Bali, Indonesia

Bali, Indonesia

Apr 9-May 8, 2019

Time to slow it allllll down…. This is the place we’ve come to recharge and just be. Catching up with ourselves, blogging, writing, reading, video editing, sleeping, just being and reconnecting with my heart. Traveling, while I’m so grateful to be able to have this experience, is exhausting! I’m going to create a few blog posts on how we decided what method of travel, where we decided to go next, how long we decided to stay in places, etc… all of this takes brain power and is something that Luc enjoys but also, there are so many options and sometimes we take the cheapest (usually walking and bussing) and sometimes we take the easiest (plane). But Bali is a break from the fast travel and a rest before Australia where we have volunteering lined up, traveling in a van for 5 weeks around the coasts of Australia and lots of discovering.

I was really excited to go to Bali. It’s my second time being here. I came here 20 years ago with my mom and her friend for 10 days. I was excited for the beauty of it, the massages, the avocadoes, the beaches, and the people. What I wasn’t afraid of was getting sick. Last time I was here I came down with a terrible fever and all associated issues with food poisoning or a parasite/bacteria so was really worried about that. I’m writing this after 26 days and (knock on wood) we’re still totally fine.

I really feel that Bali is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Everywhere you look it’s stunning and breathtaking. Avocadoes aren’t what they used to be. I can hardly find them anywhere. They are still big but not as in abundance as before. I’ve had two massage since being here and I think that’s my fault for not putting time aside for that. Must get one more in before I leave here. And the people are so kind and beautiful.

Legian and the Fancy Hotel: Element

Not much to report when arriving. It was dark, the taxi drivers at the airport are pretty aggressive (I told one to leave us alone he was that in our face). We stayed our first night in a little place with a nice pool in Legian. It was nice to get our footing and hit a bank to take out some money.

Then we moved to Ubud where our 4th fancy hotel was. This was an eco-hotel and a little bit on the lower end but still really beautiful and the breakfast was out of this world. We checked in and just spent the day at the hotel enjoying the pool and room. We met some people from the States who also are super savvy with their points and told us about all the amazing places they have stayed for free. They earn points with work so that gets them to more places than us.

In the morning we did some yoga at the hotel (I hurt my neck… sigh….) and Luc took off on a bike ride to explore the rice terraces and discover Luwak Coffee. Vivi and I played in the pool some more.

It’s always a nice transition when you start your new country with a fancy hotel to get your bearings and not feel like you have to start exploring and discovering immediately. You actually feel like you need to take some moments of relaxation and moments of research to study where you want to go next.

Ubud: Bali Sunshine Homestay

We booked a place for a week called Bali Sunshine. We picked a place with a pool as we thought that there would be families and kids there. Turns out that it’s the low season and we were the only ones there. Hmmm… but the place was stunning. We upgraded to a room beside the pool for an extra $6/night. Luc is still sore about that. But I wanted to be beside the pool so we could just walk out and take our coffee, or write a blog, do learning time or watch Vivi play in the pool from the room.

Only thing was that this place backed onto a rice field which was stunning but also bug infested where we found cockroaches, crickets, spiders, ants, lizards. When the room is only about 400 sqft that’s a little piece of shared space with a lot of bugs.

The other things was we were located about 6km’s away from Ubud. So really out in the sticks. But being in the sticks has it’s pluses. We frequented the same two restaurants for a week and got to know the staff and the menus. The pool was wonderful so we really enjoyed our time in there. And I got to learn how to ride a scooter!

For the most part we hung around the pool while Vivi swam and did learning time. We ventured out 2 times on scooters to visit a waterfall, Luwak coffee farms, rice terraces, Pura Tirta Empul and eat lunch (where I got stung on the toe but I was assured from a local it was not a hospital visit I needed) in one of the most beautiful restaurants I’ve seen (the view was incredible). All of those places I mentioned were absolutely stunning. It was like candy for my eyes everywhere. Being on a scooter is so much fun! Vivi would ride on the back of Luc’s as I was super nervous and to be honest, if we crashed, our insurance wouldn’t cover us so we needed to be hyper focused. I made sure that we went out on our first ride on a Sunday, when there wasn’t much traffic. I also didn’t want to go too far for the first go. I love it so much I want to get a scooter now when I get home. Preferably an electric scooter so there’s less pollution.

We stayed at Bali Sunshine for a week and it was just what we needed to chill and actually be on vacation.

Ubud: Dewa Bungalows

We moved for 5 days into the centre to be around some more people and see Ubud a bit more.

Dewa Bungalows was where we chose to stay. We met a really nice Aussie couple at the pool where Vivi got to play Uno with the woman and we asked a lot about Australia. We also got to connect with other people (which we love), tell our stories, listen to their stories and I got to talk about the Camino as Nicola was thinking of doing it as well. They are also on a 1 year trip around the world just starting out.

We arrived on Thursday in the early afternoon and I had a couple of places I wanted to visit. An eco-store and the post office to pick up stamps. We also needed to visit the bank. We left Vivi back at the room for a bit while we set off in the run our errands. By the time we got to the bank, most of them were closing (2:30-3pm). And the following day, it was a bank holiday so they weren’t open. We walked from bank to bank. Some banks were already closed, some banks were just closing and some wouldn’t take our credit card to give us cash advances. You would think that an ATM was a good idea but we wanted to take out more than an ATM would give us and more importantly, they don’t work with our Visa card. NONE OF THEM DO. So we tried our MC. That didn’t work too. Last resort (because of the incredible bank fees) our bank card (that worked but would only give 300. We were stuck: we would need to leave one day later and wait for the bank to open on Monday. I guess it’s not so bad when you’re stuck in paradise.

The next day we walked to a nice walking area. We tried to get there early enough in the day but it was already blazing hot. We found the cheapest Bali swing ($5 vs $15) we had seen and Vivi went for a swing. Then I took off to walk to another eco store that I wanted to visit.

We met back at this really expensive cool restaurant where we got fancy juices.

The next day was a day at the hotel and Luc hiked to the Volcano! We didn’t want to get up at 2am – nope not interested. We just lounged, washed laundry in the sink, and I went to my first grocery store in what seems like 3 months. I spent an hour in there just looking around at all the cool stuff. It felt like a new world to me. So tired of doing my food and beverage shopping in 7/11s and Circle K’s. I found S & V Kettle Chips for $8 a bag!!! I almost got them. I also had a reflexology treatment.

Amed

We hired the guy who we rented a room off of to pick us up and take us to Amed. Amed is a slow little diving and snorkeling area on the northeast side of Bali. We booked for 3 nights and stayed for 8 we loved it that much!

It’s 2.5 hours from Ubud to Amed and the drive is worth paying $50 to get there. We had a room right beside the pool (there are two pools) with a view to the ocean. The ocean is quite far away to see (only 8 mins to walk to) but so beautiful. Again not many people staying at this hotel (it started to pick up before we left). But the cleanliness and the staff make the stay here so worth it.

Last month they had a 6.8 magnitude earthquake and it rocked and rolled a lot of stuff. The pool that we swam in got a leak from it. It was a little unnerving to live in a tsunami zone for 8 days and even more when we moved into a red zone for a couple of hours (where if the active volcano erupts we were goners) but I kept telling myself that we can’t live in fear or we’d never leave our house.

Luc signed up for 4 dives and 1 night dive and Vivi signed up for her first diving! I couldn’t believe at 8 years old they will take a kid into the ocean with dive gear. She was nervous and excited and probably one of the most proud moments of my life (right up there with taking her first steps). I actually cried. She did two dives with Julien who was excellent with her (and with me the nervous mom). She was so proud of herself. She did really well equalizing her ears and breathing all the time. She only went to 4 (5.5) metres deep but it was enough to get a taste of diving and she loved it. She cried the next time we were at the dive shop and she couldn’t go (It’s expensive!). I’d love for her to go diving in Fiji when we’re there (they also let 8 year olds go) but it’s even more expensive there.

3 mornings I got up at 5:30 to watch the beautiful oranges and be there when the sun came up. It was exquisite. One morning Luc joined me.

Once when Luc did two dives, Vivi and I hired a guy for $15 to take us snorkelling around where he would be. I wasn’t confident enough in the water with Vivi to do it alone and to be honest didn’t know what to do it I got into a current. I’ve had some experiences with rip tides in Australia and also getting rescued by the coast guard when I was in my teens. So some of my past definitely lives in my fears now. The snorkelling was awesome! We saw 2 turtles: one on the sea floor and one that was swimming with us. Vivi and I fell in love. It was just too bad that there was also a plastic bag swimming with us at the same time. We also saw many fish, coral, a snake, a sea cucumber, and dolphins from shore!

The sand in Amed is a black gold sand which is HOT and very interesting. If you go there, Lipah beach seems to have the best beach for sand (not rocks).

Two times we rented scooters and zoomed around the countryside having so much fun. I also got in some shopping and we took out kayaks. These kayaks are from the 70s though and I couldn’t steer it so gave up after falling in and I couldn’t get back on.

All in all most days were spent doing something in the morning and then chilling at the pool in the afternoon. Vivi’s swimming has increased exponentially and she is such a strong swimmer now. It’s incredible to see the transformation she’s taken in the last 10 months with her confidence in the water. She loves her snorkeling mask and spends most of the time under the water. She loves to swim between our legs and her most somersaults in the water is 6! She is a pro diver, front crawl and recently we told her how to do a front crawl into a somersault at the wall, push off and then do front crawl again and she’s mastered that. A swimming group and/or synchronized swimming is something that we’ll be looking into when we get home.

We said goodbye to Amed and the staff at the hotel and we were ready to move on. We absolutely loved Amed but really felt like we were ready to experience something else now. Most times I just feel like we move on before we’re ready but spending 8 days here exploring and breathing and being close to the ocean has reinvigorated me.

Sanur

We jetted into another 2.5 hour drive to Sanur. We had heard that the beaches in Sanur are nice and so we wanted to check it out. We also heard it was good for kids too.

We checked into our bungalow but it turned out that the room we had was the most we’ve paid since Thailand and probably the worst we’ve been in. It smelled old, rotten, moldy, like moth balls. There was mold on the walls that had been painted over and it was nowhere close to the massive pool. The resort (?) was huge with no one around. Everything seemed pretty run down. We asked to change rooms and they moved us to the pool. A step up but still pretty dindgy. Attention to detail = -4. Then after a dip in the warm pool, we went back to the room (37 degrees out) and the AC wasn’t working. A guy showed us 2 more rooms and still no AC working. They said that they would get an engineer out to fix it.

We took off for the beach. The beach is a seaside little area with lots of Bali shopping and it’s a jumping off to Nusa Penida. After walking around and exploring we ate and headed back to the hotel onto to find out that the engineer hadn’t been by and that we could move to a room that we had already checked out and there was no AC. But shockingly there was AC! Thank you universe as I really didn’t know what I was going to do. We stayed two more nights at this place and were happy to leave.

Interlude:

Sanur is a quiet little beachside resort town which I liked. I think I’m just a bit sick of the heat and walking around in it. You know how you get when you know you’re going on vacation and everything at work begins to bug you about 4 days before your last day at work? Well, we’re about 5 days away from cool weather and Australia and I think we’re just done with the tropics. I’m done with eating out and can’t wait for yummy salads that I can prepare, lentils, sandwiches filled with veggies, food I can buy in a grocery store. We’re thinking of going vegetarian or eating meat just one day a week to limit our impact on the environment and just start to get back to basics and flush our body with fresh vegetables and whole grains. It’s going to be cool enough that hopefully I can start running in the mornings and doing workouts outside. We are also looking forward to our first volunteering opportunity when we get to Fremantle. We are staying for free in a woman’s home for 1.5 hours of house and garden work a day. After we leave there, we go down south for a week and check out Margaret River and the wine area. I CAN’T WAIT!! Then back up to Perth to pick up our camper and hit the road up north to Darwin. We’re taking 3 weeks. I’m just so excited about what comes next and the cool weather and salads. When we get to Australia on the 8th it will be 4 months that we have been backpacking.

Kuta and the last 3 days

We grabbed a GoJek to take us to Kuta and checked into a backpacker hostel here. Happy to be around a lot of people and so close to a white sandy beach. We’re now on the west coast so the sunset is profound. There is also an incredible cool pool here with lots of floaties and people to play with. And a slide! As you can tell, I’m writing in the first person so I’m finaly caught up to our travels! This is monumental! But I think this place probably set me back the cost of getting my website free of hackers unfortunately. I realized at this moment that my blog had been hacked so I needed to pay someone over $350 to fix it. Sigh…

We have just been laying pretty low our last few days here. We watched an incredible sunset on Kuta beach and then moved to another hotel closer to the airport. I’m spending my last days enjoying Bali and looking forward to Australia. We went and saw Avengers: Endgame on our last day.

So long Bali, you are so beautiful inside and out. I hope to make it back to you one day a few years from today to enjoy your beauty once again.

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Laos

Laos

Feb 25-Mar 8, 2019

Leaving

We left Chiang Rai EARLY in the morning. I think it was 5:30am. It was an early wake up call for my birthday. For my birthday I wanted to get over the border into Laos with just one company that brought us there. We could have saved money and did it ourselves but it would have required us taking a bus to the border (2 hours away), a tuk tuk to the “checkout” of Thailand and then another tuk tuk to the Laos border to get our Visa, then another tuk tuk into town… Way too much “figuring out” on my birthday. So I pulled the birthday card and I got what I wanted which was for it to just be EASY. One company that herds us along.

We got into the van that was going to take us and the driver immediately wanted to know which passports we had so he could know how much American cash we would need to get a visa. I don’t think he was very happy that Luc and Vivi had Swiss passports because he couldn’t do a crazy ass exchange rate on them – visas are free for Swiss going into Laos. For me, I already had the USD I needed for my British Passport. Canadian passports are the most expensive Visa around to pass into Laos.

Next stop we picked up a couple from France. They didn’t have any USD so the driver said that he could sell them some (for a terrible exchange). Luc said in French to them that we had some extra USD so we could spot them the cash until they could get to a bank to pay us back. Well I guess the driver didn’t know that this had gone on because he stopped at an ATM. We explained to him that we didn’t need to stop because we were going to lend them the cash and he was PISSED!!! He slammed the door and zoomed off. I guess his side business of ripping off tourists wasn’t going to work today.

A couple of times I tried to talk to him but he completely ignored me. Finally Luc made him listen when we all had to go to the bathroom. Nice start to my birthday – piss off a local.

We got to the border and stamped out of Thailand and into Laos. It was pretty easy. Forms to fill, photos to give (I had brought some extras for times like this so I patted myself on the back). We had made fast friends with the French since our little incident which we would continue to hang out with them for a while and meet up with them again in Siem Reap.

We got into the back of a truck and headed off to the boat. But not before we had a stop at the tour guides restaurant where he told us that the beer is cheaper here and such. Total scam. He also told us that he would be with us for the two day tour but we never saw him again.

Down the Mekong

Onto the boat, our assigned seating was basically bullshit and we ended up sitting closer to the back of the boat where the engine is. We were off and heading down the Mekong. The Mekong is stunning. The river is brown but you float past jungle, water buffalo, mountains, small hill tribes… we made about 10 stops that day floating into different places where people would get on or things would be delivered. Then a 360 degree turn in the river to get back on course. At some point some young fellas got on and the drinking began. They were trying to put beer in everyone’s hands. It was really crazy. They kept buying and buying beer and giving it away. It was all a bit suspect to me. There were two girls with them and one of them had about a 6 month old baby. It was kinda crazy.

Oh and Luc and Vivi tried to get the whole boat to sing me Happy Birthday which was really special. We ate instant noodles on the boat for lunch.

We got off the boat after about 8 hours at Pak Beng and about 20 of us piled into a van that was being held in place by a rock on a steep hill. I was sure that I was going to end up in the Mekong and I would leave this world the same day, 44 years later. We survived. The crew was a buch of Canadians from BC so after we got to the restaurant, we ate, I drank a few Gin and Tonics, watched the sun set over the Mekong and then us and the French went to the bar. Annnddd…. We were all alone at the bar. All for us. Vivi had a great time playing beer pong and dancing. My birthday had a wonderful ending.

The next morning I made the mistake of somehow getting onto a website about the exact same boat hitting a rock and sinking in a matter of seconds. People died. I shouldn’t have read that article because after that I was so freaked out. I’m not sure why I was so scared still but I sure lived in fear when I think back to that time.

The 2nd day of the trip down the river was another day of beauty. Not too hot given the breeze from the boat and just gorgeous. We sat at the front this time (away from the Engine). We made friends with Lola and Josh and sat close to Julienne and Roman (our French friends). These two adored Vivi and she loved them right back.

Luang Prabang

We arrived in Luang Prabang in the evening. We hopped into the back of a truck again and got dropped in the middle of the town to find our hotel.

Luang Prabang is a beautiful town with French architecture and flowers everywhere. It was strange to have this French feel in an Asian country. We even ate at a French bakery a couple of times while we were there.

That next morning, we found a place just down the road to fill up our water bottles for free. And we set off to check out the town by foot. We walked all over and then up the hill and down. I was stupid hot as usual. We met up with the French to get the money back that we loaned them and headed to the market for dinner. There we had a fill your plate to the brim with as much food as possible for like $2. Mine was heavy on the noodles.

We decided to get a van all together and with Lola and Josh to go to the Kuang Si waterfall to cut down on the cost the next day. The waterfall was the most amazing turquoise blue you’ve ever seen. We hiked around and then swam with the tourists. They also rescue bears there so that poachers can’t take the bile that’s in their stomachs to sell. Magical because of the colour of the water.

The next day we met with the French and went to Big Brother Mouse to volunteer. Big Brother Mouse and Big Sister Mouse is an organization that helps Laos children read and speak in English. We all jumped in the back of a truck again and headed to the school where there were a bunch of kids aged 4-12 awaiting us to teach them. We had a bit of a run down from the woman who worked there as to what was going to happen. We chatted with older kids on a mat and we played games with them too. Then we went into the rooms with the kids, sang songs and used flash cards that were a little strange to say the least. We had a delicious lunch of very Laos flavoured and prepared foods at the school and then we moved to the school up the hill to do more flash cards and watch them dance. There was this one little boy who was a dance machine. So cute. It was a long day and now I understand why I’m not cut out to be a teacher. LOL! It did feel so incredible to be able to give back to this organization though and for Vivi to be able to also volunteer was really moving for me.

We took it easy the next day and headed to the pool. It was fairly filthy because of all the people (grand reopening). The day after that we rented bikes and toodled around again. Luc got a flat but we still managed to get out to the shop that weaves silk. Another scorcher. Vivi was just sitting on the back of his bike on the little seat.  

If there’s a place you should visit in Laos, it’s Luang Prabang. It’s so beautiful and really quaint. The French colonial architecture really sets it apart.

Vang Vieng

We booked a van ride to Vang Vieng and I didn’t realize how twisty and turny it was going to be. Vivi and I both got car sick and she puked. There was a Mexican couple behind us that was super nice and gave us some meds for car sickness. The driver was driving like a maniac and I was sure that Laos was where we would meet our demise. At the top of this crazy ass hill where he was passing people constantly, we switched drivers to go down. This guy seemed to be marginally better and more safe.

I started to not feel so good in Vang Vieng after dinner. Must have been something I ate. My stomach was not feeling well which essentially took me out for the next day. It’s a little humorous because I was just asking the universe for some alone time (traveling and living with your family 24/7 becomes a bit much for this only child at times) and I got sick. So I guess I got what I asked for!

They headed out for the day on a bike to some caves and swimming holes and I got to stay in the hotel room for the day. I did venture out at one point to mail some postcards, buy some charcoal and I happened upon a Mexican restaurant and I couldn’t pass up tacos. By the time I got home I needed a rest.

Vang Vieng is nice, but you don’t need to stay there long. There’s not a lot in the centre. You need to go out a bit to take in the sports. I also didn’t see much of it due to illness but I don’t really feel that I missed out.

Lotus Flower
Lotus Flower

Vientiane

The next day we bussed to Vientiane. Vientiane is a BIG city. We had about 4 days here before jumping on a plane to Vietnam.

We got up early in the morning, had breakfast and tried to beat the heat. We took a tuk tuk to the COPE Visitor Centre that is dedicated to how Laos was affected by the war. Laos was the most heavily bombed place in world war II. There are still thousands and thousands of bombies still in the ground and people continue to die and get hurt daily. It is getting better though. It was a real eye opener that this little country was such a casualty of a war that they really didn’t even participate in. And the shocking thing is that generations later, that weren’t even around at that time, continue to be killed because of it. And I’m sorry if this offends, but it’s the States that dropped these bombs (because they weren’t allowed to come back with bombs in their planes) and they are doing next to nothing to help clean up the mess they made. It’s a little disgusting.

We met up for dinner again with the French and had a wonderful time. I just adore watching Vivi play with the two of them. The genuinely care about her and give her space for her to be a kid with. It’s adorable.

The next morning we walked to a park and around to a big arch. Then we decided to take in a movie: Captain Marvel (in English)! What a great way to spend an afternoon to beat the heat. Have I mentioned how hot it is in Laos yet?

The next day we hopped on a tuk tuk and jetted off to the airport to catch out flight to Hanoi. We were pretty excited because Hanoi was supposed to be about 7-9 degrees cooler than Laos and Vivi and I really couldn’t wait for it to get a bit cooler.

Reflections

  • While I thought I might finish in Laos, it really is incredibly beautiful. The people, the scenery, everything is stunning, especially the Mekong and Luang Prabang. I would consider coming back one day.
  • I was nervous going into this country. I had heard that it’s less touristy then Thailand (more than Myanmar) so I was a bit concerned about getting around and being understood. I think it worked out just perfect to come here.
  • There continued to be a lot of garbage on the side of the road.
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