Category Archives: Asia

Bandung, West Java, Indonesia – Impressions

Our trip to Java’s third largest city by train provided us amazing views over vast valleys of volcanoes and rice patties. The beauty of inland Java is unbelievable and the locals on the train seemed to agree.

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Bandung, however, didn’t live up to this beauty. Like the other cities of Java, we knew little of the area before we arrived and were determined to see what it had to offer.

A City of Two Halves.
Bandung is loosely split in half by the railway lines.

The area south of the train lines is a mass of street vendors and crowded dirty streets. We were warned about pickpockets and narrowly avoided a group of smug youths and their attempt on the busy street. There was a sense of being crowded with a little bit of danger. There are large areas of construction and so many cars and motorbikes it was difficult to simply cross the road.

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But crossing to the north side it’s like you’ve just stepped out of the 3rd world into the West. On the north side there are malls, higher class shops and restaurants, prominent architecture and more importantly, a relative sense of safety. This is where the few tourist spots are and many of the city’s prominent buildings.

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Finding an Information Centre in the city is next to impossible. With the vague tourist map we had and absolutely no help from online maps, we walked around dirty, hot streets trying to find a hidden shop that turned out to be inside a mosque. When we found it, we were given little information beyond another copy of the map. We headed off determined to find something about the city that we liked.

Jalan Braga
Near the Information Centre we went to check out the south side’s only tourist spot, Braga Street. Called the Paris of Java, the street was made famous in the 1920s as a promenade street, lined with cafes, restaurants and boutique shops. Now, apparently, it’s the top place locals come to party. When we arrived on Jalan Braga we discovered that it had largely been dug up with dirt and the stink of sewage in many places. And adding to it was the stream of vehicles along what was left of the road.

Frustrated at our day’s efforts, we spied a bar and settled in for a beer before heading back to the hostel.

The next day, determined to find something to like about the Bandung, we set out across the north side with more of a plan.

Angkots
As you travel further west across Indonesia, the Bemos we’d first encountered in Surabaya are called Angkutan Kota meaning ‘city transport’ or Angkot for short. Similar to those in Surabaya the Angkots travel predetermined routes across the city for between Rp2,000 to Rp5,000 depending on how far you’re going. The problems are still the same… if you don’t know the routes, you could end up anywhere. Best to ask the driver just to be sure.

Jalan Cihampelas
Cihampelas Street is a famous shopping area in Bandung which also called ‘Jeans Street’ because of the number of denim clothing stores that opened in the 1990s. The street has many malls and shops for bargain hunters. The area is very popular with Singaporean and Malaysian tourists, who flock here for the good prices. While in the street we stopped by Cihampelas Walk for lunch, a Western mall containing many Western-style stores and every American fast food chain possible.

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Museum Geologi
While generally not a great fan of museums, we stopped off at the Geology Museum for an hour as it began to rain. The first signs of the approaching rainy season. While most of the displays were in Indonesian, some were in English discussing the volcanos of Indonesia and the different time periods of the early earth.

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The museum is popular with local school trips and during our visit the museum was under sustained attack by three separate hordes of school children. Even so, it was still an informative stop off during a brief rain storm.

Saung Angklung Udjo
30 minutes by Angkot from the Museum Geologi is a school dedicated to the Angklung. The Angklung is an instrument made from bamboo tubes strung together that makes a dull chiming noise when rattled. On most days the school hosts tourists for an ‘Afternoon Show’. Listed as the most popular attraction in Bandung, we attended the show, which was made up of small acts and tunes played on the Angklung.

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The show had some dancing and towards the end the children handed out Angklungs to everyone in the audience and we were taught to play as an orchestra through many songs. The show lasted two hours and was perhaps the best part of our visit to Bandung.

Tangkuban Prahu Crater and Kiawah Putih Lake
Bandung is in a valley between volcanoes and as in many volcano towns, tours up the slopes are common. But after climbing Mount Merapi in Yogyakarta only days before, we felt that paying twice as much to be driven up a volcano wasn’t worth it this time.

Next we continue our travels to the west to the nation’s capital, Jakarta.

The Trail Wanderers

Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia – Impressions

Yogyakarta – pronounced Jojakarta – is the capital of the Yogyakarta Special Region in Central Java. The city is a centre of education where Indonesians come for higher learning. It was also the Indonesian Capital during the War of Independence.

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Jalan Malioboro
Unlike Surabaya, where we felt like the only Westerners, Yogyakarta is the second most visited tourist destination in Indonesia. Our hostel was near Jalan Malioboro (Malioboro Street), the main tourist area in the city, so not surprisingly this was where we saw most of the Westerners.

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Jalan Malioboro begins at the main train station to the north and runs south to Beringhajo Markets, near the Kraton – the Sultan’s Palace. The street has plentiful stores and street vendors selling all the typical touristic wares. Thankfully the vendors are less aggressive than in Bali, making wandering the street far more relaxing.

Kraton Ngaygyakarta Hadiningrat
The Kraton or Sultan’s Palace is just south of Jalan Malioboro and was the seat of power in the area. While it was once the house of the royal family, it’s now a popular tourist attraction and museum. The Indonesian 1,000 Rupiah bill features an image of The Keaton.

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Taman Sari Water Castle
Two kilometres south of the Kraton is Taman Sari, the Sultan’s royal gardens. It once had an artificial lake with islands, several pavilions and a bathing complex. While most of the Taman Sari lies in ruins, the bathing pools of the Sultan’s concubines are well-preserved and open to tourists.

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Candi Borobudur
Borobudur temple is the world’s largest Buddhist temple and is one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world. It was built in the 9th century and abandoned in the 14th only to be rediscovered again in 1811. It contains the largest and most complete collection of Buddhist reliefs in the world.

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We took an organised tour to the site and climbed the structure via the eastern gate, the only proper entrance to the temple. The stairs climb through three large tiers to the top where there are many bell-like structures, each covering a state of Buddha.

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The site is an amazing place for photos, although getting one without tourists can be troublesome. The temple was not the only thing being photographed, Westerners tend to also be targets for photos. When first asked, I assumed they wanted me to take a photo of them with the temple but they actually wanted a photo with me.

Candi Prambanan
Prambanan temple is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia and was built around the same time as Candi Borobudur. The temple complex was once a collection of 240 individual temples, with the largest six temples at its centre dedicated to the 3 manifestations of the hindu god and the each of their steeds.

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Most of the temples are now just piles of rubble after numerous eruptions of Mount Merapi and the earthquake of 2009. The major temples have been reconstructed and stand like fingers protruding from the dirt.

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This time my brother and I hired scooters and rode out to the temple compound, which is only 17km from Jalan Malioboro. While vastly different to Borobudur, it is equal in magnificence.

Candi Sewa
There are several other temple complexes near Candi Prambana, although most are now little more than stacks of stones. One that has been rebuilt is Candi Sewa, a buddhist temple.

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Its main temple has been reinstated, but most of it’s surrounding smaller temples have not. Yet the guard statues still stand ready to defend the site.

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Mount Merapi
Mount Merapi, literally Fire Mountain, is the most active of Indonesia’s 129 volcanos, with major eruptions occurring every 10-15 years. It’s also a popular volcano to climb, usually to see the sunrise. In my adventures I’ve climbed mountains at night and had sworn never to do it again. But for some reason I forgot and climbed it anyway.

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The climb was difficult and 300 metres from the very top I made the call to go no further. I stopped at a large group of tents belonging to the wise people who had climbed the day before, camped and woken early to climb the final hour and forty minutes to the summit. The views from the camp were still awesome, although it was very cold. My brother and our Italian friend did make it to the top for similarly spectacular views, such as Mount Merbabu, Merapi’s slightly taller twin.

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While it was good climb, I stick with my decision to not climb mountains at night and will never do it again. I prefer to climb mountains when I’m rested and not after a full day. But for those who did reach the top they enjoyed the experience, although for some it was the most difficult thing they’d ever done.

Next we head further across the island of Java to the city of Bandung.

The Trail Wanderers.

Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia – Impressions

Surabaya is known as the City of Heroes for the part it played in the war of independence against the Dutch Empire. It’s also the country’s second largest city.

Surabaya isn’t a city that has embraced tourism to any great extent and because of this it doesn’t attract many travellers. This didn’t stop us from spending a couple of days checking out the attractions it does have.

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Surabaya is a major shopping destination for Indonesians with many Western style shopping malls in the central city. But just outside this area the city changes to more squalid conditions where the poor try to eke out a living.

Strangers in a Strange Land
As we walked around the city we garnered much interest from the locals, who would often stare at the two tall, bearded, foreign lads. Many times we’d hear, ‘Hello Mister’, followed by giggles, as if this was somehow funny because it was the only words in English they knew. Then unexpectedly, at another time, a local would strike up a random conversation in fairly fluent english.

For two days we felt like the only Westerners in the city until returning to the hostel we discovered a young Italian guy had moved into our room. He joined our troupe and began travelling with us.

The Bemo
While there are plentiful taxis in the city, we discovered a very cheap form of transportation known as the Bemo. A Bemo is simply of minivan converted into a taxi-bus that travels along a predetermined route through the city. Simply wave at it to stop, tell the driver where you want to go and get in the back. When you’re at your destination the driver will let you know or press the button to get him to stop.

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The cost of the trip is 4,000 Rupiah (40 cents) no matter how far you go. There are more than 40 routes, each defined by a large letter emblazoned on the front, and sometimes the back, of the vehicle. There are many Bemos on each route, so if the first one is full another will come along soon after. The entire Bemo system is reminiscent of the taxi system I discovered in southern Chile, the difference being that in Chile they use cars instead of vans.

There’s one large downfall of the Bemo system, knowing where a certain lettered Bemo goes. While there’s a list of routes online at: www.angelfire.com/on/Genhome/rutebemo.htm, there’s no map. So, unless you know the areas getting lost is easy. Having a maps app on your phone helps a lot.

Monkasel – Submarine Monument
Probably the least likely tourist attraction in the city is the Submarine Monument, dedicated to a SS-type Whisky class submarine built in Russia in 1952.

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The Monument is the full-sized submarine and is open for viewing most days of the year for the hefty price of Rp8,000 (80 cents). The submarine has seven rooms, although entry to some are through very low bulkhead doors. This height issue isn’t a problem for the locals, but at 189cm I had to crawl through them.

Tugu Pahlawan – Heroic Monument
Standing at 41 metres tall, the Tugu Pahlawan is a large monument commemorating the heroes of the war of independence. It is also the main symbol of Surabaya appearing on the city’s Seal, which also contains a shark ‘Sura’ and a crocodile ‘Baya’.

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House of Sampoerna – Clove Cigarette Museum
While I’m morally against cigarette smoking, Surabaya contains an award-winning tourist museum devoted to the history of clove cigarette manufacturing in Indonesia. While surrounded by poor areas, the grounds of the museum could be mistaken for being in central Amsterdam.

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Other Places
While there are several other places in Surabaya of interest to travellers: The Four Face Buddha; Joko Dolog, the 700 year-old statue of Buddha; or several mosques and temples, it’s not always easy to find them. Whether they are down hidden alleyways, the Bemos don’t go near them, of they just don’t stand out. Several times ended up walking at length through slums trying to find a site. Unable to ask due to the language barrier and floundering in the sticky heat, we’d eventually give up and head somewhere else. We did get lucky a couple of times and found the occasional Hindu temple.

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While walking through the myriad of slums, at no time did we feel unsafe.

Next, we head by train to the student capital of Indonesia, Yogyakarta.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Bali, Indonesia – Scooter Excursions

Scooter Excursions
By far the most common form of transportation in Bali is the motor scooter. Which are also happily rented to tourists… “You want rent scooter?” At RP60,000 (AU$6) a day, and less for multiple days, the scooters are very cheap.

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Petrol is sold by small stores everywhere, usually in 1 litre vodka bottles that sit in racks out near the road. A bottle of petrol costs RP10,000 (AU$1) with 5 bottles filling a tank. A full tank of gas for a scooter will give a range of about 100km.

Driving in Bali
Riding a scooter in the built up areas can be a little dangerous, with cars, taxis, trucks, motorbikes and other scooters to navigate through, not to mention people and dogs. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of it though, although nothing like the locals who slip in and out of traffic at tops speeds on both sides of the road. Keeping up with them is suicidal so it’s best to just ride at your own speed and try not to crash. Not crashing is important as the bikes aren’t insured leaving you the repair bill for any damage done.

Crossing busy intersections can be a challenge and is usually done by slowly edging forward until the traffic stops and lets you go. There are traffic lights in Bali but not many and for most locals, red lights mean ‘go’ as long as there isn’t a larger vehicle in the way.

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Police Stops and Corruption
The biggest danger on country roads are the Police Stops. While they occasionally pull over locals, they always pull over tourists. To ride a scooter you’re supposed to have either an international license or a local license gained from the central police station for RP250,000 (AU$25). Most tourists don’t have them, so when a tourist is pulled over without a licence the officer takes them aside and explains the fine system. Either pay the officer RP500,000 (AU$50) or get a ticket to pay at court for RP1,000,000 (AU$100). The police, however, prefer you to pay the RP500,000 which goes straight into their pockets. With low salaries, the police try to bolster their take home pay in this way as long as there’s no paper trail.

The way around this corrupt method of fines is to demand a ticket and thus create a paper trail. The other way is to only have a small amount of money in your wallet and to let them have it. My brother and I were only pulled over only once and purposefully had only RP50,000 (AU$5) in our wallets. When the officer demanded the rest we simply shrugged and said that’s all we had…for petrol. He sighed and said, “I tell you what… I let you off this time.” He took the money and let us go.

My brother and I hired scooters for two days and made the most of the time by going on long excursions on both days…

Day 1 – To The South

Garuda Wisnu Kencanu Cultural Park
An hour south of our hotel in Kuta is a private park housing a 23-metre tall bust of the hindu god Vishnu.

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While the statue is quite prominent it’s only the beginning of the intended statue. Eventually, it’s to be 146 metres tall, gold-plated, with Vishnu on the back of Garuda, King of Birds. In another part of the park there’s the beginning of the statue of Garuda.

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The park, while small, has many interesting features, including the Lotus Pond, which is an open area with rocky sides where walkways have been carved into the rock.

Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Our second spot of the day is a water temple built in the 11th century. Pura Luhur Uluwatu is on the south-western end of the South Kuta Peninsula in southern Bali and is one of seven sea temples built to protect Bali from evil spirits.

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While the temple is situated on a clifftop it was very humid while we were there. We were also warned about the monkeys in the area as they will steal anything not bolted down. We only encountered one and he seemed content to leave everyone alone. Like all temples in Bali it is required that you wear either a sarong or a coloured sling of fabric.

Nusa Dua
On the south-eastern side of South Kuta is Nusa Dua which is a collection of 5-star hotels and calm beaches. The area was quieter than Kuta but the beaches were not as grand.

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Day 2 – To The North

Goa Gajah
Our first stop of day two after driving through the traffic heavy roads of Bali’s provincial capital, Denpasar, was the Elephant Cave, near the touristic township of Ubud.

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Built in the 9th century, the cave was used as a sanctuary. In the 1950s more of the surrounding area was excavated and a temple built around the site. Hawkers demand you buy a sarong when you arrive, but this is just a money-making scheme as sarongs are provided free at the entrance.

Gunung Kawi
Further north from Goa Gajah is the Valley of the Kings. Two sets of 5 death monuments are carved into the rock walls at this temple, which is dedicated to two different kings and their families.

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On either side of the valley are numerous tiers of rice paddies.

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Tanah Lot
Our last stop for day two is the most touristic temple in Bali, the beautiful sea temple of Tanah Lot. Tanah Lot means ‘Land in the Sea’ and is another of the temples protecting the island from evil spirits.

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The site has crumbled over the centuries and was threatening the temple itself. The Japanese government stepped in to help Bali protect the area.

After 2 long days, 194km of road, and many hours of sore bottoms, our scooter excursions proved to be some of the most fun times in Bali. Something not to missed.

After three weeks on the island of Bali, it’s time to begin the real travelling.  Next we head to the island of Java and the city of Surabaya.

The Trail Wanderers

Bali, Indonesia – Adventures

When you have three weeks in Bali you can’t just languish around the pool or at the beach the entire time. Actually, I guess you probably could, but I can’t. There’s just too many other things to see around the island…

Mt Batur

In Bali’s highlands there are several volcanos. Mt Batur is the most active, having erupted 20 times in the last 200 years.

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It’s a fairly small volcano that lies in the caldera of a once more mighty volcano, one that stood over twice Mt Batur’s current height. And on the south-eastern side of the caldera is Danau Batur, the largest crater lake in Bali.

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Coffee Tour

Indonesia is the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world and Bali’s highlands has its share of plantations. During the tour we discovered the many tastes of Bali’s coffees and teas, all of which were delicious, although some were overly sweet.

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Indonesia has a most unusual coffee called Kopi Luwak. It’s the most expensive coffee in the world because the beans are fed to the Asian Palm Civet, collected from its droppings, cleaned and roasted. Enzymes in the animal’s gut react with the beans to give them a rich and smooth flavour.

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There are growing concerns about the ‘farming’ of Kopi Luwak as the animals are held in battery cages and forced to eat the beans. The two animals at the plantation weren’t so cramped in their larger cages although seemed quite disinterested in our being there.

Highland Cycle Tour

A gentle way to see the highlands of Bali is via a bicycle tour. A large group of us ventured out one morning on a tour which started in the highlands and worked its way down quiet roads. This provided plentiful views of rural Bali including many rice paddies.

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We were introduced to many of the local traditions as we rode through several villages and past many small temples, including this temple to the Destroyer, surrounded by palm trees.

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Midget Fun Boxing

Beyond all Bali’s standard evening entertainments of fine dining, drinking, beach-side bands and dancing there’s Midget Fun Boxing. While this might seem like a strange and violent form of entertainment, it’s actually quite fun. Reminiscent of the classic days of WWF wrestling, it’s more of a comedy fare with the midgets wearing gloves that cover more than half of their arms. Midway through a bout the competitors stop to dance to whatever music comes on, head banging to AC/DC or bopping to other types of music. But should one opponent take his attention from the other he gets belted. With a low centre of gravity the midgets are easily knocked over and then it’s a free for all. Here, after knocking his opponent over, this boxer jumped on top and pretended to hump him.

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Between bouts female midgets dance around on stage with some of the younger members of the audience. Cheeky boxers would stuff a boxing glove down their oversized shorts and chase the dancing-girls. Overall it was a fun night with much hilarity. No midgets were hurt in the process, although that can’t be said for this audience member during post event photos.

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Manta Ray Safari

On a hot and humid island in the tropics there’s usually plenty to do out on the water. I took the opportunity to go out by boat and snorkel with Manta Rays. Four metres from wingtip to wingtip these placid creatures fly through water without a care. Unperturbed by us being there they would come up close to have a good look before swimming on.

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Bali also has some very diverse coral reefs, with 500 species of coral recorded around the one island. This is more than the entire Caribbean Sea. We snorkelled around the reefs in the warm waters for much of the day.

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Next, we hired some scooters and checked out some temples, but that for another day…

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Bali, Indonesia – Impressions

After seven months working and biding my time in England, I’m back on the road again! This time doing the rounds of Asia.

While you’re never truly alone when travelling, this time I’m being accompanied by my brother for the first 6 months.

To get us started we’re heading to Bali for three weeks to attend a family reunion and to get to know the popular Indonesian tourist mecca.

Indonesia

Paradise in Indonesia

With just over 4 million people, Bali began to gain popularity as a tourist destination in the 1960’s when it was ‘discovered’ by a small group of Australian surfers. Only 3 hours flight from Perth, Bali’s popularity erupted and tourists swept into the island. This influx of foreign money greatly lifted the standard of living on the island.

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During the early 2000s two religious-based terror attacks in tourist areas set the industry back. But in the years that followed the island’s reputation bounced back. Australians make up a large portion of the foreign tourists on the island often giving the impression that there are more Aussies than Balinese. China has the second highest tourist count here.

A Day at the Beach

There are several main tourist areas in Bali, one is Kuta on the south-western coast surrounded by the townships of Legian and Seminyak. With beaches of golden sand, a day at the beach in Bali means hiring deck chairs and relaxing in the heat under a sun umbrella.

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With the deck chairs tended by beach bars there’s easy access to drinks, food, the warm ocean and plentiful bronzed bodies ripe for people watching. But be warned, while you’re relaxing if you should pay even the slightest attention to hawkers on the beach, they’ll appear in swarms trying to selling sunglasses, watches, sarongs, toys, hats, clothes or wanting to massage, paint nails, groom, plait hair and the like. Learn to ignore them and they’ll move on to the next target leaving you to relax in relative peace.

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As the sun sets, deck chairs are replaced with bean bags and the bars begin serving all manner of dinner and cocktails. The hawkers are still active, trying to sell glowing or sparkling light toys, while mosquitos come out dine.

Massages

Walking around the bustling tourist areas there are plentiful spas and massage houses offering all kinds beauty therapies and massages. With the prices averaging between 60,000 and 100,000 rupiah per hour (AU$6 – 10) getting one every 2nd day is easy. And yes, that was AU$6 – 10! Because of the sheer number of massage houses and fierce competition, groups of young women try to coax wandering tourists into the spas with calls of ‘massards’ and the waving of price lists.

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While I’m sure ‘Happy Endings’ can be found if that’s your thing, sticking to reputable outlets and the service will be professional.

Dental Work
Bali has many specialist dental surgeries at a fraction of the price of Australia or New Zealand, so it’s not uncommon to come here for a holiday and get some work done. The dentists are highly qualified and provide top quality services. Thankfully I needed nothing more that a checkup and clean.

Fine Dining
Bali has many restaurants offering all manner of food. This is probably the downside of holidaying on this Indonesian paradise, too much choice. While most restaurants serve traditional local foods such as Nasi Goreng, most serve Western foods too. There are restaurants that specialise in French, Italian, Spanish, Russian and American foods, not to mention Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese. I particularly enjoyed the Japanese Jazz restaurant for both the food and the live band.

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Prices are close to Australian prices and can add up if eating out every night. However, it’s not difficult to locate local eateries with plentiful great food at cheap prices.

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A popular restaurant, Warung Murah, literally meaning ‘Cheap Restaurant’ in the Kuta area provides excellent food at a good price. If you go over the top and get a large plate, you could pay somewhere close to AU$6 for your meal. Be warned! There are also plentiful local street venders carrying their hot food around on the back of their scooters.

Drinking
Indonesia has an international quality beer named Bintang which is very popular among tourists, especially when served in the Bintang Tower.

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Balinese wine, in many tourist’s opinions however, isn’t up to international standards and with foreign wines being expensive, most stick with the beer. There are plentiful spirits, but only drink the known labelled brands, as the cheaper local brands may include an ethanol blend that has been known to cause death when consumed.

Next, I take a look at some of my adventures on the island paradise of Bali.

The Lone Trail Wanderer