Sunday, July 8, 2012

Today I am ... dreaming of Indonesia

Forgive me, for I have sinned. It has been nearly four weeks since my last blog post. Tut tut. But it was all in the name of research. Your author has been on the ultimate escapist's adventure to the other side of the globe; the tropical paradise of Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands.

And - although even the most remote of island beach cafes now carry hand-painted signs boasting of their WiFi access (my, how times have changed since my travelling days) - had I blogged from there, I would be inclined to say I hadn't quite grasped the true meaning of escapism.

I love London but I think sometimes we're all guilty of forgetting what a comparatively small, grey dot the city actually is in relation this huge, colourful, beautiful outside world. And on this trip, I remembered how simple it is to escape.

For my friends and I, it was simply a case of booking a flight on a whim as we passed STA Travel one Sunday afternoon a few months ago.  Three months and 17 hours later, I had completely switched off. It was that easy. It's amazing how quickly you adjust to a world where your most stressful decision is whether to order nasi goreng (fried rice) or mie goreng (fried noodles).

During our three weeks away, we saw three totally different ways of life, each of which is a world away from my life in London; here's how we embraced the Luxurious, the Backpacker, and the Cultural Indonesia...


Bali may be the most commercialised of the three islands we visited, but venture inland to Ubud and the surrounding areas and you'll still find a culture rich with tradition and heritage. Within the artists' town of Ubud you'll be spoiled for choice with stunning temples, Indonesian cookery classes, local galleries, yoga classes and forest treks aplenty. But the real treats are buried deep in the countryside. Arrange to stay with a local family in one of the island's many friendly, cheap homestays. Most just offer bed and breakfast, but in the village where we stayed (Wayan's Bali Homestay), we must have been the only Westerners for miles, and we were whole-heartedly embraced into the community, where Wayan's grandmother, father and grown-up children all still live in neighbouring houses.

This is the real deal; the village is buzzing by 7am but by then, the cockerels and dogs outside your window will, like you, have already been up for hours. Wayan and his wonderful family gave us Balinese makeovers, home-cooked local specialities, took us on a walk to see daily life in the rice paddies and invited us to the cremation of an elderly relative, a colourful and communal affair attended by the whole village. On an island which in parts is fast becoming Australia's answer to the Costa del Sol, it was inspiring to see such a simple, old-fashioned way of life where home, family and community still come first.


Saying that, there's only so long three girls on holiday can share a cold shower with an entire extended family. Craving an authentic and sociable holiday experience, I had some initial reservations (no pun intended) about staying in luxurious, honeymooner-friendly hotels. However as I reclined on our futon in a silky hotel dressing gown and poured myself a free vodka from the complimentary decanter in our room, I realised I could probably make my peace with fresh, clean towels, open-air baths under the stars and complementary sunset massages...

The trick was to alternate the hotel stays in between the more basic accommodation, so we preserved that childlike excitement when we arrived at our villa and dived into the oversized beds like Macauley Culkin in Home Alone 2 (great film).

We felt like celebrities when we rocked up at eco-friendly Uma Ubud in the lush, green highlands of Ubud, Bali, a boutique collection of tranquil villas. Our backpacks and girly screams ('Oh my god, the shower!') quickly blew our cover of being seasoned five star globe-trotters.

Quinci Villas in Lombok was rather less subtle, looking straight out of the Elle travel pages with a blinging infinity pool overlooking the private beach - the perfect place to catch up on missed tanning hours from our time in the Bali homestay.

And finally, 24 hours at the Chedi Club in Bali have now ruined me for life. Our night in heaven was an early birthday gift for my friend, courtesy of her mum (thanks Mrs Cooper!). This is the kind of place I could have only dreamt of staying; an intimate, secluded retreat hidden in the middle of the rice paddies, with its own lotus pond and family of black swans.

Again, we may have disturbed the serenity of the environment with our enthusiasm. This was the last night of the holiday before our flight back to reality. Not knowing when, if ever, I would return to a hotel like this in my lifetime, we were on a mission to make the most of it. We dutifully slathered our weather-beaten skin and hair with the hotel's indulgent products, filled our bags with snacks and cans from the free mini-bar, got our laundry done and enjoyed the free afternoon tea in the aviary. They practically had to drag us from there to the airport kicking and screaming.


And then there was Gili Trawangan - party island paradise. There are no cars, just horse and carts, but best of all - it was here that we found the one, elusive thing that had evaded us for much of the trip: People! Who weren't all couples!

Not that I didn't love our 'romantic' candle-lit dinners for three, but we were so ready for the Gilis by the time we arrived. The main beach on Gili Trawangan is picture perfect, and full of decent beach huts which you don't need to book in advance (watch out for the cockroaches though). The turquoise sea is full of turtles, clownfish and lots more, just waiting to be discovered.

Attracting Aussie surfers, Indonesian reggae enthusiasts, Singaporean girls-on-tour and a LOT of divers, Gili T is rather like I imagine Koh Tao in Thailand might have been a decade ago; rustic and ramshackle, but lively and exciting.

The famous party nights (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) took me back to my University days, where you knew exactly which bar to head to on each night of the week. And rather like Freshers Week, the people you meet on the first night will continue to haunt you for the rest of your trip, popping up in restaurants, the sea, maybe even your flight home.

This is a tiny island, which you can easily walk or cycle around (we opted for renting bicycles, the first time I've been on one since I was about 12. It's not true what they say about never forgetting how to ride one). And after six nights on Gili T - the longest we spent anywhere during our trip - it is also the place I found hardest to say goodbye to.

Back to reality

It was quite a culture shock emerging from the tube station at rush hour like a confused time-traveller, after our epic flight home. In my maxi-dress and backpack, I walked back to my flat against a tide of commuters and drizzle. The next day, it was back to business as usual. 

I wouldn't say I've had post-holiday blues; it's more of a post-holiday daze which I still haven't quite snapped out of. Did it really all happen? Was it just a dream? Then I notice the sand still in my wallet and smile. My battle wounds of straplines, bites and bruises may be fading, but as long as we've got the memories, we'll always have Indonesia.


  1. fantastic post and Thanks for sharing this info. It's very helpful.
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    1. Thanks Cristeen! Are you heading out there? I'm irrationally jealous, if so... Enjoy!