South-East Asia

Some visuals from my recent trip to south east Asia – Bali via Kuala Lumpur- with some accompanying words for context. Enjoy!

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Kuala Lumpur. 

I met Nick at Heathrow T4 at about 6AM of Easter Monday morning (Tom had travelled a day earlier) with nothing but a backpack. The longest flight I’ve taken in my adult life is the 2 hour and 45 minute journey to Lisbon, so I wasn’t really prepared for the 17 hours that laid ahead of me. The first flight (Heathrow – Doha) ran like a dream. The novelty of the plethora of films and abundance of free food and drink lasted throughout the 6 hour flight, and we touched down in Doha later that day still high on excitement for our trip to come. That soon wore off in Doha. We had 3 hours to kill in the essentially deserted airport, and we made the mistake of not reserving our seats for the next flight, so once boarding, we spent 7 hours happily wedged in the middle two of a four seat.

Anyway, we made it to Kuala Lumpur at 8am on the Tuesday (including the 7 hour time difference) running on fumes (2 hours sleep) and we were eager to make the most of the trip. We made our way to our first hotel, the Federal in Bukit Bintang, after navigating the brilliant KLIA express – the 30 minute fast train from the airport, complete with wifi, at a paltry 40 Malaysian Ringit (£7) – the fact we got the KLIA was a bone of contention with almost every taxi driver we came across, who couldn’t believe we’d spent that much on a trip from the airport. After some investigation, it turns out a trip in a taxi would cost similar for 3 of us, and would take 3 times as long. Once we dumped our bags at the Federal and changed out of the clothes we’d travelled in for the last 24 hours, we made our way into KL city.

IMG_4864 Bukit Bintang, near Jalan Alor. Kuala Lumpur. 

IMG_4866Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur. 

We made it about 100 metres before the heavens opened, and we were introduced to tropical climate of Malaysia. Whilst it was outrageously humid 24/7, when it rained, it rained. We waited in a café while the downpour drenched outside and waited for it to pass. We then used the covered walkway from Pavillion shopping centre all the way to Suria KLCC, the mall that sits at the foot of the Petronas Towers. We declined scaling the towers due to the extortionate entry fee, and got the mandatory tourist pics from the ground, before heading back to the Pavillion mall to start on the beers.

After a day of stopping in between various bars around Jalan Alor and Bukit Bintang, we made our way to Petaling Market, south of KL. Being westerners it helped that we were a few beers deep, as shouts of ‘Yes boss!’ came from each and every stall as we were seen as easy prey, clearly in the market for the fake footie shirts, Rolex’s and Nike Yeezy’s on offer. To be fair, some of the fakes on display, especially with some of the watch traders, were very believable. These were at the £300-£400 end of the price bracket, which is clearly a fraction of the £20-£30k some of these watches go for, but an obscene amount in comparison to most of the other fair at the market. Most shirts were going for around 30 ringitt, which works out to around a fiver.

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IMG_4873A selection of street food stalls near Petaling Market, in the heart of Chinatown, KL. 

Worn out from haggling without any real purpose, we stumbled on a roadside eatery in Chinatown just outside Petaling, and had some glorious clay pot chicken – a favourite in KL. Being hardy Londoners, we’re no strangers to street food and eating from plastic tables and chairs on the side of the road, but this was real authentic street food at its finest, and a price much more fitting. So authentic, a little (read huge) rat brushed past my foot.

Bali – Seminyak. 

As soon as we’d completed our mammoth trip, we’d packed our bags again and were back on our favourite KLIA express, as we swapped the cloud and smog of KL for the sun and sea of Bali. We flew with Air Asia, and the flight was pretty much business as usual, apart from a bizarre moment when the pilot came out of the cockpit, grabbed a beret, some shades and a guitar, and revealed how it was his lifelong wish to play some songs for an audience. He then knocked out three ballads. I won’t do a Simon Cowell on the lad, he tried his best. Full marks for effort. 11 minutes into his last number, an Ed Sheeran medley (he’s big in Asia*), I started to worry about who was flying the plane.

*Ed Sheeran, not the pilot. 

We did land, thankfully, at Denpasar airport and it was there we met one of the many people who would come to make our trip – Wahyiu. He clearly saw us for the three westerners we were, and shouted that he could take us anywhere for very cheap price and he stayed true to his word, getting us to our hotel in Seminyak for 100,000 rupiah, which sounds like a lot, but really is only £7. Wahyiu was 22, and came from the ‘best rice village in Bali’, north of the island. He was a fountain of knowledge, and we swapped numbers, as he promised to take us anywhere we’d like for a good price. This was our first introduction to the friendly, hospitable nature of the Balinese which we were fortunate to experience almost every day whilst we were there.

It was on this journey that I also got a first glimpse of how the Balinese drive. Whilst much of KL is predictably gridlocked, when the cars move they do so at a fairly mild mannered and safe pace. Here on the other hand, we quickly realised that lanes aren’t really lanes and red lights aren’t really red lights. Either way, Wahiyu got us to Seminyak safe and sound.

IMG_4971Seminyak beach, Bali. 

IMG_4966Jalan Batu Belig, Seminyak which leads down to the beach. 

Seminyak is one of Bali’s party capitals, along with Kuta. Whilst Kuta has a reputation for being the Aussie Magaluf, Seminyak is a bit more upmarket, and by default a touch more expensive. It’s also a bit more hipster – on our first full day I took a little walk from our hotel down to the beach, and en route passed two barbers, three tattooists, a Quicksilver and a Volcom shop, as well as the obligatory shacks serving Indonesian food, petrol stops (with petrol, presumably for scooters, lined up in Vodka bottles) and Bintang vest stalls. Bali is a great surf destination, and it seems surf culture has found a home in Bali.

People come to Seminyak for the party. By day, that’s most likely to be had at Potato Head Beach Club – the daft sounding day club that boasts a restaurant and a club, as well as its crowning glory, the infinity pool with built in bar. The novelty of having a bar in the pool didn’t wear off for us, and even though you’d be lucky to get change from 200,000 rupiah (£14) for a three beer round (very expensive in these parts). People generally flock here for the sunset views, but we managed to spend most of our days here whilst we were in Seminyak.

By night, we’d turn to another Bali favourite, and by all accounts, the only place to go in Seminyak, La Favela, a tropical maze that snaked indoor and out. Being a bit keen on the first night, we got there early (8pm) and it was a bit civilised compared to what we’d heard. We carried on the theme of spending rupiah like it were water and had dinner there as we were early, and we were told by our waiter man that the party don’t start till 11, which kinda makes sense when you think about it – Just before 11, we made our way outside to try a few more bars before coming back, to be greeted by an army of Aussies outside the previously empty 7 Eleven, as they smashed back a few last cheap Bintang’s before getting in the mixer.

Most days and nights ran as above – Potato Head by day, La Favela by night. We also managed Ku de Ta, another Potato Head like beach club, as well as Motel Mexicola, the only other place to be at night bar La Favela. Cangu Beach (particularly Old Man’s bar) is worth a shout too, for a change of scene – take an uber there from Seminyak though, not a blue lit Taksi- one of these charged us 100,000 rupiah to go all of about 200m. Our fault for not knowing where we were, and fair play to the chancer for getting as much out of the westerners as he could. I made the ignorant suggestion that Bali’s should change two things – their currency (I still stand by this, when my pockets are full of essentially worthless 2,000 rupiah notes – 11p in sterling) and the amount of taxis on the road. Bali thrives on tourism, and for the Balinese, servicing the tourist trade is most likely to be done as a taxi driver or in the beach bars, clubs and hotels.

Gili Trawangan. 

After 3 days in Bali, we were on the move again. Our man Wahiyu picked us up from Seminyak early Sunday morning and took us on the two hour journey to Pedangbai, an eastern tip of the island to catch the Eka Jaya fast boat to Gili Trawnagan, or Gili T as it’s known, the largest of the three Gili Islands just off the coast of Lombok. When we got to Pedangbai, we realised quite how our man Wahiyu had sorted us out. Everything from recommending the best (cheapest) boat company to use, to getting us there on time and more importantly, to the right boat. the journey itself was fine, nothing like the horror stories we’d heard back in Bali.

We hopped off the Eka Jaya onto Gili Trawangan beach, and we were greeted by a smiley chap holding my name on a piece of paper. He took us all for a short walk up the beach front, down a little left and right until we reached Banana Leaf Bungalows. As we approached, two similarly smiley Balinese chaps were singing to us, one on the guitar. This will easily live long as the best welcome to any destination we’ve ever had. The Banana Leaf bungalows were a bit more, er, rustic, shall we say, than the places we’d stayed so far (hotels, basically), but for what it lacked in locks on the room doors, air con and even a toilet roof in one of the rooms, it certainly made up for in character. These lads had no worries, and welcomed us with open arms into their home. For 3 days, we had no worries either.

IMG_5033An unforgettable welcome from the staff at Banana Leaf Bungalows, Gili T. 

IMG_5071South of Gili Trawangan, looking onto Lombok. 

IMG_5064There are three ways of getting around Gili Trawangan: By foot, bicycle or horse & cart.

IMG_5068East side of Gili Trawangan, looking onto Lombok. Gili Air is to the left, out of shot. Here be possibly the bluest ass water I’ve ever seen. 

The Gilis are another world entirely. I was just about getting used to island life in Bali, but the Gilis took it to a new level. First of all, there’s nothing to them – the islands are tiny. On our first full day, I took a little walk on my own, similar to how I did in Bali, and managed to walk round the entire island in about 3 hours, including stops – once to swim in the bluest of blue seas I’ve ever seen at the southern tip of the island. They’re also very basic. Aside from the main strip on the east side which has all of the islands bars, theres not much lighting at night in land – the only thing I can liken finding the Banana Leaf bungalows at night to is finding your tent at Glasto at night. There’s not cars or scooters, either. There are only three ways of navigating the island: By foot, by bicycle and by horse and cart.

It’s amazing how diverse a small island can be, too. Whilst the East boasts the island’s nightlife and main draw for western tourists, the West is where the sun sets and therefore where people flock at 6pm to catch some of the most stunning views on the planet. Sunset photos are a big deal nowadays, with swings dotting the shore right the way down the beach for that purpose. Getting on said swings is easier said than done, though, and after watching Tom and Nick make arse about tit attempts to get one, I declined my chance to have a picture of myself gazing wistfully into the sunset. I took a picture of some other bugger instead.

IMG_5017Crowds gathering at Sunset Point for, well, the sunset. 

IMG_5014Swings line the west coast of Gili T, perfectly placed for sunset snaps. 

The nightlife in Gili T is something else too. Very different to Bali, there are only a handful of places on the East side of the island – and given the island’s so small, each of them takes a turn in holding the late shift. On our first night, we went to a genuine beer pong bar, with especially created beer pong tables and an endless supply of (ping pong!) balls. The tables were shifted a few hours later, and the place just became one huge dance floor, with screens high above showing El Classico, and a balcony full of locals peering suspiciously down on us. My favourite place on the island had to be the reggae bar – a house band played for what seemed like hours, chopping and changing the singer every few songs. Reminded me a bit of temple bar in Dublin, but a Reggae version.

On our last day, we took a little snorkelling tour by boat around all three of the Gili Islands : Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. We stopped just offshore each island to see coral, turtles, fishes and that – it took me until the third stop before I figured out how to equalise my ears and actually use the bloody snorkel properly. We met an aussie couple Nick and Katie, who had been travelling around for 6 months around Asia having the time of their life (bar a brief low point when Nick shattered his elbow from a scooter accident, spending 4 weeks in a thai hospital). A quick look at their joint Instagram account is enough to make anyone weep with jealousy. Like most other travellers (and us), Nick had a GoPro, a bunch of accessories including some big dome thing that sat on the front which he used when snorkelling to get above and below water footage in the same frame, as well as a drone (a bloody drone!) which really put the quality of our holiday video to shame*.

*our holiday vid is still great. Shout out to Tommy for putting this all together. Have a little watch here. 

Bali – Ubud. 

The days and nights of beers in both Seminyak and Gili T have taken their toll by this point, so we get the Eka Jaya back to Bali – annoyingly we ended up going via Gili Meno, Gili Air and Lombok, adding at least another hour to the return trip, which was through some choppy ass waters. Half way through the journey, I looked back at Tom and gave him a little thumbs up to check he was alright, but all I got back was a stare that said get me off this f*ing boat. In defence of the trip, yeah it was choppy, but the boat itself was kitted out to the nines. It had aircon, for a start. It also had fellas running round serving juices, Bintangs, snacks (I smashed back a pipe of Paprika pringles) – It even had films. First up was Tarzan, where a grown man who used to be friends with giant Gorillas goes back to the rainforest as an adult and literally gets beaten the shit out of by said Gorillas (even though he’s meant to be their mate or brother or something), but then they make friends and turn on real baddie played by Christopher Waltz. We then continued the theme of gorillas by moving on to Kong : Skull Island, which had an even more far fetched story line where a Gorilla the size of a four story building (Kong, duh) was caught in the middle of some strange battle between lizards who slept underground, and the US Army lead by Samuel L Jackson – the US Army incidentally didn’t really want to be there and were massively duped into going. The boat pulled up half way through Kong so I don’t know how it ends.

Anyway, where was I – yes, by this point, the days and nights of our trip had taken their toll, so we took a taxi from Pedangbai to Ubud, the spiritual centre of Bali – less party, more culture we’re told. They’re not wrong either. We get to Ubud and, despite the traffic in the main part of town, it’s a million miles away from the bright, frenetic bustle of Seminyak or the even Gili T, it was just calm. After a day by the pool and a short walk through Ubud streets (which are lined with temples) to get some food, we hit the hay, as the next morning we had an early start – the alarms went at 2am and we were picked up by our reliable man in the know Wahiyu who drove us to the summit of Mount Batur, towards the north of the island.

The trek itself took about two hours, and I kinda underestimated how steep it’d be. I underestimated the rocks, too – my flyknits really weren’t the best choice of footwear. We were guided up by an 18 year old Indonesian lass who was so small that I worried a big gust of wind would knock her off the top of the mountain, but she made 3 (supposedly) fit young lads look fragile the way she bounded up the mountain paths. We reached the summit at around 5.30AM, and the sky was ever so slightly lightening. We picked our spot and waited for the sun to come up – our view being blocked every 5 minutes by a batch of cloud cover. As soon as the sun came up, the cloud lifted and suddenly about 20 little monkeys appeared from nowhere. They took it in turns teasing a couple of stray dogs that were knocking about, as well as pinching bananas and crisps from people’s bags. I think we paid about 700,000 rupiah to the tour guide office for entry and a guide up the mountain, which comes to about £15 each, and I think we agreed that was the best £15 we’d ever spent. We tipped our little guide lass 300,000 rupiah between us too, and it was worth that alone to see the smile on her face after.

IMG_5170Monkeys survey the pack of tourists for food. 

IMG_5164Monkeys of Mount Batur, with the hot spring from the volcano providing the backdrop. 

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Our man Wahiyu waited like a champ for us in the car park for the whole time we were up there, sleeping in the car. At about 9AM (although we’d been up for half the day already) he took us for breakfast, and then on a tour of the island’s top attractions : The Rice Terrace in Tegalalang, the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, then the waterfall in Tegenungan. We powered through each visit, taking it in turns to catch some shut eye in the car in between each stop. The rice terrace was a bit of a blur (think I was still half asleep) and it was starting to get outrageously hot. The monkey forest was fascinating, if a little unnerving. I like monkeys (or at least I think I do), but one little lad was hissing at me right at the entrance, protecting a little bottle of Evian that he thought I wanted. I told him I didn’t but that seemed to anger him even more as he kept hissing and looking at me. I then saw a sign warning visitors not to look directly at the monkeys, and not to dangle anything from pockets – and basically, if you have food anywhere, then good luck. I saw one geezer filming some monkeys jumping into a little pond on his go pro, while two others jumped onto his back and swiped some eggs out of his backpack. Another little guy robbed a lighter quick as a flash from a girls backpack. She cried ‘no, that’s not good’ in an American accent and looked to one of the park wardens pleading him to get it back, and he looked back at her with a tough shit sort of look as the monkey ran off with his new lighter into the distance. Quite what she thought would happen, I don’t know. Blaze up a joint? Burn the forest down?

IMG_5183Mount Batur sunrise

IMG_5160Tegalalang Rice Terrace. 

IMG_5226Tegenungan Waterfall, Ubud. 

After the little trip to the waterfall, we’d seen about as much culture some people squeeze unto a fortnight, so we said our farewells to Wahiyu and chilled back in Ubud, with only a few more days of the trip left.

We tied up our trip with a last day and night in Seminyak. I got probably the best haircut I’ve ever had from hipster barber Shearlings (zero back and sides, nothing off the top), and met the lads at Potato Head. We spent the rest of the day there, then a quick change and the hottest noodles I’ve ever eaten in my life before heading to La Favela, where we spent our last in Bali. On leaving Favela, I convinced Nick to walk back to our hotel instead of Taxi – it said it were a 15 minute walk on google maps. After navigating a few dark alleys, a dog started chasing us (or he barked at us, I’m not really sure), either way we pegged it down the road as fast as we could until we’d turned the corner. No sooner had we turned that corner, when two more bloody dogs came out of the woodwork from the opposite direction – this time these were actual dogs running toward us, so we ran back the way we came. We were then caught in a bit of a no-mans land, too shit scared to go either back fully the way we came, or the way we should’ve been going, past the other dogs. We flagged down a scooter thinking he was a taxi, but he wasn’t. Nick did some negotiating and we hopped on. He was a kiwi lad – ‘I could see you boys were in a bit of bother there, so no worries’ he said as we hurtled through the windy streets of Seminyak. ‘I’ve never taken three on here mind!’ he added. It took all of 2 minutes so we can;t have been far away. We waved him off into the night, as he declined our offer of some rupiah for the short journey. We both knew that the both of those dogs were only a little bit smaller than chihuahuas, but we didn’t say anything.

 

Next day we were back to Denpasar airport, on one last emotional ride with Wahyiu. We said our goodbyes, promised to visit again, and we departed Indonesia for a return to Malaysia once more. Tom sorted us out with some ridiculously 5 star accommodation in Kuala Lumur (presumably because it was booked on the day) a stones throw from the Petronas Towers. Our last full day of holiday before travelling home was my 28th birthday. I picked up some Levi’s gear from SLCC mall, played chess with Tom in a bathrobe by the pool of our hotel and watched Chelsea beat Everton 3-0 to round off a great couple of weeks.

Till next time!

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Where we stayed:

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