In October 2014 we decided to travel a little further afield than our usual holidays. Normally we choose 4 or 5 day long breaks away to destinations in Europe to escape to the sun or explore new places, searching for the cheapest deals with the best flight times to fit in a quick break into our busy lives (see my previous article, The Art Of Cheap Holidays).
This time though, we fancied doing something a bit different, and travelling somewhere more exotic, to discover new cultures, food, and climate. We knew that we’d both have a relatively quiet October work wise but then we’d struggle to go away for a reasonable number of days until after Feb next year, so we decided to squeeze a long haul destination into our available 10/11 days slot.
We considered visiting the USA mainland or the Bahamas – but due to the rather last minute nature of the trip, realised that obtaining the necessary Visa’s in time could be tricky. It was also hurricane season. We looked at India, African destinations, and exotic Indian Ocean destinations such as Mauritius and the Maldives.
Scouring skyscanner.net and the various package deal websites for several hours each evening we ruled out destinations due to the expense and complications involved with indirect flights.
My partner was set on visiting the Indonesian island of Bali. She knew several people that had been and she’d also been involved in a business idea that would have operated in Bali that hadn’t quite materialised, but could potentially re-evolve in the future – so she could excuse the trip as a necessary business trip!
However, there are no direct flights to Bali from the UK. You have to fly via either Dubai, Brunei (Borneo), Singapore, Kuala Lumpur etc – there may be more options, but these were the ones primarily coming up.
Did we have enough time in 10 days for such a long haul flight that didn’t have direct flights so involved even longer flight times and the additional complication of transfers?
I was also concerned about the weather. The peak holiday season for Bali ended in September. October/November was the start
of the rainy season. There had also been a typhoon in the ‘nearby’ area of Vietnam and Hong Kong.
However, the more research I did on Bali, the more I wanted to go. The place simply looked stunning. I found a few tripadvisor and Loney Planet blogs/forum posts and it seemed that early October weather was normally good, with temperatures around 29 degrees and the occasional shower, but generally dry.
We decided to risk it.
We found some excellent flights with Royal Brunei Airlines. Other flights we had found meant loosing additional days of work (as a contractor I don’t get paid for days off) or exceptionally long journeys involving not one but two stopover/transfers. We thought we’d found an excellent option with Malaysia Airlines; on the way out, we’d have 6 hours in Kuala Lumpur, enough time to get out and explore another country before flying onwards to Bali, and on the way back, only a very quick transfer. However, Skyscanner, as useful as it can be, had got it wrong this time – the outbound flight simply didn’t exist. The ‘real’ flight wasn’t at such a good time, and the prices had shot through the roof.
The RBA flights were correct, and showed only a 3 hour stopover in Brunei on the way in, with a total journey time of 20 hours. We figured we’d get a few hours sleep on the first leg, but still be quite tired, so that when we arrived at midnight, we’d still be ready to sleep – despite our body clocks still thinking it was 5pm (due to the 7 hour time difference).
One the way home, it would take 30 hours, due to a 10 hour stopover in Brunei. We’d actually arrive there after only a 2.5
hour flight from Bali at 10am so it was perfect to have a whole day there and explore a new country, before heading home that evening. We’d then be back at 6.25am UK time. We’d have a 14 hour flight to get as much sleep as we could so that I could actually work that day when we got back and not loose a days pay – ideal.
The Royal Brunei flights were also considerably cheaper (at £581 each for a return) than anything else, which helped matters!
We needed to hurry up and book as the flights were just over two weeks away and we still hadn’t arranged our vaccinations, which needed to be done at least two weeks before. I’d already made an appointment with the nurse but she was somewhat irritated as I’d not been able to confirm our destination yet and therefore which injections we’d need!
We booked and duly visited the nurse for the combined Diphtheria, Tetanus & Polio (DTP) and combined Typhoid and Hep A
They didn’t really hurt at the time, but my arm ached a lot for two days after from the Typhoid and Hep A vaccination; the nurse said this was due to the large volume of liquid required for that particular injection.
(Update: I recently had the Hep A booster – man that hurt, for about 5 mins – then nothing!).
The next few weeks were rather chaotic. We were in the process of planning a kitchen refit, involving knocking through a wall from the original small kitchen into the dining room. Our builder revealed that he was available whilst we were away so we decided that to avoid the noise and mess it would be ideal for him to proceed whilst we were away. We hadn’t made many important decisions though yet so had a frantic few days visiting kitchen places and DIY shops and trying to organise everything.
We hadn’t had time to plan our trip or book any hotels!
With a few days to go, and some squeezed research on lunch breaks, we managed to plan an itinerary and book the necessary hotels in the evenings.
We decided that as we were arriving at midnight and would be potentially jetlagged, to stay in the same hotel for at least two nights, in order to get a decent sleep and be able to recover. We chose Nusa Dua due to it’s approximately to the airport but relative luxury and peace, compared to the popular Kuta area, and booked a hotel via Hotels.com (through TopCashBack) at the The Wangsa Benoa.
Our plan to only get a few hours sleep on the plane and be able to sleep at the local midnight time (UK time 5pm) worked, and we slept until about 10am.
Unfortunately, we still felt like crap.
My partner had the worst of it, suffering from a splitting headache for most of the first day. I just felt extremely groggy and somewhat braindead. We took it easy and chilled by the pool, and wandered down to the beach for an explore.
The humidity, rather than the heat, was what hit us. Being close to the sea and it being around 30 degrees, the humidity was very high, and walking any distance was quite tiring. Fortunately we’d found a Tripadvisor recommended restaurant at a hotel almost opposite us so didn’t had too far to walk.
Our first impressions of Bali were good, although with Nusa Dua being more for luxury resorts (we’d picked a mid class apartment in a complex of villas with private pools; we had the shared pool but as there was no-one there had it to ourselves anyway!) I was surprised that the streets were so dirty and dusty, with lots of run down looking buildings and missing pavements. The beach also wasn’t very nice, with lots of rubbish strewn around. It may have been because we were quite far south of the main part of Nusa Dua.
However, the people were friendly and the weather good and asides from suffering from jet lag, we passed a first day reasonably well. We were shattered in the evening so just got some snacks in our room and had an early night.
Day two we felt a little better and after a quick dip in the pool and packing up, arranged a taxi to Ubud.
This is when we really experienced Bali.
Ubud is the cultural centre of Bali. The town is located in the jungle and rice paddy fields and is the central hub for art, food, writing, spiritualism and traditional music and dances.
Getting there was an experience.
Indonesia driving is an art in itself.
Drivers make their own rules, and “lane discipline” is a concept unheard of.
Driving through the busy outskirts of the capital and through Benoa and Sanur, we experienced driving techniques that would leave even a East European driver gob smacked.
And I’ve driven in Bulgaria!
Mopeds & motorbikes weaved in between traffic like fish between seaweed. Undertaking and overtaking were continuous, often into the face of oncoming traffic. How we didn’t witness several deaths I don’t know. Mopeds would swerve into whatever gaps they could, whether they were on their side of the road or not. At busy junctions, to avoid the queues, mopeds would go into the oncoming traffic’s lane to get by the slower/queued traffic.
Traffic lights? Mostly ignored.
Lanes for left and right turners only? Used by everyone.
I even saw riders/drivers using right hand turn only lanes to get
past stationary traffic and then swing in front of them to turn left!
We asked our driver why several drivers often had their hazard lights on. He told us that he personally would only use them for when there was a problem, but he figured that people used them when they didn’t want to go left or right, but straight on. Even he agreed that this was flawed, as anyone approaching from the side could only see the one light and assume that the driver was turning one way.
Not that anyone took any notice of indicators.
The horn system seemed to work well. The locals honk their horns – lightly, and not aggressively and loudly like in the UK – to mean many different things, such as “I’m coming through”, “watch out”, “I’m undertaking you”, “I’ve acknowledged you undertaking me”, “move please”, “I’m coming round a tight blind corner”, “I’m overtaking on a blind corner” etc etc.
There’s a continuous rhythm of honks and pips.
After almost two hours, we finally reached Ubud. The narrow streets being so full of traffic in Bali means that getting a relatively short distance can take a considerable amount of time.
After a little back tracking, our driver finally found our villa, off a dusty side road. Thankfully – Ubud itself was far too loud with the main road running through it and all the moped and vehicle noise and horns.
The villa was beautiful (Lodtunduh Sari Retreat – booked through Agoda as recommended by a colleague and via TopCashBack) –
set in the ride paddies with great views. The staff were very friendly and helpful. Our room was simple but comfortable, with a mosquito net around the bed. Our bathroom was open to the sky.
We finally felt like we were actually in Bali.