30 May 2009

Sirocco sky bar

Last night we eventually made it into the Sirocco sky bar on the 64th floor of the State Tower in the Silom district of downtown Bangkok.

6 months ago we were refused entry when the door whore took a dislike to Liz's 35 quid sandals and decided that they weren't quite flashy enough to allow entry. No such problems this time though dressed in her two pound fifty sparkly silver flip flops from Singapore!

The open air bar was fantastic and gave some stunning panoramic views of the city below, nearly as breathtaking as the price of the drinks.

We timed our visit there perfectly, just as we were leaving a light drizzle started to fall which sent the open air bars customer's running for cover. Unfortunately for us the drizzle turned into a full blown tropical downpour just as we set off across the city in a tuk-tuk. The open sided motorised tri-shaw didn't provide much protection from the downpour on the 20 minute ride back. We arrived back at our hotel feeling like we would have been drier if we had swam back up the Chao Phraya river rather than taking road going transport.

29 May 2009

Bali birthday and back to Bangkok

We ended our stay in Bali by returning to Kuta for a few days. We had hoped to try and squeeze in a bit of surfing but I'm still suffering after I got that board in the ribs a month ago and didn't want to risk making it any worse. So what with that and Liz's mangled toe we have managed to score nil points on the surfing front. Most disappointing.

We again stayed at the Hotel Sorga which is the hotel that we stayed in when we first came to Kuta but checked out of because we thought it was a bit overpriced. We still think it is a bit pricey for the money but couldn't face checking back into any of the other grotty "budget" accommodation that we saw or used on our previous visit.

On Tuesday we celebrated Liz's birthday. Unfortunately she managed to jinx the weather by sending out an email the previous day containing the words "guaranteed sunshine". So of course it rained all day!

We didn't let it spoil the day though. We celebrated in style with a bottle of champagne that I had been lugging around for the last 4 weeks in my backpack and a lovely meal at a place called Poppies. Poppies is one of the original restaurants that opened up in Kuta in the 70's and is still going strong today.

The following day we left Bali to return one last time to Bangkok. It was a bit of a whirlwind of a day, we had breakfast in Kuta (Bali/Indonesia), lunch in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and dinner in Bangkok (Thailand) - Gastronomic globe trotting at its finest! I then made the stupid mistake of staying up until half four in the morning to watch Manchester United get humiliated by Barcelona in the champions league final. At least it will be good practice for the Man U players as they will have to get used to loosing what with the mighty Wolves being promoted to the Premier League next season (I think I may have drunk too much Chang).

We hadn't planned on coming back to Bangkok but have made a diversion here as it is the cheapest place for flights to Kenya. It's also a good place to stock up on essentials before we head off to Africa. Last week we finally booked our flights to Kenya, we'll be heading off on the 1st of June. Neither of us has been to sub-Saharan Africa before and aren't really sure what to expect. We've been trying to find some positive books about travelling in Africa but even the most positive one we have found, Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux (Louis' Dad), contains more than it's fair share of unpleasantness.

24 May 2009

Rudey road sign

Not really sure what this road sign is warning about . . .

Shipwrecks and grunting fish

After our very relaxing week on Gili Trawangan we caught the Perama boat back to Padang Bai on the East coast of Bali. From there we hired a car to have a second try at getting to Tulemben, the place with the torpedoed ship just off shore.

This time the journey was a lot easier thanks to the better roads en route, the lighter traffic and our vehicle.

Even though our Suzuki Karimun looked like a cross between an overgrown invalid carriage and a bread delivery van it was a far better drive than the last heap of a jeep that we hired. To be able to go up hills without having to turn the air con off, go over pot holes without jarring the fillings out of your teeth, working seat belts and brakes far outweighed the negative i.e. that we looked a little bit like Postman Pat on a day out.

We stayed in Tulamben for 3 days/2nights and had some great accommodation at a small dive resort called Puri Madha. Our bungalow was right on the shore opposite the spot where the wreck of the USS Liberty lay 50 meters out to sea.

The snorkelling was absolutely breathtaking and made the diversion up the coast well worth the effort. We're not sure if there is anywhere else in the world where you can explore an underwater wreck just with snorkelling gear. Wrecks are usually in much deeper water and only accessable if you have SCUBA equipment and a PADI open water license.

The waters along the coastline and surrounding the wreck have also been protected and no fishing is allowed. This meant that there were some huge schools of fish swimming around. At one point we got engulfed by a school of thousands of trevallies, it was like being caught in a cyclone of two foot long giant silver fish. We didn't have an underwater camera but this picture from the web shows you what it was like . . .

Slightly unnerving at first when you can't see further than a couple of feet in any direction because of the shoal of fish.

We also spent an afternoon snorkelling down the coast at Amed where there are some really good coral gardens along the shore. We got to see some quite unusual fish that we've only ever seen before in an aquarium. The strangest being the garden eel which spends its time on the sea bed sticking out of a small burrow. Whenever you dive down for a closer look they get all shy and wriggle back into the sand to hide. Again this is a picture from elsewhere on the web . . .

The other unusual fish that we saw was the red tooth trigger fish which is bright blue, about 20 to 30cm long and has some really long floaty fins on it's tail. Another web sourced picture . . .

They're also quite shy and try and swim into cracks and holes in the coral when they see you coming. You can usually see where they are hiding though as their long whispy tails still stick out. We didn't try this, but apparently you can make them grunt by giving their tails a litte pull. Wonder what the RSPCA would have to say if we started to recommend that you could make a dog bark by doing the same!

On our last day in Tulumben Liz had one last snorkel before we left. The fish on the wreck were great again although she did get stalked by some big blue fish.

The drive back to Padang Bai was spectacular. Volcanoes in the distance and beautiful rice terraces sweeping all the way to the sea.

Even though it was a bit spazzy we were still sad to leave the car behind as it meant that we had to revert back to public transport.

20 May 2009

John, Paul, George or Ringo?

We were rather surprised by a visitor that we had to our bungalow on on Gili Trawangan.

19 May 2009

Gili Trawangan

Our next destination after Ubud was Gili Trawangan, one of the trio of tiny Gili islands off the Northwestern coast of Lombok, a four and a half hour boat ride from Bali.

We made the crossing with a company called Perama on a funny old boat where the back half of the upper deck had been turned into an ocean going beach complete with sand. We had an unexpected bonus on our way over when we encountered a massive pod of dolphins just before sunset. Unfortunately we didn't manage to get any usable dolphin photos as we were more interested in watching them than squinting through the viewfinder and missing the spectacle. Got a nice picture of a boat though!

Trawangan is the largest of the Gili islands but it's still fairly tiny, it only takes about 10 minutes to walk its entire length. It also has a bit of a reputation for being party island. However; we haven't managed to find where the party is yet (maybe we're too old or square to be invited these days). The most noise we hear in the evenings is from the goat in the field next to our bungalow!

Despite its party reputation the island is still fairly undeveloped and cars and motorbikes are banned. Other than a bicycle the only transport option is the domo, a traditional rather wobbly looking horse cart.

Even though it's fairly undeveloped the island, for its size, has an unusually high number of really nice bars and restaurants to while away our evenings in.

We're staying at a place called Manta Bungalows which is a small complex of 8 traditional style bungalows each with an open air Balinese bathroom. It's not often that you can sit on the toilet and top up your tan at the same time!

We've spent most of our time chilling out on the beach still recovering from our various ailments. Yesterday Liz's mangled toe had recoved enough to allow a gentle bit of snorkelling action.

Towards the Northern end of the beach we found a turtle centre where they hatch and release baby turtles back into the sea once they are strong enough. When we were there one of the workers was holding a baby turtle no bigger than a couple of inches long in his hands. Just as the words "I wonder if they are about to release one" left my mouth the guy threw the poor turtle overarm, with his little flippers flailing, across 5 meters of sand and into the sea. Liz heard him mutter the words "stupid turtle" as the poor amphibian was hurled into the ether. It certainly wasn't the way they returned them to the sea in Sri Lanka. Needless to say, the donation that we were about to make stayed firmly in pocket.

15 May 2009

Mansion Resort House and Spa at Ubud

After 8 nights in the relatively hovel-like conditions of Suka Beach Inn at Kuta, we moved right to the opposite end of the spectrum with our next hotel. Liz, very kindly, bought me for my birthday a stay at the Mansion Resort House and Spa in Ubud, central Bali. The hotel and location were really stunning, set in lush tropical gardens in the hills a couple of miles outside of Ubud.

The timing of our stay also coincided with our 1st wedding anniversary, allowing us to celebrate in a bit of style. Thanks to my Mom and Dad, who sent us some money, we were also able to go out for a slap-up meal on the evening of our anniversary. We ate too much food, drank a little too much wine and ended up dancing drunkenly round the hotel to a bit of Barry White!

The hotel was so nice and relaxing that it proved to be quite an effort to make ourselves leave to explore the sights of Ubud. Instead we spent most of our time lounging around the hotel's pools and gardens, making the most of having a bit of luxury.

Ubud town is famous for being a bit of an artists enclave and the atmosphere is a little like a land locked St Ives, only without the seagulls and pasties. When we finally managed to drag ourselves away from the hotel we spent our time exploring the numerous galleries around town. The strangest/most interesting being the Blanco Renaissance Museum. Antonio Blanco is often described as the Dali of Bali and, from what we could work out from his museum, specialised in painting naked women holding fruit with vases between their knees. Make of that what you will! The museum was set in a beautiful building and grounds filled with tropical birds.

Ubud is also a former royal capital and has lots of temples and palaces to explore.

The only incident that marred our stay in Ubud was a foot mangling endured by Liz. The pavements there, like the majority of those in Southeast Asia, are like something out of a war zone, all broken and cratered. Liz stepped on a wonky metal grid which kicked up and ripped off the nail and tore a chunk out of the big toe of her right foot. Ouch! At least it made me stop wingeing about my ribs (for a day or two).

08 May 2009

Jeep jaunting - day 3

We woke on Thursday morning (7th May) to stunning views of the 3 cratered peak of Gunung Batur from our hotel.

After breakfast we then had the difficult task of getting our woefully underpowered jeep back out of the caldera of the volcano and onto the outer rim. The car was so feeble that we had to turn the air con off so as not to drain the power from the engine. Things weren't helped either by the procession of trucks bringing gravel and ash out of the crater which barely moved at more than 3mph. Overtaking, uphill on the twisting road was somewhat challenging with our lumpy feeble engine.

The drive from the volcano to our first stop at Pura Besakih was through some really spectacular scenery.

Pura Besakhi is a complex of 22 Hindu temples perched 1000m up the side of Gunung Agung, Bali's highest and most sacred mountain. Although it is probably the most important temple in Bali it's also infamous for the hoards of tricksters and scammers who try and part the visitors from their money.

Before we'd even got to the site we encountered the fake "Tourist Information Office" where we were told we had make a "donation". Then it was through the crowd of "guides" who insisted that we must use their services if we wanted to enter the complex (the guide books warn you that this is a complete lie!). We had trouble with one particularly persistent guy who wouldn't leave us alone. When we said that we didn't want or need a guide he told us that he wasn't one, he was a "temple guardian" which is different. The main difference being that he charges $10 instead of 5! With the constant barrage of pestering it was hardly the most relaxing or enjoyable place we've ever visited.

Our next stop was the former royal water palace at Tirtagangga. The complex consisted of some really beautiful gardens and pools that provided a (relatively) hassle free hour of calm after the Besakhi experience.

We had originally intended to go from Tirtagangga all the way to the East coast and the town of Tulamben. 40m off the beach at Tulamben lies the torpedoed wreck of the American World War 2 cargo ship Liberty in water shallow enough to allow snorkelling. However, the driving conditions on the road were so bad that we didn't have the time or patience to go that far. Instead we started to make our way back to Kuta stopping at one final temple Pura Goa Lawah, otherwise known as the bat cave, on the way back. There was no sign of Bruce Wayne or the Boy Wonder, but we did see (and smell) tens of thousands of bats who roost in the cave temple during the day.

When we got back to Kuta I discovered that at some point during the day I had managed to loose my mobile phone. I was a little bit sulky to say the least, particularly after pranging the jeep and discovering my camera lens broken the day before. Well they say it comes in threes, so hopefully thats my lot now.