Day 18: M&Ms love durian too!

Day 18: M&Ms love durian too!

Singapore, the last leg on our whirlwind trip through SEA (and Indonesia). When originally planning our trip, we were a bit over-zealous, and tried to squeeze in as many places as possible. Could’ve used the extra day in Bali, obviously, but, since our return flight was out of Singapore, we thought it might be cool to spend a bit of time in the city.

Drew likes to plan travel details (tickets, accommodations, etc) in advance–he gets excited over these things–whereas I tend to have a loose idea, a skeleton of a plan, if you will. I assume the details will just work themselves out as we go. There is value to both approaches, but also downfalls.

We had a hotel already booked in Singapore (as we did everywhere else we’d been). I found it on TripAdvisor, sent the link to Drew, and he booked it. Here’s where a system of checks and balances would’ve come in handy. The hotel was in Malaysia, ie: not the same country! Lucky for us, we caught the oversight before leaving Bali, and made new arrangements, with the guidance of TripAdvisor, once again. Only criteria: must be close-ish to airport, mass transit, cool neighborhoods, restaurants, downtown, under $100, and include breakfast. We are not at all hard-to-please.

Insert Kam Leng Hotel, along Jalan Besar (close to Little India). At first glance, it looked a little shabby on the outside–old, chipped paint, faded letters, and blinking lights around the sign.

There are no accidents though, I tell you. Such a cool hotel! Turns out, it was a highly-regarded place  in the late 1930’s, attracting international movers and shakers. It’s recently reopened as a boutique hotel, still maintaining its integrity and rustic, vintage charm. Shabby chic, for lack of a better term. Also, according to blogs and other “best-of” lists, the hotel’s diner, Suprette, is popular with the hipster crowd–if this resonates at all with you.  I imagine a place like this would be a big hit in Brooklyn, but probably come with snobbery and a much heftier price tag.  If Singapore is in your plans anytime soon, seriously check out Kam Leng Hotel. Don’t expect luxury, but if you have an eye for the offbeat, you’ll love it.

Another bonus, it was directly across the street from one of Singapore’s many 24 hour hawker centers–basically, a giant outdoor food court with various regional Asian cuisine. I’ve been on a bimbimbap kick of late, and was able to score some for a great price. Again, I guess you can compare this style of dining to the food truck craze back in the states. Less gourmet and innovative probably, but more authentic–no frills, generous portions, and completely satisfying. Why fix what ain’t broke?

Anyway, we explored Singapore in the best way we would, considering we only had a day, and sightseeing by foot isn’t exactly in Drew’s best interest right now. I knew I wanted to check out Tiong Bahru, a cool neighborhood in Singapore (also home of the city’s oldest public housing projects). Lots of good coffee to be had in this hood, along with a cool independent bookstore and many overpriced homegoods boutiques. (Hi, Park Slope). Scored a cool compilation of short stories by Singaporeans who’ve undergone neighborhood shifts–should be a good read.

Though the plan was to avoid walking as much as possible (the SMRT transit system helps), we probably clocked a few miles before we realized Drew should be resting. We found free Wifi, hung out at a coffee shop, then headed to Raffles Place, the area downtown within close proximity to the Marina Sands Bay resort, the Merlion statue, and one of the city’s many malls. When in Singapore in rainy weather with a gimp-footed husband: watch Guardians of the Galaxy (Drew) and kill lots of time in Muji (Lauren).

We were able to see some of the evening laser light show, but probably should’ve been on the other side of the bay near the Merlion for a better view. Anticlimactic, as Drew puts it. The skyline is pretty at night, albeit nondescript, in my opinion, save for the iconic Marina Sands.

After another trip to the food court, we made it safely to Changi Airport, home of the durian-eating M&Ms, and killed a good 5 1/2 hours before our 2:30 am flight back to the US.

Here is my parting thought as we left Singapore for the airport: It’s a cool, clean, and modern young city. I couldn’t shake the idea it seemed fictitious, like the city in the movie ‘Her’–it could be any big city anywhere in the world. Everywhere we went, we were surrounded with people, though very little noise. People talk in hushed-tones. Children are well-behaved. There are no dancers and idling crowds in the train stations. Portable electronics everywhere.

As frustrating as the chaos can be in New York City, I appreciate the energy and vibrancy of it. I am sure Singapore has all of this–it’s incredibly diverse–I just didn’t get a good enough feel for the place in such a short amount of time, along with being limited in our activities.

As they say, everything good must come to an end. Or, on a more positive note, all’s well that ends well. The last and final stop on this train: Galveston, Texas, where we undergo wedding numero dos, city hall style, and celebrate with family.

Thanks for indulging us in our little blog experiment–we plan to expand it out further as we continue to travel and collect adventures and memories.

*Turns out, Sea Gypsy Village is at capacity. But rest-assured, I’ll keep looking for my ‘in.’

Day 17: Good-bye to Bali

Day 17: Good-bye to Bali

Bali is a great place. Both Lauren and I can agree that our time here was far too short. There is so much to see and do here and we were woefully unprepared to do most of it. Given that today is our last day, and at this point I’m simply trying to stay of of my ankle, there really isn’t a ton to report. So instead, lets talk about Bali itself.

You can tell immediately that Bali is a very different place than anywhere else we’ve visited. The roots of the culture of Bali are very engrained here and permeate most of what you see. Temples are everywhere, seriously. Every town has dozens if not hundreds of them. All of various sizes, from small single family temples, to village temples, all the way to the largest and most sacred ones, where you must either wear long pants or a sarong, in order to enter.

You can tell that the people here are proud of their heritage, and want to hold onto it as tightly as possible. That is one of the things that makes this such a cool place.

Unfortunately, you can also see the effects that tourism has had on this place, for the good and the bad. The people here welcome it, because it brings such a large influx of money. Bali itself is a relatively poor piece of Indonesia. The salaries are low and the prices are only going up. You can definitely see that this is a double-edged sword, but overall, this is perhaps one of the friendliest, most welcoming places we’ve visited.

I especially like how organic the new and old are blending together. Aside from all of the newer resorts, most of the towns we have visited are built around the villages that make them up. Those villages are the ones building businesses to respond to tourism, and they’re doing so not by not tearing everything down and building gigantic cities, but by adding to what is already there. I hope that they’re able to keep it this way, as doing this is what keeps Bali special.

If Lauren has anything to say about it, I know we’ll be back at some point. Hopefully for a longer stay, where we can get to enjoy more of this place, and see the hundreds of things we simply didn’t have the time to see.

Goodbye for now Bali. See you again.

One last whirlwind stop to Singapore, coming right up.

 *Lauren here. Just wanted to quickly point out the fact that everyone leaving the airport has been Bali-fied, including yours truly. I will never wear fitted clothing EVER AGAIN. 

Day 16: Eat, Shop, Eat

Day 16: Eat, Shop, Eat

Ubud (pronounced oooobud), located in central Bali, was top of my list of must-sees. (Truthfully, not having much time here,the list isn’t as long as I would have liked). The “Eat, Pray, Love” epidemic has caused this town to blow up within the past several years, though it’s been more quietly popular amongst westerners and locals alike for decades. You’d think the Balinese might bemoan the likes of a place like this–much like we do the turning of neighborhoods in the United States, but, as seems to be the way here, they speak of Ubud and the rest of the island with great pride and reverence.

I wanted to know what all the hype was about. I pictured a more tropical Hudson Valley in my head–very zen, peaceful, and overwhelmingly natural. 

For those of you planning a holiday in Bali, actually come with a plan! Or, don’t, as we mostly didn’t. But, do be prepared to hire a personal driver to show you around for a day, as there really isn’t any other way to get around when you’re traveling further north. Before you think to yourself “Lauren and Drew are such diva stars,” it turns out or experience with our driver, Wayan Balik, was one of the best from our days here in Bali. 

Because we didn’t arrange a ride in advance, we stayed up the night before, mass-emailing companies with names like “SuperBaliDriver” and “BestBaliDriver,” willing to accept any ride that didn’t involve too extreme of price-gouging. As fate would have it, Wayan from Bali Ari Tour was quick to respond, available, and reasonably priced. He is from a small village in Ubud, and is familiar with the surrounding area.

Wayan arrived at our hotel at 8:00 am. I liked him right away, as he had a nice smile and happy laugh (pretty common here, I’ve noticed). We explained that we’d like to go to Monkey Forest, see some temples, and do some shopping, but had no real agenda otherwise. Apparently, westerners usually prepare a full itenerary, so I think Wayan was pleasantly surprised by our lack of structure (I’m a Key, and come by this honestly).

On the long-ish drive to Ubud, we chatted and compared cultural norms and societal issues. Seems here in Bali the government is kinda corrupt (where is it not). The natural, wild and exotic allure of Bali is rapidly being replaced by concrete and structure–think large upscale resorts and major coffee chains. Yes, this provides the locals with more job opportunities, but at what cost? Seems this is a universal dilemma with development. While the notion of progress is a good and hopeful one, how do we justify destroying pristine beaches and rice paddies, affordable housing, mom and pop shops, to make room for yet another Starbucks (designed to look like a temple, at that)?

OK, Key’s off her soapbox. I want to get back to our time with Wayan. One quality I admire most in people is the ability to make you feel special and unique, as though you are the exact person the other wants to be spending time with. This man was providing a service–one we were paying for–but somehow we still felt like being stuck in traffic with two tourists was EXACTLY how Wayan wanted to be spending his day. *It should be mentioned here that my dad is also very good at this, probably why he is so successful in his baseball lessons, but I digress.)

Because we were pretty flexible with time (we just needed to be back in time to see the sunset on the beach), Wayan took us on a detour to his family’s compound. Here, we saw his uncle’s pregnant pig, some carefree chickens, his mother roasting coffee beans (supposedly the best around), and Wayan’s wife doing daily chores. We chatted over coffee, and he explained things such as the division of houses in Hindu culture (head, body and legs). 

During this time, I felt truly happy–it’s great to catch yourself in the moment and realize nothing can be better than exactly what you’re doing. I’m thankful for this memory.

Wayan offered to let us stay the night (for free!) in the spare room, then extended the offer for a permanent residence! I didn’t let impulsivity get the best of me this time, but don’t think it didn’t cross my mind! 

Ubud was cool and special in the way I expected it to be. Lots of unique shops, galleries, and restaurants, tucked amongst lush vegetation and ancient temples. We were surprised by the pace though–New York City on a smaller scale, as Drew puts it. Monkey Forest was indeed full of monkeys, as to be expected. Some were cute, some nasty, and many FEARLESS. I quite enjoyed when a baby outstretched his hand, but not so much when one bit my finger and another scaled my back. In short, they were great to see, but I’m still on the fence about wild monkeys. Quick aside: when monkeys are given fruit with peels, they take the time to peel it and discard the peel. Pretty incredible!

After more shopping and temple-peeping, we made the drive back south towards Nusa Dua. Because we didn’t get the chance to try suckling pig, or,  babi guling, Wayan took us to his personal favorite– a local spot with great prices. In other words, a second lunch happened (the first being at Cafe Lotus overlooking the lotus pond and Pura Taram Saraswati). So worth it!

Though we expected to watch the sunset on Kuta Beach, Wayan promised Jimbaran was a better spot, and the man wasn’t lying. We sat and watched life unfold–throngs of football players, kite fliers, surfers, and families enjoying the last of the afternoon sun. It was one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Leaving Bali is going to be hard. It’s special. You can see it in the people and feel it in the air. When we were leaving Kula Lumpur, both the AirAsia attendants and immigration gave us a knowing smile when they learned of our next destination. “Ahhh, Bali,” one said.

Maybe it’s the islander in me, but the vibe here is comforting and familiar. It’s easy to see why people stay forever.

Day 15: Drew vs The Volcano

Day 15: Drew vs The Volcano

It started like any other morning. Wake up at 1:06am, get dressed, stumble down to the lobby of the hotel and wait for your driver to pick you up at 1:40am. Our goal on this morning, head up to Mt. Batur–which is about 2 hours north–meet with our guide, and head up to the peak and watch the sunrise. Just another normal day.

The ride itself was uneventful. Lauren and I slept most of the way, as I suppose that is what you do in the wee hours of the morning. As we approached our destination, it became harder and harder to sleep however, as the roads became worse and worse. 

We reached our destinations and were immediately greeted by our guide (Jallowar) and a 12-year old, whose name I unfortunately cannot remember, who apparently treks up the mountain daily to sell bottles of Coke to tourists such as ourselves. We were handed a few water bottles by our driver, head lamps to put on and without much ado, we were off.

Now, before I get started talking about this trek, I should add a little backstory. First off, this trek is something that hundreds of people do everyday. People come to Bali specifically with this climb in mind, so there is really nothing out of the ordinary about heading up this mountain. Well, aside from the fact that Mt Batur is actually an active volcano; well, not too active, as it last erupted in 1968. When you look up Mt Batur in Wikipedia it calls the trek up to the summit “straightforward.” So this isn’t a dangerous or even overly arduous task. 

Most people that come here to trek this actually come prepared to do so, Lauren and I are special in that we decided to do so the evening before. Which means, we didn’t come prepared with the proper shoes or really clothing. We came to Bali expecting beaches and sun, not freezing temperatures, volcanic ash and frozen lava flows. Lauren of course being a trooper was able to just strap on her minimal running shoes and go. I however, had to be a big baby about it and insist we spend the evening before going out looking for shoes I could wear. Not a fun task, given that the average foot size for men in this area of the world is around a US 10, whereas I wear a size 13-14, depending on the shoe. Luckily, we found a nice Taksi driver who was able to point us in the direction of a “shoe warehouse” type place that had thousands of pairs of discounted shoes. 3 of them were 13s. At least I didn’t have to fall prey to the paradox of choice on this one.

So, this brings us back to the morning. Everything that we’ve read has told us that the trek is relatively easy, the summit is the coldest place many people have been, to wear good shoes, and that the views are amazing.

The trek begins through a trail in a forest. The incline at this point is relatively gradual and the biggest danger is tripping on a stray tree root if you’re not paying attention. We move relatively quickly and about 1/6 of the way, we reach a small temple. Our guide has us stop and take a water break while he prays and provides an offering (this is something that appears to be very much ingrained in the culture of the Balinese people). Within a few minutes we’re off again.

The trail gradually increase in its incline, but never to a point where you’re doing anything where you’re climbing anything higher that a rock that is knee high. It really is something that just about anyone can do, without any technical skill. 

We kept a quick pace, as the woods gave way to more of a rocky area about halfway up. We stopped relatively frequently, taking water breaks every 15 minutes or so. There were definitely other trekkers around us, who we ran into frequently, but always seemed to stay ahead of, as we were maintaining a fairly brisk pace, punctuated by increasing frequent breaks. Until at one point, I think our guide sensing I needed a break had us stop and turn around to see the view. It was still quite dark, far too dark for pictures, but what we saw was amazing. There is another taller mountain not too far away, and a lake sitting in between. You could see the lights of the villages below. It was beautiful.

Within no time, we found ourselves closer and closer to the summit. As we got higher, we began to hear people that were already at the top, which was explained to us, that some people begin as early as midnight, especially the locals.

At the top was a small structure, with some seating, along with a few benches around the edges to site on. Throughout the whole trek, we went from wearing jackets, expecting it to be cold, to taking those off and stowing them away, thanks to us sweating from the heat. By the time we reached the top, we were wondering why people said it was cold. You don’t really understand until you get up there though, just how cold the winds can be at that altitude. It never gets cold enough to snow or form ice, but it is bone chilling, especially if you are under prepared as we were. I guess a light Nike spring jacket isn’t enough protection from the wind. Who knew?

The trek itself took about 2 hours to the top. We arrived about 1 1/2 hours before sunrise, so we had some time to kill. Part of these treks is that they provide you with coffee, tea, and breakfast at the top. The breakfast consisted of banana sandwiches, soft-boiled eggs (cooked on a steam vent from the volcano), fruit, and chocolate bars. Not our usual fare, but far more than I think either of us expected at the top of the climb.

It was interesting watching everyone else reach the top (we were if not the first, one of the first). Most people had big jackets on, packs with food and water, a change of clothes, to get out of their sweaty ones, trekking boots, poles to walk with. Basically all sorts of stuff we didn’t bring, because as usual, we sort of just jumped in. So we huddled the best we could, and waited for the sunrise.

Just to be clear here, for once, I think I was the more cold of the two of us. Usually Lauren is the first one to complain about being cold, but in this case, I was the more frigid of the two of us. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that she had a real windbreaker as her jacket. Maybe it was just the excitement of where we were driving her forward. Either way, it was cold.

Sunrise itself was spectacular. The volcano itself, while not spewing lava, is active and there is ash and smoke coming out of it. This meant that the morning rays of light were mixing with these clouds and creating some great effects. It is amazing how long sunrise can feel from on top of a summit. I’m not sure if it was the cold making every moment feel a tad longer, but the first light coming out over the horizon made an amazing palette of colors.

As with these things, the anticipation makes it seem like such a long time to get to the payoff, and then it is over too quickly. Luckily with the sun, came warmth, and we were ready to start our descent.

Our guide gave us a couple choices. One of them was a bit more harrowing and when he asked if we were afraid of heights, I knew it wasn’t for us (read: me), so I declined that one. So, we took the 2nd option, which was a tad further, but didn’t have as narrow of a path. Which as it turns out, was probably a good choice.

See, there are 3 things to remember when climbing down from a volcano. 

1) The dirt on the ground isn’t really dirt, but volcanic ash, which is very light, fluffy and slippery.

2) Go slow. When walking down volcanic ash, don’t go as fast as the locals, who probably do this all the time, and have a more innate sense of balance.

3) When you’re not paying attention to 1 and 2, don’t take pictures while walking down the mountain.

If you adhere to these three rules, you will probably make it down okay. If you don’t, you will likely slip and sprain your ankle. Which is exactly what happened to me, when I failed to follow these simple steps.

So there I am, 5 minutes into our journey down from the summit. I had made my way briefly in front of Jallowar and Lauren, but within the pack of people who were walking and sliding down. Trying to get a picture of the peak of the other mountain, when a slipped, turned sideways, landed on my camera (which seems mostly okay) and heard my ankle pop. I immediately knew something was wrong, though it took a few minutes for it to really start hurting.

As soon as I fell, Jallowar had swooped in to try and help, asking if I was okay. He help me up and was helping me walk a little, when I asked to stop. I knew I was hurt, but didn’t know how bad. I sat on a rock, and he took off my shoe to inspect my ankle. I get the feeling he is quite familiar with this type of thing happening, as he immediately started feeling for injuries and seemed to have a good understanding of the anatomy of the ankle and feet.

It felt a little embarrassing to have him basically massaging my ankle up on a mountain, but I could tell he wanted to help. This went on for a little bit, and finally, not wanting to spend all day up there, I insisted that we make our way down. Walking hurt a lot, but Jallowar helped tremendously, helping me to keep my balance and telling me where to step.

A little ways further down we made our way out of most of the ash and found another small structure. This was sort of a meeting point of several paths, one was probably what we had turned down earlier, coming around the other side of the caldera, and the other went out into the caldera itself, where there is a forest and I believe monkeys. We sat down at the structure again, and he took another look at my ankle. It was swollen at this point and hurt very, very badly.

Lauren, being her usual compassionate self was annoyed at how dramatic I was being. Apparently her dad gets hit in the face with baseballs quite frequently and doesn’t complain as much as I do. She later told me that she thought that I was not as hurt as I was playing, but that I had felt like I had to keep doing it, out of embarrassment for having let it go so far. She now understands that this was an actual injury and I did hurt myself and has been very nice and helpful.

Fast forward a bit, Jallowar called down to the driver to let him know of the situation. The driver brought the car up a little further than usual, as there is another path you can go but that people don’t use because usually they’re not gimped as I was.

We took it slowly. I tried my best not to use that foot too much. Jallowar help my hand most of the way, in an attempt to provide balance and support. There may have been a brief ride on a motorbike, with me clutching Jallowar as Lauren walked the rest of the way with the driver. That bike ride was probably the scariest part.

In the end, we made it back to the car. 

We parted ways. Jallowar was amazing and even though he apologized profusely the whole way for allowing me to get hurt, it really wasn’t his fault in the least. He did the best anyone could expect out of a guide in these circumstances. Apparently when it is a smaller person, he just carries them down the mountain. Damn my impressive stature.

The rest of the day was supposed to be spent in Ubud (you know that place that Eat, Pray, Love happened), shopping and seeing temples, however given what happened, we had the driver take us back to the hotel. On the way though, we had him stop at the last part of the tour, which was at a local coffee plantation. The tour was small, but cool, as we got to see various, coffee, chocolate, and fruit plants. We drank some coffee and teas, bought some to take home and then we were off back to the hotel.

Once we returned to the hotel, we ordered some ice for my ankle and after a little while, ended up using the clinic on site to take a look at it. They poked and prodded a little, and determined it is likely sprained. He gave me some pain medication, an anti-inflammatory cream, and wrapped it. 

Overall, the volcano was a cool experience. I’d like to do it again sometime, but with a little more preparation and a little less falling. It would be good to get to see the rest of what we missed on the way down. I’m sure much of it was quite fantastic. In the end, I’m a little limpy and my ankle is all black and blue, but I’ll heal and hopefully next time will stop to take pictures, instead of what I did.

Here are some pictures that I managed to take before falling.

Day 14: Bali.

Day 14: Bali.

Arriving in Bali was somewhat magical, in that it truly felt different than any other place immediately upon landing.

We arrived at the airport and had to exit the plane via stairs, and board a shuttle bus to take us to the terminal. Seems the airport the is pretty old and lacks most of what we’ve come to expect in a modern country. In fact, this is pretty much the way all of Bali seems to be, modern convenience on top of old infrastructure.

The thing that stood out the most about the airport, aside from the throngs of taxi cab drivers all waiting for passengers (seems most people call ahead and book a driver), is how indoor/outdoor integrated the airport itself is. Unlike most airports or even buildings, there is no direct front entrance. Instead, as you’re walking out, you go from having a ceiling, to having a canopy top, to all the sudden, you’re outside. This style seems to be a pretty cool trend in Bali as a whole, and was actually the feature Lauren and I loved most about Zeavola in Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand.

Of course, before booking the car, we needed local currency. Given that we were running low on “pristine” US currency, we decided to suck it up and just withdrawal money at a penalty from the ATM. Unfortunately Chase didn’t like this, and denied both of our debit cards immediately. Well crap. We had enough pristine bills to exchange $100 USD, which turned into about 1.1 million IDR (the local currency). We knew we’d make our millions one day, who knew it would be in Bali.

With our new found riches, we made our way to the taxi desk, try to avoid eye contact with the strange taxi driver, who was among the 4-5 dozen other drivers, making steering wheel motions, as if to say, “come over here, I drive you real cheap.” Aka, “you don’t know any better, get in my cab so I can price gouge you.” No thanks. Sticking to the line, we were quoted 70,000 IDR to get to our hotel. Not too bad, as that converts to just over $6 USD. Unfortunately, I didn’t do the math right away, and instead heard the driver say over and over again, $10, $10.

Now, we didn’t have to pay $10, we had to pay 70,000 IDR, however in my own confusion, I was thinking more about the fact that I had limited IDR, and a $10 bill in my pocket and if I gave him the $10, I could keep my IDR. Which I thought was a great idea, and that’s exactly what I did. It wasn’t until I got to the hotel room and did the math in my head, that I realized my mistake. Double pay much? Oh well.

Our hotel was the Kuta (pronounced Coot-ah) Station Hotel. We actually booked this at the last minute earlier in the day, before leaving Kuala Lumpur, so that we could use it as a jumping off point for the day, before transferring to our main hotel for the stay. Similar to the airport, the lobby of the hotel had no front and the outside flowed right through the reception area, out through the back, into what appeared to be a standard hotel/motel structure.

Our room was nice, had its own balcony and was honestly a tad more than we needed for what we used it for, to crash for the night. Well, that and try to contact Chase via Skype to get our cards unlocked for use in Bali.

Fun fact, Bali is a province of Indonesia, which is #2 on the list of International fraud watch lists. Because of this, Chase will not unlock our cards for use in Indonesia. While I don’t blame them, as from the stories I’ve read, credit/debit card theft is rampant here, it still sucks, as we were counting on pulling out money here. Lucky for us, that is where the nice Barclay Arrival card comes in, as it had no problems letting me withdrawal cash in local currency. I brought it for the no foreign transaction fees, unfortunately, withdrawing cash is never free from a credit card. While not ideal, at least it gets us through this leg of the journey. Note to self, use my Charles Schwab account next time we travel abroad.

We woke up early in the morning in order to spend the day on the beach. I have to say, the beaches in Kuta are quite amazing. Apparently this is one of the most popular surfing beaches in the world, and I could see why. The waves were amazing and the people out there were pulling some amazing rides. I had never seen anything quite like it before. Pretty cool.

After a few hours of watching surfers, swimming a little, and some light shopping, we made our way back to the hotel and got a taxi to transfer to our main hotel, the Conrad Bali. I have to say, this place is impressive looking. You drive in to a waterfall and the guards at the gate checking all incoming cars for … well, I’m not sure. They act like US border patrol though with their mirror sticks looking under cars and checking trunks.

The entrance to the hotel is once again and indoor/outdoor open concept, with massive ceilings and a clear shot through the back to a huge set of pools, leading to the beach and the Indian Ocean. Well, at least the Indian tide pool. Seems the tide has been out and all we can get access to as some knee deep (at most) water for 150 meters or so out. So, there is basically no beach to speak of here at the moment. Bummer.

The hotel itself is amazing. Our room faces out to the ocean and we have a small balcony that we can sit out on and enjoy the breezes coming in off the water. 

The resort complex itself is quite huge. We’re both pretty intimidated by it at the moment, as this place isn’t really our ideal spot. It is very self contained, and not in a cure fun way, like Zeavola. Here, it just feels hard to get out there and see the rest of Bali. Given that our 3 nights were paid for completely with hotel points, I’m not going to complain. This is definitely one of the better beds and rooms we’ve had on our trip.

Anyway, we’re both pretty excited about Bali. And we have plenty more adventures to share.

Day 13: A whirlwind trip to Kuala Lumpur

Day 13: A whirlwind trip to Kuala Lumpur

This one is coming to you a tad late and at this point only because Lauren is cracking the whip. Something to the tune of, “write, blog boy, write!” So let’s talk about our quick trip into Malaysia.

We arrived late on the night of day 12. I think we had both gotten used to the simplicity of being on an island, because I know I was not personally prepared to be thrust back into the throes of a big city so quickly.

Our trip started with a cab ride into the city, which takes about an hour. Unfortunately, the language barrier popped its head up here and even though I gave the cab driver my phone, which clearly stated that we were staying at the Sky Express Hotel, and the exact address, he entered “Sky Hotel” into his GPS and used that instead. Unfortunately for us, that is a real hotel, which he took us to. Luckily, we paid a fixed rate for the cab, and it wasn’t too far from where we needed to go. 

It is difficult to be clear with someone when you barely understand them and they don’t really understand you. While this is a recurrent theme of our trip, it is one that gets a little easier with time. You just need to be patient and assertive about what you need; I’m getting better at the 2nd one.

The hotel itself exceeded our expectations, mostly. It was clean and we had a nice room. The only real complaint was just how terrible the WiFi was. It would disconnect repeatedly and wouldn’t allow you to reconnect most of the time. After a while we simply gave up. Funny, because Trip Advisor warned us about this, but we didn’t listen.

In the morning, we slept in a little, packed and took our stuff downstairs. The hotel had a locked room where the concierge kept all of our bags, while we went out an about for the day.

First stop, Central Market. Very cool spot, sort of like a flea market, but way better. There was of course some crap in there, but there were so may cool little shops that had tons of well made, hand crafted objects. All sorts of cool metal and woodwork, and some really inventive uses of coconuts as a building material too.

Next, we wanted to go check out bird park. Before we left, with what little wifi I could muster, I was able to plot out where a few things were. Bird park was supposed to be just passed a small river, a little beyond where central market was, but after we wandered around, following the roads, we couldn’t find it. We doubled back, pretty sure we could see it on the other side of a commuter train station, but unable to figure out how to get there. So we started following the perimeter as best we could.

At every turn, it was something else in the way of getting us to where we wanted to go. At one point, about halfway around the circling we were making, I heard a crash behind me, and Lauren had basically fallen through a grate. Not because the grate had collapsed. No, somehow, her foot slipped in between the bars and got stuck. How this happened, I’m still not sure, but, my theory is that she’s not eating enough on our trip. 

Immediately 3 people surrounded us offering tips on how to get her foot free and asking if she was okay. Luckily, with me holding onto her shoe, to make sure it didn’t fall in, we slipped her foot out easily enough. No injuries, all was well. Of course, the 3 english speaking people immediate disbursed into thin air, before we realized one of them would probably no how to get where we were going. Well crap.

So we kept walking. And walking. And walking. At this point, Lauren is annoyed at me for taking us all over. I’m annoyed at Kuala Lumpur for being so hard to navigate. We’re both hot and needing both water and sun screen. Neither of which we could find.

Eventually, we start working our way in the direction of Petronus Towers, as I wanted to get some good pictures and we needed a direction to go that was easy to follow. What could be easier than following 2 of the tallest structures on the planet, right?

So we walked some more. Further into the heart of darkness. We were definitely off the beaten path at this point. There was no sign of anything remotely familiar, just shop after shop selling head scarves. We were quickly deteriorating and something had to change. No more walking. It was time to grab a Teksi. We decided to go to the one place we knew, Times Square. Yep, that’s right, there is a Times Square in Kuala Lumpur. It is a 9 story shopping mall, with a full on amusement park inside (roller coaster and all). Luckily, we had seen this briefly, not too far from our hotel the first night and figured it would be air conditioned. 

We spent the rest of our trip in the least culturally significant part of the city, simply because it was hot, e only had a couple hours left to kill, and we really just wanted to get out of the sun. Plus, we had no idea what else to do in just 2 hours.

Honestly, I’m disappointed by out time in Kuala Lumpur. Not because it was a bad place, but because we didn’t take the time to plan out better uses of our time. The city itself is very modern, and seems well worth the trip. I’d love to go back sometime and see more, even if this stop was a total wash.

Anyway, that is all for now.

Next up is Bali.

Day 12: Another reason to not eat at Burger King… in case you needed one

Day 12: Another reason to not eat at Burger King… in case you needed one

Hi hi, it’s me, your friend, Sea Gypsy. Not much to report on, but we realized that we didn’t write a post relaying yesterday’s events. The ENTIRE day was dedicated to traveling, so not much COOL AND EXITING NEWS. Though, there were moments when I almost unleashed the beast on a few unsuspecting joes, but lemme get there.

We were informed by the lovely folks at Zeavola that the speedboat we’d booked back to Phuket would not be coming to pick us up after all, as the sea was too rough. My first reaction was “No! No! Unaceptable!” (only to Drew), but it helps to be reminded of all the rough rides on the rickety boat we’d experienced prior. This means we’d have to take the ferry. Before you feel too sorry for the pitiful travelers, the ferry was leaving at 7:00, and breakfast starts at 6:30!

I need to mention, I was under a heightened state of anxiety and stress, which, let me tell you, is HARD to do in paradise, but this is my specialty! You see, we still had not received the wedding pictures, and we were LEAVING THE COUNTRY in a few hours. Our highly reputable “wedding planner” I referenced in a previous post, would not return my countless emails. but, when he finally did, it was to tell me he had just returned from Phi Phi Island, which is where we were staying. Almost like, haha, I could’ve just dropped them off for you, but didn’t! So, begrudgingly, we decided to meet him at Burger King in the Phuket airport before our flight to KL. Shady, right?!

We took another ROUGH ferry ride that lasted about four hours (this time on a real boat with an upper deck and all). We did make a stop in godforsaken Phi Phi Town, but didn’t have to get off the boat. Drew did some napping and reading; Lauren did some podcasting and involuntary sun deck surfing. When I joined my husband (!) in the measly lower deck, my hair was everywhere, my face terror-stricken, and clothes soaking wet! The upper deck was like a water ride I didn’t get in line for. 

We made it to Rassada Pier, all limbs intact. Things went smoothly, and we managed an easy and cheap ride to the Phuket airport, where we were meeting Wedding Planner in an hour. Two hours later, I am plotting the man’s murder, and trying to figure out how to get money back on PayPal for a service that was not delivered. The man was not returning my emails, nor Drew’s INTERNATIONAL phone call. Just when I was about to commit myself to a lifetime in a Thai prison, a breathless and dishevelled looking young fella rushed over to us, murmuring “Sorry, sorry!” and bowing profusely (as is custom–one time–in Thailand). He basically tossed the album at us, and dashed out. Never saw the guy before, will never see him again, but, why ask questions, right? The album had some nice photos included in it, some downright comical ones, and one with me and my notorious scowl. What there is to scowl about on your wedding day on a private beach in Thailand, I’m not so sure. Anyway, whatev. Happy ending, and happy story AFTER THE FACT. Adventures can be both good and bad, and in a foreign country with language barriers, they’re pretty much guaranteed. 

Stay tuned for a Kuala Lumpur update from DA MASTA BLOGGA Drew. Also, wedding pics aplenty!

Sea Gypsy’s gotta find a new moniker…

Day 11: The end is a rainy one

Day 11: The end is a rainy one

All good things must come to an end, they say.

Yesterday was our last day in paradise. Unfortunately for us, it was a stormy one. Sure we had some brief moments of reprieve earlier on in the day, where we could hit the beach, but they were punctuated with sudden downpours. This of course gave us the time needed to tie up loose ends and get ready for the next leg of our journey.

Overall, a nice quiet reprieve.

We’ve had an awesome time on Koh Phi Phi Don. Zeavola has been an amazing and relaxing time. With that said, I think we’re both ready for the next leg of our adventure.

Next up, a brief stop in Kuala Lumpur, then onto Bali!


Day 10: A Tour To Remember (or the day we thought we died)

Day 10: A Tour To Remember (or the day we thought we died)

A day late and a dollar short, but here’s our journey on day 10. 

We started the day expecting to be taking a full day tour or the various adjacent islands. Seeing everything from sharks, to plankton, to the beach from The Beach. Of course this meant getting up at an obscene hour, which if you know Lauren means getting up at a normal hour, but for the rest of us, it is just a tad too early, especially while on vacation.

Luckily for the hero of this story, when Lauren got up and read her email, she discovered that the morning portion of the tour was canceled due to weather and that we could pickup with the second half in the afternoon. Yay! So I got to sleep in after all.

Fast forward to the afternoon, I’m already sunburned on my back due to poor application of sun block, we’re in Phi Phi Town, and our tour is assembling on several long boats to go out into the islands.

First stop, cliff jumping.

No, don’t get me wrong, in theory this sounds great, and while Lauren signed us up for this optional event, I never had any intention of doing this. Lauren on the other hand was on the fence up until the last moment, when she decided it wasn’t something she wanted to do. It got so close, that she started putting on the water/climbing shoes saying, “this is for Caitlin,” before watching the first guy jump in the water and saying, “nope, never mind.” Smart choice. Though, it did look like everyone who did it had fun.

Anyway, this wasn’t even the most dangerous part of the tour.

Next up, monkey beach.

Did you bring me a monkey? Not this time. We stopped by what everyone on the boat kept calling monkey island, which is actually just a beach. A very dirty beach. Full of all sorts of trash left by tourists who were likely trying to get the monkeys to play with, so they could take pictures. Now it is just covered in all of it.

That aside, the monkeys were pretty cool. Watching them play with each other and run up to people who had food was pretty neat. As Lauren put it, it is hard to deny evolution when you can see how close to human these creatures act. I agree. Definitely not foolproof evidence, but a pretty solid observation nonetheless. There were a few pictures I took where you could almost see the humanity in their eyes. Pretty crazy stuff to see up close and personal.

Next, snorkeling with the fishes.

Lauren of course donned her mask and jumped right in. I however quivering in my boots, held back momentarily and had a small panic attack thinking about how sharks were going to get me. And don’t forget the octopi. And the manta ray!

After much goading though, I finally climbed through the window, and took the plunge myself. The reality is much tamer than what the imagination can lead you to believe. Even though I spent a good 5-minutes looking all around for sharks to come attack me, what was really there were bright, colorful fish that you’d only normally see in an aquarium, along with coral all along the bottom. All in all, it was pretty spectacular and I’m glad I jumped in. 

A quick dip in a lagoon

A little further in, we stopped once again. Not for snorkeling, but just to swim a little bit. This time, there was no bottom you could really see, as from what one person said, it was about 15 meters deep. Or, in American terms, about 50 feet. Oh crap! There really could be all sorts of crap down there!

Of course Lauren dove in with no hesitation. I waited a few minutes, watching her swim away from the boat and eventually start teach a kid how to swim a little (no joke), before I decided I had come this far, I couldn’t turn back now. So I jumped in too.

For me this was probably the least eventful of all the stops, but to hear Lauren tell it, it was one of the best. Maybe she’ll tell us more on that later.

Next up, Maya Bay and The Beach

This is where the story gets fun. Maya Bay is quite beautiful, but on this day, the waves were too strong for the boats to go to The Beach, so we had to take a back route. This route consisted of a stone wall, with a rope ladder and dozens of people climbing up and down it simultaneously. Fun right? Except, in order to get to it, you have to swim there and endure the incoming waves crashing you against the rocks yourself.

So, once again, Lauren jumped in pretty quickly and swam over toward that area. I, not knowing what was going on, decided to suck it up and jump in too. At this point, I climb through the window, stand up on the side and see Lauren 3/4 of the way in, turned around looking back my way. So I jump in.

Immediately I start swimming for where I last saw her, but am being diverted slightly toward the ropes. Looking around, I cannot see her and start to think she must have already climbed up. This is about the time where I’m not quite making it to the ropes, and am trying to grab one of the outlying harnesses and am getting slammed by wave after wave, one of which finally throws me against the wall. Luckily, using my arms and catching the rock under my feet I was able to stay above water and fend off the oncoming rocky doom.

This certainly wasn’t going to work. So I decided to retreat and replan my attack. So I waited a moment for the water to retreat before the next wave can in and used that to get myself further out into the water again.

Back out a ways, I look around again and still no sign of Lauren. She must have already scaled those ropes and be waiting for me up top, was all I could think. Not wanting to have her worry, I decided to go back at it again. This tome I approached at a wider angle, so the current would drag me where I needed to go, as opposed to fighting it closer in. And it worked, yay strategy!

So there I was, clutching the bottom of the ropes, trying to get a foothold, while those same waves were crashing in. This time though, there were people climbing down in every direction and I couldn’t find a way to get passed them. After a few minutes of trying to figure out how this was going to work, I started to give up and pushed myself back out into the water, time to swim back to the boat.

Once again though, I started imagining Lauren at the top wondering where I was, so after a minute I decided no more excuses. Time to climb. So I went back in. This time there were just as many people climbing down, but I just decided they were going to have to go around me, just as much as I had to go around them. Everyone else made it up somehow, right?

One thing I can say about climbing these types of ropes in bare feet is that it hurts.

Finally I made it to the top of the structure, Somewhat expecting Lauren to be waiting at the top, I instead found a huge line of people, waiting to climb down, so I made my way past all of them, down inwards, expecting to see her waiting for me. Instead, she was no where to be found. So I searched, had she gone around through this place, along with everyone else? Why hadn’t she waited for me? Maybe she thought I turned back? So, I went through the area, toward The Beach. Ton of people swimming, but no Lauren.

Now I was starting to panic.

Had she been pulled under in that current? Had no one noticed? Maybe she just turned back for the boat I hadn’t noticed.

So I started making my way back, only to have to stand in that line. So I stood, and waited. For 45 minutes. Panicking, and imagining the worst. Turning around constantly, hoping she would come up from behind, I having just missed seeing her. Only that didn’t happen.

Finally, I reached the top of the structure, just a couple people back from being ready to climb down, and I looked out and saw what appeared to be someone on our boat, sitting where she had been sitting. Okay, panicked for nothing.

Now I just had to get down without falling into the rocks and water. Why did I climb up there again?

So, I started climbing. Held on as best I could. Tried not to think about how much the ropes hurt my feet. Took it slowly, one foot at a time and found my way to the bottom. After a moment to breathe, I pushed myself backward out into the water, spun around and started to swim my way through the current to the boat. The swim was tough, but I’m a better swimmer than I give myself credit for apparently.

I pulled myself up onto the boat and climbed into the back. Lauren looked at me and said, “I thought you were dead.” Apparently she too had gotten out there and sensed how dangerous it was. Unlike me however, she turned back near immediately, assuming I would as well. After all, as a swim coach and life guard, you never swim under these types of conditions. Glad someone told me that.

Anyway, we relayed our stories, happy the other wasn’t actually dead. Crisis averted.

Last stop, glowing plankton.

At this point, we were pretty much ready to be back at our hotel. The trip was fun, but this last part sort of sucked everything out of us. However, no tour is complete with out a trip to see glow in the dark plankton, so we made one more stop, near monkey beach.

Lauren and I opted to stay in the boat this time. Our adventures were over for the night, she was dry and I was done with the water for the night.

No trip to Phi Phi Town is complete without a night taxi longboat adventure

Being dark at this point, we managed to find a taxi boat fairly quickly. In fact, it was the same guy who took us back from our last evening adventure. Cool. This time, the tides weren’t anywhere near as low, so getting out was much easier and the rocks seemed much less perilous.

However, of course 15-minutes into the 30-minute ride, it started raining. Then it started blowing. Then it started to pour. Lauren was huddled against me trying to stay dry (good luck with that), while I was trying to keep this poor man’s hammock (which I assume he sleeps in) from blowing off the underside of the roof, as it had come disconnected.

Of course, I have a feeling this sort of trip is second hand for these guys, as he just pushed through and got us home.

The last long boat of the trip (or so we thought).

Day 9 Part Deux: Same Same, but Different

Day 9 Part Deux: Same Same, but Different

Lauren here. Sorry I’ve been off the grid for some days. I think I’m of the mindset live now, reflect later. Drew’s been doing a great job updating folks on our happenings, so mad props to him. I, on the other hand, have been soaking up the sun on the Phi Phi Islands (pronounced pee-pee, but, as the sign in Phuket points out, Don’t Pee, so you make your own call on that one). I’ll dedicate a post to our days in Yangon, Myanmar, because they definitely deserve one from my perspective, but for now…I’ll share our day of 1/2 matrimony (the other 1/2 will take place in Galveston with family) and big adventures.

We opted for blessing ceremony on the beach at sunrise on a private beach here in the Phi Phi Islands. Seems we got *some* of what we bargained for. The “wedding planner” appeared to be somewhat of a con artist–he was dripping in gems, and took the opportunity to smoke a cigarette with his shirt wide open while we waited for the monks to finish praying. From what I’ve observed, the Thai are modest people, so this didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but SO MANY things don’t when I travel (and that’s a good thing). 

The ceremony itself was nice. It involved monk blessings, holy water, head slings, and wish lanterns. I will share a private moment with you: During the PLACING OF THE THREE DOTS CEREMONY (everything we did was explained in a very procedural way), we were instructed to put three dots (to symbolize the 3 jewels of Buddhism, which I later had to research myself) on each other’s foreheads and exchange some words. Apparently, we were supposed to have the words already planned out. Who knew?! Drew’s were sweet, thanking me for being the compassionate person that I am, and for my adventurous spirit. Now, ladies, here’s “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”: Picture me placing 3 dots on Drew’s forehead. 1) I can’t wait 2) to go 3) to Monkey Island! 


Overall, it was a very unique and special event, plus, it enabled us to be back in time for breakfast, or as Drew called it, our reception 🙂

We enjoyed some down time this side of paradise, then had a very nice massage (perhaps the fifth or so since we’ve been in Thailand!) at the resort. Side note: I like feeling like I’ve been beat up when my massage is over. Sometimes bruises are involved. Thai massages are so very good for this! I was a bit concerned my hair wouldn’t hold up from the massage, but the very kind lady re-braided it for me! What a treat!

Drew returned to the bungalow to take a nap (from his nap) while I sought out to maximize sun exposure. This will be relevant to later events, I promise!

Next adventure of the evening: a sunset picnic on a deserted island–I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried! Anyhow, we took a longboat to a beautiful little beach on Bamboo Island, where wine and tapas were laid out for us. I did some hard-core shell-searching, while Drew played with a hermit crab. Out of nowhere, we experienced a downpour, as is one to happen during monsoon season. I sought shelter under some trees. Thankfully, it was short-lived. We watched a sunset, and got more of the same (“same same, but different,” as they say over here) photos. Little did we know the real adventure was about to begin!

The boat ride back was death-defying! The water was incredibly choppy, and our little wooden boat not the sturdiest. Even the crew seemed a little caught off guard. Now, I love open-water. I find it fascinating, humbling– but capsizing in it, not so much. I put the death grip on Drew, the whole time rehearsing rescue procedures in my head,  until we reached the twinkling lights of Zeavola, our resort. 

Since our picnic was rained on, we were of course, hungry (when am I not?) for dinner. Here’s where this afternoon’s sun-bathing shenanigans come into play. I went to change–as my clothes were soaking wet from the ride–into my clothes from earlier in the day, only, I lost them. It takes a special person to lose the clothes you were at one point wearing. They definitely weren’t in our room. After a quick cheek with reception, it seems I had left them on the beach! Don’t worry–it wasn’t a nude beach, I’m just that careless. Only in paradise…

If Bali is this great, I doubt I’m coming back. Sea Gypsy Village is very close to our resort on Phi Phi. That’s where you can forward my mail.