Island Life: Gili Air

Featured

IMG_3901As soon as we arrived on Gili Air, our Dutch friend who now lives on the island, said “Welcome to Paradise”. This little island, about 45min fast boat ride from Amed (on Bali), can really be described as paradise.

Complete with white sand beaches, beautiful sunset views, great snorkeling and scuba diving, the island is also car-free, with only bikes, electric scooters or horses, ‘Cidomo’, to travel around on the island. It’s a beautiful place and I was lucky to spend a week here during our recent trip to Bali.

IMG_3818From the port to the dive shop the Cidomo ride cost us 100,000Rp (for 2 people and our bags) and saved us from lugging our bags all the way there. You can also bargain with the driver about the price but with our luggage we thought the price was reasonable.

20151126040944First few minutes on the island and we were in a horse cart lol. What an adventure!

There is one main road around the island with guesthouses and hotels running along it. Most places have their own restaurant or cafe that serves guests breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner too – local Indonesian dishes and some Western dishes are available. The restaurants are often right on the beach and if you buy food, you can use a sunbed for free.

20151202_155715This is the cafe associated with the dive shop we dived with, Blue Marine Dive. They had great smoothies and mozza sticks! A few places also started putting out their Xmas decorations.

There are a couple of really fancy hotels on Gili Air with fancy restaurants. We stopped to have cocktails at one of them, the Grand Sunset. The views were amazing and the mango cocktail was pretty delicious.

20151130114725Gili Air is a Muslim island with a mosque and calls to prayer during the day. The island is Pork-free and having a dog as a pet is forbidden, although we did see a couple of dogs who most likely belonged to expats on the island.

20151130125655No pork around here! Beef bacon and pineapple fried rice.

Gili Air is one of the three Gili islands and is the closest one to Lombok. Gili Trawangan is the biggest and most developed and considered the party island. Gili Meno is the least developed and Gili Air is quiet with some nightlife, great for families and snorkeling and diving among other water activities. During our stay on Gili Air, the volcano on Lombok wasn’t visible because it was still steaming.

IMG_3960Gili Meno being the least developed of the 3 islands, this was one of the only restaurants on this side of the island. We stopped here during our snorkel tour.

I had a wonderful stay on Gili Air. The locals were always friendly especially to me (since they kept thinking I was also Indonesian). Many people working on Gili Air live on Lombok and commute daily. We saw boats full of locals head out at the end of the day. They told us Lombok didn’t have as many job opportunities. Aside from lounging around at a cafe for WiFi, I spent time at the hotel’s pool, scuba diving and snorkeling right in front of our bungalows. It was one of the most relaxing weeks of our vacation.

20151127_11383220151127_113828Our hotel, Kaluku Bungalows, served us some really nice Balinese breakfasts. Our favorite was the banana pancake with fruit plate and Bali coffee. Kaluku started getting really busy during the end of our stay and the kitchen was slow. They did only have one girl, Sophie, making all the breakfasts and their restaurant was still under construction. Hopefully, they can hire a few more staff to help with the breakfast rush.

20151202_130447Locals hard at work trying to build the kitchen for the restaurant. They told us that they hoped to finish it before high season in Dec 2015 (so it must be done by now!).

IMG_3876Beautiful Kaluku Bungalows with a king bed, tv, and really great AC.

IMG_3852Our bungalow had an outdoor bathroom with a rainshower.

We dived with Blue Marine Dive for a few days during our stay. They even let me borrow fins on the days I didn’t dive so I could snorkel. I had a few really amazing dives where I saw so many turtles, a huge wrasse, and baby reef sharks sleeping under rocks. Awww!

FB_IMG_1454027343146Photo credit to my co-pilot for this shot of the baby shark sleeping.

IMG_3891Kitty supervising the scuba gear preparations.

We signed up to do snorkel tour one of our days on Gili Air which was 100,000Rp/person. The snorkel tour started around 9am and took us to 4 different spots for snorkeling around the Gili islands. We stopped on Gili Meno for lunch and were back in Gili Air around 2pm.

20151130052722There were a couple of turtle sightings during the snorkeling and beautiful coral around the islands. One turtle was chowing down on his lunch not caring about us snorkelers swimming above him. I guess they are used to people or maybe he was just too busy eating.

Although, I must admit it wasn’t the best snorkel tour, they did have one guide in the water and he directed us to where the turtles and fish were. We ended up swimming with him the first couple of snorkel spots but after lunch, he stayed on the boat and we just snorkeled around and when they called us back we all had to return to the boat.

IMG_3985A few from our group who were still snorkeling after they called us in.

Noone was left during this time luckily although it was low season so there weren’t as many boats out there. In high season, I can imagine how confusing it can be, you really need to remember the color or name of your boat and stay near to your group!

20151130061746Our group almost at our Red and Blue snorkel boat.

IMG_3955One of the other snorkel tour boats and their snorkelers.

There was also that incident with one of the girls who was boarding the boat from the other side of the island. It was low tide so the boat couldn’t get close enough to shore, so she ended up having to walk out onto coral to meet the boat. The problem was she had a bag with her that she refused to get wet, so she couldn’t swim toward the boat, and it was hard to reach her with the waves. She finally made it onboard and we all clapped but her feet and legs were cut up and the snorkel guide and boat captain could only say sorry. We gave her some bandaids and disinfectant after the snorkel tour but she didn’t let that stop her from enjoying the snorkeling.

IMG_3950Walking back to our snorkel boat after lunch. Long way to go since it was still low tide.

IMG_3972One of the residents of Gili Meno. I was admiring his cool bike so he let me take a photo.
IMG_3978This was someone’s ‘pet’ on the Gili Meno at the restaurant we stopped at for lunch. This looks like an eagle. They said they used him for hunting.

Gili Air is a great place to chill and spend some time relaxing in paradise. If you want to just relax and sit on a beach or sunbed you can. If you are interested in doing more activity, you have snorkeling, scuba diving and other water activities to choose from.

It offers something for everyone which is why it’s great for families. There are also fewer people trying to sell things to you when you are just sitting on the beach. This makes it much quieter than the beaches on Bali and a nice break from having to say “No, Thanks!” to people offering to sell bracelets etc. Island life is marvelous when you find yourself on an island like Gili Air.

20151127014439Kaluku Bungalows
You have the option of staying in one of their front bungalows or their new modern rooms in the back (next to the swimming pool) Wifi is much better by the pool. Breakfast is included.
Rooms from 350,000RP and up.
Website: Kaluku Bungalows

Blue Marine Dive
New dive boat and new equipment. Guides were great and very knowledgeable about the dive sites. We were often in our own small group when diving.
Website: Blue Marine Dive

Travel Tips

*To get to Gili Air you can take a fast boat from Amed or Padang Bai. The fast boat stops at Gili Trawangan on the way to Gili Air. They can get full, so it’s best to book it a day ahead. If you show up in the morning and expect to get on you may be disappointed. Be prepared to get wet, as you will need to walk into water to get on the boat.

IMG_3815Waiting patiently for our bags to be offloaded from the boat after arriving in Gili Air.

*Make sure you see the sunset at least once. Seeing the sun sink into the ocean as the sky turns to pink and orange is a beautiful sight.

IMG_4002Sunset walk to get some dinner

*Snorkel! (be sure to rent fins as well it will help you cover more distance and swim stronger if there is current)

*Have a massage it’s a bit more on this island than on Bali but still much less than back home and so worth it. Walk around and check prices at different hotels around the island. If they aren’t busy, they might also offer you a discount.

*Walk around and see the island. There is a ship building area near the port and many restaurants as you walk along the road. It’s also nice just to see where the island residents live. It’s one thing to sit and enjoy the beach, but it can also be interesting to see what the residents live like. Everyone is friendly there and saying Hello or greeting them in Bahasa Indonesia (Apa Kabar? or How are you?) is always a nice thing to do as you explore the island.

20151127054546There were so many cafes and bars along the sandy main island road.

20151127055016Some land for sale, with cattle just hanging around in the middle of the island.

20151127063619Fish drying in the sun behind some local’s home.

*Wifi is hard to find on the island so be prepared to disconnect for a few days and enjoy it!

*There are 2 atms on the island so don’t worry about having to bring a lot of cash with you when you go to the Gili islands.

*During rainy season the torrential downpour can come down for hours and it can be really windy. The sandy main road will likely be flooded so stay close to your hotel/bungalow.

*Don’t order ‘American’ food and expect it to be good… Just stick with the local cuisine. Mozzarella sticks are the exception though. They were crispy, cheesy and delicious. The nachos I had on the other hand was the most disappointing meal and something I really didn’t need to order.

20151126044113For really delicious food, be sure to visit Chill Out Bar on the island! They offer some incredibly delicious grilled skewers and grilled fish dishes. Check out my Trip Advisor review for more details.

*PLEASE DO NOT harrass the turtles. We had a few run-ins with idiots touching the turtles. One girl was completely rude about it and another guy was pushing the turtle up. Poor turtles are at risk for infection or bacteria when people leave their oily hand prints all over their shell. Touching turtles is illegal in many places around the world and dive shops often enforce this. Just let them be and take your photos and video without getting too close 🙂

FB_IMG_1448754980809Happy Travels!

20151202_181010

Advertisements

Island Life in Bali: Amed

Featured

20151125_140728Our first visit to Amed, the easternmost point of Bali, was during our big trip to Southeast Asia about 3 years ago. Amed is one of a group of fishing villages in the area – Amed, Jemeluk, Bunutan, Lipah, Selang, Banyuning and Aas. I remember how much fun we had relaxing in our 2-storey brand new modern guesthouse, where we stayed on the second floor. We saw the most gorgeous sunsets with Mt. Agung from our private balcony and spent the day snorkeling and swimming.

IMG_8262We even did a road trip from Amed to the north of Bali and left our bags at the guesthouse. We have such amazing memories from our time there where, Wayan, the guy who owned the guesthouse used to tell us not to rush ‘Slowly, Slowly’, we were on vacation after all. A lot can change in 3 years, and as soon as we arrived in Amed this time around, we noticed just how developed it has become compared to our first visit there.

IMG_8299  Our motorbike helmets IMG_2679The main road through Amed

We used to have to walk on the road for a few minutes until we reached a store and restaurants. Our guesthouse was right on the black sand beach but now there is another guesthouse next to it, even closer to the beach. There are even more restaurants and guesthouses on the right and left , where there used to only be a pen for pigs, goats and a small hut. I remember saying ‘Good Morning!’ or ‘Selamat Pagi’ (Bahasa Indonesia) to our neighbours each day.

IMG_2558The neighbour’s piglets, back when there weren’t other guesthouses next door.

IMG_2532IMG_2758Our old Guesthouse ‘Buburacok’ 3 years ago when it was the only guesthouse standing there. On our current trip, another guesthouse had been built infront and there was a restaurant as well.

IMG_8329There are also so many dive shops now. 3 years ago I remember only a handful but now just walking along the main road it seems like 20+ dive shops have sprung up probably because of the Tulamben wreck but also the fantastic diving in the Jemeluk bay and a few other bays in the nearby fishing villages.

I did my first Night Dive here in the bay just by the dive shop and I will always remember coming up to see a gazillion stars in the night sky. It was absolutely phenomenal. There are even a couple shallow wrecks you can see snorkeling very close to shore.

It’s great to see that our old favorite spot in Bali is doing well. It is busier than before (There are a few places playing live music but it’s nowhere near as crazy compared to some other places in Bali) and it still retains that chill feeling that it always had.

IMG_8251On our trip 3 years ago…My co-pilot taking in the view.

If you are looking for a quieter, less crowded place away from the busy south of Bali, Amed is a wonderful option. There is excellent snorkeling (beautiful coral, and lots fish), beautiful black sand beach, and really friendly locals. Amed remains a nice, relaxed place to visit, but it really was special during our first visit 3 years ago…

IMG_2755Mt. Agung, some outrigger boats and the black sand beach.

IMG_3783Delicious grilled fish served at the local cafes was a real treat.

20151125_075712When in Bali, one should try the balinese breakfast which consists of rice flour pancake (plain or with fruit often banana or pineapple), fruit and bali coffee (similar to turkish coffee, where you stir it and let it settle making sure not to drink that sludge on the bottom)

20151125_154611The dive shop let us borrow sit down paddle boards. After our morning dives, we decided to try them out.

Roosters were all over our beach area. They belonged to the guest house we stayed in.

IMG_2761Beautiful black sand beach and lots of outrigger fishing boats.

Getting to Amed
We hired a car to take us from Ubud to Amed. This takes about 3 hours with traffic. We paid around 400,000Rp for 4 of us but no stopping at any sights on the way. On our first trip there we paid about 300,000Rp for 2 of us and we stopped at the Water Palace and a few other temples in the way.

Ask your guesthouse in Ubud or wherever you are in Bali if they can help with transport. Otherwise, there are drivers asking you about transport all over Ubud and Bali. Be sure you negotiate to get the price you want.

Where to Stay
There are many Guesthouses to choose from when you come to Amed. You can either book ahead or you can get to Amed and then walk around and see what’s available. The latter option allows you to negotiate a price after you see what the accommodation looks like. This is something we often did in Bali and it worked out quite well. We ended up staying in Jemeluk bay which has some fantastic snorkeling (rent some fins with your snorkel and mask!). Our guesthouse was called ‘Warung Ombak’ – Warung means ‘cafe’ as most guesthouses also have little cafes on the beachfront which serve their guests breakfast and offer lunch/dinner. Make sure to ask whether breakfast is included in your nightly rate.

Scuba Diving
Amed has some really great reef wall diving right in Jemeluk bay but also as I mentioned above at the Tulamben wreck. Bali has a few different areas for diving as well such as Nusa Lembongan and a couple places in the North of Bali. We decided to go with a French dive shop next to the cafe we went to when we first arrived in Bali. They were really nice and knowledgeable about the area and they offered us a discount on the boat ticket to Gili Air as well. We did a day of diving BLD divers. Check out their website here

Remember to really enjoy the place you are traveling to. Take in the sights, sounds and enjoy each moment. In a few years, it will likely be a much different place than you remember, but hopefully you will always have wonderful memories from your time there. I know we will always cherish the memories we have from our special time in Amed 3 years ago, and the new memories from our most recent trip in December 2015.

Happy Travels!

A Little Taste of Bangkok

Featured

20151115045641 On our way to Bali we stopped in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, to tour a couple temples, take advantage of the cheap and excellent back/body massages and of course, try some delicious Thai food.

Our super cheap flight was from Oslo to Bangkok and at under 2000sek it was a decent flight. OK, so the flight does not include any food or a check-in luggage, costs extra. You also can’t check in online so add some extra time for that at the airport. It was, however, on a 787 Dreamliner and we had in-flight entertainment with movies, music and TV.

As soon as I boarded, I was greeted in Thai. side note: It’s great that Norwegian airlines hires so many Thai people. There were both Norwegians and Thai passengers on the flight and it’s nice that they can communicate with the Thais onboard.

We arrived at 7am Bangkok time and we made the most of our day operating on little sleep and jetlagged. This was our second visit to Bangkok and the first visit since our big Asia trip a few years ago. We weren’t here to see all the touristy sights. We knew that we were just there for a day stopover to enjoy some of our favorite Thai street food and walk around.

Before walking around and checking out a couple temples we didn’t see last time, we had to stop to grab a bite to eat.

20151115044800Pineapple fried rice

Mmmmm, I really love fried rice and don’t get to eat it very often. Notice how the portions are smaller. It is Asia afterall.

20151115044936 Spicy Papaya salad made with Green Papaya.

There is Thai food in Sweden because Swedes are obsessed with Thailand, but they don’t always have green papaya for this dish. It also isn’t usually very spicy as Swedes don’t like spice. This one had lots of chili and we added even more chili flakes. We also ordered Green Curry and a couple of Ice Coffees (another favorite).

We started the temple touring with a visit to Wat Phra Kaew (Emerald Buddha) and it started to downpour so we took a little break for some massages.

20151115_212920

After that we visited the Wat Po Temple with the huge reclining Golden Buddha and then took the ferry across to Wat Arun.

20151115060723 2015111506080920151115060339 20151115090807

20151115083424 Noodle soup chicken with lots of chili. This bowl of hot spicy broth really hit the spot and was one of our favorite dishes from our first trip to Thailand. We even found a place with locals and sat down on the plastic chairs to consume our deelish meal.

We didn’t spend any time on the tourist street, Khao san Road, the first time we visited Thailand but we did visit it this time as we stayed just a few streets away.

20151115024807

Taking a River Taxi is good way to see Bangkok. It’s low cost option of travel and you get to see the city from the river. Beware as it can get crowded. People don’t like moving down into the boat and prefer to stay by the exit which can be annoying. Be sure not to wait on the floating platform as some boats can hit the platform (even lightly) when they dock and that platform isn’t very stable. Keep an eye out for the flag color of the boat you want and get ready when you see it approaching. The different colors represent the different ferry lines. If you aren’t sure which to take, there are maps at the ferry stops and you can always ask the ticket people.

20151115053840

20151115085304

We ended our perfect day in Bangkok with some dinner and drinks. We ended up chatting with other travelers at the shared table and found many were just starting their travel in Thailand, while another couple was just ending it. Ah it brought back memories of when we started our big SE Asia trip in Bangkok a few years ago.

20151115141051My co-pilot enjoying our Pad Thai dinner and Beer.

20151115_205202Chocolate Banana Roti

We used to eat this snack all the time during our last visit to Thailand, it’s like a folded crepe and you can choose the delicious flavor/fruit you want.

Being Bangkok just for a day reminded us of how much we enjoyed Thailand. There is a lot to see, a lot to eat and the weather although humid was a welcome break from the winter in Sweden. Even after traveling all over Europe the last couple of years, this most recent trip which included this day in Bangkok, trips to Indonesia, and Malaysia, it made me realize that SE Asia will always hold a special place in my heart and remains one of my favorite places to travel to and live like kings while doing it! Cannot wait to visit Thailand again sometime soon!

Travel tips:
-If you are planning a trip to SE Asia, many start in Thailand because it is a good way to slowly adjust to SE Asia as it is the most developed for tourism than the neighbouring countries. We started in Thailand during our 5-month SE Asia trip and it was a wonderful place to learn to scuba dive, and get acclimated to traveling.

-Thailand allows you to stay in the country for one month, and often the airlines will ask you to show your departure flight out of Thailand before they let you board your flight. So it would be a good idea to book your onward flight before you fly to Thailand. If you over stay your Thai visa, you need to pay some fines on your way out.

-If traveling from Scandinavia, Norwegian Air is a great option offering low budget long haul fares to Bangkok.

-Thailand has removed the old visa requirement for many countries, we used to have to pay for a visa on arrival, so be sure to check if your country is on this list.

-When traveling in SE Asia it might be a good idea to check whether it is rainy or dry season. If it is rainy season, the torrential downpour will likely stop after 10 minutes.

-Don’t forget your mosquito repellant and pack at least 1 long sleeve shirt and leggings or pants. Mosquitos can be really annoying and they can carry dengue and malaria. Depending on where you are traveling you may need to bring malaria pills.

-Add antibiotics to your checklist. You will likely need to see your doctor for a prescription first.

-Check your government’s travel advisories:
Country travel advice from the Government of Canada

-Want to save money on your transport from the airport (if flying into Suvarnabhumi Airport) into the city? Take the train first to Phaya Thai and then grab a cab to continue your journey. It is much cheaper transferring to a cab afterwards. Note: Bangkok has another airport (Don Muang airport) where all the Air Asia and budget airlines fly from.

Check out more travel tips on wikitravel

Happy Travels!