Friday, October 28, 2011


The main reason for visiting Monywa was for another one of Nev’s world wonders, the Bodi Tataung Standing Buddha, the second biggest statue in the world.  The statue was around 20 miles from Monywa.  We arrived in Monywa without any booked accommodation, and the guest house we picked from the lonely planet was fully booked.  We chose another Hotel at random, and without checking the rooms, which ended up being a big mistake, paid for one night.  The room was really grim, opaque gloomy windows cast a dim glow, the bathroom was infested with flies, and the whole room was incredibly dirty.  We initially planned to chill for the day and get adjusted to the new town, but because the room was so bad we decided to escape the gloomy hotel and visit the big Buddha.

We jumped into the Burmese equivalent of a tuk tuk, which is basically a motor bike with a passenger carriage welded onto the back.  We chose possibly the worst tuk tuk in town, it was unfathomably slow.  After chugging along at 15mph, frequently having to jump off at the slightest inclination of a hill while the tuk tuk trundled up passengerless, we arrived an hour and a half later. 

The big Buddha is quite an imposing sight.  It’s on top of a hill and stands nearly 130m, 35 storeys tall.  It can be seen for miles around, and it was cool watching it getting closer and larger the nearer we got to it.  On paper and in photos, it doesn’t look that attractive.  It was only finished a few years ago, and after visiting other modern temples in Burma I thought it was going to look rather cheap and tacky.  I was looking forward to asking Nev, “Why did you put this on your list?”  But I was wrong, it looked good.  Not only is it massive, with a great location, but it was a high quality statue.  It’s been built well, it’s flawless well at least on the outside, and as it’s brand new the paint job looks great, it really dazzles, like a big golden, erm well Buddha, in the sun light.  It was built by a celebrated monk, his life’s work was to build giant Buddhas the length and breadth of Burma.  Unfortunately he died before his last conception was materialised.   He also built a giant reclining Buddha which is situated at the foot of the Big standing one. 

The whole area is a very interesting site made up lots of different pagodas, hundreds of Buddhas - big, small, sitting, standing, reclining, and the newest one being built a giant sleeping Buddha, well one lying down anyway.  There are also loads of additional features, like the army of monk statues collecting alms in procession all the way up the hill.    But the centre point is definitely the biggie standing up.  

It was getting dark, and we noticed that there were spot lights facing the big Buddha.  We decided to hang around until dusk to watch the statue become illuminated.  We found a good spot on the top of a facing Pagoda and stayed until sunset.  It took a while for the Buddha to light up, half the spot lights didn’t come on at all, but it was worth it, it stood out even more, illuminated in the darkness. 

 We decided it was time to set off, we found our tuk tuk driver and hopped in.  He then passed me a torch and asked me to shine it on the road, apparently not only was the tuk tuk slow, but the lights didn’t work.  After holding a torch for nearly an hour, my hand started to get numb and I had to pass it on to Nev for the final leg. 

The next day we woke up and went downstairs for breakfast.  As soon as we sat down, our breakfast was presented to us, it was suspiciously sudden.  In fact it there was nothing suspicious about it, our breakfast consisted of the typical eggs and toast, they’d cooked them up, possibly hours ago, and made no shame of hiding the fact.  It was possibly the worst breakfast I’ve ever had, the eggs were slimy and cold, I didn’t even attempt to eat them, Nev had a wee chew and instantly regretted it.  We checked out as soon as we could and fortunately found a room available at the guesthouse we tried first the previous day.

We then set off for the big Buddha again.  It was nice to visit it a second time, and it looked just as impressive.  You can go inside it, we arrived too late the previous day, and we were glad to find the entrance open when we arrived.  When it’s finished it will be possible to walk all the way to the top, but at the moment it’s a work in progress, every floor is being painted with stories from the Tripitaka, and wooden flooring is being laid down.  It’s only half complete and we could only get half way up.  The mid-lower floors have some unusually grim paintings which seemed to portray the Buddhist hell.  Giant Ogres pound men and women with clubs in some illustrations, in others witches are eating babies, and people are being mashed by giant rolling spiky killing machines.  It was rather weird. 

Not many western tourists go, and when we were walking around inside, we were asked by a Burmese man, who spoke excellent English, if we were Buddhists.  He must have thought we were on a pilgrimage.  We also made some more random photo friends outside the statue, with a few of the locals wanting their photos taken with us.   After a couple of hours we’d had enough and decided to head back for Monywa.

It was a Sunday and there was football on telly.  We’d noticed a Shan restaurant whilst wandering around the previous day, and thought it’d be a great place to watch football and get dinner at the same time.  They did some BBQ food too, so we thought we’d string it out, order some BBQ starters, have a couple of beers and watch the 12:30pm (UK time) kick off, then order the main affair for the 3pm game.  We picked out what we wanted for the BBQ, when it arrived the food was excellent. 
The atmosphere was fun too, the Burmese love their football.  We were rather stuffed after the first course, and only ordered three of the main dishes.  We were used to small bowls of food from our previous experience of Shan restaurants, when the food arrived the portions were triple the size we were used to.  We managed to scoff it all down, the food was really tasty, but it was a struggle.  The restaurant staff leave all the plates on the table so they can figure out what you’ve had and calculate the bill at the end.  When we’d finished, we looked like a couple of fat pigs sat next to a mound of empty plates, it was a bit embarrassing.   

We had another early night and decided to go back to Mandalay the next day.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


We decided to take the boat to Bagan.  It’s a 14hr journey by slow boat, departing at around 5am.  I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the journey to be honest, but thought it might be a good way to see the countryside.  When we boarded the boat at Mandalay it was pretty busy.  There were plastic seats available, apparently only for foreigners.  I grabbed a couple and moved them to what I thought was a good spot, in the shade facing shore.  The journey was ok at first, and then the drip started.  There was a build up of water above my head and some choice holes perfectly placed to give me a soaking.  This wasn’t a problem when the boat was stationary, but when it started to move, the drip became a trickle and from time to time, a torrent.  There were some Australian girls situated near the drip hole who were chairless and had to sit on the floor.  After a while they decided enough was enough and moved to another side of the boat.  This gave me a bit more room to try and avoid the water.  After a few hours in the heat of the sun the water evaporated and I could relax.  

Relaxing on the Boat
 It was an unusual boat trip, every stop swarms of Burmese fruit and food sellers would get onboard and try and give the hard sell to anybody that didn’t already have food.  The locals onboard were very friendly and very curious of us.  The brave ones would try and interact with some of the westerners onboard, in my tired and grumpy wet state I wasn’t really in the mood and kept to my own wee corner while watching the language barrier being broken down on the odd few occasions.  At one point I went downstairs and noticed some live cargo, about a hundred little ducklings chirping away in a wooden box.

The scenery was pretty special too.  We must have past about a hundred pagodas en-route, some seemed unfeasibly remote miles away from the nearest town. 

We arrived in Bagan a bit earlier than expected, just after sunset.  Before we left Mandalay we arranged accommodation in Bagan and also a horse and cart to pick us up from the port.  Horse and carts are a common mode of transport in Bagan, where a lot of the roads are sandy dusty narrow paths.  When we arrived we found our driver waiting for us with a name sign, the second time this happened in Burma.  We jumped on and he took us to our hotel.  He was a nice guy and we arranged him to pick us up the next day and give us a tour around the temples.
On the Wagon
Imagine all the medieval cathedrals built in Europe on an area the size of Manhattan, and then you get an idea of the magnitude of the construction in Bagan.  There were 4400 temples built over a 230 year period on the riverside plain.  The first temple our guide took us to was one that we could climb up.  The temple was perfectly positioned for our first stop, right in the heart of Bagan with a great 360 degrees panorama.  The view was breath taking, probably one of the best views I have ever seen.  Everywhere you looked you could see temples, as far as the eye could see.  Some were mere simple stupas, while others were of grand design with ornate towering spires.  None of the temples individually are of colossal proportions, it’s the sheer number of them that is remarkable.  It helps that the landscape is fairly flat and barren every direction the temples are visible. 

The Temples of Bagan


Our guide took us round the biggest and most famous temples during are day tour.  The most famous one of the lot is Ananda, one of the largest and best preserved temples of Bagan.  It has an imposing 52m high corncob golden spire in the centre, with four more gilded spires on the end of a raised square platform.  Like most temples in Bagan it is terraced and it’s possible to climb up to the top, although the upper floors are closed to visitors.  As an individual entity it’s nice to look at and fairly impressive in stature, but just not outstanding.  Our favourite temples of Bagan were the ones we could climb to the top, with amazing views.  It just goes to show that’s it’s the vast number of temples that’s the exceptional feature of Bagan. 


Temple Climbing
When we left in the morning I spotted a sign for palm wine on our way to the first temple.  Palm wine is popular in West Africa, and I’ve sampled it on a few occasions and really enjoy it.  It’s 100% natural palm sap, with no additional ingredients.  After collection, the palm sap immediately starts to react with natural yeasts in the air and ferments.  If bottled it even begins to become fizzy with carbon dioxide being produced in the secondary fermentation process.  So when I saw the sign for toddy (palm wine) shop, I informed our guide that we’d like to buy some at the end of the tour.  The horse and cart just managed to squeeze up the narrow path to the toddy shop.  The shop was a small basic hut with a bar attached, they didn’t sell anything else apart from palm wine.  When we arrived we got a wee sample of the toddy in a coconut shell to try, it tasted ok, and so we bought a couple of bottles and went home.  

The next couple of days we hired bikes to cycle around the temples and explore.  Bagan is hot, we were there during the cool season, and it still hit 35 degrees every day, it tops 45 in summer!  It’s hard work cycling around on sandy roads in the baking heat.  So, we would normally have an early start and come back for an extended lunch break and head out again in the late afternoon.  We visited most of the main temples again and also visited some off the beaten track taking advantage of the freedom that bicycles allow.  

We tried to find somewhere quiet for sunset on our first day cycling, we thought the first temple we visited with our tour guide would be ideal.  We were a bit late to arrive at our temple of choice and there was a tour bus parked outside with a dozen people at the top.  We found another temple nearby to take in the view.  The next day we arrived at our temple of preference earlier, got prime positions and watched the sunset.  We spent about an hour taking in the stunning scene, until the sun dipped behind the mountains in the distance and it started to get bit dark.  As we didn’t have lights for our bikes this signalled that it was time for us to make the journey back to our Hotel.  I managed to get a puncture which was unfortunate as we were a few miles away, it took a great deal more effort cycling home with a flat and I was exhausted by the time I returned.

Bagan was more geared up for tourists than the other cities we had visited in Burma.  There were a variety of restaurants serving Thai, Indian and Italian food.  Up until this point we had only been eating Burmese food, which in itself can be pretty tasty, but it was good to get a change.  The nightlife was still non-existent but that was fine for us as this helped facilitate our early starts.

We spent four days in Bagan, but I could have spent more.  It was a relaxing place, and a good break from our recent city stays.  There was still plenty more to see and do, I could have stayed just to watch another couple of spectacular sunsets.  But as we had a fixed return flight we had a tight schedule in Burma, and it was time to move on.

We got the bus back to Mandalay, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience.  The first 20 or so miles of the road were paved, but the rest was rough sandy and muddy.  This wasn’t enough to put the driver off going at full throttle, which led to an incredibly bumpy ride.  After seven long hours we finally arrived in Mandalay. 

Shan Food
When we arrived we had a meal at our favourite restaurant, an eatery serving Shan food.  It was kind of buffet style, so we could see exactly what we were getting which is handy when menus aren’t in English.  You would choose a few dishes, the staff would then put them into boils and bring rice and a soup accompaniment.  The food in the Shan restaurant was good and they also showed football so we could combine dinner with our night’s entertainment.

Nev Looking Grump After Dinner

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Our next port of call was Burma’s second city Mandalay.  We were to use Mandalay as our base for visits to two other points of interest in Burma, Bagan and Monywa.  We got the overnight bus, which ended up being a surprisingly comfortable journey.  The government recently completed a highway linking the two cities, and to say it was lightly used would be an understatement.  We only saw a handful of other night buses during our time on the motorway. 

We arrived early in the morning in Mandalay.  We found a decent guesthouse which was centrally located then had a wee rest.  We didn’t do very much on our first day apart from get a feel for the city.  We met a friendly American teacher on the bus, it was his 20th trip to Asia, every school holidays he would jet off somewhere.  We met up with him on our first night and went out for dinner and a couple of jars, he kept us entertained with his tantalising travelling tales.

The next day we hired some bikes and went off exploring.  Our main focus point was the 230m high Mandalay hill.  It has a stepped walkway all the way to the top with many shrines, Buddha statues and stupas along the way.  On our single speed bikes we cycled up the west side of the hill until we ran out of steam.  We pushed our bikes up until we found the steps then continued on foot.  It’s a nice climb and pretty steep from the west side.  There are a lot of interesting things to see en-route, including a huge golden Buddha pointing towards the palace.  We admired the view at the top of Mandalay hill, then when we’d stopped sweating, made our way downwards. 

In our few days in Mandalay we managed to see most of the main sights.  The royal palace is the overwhelming centre piece, encircled by a giant 3.5km moat.  It was heavily reconstructed during the 1990’s, mostly using forced labour, and is a bit of an eyesore.  It doesn’t help that the overall site is unkempt with overgrown gardens.  We didn’t linger long on our visit.

Mandalay Palace
The other sights we visited were yet more pagodas, there are a lot in Burma.  Kuthodaw Pagoda, is frequently dubbed, ‘the world’s biggest book’ for its surrounding 729 marble slabs.  The entire 15 books of the Tripitaka (Buddhist bible) are inscribed on the slabs and each slab has its own little stupa.  It has been estimated that reading for eight hours a day it would take 450 days to read the complete book, that’s a lot of reading.  We also visited the Sandamani Pagoda which was similar to the Kuthodaw Pagoda, but a bit more run down.  We cycled round a few interesting monasteries and round the Palace moat.  Mandalay was a fun city to cycle round especially round the moat of the palace.  There are definitive cycle paths that most people abide to, and it’s difficult to get lost, almost every street name has the American system of 21st, 22nd street etc.

Kuthodaw Pagoda

Monday, October 17, 2011


We arrived in Yangon expecting to be met with hassle at immigration African style, but we breezed through with relative ease.  We had booked accommodation in advance partly for visa reasons and also the guest house we booked offered us an airport pick up service.  When we arrived we were met at arrivals with a guy holding up a name sign.  I thought Burma was going to be a difficult country to travel in, but already it was obvious that it was a bit more organised and easier than I expected.  We weren’t the only ones being picked up at the airport, there were several other travellers.  We crammed into a small minibus and got chatting to a guy from London, Danny.  He was studying Burmese in London and had been for the last two years, he was in Burma to do his elective year, and with any luck try and study at the University of Yangon. 

We arrived at our guesthouse expecting the worst but were pleasantly surprised when we found out we had a perfectly adequate twin room, with air conditioning, hot shower and even a mini bar.    We went to bed early, eager to get up sharpish and explore.

Yangon is one strange city.  It’s very different from most South East Asian city I’ve been to.  Motorbikes and Bicycles are banned so the traffic really isn’t a problem.  Crossing the road is an absolute doddle compared with Jakarta.  The government limits the amount of cars imported into the country causing Burma to have among the most expensive cost price vehicles in the world.  This contributes to quiet roads and a vast range of very old, very noisy and very unreliable bangers.  Most of these dodgy bangers tend to be taxis and were our mode of transport around town.  The other things that stand out in Burma are:

  • Most of the men wear skirts.  They sport a wraparound sarong called a longyi.  It’s totally understandable when you think about the heat they have to put up with.  Besides I’m a Scotsmen, so men wearing skirts is nothing new to me.
  • Women, young kids and some men appear to have mud on their faces.  It’s a strange fashion trend, thanakha (powdered bark) is used as make up, and I believe it’s a natural sun cream and mosquito repellent too.  It’s applied liberally to the face either in stripes or blotches.
  • Red spit.  There are red droplets of spit on most pavements and street corners, this is the by-product of chewing betel.  Betel is big in Burma, it’s made up of the chopped betel nut, optional fruits and a leaf wrap.  Not only does it look unsightly on the pavement, but it stains the chewer’s teeth a nasty dark red/black colour. 

The city has a strange look, unless you are downtown, most buildings are of the same height, eight storeys high.  This is because the government passed a law that any building over 8 storeys needs to have a self contained elevator.  Elevators are expensive, and Burma is poor, so this leads to Yangon being full of poorly constructed eight storey apartment blocks.   It’s not a pretty city by any means, a lot of the buildings, especially the old colonial buildings look very dirty and are in dire need of a lick of paint. 

The main sight to see in Yangon is the Shwedagon Pagoda, a glittering gold Buddhist temple at the heart of city.  We saw it briefly when we arrived passing it on our minibus, you couldn’t really miss it, it’s built on a hill standing nearly 100m tall from its base.  It’s the Eiffel tower or Statue of Liberty of Burma and has a great deal of historical significance with claims that it’s 2500 years old, although archaeologists suggest the original stupa was built somewhere between the 6th and 10th centuries. 

We visited it briefly on our second day in Burma and got a guide to take us round the next day.  The whole site is rather large with the Stupa in the centre and lots of other modern temples around it.  It’s not apparent by looking at it how old the structure actually is, this is due to the fact that it is continually refurbished.  Every five years all the gold is removed, smelted, cleaned and put back on again.  Hanging at the very top there’s an array of expensive jewellery including a huge diamond, rubies and sapphires.  To me it seems like a bit of a waste of money having millions of pounds worth of gold and jewels on a building, you can’t even see the jewels without binoculars and you could paint the stupa gold and get a similar effect.  Our guide told us that back in the day, if the monks were short of cash they would take some of the gold off the stupa and spend it.  They used the pagoda as a giant piggy bank.  These days this doesn’t happen and it seems more people than ever are donating gold.  If you have enough money, you can donate enough cash for a Buddha covered in gold leaf to be built.  This Buddha would then be displayed in one of the modern temples with a plate noting your name.  Burmese Buddhists believe that if you do this you will reap the rewards in your next life. 

Myself and Nev at the Shwedagon

The Shwedagon pagoda is impressive in its size, but it’s certainly not unique.  There are thousands, possibly tens of thousands of similar pagodas in Burma with the characteristic dome shape, which is meant to symbolise the leaf of the bodhi tree, the tree under which Buddha found enlightenment.  The surrounding temples are interesting but seem fairly modern, there are plenty of golden Buddhas but none are remarkable, no giant ones.  It’s a massive draw for the Burmese with many coming on long pilgrimages.  It’s very interesting watching the rituals, people washing little Buddhas, people fanning big Buddhas with overhead fans with a pull cord attached.  This was, as I found out later, to scare off the birds and keep the Buddhas free from bird droppings.  There was also a whole lot of praying, bell chiming, and monks kicking around.  We got talking to a few and they were all very friendly.  People in Burma aren’t used to tourists and on our visits we were met with many an inquisitive look, especially from children.

Shwedagon at Night
 I can see the significance of the building both historically and religiously, but for me it’s not a classic building.  It’s more like an enormous extravagant jewellery piece rather than a grand architectural design. 

We spent our second evening out with Danny and one of his classmates.  It was very handy going out for dinner, most menus are in Burmese and have no English translation.  So this time round we actually knew what we were ordering. 

The rest of our time in Yangon we spent mostly visiting other Pagodas.  One interesting one was on the middle of a roundabout in downtown Yangon.  Only in Yangon would you find a Pagoda on a traffic island. 

Enjoying a Burmese Cultural Experience, a Burmese Cigar

The nightlife in Yangon wasn’t up to much, everything shuts down by 10:30pm.  This was fine for us as we were getting up early in the morning and having a wee rest in the afternoon to avoid the heat.  After spending a few days in Yangon, we felt like moving on so we booked our bus to Mandalay.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kuala Lumpur

 I didn’t really have much fun in KL, and didn’t really take to the city as a result.  There were two dominating factors that caused my discontent, spending a great deal of time at the Burmese Embassy, and illness. 

We arrived late at night and checked into a dingy Hostel that we had made a booking for prior to our arrival.  When we arrived there were no twin rooms left, even though I specifically requested one when making the booking.  There was a room available with a double bed and sofa, so we took it.  Nev won the coin toss so I had to sleep on the sofa cushions on the floor.

After a surprisingly good sleep we woke up and made a plan for the day.  First off we went to the Burmese embassy to apply for our visa.  It takes two working days and we were keen to get it done asap, the weekend was coming up and we didn’t want to hang around KL for too long.  We took the subway to the stop nearest the embassy.  We then walked in the baking heat for around an hour before we found it to find out that it was closed for a holiday.  We walked back rather dejected with the news, knowing that we’d wasted a journey and that time was running out before the weekend.

We decided to change Hostels, the sleeping arrangements weren’t ideal and there were plenty of other options around the area we were staying in, yet another Chinatown.  We checked out and after a bit of a mission we found somewhere that was half decent, we went back to get our bags and then checked into our new accommodation.

After we were finally settled we decided to check out the Petronas Towers.   There’s a sky bridge linking the twin towers about a third of the way up.  As a tourist this is as high as you can go, you can’t get to the top which seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity.  Unfortunately when we were there the sky bridge was closed for maintenance.  There’s a big shopping mall at the base of the towers, if you get the underground you have to traipse through it before you can get a view of towers from outside.

The first time I was in New York I visited the Twin Towers, the summer just before 9/11.  I remember standing at the base of the Twin Towers absolutely spellbound, staring straight up with my mouth wide open, in awe at the sheer size and height of the buildings.  The Petronas towers are taller, and I expected to have the same reaction when we finally made it through the throngs of shoppers and outside to inspect the view.  When I looked straight up my mouth stayed firmly closed, I wasn’t gripped as I thought I was going to be and I was a wee bit disappointed.  Maybe it’s because I’ve seen a lot more sky scrapers since I visited New York for the first time, or maybe the tapered design of the Petronas Towers don’t make them look as big and bulky. 

The location of the Petronas tower is pretty special.  There aren’t any other giant buildings around and they stand out like a beacon, well a pair of beacons.  Just outside the Petronas towers there’s a picturesque park with water fountains, ponds and various other water features.  There’s a children’s play park and stage for various events.  It’s like Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow, but slap bang in the middle of a city centre, surrounded by tall buildings including a pair of the tallest buildings in the world, with palm trees and no neds. 

We strolled through the park and this is when I started to appreciate the architecture of the building.  It was partially government funded and they specifically requested for a design that would symbolise Malaysian Islamic culture.  The Petronas towers have a very geometrical design which typifies Islamic architecture.  Jagged triangle edges and squares are in abundance on the exterior steel frame.  They look modern and definitively Eastern, very unlike a typical sky scraper.  They have the added advantage that they are a pair, linked with a sky bridge.  This makes them a lot more unique and iconic.  There was a particular spot in the park we came to where they looked magnificent glimmering in the sunshine.

The next two days we spent most of our time trekking to and from the Burmese embassy first to apply for our visa then to collect it.  Unfortunately it was around this time that I started becoming ill.  On my quest to find good local food, we came across an area full of cheap street food vendors with plastic chairs and tables on the street.  We went for some Malaysian food which was very tasty but I think was the culprit for the subsequent two week long stomach problems I had.  We didn’t have AC in our guest house, and it was roast boats.  I had a few sleepless nights lying in the heat with stomach cramps having to run to the toilet every five minutes.  It wasn’t much fun.

Chris recommended to us the Skybar at Traders Hotel for the best views of the Petronas towers.  So, we went there for happy hour.  Traders Hotel is on the opposite side of the park from the twin towers, and the view from the Skybar is spectacular.  We liked it so much that we decided to check out of our Guest House the next day and stay in the Traders Hotel for one night. 

We chose a room with a view facing the Petronas Towers.  We had a great view from our room, we watched at dusk as the lights came on, it was good to get a different perspective of the buildings as the night grew darker.  I still wasn’t feeling great and we had a fairly early night.  We went to sleep with the curtains open, Nev was in heaven.

The next day I woke up early and went for a jog around the park.  There’s a running track through the park and the people from KL make full use of it.  It was probably one of my favourite jogs ever, I literally had to walk about one minute from my hotel before I got to the track, and the views while circling the park were fantastic.  It’s really cool jogging around with loads of sky scrapers above your head.   After my jog I went for a swim in the swimming pool at the Skybar interrupted with visits to the Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna.  It was good to relax and get a bit of spa treatment after feeling pretty rough for the last few days. 

We were flying to Burma in the evening, so we left our bags at reception while we got some lunch.  We went to eat at the food hall in the Petronas Towers shopping mall.  After lunch we wandered around for a while, picked up our bags and then got the train to the airport.  Next stop Yangon.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Our time in Bali was going to be short so we decided our first destination would be the capital Kuta, we would use this as our base and then have the occasional day trip, although it didn’t work out exactly like that.  After the high paced travelling we had done in Indonesia and the amount of time travelling on buses I was looking forward to a bit of a relaxing time. 

We arrived fairly late at night and with our typical travelling style we didn’t have any accommodation booked.  We got a taxi from the bus station to the main guest house area.  I left Nev with the bags while I tried to find some affordable accommodation.  After wandering around for an hour and finding out most of the cheap guest houses were fully booked, I eventually found somewhere but unfortunately there were only double rooms left.  This meant I was to yet again share a bed with another man.  We were pretty shattered so we decided to stay for one night then find somewhere the next day. 

We planned to get an early night but were rudely disturbed by somebody making a total racket by revving their motorbike outside of the reception of our hotel.  I went outside to have a look, an extremely irate Indonesia was trying to run over a guy from our Hotel.  It was quite comical really, he would rev his motorbike up and at low speed try and hit the other guy who was using plastic chairs to shield himself.  This went on for quite some time with lots of shouting and threatening gestures, but it was really handbag fighting with neither one of the guys intent on exchanging blows.  Myself and Nev were getting rather annoyed by the racket and went downstairs to try and split them up but to no avail.  Eventually we went upstairs again and waited for the motorbike dude to get in my direct line of sight so I could pour a bottle of water over him.  I got him, but he took little notice.  In our room we had a massive bucket which I proceeded to fill with water, he’d certainly notice his second soaking.  But by the time I had my weapon ready he’d left and the fight was over, I was rather disappointed really, but at least it meant we could finally go to sleep.

The next couple of days in Kuta we took it easy.  Kuta isn’t a very nice town, it’s really hectic with lots of narrow streets with motorbikes whizzing up and down them.  It’s also full of pissed up Australians, it’s like their Ibiza I suppose.  One thing I thought was quite strange and pretty irresponsible was that almost every bar had magic mushrooms on the menu.  I don’t think it’s right selling mind bending hallucinogens to pissed up tourists who don’t really know what they’re letting themselves in for.  

Kuta is all about the beach, it has a fabulous white sand beach, and to my surprise it wasn’t too crowded.  On our second day we found a much nicer hotel right near the beach.  I took full advantage of our locale and went for a jog and swam in the sea every day we were there.  Myself and Nev also had a nice relaxing afternoon having a few beers lying on recliners and going for the occasional dip.  The food in Kuta is also rather good, and we enjoyed the extra choice that was available.  We didn’t have any big nights out though, we were still in old man mode really and the nightlife wasn’t our cup of tea. 

We decided that we would hire some motorbikes and go for a day trip to a town called Amed.  It sounded like the complete polar opposite of Kuta, a remote village with hardly any traffic and having spent three days in frantic Kuta it sounded like paradise.  Amed is also a great diving and snorkelling spot with many coral reefs and a ship wreck just off the shoreline.  It should normally take about 3 ½ hours to get there and was maybe a bit ambitious for a day trip.  There were also lots of sights to see en route, so we decided to have an early start and set off at around 6am.

Nev had never been on a motor bike before and I’d only ridden one once about 7 years ago.  Nev wasn’t really looking forward to the prospect as the traffic in Kuta is pretty horrendous at the best of times.  Our trip didn’t start off well, it took us about an hour to get out of Kuta and by that time the rush hour traffic was in full swing.  To make matters worse Nev got stopped by the police.  I managed to get through a traffic light just before it turned red while Nev just missed out.  He was in the wrong lane, the lane turning left when he was meant to be going straight on, and when he passed the junction a policeman waved him down.  He was informed of his mistake and asked to show his driving licence.  He was told that the UK driving licence wasn’t valid in Indonesia and he was about to be hit with a double fine, for being in the wrong lane and for not having an appropriate licence.  Fortunately the policeman let him off on the driving licence count but he still had to pay a fine/bribe for his incorrect position at the traffic lights.  He wasn’t enjoying the motorbike experience and this made matters worse.  To cap it all off he’d gone deaf in one ear, so he was having a pretty bad time of it.

We made our first stop off at a Hindu temple.  Bali is 95% Hindu and there seemed to be some festival going on.  When we arrived there were lots of people gathered at the temple singing and chanting.  It was a pretty cool sight but we had to move on as we were still miles away from Amed.  The traffic steadily got worse as the day wore on and Nev’s expression on his face steadily changed from unhappiness to misery.  He wasn’t enjoying the motorbike experience one bit, but we’d passed the point of no return, so unfortunately for him he had to grin and bear it.

We had another stop off at another temple built next to a cave which was full of bats.  It was quite a sight, and afterwards we had some lunch.

The road on the way to Amed started to become a lot more interesting.  The roads became windy mountain paths, with views of impressive rice terraces.  There were a lot of trucks kicking around and overtaking became more challenging.  Whilst I was thoroughly enjoying the rollercoaster ride of the mountainous roads, Nev hated it.  I had to stop frequently for him to catch up and I noticed that his facial expression had progressed to a look of sheer terror. 

Me on my Moped

Bali Rice Terraces
We eventually arrived in Amed six and a half hours after we set off and we both agreed that it was best that we stayed the night.  We managed to find a great hotel next to the beach with the shipwreck.  We had lunch and then hired some snorkels.  The snorkelling was magic, there were loads of beautiful reefs and vibrantly bright fish.  We explored the shipwreck which was around 100m offshore.  It had been there since the 60s and had now become an ecosystem, covered with coral and shellfish.  I explored the nooks and crannies of the boat every now and again scaring some tropical fish out of there hidey holes.   It was the first time I’d seen an underwater shipwreck and I loved it.  Nev had chilled out too, he was slightly apprehensive before taking part in the snorkelling as he’d never done it before.   As soon as he put his head in the water and saw the underwater display of spectacular fish and coral, for the first time that day he started to enjoy himself.

The Beach View from our Hotel

After the snorkelling I went for a ride on my motorbike around Amed while Nev chilled at the hotel.  The roads were great, little to no traffic and perfect for motorbikes.  Windy and hilly with great scenery to take in along the way, dramatic cliffs with a tropical turquoise sea back drop.  I passed through a couple of small towns and the kids were finishing school, I had a few close shaves on my motorbike when trying to reply to the numerous hellos, waving enthusiastically while driving one handed.  It was starting to get dark so I decided to head back to the Hotel.

It was a very relaxing evening, we had a couple of beers and a tasty dinner.  We decided to get up really early the next day to try and avoid as much of the rush hour traffic as possible.  We were really shattered and ended up going to bed at 8pm.  We slept right through and were awoken by some strange cries in the distance.  I opened our door and saw about thirty fishing boats with long sails being pushed out to sea.  The strange cries were the fisherman coordinating the launching of their boats.  The sun was rising and it was a beautiful sight. 

We set off around 5:30am, there was no other traffic for the first hour or so and I had a whale of a time zipping around the open roads.  Nev managed to pick up the pace this time and we managed to get back to Kuta by around 9am.  We had a wee rest, had lunch then headed to the Airport for our flight to K.L.