3 Weeks in Indonesia

Disclaimer: This blog post is referring to travels in August 2017.

Kuta beach, Bali (3 nights) >> Tegallalang (2 nights) >> Ubud (2 nights) >> Kuta, Lombok (4 nights) >> Gili Trawangan (5 nights) >> Canggu, Bali (2 nights) >> Nusa Dua (3 nights) 

Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands.

For the Indonesian part of our trip, we visited Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. We’d wanted to go to Java to visit Mount Bromo and Komodo Island but time and money were both running out.

Bali

We visited Bali at the start and end of our trip to Indonesia, but for this blog post we’ll bung all the Bali destinations together.

As you can see we barely scratched the surface of Bali. We tended to stay in the tourist spots which meant it was easy to get between them via buses.

Our first stop was Kuta. It hasn’t got the best reputation but we wanted somewhere close to the airport on a small budget. Despite it being touristy (and busy), it meant there were lots of shops and restaurants. We enjoyed doing random things like going to the cinema and Jonny was delighted to find an English roast dinner one evening.

A happy Jonny with his roast dinner. Smoothie bowls here were also very tasty for breakfast.

Tregallalang was a complete contrast to Kuta, with a village-feel, surrounded by rice paddies. It was very peaceful. We stayed in a homestay with a lovely family who cooked breakfast for us each morning and lent Jonny a guitar to play. From here we could visit the rice terraces, go coffee tasting and experience white-water rafting.

We stayed at Ubud Sawah Homestay which was actually not in Ubud centre but a small village close to the rice terraces. It was a good base for white-water rafting too!

Coffee tasting in incredible surroundings. We also tried the most expensive coffee in the world made from Civet poo! 🙊💩

The Tegalalang rice terraces, which were pretty spectacular. This is a big tourist spot however.

If you’re going to Bali, it would be hard not to stay at Ubud at some point during your trip. It acts as a great hub for a number of activities and is packed with restaurants, Yoga classes and fresh & organic foods.

We enjoyed relaxing by the pool at Raka & Rai bungalow (cheap private room with a lovely breakfast). We loved Kafe in Ubud for the fresh meals!

Whilst in Ubud we walked some of the Campuhan Ridge Walk which escapes the crowds and has nice views over Bali.

Walking the Campuhan Ridge from Ubud.

There is a forest in Ubud which is home to lots of monkeys within walking distance.

Monkey forest in Ubud.

From Ubud, we decided to take an early morning trip to climb Mount Batur, which is an active volcano in Bali. We set off at 4am to reach the peak for sunrise. Sadly the clouds only broke for one brief moment revealing a glimmer of sunshine and views. The hike up itself wasn’t so bad, it’s 1717m high. It did get tougher towards the top however as it was mainly sand which meant for every step forward you slipped 3 back. You could also see steam and hardened volcanic ash during the climb which was really cool!

Climbing Mount Batur, an active volcano 1,717m high.

A glimpse of sunrise from the summit.

The next place in Bali we stayed at was Canggu which is near Echo beach. Here the sand is black and it was very popular with surfers. The town had a chilled out vibe, and we even went to a local farmers market during a weekend morning.

Canggu near Echo Beach.

Our last beach stop was at Nusa Dua. We stayed in a nice hostel and rented sun beds from a hotel on the beach. We pretty much took most of this time to relax on the beach, with the occasional sing-song to the locals with Jonny and his ukulele.

The golden sands of Nusa Dua. We stayed at aptly named “Cheap Hotel”.

Lombok

To get to Lombok you have to get a ferry, and from Bali there is a fast and slow boat. Unfortunately, the seas were rough which meant only the slow boat was running. It felt really slow and cramped, so slow that I read all of Orwell’s 1984 during the boat ride.

We stayed in Kuta in Lombok.

Once we finally arrived, we stayed at Kuta beach (a far cry from from Kuta in Bali). The beach itself had spots which were barely populated but absolutely stunning. This is definitely going to become popular in a few years time! We walked most of the beach, down the main end it’s a good place to learn to kite-surf.

Kuta beach in Lombok. Barely anyone around!

The best thing about our walk along this beach was when we walked to the end and a litter of puppies came to say hello and then promptly fell asleep on me. This moment deserves a single photo collage.

One happy Senorita 🐶🐶🐶

Our accommodation was a cross between a homestay and a hostel called Join Homestay. There was a cat who befriended us and sat on our porch daily and chickens running freely around the garden. I went on a run one morning and got completely lost as paths merged into people’s back gardens. Everything was very open here which gave us the sense you could trust people.

There was a great viewpoint we went to on bikes and a nice yoga retreat called Ashtari cafe for dinner to watch the sunset.

We took a bike to Merese Hill viewpoint (the local kids loved the bike). The views were worth the trip! Recommend Ashtari cafe for dinner (also a Yoga retreat).

Next, we got a boat over to the Gili islands.

Gili Islands 

The Gili islands were probably my favourite part of Indonesia. Being a total beach bum, and loving snorkelling and diving, the Gilis were perfect.

The three Gili Islands off the coast Lombok.

We stayed on the busier island of Gili Trawangan or Gili T as it is affectionately named. This is the biggest of the three islands and it has no cars or motorbikes which can be a welcome relief from Bali (where you have to be on guard for motorbikes all the time). There are also no dogs on the islands, only cats.

Pituq cafe became one of our favourite lunch and breakfast spots serving delicious smoothie bowls and veggie wraps.

We wasted no time on arrival to Gili T by getting our swimwear on and diving straight into the sea. The snorkelling was excellent with very good visibility. I saw a turtle and a school of squid on our first swim! We took one scuba dive during our stay and saw reef tip sharks along with countless turtles.

To get around the island we hired bicycles (less than £2.50 per day) and cycled around the island stopping along the way. There were some great restaurants and bars on the west side to watch the sunset.

Gili T – what an incredible island. This place is popular for a reason!

We spent two days visiting the other two islands: Gili Air and Gili Meno. There was a public ferry twice a day operating between the islands that cost £1.50-£2 each way.

Gili Air was a little quieter than Gili T with great snorkelling and a great chilled vibe. We spent the day lounging around before walking around the island.

Gili Meno was the most remote island but had the best snorkelling in our opinion because we saw three turtles, two octopus, starfish and lots of beautiful fish. The downside was there was less choice of restaurants. As you walked more around the island you could find beautiful isolated beaches but you’d want to bring food and drinks with you as there were no shops and restaurants in some parts of the island.

The incredible beach of Gili Meno. Beautiful white sandy beaches and perfectly clear waters- a picture perfect postcard of paradise.

Thrissur Pooram – An Outsider’s Perspective

Thrissur – A city in the coconut-loving state of Kerela, southern India

Pooram  – A Hindu temple festival; fiery processions, mesmerising music, adorned elephants, huge numbers of excited devotees

I think we may have covered every base on the emotional spectrum during the 36 hour festival. On the Asian stint of our sabbatical trip, the Pooram festival in India was pretty much the only event we’d reserved on our calendar. We wanted to get an experience of a local festival, one not particularly geared up for extracting tourist ruppees. I can report that an experience is what we got!

Thrissur Pooram, “the mother of all Poorams” is described as “a grand assembly of Gods and Godesses… 36-hours non-stop with no loss of energy” Elephants-a-plenty, and 4 hours of fireworks in the early hours of the morning. Sounded great to us – To Thrissur!

Elephantastic?
We booked an AirBnB well in advance anticipating the majority of beds to be taken up. Accommodation was a complete pain in the arse. (More in “Advice” at the end)

We arrived the day before to acclimatise. Within minutes, we saw an elephant being ridden on the road amongst the honking rickshaws, motorbikes and taxis. I hadn’t applied much thought before arriving in India about the condition of the elephants, but shit do I feel awful for them. The problem with tradition I guess, elephant welfare was probably even more of an afterthought 200+ years ago.

Safe Space
The main festival area is on the inside of a ring road housing a large temple. Taking in the sights and lights at night-time was a fairly pleasant way to spend time. Even better from the Friday morning when the road closes. Being fairly fresh in India, exposed to madly packed up roads with every single bike and rickshaw blaring their horns is enough to make you stop where you’re standing and immediately assume the fetal position. I’m about used to it now though, but I’m still suprised traffic seems to flow without making the roads look like a scene from Final Destination.

Early doors of the festival – people were climbing wherever possible for a good view.. lots of opportunities later for close encounters with the elephants and performers
Braving the risk of electrocution for a good view 😐

Trance Inducing Horn 😎
With the festival underway, you can expect to see huge gatherings of devotees around the temples, with adorened elephants parked outside. Performers in traditional wear stand atop the poor bastards, spinning colourful umbrellas, whilst musicians play trance inducing horn and percussion instruments. The music is quite good, in that the group change up the beats and rhythm quite frequently, and in-time. There was one performance around 5:30 on the Friday outside the main temple where the crowd would cheer ferociously and lose their minds each time the group changed the beat. People were partying and waving around colourful balloons, this was probably the highlight of the whole festival actually.

This was dead good

By the evening, we agreed the music to foreign ears is incredibly repetitive. I still have the beat of the piercing cymbals in my head now. I don’t think it will ever leave, I’m a changed man now.

The moment of realisation – “Damn, the music IS pretty repetitive”

Indian Summer
One thing to note is that it is freaking hot. I’m talking 40 degrees celcius hot. It’s properly dangerous to be exposed to the sunlight for any extended period of time, which is an easy mistake to make when you’re an excited Westerner and the festival is a novelty. The daytime is taken up by the game “Hunt shade, or literally die”

Local companies hand out fans and hats. Clever marketing.. If you don’t die, you’re more likely to spend money with them

Bhang for buck
One interesting point Mrs Mansell made was that the festival experience was slightly odd to us without alcohol.. I’m pretty sure that would sound crazy to a local, but we hit up many music festivals in Europe and getting boozed is commonplace. Alcohol is the second most consumed fluid after air. That said, “bhang” (edibal cannibis) is legal from government controlled shops, maybe that’s how the younger crowd found the repetitive music so mesmerising for so long..

These guys are probably bhanged up. Speaking of Selfies..

Travelling before the age of front-facing camera equipped smartphones must’ve been bliss
“Selfie?” “Selfie?” As a Westerner, this is the most common interaction you’ll have with the locals. The frequency increases somewhat if you have blonde hair, or if you’re 6’4″. Top tip, take it in your stride and do it. If you don’t, a photo of your mush will end up on their phone anyway! The best selfies are when someone tries to stealthily get a picture with you without you noticing. If you notice, pull a stupid face. Another good tactic is to dodge them or run away (In a joking manner, don’t actually run for your life) the guys I did this to found it hilarious.
We had a bit of a downer when late into the main evening we found ourselves “Selfie-ing” (Yeah sure, why not) when a separate boystrous group of guys got involved too. I hadn’t realised at the time but lady Mansell was subjected to over-excited, touchy-feely hands belonging to this second group of young men. This was a real shame as I had read comments online before the festival about this sort of issue. Up until that point, we hadn’t had a problem, and this blog post would’ve wholly encouraged you to dismiss those comments. The way women are treated and regarded in India in general could be the topic of a separate blog post, and then some.. Anyway, we agreed the best step forward would be if I covered the rear in all future Selfies!

My face may suggest otherwise, but thankfully these guys were not touching me inappropriately
This guy is your favourite, right?

4 hours of fireworks*
The fireworks were a big draw for us. The appeal was the 4 hour duration, the odd timing from 2AM on the Saturday plus the general reputation online. The fireworks did not start at 2AM, we heard different times from all sorts of people. In fact this situation was a common occurance throughout the festival. We heard and partially saw a massive display from our nearby hotel room at around 3AM. This lasted about 3 minutes. After this a firework was set off every couple of minutes, probably for about 4 hours. There is a lesson here about managing expectations! In truth, the short display was impresive with an incredible noise. It sounded like a warzone, with the night being lit up to look as if the sun was shining. From memory there were two displays of this magnitude which both lasted about 3 minutes… So 6 minutes of the 240 minutes originally advertised were quality!

I don’t have a photo of the fireworks, so, here is your favourite man instead

The humbling tale of Mr Loiterer
A vivid memory of mine.. we were speaking for quite some time to a local chap from Kerela whilst the processions ran into the night. He was well travelled, firmly middle class and genuinely a pleasant, interesting guy. Roughly halfway through our 45 minute chat, I began to notice a very old looking man lingering around. We’d gotten used to people staring at us intently, but this guy was loitering whilst we were deep in conversation. Once we parted ways with the friendly Kerela based chap, I could see in the corner of my eye the old boy was still hanging around. Mrs Mansell and I managed to lose each other (photo opportunities, large crowds…) As I was looking around for the top of her head, I spotted Mr Loiterer, who kindly pointed me in the direction of Mrs Mansell towards the elephants. Still he hung around, and it became clear that he wanted nothing, other than to just be around us. The most memorable point was when I offered him some of our water, he made a noise that I would liken to a young boy getting the exact gift they wanted on their birthday. I have a degree in Engineering, and therefore have no emotional intelligence, but if I did function like a normal human being I’m sure it would’ve pulled on my heart strings.

Whoops

Thirssur Pooram 2018?
The 2017 edition of Thrissur Pooram didn’t encourage me enough to consider visiting again in 2018.. But if you find yourself in the south of India at the right time, I would recommend the festival for the experience. I think your stories from Thrissur Pooram will be more interesting than your stories about sunbathing on the beaches of Goa!

A Naieve Westerner’s Summary
The Good
A very “local” experience – I can recall seeing perhaps 10 – 20 other obvious Westerners.

Eye opening – I’d never been to a festival like this, I don’t know too many others that have. Everything was new.. that’s good right?!

Performance – The processions and performances are mesmorising, colourful and awe-inspiring.

Fireworks – Although brief, the displays made night look like day and sounded like a scene from an action film in a cinema with a world class sound system.. In fact, that multiplied by 10.

Price – Hey the festival is free too!

The Bad
Elephant welfare – I can imagine this being a huge turn off for many people.

The Temperature – The date of the festival is dictated by a celestial event, which happens to be around April or May when it is frickin’ hot. Manageable by limiting sun exposure and making the most of the post sunset processions.

Timetable – Every experience was a chance encounter for us, which wasn’t really a bad thing.. Others may like to have a schedule. Information was available online but it’s really difficult to digest, probably because of my lack of knowledge of the history and Hinduism.

Touchy-feely-Selfie-hands – Every 3 seconds, someone is affected by Touchy-feely-Selfie-hands. That’s another one. And another. Whoops sorry that’s not useful. Ok, I reckon different people handle this risk differently. You could refuse all Selfies, run away or position ladies tactfully if you’re in a group. And another.

 And another..

Advice
Location – Try to stay somewhere close to the main ring road for easy access/escape.

Accommodation – Book your bed early, and get in touch with your host or hotel in advance. If you really want, do as many Indian nationals do and sleep rough for the night (That wasn’t for us, we stumped up a relatively large sum for a room) From our accommodation experience, long story short, avoid the AirBnb host below, and prepare to be ripped off and/or shouted at by your friendly hosts at Raj Mahal Lodge.

🖕😑🖕

Sunshine – Manage your time in direct sunlight, and carry a hat, sunscreen and water (easy to buy bottled)

Food – There were some decent restaurants on the south side main roads connecting to the main ring road. The breakfast buffet we had on Sunday at Pooram International Hotel made me a happy Westerner. I expected more street food vendors.. most were selling sweets.

Respite – Need a break from the noise, crowds and heat? Just do it.. find shade or an AC hotel restaurant and relax. There will still be processions, elephants and music when you’re finished, trust me!

Maps – Probably not needed so much, but download the Thrissur area on offline Google Maps.

Locals – Talk to people! The majority of people we spoke to were jubilant, happy to be there and curious as to why you’re there. You never know who you’ll meet.

Most importantly – Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think, enjoy yourself, etc etc etc 😁

You can read our other blog posts about India here:

The Good, The Bad and The Useful of Travelling in India

Kerala, South India: Our 2-week itinerary

India: The Golden Triangle and Rajasthan in 2 weeks