Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Gili Air

The idea was to head east, but since the weather is turning rainy (and tropical rain means serious business) and the forecast east is just awful, I am turning west. When my connections didn't work out and I got stuck in Lombok for many hours, my moto driver turned out to be a professional guide and too care of me. Saw many interesting places, including an ancient cross-faith palace templp. In the end I even met his family and a happy crowd of local children. 

If I hadn't insisted, he wouldn't even take a fee. So if you ever find yourself east of Bali, give Rahmat a call: +62(0)81917946551 (also WhatsApp), or rahmatragel75@gmail.com. A good friendly guide can make all the difference if you want to see more than just tourist photo opportunities. 

Anyway, Gili Air is like Gili Trawangan was ten years ago: just the right mix of barefoot Beach promenade, pretty restaurants, and pretty little resorts (mine is the Orong Village). Had a red snapper for dinner, grilled with lots of garlic by the fisherman who had caught it hours earlier. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Sumbawa

It takes time to reach Sumbawa - a boat from the Gilis to Lombok, the crossing Lombok to a harbor on the other side, then a ferry to Sumbawa. I arrived at the Yoyo's Resort at 2 o'clock at night, after many hours in a very crowded minivan. A guy with a flashlight was waiting for me.

Yoyo's is very unlike Gili. It has most of a large bay to itself. Lots of green space ringed by steep forested hills. There's almost no people in these parts. It's a place to sit on a bean bag, read books, and hope for Wifi. The weather appears to get worse the farther I go east though, didn't see much sun today. 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Rebuilding an island

The Gilis are three small islands off the coast of Lombok,a few hours east of Bali. All three were badly hit by a magnitude-7.2 earthquake seven months ago. All cement structures collapsed, no building on the beach survived, and all three islands had to be completely evacuated.

But now you can barely tell. There are still a few collapsed buildings, and not all the rubble has been removed, but the Gilis are definitely back in business. There's still no motor traffic, but the largest of the three - Gili Trawangan, also known as the party island Gili Tralala or simply Gili T - has not improved. The beach promenade is now paved, and packed with shops back to back. The old mellow vibe is completely gone, although you'll still find rasta guys offering 'shrooms and marijuana. 

But a bit back from the beach the hustle is gone, and small guesthouses with a few traditional huts around a pool and bar dominate. The downside is poor connectivity and no hot showers... 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Unspoiled

Nusa Penida is another island near Bali, easily reachable from Lembongan. But the infrastructure is virtually nonexistent. A few villages, a few deeply rutted roads running up and down steep hills, and almost no people. Motorcycles are the best way to get around.

The views down from the limestone cliffs and and a deep lake connected to the sea under a huge stone bridge are absolutely spectacular - or as my moto driver said, pure Instagram. Well, fortunately Nusa Penida doesn't seem to have been discovered by the Instagram crowd much, it's just too hard to move around here, and there's no Internet to blast boring selfies into the net. 

Maybe I'll be back here in ten years and then I'll tell everyone how unspoiled and beautiful it was before the developers moved in and built resorts everywhere and escalators down the cliffs. You read it here first. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Mantas

Plenty of dive centers on Lembongan. The highlight is Manta Point, a place some 15 meters under water where mantas come for cleaning. It's essentially a big manta car wash where mantas wait in line, slowly circling, for their turn to be cleaned by several types of small fish.

So you hove there and watch these huge mantas gliding through the water, slowly waving their long wings, and fanning water into their big gaping mouths to extract krill. Impressive! 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Not Bali

Off the south-eastern coast of Bali are three small islands, Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan, and Nusa Penida, that are said to be like Bali was 20 years ago / will be the next Bali. Quiet villages, white beaches, people who have time, no traffic, and no concrete resorts anywhere.

From Bali's Sanur harbor, Lembongan is only 30 minutes by speedboat. This is what Indonesian boat travel is supposed to be like: the boat runs up to the beach, you wade through the water onto the beach, and pick a place to stay. I followed the advice of some surfer dudes and got myself a bungalow up on the hill with a fantastic view over the beach and village, with Bali's Agung volcano at a distance. I'll stay here for a while. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Bali

The trouble with revisiting places, years later, is that they invariably have "improved" - more traffic, more noise, more concrete resorts at the beach, and more plastic garbage in the sand and the water. Some hotels have sewer pipes that color the water greenish brown.

But people are still as friendly as always, and away from the town centers with their shops and bars and American fast food chains there's still village life to be found. Bali is also quite large, and only the southern tip is seriously developed. In any case, Bali has a major international airport, making it a good starting point for traveling. 

Finally, back in a tropical climate, let's go island hopping! 

Unfortunately it's apparently no longer possible to post pictures, Google thought it would be a good idea to change the API. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Bangkok

There is the tourist Chinatown in Bangkok, and the Chinatown where people actually live and work. Machine parts seem to be an especially big thing, making parts of the place look like a huge junkyard. But there are 200-year old mansions too.

Downtown, the Saffron Sky Garden bar, built into a big cutout of the Tai Wah skyscraper is a nice place to conclude the day, and this trip. Bangkok is a curious mixture of ultra-modern and deeply traditional.




Sunday, April 1, 2018

Capsule Thailand

Muang born is a large park on the Gulf of Thailand, two hours south of Bangkok. The Park is shaped like Thailand, and it contains some 120 temples and monuments brought here, or rebuilt here, from all over Thailand, all in a beautiful park with lots of waterways. They even have a proper floating village with boats. If you don't have time to explore Thailand, here is the primer. It's really well done.

And the best is, they have a complete reproduction of Preah Vihar, the temple I missed in the Khao Phra Wihan park near Ubon, although at a reduced size. That temple is huge, far bigger than the few roofs and gates visible in Khao Phra Wihan!




Saturday, March 31, 2018

More Ubon

Khao Phra Wihan is not all Ubon has to offer. There is a large number of temples in or near the city, and since it's so remote, I was the only visitor in those I went to. Temples that serve as monasteries are always a collection of shining golden shrines and utilitarian buildings where the monks live, learn, and do their laundry. At Wat Tung Si they have an 250-year old wooden pagoda that served as a library for scriptures, and was therefore set on stilts in an artificial pond. A monk opened some shrines for me. (They always see me coming because I am so much taller than everyone else.) Saw a few monk spray painting a statue.

10km from Ubon is a bend in the river Mun that forms a long beach. There are two dozen restaurants side by side, each with a long pier out over the river, with floating thatched huts on both sides. A little like on the Mekong rapids, except no hammocks. No English spoken, for lunch we agreed on "fye lye" (fried rice). A tasty fish sauce and a bucket of ice came with the meal.


Border temple

Khao Phra Wihan is a national park two hours south of Ubon Ratchathani. It sits on a 500m cliff, nearly vertical, with stunning views of Thailand and nearby Cambodia. But they made a mistake when documenting the border between Thailand and Cambodia, so the park is on the Thai side but the important Preah Vihar temple in it ended up in Cambodia. The two countries actually went to war over that a while ago.

It's peaceful now but access to the temple is forbidden. That part of the park is filled with soldiers, sandbagged guard posts, and endless spools of razor wire. But even without access to Preah Vihar it's a beautiful park.




Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ubon

On the road almost all day: boat off the island, minibus to Paksé, the nearest city to the north, goodbye to the Mekong, and a real bus across the border to Ubon Ratchathani in northeastern Thailand. Fourth country on this trip.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

More Mekong

Having an excellent time here on the islands so I decided to stay longer. Only the village on the northern end of Don Det I don't like - no longer the backpacker haven I knew, and slowly on its way to tourist overload like Vang Vieng in the north. Who travels to a remote place in a remote country like Laos, and then eats burgers or happy pizza?




Monday, March 26, 2018

Mekong islands

Well, things change. The small group of simple huts on Don Det has been replaced with a dense cluster of hostels, hotels, and restaurants, some with pools, all with electricity and hot showers. I had a pineapple shake in the exact spot where my old hut once stood. Now it's a bar and they are adding another row of bungalows next to it. The shoreline is completely packed.

But I am staying on Don Khon, the next island to the south. It's exactly as quiet as Don Det was in 2009, except considerably more upmarket. Don Khon is also where all the sights of the island are, especially the Mekong Falls. Enormous amounts of water rushes down in numerous cascades on both sides of the island. The bigger one of the two is the one on the west. The old trails are gone, and they have built observation platforms - and are charging admission! Well, the thatched huts further down with pads and hammocks are worth the price, a nice place to relax and watch the foaming water.