Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Tag: travel tips

Passing on Experience to Other Bali Travelers

I have arrived in Kuala Lumpur, but before I forget, I wanted to pass on some travel tips with specifics that can help another future traveler-to-Bali (if they find my blog with these tips!). In no particular order but categorized by my own Virgo mind:

An art shop in a small village on my Campuan ridge walk, before the owner was even up!

TRANSPORT AROUND BALI

  • Getting a taxi from the airport to Ubud should cost about 195.000 IDR. You can catch taxis waiting outside the airport at the departure waiting area. Make sure to set a price before hopping in the taxi. Move on to the next taxi if you the driver won't go down.
  • A taxi from Sanur to the airport should cost anywhere between 80.000 to 100.000 IDR. I asked an honest guy the cost, and he said drivers shouldn't charge more than 80K. And when I talked to a driver, he first said 150.000, but I said 80.000, and he was surprised, and then we settled at 100.000. I talked to him the day before I was to go to the airport, and he came and picked me up at my guesthouse the next day, as arranged!
  • In the guidebooks, they talk about “bemos” which are these vans that just drive around for way cheaper than taxis or shuttle buses. I never took one because I wasn't totally sure how it worked. I think if I had a travel partner, I might have tried…
  • When getting from one town to another, there are usually many options, it's all about how much you want to spend and how “in style” you want to travel. This is what I have ascertained are the options:
    • Bemo— mentioned above. The cheapest of the options– it's what the locals might use if they don't have their own motorbike. In busy areas, there are lots of guys yelling out, “bemo? bemo!”
    • Shuttle bus— organized by private tour companies; and in Ubud, so I'm assuming probably in some other towns as well, also organized by the town's official Tourist Information Center. Lots of private tour companies also use the name “tourist information center,” so you have to be sure to find the official one. In Ubud, the UTI (as they call it. hee hee.) is right near the Ubud market. It looks all official with staff that work in official uniforms. Shuttle buses are a bus or van that goes to different towns, and the price is often based on a minimum of two people going. So if you're a single traveler, you're kind of stuck. Though at the UTI, I was able to book a bus to Amed, and didn't need a minimum of two people. It's way cheaper than a private driver. From Ubud to Amed, the shuttle bus through the UTI was 130.000 IDR. Do some “shopping around.” Tour companies often have boards listing their going rates for buses. When I was walking around Ubud, I saw that some companies did 150.000, 180.000, etc. to Amed.
    • Official taxi— there's a difference, I think, between guys who have a car and are just yelling, “taxi, taxi,” everywhere and actual taxis. I'm not 100% sure about this, but official taxis have a little sign on their roof that makes them look like a taxi. The cars might be different styles and different colors, but they're official. Apparently at the taxi company base, there's a listing of the rates and town-to-town costs. I only used an official taxi once– going from Sanur to the airport.
    • Private driver— guys who have a car or van and either work for themselves or a tour company and drive tourists around, either to a location or just on a sightseeing trip. The guy I hired to drive me from Ubud to other sights was a driver for a small company. Bargaining is always possible. My guesthouse owner Liselotte helped me get a driver for my ride from Amed to Sanur (there's no shuttle bus or official taxis there), a two and a half hour drive, for 375.000 IDR. I thought it was a bit pricey, and I think I could have just gotten a driver to a nearby town like Amlapura or Candidasa and then tried to pick up a shuttle bus that already had people in it if I was lucky. But as a single traveler, I was sure if they'd have a two person minimum requirement. So I had to deal with it.

    Motorbikes lined up, early morning in Ubud.

  • Renting motorbikes is another way to get around, and I met some tourists from France who didn't have their international license but rented one anyway. They said it was great– “freedom!” They didn't do it in a big city but in Amed, they said it was great. And super cheap. Something like 50.000 IDR to rent, and the petrol is heavily subsidized here, so it's super cheap. Again, if I had had a travel companion, I think I would have done this. And if I had stayed in Amed one or two more days, I might have rented just for a day to do it. But it's a little scary to drive among the Balinese drivers. They have a certain code of rules that are a bit hard to navigate.

ACCOMMODATIONS

My best guide was TripAdvisor. I have never used it so earnestly and trustingly before. But I must say that all the places I stayed really lived up to their high ratings. I've already mentioned the places I've stayed in recent posts, but just to recap with prices:

  • Ubud for four nights: Jangkrik Homestay. 150.000 IDR each night (on a special rate through TripAdvisor). Best breakfast I had in Bali– banana pancakes or toast and fruit plate. With a Balinese family. Nice balcony seating area outside my room. Good clean facilities. Ceiling fan, no a-c. Right in the middle of Ubud. Free, reliable wi-fi. Family members also participate in a Kecak dance performance– fun to go watch.
  • Amed for five nights: Geria Giri Shanti Bungalows. 180.000 IDR each night (low season price). Best hosts. Instant cappuccino along with the coffee and tea that most places have. Beautiful room and bathroom– super clean and spacious. Floor fan, no a-c. Free wi-fi but a bit spotty– I think Amed in general has slower wi-fi than a bigger town. Dive shop, Adventure Divers Bali, is part of the facility.
  • Sanur for two nights: Flashbacks. 250.000 IDR (includes tip and tax) each night. Great breakfast of homemade toast, coffee, and fruit (with a mangosteen, which I have come to adore.). Small saltwater pool in the facility. Clean, spacious and beautiful room and really nice bathroom. Good location. Nice restaurant/ cafe attached, Porch Cafe.

Cozy setting a tiny saltwater pool at Flashbacks in Sanur.

These are all places I would definitely go back to. Great reviews on TripAdvisor for a reason!

FOOD

Now in case you haven't noticed on my blog, I LOOOOVVVE food. Really. I love trying new food, cooking and baking my own food, eating others' homemade food… And I haven't been so impressed with Balinese and Indonesian food. I'm going to chalk it up to the fact that I”m in tourist areas and eating food catered toward tourists, not toward the locals. I would have loved to have eaten with a Balinese family at their own home table.

Decent meal I had at a warung in Ubud. I think it was chicken.

The main things you can find at a warung (small eatery) are mee goreng (fried noodles) or nasi goreng (fried rice) and chicken, beef, and sometimes fish (at least in Amed and Sanur) prepared in various ways.

The tropical fruit is good, too. Not amazing, but good. I especially fell in love with passion fruit…

Mango, mangosteen, and passion fruit. Now you see it, now you don't!

One place where I went twice because the food was SO good was Pregina Warung in Sanur, a few doors down from Flashbacks. I was surprised how tasty and fresh the food was. For my lunch, I had a grilled chicken with some kind of coconut sauce. Delicious. The flavorings were perfect. I think that's what I've been missing– hoping for something more flavorful and rich and unique, but I haven't found that at other places.

My dinner (that same day), I splurged because it was my last dinner in Bali, and I ordered the bebek goreng at 80.000 IDR (most of my meals previously cost around 2-40.000 per plate). Crispy duck. Oh my gosh, it was delicious, and not just “good for Bali,” but one of the best dishes I've had in a long time. The duck skin was super crispy and well flavored. The meat was juicy and tender. And there were a few condiments to go along with it. I was sad when it was done. I could have eaten two or three times more than the portion size! You must check out that place. I recommended it to a Canadian couple I met at the guesthouse, and they said it was also delicious.

Bebek goreng from Pregina Warung in Sanur, Bali.

Other than that, not much to say for the food in Bali. They don't have a lot of outdoor stalls like Malaysia and Singapore.

SIGHTSEEING

Ulun Danu Bratan temple in Bedugul, Bali. On Lake Bratan.

You'll get lots of tips on this elsewhere. Honestly, I don't remember too much of my sightseeing because it was all done in such a haphazard way with the driver (not necessarily in a bad way). I'm used to sightseeing with my own map, laying out my walk or public transportation route and aiming to see certain things. But I didn't do a ton of research on what to see in Bali because I knew I'd have a driver. So I didn't know where were the “good” places until toward the end of my trip.

If you don't rent your own car to drive around (which I think I would actually prefer, to go at my own pace, but as I said before, driving in Bali is a bit tricky. They have their own rules.), I would recommend hiring a driver for at least one day. And it's good to do a bit of research to see what places you want to see. There's definitely a lot to see– temples, rice paddies (agro-tourism, a new term I learned here, is a big thing in Bali), coffee plantations, natural beauties like waterfalls and volcanoes.

Rice paddies en route, shuttle bus, to Amed.

It's good to see at least one Balinese traditional dance performance as well. I really liked the Kecak dance. I think the Barong and Kris dance is also supposed to be good and interesting, but I didn't see that.

Be prepared to pay for everything– entry fees. It's not a lot, but it starts to add up.

Some of my favorite sightseeing was just walking around streets, observing and taking in all the sights that way. I could see how people (both locals and tourists) worked. I saw what buildings looked like, even how many of them were being built. I saw the daily offerings that were made to the gods for good luck and karma. I was bombarded with the calls of “miss, taxi?” or “miss, massage?” but I think that's part of the tourist experience in Bali. At first I was annoyed, but it started to become like the other sounds of Bali.

OVERALL

i'd say overall this isn't one of my favorite places that I've traveled to. I think it was partly the weather and partly the fact that I didn't do enough research to find out what I really wanted to do and see here. I think it's also a very poor country and because the tourist industry has shot up so quickly, I think the disparity between the poverty of the locals and the wealth of travelers makes for a weird vibe here. I can't quite explain it, but being in KL for a day which is much more developed, I know that I don't have that same feeling here…

However, the diving course and meeting folks in Amed was my favorite part and definitely made this a memorable trip. I would come back to Amed, for sure. Maybe not the other parts of Bali. It's a popular honeymoon and wedding destination, but I wouldn't do either here, unless to go diving for a week or more!! 🙂

Part of the crew at Adventure Divers Bali and Geria Giri Shanti Bungalows in Amed, Bali.

 

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Hostels in New Zealand

I'm doing this not as an official review, but more as a way to remember the different hostels I've stayed at in New Zealand. No more hostels until I get to Asia, and I'm going to hopefully stay in guesthouses. I'm also going to give a go at couchsurfing.

So here goes:

Auckland: City Garden Lodge

  • One night, my first night in New Zealand = $30NZD ($24USD). I wasn't able to use my BBH discount because I booked online. It was complicated. The hostel owner gave me the tip to just call future hostels and not book online because then I wouldn't get charged a booking fee.
  • A hike up a steep hill, about 15-20 minutes from the town center. Pretty views. As it was my first hostel, I didn't have much to compare it to. The bathrooms were clean. The bed was fine, and I was in a dorm with all women. There were spices/ herbs, free tea and coffee… and free wi-fi just up to a certain Mb limit.

Wanaka: Wanaka Bakpaka

  • Three nights, my first stretch of a two week West Coast self-guided tour = $75NZD ($61USD)
  • Big dining and lounging area. Big kitchen with lots of sinks and cooktops. No cooking oil, shared salt and pepper, or spices and herbs, except for some fresh herbs from their garden. That was the downside. But otherwise, it was a great hostel. Great location– short walk to the town center, right on the lake with an amazing view. Clean and spacious bedroom with a bathroom and shower right in the room! No free wi-fi (except for a really small bit for free when you check in). This was probably my favorite hostel because I really liked Wanaka overall.

Franz Josef: Glow Worm Cottages

  • Three nights, in the midst of rain and clouds and in a tiny tiny town = $66NZD ($54USD)
  • Cozy little hostel in the middle of a tiny village. Big co-ed dorm room. Good shower facilities. Big kitchen with lots of sinks and cooktops. Shared salt and pepper but that was it in terms of food (no oil or spices and herbs). Small-ish dining and lounge area. TV with DVDs and VHS but not many people used it. Nice view. Pay for wi-fi and internet.

Punakaiki: Te Nikau Retreat

  • Two nights = $48NZD ($39USD)
  • Sets of cottages and guesthouses scattered throughout the rainforest. Rata Retreat was a dorm with a nice kitchen and living area and nice views. Cooking oil, spices and herbs, and salt and pepper provided! No cellular signal in this remote town, so you had to buy wi-fi or pay to use the computer. Nice walk to the beach. A bit of a hike from the Pancake Rocks, but they had free pick up and drop off to the bus stop. My bed was quite lumpy. The bathroom facilities were OK (a bit low on the shower pressure). They sell freshly baked bread and muffins ($5/$2) which were both delicious. And really nice owner.

Nelson: The Bug

  • Four nights = $88NZD ($72USD)
  • Crowded co-ed dorm room but clean and fresh linens. Clean bathrooms. Nice open kitchen with cooking oil, herbs, salt/pepper provided and free freshly baked bread in the mornings. 15 minute walk into the town center, located in a more residential part of town. Free bus station pick up and drop off by the hostel owners. Free wi-fi, which was a big plus. Top rated on the BBH website. Really friendly owner with her dogs.

Hostels are definitely cheap and easy in New Zealand. And the ones I stayed at were clean, homey, and comfortable. I met some really nice people along the way, people that I've become Facebook friends with and hope to stay in touch with!

You definitely have to be in a certain frame of mind to accept hostel-hopping. You have to be open to sharing rooms with others, sharing cooking and eating space with others, and be open to chatting with whoever wants to chat. At the same time, you have to be OK with just being alone, too. And I was open to all those experiences. I mean, what do you expect for $20-25 per night!? But these hostels were definitely nice and worth staying at.

And as I think I said before, use BBH to find cheap bookings. And call the hostels when you get to New Zealand to do the bookings. They're usually open after 8am until about 8pm, so you get a person, not a machine. And these are all privately owned by families, so they're all super friendly.

Travel Tips and Such

My route through New Zealand for the last two weeks.

I've been in New Zealand for almost two weeks and I have come to really appreciate a few choice items:

  • a nifty cool fast-dry towel that my former boss got me as a going away present (thanks, E!). She bought it at REI. It's been great, especially on the farm where it was a little damp in the room where I was staying (a factor of living in the countryside with not the greatest ventilation and insulation from the outside elements).
  • my Keen shoes. I bought these before my trip to Paris last March, and they've served me very well. Sturdy, waterproof, comfortable– great for walking, medium-level hiking, travel. I love them!
  • my iPad and Verbatim bluetooth portable folding keyboard along with the Blogsy app. These three things have been great for blogging. All I need is a wi-fi connection and the Blogsy app is super user-friendly to link to my picasa web albums, my Photostream and photo gallery, and WordPress. WordPress has an app, too, but it's really clunky and not easy to use.
  • my iPhone with a New Zealand simcard (from Telecom). Photos, iMessaging, checking email/ Facebook, Instagram-ing, music. My connection back home. Enough said.
  • a small Nalgene water bottle (500mL). This has been great for day trips– it's not too heavy when full of liquid, and this one is easy to clean– it has a wide open mouth.
  • my two jackets— one is a rain jacket, one is a fleece. In this unpredictable NZ weather, both have been so great to have. They're light, pack well, and also warm when needed. I bought these right before I left because I left my other set of jackets back in Boston. But good thing because those were white and baby blue– the dirt from the farm would have done a number on them.
  • a small travel notebook. Even though I have a notes app on my iPad and iPhone, it's actually easier to just write down quick notes in the notebook– travel arrangements, reflections and journalling (when I don't have access to wi-fi), a makeshift calendar for my itinerary. I got a lot of journals as going away gifts, and the one I brought was nice and light and had a soft cover.

Some other travel tips for New Zealand in particular:

  • I got an Inter-City Flexi-Pass to use for bus travel. Instead of booking travel for each leg of my trip, you can buy these passes (kind of like Eurail passes in Europe) which either book a certain number of on-off trips or hours traveled. So I got a 55 hour Flexipass for $415NZD. I'll let you know at the end of my trip whether that was the right fit or not. I have no idea at this point, but I was trying to estimate based on how many places I was hoping to hit on my trip.
  • I set up a bank account with Schwab bank online to use for free ATM withdrawals all around the world. How it works is you can use any ATM machine, and at the end of each month, if you got charged some kind of withdrawal fee, Schwab reimburses your account all those fee amounts. No other bank does that.
  • I set up a credit card with no foreign transaction fee— there are a few of these out there. The one I set up was with Capital One– their green Cash Rewards credit card. Usually American credit cards have fees if you use them outside of the U.S.; this one doesn't! Make sure to check on your credit card before you leave the country or you'll be hit with all these fees without even knowing it until you get your statement. I think American Express cards don't have a foreign transaction fee, but they're not accepted everywhere. And I never got one of those because you have to pay a fee to use the card. What is that?!
  • Based on the advice of a friend of a friend, I set up a membership with BBH (Budget Backpackers Hostels, or something like that) which cost about $50NZD, and they've supposedly got more unique and family owned hostels around New Zealand. I've only stayed at one BBH hostel so far and it was nice.
  • The Lonely Planet New Zealand has been good so far, not the greatest, especially since I'm really looking for things off the beaten path, but not bad. I don't know about the Rough Guides for NZ or any of the other ones… But so far, I've just kind of wandered around cities and found my way OK. I'm a museum and parks person, so that's what I've gravitated to.

I've really enjoyed myself so far. The highlights have really been staying with different people. The city sightseeing is nice enough, but the best parts have been sitting with people and talking about life and politics and New Zealand. I'm hoping I continue to be able to sit with some nice people for the next weeks.

Plus, as I've said many times already, it really is a beautiful country. I've seen lots of rolling hills, coastal shores, sheep and baby lambs frolicking in the fields, trees and native plants, interesting birds…

I'm also starting to lay out my next legs of travel. I've set my departing date from NZ to November 12th. From there, I'm set to go to Indonesia. I'm hearing mixed reviews about Indonesia, so I'm not yet sure how long I'll stay there. But then I'll move on to Malaysia for a good 1.5 – 2 weeks. And from there, on to Vietnam, hopefully, to see a friend (a former CAPAY youth who's living there for a year with her husband!). And then, I think I'll be ready to head home in time for Christmas (Mom, I know you're excited, but this is what I'm thinking now, so don't get too excited! Things might change!!)

The rare (probably only at this point) self-portrait. It's hard to take photos including oneself when you're traveling solo. And I'm not totally comfortable having my photo on my blog, but I'll go with this one for the benefit of friends and family members reading my blog.

 

Preparations

The days are getting closer until my departure for the other side of the world. I spent all morning and early afternoon calling places and going online to do things like changing my mailing address, making sure credit card companies knew I would be possibly using cards abroad, paying bills in advance. I can’t believe how much time that took!

And then I’m bracing myself for tomorrow when I’ll be culling through my huge music collection to determine what I will download on to my iPhone and iPad so I can be sure to have the music I want to listen to when I’m traveling and farming and feeling homesick. I have well over 3000 or so songs on my computer and an external hard drive. And since I’m bringing neither with me, I need to spend the time needed to organize that essential part of my life. 🙂 I think my music collection would be one of the top things on my list of what I would take if I were to be left on a deserted island. No joke. I could make it for a long time with just my music (and of course some way to eat).

Then the last big thing I need to do is pack all that I need for three or so months into two bags. Will that be possible? Here’s a bit of the progress I’m [not] making in that department:

Step 3 (a few steps happened before this) A scattered mass of stuff.

Step 4: Making a big pile of what I’m hoping to take (with some thought that I may still need to cut down…)

Where all that stuff needs to end up and still be carry-able on my back without killing me…

This is definitely the part of any trip that I hate. Questions like

  • What will the weather be like? What clothes will I need?
  • What kind of toiletries should I stock up on and what should I just buy when I’m there?
  • How many pairs of underwear and socks do I REALLY need?
  • How many pairs of jeans should I take? They’re so gosh darn heavy and hard to handwash (which I think is what I’m going to be doing for some parts of my trip).
  • What other little things do I need, or at least will help make my trip a little easier and more enjoyable (like nail clippers, a compass, nice smelling lotion…)

I guess when it comes down to it, I’ll be able to buy whatever I forget, so I shouldn’t worry too much. But I don’t want to “waste” money on things that are easy to take that I just forgot to pack.

So some unusual things that I’m definitely taking that might be helpful tips for you who will be traveling for an extended period of time, roughing it more than doing the touristy thing:

  • passport pictures– I’m told that these are needed for visas if I need to get them
  • gardening gloves for WWOOFing– thanks to my youth– I have four pairs ready to go!
  • a small bottle of dishwashing soap and laundry detergent
  • clothespins and string to hang clothes to dry
  • a sewing kit with a needle and thread to repair clothing
  • extra ziploc bags of varying sizes

Making progress…

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