Tuesday 10 July 2018

Memories of Indonesia

I'm not long back from a two and a half week trip around Indonesia, and boy what a whirlwind it was. The country is huge and we did our very best to see as much as possible, but now I'm yearning to return and see even more. Whilst we did travel around a lot, I found the trip pretty relaxing compared to our previous holidays, especially as the heat forces you to slow down. Island hopping isn't the most demanding of activities and save for a few treks and early starts I didn't return home feeling exhausted, which is quite often the case with the type of holidays I plan.

Indonesia has always been a place I've wanted to visited. When I went travelling around SE Asia in 2010 we planned to visit Bali but ended up visiting Malaysian Borneo instead. At the time I told myself I was more likely to visit Bali again, than I was Borneo, and I guess that thinking paid off. However, the country was never top of my travel wish list because Bali became less of an interest to me the older I got. However, rewind two year, and my baby sister ended up moving to Bali of all places, which brings me to this year's choice of holiday destination. I don't know how long Helen will be there but it made sense to visit and see the place through the eyes of a local. For the grand total of 3 seconds I thought we'd just do a two week holiday to Bali. I then reminded myself that I hate the beach, Indonesia is huge, and I've always wanted to see Komodo dragons, so our whistle stop tour of the country was born. I did a search online for suggested two week itineraries and modified them accordingly to create our perfect trip, and I think I did a pretty great job.

1. The Bali food scene

Normally I am very much a 'local food only' type of holiday person. But my strict mantra went flying out off the window on this trip and I have absolutely no regrets. Before arriving in Bali I knew the food scene was going to be good. I'd heard countless tales about the incredible Australian style brunches, the delights of suckling pig (a Bali delicacy), and the famous Jimbaran fish market. And in all honesty, my expectations were exceeded.

The brunch scene is bonkers, especially in Canggu the town we were staying in. Aussie owned all-day cafes line the streets serving wonderful assortments of eggs, smoothie bowls, and exotic juices. The concoctions are beautiful but it's definitely not a case of style over substance as everything tastes as fantastic as it looks. Indonesian food for the most part is casual affair and food vendors, known as warungs, line the streets. The offerings are cheap and tasty and each stall usually specialises in one thing. Being a country of islands fresh fish is a real staple of the Indonesia diet. One evening we visited the Jimbaran fish market where you pick your raw fish and take it to a restaurant on the beach where they cook it up for you. This meal was one of the most memorable of the holiday, mainly because we accidentally bought an absurd amount of fish, but also because it was an amazing, and delicious experience.

2. Exploring Bali

First thing you need to know about Bali is that it's a huge island with so much to see. Unless you live there for an extended time it's impossible to see it all during a short holiday, but that doesn't mean it's not worth trying. During our time in Bali we visited several different regions, from the beautiful beaches in the Bukit Peninsula in the south of the island, to the stunning rice terraces outside of Ubud in the middle of the island, and the tranquil island of Nusa Lemongan. Bali is a huge, diverse island and there are so many different landscapes to explore. Had we spent more time in Bali we could have visited the volcanoes, waterfalls, and world class surfing sports. Alas, four days is not nearly enough to see it all, but we did our best. We based ourselves in Canggu, which is where my sister lives, and it was perfectly located to visit everywhere via a day trip. Bali is the sort of place where you can have many a different a style of holiday. From a tranquil honeymoon, a group party holiday, a cultural retreat, or a surfing paradise, Bali has it all.

3. Volcano trekking

After our four days in Bali we travelled to East Java to explore two of the countries most famous volcanoes, Mt Bromo and Mt Ijen. Our two-night, three-day volcano excursion was certainly memorable and in such a short space of time we experienced the very best and very worst moments of our Indonesia holiday. Our trek to Bromo was an incredible experience. We watched the sun rise over the volcano from a nearby peak, before driving through the sea of sand and hiking to the crater rim to stare into the rumbling centre. It was an amazing, yet terrifying sight to behold. The next morning we hiked for a gruelling two ours to the crater of Ijen where we saw the world's largest sulphuric acid lake. The views weren't really worth the horrendous hike but at least we can look back and laugh about the experience now.

4. Relaxing in Lombok

Lombok was the next stop on our trip and most definitely one of my favourites. The island is a 30 minute plane ride from Bali and whilst it's a similar size it's a lot less developed, which means less people, less traffic, and more beauty. We had a couple of days to explore the beaches in the south of the island and whilst we didn't get to visit the waterfalls and volcano in the north like we had planned to, we still had a wonderful and relaxing time. Unlike Bali, the beaches here are safe for swimming and extremely picturesque.

5. Island life

The Gili islands were our next port of call. Situated on Lombok's north-west coast, this tiny trio of islands are famous the world over for their idyllic location, minuscule size, and good times vibe. Gili Trawangan is the largest and most famous of the islands due to it's party reputation. Of the three islands it is located the furthest from the Lombok coast but it still only a 20 minute journey away via the high speed boat. Gili Meno is situated in the middle of the trio and is the smallest island. It's referred to as the honeymoon island due to it's small size and relaxed nature. Gili Air, which is where we stayed, is only a five minute boat ride from the coast and is the perfect mix of the other two. There isn't a huge party vibe but there's enough going on to allow you to have a good time. During the few days we spent here we had a chance to visit all three islands. We snorkelled in the crystal clear waters, swam with turtles, explored the islands on clunky old bikes, and had an opportunity to relax and recuperate, it was a truly blissful couple of days.

6. Flying over Indonesia

Indonesia is the country of a thousand islands and unless you have an extended time to travel between them via the boat, the most efficient way to travel around the country is by internal flights. We did a lot of internal flights but fortunately all of them were under an hour long. The short journey time meant the planes never flew that high so you could easily see the magnificent views of Indonesia from the sky. Spotting the tiny clusters of islands we had just visited, from dozens of the 139 volcanoes that line the country was an impressive site. You could see many of the craters poking out above the clouds, they looked vast from thousands of feet high I can't even imagine what they must look like on ground level.

7. Visiting the Komodo dragons

How can you even consider visiting Indonesia without checking out the largest living lizards in the entire world. After Lombok we flew to Flores and based ourselves in Labuan Bajo for a few days. Our first post of call was to visit Komodo National Park so we could see the beasts up close. We weren't expecting a 6am start, or a four hour boat ride, but nevertheless it was an incredible day. We hiked around Komodo Island with a park ranger and saw quite a few baby and adult Komodo dragons enjoying a midday snooze. The dragons are most active in the morning and late afternoon which works out well as most tourists reach the island around midday. We were all a little scared, especially when one of the big male dragons started to move around, but it made the experience all the more enjoyable. Without a doubt this trip was one of the most spectacular outings on the entire trip.

8. Borobudur temple, a Buddhist masterpiece

My family all joke that I'm obsessed with temples, and I guess they aren't wrong. Some of my favourite holiday memories have included these incredible places of worship. Whether its the temples of Angkor in Cambodia, the temples of Bagan in Myanmar, and more recently the temples in Kyoto, Japan. Borobudur in Central Java is quite possibly one of my favourite temple visits to date and despite delayed flights, cancelled flights, and the horrendous Indonesian sun beating down on us, I am so glad we had the chance to visit this magnificent place. Not only is Borobudur the largest Buddhist temple in the world, but the structure is like nothing I've seen before. The nine stacked platforms are covered with intricate carvings and Buddha statutes. Once you climb to the top you'll be greeted by 72 stupas and an incredible view over the luscious green Indonesia landscape. What made this experience so special for us was the fact the temple was almost deserted save for a handful of people. Usually the temple is a busy place but for whatever reason we managed to catch a quiet day which allowed us to visit uninterpreted. If you've ever been to the temples of Angkor you'll know how busy these places can get, so busy that it almost ruins the experience. But not on this day and I am eternally grateful for that.

9. Colonial era Jakarta

The last stop on our whirlwind trip was Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, and without a doubt the most developed city by a long shot. We had less than 24 hours in the city which was just about enough time to see the highlights, although I wouldn't have minded an extra day. The city is sprawling, smoggy, and completely chaotic. I can't say I loved it but I did enjoy spending a few hours in the colonial old town of Batavia. Indonesia is a former Dutch colony and this small area, north of the city centre, is the best place to experience how the city must have felt during this era. The little buildings that line the streets and Krukut river will transport you right back to Amsterdam, whilst the Fatahillas square will remind you of many a European old town square. The atmosphere is buzzing and it's the perfect retreat away from the shopping malls and nondescript skyscrapers the rest of the city has to offer.

10. Hanging out with my squad

The very best thing about our entire trip was hanging out with my travelling gang. When it comes to travel Steve and I are very happy to deal with our own company but this trip was never going to be that. We were visiting Helen, and her boyfriend, and my sister Sarah who was also living in Bali during our visit. With a group of already five people I set about inviting some friends. Lily and her boyfriend joined us for the Bali leg, and Steph joined us from Japan for everything post Bali, and we had the best of time. We laughed, and sang, and took the piss out of each other everyday for two and a half weeks, and it was perfect. I love travelling with just Steve but there's something about travelling with friends which urges you to have more fun. I couldn't do it for every trip but somewhere like Indonesia, where life is slow paced and chilled out, made travelling with a big gang completely and utterly wild. When it was time to head back home I wasn't sad to say goodbye to Indonesia but I was devastated to say goodbye to my friends and sisters. I'll see you all soon!

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  1. I absolutely adored following this trip on Insta - Indonesia has never been high on my list of places to visit... mainly because growing up in NZ, I've alway associated with raging beach parties and plenty of Aussies crowding the place haha!

  2. Love this post! We had the best time in Bali and it was so great to be able to catch-up on the other side of the world! x

  3. I've wanted to visit Bali for SO long, but I've never really been that interested in the rest of Indonesia... until now! It looks SO amazing! Those temples and the other smaller islands (and all the food too). I need to get myself over there asap ahha!
    It looks like you had an amazing two weeks there - I don't know how you managed to fit so much in!
    xo April | April Everyday

  4. Fantastic piece han, I would do the whole trip again in a flash! Will have to plan another trip for 2020 for the rest on Indo! :D Bali misses you xxx

  5. Such a amazing photos and beautiful place to visit I love Bali, wish you had a great trip XOX

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