Bali · Indonesia

Back to Bali

Bali has been a bit like a holiday within a holiday. We no longer had to start our day with school work, we didn’t have to pack our bags every few days and we didn’t need to get out and explore. This was it, our final destination. We had come full circle.

So why come back to a place we had already been? Well, it just felt right. It felt easy and on reflection a gentle transition back home to Australia. In Bali we are surrounded by other Australians, we can order a salad or even a smashed avocado on toast, language barriers are minimal and it’s familiar. Food aside, the last three weeks of our trip in Bali has given us time to reflect, readjust and ready ourselves for life as we knew it. We have been lucky enough to meet up with friends and family here in Bali and enjoyed time spent chatting over a cocktail or a Bintang, eating out ( ok that’s not new for us), shopping ( yay , finally I can buy stuff that doesn’t need to fit into a backpack) and of course some pampering at a day spa. We also enjoyed Christmas together in our tropical surrounds with minimal focus on present receiving.

So now that we are literally on our final day of our Asia adventure ( we fly home tonight), I’d like to say we have made some profound discoveries about life. The truth is, we are now experts on everything relating to travel, Asia and world politics. Just kidding. We are still the same people with a few more more irritating travel stories to tell. Ok , the kids have grown a few centimetres but they still prefer chicken nuggets to fried rice and Murray may have lost a few centimetres around his waist but he still loses his glasses on a daily basis.

It hasn’t all been cocktails and sunsets. We have visited doctors, stayed in some very cramped accommodation, spent hours on the road and in airports, been bitten by countless mosquitoes and felt hot and sweaty for months on end. Despite all that, the pros have definitely outweighed the cons. We are lucky enough to have visited some amazing places, spent quality time as a family, learnt a bit about the world and most importantly be present in the moment. We set a major goal, achieved it and had the time of our lives. It took a bit of luck, a lot of planning and a major leap of faith but it was SO worth it. Australia, home, here we come…


Beautiful Cambodia

We were super excited about reaching Cambodia for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we couldn’t wait to explore the temple ruins of Angkor Wat, and secondly we were meeting my friend from Australia, Jo and her son Jack. We took an evening flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap ( after vowing we wouldn’t do another night-time international flight) and found ourselves in one of many queues to get through the Cambodian immigration process. Just to clarify, immigration processes in Asia can test even the most patient travellers let alone those who are tired with three whiny kids. Our first attempt at queuing up was a complete disaster – we had incorrectly assumed the space on the form to note kids traveling with you, meant we didn’t have to fill in separate forms for them. WRONG. Go back and start again! ( we had already queued for about 40 minutes by this stage). Fast forward about 30 minutes and a kind official casually remarked ‘Oooh long queue, you want to wait?’ This man was good. We were easy targets and very willing to part with cash to avoid another queue. Murray whipped out his wallet and handed over $20USD quicker than if the man was offering Carl’s Junior burgers. Bribe accepted and paid. We were escorted to the front of the queue like the VIP’s we had become. Our bags were hand-delivered and we were out of the airport within about 2 minutes. We were very happy to embrace local customs on this occasion.

Our week in Siem Reap with Jo and Jack seemed to fly by. The kids loved having another friend to socialise with and some of our most treasured memories will be of them playing hide and seek in the temple ruins. We bought a 3 day temple pass to use over the week and were able to explore Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Promh and a few other small temples at our leisure. Murray, Jo and I were thrilled that the kids not only got a hands-on history lesson, but they found our excursions to the temples to be engaging and interesting. The kids often led the way through the ruins and stopped to take photos or point out different stone carvings.

Siem Reap is a pretty chilled out place to stay. When we weren’t exploring the temple complex, we were enjoying our lovely hotel, wandering through local handicraft markets, eating delicious food on Pub Street ( ok except the tarantulas), getting $3 foot massages and racing around in tuk tuk’s. We even got to make some pottery during a lesson with young, deaf Khmer artists. We made an interesting party of 7 and were a bit of a curiosity to the locals. We think a lot of the Cambodians, particularly the hotel staff , may have thought Murray was traveling with his two wives and four kids. Every man’s dream – not! We were particularly sad to say goodbye to Jack and wifey number two. We had a fabulous week together, one we will remember fondly for years to come.

Next stop on our agenda was the capital of Cambodia, Phenom Penh. My impressions of Phenom Penh? Dirty, dusty , crowded and poor. There has been an attempt to upgrade the river-front into a cosmopolitan district, but you absolutely cannot escape the poverty and squalor that surrounds it. To get back to our hotel about 2 blocks away, we had to walk through a wet-market. This was essentially a bunch of people, sitting in mud, selling fish, chicken and meat. It was very sobering reminder of the living and working conditions of many people in Cambodia. I can’t help but think about my own work environment at home where staff complain about the lack of pot-plants in our air conditioned office.

We stayed in Phenom Penh for a few days, mainly so that Murray and I could go and visit the Killing Fields and S21 complexes, on our own. ( we didn’t want the kids to experience this). S21 is the name given to a high school that was converted into a prison during the Khmer Rouge regime ( 1975-1979). It is estimated that approximately 17,000 people were imprisoned here during this period. There were 12 known survivors. At the S21 complex you are able to wander through the classrooms, see the rooms as they were found when the Khmer Rouge fled, and view photographs of many of the people who were imprisoned there. It’s a dark dark history. Unbelievable almost. Cambodians killing Cambodians largely because one man, Pol Pot, decided they were a threat to his attempt to thrust Cambodia back in time and rebuild an agrarian society. The Killing Fields are basically a series of large pits discovered containing the bodies of those who lost their lives, estimated over the period to be up to three million in total.

I have to admit, I was pretty pleased to be moving on from Phenom Phen to an island off the southern coastline, Koh Rong. We were able to grab a low-season bargain at Sok San resort ( which we were to discover hosted the crew of Survivor Cambodia). We were thrilled to swim in beautiful blue water, indulge at the breakfast buffet each morning and do nothing much for 5 days. We did go for a couple of nature walks but I had read about the poisonous snakes that inhabit the island so it wasn’t an overly relaxing experience. We happen to come across a snake on a walk, thankfully already dead, but not long dead given we had walked the same path moments earlier.

A quick stopover in Sihanoukville on the mainland completed our Cambodia experience. We had read about the recent influx of Chinese workers to Sihanoukville and the 50-odd casinos they were building. Our expectations were pretty low and it was a good thing. We were pleasantly surprised at the beach front and the restaurants that lined the beachfront ( food was amazing), but we could understand why the Lithuanian couple who ran our hostel were selling up and moving out. The sound of high rise development was deafening, and its pretty easy to see that this once chilled-out, beach town was going to be swallowed up in hideous development.

One last observation, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries were have visited so far. Their own currency (riel) is virtually worthless and I doubt there is anyone unaffected by the events of the 1970’s. Despite this, they are the most friendly, happy and accepting people. We have been truely surprised by this and thrilled to have been able to visit this beautiful country.

Next stop , Vietnam…

Gili Air · Indonesia

Lombok and Gili Air

Leaving Bali wasn’t easy. Especially knowing that we were leaving behind family, hot water and room service. We also opted to fly rather than take the fast boat across ( mainly because boats and I don’t always mix) to Gili Air. This meant that we stayed overnight in a town in Lombok called Senggigi. We booked home-stay type accommodation and were picked up from the airport by Steph, the owner of the home-stay. During the car ride our very accomodating host overheard Brooke complaining about how hungry she was and decided to take us to lunch so we could try a traditional Lombok meal called ‘nasi balap’; which from what we could gather was rice, spicy coconut, peanuts and beans. The girls had pretty much lived off hot chips and spaghetti so naturally I was concerned about how we were going to navigate this politely. Lombok is known for its chillies and spicy food, our kids don’t do spicy. Thankfully Maya ate a respectable amount of her meal telling Steph how delicious it was. Phew! Brooke ate nothing of course.

The next morning we took the public boat across to Gili Air. This involved lugging all of our bags and 3 kids onto a crowded boat packed full of local produce to deliver to the cafes and restaurants. There was no peer/ jetty and no one waiting to help us at the other end. Thankfully we were able to grab a map and work out where we needed to get to. Fortunately it was only a 15 minute walk to our accommodation, Rosie’s Garden, which felt more like 15 hours in the heat carrying our bags. There are no cars, taxis or motorcycles on Gili Air. Mental note, on the way back we would pay for a horse and cart.

We all agreed it was worth the effort when we were relaxing by the beach, drink in hand, watching the sunset. Gili Air is completely unrecognisable from my last visit over 20 years ago. I remember an island without fast-boat access, a scattering of accommodation options, no electricity and evenings spent on the beach talking with the locals and watching the shooting stars. The girls refer to my frequent recollections as ‘in the olden days…’ ha ha. Now days, most of the coastline is developed with beach-side bars and accommodation. There are cafes, shops, spas and pretty much everything you could possibly need. There are also boat loads of tourists on the islands. The food and drinks weren’t cheap ( by Indonesian standards) but the quality was good.

Gili Air has been a bit of a highlight so far. We rented a glass bottom boat for a day and snorkelled with the turtles and fish. We stopped off at Gili Meno for lunch and a visit to a turtle hatchery where eggs are collected by local fisherman and brought there so that the young turtles can hatch and grow ( about 1 year) until they are released back into the ocean.

Maya also took to snorkelling like a true mermaid, diving under the water to get a closer look at the sea life. She didn’t want the day to end!

Besides enjoying a slower pace of life, we played on the beach, rode bikes, watched the sunset, ate chargrilled corn and enjoyed island living. It was definitely a welcome escape from the business of Bali and just what we needed before bracing ourselves for Yogyakarta.

Bali · Indonesia

Bali – relaxing start to a trip?

Bali was the promise of relaxation, cocktails by the pool and shrugging off the stress left over from regular routine and planning a lengthy trip. It didn’t disappoint, but relaxing holiday? Not entirely. Anyone who has been to Bali and has ventured outside their hotel knows that there is chaos and danger at every corner. If the cars and mopeds aren’t trying to run you over as you cross the street, the sellers and hagglers are trying to wear you down and make you buy some ugly trinket or fake handbag you don’t need. On top of that the heat smothers you like a blanket leaving you drenched in sweat within minutes of stepping outside your air conditioned room and the kids start whining ‘how much further?’ before you have taken even left the hotel premises. All of the good parenting mantras you said to yourself when you woke up ( we won’t eat too much junk food today, I’ll order vegetables for lunch and I definitely won’t drink alcohol again) are forgotten immediately as you offer an icecream bribe to get to the corner of the street. Oh , and I’m going to need that cocktail when we return.

Did I mention that we started our relaxing week in Bali with my sister, her three girls and my mum ( aka nan)? Thank-god for nan who quickly became the leader of our tribe. Nan , a Bali-guru, who visits Bali at least 2-3 times a year made sure we didn’t catch the wrong taxi, get short-changed by the mini-mart cashiers or taxi drivers ( my sister tried to pay $21 for a $2.10 taxi ride – easy mistake) or get overcharged for a fake pair of adidas shoes. Nan knew what restaurants to eat at, where to watch the sunset whilst sipping on a cocktail and where to buy the cheapest souvenirs. She had us and the six kids rounded up and safely across the street each and every time.

Yes, there was plenty of hanging out at the pool and the drinks service was great and to be fair when you have someone to clean your room daily, someone to cook you meals and even someone to give you a massage when you need one I guess it was relaxing. Anywhere you go with three kids, heat, overcrowding and traffic chaos is unlikely to be a walk in the park ( a lush green park with a cool breeze that is). We are slowly adjusting to the new chaos and the new parameters for relaxing. Bali, we love you , we will be back. If you were too relaxing we might not be prepared to move on to the next busy, hot and chaotic spot!

Where next? Lombok and the Gili Islands.

Getting started

Planning for 10 month trip – get stuffed!

Whoa.. getting ready for a 10 month trip is not simple. Well it might be if we didn’t have to pack up a house, relocate pets, arrange alternate schooling, work out a budget, a travel plan and not to mention how to fit all of our stuff into two backpacks.

What has been the most stressful part of the planning process? Packing up the house hands down. Sorting through our stuff and working out what we needed and what was just taking up space.  I estimate that we ended up letting go of about fifty percent of our stuff. Stuff that had just accumulated over the years. Stuff that wasn’t actually needed and wont be missed. Why did we have cupboards stuffed full of stuff? We had enough linen to open up a Bed Bath n Table. Let’s not mention the serving platters and salad bowls. Our hoarding was strategically hidden in boxes and behind cupboard doors. Not only was it cluttering our physical space but our mental and emotional space as well. As I went through every draw, every cupboard and every box I sorted into keep/ throw/ regift piles. I won’t lie, it was cathartic , it was freeing it was satisfying to let go of our stuff.

Now I am not going to pretend that we still don’t have way too much stuff. I am sure that when we return and unpack box after box I will be bewildered at how much stuff we still have. I will say that presently there is a bit more mind-space to appreciate that our most valuable possessions cant be bought in a shop; that we can can live happy fulfilled lives without accumulating stuff. We are going to meet people on our journey who compared to us don’t own nearly as much stuff as us. Hopefully the kids will see that other kids happily exist without IPads and doll collections. Ideally we would have been able to gift some of our stuff to these people, but two backpacks, five people… there’s just no room for the stuff!