White Water Rafting in Bali

16 05 2014

Today we were up bright and early to go whitewater rafting.  Irini was our driver, yet another very cheerful chap, and he had been learning to speak English for the past three months.  His conversational skills were very good, and they were a hell of a lot better than our Indonesian!  A father of three, Irini worked from 6am – 8pm each day, had two days off per month and earned about AUD$150 per month.  On top of that, from 9pm – 11pm each night he went to his English lessons.  Boy do they work hard in Bali!

Again we savoured the view as we traveled to our destination about an hour and a half away.  As we made our way up into the forested area and headed towards the Telaga Waja River, the rice fields began to appear more frequently and in the stalls along the roadside men appeared to be hard at work forging masonry, brick or clay materials over black smoking fires.  As we begin to climb up into the hills, Bali’s huge volcano, Mount Batur, appeared on the skyline before us surrounded by a ring of clouds.  It was a spectacular sight.

Before long we arrived at the Alam whitewater rafting base, and on out entry into the base, a great bronze gong was sounded to announce “The Powell’s have arrived”, and men in traditional golden baggy pants and sashes bowed to welcome us.  Once we were all kitted out in our rafting attire, all the groups meandered through the rice fields down to the launching area.  From a distance, it would have looked something like a scene from Platoon or Tour of Duty with the soldiers walking through the long grasses.  However on this occasion, in place of M16′, flack jackets and army issue helmets, we had paddles, life jackets and happy yellow safety helmets.  It was almost as treacherous as walking through a mine field, a number of rafters slipping and falling off the path into ditches and almost twisting ankles on the way down.  This could explain why there is also a flying fox at the Alam base office that some rafters were riding down to the river.  We later discovered they were testing this piece of equipment, and I believe that now this has become the method of transport down to the waiting rafts.  Looks like a lot of fun and what a shame we didn’t get to have a go!

On the river bank we had a brief introductory lesson in rafting etiquette and how to respond to the following phrases: lie down, duck, paddle, relax, jump jump and boom boom.  The latter command was the means our rafting guide would use to communicate “We are going backwards, you can’t see what I can and we’re going to hit something big.  Hang the f*&% on!”

As we were waiting to get into our raft, I noticed that my paddle was faulty – in fact one good swoosh in the water, and it would snap clean in half.  I gestured to one of the guides, held up my paddle and pointed at the great crack in it.  “Oh no,” I mouthed.  “Replacement?”  I had no idea how good his English was and hoped that my gestures and facial expressions would communicate the problem.  Roger thought I looked like I was trying to talk through a pane of glass – you know when you talk really slowly?  And kind of stupid?  Yeah, that was me.

The Australian girl behind me understood just fine.  “Oh my god, you’re going to die on the river!” she taunted a little too loudly, chuckling to her mates at her ‘witty’ comment.  I stared at her, my disdain evident.  “I don’t think it’s that serious, but I’m not going to be much bloody use am I.”  She was wrong to judge me.  No, I wasn’t a prissy princess who was stepping out of her comfort zone for the first time to do something some might consider “death defying.”   Oh no, I was a hard-ass Kiwi, raised in the wop wops of Middle Earth where floating down the Waitaki River on a tractor tyre tube, fishing, camping and pooing in a long drop was my childhood.  At that moment, my replacement paddle arrived.  I grasped it firmly in my white, smooth, nicely moisturised hands.  My Trans-Tasman competitive streak kicked in and I took a mental snapshot of her raft team and guide.  I’m going to beat you down this epic river Australia, I thought.  Even if I do have blister prone hands and one Brit and two Indonesians who have never rafted before!

We clambered into the boat – Rog and I at the front, and our two Jakartan friends behind.  Our guide, Jakey, took the stern and we were off.  He did a fantastic job steering our raft downstream, richocheting us off rocks and cliff faces to achieve the perfect line down the river.  Although Roger would have me believe that he was doing this all on his own.  He’s paddling hard enough, I thought, so let him believe what he wants.  After an hour, I was a bit sick of “Did you see that?  Did you see what I did there?  I’m steering this whole raft by myself.  My sea kayaking skills I’ve honed off Hillary’s have definitely paid off.”

In the end, I blotted out his mosquito drone and let the sounds of the Balinese jungle fill my ears.

Our Rafting Team

Rafting down the Telaga Waja River

The duration of the rafting excursion was 2 1/2 hours (16kms) and for US$88 this was extraordinarily good value!  We went head long into cliff faces, got stuck on giant rocks, were swiped across the legs and faces with hanging tree branches and had mammoth paddle/water fights with the other groups.  Roger kept us all hugely entertained losing his balance and falling backwards, legs flailing in the air, right at the moment when we passed the camera man!  Our Jakartan friends and guides laughed so hard they too nearly fell out of the raft!  “I see your sea kayaking didn’t teach you how to balance Rog!”  I chortled.

Thank goodness he had boxers on underneath!

Ahhh, all the finesse of a sea kayaker!

And then amongst all of that excitement the scenery was stunning.  There were times when we just sat back and let the river carry us through paddy fields, dense jungle and rock faces.  We smiled and waved at locals washing their clothes and children swimming, men working the fields and turned our faces skywards as waterfalls cascaded from huge heights down onto us.  It truly was magical!

Then we came to Bajing Dam….

Kiri didn’t know about the dam.  Roger did.  He had researched the rafting website and knew all about it.  So when we stopped on the river and Jakey said, “Lie Down, Lie Down – Big Boom!“,  I began to get a little concerned.  Once we were all in position, we started drifting slowly towards what I soon determined to be a very distinctive drop off.

As we got closer, I could see a cluster of farmers further down river who had decided that what was about to occur was far more exciting than gathering their rice.

We drifted closer and closer.

Next to me I heard Roger say, “Yeah – now these are the rapids I was hoping for!”

As for me, I was trying to peer over my sandaled feet dangling over the front of our raft, all the while thinking What the hell is this?  How high is this bloody thing?  I can’t see anything.  Those farmers look like they are a long way down.   Oh……..Oh……..Here we go……….

“BOOM BOOM!  BOOM BOOM!” Jakey cried excitedly from the back.  What the hell?  Is he standing up?!

Eyes front…….over the top……………..OMG!!  HOW F*~#ING HIGH?!!!


Going over the top of the Bajing Dam

And we crashed over.

Now Roger loved it, and while I enjoyed it, forewarned is forearmed – particularly when photographs are being taken.

And had I known that my husband was going to use his Adobe Photoshop to take a close up of this photograph and insist that I post it here, I would have tried for a more cooler, got-it-all-under-control facial expression.

Although the contrast between the two of us is pretty amusing……I guess.

The Close Up - two quite different reactions, don't you agree?

Pleasure and Pain – can you tell who’s who? LOL

(I would like to point out that I have evidence of a Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios in LA in 2004  where the roles are reversed in a photograph very similar to this one.  Just ask for it – I’m more than willing to slap it up here…..close up included!)

When we finally arrived at the finish (having blitzed my Australian nemesis along the way I might add – although reflecting on the photograph above, I don’t feel quite so rough, tough and stuff now!), we were treated to an orange syrupy drink.  I wondered if it was to combat the bugs that had gone in through our mouths with the water, which we had done so well to avoid since arriving in Bali.  This was followed by a yummy buffet lunch and a certificate of achievement.

After the adrenalin had passed and the sunburn had set in, we climbed back into the mini van and made our way back to Seminyak.  We attended to our sunburnt legs, went for a 90 minute massage, popped into a local restaurant for a bite to eat and then spent our last evening relaxing in our villa.

It had been an amazing three days and we had loved everything that Bali had to offer.  Our plane was due to leave at 8.30am the next morning.  Which brings me to my reflections on Bali…

Strolling the Streets of Seminyak

7 05 2014

Today we decided that we needed to “go it alone” in Bali, and this can often be the most frightening part of travelling – stepping bravely out into the local area, getting one’s bearings and trying to make it home safely in one piece; a particularly challenging task given the congested traffic and lack of pedestrianised areas in Bali.

We amicably shared the road with cars, tour buses, vans and hundreds of scooters, and while we were initially nervous about that, we discovered that everyone showed a great deal of care and concern for each other.  The primary concern of the people of Bali seems to be that everyone needs to get on their way safely and arrive at their destination safely.  Friendly toots to say “I’m here, take care, I’m coming past” were regular during our trek around the streets of Seminyak.  Although taxis mostly tooted for a potential fare:  “Hey you, Australia!  It’s hot, you’re clearly struggling, how about a ride in my air conditioned van?”  As the humidity set in and my hair went completely “fro”, it was a very tempting offer!


Pedestrians take the hard shoulder at all times!

No, it’s not a one way road…add another car, five scooters, two taxi vans and a handful of tourists and that’s about right!

We met a few street sellers on our walkabout but had decided to avoid all marketplaces on this trip.  While these sellers were hawking their wares, we found them much nicer to deal with than those in Patong Beach who followed and nagged their customers for at least three blocks.  The advice we had read from a number of travel sites prior to arriving in Bali (don’t make eye contact, don’t speak to them, just ignore them….a bit like how Roger is with car salesmen!) was quickly cast aside by us.  We found this advice made us very dismissive and extremely rude, and instead we discovered that  a friendly hello, smile and polite no thank you was enough.  There was only one occasion where a persistent street seller practically climbed in next to Roger in the back seat of our mini-van, thrusting his goods in his face and saying “Only $1!  Only $1!”   After many firm no-thank-yous, and Roger on the point of grabbing his carved ivory horn and ramming it somewhere unpleasant, our guide Nowa came to our rescue and politely told him to sling his hook.  Discussing this in the back of the van as we drove away (Wow $1, that was pretty cheap for such a nice horn!), Nowa told us that actually no, it was a ploy, and the goods would probably be more in the range of $100.

We found the chaps on the scooters who pulled up alongside us, and the men hanging around Seminyak Square selling dubious looking scratchy tickets, to be the most deserving of any disdain.  These gents were annoying and less likely to give up if you didn’t keep walking.  However, as a female, I was less affected by their solicitations.  I found that their ‘pitch’ was for Roger’s benefit.  They always addressed him and never bothered with me.  It could have been they were terrified of my hair, but more likely it was because of the gender roles in their culture.  Roger, as the man, would be considered to be the alpha male of our little pack, the ‘trouser wearer’, and the one carrying the wad of cash in the aforementioned trousers.  Little did they know that all Roger was carrying in his wallet were two duplicate Midland library cards, his Dome coffee voucher from his Sunday morning lyrca clad bike rides and a receipt from the Pound Shop from England dated July 2007.  In fact, Miss Moneypenny here was the one with the cash and truth be told, she was a pretty soft touch when it came to parting with her money……but they let her walk on by.

However, I didn’t mind being ignored.  It left me to smile and wave at people going about their daily chores, including workers on a nearby local building site who turned out to be an extraordinary thing to watch.  The site was just metres from our villa and in a stiffling heat, the men worked hard lugging tiles and buckets of cement up bamboo scaffolding to a third, fourth or fifth storey of a new villa complex.  No protective clothing, no safety harnessing.  They would offer a friendly wave and a smile if it was forthcoming from us first.  One young man even began dancing gleefully (and precariously for that matter) on the edge of the fourth floor slab, so thrilled was he at the attention he was receiving!  Such happy, friendly people.  I was also considerably impressed to see a woman holding her own amongst the predominantly male work force, and stood watching slackjawed as she climbed a bamboo ladder with a bag of clay balanced perfectly on her head.  Respect sistah!



The beach at Seminyak was beautiful, although we had heard the beaches in Bali were no good, terrible in fact!  Just another rumour to quash I guess.  Perhaps they are not so good down in Kuta?  And it was completely empty while we there but for a few swimmers, beach walkers and surfers.  We managed to find a great little place for a traditional Balinese massage called Cool Spa.  The girls here were fantastic, cleaning our tired feet for us then rubbing aromatherapy oils into our tense, work weary muscles for a full 90 minutes.  And for a very reasonable AUD$21.

For dinner we wanted to try a burger bar that had been listed as the Number 1 place to eat in Seminyak on Trip Advisor called Wacko Burgers.  We walked past it three times before we actually found it, tucked away at the back of a market place.  It really was as delicious as all the reviews stated.  The sauce…..there was something about the wacko sauce!  And for AUD$5 we got a very filling burger, salad and fries.  Perfect!  Even though we had to sit outside dripping in the heat because the air-conditioned interior was full.

We finally arrived back at our villa and fell immediately into the pool.  It had been a hot HOT day, albeit very quiet and relaxing.  But that was why we had chosen Bali in the first place for our holiday.  We needed to get away from Perth, and we wanted to be pampered with massages and our own pool.  We were certainly making the most of it, and we had found our way around Seminyak just fine.  And as an added bonus, tonight we found the mosquito coil in our villa – only three nights after we arrived!  Although, we had survived the mossies beautifully so far: only three bites between us to scrat at.

Feeling that tomorrow we needed to get back out into the wilds of Bali, we booked a white water rafting trip with a company called Alam.  They had been recommended to us by Nowa the day before.  It had been a while since I had balanced on the inflated sides of a raft and faced the white water of nature….Austria in 2003 I believe.  As for Roger, well, he’d never done it before.  He was so excited he could barely sleep and cursed the fact that he hadn’t pushed Santa harder for a Go Pro for Christmas!

A day around Ubud with Nowa and a Luwak

28 04 2014

As it turned out, we made it through our first night relatively unscathed by the mosquitoes….in fact, neither of us were bitten once!

(I would like to insert a quick advertisement plug here for Aeroguard Roll On and Swivel Fishing Essentials Mossie Bracelets – both excellent products!)

We had set today aside to immerse ourselves in Balinese culture, so when the alarm sounded we sprang eagerly from the confines of our netted sanctuary and into the warm morning air and all that it promised.  We started our day with a huge American breakfast of toast, bacon, mushroom, tomatoes, hash browns, eggs, pastries,  juice, fresh fruit, tea….. honestly, the food was endless!  All knocked up in the shake of a skink’s tail by our personal butler.  And it was just the sustenance we needed for a day of exploring Bali with our tour guide Nowa.

Nowa is the Owner/Operator of Bali Kini Tours whom we hired to drive us around some choice sights of Bali for the day at a cost of only USD$55.  He picked us up from our villa just after 8:30am (in his mini van, not his ark!) and it was this cheerful, easy-going Indonesian chap who made our first day in Bali an unforgettable experience.

Firstly, we kicked off tour with a traditional Balinese dance experience: the Barong and Kris Dance.  This was a play that represented the eternal fight between good and evil, a dance often performed in villages across the country as a way of re-establishing balance, putting wrongs to rights, and dealing with any evil spirits that may be lurking in the local communities.  Of course, Nowa points out, evil can never be truly eliminated from the world (Amen to that brother!), and the play also reinforces this idea.

The costumes and performances were fantastic and I found myself mesmerised by the fingers of the Balinese female dancers.  No matter how hard I try I simply cannot get my fingers to bend backwards as elegantly as they can.  My big crooked western fingers just won’t do it!  I also really enjoyed the role of one of the comical characters in the play who looked very similar to Billy T. James, a well known New Zealand comedian icon.  Not, on this occasion, clad in a black singlet and gumboots, nor Mexican attire, but rather in Balinese traditional dress.  While the other dancers performed their serious roles, he spent his time posing for photographs, eyeing up the ladies in the front row and generally strutting about the stage, and every now and then he would give the evil spirit a wallop with his branch of leaves for good measure.  The music was a steady stream of traditional lang-lang-jingle-jangle-badoom-badoom-chang-chang, and the hour long show provided just enough of a taster of Balinese music to keep one’s brain clanging about for the next hour!

I’ve read mixed reviews about this performance, and some were pretty scathing, but I thought it was a bargain at AUD$10 to get a glimpse of Balinese music, dance and religion.  And anyone who complains that it wasn’t in English?  Well that’s just ridiculous.  That would be like going to New Zealand and complaining because the haka was performed in Maori!  An informative sheet of paper, produced in a number of various languages, is provided to explain the gist of the story – and that’s all one needs.  From there, just soak it up!

The Tiger - click here to see the Balinese Billy T

The Tiger – click here to see the Balinese Billy T

While en route to our next destination, our questions about the dance and the ritual lead us into a very interesting conversation with Nowa about the beliefs of Hindu and other religions in Indonesia, the concept of making offerings each morning (holy water, flowers, incense = trinity) and the importance of the family and community temples.  Nowa’s honesty and willingness to share his beliefs with us gave us a snapshot of a nation of people who are peaceful at heart and who live their lives trying to be, to put it simply, better people.  Inspiring yes?  They are good natured, peaceful and happy, and one can’t help but admire their simple outlook on life.

Our second stop on Nowa’s tour was at a traditional Balinese home, and perhaps I’m parading my Western ignorance a bit here, but when we arrived I thought that it was a museum.   It wasn’t until I had rudely barged into the family’s sleeping quarters that Roger pointed out we actually were in someone’s home.  I quickly removed my sticky beak from behind the wooden door and retreated feeling stupid and quite embarrassed!

As we explored the family’s compound, Nowa explained the layout of the house in accordance with the Feng Shui principles.  In the back yard the family had a plot to grow their corn, coconuts etc. and an old stone well with a bucket and pulley system from which they collected their water.  As we strolled around the small individual buildings, chickens strutted and pecked around us and a young boy, about 5 years old, busily carted roofing tiles in his wheelbarrow from one end of the compound to the other.  Corn cobs hung drying above the stove and I found myself gazing in disbelief at the primitive kitchen thinking:  The woman in this home deserves a goddamned medal for cooking in there every day!  While the women and children went about their business, it was thought that the father/husband was probably working on a local building site, a very respectable job that earned a sound wage of about 800,000 rupiah per week, (AUD$80 per week).

Us in front of the family's temple.  The condition of one's temple indicated the state of the family/home, so everywhere we went, these were immaculately presented.

In Indonesian culture, the condition of a family’s temple symbolises the wealth or condition of the family, so everywhere we went the temples were immaculately presented and cared for.  Many times, they were in better condition than the other buildings.

Not a Breville's appliance to be found in this kitchen!

The Kitchen

What sort of family meal could you knock up on this stove?

The free-standing Westinghouse Stove?  Notice the chicken has voluntarily made its way onto the stove top.  Everyone, and everything, is happy in Bali!

As a courtesy, Nowa asked if we would mind offering a 10,000 rupiah donation for visiting this family’s home.  That’s about the equivalent of AUD$1.  Looking around the compound forced me to reflect on my own life and provided a much needed injection of perspective.  I don’t feel ashamed of the life I have, I have worked hard to earn it, but I am a little embarrassed by some of the unnecessary luxuries I have….that many Western people have, and think they ‘need’.  But the Balinese people are in no way unhappy with their lifestyle.  Nor was this family looking for charity from us.  As Nowa said, that’s not why he brought us to their home.  It was simply to give us an insight into how everyday people lived – content and happy – and today, these mud and brick homes are being steadily replaced by concrete and tin dwellings.  Near the gate, an elderly grandfather sat cross-legged against a clay wall playing (we think) a Balinese Suling flute as we strolled around his home.  As the patriarch of the family, our meager donation was given to him and meet with smiling eyes.  Had Roger’s voice of reason not been there, I probably would have emptied the contents of my wallet into his wrinkled hands, so compelled was I to share what I could easily afford.

From here we piled back into our minivan and continued 30 minutes inland to Ubud.  The rural scenery and local life of the villages gave us plenty to soak up as we whizzed past stalls of ceramics, paintings, wooden carvings, Balinese sculptures, elongated wooden giraffes and every piece of furniture you would need to deck out your house in true Balinese style.  All of which we have seen scattered throughout various stores in Perth and New Zealand.

Roadside Stall

When we stopped for lunch at the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, it simply took our breath away.  Talk about picture postcard perfect!   Here we ate lunch in a hut-like restaurant overlooking the green terraced paddy fields of Ubud.  As we watched tourists meander peacefully along the terraces on the other side, a small leather faced man appeared on the winding path below us.  He was in bare feet, wearing a grass hat, sarong and carrying a bamboo pole with woven flax baskets on either end full of rice.  His toothless grin was infectious and he graciously posed with me for a photo.  When he warbled “cheeeeese” for the photo, it occurred to me that this wily gentlemen had done this before.  In fact, he had probably been hiding around the corner just waiting for chumps like us (and the ones after us who also employed him for a photo) to arrive!  At 10,000 rupiah per photograph, he was definitely having a productive day!  I’m not sure how much rice was gathered, nevertheless, he was a gorgeous character and I don’t begrudge him his side venture one bit.

  • Additional Note:  While we were eating at the restaurant, we noticed a small white drone flying above the paddy fields and we think that Roger has found the footage from that particular drone HERE on YouTube.  It provides a fantastic view of the plantation – if you’ve got time, check it out!
Rice Plantation near Ubud

Tegalalang Rice Plantation near Ubud

Stalls at the rice plantation - some fantastic paintings here but we only have carry-on luggage allowance.  But next time....

Stalls at the rice plantation – some fantastic paintings here but we only had carry-on luggage allowance.  Next time though….

Cheeeeese......crafty bugger!

Cheeeeese……crafty bugger!

With some encouragement from Nowa, we performed a few acrobatic leaps for the camera in front of the paddy fields.  Reflecting on these photographs later, Roger was decidedly impressed with  his ability to gain “air”, certain that he could out-jump any AFL player on the current circuit.  It must be all the cycling he’s been doing lately!

Looks good huh?  Actually we were crap at jumping, this was our third attempt!  LOL

Roger was very disappointed with my lack of ‘air’.     NB:  Roger’s six pack has been photo shopped into a one pack  in order to add a more comical element to the shot!  At least that’s his story!

Wanting to avoid the market and busy central area of Ubud itself, we asked Nowa to take us to see more rural parts of the countryside around Ubud.  So our next destination was the Springwater Temple and this turned out to be another stunningly beautiful and tranquil setting.  Being expected to cover our legs before entering, Nowa helped us into our matching sarongs (Note to self:  this is not your look Kiri, nor Roger’s for that matter!) and then took us for a leisurely stroll through the peaceful garden setting.  He informed us about the purpose of the various rooms and their functions, the bathing springs next to the temple, the different zones of the temple and the need for villagers to come here to collect holy water.  All the while, enormous goldfish moseyed lazily through the various channels and under the bridges, following Roger wherever he moved along the pathway.

The Holy Water Springs

The Springwater Temple



Roger with our friendly guide Nowa.

Roger chatting with our friendly guide Nowa.

Our final pit-stop for the day – and the timing couldn’t have been better at 3pm in the afternoon – was a local coffee plantation.  Not only were coffee beans grown here but other spices as well such as ginger, vanilla, turmeric, cloves, cocoa beans and lots of other things that I’ve only ever seen in the spice boxes in my mother’s kitchen.  We weaved our way along the path, past the cocoa trees, coffee bean trees, past an old cow (for the milk?), pineapple trees and banana trees before coming face to face with a row of cages containing a furry cat like creature in each.  “And this creature is the Luwak,” our guide smiled, “of the world famous and very expensive, Luwak coffee.”  Now, not being a particularly huge coffee fan, and not one to get the opportunity to rub shoulders with the rich and the famous much these days, the Luwak reference completely escaped me.  Roger, in his usually eloquent way, made things as clear as crystal: “They eat the coffee bean, then they poo it out and then you drink it.”   Sorry, who drinks it?


I’m not sure that the tiny unsuspecting Luwak has any idea of its infamy or is quite able to appreciate the great heights to which it’s digestive system has risen, however, from this point of the tour I followed the journey of one of its cocoa beans:  from the Luwak’s sphincter, to the drying stage, to the husk removal, to the roasting, to the grinding with the pestle and mortar, and finally into a tiny white china cup to be drunk by yours truly.  Had I been in Hollywood, I would have paid USD$80 for the privilege.  But here in Bali, it was offered to me for just 50,000 rupiah (AUD$5).  Why wouldn’t you try it?

Drinking my special cup of Lowak Kopi.

Drinking my special cup of Luwak Kopi.


Taster tray of various coffees and teas.

Taster tray of various coffees and teas.

In addition to this, I was also given the privilege of tasting (for free!) a variety of teas and coffees produced by the plantation.  These arrived before me in tiny glass handles on a wooden tasting platter – not too dissimilar from my beer tasting days abroad, although much more civilised and sophisticated!  So sitting at our little wooden table overlooking a vast canyon and paddy fields laddering their way down the valley to the river below, I sat peacefully sampling ginger coffee, lemon tea, vanilla coffee, cocoa coffee and much more.  Even Roger, who hasn’t had a cup of coffee for over 5 years, tested each cup – including the Lemon Tea which he told me afterwards usually brings him out in rash!  It was a truly magical setting and a totally worthwhile experience.

The view from the cafe.

The view from the cafe.

Coffee Beans

Coffee Beans

This was the perfect conclusion to our tour, and afterwards Nowa began the long drive back through the rural landscape of Bali to Seminyak.  The narrow roads and their verges were alive with activity: cars, tourist buses, laden scooters, bicycles, women carrying baskets and sacks on their heads, men pushing wheelbarrows of produce from the fields, children playing soccer on dried up paddy fields, tired workers slicing rice grasses with their machetes, women walking home having made offerings at their local temple, and school children in bright red and white uniforms finished their learning for the day.  Everywhere, life bustling past us.

Pay To Take Photo

Plantation Workers

Laden Scooters
At the end of our first day in Indonesia we were overwhelmed by the friendliness of the Balinese people.  They were such happy people and I wanted to reach out to them, touch them, shake their hands, speak with them, laugh with them.  I wanted to connect with them – they seemed to have such beautiful souls.  Even the officials -Polisi, security officers, village officials – all offered us big smiles and a friendly “Hello” as we trooped past them in the stifling heat on our way to visit their local attractions.

As for Nowa, well he was just phenomenal.  I would highly recommend this jovial fellow to anyone travelling to Bali.  He listens carefully to what it is you want to see and he tailors the tour to suit you.  He speaks superb English (and that’s endorsed by an English teacher no less!), and his pride in his country is infectious.  On top of that, he didn’t hesitate once to answer my numerous silly and naive questions!  Bali Kini Tours – if you are going to Bali, you MUST spend a day with him or one of his other drivers who are equally “top notch”.

On arriving back at our accommodation we plunged immediately into our private pool to cool off and then enjoyed a full 60 minute body massage for AUD$20 in the comfort of our bedroom.  Shortly after, our butler arrived with our dinner and laid it out on the dining table for us.  Then he sprayed our bedroom for mossies, turned down the bed, lowered the netting and wished us a pleasant evening.  We were worlds apart from the people we had met today, but felt richer for having experienced their culture.

Bring on Bali!

25 04 2014

It’s travel time again and on this occasion, Roger and I decided to see what all the fuss was about in Bali.  Since so many Aussies visit there every year, there’s gotta be something worth seeing right?  Although, if I’m entirely honest, I wasn’t particularly hopeful and I had mentally and physically psyched myself up to deal with the very worst that Bali could throw at us.  As a holiday destination, Bali gets a bad rap from the Australian media and we decided NOT to watch the Today Tonight special edition on the eve of our departure which boldly claimed in its trailer that week: “1 AUSTRALIAN DIES EVERY 9 DAYS IN BALI.”  No, best not to watch that sort of thing before one leaves for the destination!

So having spent the last three days stocking up on Cascade red cordial (a precious liquid that supposedly stems the onslaught of Bali belly), cod liver oil tablets, vitamin C tablets, hayfever pills, Berrocca tablets (aids in repelling mosquitoes), and anything else that we had heard/read about, we were almost ready to  go.  The final things to be packed were the Mozzie bracelets, Aeroguard roll on, Dettol hand sanitiser and the dia-stop pills (to “blog us up” should the red cordial fail).

Let the holiday fun begin!

After a very leisurely drive from Midland to Perth International, the best of Wayne Fontana emitting from the taxi radio, we arrived at check in.  Having been appropriately sized up by the check-in attendant, she deemed us fit and able enough to assist with any air emergencies that may arise (excluding of course the disappearance of an entire jet plane) and allocated us the  front row exit seats on our Jetstar flight.  Chuffed to bits to still be considered to look ‘youthful and agile’ , we confidently boarded the plane and in no time at all (3 1/2  hrs), we’d arrived in Bali, Indonesia!  Too easy!  And no time zones to deal with either.

It was when we arrived at Denpasar Airport that things began to go a little awry.  It’s been so long since I traveled, I had forgotten that many small, older Asian women have no understanding of personal space!  The queue to customs was atrocious, and we ended up in the ‘slow lane’.  It didn’t help that we were approached by someone who offered to ‘express’ us…..and I politely sent him away.  I thought he was offering me a taxi.  However, Roger had been informed by his workmates to jump at the offer if it was made (which was purely random and very rare!), explaining that the official walks off with one’s passports to return 5 minutes later to happily lead you past all the the chumps sweating in the Indonesian humidity of the mile long queue.

After 45 minutes of barely moving five metres, and the aforementioned small, Asian women practically riding on my back in the queue (also whilst chewing her gum louder than a cow does its cud!), I was cursing my cautious nature.   In addition to that, the humidity had dramatically increased the volume of my hair ten fold and I was now sporting a  very un-stylish “Monica.”  (I am referring to the episode of Friends when they travel to Barbados).

Monica does Barbados

BUT, as I whined apologetically to Roger, his blue Jeep t-shirt clinging to his sweaty frame, and what I still stand by; you should NEVER let your passport out of your sight when traveling!

After 90 minutes we were through customs and I felt like a celebrity searching for my name among the sea of elegantly printed, glossy placards.  And then there it was, scrawled on a folded piece of A4 refill paper in black vivid marker pen: “Mr Kiri Powell.”

Traffic was, as we expected, organised chaos, and thank the lord we had the foresight to be arranged to be picked up.  We joined the Bali vehicle opera for 45 minutes before finally arriving at Bhavana Villas, Seminyak.  On check in we were greeted with a cool glass of orange juice which we knocked back immediately, letting the ice cubes clink together as we thirstily drained the glass.   Uh oh…Ice cubes!  That’s what “did it” for us in Thailand, and we hoped like hell that the red cordial would live up to its reputation!  Did I mention savvy travelers anywhere above?  Nope?  Good!

Having checked in, we were escorted to our villa, (Number 1 as it happens) which by all accounts was truly spectacular: the tranquil pool lit from every angle, the traditional wooden Balinese furniture that decorated every room, the smell of incense and the beautifully turned down four-poster bed draped in white mosquito netting.

Arriving at Bhavana Villas

Villa No 1

I sighed with relief.  It really did look as amazing as the pictures on the website.  We were especially stunned (is that the right word?) by the fact that, apart from the sleeping quarters, everything was open to the natural environment, in true Balinese style…… a million trillion mosquitoes baying for fresh blood included in the package.  Here’s hoping the money spent on roll-on’s, bracelets and tablets will repay us in kind.  Had we realised our villa was mostly entirely outdoor living, we would have invested in a bracelet for every limb!

Owlface relaxes by the pool.

Owlface relaxes by the pool.

So having smeared a few extra lines of Aeroguard across our virgin skin, and having become accustomed to the skinks coming out from behind the paintings/plants and skittering all over the walls of the bathroom and living areas, we were officially settled in and awaiting our personal butler to arrive with dinner: fries, bruschetta, one beefburger, one chicken burger and one carton of cow’s milk.

Our Sleeping Quarters

Our Sleeping Quarters

Outdoor Bathroom

Outdoor Bathroom













Outdoor Living Room

Outdoor Living Room

Kitchen/Dining Area

Kitchen/Dining Area

After some dinner and a not-too-bad cup of English Breakfast tea, we dove into the safe confines of our Mossie net.  Being too warm to sleep under the covers, there was nothing for it but to sprawl on top – bare, white Aerogaurd-free flesh exposed for the hungry Mossies who had managed to flit in through the doors behind us.   Ahhhh, what a feast they would have tonight….

“It’s the people that you meet eeeeaaach day” – Sesame Street

18 03 2012

I don’t remember who sang this song, I think it may have been Ernie.  And possibly Bert was harmonising?

One of the best things about travelling are the people who move in and out of your life along the way, not all of them people that you will remember fondly, but people that you will remember for one reason or another.  People that have touched your life for the briefest of moments and then are gone….forever!

From Vietnam, the smiling street seller who let Roger shoulder his business is etched on my memory as the happiest and helpful Vietnamese person I met, but also a person who has the toughest job I’ve ever encountered – pounding the pavements day in day out, from sunrise to sunset, in ridiculous temperatures carrying huge amounts of weight.  But still he smiles.  There is something to be learned from this man.

The old and small taxi driver who maneuvered us through the mad and insane traffic both to and from our hostel in Saigon is a hero in my book and worthy of a guest spot on Top Gear.  Not once did he swear, frown, shake his fist or bump into another car, scooter, bike or pedestrian.  Nor did he seem to mind me laughing like a maniac out the window at the traffic around me.

Roger with some people from our tour of the Mekong Delta

Then there was Tiger, our Mekong Delta tour guide who knew how to say “I love you” in thirteen different languages.  I’m not sure his wife would appreciate hearing him brag about that!  He was a character who on the one hand provided light comic entertainment, but then on the other poured with patriotism for his country which he acknowledged had been struggling for years.  He spoke with enthusiasm of new developments around Ho Chi Minh city, but he also showed despair for the people living in poverty along the delta edges who would be moved on from their shanties by the next big development. And where else could they go exactly?

On the Coconut Canals, Vietnam

On the same tour, I won’t forget the young Thai girl who deduced that I was from Rome because I was wearing an Italia cap. She had never met an Italian before, so I was her new BFF and she literally clung to my arm all day!  And I mean ALL DAY!  Poor girl, after the eleventh photograph with her I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wasn’t Italian, so instead I started adding extra vowels onto-a the-a end-a of-a everything-a!

My new Thai BFF is in purple, the man on the left is her Uncle. The bloke topless is Russian. Everywhere we went in SEAsia, Russians were getting their kit off.

Meanwhile, Roger had struck up his own friendship with two Japanese boys because one of them had the same camera as him and was wearing a Bell & Ross watch that Roger also liked.  They spoke excellent English and left him their email address at the end of the tour.  A contact he has since been in touch with.

From Bangkok, our first tour to Ayutthaya was extraordinary.  No-one really spoke to anyone else, it was weird!  Lunchtime was very very quiet, like those old Western movies where the guy on the horse rides into town.  A hush falls over everything and all you can hear is the clip-clop of his horse’s hooves.  In this case it was the click-clack of chopsticks.  And it was that uncomfortable quiet all day!

It was very different the next day on our Adventure Tour.  During the hotel pick-ups in the morning we met a Canadian called Gordon who was a weather expert of sorts, some kind of flood forecaster.  We spent only half an hour in his company before being divided into tour groups at HQ.   However we met up with him on the bus trip back to Bangkok at the end of the day.  An Australian couple from New South Wales also joined us.  She worked for Nestle and following my “Ode to Milo”, we spent an hour enlightening our Canadian friend as to what the product was, the numerous ways it could be consumed and why Antipodeans worshipped the crumbly substance.

We shot the breeze, sharing our day’s experiences and learning about each other – our lives, our travel experiences and poking fun at each other’s cultures.  We laughed loudly, joked badly and enjoyed each other’s company for the duration of the three hour drive back to Bangkok.  To say we got along like a house on fire would be an understatement.  And then we climbed out of the bus at our hotel and they were gone.  Forever.

How families and workers travel around Bangkok

Life is amazing like that isn’t it?  That in such a short space of time you can connect with people that you have never met, and then as quickly as they arrive they are gone from your life again, leaving a lasting impression.  Is it these types of people who are our soul-mates, whom by some cosmic force we are thrown together with to enjoy their company for a moment in time?  Deep Kir.  Real deep.

From Phuket, we remember every freak, geek, sleaze, Russian and weirdo we came into contact with.  But the receptionists at Patong Beach who happily posed for photographs with a small white owl are definitely worth a mention.  They probably thought we were crazy!  We also fondly remember the kind and friendly hotel manageress at Surintra Resort who ironed Roger’s wedding shirt and pants that had been rolled up in his backpack for ten days.

Travelling makes you reflect on how small the world is and how inter-connected we all actually are, passing in and out of each other’s lives for a fleeting moment, sometimes for longer, and in doing so having an impact on a stranger’s life.

Think about the people you encountered today: the young girl on the checkout at Countdown that you smiled at and said hello – or did you slam your goods down in frustration because you had to park too far away from the door?  The pedestrian that you waited for to cross the street – or from the luxury of your car did you instead cut in front of them?

Ellen Degeneres closes her show every day with the same line. “Be kind to each other.”  Such simple advice.  Ya know I think she could really be onto something there.

A Wedding on Valentine’s Day in Phuket

14 03 2012

Valentine’s Day. A day set aside in the year for you to proclaim your undying love to that special someone in your life. I couldn’t think of a better date to be attending a wedding at Surin Beach in Phuket. This was the very reason why we began our travels through South East Asia in the first place. We had a special wedding to attend, so why not visit a few other places on the way there.

There would be no shorts, tank tops or stinky sandals today. Instead, we pulled our glad rags from the dark depths of our backpacks and slipped awkwardly into them, our outfits clinging, sticking and riding up into every sweaty bodily fold and crevice imaginable. I considered applying make-up for the occasion but that thought lasted a total of two seconds, as even the chameleon’s colours outside were running off him.

At 5pm we wandered across the road to the Catch Beach Club of the Twinpalms Resort and found the Australian and Kiwi guests mingling around the bar (no surprises there!) passing time until the nuptials began.

All dressed up and ready to go!

The wedding itself was straight from the pages of a Disney fairy tale – minus the talking mirrors, wicked step-mothers and poisoned fruit. As the sun began to dissolve into the crystal water, the prince and his groomsmen arrived and took their places, opting for fedora hats and dark sunglasses to top off their beach style. The invited guests took their places on the decorated white chairs in a specially sectioned area of beach, while around us sun seekers clad in Speedoes and bikinis, swung to sitting positions on their loungers, lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time on their holiday to be honorary guests at a Valentine’s Day wedding.

Guests milling about on the beach before the wedding

The princess, escorted by her father and the cutest flower girl in the whole kingdom, was dazzling in her Dolce satin ivory gown, leaving the ever popular Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty dead in the water, and not a glass slipper in sight. They are so impractical when it comes to sand! And in front of a white lace and ribboned gazebo, the prince and the princess declared their never-ending love for each other as the shimmering sun set in the distance behind them.

“Why couldn’t we have just watched the sunset tonight?” whispered Roger. But as the bronzed topless bather lying to our right sat up erect on her deck chair to watch the exchanging of rings, he was momentarily distracted, along with every other male guest around him. Thankfully she covered her *clears throat* er-hms up for the remainder of the ceremony!

Rog and I after the wedding. Funny thing, straight after this photo two blokes in Speedoes also stood in front of the gazebo posing for their own photos.

The wedding breakfast afterwards was spectacular, a huge variety of fare from right throughout the land – everything from the finest cheeses, to the chocolate fountain which Roger felt the need to stick his finger in! After the cutting of the cake, the happy couples danced to the smooth melodic tunes of romance and were the first dancers of the evening to kick-start the Valentine’s Party. As the last wisps of daylight scurried away, the bar morphed into an up market and funky nightclub.

Rhi Rhi’s latest hit single pounded out across the sand and down to the shoreline where the princess and the prince lit two huge floating candles and released them into the night sky, each containing their hopes and dreams for the future. And then entwined in each other’s arms on a shared wooden sun-lounger, they enjoyed a display of fireworks from a young Thai beach seller…even though the signs explicitly stated that they were banned on the beach! LOL

Twinpalms Catch Beach Club - photograph from http://twinpalms-phuket.com/phuket_beach_club.html

As the pace of the music became more frenetic, two fire dancers appeared on the sand in front of the nightclub, dancing and rolling fire around their lithe bodies in time with the music. Flaming balls, ropes and sticks spun and twisted in the air while the dancers somersaulted on the sand below. They were brilliant!

The princesses attendants in their chocolate brown taffeta gowns eagerly downed bottles of champagne and set the dance floor on fire…metaphorically I mean. They weren’t throwing back flaming sambuccas or anything. Well, not at that stage of the evening!

While the warm breeze of South East Asia caressed our bodies, the party wore on. And as midnight approached with the possibility of us turning into pumpkins, we wearily made our way back to our hotel.

As we strolled through the park we felt incredibly lucky to be part of such a romantic and beautiful beach wedding and after a quick dip in the pool to cool down, we climbed into bed.

Our trip through South East Asia had come to an end, and what an incredible note to finish on!

Sunset at Surin Beach, Phuket

6 03 2012

Just fifteen minutes north of Patong Beach we finally found it; the island paradise we had been seeking. Surin Beach was a small peaceful inlet with gigantic rocks clothed in green leafy palms guarding the bay at each end. The warm blue waves of the Indian Ocean lapped quietly at the shore while sun loungers and umbrellas dotted the hot white sand. Along the back of the beach, tall tropical palm trees swayed lazily in the warm breeze, offering much needed shade to the small outdoor restaurants lining the beach below. It was beautiful, and exactly what we had expected to find in Phuket.

Surintra Resort, Phuket

We found our hotel, Surintra Resort, unpacked our bathers and immediately jumped into the swimming pool with all the finesse of a block of cheese, where we splashed around to our heart’s content before making our way down to the beach.

Rog happily enjoying the swimming pool at Surintra Resort.

There wasn’t much to do in Surin except relax, and it was just what my doctor had ordered: lazing on a sun-lounger, splashing about in the ocean, losing oneself in a good book and letting one’s body absorb the peaceful serenity of the Windows screen saver you had blissfully ended up in. A Thai massage on the beach had been on the top of our list since we had left New Zealand, and was recommended by fellow travellers we had met along the way. This was definitely the place to do it: one full hour for only 300baht ($12NZD) – fantastic!

So we stripped down to our wabba-dabbas, sprawled ourselves across the wooden massage tables and surrendered our tired muscles to the skilful and dexterous hands of two very round and very happy Thai women. I chose to luxuriate in an oil massage, enjoying the scent of tiger balm lingering on the breeze and the warm feeling of the medicinal oil seeping into my muscles. It was heavenly.

Buddha sandstone carving

As for Roger, I couldn’t help but think that his massage looked to be a little hellish. Feeling that he was in need of a good body moulding, he had opted for a traditional Thai massage. It took only ten minutes for his grunts and wheezes to intrude on my relaxed slumber, and from the corner of my eye I could see his legs and arms flailing all over the place, his body parts being tugged, pulled, kneaded and contorted.

The idyllic scenes we had been seeking!

I tilted my head to peek in his direction in time to see the masseuse, her arms interlocked around Roger’s neck, wrench him quickly to the left, then to the right, his spine crunching, his eyes bulging from their sockets and his mouth hanging open in shock. Next, she sat behind him, put her knees into the middle of his back and with her arms still hooked through his, pulled him backwards over her knees – his hips lifting off the table so that his back was literally rolling over the top of her, and his belly button was reaching for the sky.

I lay in my oil heaven sniggering and chortling. I don’t think Roger knew I could see every wrench, yank, twist, twizzle and strain, and the look on his face when he saw his own foot just inches from his ear while lying on his stomach was priceless!

Sun loungers on the beach at Surin, Phuket

After I peeled Roger off the massage table, we walked along the beach to find a place to eat. I couldn’t leave Thailand without trying my favourite dish, Thai green chicken curry. So I followed along behind Roger as he stomped between the sun-loungers in his hat, t-shirt, cargo shorts, socks and bright orange Reebok ZigTech trainers, kicking up sand behind him from his oversized soles. I laughed. Rog doesn’t “do” beaches, and standing amongst the other bathers who were all dressed in speedos or bikinis, he stood out like a sore thumb!

Rog and I admiring the beauty of the sunset at Surin Beach

After emptying the sand from his shoes and socks, we found a small restaurant, Two Brothers, where I enjoyed the most delicious curry I have ever tasted. Of course I would expect nothing less. But by now, there being no vintage English cars, aeroplanes or internet to look at, Roger was getting restless, and I had yet to coerce him back onto the beach to enjoy the romance and beauty of watching the sun set.

Me wading in the water at Surin Beach as the sun sets.

“How long does it take?” he whined, perching on the end of his wooden sun-lounger. “Oh, not long, about half an hour,” I replied, reclining back on my own lounger seductively. Just off shore a luxury yacht had dropped anchor, no doubt some rich celeb on board also wanting to admire the beautiful sunset. And on the horizon, one lone traditional fishing boat putted quietly along.

Spectacular - travel brochure spec or what?!

But I had misjudged the sun’s timing, and an hour and a half later we were still waiting. “What’s taking so long? It’s only moved an inch! Can I go now?” he grizzled. Finally, two numb backsides and two Reebok Zigtechs full of sand later, the sun disappeared into the ocean. And after much needling from me, Roger reluctantly admitted that it was, actually, like all good things in life, worth the wait.

Phuket. An island paradise, or is it?

1 03 2012

I’m not quite sure what my expectations were of Phuket.  Well, no actually, that’s not true.  I expected the pristine beaches, swaying coconut trees and sparkling azure waters that I had seen in the travel brochures since as long as I can remember.  Where bamboo and coconut husk huts line the shoreline and you can step out onto your own piece of tranquility.  And of course, who could forget the tropical paradise depicted in the film The Beach.  I believe that this actually exists somewhere in Phuket, but I certainly can’t afford to go there.  And it certainly isn’t at Patong Beach in Phuket.

In the back of our tuk tuk heading to Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand.

Why so many people pour into Patong for their holidays is completely beyond me.  Run down buildings line the streets, litter lingers everywhere, the roads are terrible and pockets of nostril crippling stench waft on the breeze and assault you when you least expect it.  Oh and don’t forget the rats that scurry under the broken concrete pavers, or the family of eight rats who live under the bridge next to the shitty brown pollution filled stream that runs through the village.  However, I may be being completely unfair here.   After all, a massive tsunami did wash through only eight years ago, and the bamboo scaffolding on the local building sites would indicate that progress is rather slow in Phuket.

The footpaths in Patong are practically non-existent so it’s you against the traffic:  the scooters which they hire out to drunk white guys visiting the island for their stag’s night; the tuk tuks (and no thank you for the one thousandth time I do not want a damn tuk tuk); and the knobheads who try to force their huge brand new 4WD vehicles down streets the width of popsicle sticks.  Walking is hazardous to say the least, and then there’s that whole ‘no-one-stops-at-crossings’ thing to contend with.

Patong just isn’t my cup of tea, and based on my observations I think you have to be a particular type of person to choose Patong as your number one holiday destination:

Type 1:   In an open front bar, a fat white bloke in his sixties sits slavering and ogling a young Thai girl standing between his legs, while she in turn dances in front of him, gyrating and rubbing her hips against his pelvis.  This was a common sight in most bars we passed; old white blokes, suffering some sort of mid-life crisis, who were passing their days with three or four Thai girls hanging off them like pretty Christmas baubles.  I guess in Patong they got more bang for their buck, so to speak.

Type 2:  Beefy Russians seemed to be everywhere we looked, walking the streets topless with their pecs and calf muscles permanently flexed and looking like they had just strutted off the Conan the Barbarian film set.  Have you ever tried walking like that?  With your calf muscles flexed?  It gives one an unusual and constipated sort of a gait.  Well at least that’s how Roger looked when, not wanting to be outdone, he tensed up every muscle in his body, blew his chest out and Schwarzenegger-strutted towards the beach.  He slipped into a full body cramp just twenty metres down the road!

Type 3:  And finally, as we got closer to the beach, from amongst these sleazers and posers there appeared the most badly sunburned tourists I have ever seen in my life!  Hundreds of them, one after the other, minced past us carefully, chests blistered red hot, shoulders burning, arms burning, faces on fire.  It was extraordinary!  Red lobster-like westerners with seemingly no comprehension of skin cancer or slip, slop, slap.  God it was horrific.

We had to give in and take at least one tuk-tuk ride before leaving Thailand.

Type 4:  Add to this mix the hundreds of hawkers who would do anything and everything to get your money.  “Hello hello.  Tuk Tuk?  Giddaya!  Tuk tuk, tuk tuk?  Hello Roma!  Where you going – you need tuk tuk?  Hey mate.  Giddaya Australia.  Tuk tuk? Tuk tuk?”  Oh God, make it STOP!  One thing that did catch us out now and again was when we strolled down a random alleyway – past six suit sellers, four DVD sellers, five watch sellers, seven silk scarf sellers, four t-shirt sellers, three massage parlours and a partridge in a pear tree – only to be confronted by a dead end, which meant we had to bloody well walk back past them all again to get out!

The only street seller I bought from because she actually picked that I was a Kiwi - not an Aussie, and not from Rome!

Type 5:  And then there were the “suit guys.”  These were immaculately dressed young men in beautifully tailored suits who stood in front of you, arms spread the width of the pavement and tried to get you into their store to buy three suits which would be ready for collection in just 24 hours.  “You wanna suit mate?  You wanna suit?” they called to Roger.  From underneath his Tui hat and behind his dark sunglasses he chuckled, “Do I look like I would wear a suit MATE?”  Grinning from ear to ear and undeterred, the suit seller continued his pitch, “Ahh, you English.  Lovely jubbly!” he mimicked in his best Del Boy accent.  Roger simply shook his head and walked away.

After dark in Patong Beach

And finally, Type 6:  The weirdoes.  As night fell and the neon lights erupted from every corner, the face of Patong came to life.  Tuk tuk’s turned into glorified chariots as boom boxes thumped out the latest rave music, flashing lights surrounded the cab and neons glowed brightly from underneath.  And that was when the freaks really came out to play!  Very tall (a little too tall if you get my drift *wiggles eyebrows*) Thai hookers lined the streets, eyeing Roger up appreciatively as he brushed past them.  A large Japanese sumo-wrestler-looking bloke happily strolled the streets, his face painted white and made up like a geisha.  At one point a man with wide scary eyes loomed out of the darkness, a chameleon clinging to his forearm, and thrust the small lizard’s scaly face up under our noses.  You can imagine my reaction…and the stream of swearwords that followed!

A VW Cocktail bar on the side of the street. At night time the roof pops open and the neons lights up.

While the beach itself is nice, it is chock-a-block full to the brim with tourists and types 1 through 6 – which doesn’t make it the relaxing idyllic paradise I imagined.  For any Brits reading this, Roger would say Patong Beach is “like San Antonio (Ibizia) on speed.”  It’s cheap, it’s cheesy and it’s sleazy.  I really can’t understand why the hell anyone would chose to come here for a holiday.  But if that’s what spins one’s wheels then so be it.

The Hidden Hitch-hiker

25 02 2012

Sometimes when you’re travelling you have days where you think, why do crappy things always happen to me?  Days when you are dead set certain that nobody has gone through what you have, and that the universe has taken offence to something you’ve done and is seeking payback.  These are the days when you wish you were that friend sitting in their cosy office back home, with their colourful stationary and hot mochachino reading your travel blog.  Ironically, the one wishing they were in your shoes.

Today was one of those the-universe-hates-me days and it started when we awoke to discover unpleasant and mountainous mosquito bites dotted all over our bodies…and damn did they itch!  For an hour we clambered around our room trying to spot the miniscule culprit, but to no avail, and in the end we zipped up our backpacks and left our room to the pesky insect.

Petrol Drive Through - not for human consumption, for your scooter!

When we arrived at the airport, the universe had decided that no matter which queue we chose, it would be the wrong one.  First it was the long queue into Bangkok Airport which had been moving smoothly, until the bloke in front of us blocked our turnstile for five minutes while he discussed his faulty token with the train guard.  Next it was at the Air Asia counter where we waited for twenty minutes while the dufus up front argued insistently with the air hostess about the size of his hand luggage.  By the time he and his family of eight had moved on, we were the very last passengers to check in.

We strode quickly to gate B4, pointing and sniggering at travellers sprinting past us who were heading in the other direction, obviously late for their flight.  We arrived at our gate just in the nick of time to board, only to discover the lounge empty.  Huh?  On the door, an electronic signboard was flashing “Gate Change – Go to A6.”  It was only the gate at the bloody other end of the fourth largest airport terminal in the world!

And so now we were the passengers running for their gate.  We sprinted along the travelators, cursing groups of tourists and happy families who were leaning casually in our path, chatting about their travels and how early they were for their flight.  We burst with gusto into the A6 lounge with minutes to spare…only to hear the announcement that our flight had been delayed by twenty minutes.  We were the last to board the plane, and in another stroke of bad fortune someone had purposely sat in Roger’s window seat.  Never take the window seat of a man who is obsessed with aeroplanes, and after much grunting, flared nostrils and muttered swear words, he got the quick heave-ho back into his aisle seat.

Patong Beach, Phuket

As quickly as the plane was up it was down again and we had arrived in Phuket airport.  We felt like Posh and Becks as we sauntered through the arrivals foyer while touts, taxi drivers and tour guides clambered over each other, shouting and waving at us in an effort to siphon our Thai baht from our wallets.

Owly lapping up the Thai ladies in Phuket.

Finally we were welcomed at our hotel with a cool glass of pineapple juice and shown to our room, where we more than impressed with the towel arranging abilities of the room attendants.  And as we dropped our backpacks and flung them open, what should zip out right under our noses?  The bloody mosquito from Bangkok!  Unwilling to be a tasty meal two nights in a row, we spent twenty minutes staring into vacant spaces trying to spot it flying by.  Finally, Roger successfully smeared it across the bathroom mirror.

The towelling swans

We headed out into the heat and the streets of Patong Beach, and we had no sooner crossed the road when it struck – an uncomfortable, unnerving churning and gurgling sound coming deep from within the recesses of my stomach that was causing my face to pucker.  I paused on the other side of the road, unwilling to go any further.  And suddenly everything became quite urgent.  With aching belly and clenched butt cheeks I hobbled, staggered, cross-legged shuffled quickly back to our hotel, Roger one step behind me acting as a shield in case I didn’t make it.  But I did, just in the nick of time.  And as I knocked back my first dia-stop pill of the trip, Roger sat smug-faced on the bed happily slurping from his can of tuna.  Given his delicate and selective constitution, I never thought for a minute that it would be me needing the pills!

Enjoying a coconut milk outside our hostel - fresh from the shell!

But within the hour, I noticed Roger standing quietly next to the fridge – eyes bulging, lips pursed, legs buckled and his butt cheeks tightly pinching the back of his cargo shorts.  It seemed I wasn’t to suffer alone this evening!  He bolted for the bathroom, returning twenty minutes later, face a light shade of green and completely spent.  Of course I made him beg for his dia-stop pill.  Nobody laughs at me in my hour of need and doesn’t suffer some sort of punishment!

Even Rog tried some...could this be the culprit?

So the party lights of Patong Beach would have to wait another day.  And then we noticed three fresh mosquito bites.  It seemed that we had not one, but two stowaways with us.

Like I said earlier, some days when you’re travelling you just wonder “Does this shit only happen to me?”  I can wholeheartedly say no.  I think every traveller at some point on their journey has a day just like this.

Elephants, Tigers and the River Kwai

22 02 2012

Our mini-van arrived to collect us at 6.30am and this time it was pimped – tinted windows, chrome alloy wheels and bull bars.  Sweet ride we thought, scurrying to get our seats.  Approaching the vehicle there looked to be no one on board, but when we flung back the sliding door we were met with a chorus of “Good mornings” from smiling, happy tourists.  Our faces dropped.  We were the last to be collected and the only remaining seats were the ones at the back.

I wouldn't have thought it was necessary to SAY it?!

Having squished our way into the back seats we sat grim-faced as we bounced haphazardly out of Bangkok to Kanchanaburi.  The only two things that made us smile in the next three hours was the thought we had sensibly eaten our breakfast while we waited outside the hostel this time, and this sign at the front of the mini-van.

After a merciless drive, and with me dangerously close to vomiting all over the Canadians sitting in front of me, we arrived at the bridge over the River Kwai, made famous by Alec Guinness in the movie of the same name – and of course the Allied prisoners of World War Two.  We battled our way through the hordes of tourists towards the bridge and after a quick stroll to the other side and back, we were back on the bus (groan) for another fifty minutes to reach the start of our rafting expedition.

Roger at River Kwai Bridge

Roger walking on the bridge

We both donned oversized, brown camouflage life jackets – God knows how they were going to find us in the brown debris filled river if we inadvertently fell overboard – and clambered carefully onto a traditional bamboo raft which was towed about one kilometre up river, before being released to drift peacefully downstream.

Being towed on our raft up the River Kwai

Rickety old footbridge across River Kwai

After an uncertain leap from the raft onto the shore, we walked up the bank to where our elephants awaited.  With great sympathy, we climbed onto the smallest elephant of the bunch, and unluckily for us, we also had the youngest and cheekiest driver of the bunch.

Feed the elephants for 20THB - NZD0.80c

As we meandered slowly behind the other elephants, and began to relax into the ride, our driver decided to take us off-road!  Glancing back over his shoulder, he threw a mischievous grin our way and then proceeded to nudge the enormous animal down the steepest incline he could find.  Roger and I involuntarily flopped forward, our chins hovering above the elephant’s great flapping ears, and our legs scrambling clumsily backwards as we desperately tried to stay in our seats.

Other tourists on elephants from our group

He also thought it would be funny to stop the elephant halfway down the steep slope, leaving us suspended awkwardly in mid-air for what felt like centuries, before kicking the elephant back into action.  And as it lumbered up the bank on the other side, we tumbled backwards, our stomach muscles straining and buttocks clenched tightly to hold us upright so that we wouldn’t roly-poly backwards off the elephant’s rump.

Me, Roger the sheikh, our elephant and the brat!

During all of this our elephant driver sang loudly, at least I don’t think he was rapping, to his heart’s content in Thai, kicking the elephant behind the ears and shouting “Hee-yah, hee-yah!” every now and then.  Yes, very bloody funny.  Freak the white – sorry, slightly tanned by this stage – tourists out!  Of course it’s just not an elephant ride without getting a trunk full of elephant snot blown up your leg, which only I had the pleasure of enjoying!  I’m not sure if that was also from the encouragement of the little brat seated in front of me, but I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him!

Following our very nerve-wracking elephant ride, it was back into the mini-bus again (GROAN) and this time we stopped at the Tiger Temple, a wildlife sanctuary run by monks.  It is a place where they open their doors to the public, and for a fee (of course!) you can get your photo taken with a wild tiger – no fences, no tranquilisers – just you and a vicious, man-eating tiger.

Roger and a tiger at the temple.

So what happens?

First, one guide takes you by the hand and walks you around the tigers while another guide follows you with your camera and takes photos of you.  So, there you are, in a sandy canyon in Thailand, holding hands with a strange Thai man, strolling amongst twelve gigantic tigers and smiling uneasily into the lens of your camera that you know will capture your messy and gruesome death should the tiger you have your hand on smell the fear oozing from every pore in your body!

I don't think I look as comfortable as Roger. In fact, it would be safe to say I was shitting bricks!

Of course there are a lot of precautions to be taken: no red or striped clothing; no hats; no sunglasses; no bare arms or legs, especially the temptation of a succulent thigh; and finally no sudden movements – which is not applicable to the tigers, as Roger discovered when he placed his hand on a tiger’s thigh and the huge beast threw its legs wide open, sending his heart into atrial fibrillation!

This tiger almost sent Roger running for his life!

We also spent a small amount of time with some tiger cubs and this was where we questioned the humanity of the Tiger Temple.  One small cub, attached to a peg in the ground by a leash, moved round and round in a figure eight for the entire fifteen minutes I sat watching it, while another young cub cowered in fear when a monk raised a bamboo cane in front of its face.  These two examples, and a few others I won’t go into here, left a bit of a sour taste in our mouths.

A monk feeds the tiger cubs

A feisty tiger cub

The temple closed twenty minutes after we had arrived and soon we were back on the bus from hell again (GROAN GROAN) heading back to Bangkok.  It had been a long and uncomfortable day.  Our day started at the hostel at 6.45am and ended there at 7.30pm.  The total time spent off the bus enjoying the sights was about four hours – you do the math!