Bali Part 3 – Broken Roads, Manta Rays and Surfer Pros

Spending the past week in one place was a really welcome break but with so much to see and do in Bali we started to get itchy feet to explore some more. We were enjoying island life and had heard good things about the Nusa islands so we hopped back on the ferry and left the gorgeous Gili islands behind.

Day 12 – To pick up where I left off we arrived in Nusa Lembongan and had booked a stay at Taos House. While checking in our host told us it was her birthday and invited us to join in the celebrations later that night. We were immediatly made to feel welcome with home cooked food and ice cold Bintang beers, which mysteriously kept replenishing every time one was finished. Once the Bintang ran low we were offered vodka in a small martini glass and from there graduated to a strong Balinese liquor that came from a plastic water bottle. Apart from the fact it tasted like nail polisher remover, it didn’t seem all that strong but that being said we only had a bottle cap full. It was a fun and unexpected experience – the party as a whole, not just the alcohol!

Day 13 – Our main reason for coming to the Nusa islands was because we had heard we were basically guaranteed to see manta rays there, something which had become a bucket list item for us after hearing it was a possibility in Bali. So first on the agenda was to find a dive centre and book in a manta dive. We asked around at a few places before settling on Two Fish divers and booking in for two dives the next day.

With this underway we stopped for lunch by the sea and then continued on our way the Mangrove forests. You can book boat trips, snorkel trips or kayaking through the forest. When a guy we were chatting to knocked the price down to 100,000 IDR we were tempted but having lots of cameras and bits with us we didn’t trust leaving them behind or potentially getting them wet. I had also read up that there wasn’t a huge amount to see in the Mangrove forest, that being said though the only way to see them is to take a boat trip. We went to the edge thinking we could at least see a little bit or venture part way in ourselves but the way is pretty much blocked by restaurants and places to arrange tours. Being able to bargain down to £5 for a couple of hours trip though isn’t a bad deal if you do want to explore.

From the mangroves it was on to the neighbouring island of Nusa Cenigan. I had heard of some beautiful spots, such as Blue Lagoon and Secret Beach. They were a bit tricky to track down and to be honest Blue Lagoon was pretty but nothing spectacular and after rattling down a dirt track and going through a resort to get to Secret Beach, I was disappointed to see it was nothing special. The wind and waves were too fierce to swim there and it was a rocky beach with very little sand to chill on. The photos I had seen online looked more impressive. It is something which has been a topic of conversation recently that many typical instagram spots in Bali turn out not to live up to expectation and I have to say this is something we encountered a lot. Many places looked nice but less impressive than the edited photos online and for these photos to have zero tourists in they must have had superb timing in visiting places as it was a constant struggle to get photos without crowds. Aesthetics aside the other disappointment is that many of these picturesque beaches are too dangerous to swim in and generally, views aside, there are not a lot of activities to do on these islands.

That being said, simply watching life pass by from the back of the motorbike, zipping through villages, past bustling markets, serene temples or even the beautiful blue ocean, on our way to these view points and beaches was an experience in itself and made the day all round worth it.

Day 14 – An early start for our dives this morning but it wasn’t long before we were on the boat speeding round to Nusa Penida. After some research we discovered that although Manta Point dive site is off Nusa Penida, most dive shops are based on Nusa Lembongan, although more are opening up on Nusa Penida now too, and they will charge an extra fee for the manta dive sites (150,000 IDR per person). On the way we saw a couple of dolphins jumping out of the surf and I took it as a good sign for the days dive.

The water was a lot colder than we had been used to in the Gili islands as manta rays prefer colder water. We were diving down to a known cleaning station where other fish come to eat parasites and other icky things from the rays, keeping them nice and healthy and feeding the other fish at the same time. I was expecting we would be lucky to see a couple on our dive but almost immediately we saw our first manta ray and it was stunning. I knew they would be big but their size still surprised me and so did their grace as they glided through the water. I could have watched them all day. The most magical moment was when a particularly dark one, black almost all over, came straight towards me. I hovered in the water as it moved closer, feeling completely at peace and in awe of this incredible creature, before it swerved away into the ocean depths. One of my favourite moments of the trip.

After that experience the second dive was a bit of an anti-climax however it was still a beautiful reef, teeming with fish. We managed to see a couple of moray eels and I even spotted a lobster that had recently de-shelled, the poor naked lobster looked very startled and scurried under a rock!

Day 15 – We checked out of our AirBnB and headed to the Yellow Bridge to get a boat across to Nusa Penida. The journey is just 10 – 15 minutes and costs 40,000 IDR per person each way. It was simple to get a ticket, there was a guy with a stall, he handed us a yellow ticket with the names of the boats on the back for us to look out for on our open return and then took a seat and waited to be called up. Our next Air BnB picked us up the other end and a kind local even helped us out by calling him to let him know we had arrived when he saw us trying to track down wifi to message him.

The rest of the day was spent chilling out and in the evening we hopped on a scooter hired from our host and headed to a popular restaurant I had read about online called Penida Colada. If you are a big group it is best to book ahead and I think most tables are reserved after 8pm as there is always a queue. But the wait wasn’t long and it was most definitely worth it! Penida Colada is a stylish beach side restaurant with a mixture of tables and more casual beanbags, benches and sofas, in case you want to wander straight off the beach, and is great for watching the sunset. It was started by a Balinese guy called Pak Wayan and his Australian wife, Liz, you can usually see him helping out around the restaurant and keeping things running smoothly. They only hire locals and cook with local produce, which is great in itself, but they also make it their mission to get involved in community projects, run beach cleanups you can join in with and sell eco friendly bits and bobs such as bamboo straws. The menu is quite small but there is only one thing you need to order – the honey barbequeue prawns. We ended up coming back a second time and I couldn’t resist eating them again. Joey had major regrets and food envy both times. If you are on Nusa Penida definitely pay them a visit, it is a great way to support the local community and eat some amazing food.

Day 16 – Around lunchtime we headed to the nearby Crystal Bay, the same bay we had done our second dive at, to chill on the beach. We were hoping it would be a bit more built up so we could grab lunch, wander through some shops and then relax on the beach but it turns out to be a few shack shops selling cheap lunch and not much else. So we chilled for a bit and then hit the road again to find the Guri Putri Cave temple.

When you arrive you can hire sarongs from a shop over the road, then head up the stairs where at the top you’ll receive a blessing and provide a donation to enter (40,000 IDR for two of us). The entrance is a very small hole you have to climb into. It isn’t too tight a squeeze and as soon as you are in the ceiling is low but it all opens up pretty quickly then you can walk through these huge caverns. It was very humid and there were several alters and statues in the different chambers we passed through. A few people were at prayer but otherwise when we visited it was very quiet.

At the end as we left there were some monkeys outside the temple, only I got completely caught off guard by one on a railing that I seemed to have also startled. He bared his teeth at me and then made to lunge forward, I took a step back and lowered my gaze, trying to appear submissive, and at the same time one of the men from the temple chased him off but it was a scary moment!

Day 17 – Today was our big siteseeing day. We were driving over to the other side of the island to see Broken Beach and Angel’s Billabong, Kelingking Beach and Waterfalls. As we were leaving our AirBnB host warned “broken beach, broken road” and he was not wrong! I expected some uneven ground, potholes and dirt tracks, what we got was mile stretches of all of these things combined to the worst possible standard you could imagine, plus going up and down hills, plus going round tight bends sometimes and as there were plenty of big cars taking other tourists there, we also had to occasionally dodge these too. “Hold on”, Joey was yelling repeatedly as I gripped the back of the motorbike and rattled around so much I swear my brain was bouncing about in my skull. But eventually, we made it.

Angel’s Billabong is a rock pool that creates a natural infinity pool overlooking the sea. If you come at low tide you can swim, enjoying the crystal clear waters, but at high tide the waves crash over the edge and it is too dangerous to enter the pool. We had tried to time our visit for low tide but seemed to have gotten the wrong information as the pool was cordoned off. There were so many people surrounding it to get photos that I was almost glad I wasn’t swimming with them in a small pool where everyone would be trying to get the over the edge shot.

Around the corner from Angel’s Billabong is Broken Beach, so called as it is encircled by land that has an opening, creating a kind of bridge on one side and an enclosed beach to look down on. You can’t get down to the beach but it makes for some stunning pictures from above.

Next was KelingKing Beach, so well known as the rocky outcrop next to it looks like a t-Rex head from above. Again it was a bit of a battle to get photos without people in (how they do it for instagram I have no idea?!) but it looked gorgeous. The beach is accessible here… if you fancy climbing down approximately one thousand steep steps. We went part way down for a better look but didn’t much fancy the climb back up and to be honest we would be glad we saved our energy. This is another beach that isn’t great for swimming, though as long as you don’t go too far out in the surf you can actually get in the water.

Final stop for the day was Waterfall and if I thought the steps at Kelkinking were bad I was in for a surprise! The blue stairs leading down was more like a ladder at points and the gaps between the stairs themselves were enough to make my knees weak. The fact that the old, collapsed and rusted previous stairs still lay directly underneath these new ones didn’t help either. However, it was worth the journey. At the bottom is a temple so you need to wear a sarong t visit. When we reached the rocks at the bottom there was water cascading over them and it was a little slippy so you had to be careful. We passed through the small temple gates and down the rocks, with nothing more than natural footholds to climb down, to an area where you can bathe. There is a set of mini infinity pools that offer a beautiful look out to sea as the waves crash just below you. For the first time that day there were not many people around, we reached the bottom not long before sunset so everything had a slight golden glow and the water was cool and refreshing after a humid hike down. It was so peaceful. I took a moment just to be.

Unfortunatly it couldnt last too long though as we were nervous about getting caught on bad roads in the dark so as much as I would have liked to sit and watch the sunset we got going on the long climb back up and luckily didn’t come across any broken roads on the way back.

Day 17 – The end of our trip was approaching fast and we had decided to spend our final days back in Canggu. We loved the food, it was nice to go back to somewhere we knew and we were still keen to give surfing a go. It took us retry much the whole day to get back as it involved getting the short boat trip back to Lembongan first, getting picked up by Scoot at the Yellow Bridge, a bumpy boat journey back to mainland Bali and then a long taxi ride mostly in traffic from Sanur to Canggu.

Day 18 – Canggu is known as a good place to give surfing a go as the waves are great for beginners. I had only tried surfing once before and loved it, so was keen to give it another try. We booked a lesson for 350,000 IDR per person but we went with the first person we spoke to so it is worth asking around for the cheapest price.

The instructor didn’t have the best English so I felt like I missed some of the finer points of surf techniques but once I got the hang of it in the water he was very encouraging. It was slightly disappointing that Joey had a different instructor and was taken off separately but he really needed bigger waves than me to get the best experience. We managed to cross paths though when I looked up to find the surfer in the white rash guard was my boyfriend, my first thought was ‘amazing! He’s standing up!’ And my second, as he came straight towards me was ‘please dont kill me!’ Up to that point I had been struggling to stand, always losing my balance at the last moment, but I think seeing him made me more determined than ever and on my next go I stood up on the board. I was amazed that I managed to ride a wave a fair while and only jump off when I was either losing momentum or heading towards another surfer.

It was a great way to end our time in Bali and we sat talking over our trip and reminiscing about our favourite parts as we sat on the beach, cold drinks in hand and watched surfers more pro than us. Our next adventure was about to start and although I hoped there would be more times like this I knew that we had a lot to do when we touched down in Melbourne. Bali was the perfect break we needed to soak up the sun, let go of past stresses and find our feet traveling. There were times this country surprised me, times it didn’t quite meet expectations and times it exceeded them immensely. Above all I can see why people come back again and again and I knew as we lingered another moment longer on that beach, that we too would be back again one day.

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Bali Part 2 – Turtles, Reef Sharks and Sunsets

Gili Trawangan is an island off Lombok known for a party atmosphere but even if partying is not your thing there are a host of other activities to enjoy. We had barely dipped our toes into the ocean and now we were off to the gorgeous white sands and crystal clear waters of Gili T for diving, snorkelling and more. If you want to hit the strip and hop from bar to bar there are cheap drinks to be had and great live music to get the party started. However, our scene is a bit more laid back and we discovered there is still plenty of more chilled out spots, fresh local seafood to try and amazing ocean life to experience.

Day 7 – We travelled to Gili T on a one way ferry ticket for 500,000 IDR for both of us, which is around £28. There may be cheaper deals to be had if you book a return ticket or even with a bit more haggling but since we had heard of return tickets for one going for 600,000 IDR we didn’t think this was too bad. It’s always hard to know what is a fair deal for the locals and a cheap price for yourself.

It was an early start to get to the dock with an hour transfer there and then a lot of standing around in the heat waiting for our boat. You need to have your wits about you as a guy who seemed to be taking us to our boat left us waiting and never came back to collect us when it actually turned up. Luckily the local hawkers on the pier were very helpful and let us know we needed to get a move on to catch our boat. The journey was fine if a bit hot and stuffy and we were soon piling out onto the white sands of Gili T.

Just seeing the hustle and bustle of holiday makers and backpackers, the array or restaurants, shops and bars along the beach front and the dive shops everywhere you looked we had already decided we were glad not to get a return ticket and to extend our time here. Having a 4* hotel also helped! Villa Ombak was stunning and we stayed in a traditional Lumbung room, with our own private terrace and balcony plus outdoor shower to bathe under the stars. We wanted to stay forever.

Day 8 – Knowing our days in luxury were numbered we took full advantage of the facilities today and spent most of the day swimming and sunbathing. In the afternoon we went back to one of the dive shops we had checked out earlier and booked in to dive the next day.

Day 9 – There are a lot of choice with dive shops but after ducking our heads into a few we went with Dive Central as they made the dive sites sound most exciting and seemed pretty chill about us getting back in the water after quite a break from the last time. Only downside was we did feel at times they were selling the dive packages and courses a little too much. This is surely down to competition from other dive shops and partly also because we seemed to speak to a different person each time but as we dropped in a few times over the course of the week to chat about what dive sites were coming up this got a bit repetitive.

Selling aside they were great to dive with and we headed to Turtle Heaven for a mid morning dive. This certainly lived up to its name! Within 5-10 minutes we had spotted our first turtle. They have a mix of Green and Hawksbill turtles and I’ll admit I’m not sure I could tell the difference. I was impressed by the size though with some stretching up to my shoulder if we were laid down next to each other. We lost track of how many we saw in the end but we loved every minute and along with turtles we saw a stonefish, trumpetfish and humphead bannerfish. Along with, of course, many of the regulars you see on tropical reefs, the yellow, black and white bannerfish you would recognise as Gill from Finding Nemo, clownfish too, many bright blue and neon fish, anemones and so much more. If you want to see a video of the dive you can check it out here on our facebook page @ThereAndBackAgainJJ.

Day 10 – As if we hadn’t had enough of turtles we started our day with a snorkelling trip. If you are on a budget then you can join the group boat trips from as little as 150,000 IDR (around £8) but these trips can have up to 30 people on them, so a great way to meet other backpackers but also expect crowds. We opted for a two hour private snorkelling trip so we could choose a time when the sites would be less busy and went early in the morning, which I would definitely recommend. We paid 600,000 (around £34), which in hindsight was more than it was worth for 2 hours, especially as they had advertised it as 4 sites and we only went to 3, however the first place we went to had asked for 900,000 and we had talked the one we booked with down from 750,000 but we were told the prices were high because of peak season.

Regardless we had a great time! Our first stop was Turtle Heaven again and this time the turtles were a lot more active, coming up to the surface to breathe so that we could swim right alongside them. It felt magical to dive under the waves and float along next to them as they munched on coral.

The second site was not great visibility so we didn’t see a huge amount of sea life and didn’t stay long. The final site was the famous ring of statues that is also a popular instagram spot and this was my least favourite of the day. It was pretty cool to dive down and swim amongst the statues but dodging the flippers of other snorkelers trying to get that perfect shot in the water was not so fun. The way everyone was splashing about in clusters reminded me of a net of fish on dry land, flapping about, not really sure which way to go. It has the possibility of being such a peaceful spot but after a while it got a bit too much and we gave up and hopped back on the boat.

To end the day we hired bikes from our Air BnB (by this point we had moved to Lumbung Cottage Air BnB, a huge step back to basics after our gorgeous hotel but it would do the trick or the next few days and the staff were very helpful and kind) and set off to see more of the island. We stuck to the coast and some of the paths were pretty tricky, stony or too sandy to ride over at all, when we cycled back we had more luck cutting across the island where the roads weren’t cut off by sections of beach. The sunset side of the island is a completely different vibe, very quiet and dining and drinking options a lot more spread out but I have to say some of the accommodation we passed looked lovely. Definitely a good shout if you want some peace and quiet. We settled down right in line for the sunset and although slightly obscured by the clouds, it was gorgeous and the perfect way to end the day.

Day 11 – Joey wasn’t feeling a second dive so opted to do research on our next stop but as you can’t keep me out of the water I booked an early morning dive to Shark Point. Dive Central explained that with the water temperature drop recently and the sharks enjoying cooler water there was a good chance of seeing them and I was in luck! This dive was deeper than the one before and the currents were strong so it was a bit of a battle at times but as we were drifting along, letting the current take us, our guide pointed out two white tip reef sharks sitting on the bottom. Neither were huge but one was bigger than the other and both darted awake as us divers went past. I wasn’t nervous of the sharks at all, they really just look like big fish, but I can’t say I would be so chill if it was a great white!

Along with the sharks I saw a sting ray and blue spotted eagle ray, an octopus hiding away in the rocks and a cuttlefish that was so well camouflaged I had to look three times to spot him! It’s incredible to see this animals in their natural habitat and I’m always recommending people give diving a go to enjoy the same wonders. It may not be for everyone but it certainly gives you a whole new perspective from snorkelling alone and actually a lot of the time the breathing is easier (if that’s something that worries you) as there is no chance of accidentally sucking up water. You won’t notice the depth either because there is just so much to see! It really is an amazing experience I feel privileged to be able to do.

Day 12 – As I write this we are sitting in a cafe not far rom the ferry port waiting to catch a ride to Nusa Lembongan where we will stay for a few nights before heading on to Nusa Penida and finally back to Canggu for a final couple of nights. There are lots to do on these islands so I feel our chill out time is coming to an end but having the luxury of three weeks to explore means we’ve been able to do everything at a slow pace and not cram a lot in. The Nusa islands offer some amazing beaches, cliff top lookouts and swimming with manta rays (fingers crossed for us and this big bucket list item!) so lots to see and do. We managed to get a direct ferry from Gili T for 600,000 IDR for both of us which also included a ferry on from Nusa Lembongan back to Sanur, Bali and a transfer from there to Canggu, so even better value than our outbound trip. And apparently boats between the islands are pretty cheap.

I can’t believe we have reached the end of our second week in Bali! I can feel that now we are more energised our attention is beginning to shift to Australia and all we need to prepare for our Working Holiday. It is exciting to still have so much to look forward to but for now I can’t wait to get to Nusa Lembongan and plan our next week of adventuring.

Bali Part 1 – Finding Our Feet, Thieving Monkeys and Canyoning

Bali, the land of rice paddies, instagrammable swing moments and stunning temples. I had previously dismissed Bali on the South East Asia trip as being too touristy, and though this may still be true, I’ve had so many recommendations to go I couldn’t wait to see it for myself. It also seemed like the perfect respite between quitting our jobs and heading over to work in Australia and only a week into our Bali trip so far, that is exactly what it has been.

Day 1 – We arrived in the evening to Denpasar and had a transfer booked through our Air BnB, though I’ve heard much advise on being careful with the taxis ripping you off and being careful to get metered taxis or even walk a way outside the airport to find a decent rate. Our first two nights were in Canggu, which I had heard was less touristy than Kuta and Seminyak but still close enough to the airport to not be too long of a drive after we had just arrived – though I never accounted for the traffic, which meant we arrived late and crashed out almost immediately.

Day 2 – I was keen to experience surfing in Canggu as the waves are often perfect for beginners but between jet lag and a general feeling of finding our feet in a new place we actually opted to give it a miss for now but hope to return later in the trip.

Instead we explored the local area and enjoyed the food – Oh my gosh the food! We ate mostly Western fare and struggled to find local Balinese places (although we didn’t stray too far from the beaten track either) but every meal was deliscious from the much-needed breakfast burger to the healthy chicken wraps to the spicy noodles for dinner. As much as I always try to sample the local dishes and encourage others to do so I’m a big believer in eating what you want when you travel. If all you are craving is a burger, go for it. If you’ve fallen in love with a local dish and you want to eat it everyday, no one is here to stop you. I think sometimes there can be strange preconceptions on the way we should and shouldn’t do things, including the way we eat, while traveling but at the end of the day variety and balance is usually best and ultimately, do what you enjoy.

That being said, Canggu does seem very set up for Westerners with cool cafes, sleek restaurants and a myriad of clothes shops. There are times when it feels difficult to see the real Bali beneath these tourist constructs, and sometimes it is all taken too far, but for the most part I can’t seem to help but find it all very likeable. Canggu was an easy place to just chill, wandering from shop to shop, more dining options than we could ever hope to try and some great surfing and yoga options too. It is the perfect introductory place to ease yourself into Bali or even as a base to explore from if you fancy hiring a bike and finding more obscure places to visit.

Day 3 – Moving day. Check out was late from our Air BnB. We had been staying in a simple but lovely room attached to four others of the same with a small communal kitchen (though the food is so cheap I’m sure it is rarely used) and a tiny pool to cool off in. If you want some privacy and a quirky or chic place to stay Air BnB’s are a great choice in Bali. Hostels are of course available if you are looking or a more social way of traveling but with such affordable luxury hotels and Air BnB’s you may as well treat yourself and they are often the more popular choice. So after a leisurely breakfast at Monseiur Spoon, at which we had eaten the day before and equally savoured every bite again today, we experienced the joy of doing nothing while waiting for our transfer.

We were heading to Ubud to stay in the gorgeous Hotel Tjamuhan. It’s a place I recommended often through work and I was excited to experience it for myself. It did not disappoint. The hotel looks out over the jungle and winding pathways take you to traditionally decorated rooms overlooking the river. I will admit parts of the hotel are looking a bit tired and shabby, maybe in need of a spruce up but for the sake of the wonderful service and stunning setting this was easily overlooked.

Day 4 – After a few days of settling in, getting over jet lag and generally relaxing I was eager to get out and explore. The Monkey Forest Sanctuary was only a short walk away from our hotel and cost just 80,000 IDR, approximately £4.40 per person. Word of advise, keep everything in your bag and a lock on your bag too, those cheeky monkeys will grab anything not bolted down, cameras and phones in hand being the exception perhaps, and they know how to undo zips. We discovered this to our peril only a few steps into the sanctuary. Although we had put away sunglasses and hats, Joey had stopped to get something out of the bag for his camera. We were near two monkeys grooming and all of a sudden Joey’s rustling caught one of the monkeys attention. “Joey…” I tried to call to him but it was too late and the monkey was on him! With deft fingers it managed to get into the front pocket and luckily grabbed nothing more valuable than a pack of tissues. After ripping the packet open with his teeth he seemed disapointed to pull out tissue after tissue instead of the yummy snack he was surely hoping for. They never seemed to go for cameras and phones, it was always things in plastic packaging (we wistnessed a few packets of wet wipes being stolen and one couple’s plastic money bag, which luckily the attendants chased down the monkey and retrieved it for them) so they have obviously learnt what is most likely to have food in.

After that we were more cautious but even so I must have caught the eye of a monkey, something you are not suppposed to do, while crouching down to take a photo and next thing I knew he was clinging to my skirt. I tried to calmly back away and the photo Joey snapped may seem like I’m thinking nothing more than ‘oh my gosh, a monkey!’ But I was definitely more nervous than I let on!

For the most part though the monkeys will leave you alone and as long as you follow the advise at the entrance on how to behave they wont be aggressive. It’s a great way to get up close to these semi-wild animals and get great photos. There are also temples there, which seem overshadowed by the wildlife, which is a shame and not what I expected from the complex (I imagined something like Angkor Wat but smaller and with monkeys) but they were still beautiful to see. One area was shrouded in vines and a bridge nearby goes straight through a tree whose roots stand tall and vine- like as well. There are many statues scattered around and Balinese carving is really a sight to see, as our driver the following day joked, “We have so much time on our hands we just carve everything”, and he was right! It is all so intricate and detailed you could stare at it for hours and keep finding new points of interest.

In the afternoon we took advantage of the spa facilities at our hotel. Similarly to Thailand but perhaps not quite as cheap and popular, are the masssages and treatments. We went for a package that included an hour massage, body scrub, yoghurt rub, flower bath and use of spa facilities for half the day for only 1,188,000 IDR approx £70 for two people. Ill admit it was a slightly odd experience at times, having two lovely Balinese women rub us down in what turned out to be literally yoghurt and not some fancy way of describing body lotion, while wearing very ill fitting and very transparent disposable underwear but we walked away feeling relaxed and serene none-the-less. It helps that the massages and flower bath take place looking out over the river with the gentle sounds of the running water, bird life and rhythmic chirping of crickets to further relax you. Would highly recommend.

Day 5 – Our busiest day yet. A good friend recommended us Bali Bro Tours as she had met it’s owner, Dedy, on a previous trip to Bali, before he set up his own business of Bali Bro Tours. We had a blast with him! His sense of humour will have you chuckling all day and although he left most of the decisions as to what we wanted to see for the day up to us, at times he had some suggestions to take us away from the more touristy areas.

Our first stop was Beji Guwang Hidden Canyon to go Canyoning. I had read that morning that the water wasn’t too deep and at points we may go up to our waist but if the water was low it could also be likely we got in no deeper than our knees. Dedy also reassured us the water was likely to be low but we had brought our swimming gear and towels anyway and boy were we glad! As soon as we got the front desk we were told it was full submersion today! The price was 300,000 IDR or £17 approx. This was a little more than what i had read online which suggested the entrance was 15,000 IDR per person plus 100,000 IDR for a guide but possibly my research was out of date or there are multiple entrances that charge different prices, so do your research ahead of time. The currents were also strong in places so if you don’t feel confident in the water it might be best to call in the morning and find out what the water level is like. The guides are great though as they are locals who have been playing in the canyon since they were children and despite being lean they were strong enough to help me up rocks and pull me through stronger currents.

The canyon was so pretty though and there were not many others going through it so it never felt like one long queue of people. We scrambled over rocks, clinging to small ledges at points, waded through water and hopped from boulder to boulder. Round every corner seemed to be smooth rocks with the sun shining down from the crack cross the sky or a peaceful area with small waterfalls running between huge round rocks, or a sunspot between a junction in the river that I could have stayed at for hours. Well worth it.

I was keen to see the natural beauty of Bali and Joey had looked into some waterfall spots we could stop at, including Tegenungan waterfall. This was the only part of our day which was a disappointment. The waterfall was surrounded by restaurants and hotels, which were blasting music, and swarming with people. We had pictured a natural beauty spot but to be honest it all seemed very unnatural and there was a charge, albeit a small one, for going down to the waterfall at 20,000 IDR per person. I think if you want to see waterfalls you will be better off doing research, hiring a scooter and heading off to more secluded areas.

The rice fields were next on the day’s agenda and they were everything I imagined them to be. Even though we had come just after harvest so the rice wasn’t as tall and lush as it would normall be, it made for a spectacular view for a lunch spot and it was nice to go further down for some photo opportunities in the fields themselves.

Though we had two stops left on the list we only made it to one as it was already late afternoon. Dedy had suggested a Luwak coffee place he knew of that also had swings there that would be cheaper than going to some of the more official Bali swings, though almost everywhere we went had either swings or those woven nest type perches for photo opportunities. Luwak coffee is known as one of the most expense coffees in the world, it is made from coffee cherries that have been fed to and passed through the digestive tract of civet cats. I am skeptical of the ethics of Luwak coffee and have to admit the cats were in fairly small cages. We were reassured that they are fed other foods as well as the coffeee cherries and that they would naturally eat these cherries as well but with different countries having different standards of animal care sometimes, it’s hard to tell.

I did feel guilty for enjoying my time here but couldnt help feeling it was a lovely end to the day. Attentive guides talked us through the coffee making process and gave us a free sample of the different flavour coffees they make. It was only 50,000 IDR for a cup of Luwak coffee, which at around £2.80 is cheaper than most standard coffee in the UK and a hell of a lot cheaper than the £30-40 you can buy the Luwak coffee for in some places. Not being a coffee drinker myself I stuck to the locally grown cocoa and treated myself to a chocolate ice cream.

Last to tick off the list was a Bali swing. At 200,000 IDR (approx £11) for around 5 minutes on the swing is probably a rip off but was also cheaper than entry to the swing parks, which we were less interested in. I spent a ridiculous amount of time worrying about getting the perfect photo on the swing. Before coming to Bali I had filled my head with instagram pictures of beautiful women in flowing dresses posing on swings and felt like it was almost a requirement to get that perfect shot. Silly I know. I had even brought a dress to change into to fully look my best and I was worrying about this to Joey who said, “Why dont you do it just for the fun of it and not for the photo”. At that moment behind us a little girl was just being strapped into a swing and when they let her go she whooped with joy. Seeing her giggling and smiling as she flew out over the rainforest made me feel like even more of a fool. She was having the time of her life, the swing was something fun to do, not a modelling opportunity. So I did it, and of course I still wanted some nice photos of the experience, but I also tried to let go and just enjoy it. I whooped too at that rush when they let you go and you feel like you’re flying over this incredible view below. It didn’t matter how I looked; it was fun.

Day 6 – After a couple of busy days we decided to balance it out with a more relaxed one and simply hung out at the hotel most of the day. It was also a chance to forward plan for the next few days and we got our transfer to Gili T booked in. We managed to get a deal for 500,000 IDR (around £28 for two people) one way. We might have been able to get cheaper for a return or haggling a bit more but from comparing places nearby this seemed a fair price for a one hour transfer and over an hour ferry journey. We wanted to leave things open as the planned part of our trip was coming to an end. Once we arrived in Gili T we had three nights at Vila Ombak booked in and then the rest was yet to be decided.

So far though I am loving Bali life. Australia will be all go, lots of planning, driving, adventuring and working too so even if we may be doing things at a slow pace, it is pure joy to sit in a cafe chatting or writing or going through photos and knowing the only thing we have to do with our day is decided whether to go for a swim or where to go for dinner. Two thoughts that are always the forefront of my mind.

I have had some technical issues uploading photos and formatting so apologies for any issues.

A Whistle Stop Tour of Sri Lanka

For me, Sri Lanka has felt like one long train journey but if there is any country where this is a good thing then it is Sri Lanka. And not just because a 9 hour train journey can cost you as little as £3. The trains rattle along past valleys cushioned with tea plantations, giant white Buddha statues appearing here and there and gazing serenely at the passengers who lean out of the windows and doors for a better look at the view. 


This is the first part of my trip where I have been travelling alone and I feel already I have had a taste of the highs and lows of solo travel – though I’m sure there will be more to come. I arrived in Colombo fairly late, eager to get to my hostel, but the universe had other plans. My first mission was to get money out as I’d opted to get money from ATMS when first arriving in a country rather than carrying bits of cash from all the different places I’ll be visiting. I followed the instructions on the screen and pressed ‘accept amount’. Denied. I took a deep breath and tried not to panic. Attempt 2: Denied. I tried a different machine but got the same result. I scrabbled about for wifi so I could check my acccount and tried to call my bank only to be put on hold. Tears were prickling my eyes, this was the last thing I needed after being so nervous about being on my own, but I was determined not to let them fall. I reminded myself that I was carrrying dollars I could exchange or pay with instead to at least get me to the hostel and when a taxi driver approached me and we agreed on a price I decided it was best to get to the hostel and sort it out there.

In the end my card worked the next day and I could start really enjoying my trip, well, that was the plan anyway. Everywhere tells you to get out of Colombo ASAP and originally I planned to leave for Kandy straight away, but the card fiasco made me cautious and I had booked another night in Colombo. This is probably my only regret of the trip as I could have used this time to make another stop on my way back to Colombo at the end, thereby breaking up a long train journey. You live and learn and I definitely learnt that day.

After securing my tickets to Kandy (really easy and really cheap) I decided to walk around and see the few sites that Colombo had to offer, such as the Fort and the Clock Tower. To begin with a friendly Sri Lankan man tagged along with me, offering to show me the sites. I was nervous of him but he seemed harmless and kept saying he didn’t want money, telling me about his daughter who collects stamps and how all he asked was that I send her some from England. I couldn’t find a way to shake him off until he got in a tuk tuk and asked me to join him and, my hackles immediately going up, I refused, walking on. I have no idea where he was leading me but I’m not convinced it was actually anywhere I wanted to go, as stopping to look at my map it didn’t look like I was even heading in the right direction. So I doubled back and wandered around, probably looking like a crazy person as I turned one way and then back the other until I had blisters on my feet. Eventually I gave in and grabbed a tuk tuk who took me to a couple of Hindu temples I wanted to see (at least I think they were – they might have been random ones) but they were closed for their Poya celebrations, a public holiday linked to the full moon and a time when Buddha urged his disciples to deepen their spiritual practice. Feeling dejected I headed back to my hostel.
In the evening I made up my mind that I was going to actually make it somewhere I planned to go. I searched up a good place for dinner in my Lonely Planet guide, wrote down fool-proof instructions and set off. I reached the end of the road. Left? Or right? The one thing I had forgotten to write down. No matter, I had written the name of the first street I should pass instead so I tried left but the first road was called something different. I tried right instead. The name still wasn’t what I expected. I decided to keep going but 20 minutes later I still wasn’t recognising anything from my directions. 

The one good thing was that I unexpectedly ran into some Poya celebrations. People dressed as peacocks and monkeys were dancing down the street, fire dancers loomed over the crowds on their stilts and behind them followed a small temple on wheels. All this was cool to see, but it wasn’t food.

I doubled back and then carried on and came to the street I had been looking for just one road on from the wrong one. I sighed and trudged on. And on. And on. The walk was supposed to take 20-30 minutes but I had been walking about 40 minutes and still not recognised anything. I was fed up, tired and starving. I was too nervous, both of germs and of drawing people’s attention as a single white woman, to get any streetfood or try the local places I passed along the way. I settled for a cafe I’d spotted earlier, not too far from my hostel and sat eating reheated pasta feeling like a failure. I was supposed to throw myself into a new culture, find my way around the country and I couldn’t even find a decent place to eat dinner. 

Tomorrow was a new day though and at least I knew how to get myself to the station. The train to Kandy offered some beautiful views, though passing the make-shift shacks of the poverty stricken when I was sat in second class with a digital camera on my lap was unsettling. Still, the dense forests that gave way to open fields lifted my mood. The Elephant Shed hostel where I was staying was only a 5-10 minute walk from the station but I still managed to get a bit turned around. A couple of kind locals called the hostel for directions for me and pointed me the right way. 

I did have a moment of doubt though as I walked down a side street that seemed to be getting more deserted as I turned the corner, but suddenly there it was, this tall wonky building with a brightly coloured sign on the door. Inside was just as quirky, the walls covered in messages from other travellers and the treacherous stairs being little more than ladders. Determined not to make the same mistakes as Colombo and make the most of my short time here, I immediately started packing my day bag and writing EXENSIVE directions down to find The Temple of the Tooth Relic. While I was doing this I got chatting to a girl who was doing the same thing so we decided to go together.

 I quickly discovered that getting lost with someone else was much more fun (also having internet on your phone is ideal for someone as directionally challenged as me). Not that we properly got lost but The Temple of the Tooth is not exactly sign posted and once you enter the complex it is still a while before you come to the actual room with the tooth relic in. In fact we kind of stumbled upon the rather low-key room holding the tooth in a golden casket (there are only certain occasions when you can actually see the tooth) and guarded by a golden Buddah statue and rows of elephant tusks. Around the room are paintings with stories about the tooth but otherwise there is no information about what you are seeing, simply because it is a functioning temple. Many locals were there on the day, being so close to Poya, and there was a peaceful air to the whole experience.


I planned to do Sigiriya, also known as the Lion Rock, and possibly some cave temples the next day and when I suggested my new friend, Kristel, join me she was only too happy to go together. In fact the hostel guy rounded up a few other solo travellers interested in going and suddenly there were six of us.

Having other people to chat to, between gasping for breath as we climbed the one million steps (ok I exaggerate but it felt like it) to the top of Sigiriya, made all the difference to the experience. It was especially a relief when, on the way back, our driver offered to drop us at a spice garden for a tour and free massage. We were left in the hands of a gawky man with stained teeth who repeated things often and wanted us to smell every spice at least three times. He was clearly high on something and we were tired from our long day and impatient to get back on the road. When he saw he was losing our attention he lead us to a school room type area where we sat on benches and tried a spice tea, which was surprisingly nice. We heard all about the spices and their many miracles cures AGAIN and I couldn’t help but ask the guide if he used the remedies himself as he wasn’t exactly a walking advert for them. 

Next, without much warning, a few more guys appeared and gestured for me and one of the other girls to move to the front bench. With no preamble they starting spreading a thick home made cream onto our faces before massaging it in and then wiping away the excess. The massage was all right but the whole experience was weird. I’m sure they meant well but we just wanted to get away and it was reassuring to have a group of us all thinking the same thing rather than having to suffere through the strange experience alone. The girl next to me suggested it might be time to get back to the mini bus and we were ushered through the gift shop on our way.

Kandy had shown me everything I wanted to see (and a few things I didn’t in the spice garden) so I got on another train away from the dirty city and into hill country and Ella. The train ride from Kandy to Ella is famously impressive and it didn’t disappoint. In fact several tourists left their drivers just to experience the train and got picked up again by them at the other end. I can’t blame them when the views were so good and the tickets so cheap. 

I travelled with Brad, one of the guys from our Sigiriya trip and when we arrived in Ella we both agreed we liked it much better than Kandy. Ella has more of a travellers vibe and that night at Chill Bar, which seems to be THE place to go out in Ella, I sipped a passioinfuit mojito from a jar as we met all these different people passing through. Their were two Israeli girls who shared stories about their time in the Israeli army, the group of fiends who used to work on private yachts together and were celebrating a birthday and the family who had lived all over the world, running hotels. This is what travel is supposed to be about right? Meeting interesting characters along the way, the ones who turn your trip into a story. Finally I felt like I was beginning to get what people mean when they say the best part of travel is meeting people.

The next day Brad, Florian (a guy Brad had met earlier in his trip) and I hiked Ella rock. Like with Sigiriya I was reminded how desperately unfit I am as I panted and sweated my way up behind the boys. At the top the slightly misty view rewarded our efforts and later we rewarded ourselves with another drink at Chill bar. As the afternoon stretched into evening we were joined by old friends we had each met along the way, including Kristel, who had just arrived a day after us, and our little table for three suddenly became a table for nine. 

The great thing about meeting people while travelling is that you instantly have something in common. We shared stories, swapped tips on where to go and what to see and amazed each other with the unique experiences we’d had along the way. Sitting on the train heading back to Colombo, ready for my flight to India the next day, I couldn’t be more exited to see what the rest of my trip has in store. This first week on my own has taught me to expect the low times and the moments where everything goes wrong but to also have faith that things will right themselves in the end. 

I’ve enjoyed my experience of Sri Lanka, as limited as it has been, but feel it is easy to see what you want to see and be done with it. The sites are interesting and worth visiting but for me, it will always be the people that made this leg of my trip so great.

For more please watch my video here.

5 Reasons Why I Want to Volunteer Abroad

One of the parts of my South East Asia trip I’m most excited about is my week in Chang Mai working with elephants. Elephants are and always have been my favourite animal. I mean, these are animals who can communicate with each other over staggering distances, they mourn the deaths of loved ones and they remember and greet old friends with affection. Their intelligence and empathy has always astounded me so I look forward to being up close to these amazing animals. I’ll also be working with Orangutans in Borneo, another exciting aspect of my trip and a chance to learn more about this endangered species. These aren’t the only reasons I chose to do these volunteering experiences or why I think it’s important to volunteer abroad in the first place, in fact, here’s my top 5 reasons why I want to volunteer abroad, not just on this trip but hopefully on future trips too…

  1. To Make a Difference
    Of course I wouldn’t volunteer if I didn’t believe in the cause I was supporting. Helping people, animals or the environment is the best part of volunteering; it’s knowing that one small part of the world is different because you helped in some way. A couple of years ago I got the opportunity to visit Teenage Cancer Trust’s new specialised unit at the Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre and the best part was speaking to people who have been affected by cancer, who knew just how big an impact this would have on the patients wellbeing. Every little donation added up to this amazing unit that will help countless people and that kind of impact, big or small, is worth volunteering for, especially in countries in need of that impact.

 

  • To Gain New Experiences
    Because when else am I going to get to splash about in a river with an elephant? Volunteering abroad offers you experiences you might otherwise never get. It’s also a chance to meet like-minded people and when you’re working together so closely, you’re bound to make new friends.

 

 

  • To Work Hard
    This might seem a strange thing to want from volunteering abroad but to be honest I like to keep busy. Doing a bit of hard grafting will make me appreciate the times when I get to chill out and do absolutely nothing even more. Plus it’s always a great thing to add on your CV!

 

 

  • To Learn About Different Cultures
    Taking part in a volunteer project abroad can be a great way to break down boundaries and throw you into the thick of a new culture. Often projects abroad mean meeting the locals and eating traditional foods so what could be a better way to get to know a place?

 

 

  • To Learn More About Myself
    Volunteering should challenge you as a person. Helping others, meeting new people, gaining new experiences, working hard and learning about other cultures will change you in a positive way. Volunteering in the UK has made me a more confident, motivated and, hopefully, kinder person so I can only imagine what volunteering abroad, throwing myself out of my comfort zone and into new situations, will teach me about myself. The question is, what will volunteering abroad do for you?

 

My Epic South East Asia Trip

Ever since my 7 week gap year trip around Australia and New Zealand I have been dying to  go on a bigger, longer, even more awesome trip. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every second of my gap year trip but when I kept running into people who were travelling for three months minimum I started to feel like mine was a little more like an extended holiday. I shouldn’t have put myself down so much because I’ve come to realise it doesn’t matter the length of the trip but the experiences you have along the way. I crammed a lot into Australia and New Zealand and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. That being said, I’ve still always wanted to go on a longer trip for the simple reason that I can fit in even more great experiences!

One day I drop into an STA travel shop and tell them my budget and my ideas, now a couple of months on I have an epic itinerary planned! STA have been so helpful with putting together something really cool and also kind of complicated; I’d definitely recommend using them. Asian culture is so different from anything I have ever experienced before so it’s been a long time dream to visit Thailand and we built the trip from there. In the end I booked a 5 month trip around South East Asia!

My big trip starts ten days after my last MA assignment and I can’t wait. Here it is:

10th Oct – I’ll fly to Dubai to catch up with my friend Taylor. I’ll be spending four days here with Taylor showing me the best local places, doing some shopping (well maybe window shopping – I have got to save some money for the rest of my trip) and visiting swanky bars.

14th Oct – After this short stop over I’ll be heading to Sri Lanka for a week. I don’t know what I’ll be getting up to in Sri Lanka yet but I’m excited to start planning!da7bcabad41cdf7778311fbaf44d70f8

21st Oct – Next up is India. I’ll be on the Uncover India tour which will take me from Dehli
to Goa. Along the way I’ll be checking out the Taj Mahal, learning henna painting, bathing in Pushkar lake and visiting many temples.

6th Nov – Once I’ve lazed around on the beach in Goa for a few days I’ll be flying to Singapore where I’ll make my own way to Kuala Lumpa. I’m looking forward to this bit; a little taste of freedom to travel where I want, when I want and some independance to figure out how I’m actually going to do that!

16th Nov – I’ll be flying to Manila to explore the Philippines next. This is another leg of the journey I’m doing solo and also where I’ll be celebrating my birthday! I’m hoping here I’ll be able to do some diving as I island hop around Philippines’ 7,000+ islands! Swimming with whale sharks, visiting the chocolate mountains and the hanging tombs are also on my list of things to do.

28th Nov – From there I head over to Borneo for almost three weeks. I’ll fly into Kota Kinabalu and have five days to explore there, perhaps hiking Mount Kinabalu and visiting Turtle Island. Then it’s on to Kuching and my first volunteering experience: Orangutang conservation. I’m sure it will involve some hard work at times but will also be a lot of fun and gives me a chance to explore the rainforest and even stay in a traditional longhouse.

16th Dec – Finally it will be time to head over to the long-awaited Thailand. For this section of the trip I’ll be meeting up with my travel buddy Joey. You’ll hear more about a previous trip we’ve been on together in the next post but in the meantime check out his blog https://themichaeljoseph.com. We’ll spend a day or two in Bangkok before heading up to Chaing Mai where we will do one week of elephant conservation. Elephants are my favourite animal and one I’m currently writing my novel about so I’m really looking forward to this part of the trip. Being up close and personal to an elephant will be a dream come true! We finish just in time for Christmas and hopefully for a couple of other friends to come and join us; Ed and his girlfriend Becky. From there the four of us will head South to explore Thailand’s islands and celebrate the New Year.

IMG_23289 Jan – After I’ve said goodbye to my friends I’ll be joining the Stray Asia bus. This is a flexible hop-on hop-off service that will take me through Laos, Cambodia and end my trip in Vietnam. I chose to travel this way because I did a similar pass with the Oz Experience and New Zealand Experience, both of which were great. It’s a fun way to meet new people and do a wide range of activities with the ease of having a tour guide to help book them for you. They also offer unique experiences like remote homestays I might not otherwise be able to do if I were organising it on my own. This will be the most flexible part of my trip and I’ll be able move on when I like or stick around for a few extra days somewhere if I feel like it- as long as I’m back in Bangkok to catch my flight home on the 1st March that is!

So that’s it! This is my epic jam-packed trip and everything I’ll be doing along the way – or at least what I have planned so far. This will be the longest I’ve ever been away from home and the first time I’ll be travelling completely on my own. I am equal parts terrified and excited. Bring on October. Bring on South East Asia!