Kuta we stayed in a guesthouse called Warung Coco. The place is spacious, with a number of ground level twin-bedrooms surrounding the large and well-kept pool. It was perfectly adequate for our needs (minus bad wifi, but that goes without saying) and felt more like being on a budget holiday than something we found on Hostelworld. Probably because for once we weren’t sleeping in bunk beds. After our rather large night in Singapore and our late morning flight, Amy and I immediately conked out on our beds, fully clothed. We were woken up by the chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ from Andrea and her friend Liam, who was joining us for a week. After some card and present opening we all got showered and dressed for dinner. Amy had picked the Gourmet Sate House which was #1 on trip advisor. The food was pretty good and a nice introduction to Indonesian cuisine. For about 36,000 IDR you can get six satay sticks with rice; the portions aren’t huge, but they’re deceivingly filling.
The next day was spent sleeping and sunbathing, fully falling for the holiday feel of the guesthouse. In the evening we went to the well-known SkyGarden for dinner and drinks. Every night they do an all you can eat and drink deal between 5pm and 9pm for 115,000 IDR so it’s no wonder it’s a popular tourist hangout. Although the place felt half-way between Oceana and what I imagine a tacky Las Vegas joint to look like, the food was surprisingly decent. The problem of course with eating all you can (literally) that early on in the evening is you end up feeling lethargic, not stable enough to throw your best shapes and like it’s gone 3am when it’s actually only quarter past ten. The other issue is the imperious and insolent meat-head Aussies – quite clearly on steroids – that think it’s acceptable to grab a girl and then start a fist-fight when she politely declines his presumptuous advance. Not cool Kuta, not cool.
Keen to experience the multiple sides of Southern Bali, we moved to equally popular Seminyak for a following two nights. We were joined by Mel, another of Andrea’s friends who had come for a weeks holiday as well. Mel had treated Andrea to a fancy hotel for her birthday, so they headed there whilst we checked ourselves into M Boutique Hostel. There we met Sophie, who stayed with us for the rest of our time in Indonesia. We had made quite a habit of picking up lone male travellers in South America, but what with Freya in the Philippines and now Sophie, South East Asia seems to be all about the girls! M Boutique has a cool separate pod system in the dorms and a lengthy pool with bean bags, but unfortunately once again, it was hugely let down by the clientele. We asked one guy what was good to do in Seminyak and he just listed us all the top clubbing spots. Maybe I’m just being boring, but I don’t get why you’d publicly brag about drinking a Smirnoff Ice at midday (yes that did happen, and unfortunately she was English). We wandered down our street, which seemed mostly to be restaurants and cafes sat amongst building sites. We later discovered more built up and finished areas in Seminyak, that ours was perhaps aspiring to be like one day. The whole place just seemed completely bereft of any character or charm; Bali really hadn’t won me over, if you couldn’t tell. At least not just yet…
In the evening we headed to another famous hangout called Potato Head. It’s a really lovely open air space, and a fantastic place to watch the sunset, but don’t bother planning a night there unless you have a chunky wallet. At 120-150,000 IDR for a cocktail, we snapped the menu shut almost immediately. Failed meet up plans with the others meant we sneaked out after an hour or so of waiting and not drinking, hoping no one would spot the cheapskates there for the free sunset. We ended up catching up with the others near to their hotel where we eat some dinner and then headed for a drink at Favela. We went on a Sunday so it was quieter than usual, but it’s clearly a cool bar with captivating decor – somewhere between British pub, Asian jungle and Spanish courtyard. Again, this is a tourist hotspot so prices are higher than a budget traveller would like. In the morning Amy, Sophie and I went for a totally pretentious breakfast (Seminyak is good for that) at the popular Cafe Organic. I had coconut chia seed pudding with blueberries and granola, washed down with a bulletproof coffee (black coffee with coconut oil if you’re interested). And yes, I did take a totally Instagram-esque photo #veganlife #justkiddingilovebacon
We then briskly walked back to our hostel to catch our 10am transfer to Gili Trawangan island. Gili T is the larger of three islands located between Bali and the NW coast of Lombok. Most places sell transfers to the islands for 250,000 IDR one way, including hostel pick up, transport to the port and the fast boat ticket to the islands; we booked ours through our hostel. I say ‘fast’ boat, but be prepared that getting there will take the majority of your day because as ever there is a lot of waiting around. We arrived at the port by 12pm, but didn’t get on a boat until gone 2.30pm. From there the boat takes about 1.5 hrs, dropping off at Lombok, Gili A and Gili M before arriving at Gili T. It’s not comfortable, and it’s hot, so bring something to fan yourself with and something to keep your spirits high.
Luckily the Gili islands are paradise and more than worth the long-winded transfer. There are no cars on the islands, just bikes and horse and carts. Gili T is so small that absolutely everything can be reached on foot and you can circumnavigate the island in just a couple of hours. Each island has something totally to offer so whether you’re looking to party on the beach until the sunrises or not have another soul in the close vicinity then your wish can most certainly be granted.
One activity on my travelling bucket list was to give scuba diving a go. I had considered doing my PADI in Koh Tao, Thailand, where it is renowned for being incredibly cheap, but I wasn’t even sure if I would go there on my trip and I was reluctant to do a course on something I wasn’t even sure I’d enjoy. So I came to the conclusion I would try a discovery dive on Gili T and decide from there. Mel and Sophie are both advanced divers so they were also keen, and it wasn’t long before we convinced the others to join us on the discovery dive. There is regulated fixed pricing on the islands so there’s no need to shop around other than to find a company that looks suitable for you. I had been recommended Manta Dive and also come across Blue Marlin Dive during my research. We picked the latter simply because it was the first one we came across, and I later found out it’s also the oldest on the island and one of the best technical diving schools in the world. The discovery dive costs 900,000 IDR (though we got 10% off for being a larger group – don’t ask you don’t get situation, so give it a go!) and lasts half a day – the first half of the morning in the pool learning skills and getting comfortable with the equipment and the second half on the dive down to 12 metres. It was absolutely incredible and after seeing some turtles and a quick flash of shark eyes within a dark cave I was totally sold and eager for more!
As the clock strikes 6pm there’s only one place you should be on the island, and that’s at the food market. That being said, the sun sets on the other side of the island so you may have to miss it just once! Centrally located, this relatively small area becomes alive with hungry people grasping Bintangs, smokey BBQ aromas and lots and lots of cats. Most stalls sell a range of about 15 salad items (usually choose about 5 for 20 IDR) and an array of fish and kebabs of all types of meat and seafood (10-20 IDR a skewer depending on size, whole fish obviously a bit more). When you’re in a place like this don’t even bother with the meat, but do turn your attention to the tuna, the red snapper, the squid and all the other glorious things on offer! The fish is so fresh and flavoursome it’s almost indescribable. The peanut sauce and prawn crackers they all offer as complimentary is well worth piling onto your plate too. Ah man, that tuna.
Mel, Liam and Andrea were to head back to Bali for their respective flights, so for their last night with us we walked to the other side of the island to watch the sun set and hunt down the famous Gili swing. It takes about 20-25 minutes to walk from the centre, and there are about three fairly well trodden ways to get there- just check your Google Maps to pick the best one from your location. As it turns out, there’s numerous swings on the beach, presumably put in place after the popularity of the Ombok Sunset Swing. At least it eases congestion, as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s a tourist hot spot! Seeing how high the tide was and not having a bikini on, Amy, Sophie and I decided we would wait until the following evening to take our photos. We had dinner on the beach at Sunset Beach and sipped on ginger mojitos. We managed to get 10% off the bill again by playing the broke traveller/charming girl card – another don’t ask, you don’t get situation!
By this point I had decided that I would get my PADI qualification on the island. I did the calculations and once I added in travel to get to Koh Tao and the additional cost of my discovery dive again there wasn’t really much in it (Blue Marlin Dive would allow me to convert my DSD and subtract the amount already paid from the total PADI cost which I would otherwise have to do again in Koh Tao or elsewhere). I couldn’t be sure I’d head to Koh Tao at all, and if I acquired it whilst I was there then then I would be able to dive for the rest of my trip should the opportunity arise. If those weren’t reasons enough, it’s meant to be some of the world’s best diving on the Gili’s, so why the hell not? The PADI costs 5,500,000 IDR in total… not even slightly in the budget, but I’ll have that certification forever now!
For their last day on the island we wanted to try our hand at paddle board yoga, but starting at 8am and coming in at 250,000 IDR we decided to scrap that plan. Although it would inevitably have been hilarious, we opted for a rather more modest 90,000 IDR snorkelling trip, although part of me wishes I’d just paid that bit more and tried something new. The snorkelling trip took us to about four different snorkelling spots and stopped for lunch (not included) on Gili A at a terribly run beach cafe. Snorkelling there certainly is decent, but it you’re doing any diving on the Gili’s then I really wouldn’t bother. What you see is less exciting and some of the areas are incredibly overcrowded.
We waved them off around 3pm and then Sophie and I power walked to the beach for a spot of sunset yoga. We arranged it at The Yoga Place and were part of a group of five, costing 100,000 IDR each for one hour. So tight and increasingly out of shape it was ALOT harder than I had imagined, although it definitely felt good to stretch everything out. I forgot, once again, how much I despise sand so I can safely say I’ll be keeping any yoga away from the beach next time. With the sun setting, we scrabbled over the impossible coral covered beach towards Ombok Sunset to meet Amy, only to find the famous swing torn down! Debris everywhere, there was a ‘doing maintenance, sorry for the inconvenience’ sign. Just our luck to delay 24hrs only to find it then gone! As aforementioned, there are a number of other swings, so we continued down the beach and found a less grandiose swing so we could become another clichéd traveller with THAT silhouette shot! Sorry not sorry.
Love, Lottie xx