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.

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Laos Part 2 – Caves, Freaky Turtles and a Dodgey Sunset Cruise

I left off with my Stray group and I relaxing at the lovely River Front Resort, taking a much needed break before our last few days in Laos. Here is how we spent them…

Day 103
– The main reason for stoping off here, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, was the Kong Lor caves. This 7km long cave system is more like a tunnel and was supposedly discovered by a guy whose ducks kept disappearing everyday and when he became curious and followed them he found this incredible cave. 

With three of us to a long boat each we felt like twats sitting in clumpy life jackets with very attractive head torches to complete the look, but that didn’t matter so much when we started off into the blackness. Our light flickered over the cavernous roof, catching the swells of rock like we were on the inside of a pitch black wave. We stopped at one point to admire the stalactites and stalecmites, some like thick pillars and others more like blobs and still more slowly developing, no more than spindly icicles for now. The only other time we hopped out was when our little boat and our fat asses couldn’t make it over the shallow little rapids and our driver had to pull the boat through without us in it. Or, as Team Norway found out, when you crash land into another boat and end up basically on top of someone, the two boats like a cross. Luckily no one was hurt but it made for an adventure. Eventually we emerged back into the sunlight on the other side and had a little while to warm up its rays before heading back, this time powering through the little rapids.


Just outside the caves was a big lake that fed into them and the perfect rock for jumping off of. I clambered up to the top, prepared to do an epic and graceful swan dive, only to have my legs decide they were going to try and race my head into the water and bend me at an awkward angle so I jarred my back. I wasn’t that badly hurt though and after a while I went for attempt number two only this time I failed before I even made it on to the rock. Slipping just when I was almost up, I tumbled down, roly poly style back into the water. Luckily no one saw but deciding I would obviously better of watching the pros (aka the Family) doing it, I sheepishly swam back round to join the others without jumping. But still, with mountains shielding us from the outside world and the sun shining, it wasn’t a bad place to cool off and enjoy a nice swim.

Day 104
– I woke in the morning and took one of the boats out to explore upriver a bit more. It was one of the most peaceful moments of my trip. There was no noise except that of my paddle gently propelling me through the water and a few birds twittering in the trees. The water was so clear I could see the rocks, crumbling logs and silver darting fish below the surface as if it were glass. Unfortunatly I couldn’t stay there all day as I had a bus to catch.

We were on our way to Thakek. It was mostly another bus journey day but we were rewarded by an excellent sunset when we arrived. Sipping on some cold beers, the sun became a golden glow across the Mekong, silhouetting Thailand on the other side. It never ceased to amaze me that I could look across the water and see a whole different country.



Day 105
– From not having much to report to having another full on day. We made a few stops today, seeing a temple ruined by the bombing in Laos. Then seeing a temple still in use where they keep the stories written by Monks in a kind of library. Here we all had to put on long skirts to show respect and we walked over a little bridge to the room on stilts that is the library. All of the monk’s stories are written on bamboo and carefully rolled in fabric to be kept safe. 


Our next stop was an odd one. In a lake lives a special kind of turtle called a soft shelled turtle. The Laos people believe they are their ancestors and take good care of them, feeding them sticky rice and other tit bits. They are one of the oddest creatures I’ve ever seen though. To begin with they didn’t look too bad. Their curious heads poked above the water and I could see a slightly weird looking turtle head with a pointy nose but not much more. As a local enticed one to the waters edge with a treat their full strangeness was revealed. They looked exactly as their name suggests. They look like naked turtles. What’s even weirder is the way they try to hide, since they can’t disappear into a shell they simply roll their heads heads back ino their neck flab. Suddenly I could see where the term “turtle neck jumper” had come from.


The final stop had us carting the huge bags of bananas we had bought earlier that morning and had been stinking out the bus all day, into the forest where furtive, quick and hungry monkeys came and took the fruit right out of our hands. To begin with they loved it but soon they were full and no matter how much I coaxed they refused to take a banana from me. The greedy cows who interrupted us though were more than happy to finish them off.


Still a bit creeped out we went on our way and finally arrived in Xi Champhogn. We opted to have BBQ for dinner but this was a BBQ with a difference. Each table had a hole in it to fit a pot of coals, over this was placed a dome with a moat around it. The moat was filled with broth to cook noodles and vegetables in while the top had some melted fat on it to stop the meat from sticking and simply cooked the thin slices of pork with the heat from the coals beneath. The flavour was amazing and it was fun to cook it all ourselves. The place itself was great too. We ate outside and on the walls they projected YouTube videos and it wasn’t long before we were making requests. Our guide broke out the whiskey and when we found out it cost only 10,000 kip, that’s just £1 for a full bottle of whiskey, Rachel and Caitlin went in search for more. There were no traffic cones this night but plenty of singing and dancing to new tunes and old classics. This was definitely one of my favourite nights of the trip.


Day 106 – Feeling a little worse for wear it was back on the bus and on to the next place – Pakse. Pakse is known for the coffee plantations there and we got to sample some at a coffee and tea plantation. I got to try white tea, a new experience, and it was actually really nice. A little like green tea but maybe a bit milder, sweeter. 

Before that we went to another waterfall, this one quite different from the ones in Luang Prubang. This was a mighty thing, rushing out from what seemed like a calm little stream at the top and becoming a magnificent cascade. I had been looking forward to a swim to cure my hangover but the air was colder here and the spray off the waterfall made it even less inviting, so while the unflappable Harry, Ella, Pete and Ellie jumped in, the rest of us admired from a distance. 

For dinner we had another Indian, this one possibly even better than the last and I’m kicking myself that I can’t remember the name of it. Safe to say after loading up on my lentil Dahl it was an early night for me.


Day 107 – Today would be our last full day in Laos. We were going to Don Det and the 4,000 islands. I wonder if anyone has actually ever counted them or if it is just a rough estimate? Getting there was not as easy as you would think though.

Firstly though, we stopped off at yet another temple, this one was one of the biggest we had seen so far, called Site de Vat Phu. At the top of the crumbling stone steps, carpeted by falling flowers, lies a fountain which is considering to be Siwa’s pee. In other words: God’s piss. As gross as this sounds it is considered good luck to climb to the top and splash some of the water (or Hindu God pee) onto yourself. 


Once we had come back down I had another first time experience when Pao, our guide, produced a stick of skewered grilled frogs for us to try. Well, if its good enough for the French and the Laos, its good enough for me. Actually it tastes a lot like chicken. But then what doesn’t?! Slightly more appetising were the little coconut puffs that tasted like pancake…except with sweet corn in the middle. They were a little strange but sweet and tasty. 7 out of 10, would eat again.


On we went towards the ferry to Don Det. I’m pretty sure we all had in mind a big boat, with maybe some benches to sit on, a place to safely park our bus, possibly a little more rustic than what we might be used to in our countries but something along that vein. When we saw what we would actually make the crossing on I think none of us believed it until we, and the bus, were on it and sailing to the other side. The ferry was no more than a wooden platform built on top of three boats, the one in the middle used for steering. That is not an exaggeration. They even have mini versions for motorbikes. It was a relief to reach dry land again intact.


After surviving the ferry crossing Rachel, Caitlin and I had an Indian for lunch, as if eating Indian food twice in Laos already wasn’t enough, before booking ourselves on to do a sunset cruise and see a handful of these 4,000 islands. NOT our best idea. It took ages before we got on the boat and the whole time we had no idea what was going on. We were joined by a random guy who was already very drunk and proceeded to pass us his beer, sit too close and try to make conversation with us. We had just survived the ferry and now it seemed we might be left for dead on some island by the driver and this drunk guy. He even started trying to take photos of me and wouldn’t take no for an answer. The second he moved away Caitlin saved me, taking his seat on the bench next to me. When we did stop at a little island we didn’t see the point of getting out to stand and watch on the shore when we could sit comfortably in the boat so much to the drivers confusion we stayed put while he tried to convince us to get out. He gave up and took us on to a different spot and this time we did hop out, only to have our worst fear realised. Well…. almost. As we swam in the Mekong, the sun slowly spreading across the horizon behind us like spilled paint, the drunk guy and our driver decided to take a nap in the boat, only they hadn’t moored us to the island. Luckily they hadn’t drifted far but it was Caitlin who came to the rescue again, swimming after the boat and dragging it back. When we got back to the main island it was the second time that day we were glad to be on dry land again!


Our time in Laos seemed to fly by but I loved every minute of it. It is denitely somewhere I would come back to and spend more time there. I think it has been overshadowed by Cambodia and Vietnam but little Laos should not be underestimated. It is a beautiful place with kind and fun loving people. I knew that when I crossed the boarder to Cambodia the next day, I would miss it.