Monday, 8 November 2010

Singapore, Bali & the Gili Islands

So after a busy and thoroughly enjoyable month we bid a final farewell to Borneo and boarded a plane bound for Singapore.
Singapore was just a short stopover really, just a transiting point as we can't travel directly from Borneo to Bali, but it was lovely to be back in cosmopolitan civilisation for a few hours, and we really enjoyed our time there.

In many ways Singapore is a lot like London: a massive sprawling city divided into different suburbs and with an attractive esplanade, which really reminded us of London's South Bank - with bars and eateries looking out over the river and Singapore's landmarks on its skyline.

We passed by Raffles Hotel and contemplated going in for a Singapore Sling cocktail before deciding we felt we were too scruffy to go somewhere so posh! Instead we took a photo and settled for a couple of beers on the waterfront.

We also visited the massive electronics market, which boasts something like seven floors of gadgets, computers, disks, camera and stereo equipment - and managed to resist spending too much money!

Next up on our itinerary was Bali: only a two and a half hour flight from Singapore but a journey that felt like it took all day. On arrival in Bali the 'visa on arrival' procedure took forever - so
long in fact that by the time we reached baggage reclaim our bags had been removed from the conveyor and put in the lost and found office! Lucky for us after the exhausting journey we had a taxi driver from the hotel waiting in arrivals to pick us up and despite heavy traffic on the journey, we were soon able to relax.

Bali is the most westernised and touristy place we've been to yet, swarming with Australian tourists (Bali to the Ozzies is a bit like Spain to the Brits: a beach holiday with guaranteed warm weather and a home from home).
The beaches are lovely, though being a popular surfers' destination sometimes the waves are a bit too big to be able to swim - so it was more a case of frolicking around in the surf.
There are hundreds of bars and restaurants too, serving cheap local beer and local and western dishes. We found a nice one with an utdoor pool attached and had a swim whilst we sipped our drinks and waited for our food.

After just one full day in Bali we took a speedboat over to the nearby Gili Islands for a taste of desert island paradise and some real R&R. There are three islands: Trawangan, Meno and Air, all surrounded by white sandy beaches and coral reefs. There are only about 200 metres of water separating the islands, but very strong currents so it's not possible to swim between them, as tempting as it might look.

The day we arrived we heard about a series of Indonesian earthquakes, a tsunami - and later a volcano. Fortunately we were far enough away not to feel the effects but it's scary how close we are to the action - especially when we're staying on a very small and low-lying island.

The pace of life is very laid back on Gili, with little to do except hang around, reading on the beach, snorkelling, sipping fruit smoothies and eating nice food. There are no cars or motobikes on the islands, instead transport is a bicycle or a pony and cart. After briefly being in Bali it's lovely to be away from the relentless raffic.

When we arrived on Gili Meno we found it mostly deserted. It seems low season here is very, very quiet so it's just a handful of tourists, hawkers and the locals with their ponies. That and what sounded like hundreds of cockerels who woke us up at 4am every morning with thier own rendition of the dawn chorus - which also coincided with the 'call to prayer' broadcast from the mosque, so it was quite an awakening!

The islands are also home to hundreds of cats, all with docked tails. I asked one of the locals who told me all cats across South East Asia are born with this defect: some tails are really short like rabbit tails, others are longer but only partially formed. Even the cats with long tails will be missing the tip or have a kink in it - strange!
I fell in love with all the kittens I saw and even had an invitation to take one - if only I could pack one in my bag!

We did a couple of dives on Trawangan, the first not being very enjoyable as the group we were with were more advanced than us, so we were quite literally out of our depth! By way of apology the dive centre offered us a free dive the following morning, just the two of us and an instructor, which we really enjoyed. The turtle we saw was only a fraction of the size of the ones in Borneo, but we saw some great lionfish, angelfish, clown fish (like 'Finding Nemo'), an octopus and giant clams.

Trawangan is the 'party island' of the three, with the main strip being lined with bars, restaurants, beach bungalows and dive shops. You're certainly never short of something to do - and there are loads of tourists around - so it wasn't until we spent some time on the other islands that we really had the desert island experience.

Last up was Gili Air, the closest island to the mainland of Lombok. We stayed in a lovely little place, just off the beach and run by a Swiss lady. There was a huge mango tree outside our accommodation and we learned to listen out for the 'thud' of the ripe fruit falling and hitting the ground, then running out to pick up and eat our harvest. It's definitely the sweetest mango I've ever eaten - delicious.

Whilst chatting to some of the locals I met a man from Gili Air who is married to a Cornish girl from Porthtowan! And then by the hotel pool in Bali I overheard a family talking about Penzance and Camborne College, so it really is a small world!

Next up is Australia - I can't believe our time in Asia is over already! Still it will be lovely to go back to our western ways i.e. being able to flush toilet paper down the loo; hot fresh water
showers being the norm rather than cold sea water being plumbed straight into the bathroom; and being able to buy things at a fixed price without having to haggle - still, we went out in style today when we haggled a trader down from his asking price of 550,000 Indonesian Rupiahs to 50,000 for two pairs of sunglasses - well, he was really trying to rip us off!

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