The main reasons for my trip to South East Asia was to leave behind the noise and connect with nature, learn new skills to make a living from a more meaningful job then going back to the a 9-5 corporate office schedule, and give good things back to the society.
I’ve participated in various volunteering activities with NY Cares and Upwardly Global for the last few years and initiated some small environmental campaigns at my job and community in Brooklyn, but they were still a very small part of my life. I also became a reiki practitioner last year but didn’t get a chance to improve it in the rush of the daily life. Besides reiki, I wanted to learn more healing techniques and see what’s out there, how they are practiced and whether I could take them back with me to my world.
As for the noise, I mean two things: the loud street noise of New York that accompanied me everywhere from the moment I opened my eyes till I closed them in bed. I also mean the noise in my head, which had become very loud in the last years that shut my intuitive noise down. The never-ending to-dos popping in my head, obsession with perfection, and constantly planning what’s next in life..I truly hoped that I would find ways to balance my mind and heart to align with my inner voice.
So the first thing I did was consult with my friends who had taken similar trips to Asia and they were awesome enough to share their experiences with me. My friend Sheila whom I’m so grateful to, patiently walked me through her several trips step by step which led me to book my first Vipassana retreat (silent meditation) in Koh Samui, Thailand.
I also researched Yoga Schools to get my yoga teaching certificate (at last!) and found Samma Karuna in Koh Phangan, Thailand that got awesome reviews from people who had been there. They also accepted me to volunteer and intern at the place upon completion of the 4 week program. So in total, I had 9 weeks in Thailand which was accounted for and 3-4 more weeks to spend however I wished.
The yoga schools I found in Bali were more expensive than Thailand but if I could, I would like to do my YTT in Yoga Barn in Ubud where I attended some individual classes.
I decided to start in Bali with yoga, then see the infamous Borabudur Temple, Sumatra, and whatever I could fit in in-between (Laos being on the top of the list).
First and foremost, some useful tips about Indonesia-
Money: 1 USD = 13,000 Rupiah (RP). I simply removed 4 zeros from prices to convert fast.
Travel within SEA: Asia Air and Lion Air provide cheap flights that cost $30-$40 per flight. My experience was very smooth each time and you can trust they are much better than AA, United, US Air and others in the States.
I used sky scanner.com, tiket.com and whichairline.com to find the best deals.
Taxi drivers at the airports:
Unless they are metered taxis, whatever they offer, just be polite, smile a bit and ignore them. They will follow you and try their best to get you to come with them, but whatever they say, don’t trust them. Research the prices before arriving to your next destination and offer them that amount.
Shopping: Negotiate prices for everything. To give you an example, they wanted to sell me a t-shirt for 170,000 RP, I offered 30,000 RP and ended up paying 40,000 RP. You figure…
Restaurant bills include the service charge, no need to tip more unless you really want to show your appreciation for an exceptional service.
Motorbikes: Renting one is the easiest way to get from one place to another. I didn’t rent one, it was easy to find ojeks (motorbike taxi) around when I needed since they always stopped and asked. The traffic is on the right side (like in England) and it is VERY intense.
Traffic: There is no life for pedestrians i.e. no crosswalks, nowhere! You need to find the best time to jump into the flood of cars and motors to cross the street. It was the most frustrating thing for me and for some other travelers I met.
Religion/Customs: Around 85% of the country is Muslim, the rest are Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian. It is a secular country and no one interferes with your outfit. A lot of tourists were wearing shorts and tank tops. Alcohol was offered in hotels and restaurants but not sold in the markets (except Bali).
They are really kind people and don’t even lose their temper against each other in the maddening traffic. I was extra polite and tried not to show frustration in any circumstance. Being from NYC, this was pretty hard in some cases but I think i did good! 🙂
Weather: Hot and humid 24/7 (in June)
Rain: It mostly rained at nights and a couple of hours during the day. It’s tropical rain so it pours and stops and the sun shines again. I loved it!
Mosquitos: Everywhere! You can buy a repellent everywhere and you might want to bring an anti-itch creme.
Trip cost: $730 USD One-Way from LA to Denpasar via Virgin Australia/Delta
Taxi from airport to Ubud: 1,5 hrs and 300,000 RP ($25 USD).. I found out that some people managed to pay 250,000 RP but after a 21 hour flight, I had only enough strength and patience to negotiate it down from 450,000 RP to 300,000 RP, which was not bad.
After leaving Los Angeles on Jun 1st and a 48 hr travel mixed with planes and taxis, I arrived at Bali’s Despansar airport at 2:30 pm on Jun 3rd with a short stop at Brisbane, Australia.
Since I’d read online that going through the customs in Indonesia with a one-way ticket might be a problem, I purchased a quick return ticket (from Indonesia to Kuala Lumpur via Air Asia that cost $19) during the layover. While no one asked me to show my return flight, I later heard from an Italian backpacker that they had made him purchase a ticket on the spot as a proof of departure.
After some online research and reading reviews, I made a reservation at In Da Lodge which was by far one of the best hostels I had stayed during my travels in South America and Europe. It’s a nice oasis with a swimming pool, hammocks, different sized bungalows, a restaurant/bar and a chill area.
And you can’t beat the $8/nigh rate in a 6 bed dorm room.
On my first morning, as soon as I got up with the roosters and birds who joyfully started announcing the arrival of the new day around 6 am, I took a walk around the hood and noticed the rice paddy in the back and a Balinese woman taking a bath naked on the street. With this cue, I returned to my room and silently made my bag to prepare for the 8 hour bike trip I had purchased the previous night.
For anyone who travels in Bali, I highly recommend this tour. It cost 300,000 RP ($25 USD).
Besides including a breakfast and lunch, our guide took us to a coffee farm and I tried luwak, also called cat-poo-chino, world’s most expensive coffee. The way this coffee is made is beyond interesting. Check this out: A shy cat-like wild creature wanders out of the Sumatran jungle at night onto a coffee plantation and selects only the finest, ripest coffee cherries to eat. Only it can’t digest the stone (the coffee bean) and craps them out, its anal glands imparting an elusive musky smoothness to the resultant roasted coffee. Then the farm workers look for the poop in the morning among the trees, remove the coffee beans from the other possible dirty things, roast them and sell them to us.
During the trip, which was riding our bikes downhill from northern part of the island to Ubud around the tiny villages, we’ve passed by beautiful homes with their individual temples, much larger glamorous public temples, young girls and their infant kids waving their hands yelling cheerful hellos to us, older ladies carrying heavy stuff on their heads, many people on their motorbikes going from one place to another, rice paddies, stray dogs, and breathtaking green scenery. I would not consider myself having seen Bali without this tour. It was a real intimate experience with the Balinese people and their colorful culture.
Cafe Lotus with the view of the Ubud palace was amazing. My view from the table was a pool full of beautiful lotus flowers and the glamourous palace rising behind them. The most appealing part was how the crowded street noise I left behind upon entering this place disappeared and I found myself in a zen garden suddenly. Here’s a picture of my fruit juice consisted of papaya, pineapple, watermelon and banana with my view.
Trip cost: 60,000 + 30,000 RP by shuttle and taxi
I got to this hot surfing beach town located on the west side of the island through a shuttle to Kuta and taxi from Kuta to my hostel. I checked in to Guess House which I don’t recommend to anyone. I just used the place to sleep and spent most of my time at the W Hotel (almost) next door, which generously gave access to the beach and its pretty posh pool/restaurant area.
I found everything in Seminyak ultra modern targeting the hip young surfing crowd and rich tourists. It had posh spas, restaurants, cafes, top-notch restaurants and resorts. It reminded me of the Hamptons with its little boutiques but a much bigger version. Kuta was more popular among surfers and partiers but I wasn’t interested in that scene hence I skipped it. However, if you like to have a long night, you can still stay in Seminyak and reach Kuta with a quick taxi ride.
Some places you can check out: W Hotel, Potato Head (most popular beach club) or Ku Da Te (another hip club) to enter the beach. Apparently sunset parties in these places were pretty popular and I realized that when hundreds of ppl surrounded my sunbathing spot around 5 pm. It was a pretty fun experience and the pictures below would speak for themselves.
Later I learned that there were more local alternatives to these clubs along the beach where I could pay half the price for beer (25,000k= $2) and avoid the hip crowd.
The next morning, I attempted to take a Yoga class at Prana Spa but got the schedule wrong and showed up too late. While walking around I was approached by a guy who asked me if I wanted a driver for the day. I had heard that it was pretty common in Bali to rent a car with a driver and the price would be 500,000 RP or so.. Of course after some negotiations with him and bringing the price down from 700,000 to 300,000 RP we agreed for him to take me to Tanah Lot and Taman Ayun, two famous temples on the island that I was dying to see.
Note that even though the distances are not too far, there was a lot of traffic on the way so make sure you account for the time to get to these places (especially if you are planning to catch the sunset).
After looking at its pictures in NY, seeing this temple in real life was a great experience for me. You can only walk up to it at low tide as it’s located on a tiny island of the ocean. Its pretty astounding that its built on top of a natural spring!
There were just too many people pushing and gawking. So I climbed up a bit and sat at an empty restaurant and watched it along with my fried rice lunch.
Uluwatu– popular spot at the southern tip of Bali that has a temple and a great view of the sunset. I listened to my body and skipped it since I’d been running in Bali from day 1 to fit everything in but if I had one more day, I’d definitely for the sunset.
JOGJAKARTA (in the local language) or YOGYAKARTA (in Indonesian)
Trip cost: $30/one way via Lion Air
The flight from Bali to Jogja was 1.5 hrs but it was delayed 2 hours. Upon arriving at the airport, as usual a crowd of taxi drivers rushed to take me to the city. They offered 120k for one way trip. Based on my previous experiences, these guys always overcharge and I had read it would cost 60-70K from the airport to town. After rejecting them with a ton of ‘no, thank yous’, I spotted the public bus stop that was right in front of the taxis. After a few brief gestures to buy a ticket, I got on a bus that went to Malioboro, the main street for 3600 RP (30 cents! score). From the Malioboro stop, I took a 10 min cab ride for 20,000 RP. Afterwards I found out that the bus had a nearer stop that I could get off on just to walk to the hotel.
I stayed at Venezia Gardenand paid $30/night for a private room including breakfast and coffee/tea all day. It was a nice guesthouse with a pool and lots of outdoor room to chill and rest. I also had a simple dinner here as well since I didn’t want to leave the hotel after a long day in Borobudur.
I purchased a van tour to Borobodur that picked me up from Venezia along with 3 other girls from Germany and Holland at 1:30 pm. RT cost was 100,000 just for transportation.
We paid an entrance fee of 250,000 + 25,000 RP for a tour guide who was super knowledgeable about the temple. He told us about the history and all the important relics in the temple that was built in the 9th century.
I met my new local friend Rinto in our hotel during a dinner chat and he agreed to take me around on his motorcycle for a day tour for 250,000. He picked me up at 10 am and returned at 4 pm. During this time, the places we visited are below.
I highly recommend you to find Rinto when you are in Jogja for a good tour of the city and surroundings. Otherwise, there was not much to do in Jogja after finishing visiting the temples. He gives bike tours for groups as well and knows good Indonesian restaurants and bars 😉
you can reach him via: Rintoap@yahoo.com and facebook
Batik Art Store– I was walked through the process of Batik which is original to Jogja. It is a pretty lengthy process that includes drawing the picture on the fabric, going over the drawing with wax and dipping the fabric in paint. When it’s dry, they peel off the wax area that stays white and paint them with the colors and motifs they want. To support the artist, I got a Buddha fabric for 300K (reduced from 790,000 RP)
Sultan Palace– just saw it from the outside. There’s nothing to see inside as some of the girls I met advised so I skipped it.
Street art – I was speechless by the amazing graffiti I saw in the unexpected streets of Jogja! Pictures are below.
Parangtritis Beach – This ocean was not swimmable but would be great for surfing with its gigantic waves. There were hundreds of kids who were using the beach playing and bathing in their clothes. When we walked towards the quiet area, we saw a tiny fishermen settlement with Cafe de Paris in it 🙂
Most popular dishes in Jogja cuisine:
This most famed curry, rendang is not an everyday food since it takes time and skill to make. Its secret is in the gravy, which wraps around the beef for hours until, ideally, it’s splendidly tender.
Ducks are common companions to rice fields around Indonesia, but they can be difficult to prepare for consumption. The best Bebek Goreng we tried was in Ubud area. You should definitely visit Bebek Tepi Sawa if you’re in the area.
The restaurant is luxurious but their prices are great. A big plate of duck costs 92,500 (about $8)
These tasty meat skewers cook up over coals. Whether it’s chicken, goat, mutton or rabbit, the meat gets marinated in turmeric, barbecued and then served in a hearty dose of peanut sauce.
Considered Indonesia’s national dish, it’s basically fried rice often made with sweet, thick soy sauce and garnished with pickled cucumber and carrots.
Literally “mix-mix,” it is one of Indonesia’s best-known dishes, essentially a vegetable salad bathed in the country’s classic peanut sauce. At its base are boiled long beans, spinach, potato, corn, egg and bean sprouts coupled with cucumber, tofu and tempe.
Literally “fried foods,”gorengan are the most prolific snacks in all of Indonesia.Street carts typically offer crispy golden nuggets of tempe, cassava and tofu, as well as fried bananas, sweet potatoes, vegetables fritters made from shredded carrot, cabbage and bean sprouts and fermented soybean cakes.
(Food descriptions gathered from CNNGO)
Next, Jakarta and Sumatra which I will be adding as I go along.. I am just so happy to be here!!! :))
Sei Pinang, Mandau Talawang, Kapuas Regency, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia