After a hot 48 hours in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia (which was amazing despite why we ended up there), a 3 hour flight to Da Nang, and a 1 hour wait at our hostel, we were finally reunited with Hayden!
I laid down some rules after the boys had their warm embrace. Rule 1: you have 48 hours free rein (aka drinking) after that, we’re real people getting down to the travelling thing we are here for! Rule 2: I am cutting either the hair or beard. Rule 3: I am the boss... (I am still trying to get them to adhere to that one).
And so the drinking began... we quickly learned the Vietnamese word for cheers, and it’s an easy one, “zooooooo!”
Da Nang is a city in central Vietnam, its mostly only used as a pass through to Hoi An and that’s exactly what we did. The next morning (the boys moving a bit more slowly), we taxied to Hoi An, the ancient town famed for being an UNESCO heritage site. We were dropped off at the door of Miss Ly’s restaurant; the oldest and most well known family-ran restaurant in Hoi An. The original Miss Ly was over 90 years old, she sat right outside the kitchen peeling sweet potatoes. Her daughter was now running the restaurant and cooking for the guests.
Hoi An is BEAUTIFUL! There is something magical about the small town; it is covered in colourful lanterns, European influence on top of ancient Chinese architecture, and the pedestrian streets filled with people along the canal. The town itself dates back to the 15th century with some of the original wooden structures still in tact and so it all comes together to create an unique charming little town.
Here are are some pictures of Hoi An, although I could write 1000 words to describe it:
But the most important picture of all, is this quintessential photo of Hoi An which showcases the two besties modeling their new matching yellow watermelon shirts:
Hoi An is also the starting point to motorbike the Hai Van Pass through to Hue. We were fortunate to find a company that would take our big bags and we jumped on our first motorbike tour of Vietnam! (For those who may not know, Vietnam is a cyclists/motorcyclists dream - many, many tourists come to Vietnam specifically to ride the entire coast of the country.)
The total trip was 123 kms and took 4 hours from start to finish.
At the end of the Hai Van Pass we got onto Highway 1 to get the rest of the way into Hue. This wasn’t at scenic and peaceful as climbing the coastal mountain. Let me paint you a little picture... going from winding roads, switch backs to climb up the mountain range, pine trees that made the air smell so vibrant and fresh, descending into little coastal towns with white beaches... to a big highway, full of big dump trucks, cargo trucks, trucks carrying obese pigs, local buses, tourist buses, cars and motorbikes speeding past you.
*Reminder: this is our first time on motorbikes in Vietnam, especially on a highway. We (as in Carter because I am certainly not driving one of these things) don’t know the local road etiquette yet. Does a honk mean “Hi there, coming around the corner, just want to give you a heads up!” Like it does in St Lucia? Does it mean “I don’t want to startle you but I am coming up behind you!” Like it does in the Philippines or does it mean “MOVE!!!!!” As it means in Vietnam, which we were about to learn. So when a transport truck is coming toward us and a tourist bus is coming up behind us honking, where does that leave us? Carter pulled to the side of the road but maybe not quickly enough for the bus driver’s liking (or EXTREMELY bad timing) because as the completely-packed-with-tourists bus drove past us, the toilet trap door was released out onto the road... and out BLASTED all the *god knows what* for the on board toilet RIGHT onto the ENTIRE front of Carter (yep, face included). The shitter ain’t full anymore, Cousin Eddie. I have never seen someone pull over so quickly and have certainly never heard the high-pitched screaming that was coming from Carter before... “Ahhhh!! What is that.... Ahhh!! OMG! It’s S***!! It’s S***!! Hayden! Haaaaaydeeeen, pull over, pull over!!!!” I couldn’t stop laughing ONLY because he blocked it all from hitting me so I came away unscathed, thank the freaking lord!!!
Shortly after that debacle, we drove into the city of Hue. Hue was much less beautiful than Hoi An but just as interesting. We spent an entire afternoon walking around the Imperial City which was formed in the 1800s and used to house Emperors and Dynastys until the mid 1945 when the last Vietnamese emperor abdicated and the communist government was established. Other than learning some interesting historical facts about Hue and Vietnam as a whole, we didn’t spend much more time here.
Phong Nha was next on the list, so we hopped on our first sleeper bus and made our way North! We claimed the back of the bus which was private, spacious and unfortunately right beside the washroom where a local lady ended up puking all over. Yay. (Side note: Asians do NOT care about bodily movements, if you have to puke all over the toilet, or spit onto the ground, or continue to puke into a bag and leave it in the aisle - you go glen coco, you do what you gotta do!) If you haven’t noticed, we’re on a pretty great bodily fluid hot streak... =|
Phong Nha is a small town on the outskirts of Phong Nha Ke-Bằng National Park. This stop was all about nature and getting into the mountainous landscape. We decided to forego an organized tour (as we try and do whenever and wherever we can). Our plan was to get to Son Doong Cave, the biggest cave in the world! So much so that it has its own climate, river system and and jungle within it! We were ready to take on this beast! Wrong. Apparently only a certain number of tourists can do expeditions within the cave; it’s a cool $3000USD for a 5 day trip and oh ya, it’s already fully booked for the next year! A little deflated but also optimistic that maybe we’d be back to take on Son Doong, we rented motorbikes and we were off the our first stop! Here are some of the views we saw along the way:
Our first stop was Paradise Cave. Okay,, so it’s a little less impressive than Son Doong but still, Paradise Cave has been the biggest cave we’ve ever been in to date. We climbed down 100-ish steps to the bottom of this massive 31 km cave! This cave holds the record for longest dry cave in Asia, and so, we walked... and walked... and walked. We were fortunate to get there before any tour busses or other tourists got there so other than a couple locals, we had the cave all to ourselves. This is amazing for two reasons: the first, getting a tourist attraction to yourselves almost never happens so we cherish it when it does, and two, if we weren’t walking and/or talking the silence within the entire cave was almost as beautiful as the cave itself!
We made our way to Ninh Binh, next, another town known for the amazing landscape and natural attractions around it.
And just like that came December 15th, what a glorious day! As the birthday girl, I woke up to breakfast in bed (it was already included with our hotel room but the in bed part was pretty nice & thoughtful!) Carter had somehow managed to sneak away and buy me a present. This is extremely hard to do when we have literally been spending 24/7 together. So I was really surprised to unwrap (aka open a plastic bag) to a pair of socks and slippers! I know what you’re all probably thinking..”so romantic???...” Well, in our next blog you’ll know how useful they came in!
Also, a super big heartfelt thank you to all of those who signed a birthday card for me in advance! It was so nice to wake up and be able to read all the wishes from my friends and family back at home xo A bigger thank you to Jen for knowing my love of cards and thinking of this idea!
After breakfast we hopped onto our motor bikes and went to Trang An to do a river boat cruise. This was an amazing experience, we got into a private paddle boat with just us three and a guide. Our guide took us up the river through beautiful scenery, through 8 caves and around the river for 3 kms, all of which took 2.5 hours.
We maybe would have been quicker to finish but Carter took the reigns on paddling for a bit, and well, let’s just say he wasn’t as efficient as the guide..
After that we went to climb Mua Cave & Dragon Mountain. It was a fairly easy climb compared to some of the ones we’ve done but nonetheless, the view of Tam Coc River and the rice fields were breathtaking. It was a bit overcast so the pictures don’t do it justice but here they are:
After the days adventures, we boarded our first train of Vietnam towards Hanoi!
Well. Things didn’t quite go according to plan after our last blog.
We had a flight booked from Surabaya to Ho Chi Minh City, with a short stop over in Singapore. Everything went great; we stopped in Singapore, got our foot massages, used the incredibly connected WIFI, and ate Western food (although Carter did not get his McDonalds). We boarded the plane to Ho Chi Minh and we were off to Vietnam! Added bonus was that we were finally meeting up with our friend Hayden who we hadn’t seen in 15 months as he was living in Australia this past year.
So, we have a great flight, we land in HCMC and the only thing we need to figure out is how we’re going to get USD money out for our Vietnamese visa on arrival. There’s been ATMs and Money Exchange booths everywhere in other airports though, it’ll be easy! As we get up to immigration, we have to fill out an entry application but regardless of this, we are now armed with the money, our 2 properly sized passport pictures and valid Canadian passports, we are set!
We are called up to the immigration desk. The officers are dressed in what I can only attribute to formal military outfits, looking super official and stern. We smiled (as the nice Canadians we are) and politely said “hello, we’re here to apply for the Visa on Arrival - here is absolutely everything you need because we are SO prepared”. He shuffled our documents and quickly said “where’s your letter?”... “what letter?”... “you need letter of approval to enter this country” Carter and I look at each other confused. “Sir, this is what we’re here for. An approval letter for the visa on arrival. We have all the documents for the visa”
“Sit down” the officer said and took our passports.
Carter and I sit, looking around at others to see what kind of documents they have. There are people getting passport photos... we have those, check. There are people getting out money... easy fix, ATM and or credit card, check. And then we start seeing people with prestine letters in a protective sleeve with an official looking red stamp. Shit. What the heck are those?!
Not even 15 minutes later he calls us back up and with absolutely no remorse or hesitation says “you have no letter of approval. You cannot enter Vietnam. We send you back where you came from. I will get the airline. Sit down”
WHAT?!?! IN. THE. FRIG?!!?
Now panic sets in. We have done all our research, talked to so many people, HOW did we miss this?! There’s no way they can send us back, we’re polite Canadians, there must be a mistake. So I get on our only working device and connect to the internet. Yes, we have 4 devices between the two of us but my cell phone was the ONLY one with battery life.... and it was at a whopping 3%. (Note to self: charge EVERYTHING to the MAX when it comes to a travel day. Another lesson learned.)
I get onto the Vietnamese government website and see that we can pay extra to expedite the visa application, 4 hours. Done! We will just apply for the visa as we sit and wait in immigration, easy peasy. They’ll understand that and let us in!
Next thing we know, 2 airline representatives, a security guard and immigration officer come to get us. They have paperwork with the same official red stamps we saw on the other travellers documents. Yay! They’ve decided to give us the approval letter! WRONG. They ask us to sign the papers, which are all in Vietnamese, so we just simply asked “what are these for?” The immigration officer holding them, violently pulls the papers out of Carter’s hand and walks away with them... and then the next thing we know, we are being escorted through security to a plane because we were now officially DEPORTEES of the country of Vietnam.
Carter. Is. Rattled. And I’m in shock. If any of you know me, I try to always stay positive, looking at the siliver lining. So as we’re getting escorted by 5 airport personnel, I am saying “it’s okay, just a slight set back... we are paying for the story... this is a good experience... live and learn... it will be an easy fix. We will get back to Singapore,get on wifi and just wait out the 4 hours it takes to get a visa. We’ll be back on a flight to Vietnam to see our good friend Hayden in less than 8 hours!”
How many times in a day can I be so WRONG?!
No one will speak English to us, although we know ALL of these officials can. No one will look at us, they just keep rushing us on and yelling at each other. We get to a gate and finally one of the airline representatives says “you are flying back to Singapore” so I respond “how long until the plane comes? We can buy our visa now and stay in Vietnam!” Apparently, the plane was being delayed soley for us to board. It is the exact same plane we JUST arrived on. Great, back to Singapore... where we just came from. Just like the immigration officer had said.
So we were now on a plane BACK to Singapore. I asked the stewardess for our passports back and she said she’s keeping them until we land. Okay... (another moment we were completely helpless. Sure - keep our MOST important documentation hostage. Seems right since NOTHING has been explained to us so far.)
So, we land in Singapore and we exit the airplane like normal tourists... until we see yet another airport official holding our passports waiting for us in the tunnel. To our surprise, she was holding 4 passports, another couple had been deported for the same reason! (Sweet, we aren’t ignorant in not knowing the visa process, there are others in the same boat... or plane, so to speak). We are again escorted to the immigration office by 4 officials in the Singapore airport. Again, everyone is speaking in a different language which we can’t understand. All of a sudden, the immigration officer says “Back to Indonesia or Canada, which one”. My stomach sank. WHAT?! Canada?! That didn’t even enter our minds!! No. No. No.
Finally, a grounds control representative came up to the desk in order to help us. The first nice person we encountered that actually gave us the time of day and spoke English to us. She explained that because our original port was Indonesia and our final destination was Vietnam, that we were being denied entry into Singapore. Great. Meanwhile, the other couple who were also deported asked us why we didn’t just pay the $180USD fee to get the visa within an hour. SAY WHAT! That was NEVER an option for us, even though we asked (slash begged) to do that! Cue: anger.
The grounds control rep talked with the immigration officer and got him to agree that if we booked a flight elsewhere, could we go there and he agreed but he said “if they are not allowed in that country they MUST go back to Canada.” So, we decided that we would apply for our visa to Vietnam, pay extra for the 4 hour emergency rush, and book the next flight out to Ho Chi Minh City... again. WRONG. The immigration officer totally shut that down because we were deportees and they would not allow us to fly back. Okay... so now we’ve spent our 15 day tourist visa limit in Indonesia and because we haven’t been officially stamped in to enter another country, we didn’t want to go back to Indonesia and be deported (yet again) and sent to Canada. So we booked a flight to Kaula Lampur, Malaysia because you did not need a visa to enter. Perfect. The grounds control lady looked up the flights, there was one at 7am but it was full - the next one out was at 7pm. That’s fine we thought, Singapore airport was great for shopping, eating, wifi. We could fill our tim as we waited...
And then we get hit with it. We are in transit limbo as deportees, they have our passports, we are technically air-fugitives. She tells us that we will have to spend the entire time until our flight out in immigration holding! Being escorted and under surveillance 24/7! And on TOP of being in airport prison, we have to PAY to be locked up!!! $80USD per hour!!! Again, f^*%!!!!
So, GET US ON THAT EARLY FLIGHT.
We are escorted to the “holding room” - the Singapore Airport security calls it this. It is airport jail, let’s not get that twisted. We walked into one door, it locks behind us and now we’re in the middle of two steel doors. The security official scans his badge, the next door opens. Welcome to jail! We are stripped of our bags and belongings, made to read a sheet of our rights. “No cellphone use, only to call out. No pictures. No use of personal items. No this. No that.” We signed the paper saying we understood the terms and conditions (because we had a choice right?!) We were shown the “accommodations” we would be sleeping in - one male and one female dorm room with at least 20 bunk beds and blue lights so the surveillance cameras could capture you the entire time. Cool. Most comfortable and warm environment we’ve ever stayed in, that’s for sure! We were given noodles in a cup and crackers to eat. I went right to bed so the nightmare would be over quicker.
I was woken up to a phone in my face at 6am. I took out my ear plugs and my raspy voice mustered together a hello. On the other side was a LOUD voice “you on 7am flight, you pay $998 dollars now! What your credit card number?” Oh my good god. So I clarified, $998 for what?!”... So when they originally said our flight back to Singapore was free, it most certainly WAS NOT. So now we are stuck paying for the flight back and onward to Kuala Lampur. We had no choice. I asked the officer to have access to my bags (yes, we had to ask permission to use our own stuff, #jaillife) I gave over my credit card number and woke Carter up. At least we were getting out of there! We were in the holding room over night which meant we owed a LOT of money for our “accommodations” (that’s also what they refer to the jail as to make it sound better). Our first break: the officer explained that it’s the airline that collects that payment and because we were on such an early flight, we wouldn’t need to pay the “accommodation” fee. Woo Hoo! But this was still a $1000+ mistake and set back. Definitely not in our budget.
We are again escorted to the gate. Again, we ask for our passports back because now we’re just two Canadian travellers wanting to visit KL! “You’ll get them back on the flight”, cool!
We get on the plane with our spirits lifted because we’re getting the heck out of Singapore and we didn’t have to pay the jail fee!
Fast forward two hours. We land in KL, exit the plane, ask a stewardess for the passports back as the Singapore officer said we should. WRONG. Our passports were STILL being held hostage, so yet again, we were escorted to the Malaysian immigration offices. Cue: hearts pounding and fingers crossing.
We were behind a man from India who has been freshly deported from KL. Lovely! This immigration officer was on a deportation hot streak. We get up to the front, and again, the two officials are talking back and forth in a language we don’t understand. The Malaysian officer asks “why were you not allowed into Singapore?”... well this is going to be hard to explain with the language barrier. We *tried* to explain that we were deported from Vietnam, the officials there didn’t give us the proper paperwork explaining that, we couldn’t get into Singapore because it wasn’t our original or final destination, so we want to visit Malaysia to wait the 3 days to get the Vietnamese visa. Well, I don’t know if was offended that we were only using KL as a lay over to Vietnam or he didn’t understand but he threw our passports back to the airline rep, started YELLING at the poor guy, and started talking to another immigration officer and told us to sit down.
This is is where my mind went back to Canada. Holy friggin gah. We are going back to Canada. Do we go to Vancouver so it’s closer to fly back? Do we go to Toronto to see our parents? Do I even have it in me to fly back to SEA after being deported 3 times?! Is this it?! We quit our jobs to travel for ONE MONTH. Cue: one single tear drop.
Carter went out to speak with the airline rep guy who was yelled at, thrown out of the immigration office, but was still holding our passports. He was on the phone with the airline to find out why we were denied entry into Singapore because all the documentation he had was one flipping sheet that said one sentence “unfit to enter Singapore”. So he was just as much in the dark as Carter and I were.
So Carter and I sat in immigrations for another hour, not knowing the fate of our deportee future.
We have now now been in holding/escorted/passport hostage for 24 hours. No one knows where we are in the world. No one knows what happened except for the one text I sent to Hayden “they are forcing us on a plane” 12 hours prior in HCMC. None of our devices are charged yet. We are at the end of our patience and wits.
Carter gets up again to talk to the airline rep. He does his best to explain our situation and how and why we came to Malaysia. He said if it wasn’t for this ONE piece of paper, we would be able to walk into Malaysia like regular tourists and we should be allowed to do that because we booked a flight from Singapore to Malaysia and this was our end destination, it has really nothing to do with being deported from Vietnam. The man got up and left to a customs desk. He came back to Carter and said “this piece of paper is a problem for you. Here are your passports, make sure you don’t show anyone this paper again” Carter replied with “sir, I will gladly BURN this paper right now if you want, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Carter is now finally in possession of our passports after 26 hours, he comes to get me “BAGS, LETS GO!” It was truly the best START THE CAR moment. We walked through customs, with the stupid sheet in our pocket, handed over our passports, boom, stamped, and we walked into Malaysia! Never in our lives did we think we would be ecstatic to be in Malaysia!
We got through customs and the last security check and gave each other the biggest bear hug ever!! Hopped on the closest monorail to Kuala Lumpur feeling like escaped fugitives!
Here are some photos of our 48 hours in Kuala Lampur:
Update: we are now successfully in Vietnam with Hayden. We decided to forego Ho Chi Minh City and flew right into Da Nang which is central Vietnam. We truly believe that if we flew here the first time, NONE of this would have happened because they were SO helpful and patient with all the tourists! Once again, lesson learned. Travel is definitely the best life learning experiences you could ever get. Wish us luck!!
This will be a quick(er) read than the rest!
Our first destination in East Java was Probolinggo, just a night layover before catching a mini bus to Cemara Lawang. However, this sounds like a much more easy process than it really is. Cemara Lawang is the last, and highest, village before entering Mt Bromo National Park to see the active volcano so it hosts many, many tourists throughout the year. Because it’s situated at such a high altitude and the road from Probolinggo is literally straight up the mountain side for an hour, a normal public bus cannot make the journey. So, que entrepreneurial locals who own their own minibuses and take advantage of tourism because there is no other budget-friendly way to get up. Now the process of catching one of these minibuses... you show up to the bus terminal, an old man directing traffic sees that you are a tourist and automatically assumes you’re going to see Mt Bromo (in which case he is probably right 9 out of 10 times), he walks you past the legitimate bus station to the front of a random side-market restaurant. Here, there is a local Javanese man and his van sitting out front. They tell you it’s 30k IDR each and they don’t leave until the bus is full (15 people). When Carter and I got there, there was only one other couple... great. So we sat at the restaurant and had our “favourite” Nasi Gorgeng (fried rice) and waited... and waited.... and waited. The couple who was there first had already been waiting for THREE hours! Thankfully, we had only waited an hour before another couple came and we told the driver we’d split the total cost of 500k IDR we could just leave NOW. Once again, I would have personally paid the full 500k IDR for the journey that was ahead!
In Probolinggo, Carter and I were sweating (that’s nothing new for Carter, but for me to sweat just sitting is letting you know how hot it was out!) and as we rode the bus, I had all the windows open, practically hanging out side to catch some breeze. As we drove up, and up, and up, one by one the windows closed; it got SO cold as we climbed into and above the clouds!
After an hour and a half straight up this mountain face, we arrived in cloud-covered Cemara Lawang.
Immediately changing into our ONLY semi-warm attire, we explored the village. We didn’t last long because it was only 12 degrees and rainy, but it was refreshing to finally feel cold! *sorry for those at home currently experiencing winter!
We decided that we would take on Mount Penanjakan the next morning to watch the sunrise over the Sea of Sand and Mt Bromo. This meant getting to bed early and waking up at 2:30am to start the hike. Again, Carter and I only had one pair of pants and one long sleeve each which got wet in the rain so we had to compromise when it came to going to bed & keeping warm so please enjoy this picture of my little babooskah:
Our alarm went off at 2:30am, you could already hear the sounds of dirt bikes roaring and the hustle and bustle of this village. We layered up with almost everything we owned, exhibit a:
We headed out to Mt Penanjakan. It took a full hour to get up to the main viewpoint but it was getting a little crowded with Balinese and Javanese tourists so we climbed above that to get a more serene view and experience as the sun rose. We had to wait another hour before the sun started to really come up but it was well worth the tough climb and was another surreal moment of our first month of travel!
When the sun has fully risen, we made our way back for a well deserved banana pancake. After that, we started on the trek towards Mt Bromo’s active volcano crater. We found a side entrance in so we didn’t have to pay the National Park fee and walked across the Sea of Sand.
It truly looked like we were in a land before time based on Mars. The landscape was breath taking!
But above all, the actual volcanic crater was the most mesmerizing for us. It was SO enormous, powerful, loud, hot, angry looking. It was truly like looking into the depths of the earths core because the crater was SO deep. And no, other than a little fence that was damaged by so much sulphuric acid and didn’t even go all the way around the craters edge, there was absolutely no safety measures here. Although, we found it to be better this way because it was a piece of nature that was essentially untouched and in its natural formation which was amazing to be a part of.
And yes, I swore at Carter to be safe and careful because we were on the edge of a f****** volcano!
As we headed down the volcano, we got stopped multiple times by people to take our pictures. We should really start charging for photos! It could very well fund the rest of our trip! Here are some of the few we snapped as well:
We then hit the road back down to Probolinggo, same method as last time but we were fortunate enough to be the last couple to arrive so we just jumped in and left as oppose to waiting hours for the bus to fill up!
When we got back to Probolinggo we decided to keep on traveling toward our next destination, the big city of Surabaya. So, once again, as we got to the bus terminal, the old man directing traffic started yelling at us “Jakarta, Surabaya?!” And lead us to a bus which we boarded.
Only this time, another bus driver came on to explain to us that this bus is direct o Surabaya, 2 hours nonstop, don’t sleep here because pick pocketers, and offered us some water. We agreed to all the above and then he asked for the bus fare which was 35k IDR ($7CA/each) so we paid him, he ripped off the ticket and went to the front of the bus. As we started driving away, 15 minutes out of the bus terminal, the bus attendant comes down the lane to collect fares. When he got to us we explained that we had already paid and he just kept shaking his head no, no, no. He handed us the tickets for the bus route we were on and Carter realized we had been scammed. The man who took our money at the beginning must have been a bus driver for another bus who was out for some extra cash because he was wearing the bus attendant outfit, had the real bus fare tickets, but gave us the wrong route tickets! Thankfully, our bus attendant was kind enough to not put up a fight and let us continue riding without paying the fare (again). It actually worked out because the fare for the bus we were on was 20k IDR more expensive than the one we were scammed for! But now we know to double check the tickets and to not pay before the bus takes off, lesson learned.
We were able to hang out in the city for 3 full days, recharging, getting laundry done and getting caught up before heading to Vietnam. We even had time for a date night - sushi and Justice League movie!
And that’s the end of Indo!
Before diving into Bali, quick shout out to the Singapore airport for having FREE foot massage chairs & McDonalds! Woot woot. Looking forward to our next layover there on route to Vietnam!
Now, onto the surfer’s paradise! From Manila we flew into Denpasar, Bali... taxied to Sanur Beach... ferried to Nusa Penida... and then taxied again to Atuh Beach to round out our 48 hours of commute. The last taxi almost did us in though. We haggled the driver down from 500,000 Indonesia Rupiah ($47CA) to 250,000IDR ($21CA) thinking Nusa Penida was a small island and no way would a taxi cost $47CAD. Well, let me tell you I would have paid the full $47 and considered this trip worth every dollar! There is one main “road” all the way around Nusa, it’s the size of ONE normal Canadian lane, cut in half for two-way traffic. Big tourist vans, work trucks, cars, motor bikes, pedestrians, dogs - all use this one little road. And then we started weaving up, and up, and up. Cliffs edges, no railings and coming head on with a big cement truck, who of course does not stop but simply pushes his side view mirror in and SQUEEZES by us as our van is on the outer edge of the cliff. Carter and I both just hung on to the “holy shit bars” and continued to watch the drama of the road unfold. And then, when we think it could not get any worse, we turn off the main road and continue up the bumpiest, windiest... I can’t even call it a road, so I am going to call it a path. After an hour and a half, we roll up to a parking lot that looks like it’s on the edge of the world. Needless to say, after 48 hours of commute, I haven’t changed my clothes, I’ve only brushed my teeth once and I am ready for a GOOD shower.
To my surprise, Carter had booked us accommodation in a tree house for two nights looking over the most surreal landscape! This is something I have always said I wanted to do! My spirits were lifted.
Until we were shown to our room. The process of checking into a room is fairly easy, everyone knows the drill: walk up to reception, give your name, go up an elevator, and voila your room awaits. This was a little more challenging...
Carter gave his name to a random man who said he worked there, he grabbed a blank note pad with just “Carter” written on it, nothing else, and said “ah, ok.” And he offered to take our bags (we each have 60L backpacks on our back and one day bag on our front), we declined and then he motioned for us to follow him. We started walking down a dirt path and then get to the edge of what seems to resemble a stairway down the cliff so, we start our descent on dirt, gravel, and loose rock with a piece of string to help guide us along the sideline. After 2 minutes of trying to see over my day bag and to not fall or slip, I give my bag to our guide. I still slipped. It took a solid 10 minutes to HIKE down this cliff side to get to our tree house. Immediately I could see that the beauty of this place will make up for the steep climb down, an outhouse as a washroom and the very real let down that I wasn’t going to have the good scrub-clean warm shower I was looking forward to (slash probably needed).
The tree house was AMAZING. I simply cant put it into words, so here are a few photos to help you put into perspective what we were looking at:
What we were looking out to from our balcony:
And a little glimpse of where we were situated to get prespective... (thank goodness for the Drone):
We stood on the balcony of our tree house, taking in the view and nature... and also mentally preparing. If it took 10 minutes to get DOWN the cliff, how long and hard would it be to get UP the dang thing where the food and water was! (Update: the first time up we had to stop 2-3 times for a break, by the end of the 3rd day we could go up with a lot of sweat but no breaks :) )
The next morning we had our first sleep in! Aside from some monkeys, we were the only ones on the cliff side. Finally, no roosters to wake us up. We made our way to Atuh Beach, a 15 minute walk away and 500 stairs down to a picturesque beach.
We spent the day here; you’d find our names under the definition of beach bums.
When we got back to our tree house, we had found that the resident lizard that we thought was so cute the night before, had took a big poop right on our bed! Needless to say, Carter was on his way back up the cliff to get the keys to the other tree house as I was packing our bags up!
The next day we made our way to Crystal Bay, which was on the other side of Nusa Penida. Our bungalow owner had informed us that tourists didn’t start coming over to the island until 2014. Just like the Philippines, Nusa is full of construction and ready to take on more and more tourists who want to get away from Australian-ridden Bali. The beach here was nice but nothing compared to the privacy and landscape of Atuh Beach.
Our third day, we made our way back to the main island of Bali and up to Bingin Beach. This entire coast is known for the surf: Uluwatu, Pedang Pedang, The Impossibles, Bingin Beach, Dreamland, Jimbaran and Kuta.
We checked into Suara Ombak Homestay through Thrifty Visuals and headed straight for the beach to test our skills on the waves. We got a lesson from a local surfer and beginner boards (big, buoyant and long) and headed out to catch our first wave. Sorry, there is no photo evidence that we got up, but we did! We were out there for just over an hour and closer to the end of our lesson, the waves were getting bigger and bigger. So much so that the good surfers, surfing behind us, were riding IN the barrel of the wave!
We had a WELL deserved meal at my favourite restaurant in Bingin Beach, Cashew Tree. It was an Australian owned healthy restaurant that also ran kickboxing, Maui Thai and yoga classes throughout the day! After coming from bread & rice fuelled Philippines, I had all the fruits and veg my body could take on while in Bingin!
The next day we rented a motor bike and headed down the coast to Uluwatu, the surfing capital of Bali. It was SUCH a cool spot, a fusion between Australia and Balinese culture, food and love for surfing.
Next we were off to Ubud! Getting to Ubud was an experience in itself... we drove through four villages in a row, each were known for a different art or skill: stone carving, silver & gold, wood working and painting.
Ubud is our favourite city in Indonesia. It immediately has a different feel than all the rest of Bali. It’s a chill vibe, hippy-ish, and there are SO many shops!! The town itself it’s made up of intersecting roads, mazes of market streets, and the monkey forest.
When we arrived in Ubud, we found a little homestay and headed out in the rain to get our bearings. Apparently in Ubud, it rains everyday at 2-3pm, and this day was no different! We went in and out of all the different shops that had hundreds of Balinese wood carved masks, paintings, stone statues, and silver jewelry. I’ve made a promise to myself that I will be back to Bali, more specifically to Ubud, with the agenda to SHOP. Shop for clothes, shop for the really cool wicker purses they have everywhere here, shop for silver, shop for home decor, just shop!
We wander through the Ubud art market and I found these bull hand carved heads I am OBSESSED with! Also, the amazingly talent Balinese men who were hand-carving custom doors right before our eyes were pretty spectacular too:
When we woke up the next morning, I was delighted to find that this was our first sleep in Indonesia where no lizards came in to visit us! We rented a motor bike and got to the Terrangang rice terraces early. They were beautiful! So pristinely cut out of the land and harvested:
We then went rogue and motor biked through the country sides and small villages as we made our way to Lehib Waterfall. Here are some pics we took through out the day:
Next up: Ubud’s enchanted Monkey Forest. This was a surreal experience. It was like a real-life version of Planet of the Apes, except these apes were much smaller and couldn’t give a damn about you (unless you had food!) We walked through the park for an hour with monkeys left, right and center of us. Some came too close for my comfort, as you can probably tell by my facial expressions:
After 3 days in Ubud, we were shortly closing the chapter on Bali. We took a taxi to the main X bus terminal just north of Denpasar to make our way east to Java, one of three main islands that make up Indonesia. Our taxi driver was great! He taught us a lot about Indonesia and Balinese culture and religion.
When we got to the terminal, a man without even talking to us, waved us over and wanted to put us on a random bus that was sitting in the middle of the parking lot. We tried to make sure as well as we could with the language barrier that this bus was going to where we needed it too. So we just listened to the man and the bus was off! We ended up at Medewi, a small surf town down the coast, right where we intended. Sometimes, you gotta learn to just trust the system.
We stayed at Medewi Inn, and it was great timing because the owners were also staying there as they were in town from Australia. The owners are Eddie and his Wife (I actually couldn’t understand her name so we will call her Alice the Aussie). Eddie is Javanese and grew up in Medewi, his family is one of the biggest in the village. The morning after, we caught a free ride from Alice the Aussie to the bus terminal in the next town over and headed toward Gilimanuk and the ferry terminal to get across to Java.
Because of Mt Agung, the ferry was MUCH busier than we anticipated, with travelers rerouting themselves to Sarabaya to fly out. Here is a picture of Mt Agung the day before it erupted from one of the ferries we took:
We were SO close to making the 1:50pm train to Probolinggo but missed it by 30 minutes, now we had to wait until 9pm for the next train out.
We went straight to the train station to scoop out the exact times of the next train and buy our tickets in advance. Little did we know... there is an hour time change between Bali and Java so we made the 1:50pm train with plenty of time to spare! The travel to Java was amazing because everything was just coming up roses for us. What made it even sweeter was that on the train, we were sat in a car with 2 of the funniest, sassiest sisters who I’ve ever met - they loved eavesdropping, talking crap, and laughing - my spirit animals. Also, 2 of the sweetest men, who thankfully studied in the US so was able to translate all the sassy comments the sisters were making. And of course, the real reason I loved them so much, was that they made it their duty to feed me. And I was HUNGRY, Carter and I got on the train with only eating breakfast 3 hours prior and not realizing this was a 4 hour train ride. The ladies said they were frequent riders of the train for their business but this was the most special trip for them because they were talking like family with strangers and friendly foreigners.
Here are all of us at the end of the ride:
Another highlight were two siblings sitting in front of us, a 5 year old girl and her 3 year old brother, who were soaking up everything Carter and I did like sponge! By the end of the train ride the girl was giving the peace sign, winking, blowing kisses, etc.
And that's the end of our Bali chapter, until next time friends!
Carter Bender & Brittany Wilson left Toronto, Canada to travel the world. Where will they be next? Follow their #cbwtravels blog to find out!