We spent one night in Bangkok. It was enough. I know it's a huge city with a million things to see and do, but we made the mistake of spending our one night on Khao San Road, Bangkok's supposedly famous "backpacker haven". It was pretty lame. Not a whole lot to see besides hordes of pot-smoking western tourists roaming around acting foolish and vendors selling corny t-shirts with slogans like "Don't be fooled, I just pretend to care". I'm sure I would have a lot more impressed ten years ago. It also rained so hard that we were stuck in our hotel room for half the evening, but I did manage to document the stormy sky right before it started dumping. At least we got to see a tiny bit of Bangkok, but honestly, it would have been a lot cheaper to spend the night in the airport. Lesson learned.
Early the next morning, after Brendan got into a fight with the girl at the reception desk (sorry chick, but you deserved it), we made our way back to the airport and caught our flight out of Thailand and into Bali, Indonesia.
Why Bali? Well, when I was in college, I lived with three surfer dudes who were the kind of surfers that didn't really do anything besides surf, talk about surfing, hang out with other surfers, watch surf videos, and drink beer. Those were fun years. Anyway, I guess after sitting through my twelfth "Indo Surf Trip Slide Show Night" something sunk in, because ever since then I've always wanted to see Indonesia for myself. Since sadly neither B nor I are surfers, we chose the island of Bali, which caters to all sorts of travelers looking for tropical paradise.
Our first stop was the town of Ubud, known for its thriving art scene. Right away I knew that I was going to love it and Brendan was going to barely tolerate it. The place is stuffed, absolutely stuffed with galleries, upscale restaurants (some with wi-fi!), day spas, and expensive clothing shops. Ubud is the Indonesian Santa Barbara. It's ridiculously touristy, but fun and easy to get lost in for a few days. Well, fun for me anyway. We also killed some time non-strenuously hiking and museum-surfing, but the hands-down highlight of those few days was getting serenaded by a Balinese cover band at dinner on my 30th birthday.
Bali was also our first taste of Hinduism. From a purely aesthetic point of view, I think I prefer Buddhist wats to Hindu temples, but, as always, it was interesting to get a taste of a new religious culture. And the Balinese know how to put on a fabulous dance performance!
After Ubud's commercialism started to wear us down, we decided to get a little crazy and take a ferry to Lombok, Bali's neighbor to the immediate east. The plan was to head for the Gili Islands off Lombok's northwestern coast, which have good reputations for their idyllic beaches and laid-back scenes. So early in the morning, we boarded a ferry from Bali's eastern port of Padang Bai for a four-hour journey across the Bali Strait, one of the deepest, and sometimes the most dangerous, stretches of water in the world. The ride got a little choppy in places, which really didn't ease my mind, but we made it to Lombok's shores safely.
And that's when the problems started.
Like the majority of Indonesia, Lombok is a Muslim island. We were arriving in Lombok at the tail-end of Ramadan, so suffice it to say everybody was pretty hungry. So hungry, in fact, that the transportation company's ship captain who was scheduled to take us to the Gili Islands was too tired to make the afternoon trip. Now I'm all for fasting if that's what your faith calls for, but, you know, you're also running a business here guys. Don't sell us tickets to a destination if you're not up for the journey. Because now we're stuck for the night in some random town and have no choice but to drink lots of Bintang.
(It actually wasn't that bad. We had dinner with Collum and Jenny, a lovely Scottish couple, and turned in at a reasonable hour in a fairly nice guesthouse. But still.)
In the morning, the boat was ready and so were we. Of the three Gili islands to choose from, we picked Gili Trawangan, the largest, the farthest from the mainland, and supposedly also the liveliest. Since we were technically in the off-season, we figured it was the safest bet: not too crowded, but not so dead that we couldn't go out and get lunch.
I think we made the right choice, don't you?
S- Just watched Ang Lee's "Hulk" on the Star Movie channel as I wrote this blog entry. Wasn't so bad. Wonder why it didn't do well at the box office?