Indonesia (Mar 2016)

Like many of the countries that we’ve visited, Indonesia was on our radar from the beginning of the trip. Christine’s love for pretty beaches and islands has taken us to some remote, but interesting places – and this would be no exception. Once we had locked in plans to go to Malaysia, Indonesia became the logical next step because of its proximity. But location aside, trying to come up with a plan was a bit overwhelming.

To start, the country is made up of over 17,000 islands. How do we narrow this down to a realistic itinerary? We started to research the most visited place in Indonesia: Bali. Initially, it didn’t seem like it was for us, so we set our eyes on Lombok, which is supposed to be like Bali before it became so overdeveloped. And we definitely wanted to get to the Gili Islands, having learned about them from a random hitchhiker in New Zealand. After some more research, we came to the conclusion that while there were very touristy parts of Bali, overall it still seemed like a cool place. So it was decided, we’d get a two week taste of Indonesia through Bali and the Gili Islands.

We started out with four days in Seminyak, a northern suburb of the highly westernized, touristy Kuta district. Even though it was a concrete jungle, we immediately fell in love with Bali here. The temples and traditional Balinese architecture to be found on literally every block are proud displays of the Hindu culture and history of the island. The number of motorbikes and chaotic traffic rivaled Vietnam, but we weren’t intimidated this time around. We stayed at a small boutique hotel hidden away from the chaos in a residential neighborhood. Kevin went for a morning run each day to explore the area, then we would have nasi goreng and fresh watermelon juice for breakfast after. We spent a few afternoons at the beach, and even found an excellent Mexican restaurant to satisfy some Western cravings. We weren’t up for driving in Bali, so we hired a driver to take us around the island for a day to see some famous temples and rice terraces.

After Seminyak, we headed up north to the rural town of Ubud for four days. Ubud is a picturesque area, with lots of art shops and restaurants. Christine wished she had room in her bag to go shopping. Ubud was made popular by the film “Eat, Pray, Love,” and gets a lot of visitors as a result. It was from here that we did two sunrise treks on Mount Agung and Mount Batur and took a cooking class. We spent two afternoons recovering from the treks, so we didn’t get to do as much as we would have liked to in Ubud, aside from check out some restaurants at night. Before we knew it, we were on a shuttle to the southern edge of the island to catch a fastboat to the Gili Islands for six days.

The Gili Islands will easily be one of our favorite places from this trip. They are a row of three very small islands off the coast of Lombok. They can be reached by fastboat; the journey is less than one hour from Lombok, and about two hours from Bali. We chose to go to Gili Air, because we read that Gili T was too much of a party island and Gili Meno was too quiet. We can only speak for Gili Air, but we absolutely loved it. It was like being stranded on an island, but with some basic amenities. There was electric, but it went out at least once a day. There was a system of dirt roads with no names, just occasional signs for what might be somewhere up the road (we got “lost” one night trying to find a pizza joint on the inner part of the island). There were no cars or motorbikes, just horse-and-carriages and people walking. There were no police, and no reason to have police. Shoes and shirts were optional. There were fresh coconuts, Bintangs and dinners with our feet buried in the sand. The most exciting thing to happen each day was the sun setting, except for the small earthquake one afternoon. The darkness of the island at night was calming and the amount of stars you could see was amazing. The island has a very laid back and relaxing vibe that definitely rubbed off on us. Paradise is really the only way to describe it. The minute we left, we were already ready to go back.

Not only did we love the culture, landscape, food and architecture of Indonesia, but we loved the people as well. The Indonesian people are so kind, warm and inviting. You couldn’t help but smile and be happy around them. We think it’s fair to say that we will be back, it’s just a matter of when. Christine has visions of decorating our house with the amazing stone and wood carvings that can be found all over Bali. Next time we’ll get a motorbike so we can really explore. As for the Gili Islands, we’re ready to go back now.  Maybe one day we’ll be the tourists in Gili that the locals recognize and greet with big smiles. We guess that means we’ll have to go back a lot, which we’re more than ok with.

For now, we’ve got memories, and pictures.

Bali (Seminyak, Ubud, Mount Agung and Batur)

Gili Air