Bangkok, Beaches, and Bintangs

June 17, 2017

Amed Coast, Bali

First I traded in my ski boots.  Then I traded in my hiking boots.  And most recently, much to Kim’s delight, I’ve traded in my super practical crocs.  For snorkeling flippers. Or, when we aren’t in the water, bare feet.  Might as well get to work on my summer callous, despite the abbreviated summer that I am now in the middle of.

After saying our goodbyes to a wonderful month in Nepal, we headed south for Indonesia, but not without a not one, but four night stopover in Bangkok.  There was nothing particularly appealing about Bangkok that made us want to visit, but there was no additional cost to adding a stopover on my round the world ticket and Kim’s flight deals were such that BKK is her travel hub for our time together. Plus it’s also where the film Hangover Part 2 is based, so we decided to see if we couldn’t re-enact a few of the scenes.

For our stay in Bangkok we opted for the (swanky?), four-star Royal Bangkok Hotel, complete with roof top pool, in the Chinatown District.  It was a nice place to base ourselves, with a lively Chinese night market (delicious fresh seafood and street dishes), right outside the hotel front door.  It was fun to wander around the neighbourhood and taste some different foods.

Despite our best attempts to avoid one scam or another, we lasted only a half day when a tuk tuk driver approached us outside the Royal Palace.  For about two bucks, he would drive us around to see three different temples, including the giant, standing Buddha.  All we had to do was make one quick pit stop at the tailor shop – with no obligation to buy anything.  It was a win-win!  Of course the pit stop wasn’t that quick and after much hemming and hawing, feigned polite persuasion from the tailors, we walked out of the store having put down a deposit on a tailor made suit for me (navy blue to match my McGill tie) and a winter coat for Kim.  On the one hand I was kicking myself for getting sucked into buying a suit, but on the other I’d been thinking about getting one made while in Bangkok.  As soon as we got back to the hotel we googled the tailor shop and sure enough all sorts of terrible reviews came up.  One guy claimed that he looked “lopsided” when he put his suit on.  Another said they use lousy materials to make everything.  All of the positive reviews seemed made up and fabricated.  We were skeptical.  After two return trips to the tailor for fittings and final touch ups, we were happy (I would say more relieved) to walk out of there with finished products that actually turned out pretty nicely.

For the remainder of our time in Bangkok we stayed out of trouble, for the most part, and enjoyed some of the city sights. We cruised up and down the Chao Phraya River on the local ferry boats, visited several of the city’s famous temples, and checked out the Sky Bar (one of the scenes from Hangover II – fortunately no one got arrested as is the case in the movie). Also, apparently, the highest open air bar in the world.  And likely most expensive cocktails. By our fourth morning in the city we were ready to move on, which is exactly what we did when we boarded our flight to Denpasar, Bali.

The pace of life really seemed to slow down when we arrived in Indonesia, and it hasn’t really changed in the two weeks that we’ve now been here.  After three months of pretty intense skiing, followed by almost a month of trekking in the Nepal Himalaya, I was definitely feeling ready for some serious relaxing.  Our time here has been just that.

The days have revolved heavily around the beaches, which have generally been within a stones throw of our bed.  The beach activities change depending on our mood and location, and have included snorkelling, surfing, walking, sleeping, reading, watching the sunset, or a combination of several of those in no particular order.

And how could I forget the Bintangs?!  Bintang, a cool, refreshing beer, which may also be the unofficial symbol of Indonesia, has been a daily staple.  They come in two sizes (small or large, though we typically only go for the large ones), and taste fantastic after surfing or snorkelling, with grilled fish, or in the morning on one of the inter-island fast boats.  We’ve also used the price of Bintang on the restaurant menus to help choose our evening dinner location (if it’s more than 5 bucks for a large Bintang, we usually move on!)

After landing on Bali we quickly transferred over to Gili Meno, an island just off the west coast of Lombok.  It was a small island, not more than a couple square kilometres, but the five nights we spent there were exactly what we needed to really get in to the island life.  Wonderful reefs, tons of tropical fish, and sea turtles to watch while snorkelling just off-shore; perfect white sand beaches to walk and go swimming, and just far enough away from party-central Gili Trawangan (Meno’s bigger island sibling a little further west).

From Gili Meno, we pulled ourselves together just long enough to get over to Kuta, a small surfing village on the south coast of Lombok.  Each morning there we’d wake up, have our breakfast, and then make our way out to Selong Belanak, a beginner’s surf break a half hour ride west of town.  On our first morning there we met Aldi, one of the local surf pros who set us up with boards, a nice beach umbrella, and offered us a few tips.  The next day he hooked us up with a two-hour lesson and before long we were both hopping up on some small waves.  Despite flailing around far more on a surf board than I do on skis, I can see how the two sports can be similar and addicting.  I’m hooked!

In the evenings in Kuta we would wander into the village and literally choose the fish that we wanted grilled for dinner.  Each day the fisherman would bring in the day’s catch to many of the restaurants, who would then prepare them as part of a delicious meal with rice and veggies.  It has been great tasting so many different types of fish: marlin, red snapper, barracuda, and parrot fish, to name a few.

And now we are back on Bali, in the little village of Jemeluk, on the northeast coast of the island.  It might be our favorite place to date.  The patio door of our hotel room opens right onto the black sand beach and 10 metres into the water there is a healthy reef packed with all kinds of fish. Elderly ladies peddle 7-dollar, hour-long massages (pronounced “massaze” by the ladies), which we have both enjoyed, and the lounge chairs have provided the perfect napping venue.

We even tried our hand at fishing this morning, as part of a pre-sunrise fishing trip with one of the locals.  While having lunch up the beach yesterday, the restaurant host told us his brother could take us out for a couple hours this morning.  So shortly after 5:00 am we stumbled out the door in the pitch dark and waited for our skipper to arrive.  After about 20 minutes he did finally show up, and we piled onto his boat:  basically a deep canoe with long outriggers to prevent the thing from capsizing.  It was actually a quite stable and comfortable ride.

But there were no fish to be found, or caught.  We trolled back and forth under the shadow of Gunung Agung and watched the sun rise over the Bali Sea (a beautiful way to start the day), but not a single fish was hungry for breakfast.  On the way in, right before the skipper rammed his boat onto shore, Kim suggested perhaps we just fish in the reef. It seems to be the only place where the fish actually hang out!

We’ve got a couple more nights here in Jemeluk, and then it will be time to move on once more.  From here we will head back over to Lombok to begin our trip to Komodo National Park, in the eastern part of the country. If we are lucky we’ll get to see the famous Komodo dragons!