Mohusan (모후산)

As spring is well under way in Korea, we decided that last weekend would be a perfect to get back into hiking following our holidays. After some waffling we settled on Mohusan, in Hwasun county, as our destination. This mountain is in an out-of-the-way part of Jeollanam-do and we set off with almost no idea how to get there. It is located near Jogyesan Provincial Park, which we climbed last year. (you can read about that trip here) Our lack of knowledge was not for lack of trying. Blake had called the tourist information line, but had been informed that there were no buses running from Hwasun to Mohusan and that we would have to take a cab. This makes little sense as there are several villages around the mountain and almost everywhere in Korea is serviced by bus, however infrequent. He was also told there were no buses from Gwangju to Hwasun and we would have to take the train. Having already ridden said non-existent bus, we took everything they said with a couple kilos of salt.

We met our friend Melanie at Usquare and caught the 9:10 bus to Hwasun. From there, following information found on google maps, we headed to a nearby city bus stop to catch the 217 to Yuma-sa (Yuma temple) which is at the start of the Mohusan trail network. Unfortunately, when we got on the bus and asked if it went to Yuma-sa we were given a very firm no. Back to the pavement. Eventually we took the Korean Tourism people’s advice and caught a cab. Bad choice. That ride, which smelled faintly of cleaning supplies and ginseng, cost us a little over 30,000!

But we did get where we were going and were greeted by a very friendly tourist information guy. He was an older man but spoke a surprising amount of English. He explained that there was a shuttle that brings people up to the mountain at set times, but we were unable to understand where in Hwasun it stops. Our plan was to catch it on the way back so we could figure that part out. We signed the guest book, got our complimentary wet napkins, and headed up the trail.

This is what the first few hundred meters from the parking lot looked like.

This is what the first few hundred meters from the parking lot looked like.

We went up along the creek and then straight up to the main peak.

We went up along the creek and then straight up to the main peak.

For the first several kilometres the trail is wide enough for two or three people to walk abreast. It loops around above the temple and heads up the creek into the mountains. From this main trail, smaller trails branch off to the right, ascending the various lesser peaks in the range which can eventually connect to the main summit. We opted to head straight up the creek valley. Because of the delay getting started, we stopped for a picnic lunch at one of the little shelters along the way. There were three other Korean hikers also having lunch and as soon as they saw us pull out our kimbap triangles sans kimchi, they shuffled over to share their’s with us. The lady explained, using gestures, English, and Korean, that the kimbap would be too dry on its own, and that therefore we needed to eat kimchi with it. There was no saying no, especially since one of the ladies had made it herself. All the sharing is one of the great things about hiking in Korea. Just remember to always bring something shareable to return the favour!

After lunch, we continued up the valley. Several kilometres in, the creek petered out and we ascended to a low pass between the main peak and a lower peak. Here we encountered the thing that makes this hike somewhat less spectacular than we had hoped: all the construction. They are building some sort of tramway along the ridges up to the peak where they have an observatory (we think) that is also relatively new-looking. All this work meant that the ridgeline that we climbed was pretty chewed up and had a construction road right alongside the trail. Kinda took away from the experience a bit.

Partway up the ridge to the summit we stopped on a false peak to relax and enjoy the view. Once thing Mohusan really has going for it is how few people seem to hike it. Once we got to the summit, the views on three sides (those not blocked by the observatory) were pretty great. Hwasun is a farming area and on all sides we could see where forests became gardens and then fields at the foot of the mountains. East of the mountain is a huge reservoir, and across the water you can see Jogyesan and the surrounding mountains. Sadly, everything is pretty hazy – it’s yellow dust season in Korea – so the view further out was not that great. It played hell with photos as well.

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We did not stay on the summit long before we headed over the steep drop-off on the far side and walked a narrow ridge to Jung Bong (Jung Peak). This was a pretty short hop skip and a jump, but we broke for tea in the little clearing there. It was while we were settled in here that Tamara’s phone rang. When we don’t recognize the number we ignore it, but this person kept calling back. She finally answered and it turned out it was the man from tourist information. He had offered to drive us back to Hwasun if we had problems with the shuttle, but he was in the process of leaving. He wanted to find out where we were. Tamara assured him that we would be OK and he should leave without us. After all, we were still on the top of one of the peaks and not likely to make the base in the 15 minutes before he departed. Super nice of him though! They were so friendly.

Coffee break.

Coffee break.

Fighting!

Fighting!

From Jung Bong it is possible to continue along the ridge line to yet another peak and then descend from there, but, as it was already after 4:00 and we were not sure how we would get back to town, we decided to head down into the valley straight away. This is not to say that we hurried. The descent was one of the best parts of the hike as far as we are concerned. After the first drop down we hit a little creek, complete with a broken down bridge, and followed it down into the main valley. This creek is gorgeous! It is all toboggan style waterfalls and tempting little pools. We stopped for many a photo op and even took the opportunity to soak our feet in one of the rather chilly pools. While we would probably not bother with the summit again, we both agree that it might be worth a return visit just to bring a book and lounge by this creek. It was so nice to have just the sound of the creek and no city sounds to compete with it.

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We eventually arrived at the parking lot to find it completely deserted. There were some people working in nearby gardens, but it was pretty clear they were residents. The last place we saw a bus stop was where the road turned off the main highway – 5 clicks further down the mountain. So off we went. Partway down, what should emerge heading up the mountain but a 217 bus. The very number of bus whose driver had told us did not go to Mohusan! We then began a game of cat and mouse. We were about halfway between the base of the mountain, where the bus must stop, and the highway. Although we were fairly certain the driver would stop if we flagged him, you never know in Korea, so we continued heading towards the highway at a healthy pace on the off chance we might beat him to that stop and ensure our ride out of there. Because the road is super windy we developed a system where we left a spotter on the uphill side of a blind corner while the other two head down until there was a straight stretch where we (and the oncoming bus driver) could see again. In the end, we got about 3/4 of the way down before the bus overtook us. Thankfully, he was good enough to stop. It’s possible that Melanie’s very deep bow, Tamara making a heart with her arms, or Blake’s frantic waving might have tipped the odds in our favour. Regardless, we were headed home. In just under an hour, the 217 dumped us off in Hwasun and we headed for the bus station, Gwangju, and home.

The final assessment: Mohusan’s summit was not all that, but the trails along the creeks were really nice. It is a bit difficult to get to, which of course means there are fewer hikers. A big plus in our books. Ultimately, even though it was a great day, it’s not high on our list of return-to places.

Mohusan Logistics: Getting There and Away

You can catch a bus from Gwangju to Hwasun. Apparently there is also an occasional direct bus to Mohusan. The stop may be called Yuma-sa (the temple where the hike starts) so look for both.

Once in Hwasun, the 217 bus does go up to that area. It is possible that not every 217 bus goes all the way in to Yumasa, but it only adds about 5KM to the hike and there is a riverside trail up to the temple and the main trailhead. That, or you can hitch-hike (beg a ride) in, which was suggested to us when the tourist information guy called to say that he was leaving. A taxi from Hwasun is going to run you just over 30,000 won compared to 2,300 ea. for the bus so if you leave early, the bus is probably worth the risk. Regardless, it is going to take the better part of two hours to get from Gwangju to Mohusan.

The hike itself is not that difficult. You can do several different loops from the Yumasa end, or you can hike straight through the range and come out in Yucheon-ri and Dunbok-Myeon. There is at least one minbak and one pension on the Yuma-sa side and there appears to be accommodation options on the north side as well, although we can’t say for certain. The pension near Yumasa looks new.

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Tamara’s Seoul-o Adventure

As  planned, the weekend before last, I took my very first solo trip to a big city – Seoul (population: over 10 million)! The purpose of the trip was threefold: to visit with my main co-teacher from last year and to see a friend from our EPIK intake, as well as to prove to myself that I can, in fact, navigate a big city on my own. Those who know me well are probably aware that the latter endeavor is a rather big feat in itself, given the fact that I am beyond directionally challenged. However, somehow, perhaps for the sake of survival, my sense of direction has improved dramatically since moving overseas. I have learned to trust my gut and have definitely developed a better internal mapping system.

On Saturday afternoon, I purchased an express bus ticket at Usquare and within 20 minutes I was off to the big city, backpack in tow. The express bus takes about 3 hours and 20 minutes, but you need to be sure of which terminal you wish to wash up at. At the brief stop en route, I loaded up on Pepero and some other chocolate indulgence before continuing my journey. Thankfully, I’d remembered to charge my Kobo, as it provided great company for the trip.
I managed to arrive in Seoul at around 4pm. I gave myself lots of time to get oriented, as I knew I had a 9-line metro system to contend with. Having grown up in a town of 5,000 people with only two pedestrian-controlled traffic lights to its name (and having rarely even used the skytrain system in Vancouver), I was a little nervous. As it turned out, I managed to successfully locate the metro system, purchase a ticket, get through the turnstiles, AND make it onto a train going in the correct direction. I was on cloud nine.
Through Kakao Talk & Facebook, I arranged to visit both of my friends the following day, so I had the evening to myself to explore the city. I opted to head to Insa-dong first, as this was an area I’d explored briefly with Blake and his parents when they came to visit. I thought it might be wise to give myself a chance to further explore something a little familiar before I ventured off to new areas of the city. After a botched attempt to use google maps to get myself into Insa-dong proper (I never said anything about getting better at using maps), I eventually began my wander around part of the perimeter of the area. I stopped along the way to snap up some 지팡이 아이스크림 (stick or cane icecream). It tasted okay – if you’re looking for the flavour and general texture of good ol’ Captain Crunch cereal, combined with sweet, vanilla icecream. It was a worthwhile experience, but I don’t think I’ll get one again. Captain Crunch and I were never really friends.
Most of the shops that sell these have HUGE line-ups out the door, but I must have found this one just in time.

Most of the shops that sell these have HUGE line-ups out the door, but I must have found this one just in time.

As it got dark, I hopped on a bus that I thought would take me directly to Itaewon, as I had a craving for some international cuisine. I’d poked around online and found a few interesting-sounding foreign restaurants located there. I happily rode the bus for at least ten minutes before checking my progress on Google maps on my phone. At that point, I jumped off at the next stop, as I discovered that I was, in fact, somehow further from my destination. Intending to get on the same bus going in the opposite direction, I made my way to the other side of the road in search of the corresponding bus stop. I couldn’t find it. What I’d forgotten was that, in some areas of Seoul, there are actually bus stops on the boulevard in the middle of the street. After a lengthy delay, I successfully caught a bus to Itaewon. Unfortunately, I was never able to find the restaurant I was looking for: Comedor, which I’d read serves Paraguayan food. Instead, I had a delicious buffet meal of Arabian cuisine at Marrakech Restaurant. As it happened to be the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, I had to wade through a few crowds of green-clad foreigners to reach the entrance. Marrakech Restaurant, which is on the third floor of the building below, is very near Itaewon Station, Exit 4.
I then opted to take my one and only cab ride to the 실오암 (Siloam) Sauna in Jungrim-dong, Jung-gu, near Seoul Station. In fact, I had what was perhaps my longest and hopefully most articulate conversation in Korean to date with the cab driver, whose hometown turned out to be Gwangju.
Given my inability to either receive or give directions, you'll want to look elsewhere for a description of how to get here. I will, however, note, that you will want to look for long set of steps that ascend to the sauna, and that the entrance is actually around the side of the building to the left.

Given my inability to either receive or give directions, you’ll want to look elsewhere for a description of how to get here. I will, however, note that you should look for long set of steps that ascend to the sauna, and that the entrance is actually around the side of the building to the left.

For less than 15,000₩ ($15), I was able to move about their six floors, which offer the following (and more):
Basement: gender segregated showers and public baths (including a cold pool, a jade bath, a mugwart bath, a charcoal bath, and more – I can only attest to the womens’ side though).
1st floor: washrooms, lockers and open changing area
2nd floor: resting room and restaurant
3rd floor: entertainment rooms, including noraebang (singing) rooms, board games, workout equipment, and massage chairs
4th floor: fomentation rooms (What?!?! – that’s what I said. Basically various sauna rooms, including a rather hot jade room (with the floor covered in, you guessed it, jade stones), a salt room (this was the most interesting one to me, as I was actually able to sit on the floor and cover my legs completely in thick salt crystals), and an ice room (the walls are actually covered in dry ice), along with many other rooms.
5th floor: sleeping rooms (these ones actually had bunk beds – sort of), including a separate area just for the snorers!
The facilities were very clean, the signeage adequate, and the staff generally friendly.
I wish I’d taken photos, but, alas, I was sort of followed around the jimjilbang area by these two middle school boys.They were very sweet but inadvertently thwarted any covert photo ops.
By 12:30 or so, I was completely exhausted and opted to tuck myself in under my scarf on the top bunk of one of the beds on the fifth floor. This WOULD have been a lovely enough experience (so long as you can stand a hard mattress), but it was WAY too hot for me. In hindsight, I wish I’d scooped up one of the little cubbyholes in the “oxygen room” (room temperature space). You live and learn.
In the morning, I ventured down to the public bath to get squeaky clean and enjoy a little tub time before heading out into the city for day two.
For those who plan to spend the night at Siloam sauna but would really prefer to pop into a café for breakfast in the morning, don’t count on one being open anywhere in sight of the front entrance. Once I managed to find it, I opted for a bagel at Angel in Us in Seoul Station, as I needed to hop on the metro to meet my previous year’s main co-teacher at Anguk Station at 11am.
I arrived just on time, and as soon as I located Ara (and her daughter, husband, and brother), we drove off to 한옥마을 (a traditional Korean “Hanok” village). It was lovely wandering around the village together, and I had a delicious lunch of 삼계탕 (Samgyetang), a whole young chicken (stuffed with rice, ginseng, and a date) in a savory broth.
Paintball - Mohusan T 041 Paintball - Mohusan T 043
Next, we walked along part of Sejongno Avenue, where there are several statues (including one of King Sejeong the great, which you can see below), two guys making some pretty amazing spray-paint art, and a few musical buskers.
A show with a view.

A show with a view.

Ara, her husband, and their daughter saw me off to the metro station when it was time to go see Billy in Gangnam. I hopped on the correct line, located my stop, and emerged above ground at Exit #8… of the wrong station. After a few moments of “But I’m AT Exit #8…” I backtracked. We finally found one another and snagged some delicious (albeit pricey) chocolate frappucino drinks at a chocolate shop. We wandered awhile before sitting down on a rickety bench to finish our drinks and chat.
Before long, it was time to make my way to the bus station and back to Gwangju. On account of traffic, my bus was nearly half an hour late to arrive at the departure gate. In the end, I arrived home, safe and sound, around 11:30pm.
Seoul can, at times, be a little overwhelming for me, it also reminds me just how much I love Canada, and all its wide open spaces. That being said, I had a lovely visit, and I actually hope I can make another weekend Seoul-o trip trip later this year.

Bali: Tips, Logistics, and Final Thoughts

Now, we only spent ten days in Bali and we certainly didn’t see all (or even all that much of) the island, but here are a few thoughts that we hope might help anyone else thinking of visiting. Keep in mind that these our just our opinions.

General

  • 99% of the time, any price you are given is negotiable (restaurants are an exception).
  • Because everything is negotiable, most prices start out really high – cut it way down for your first offer.
  • During low season, there are lots of accommodation choices and they will negotiate price to fill the rooms.
  • Tipping is expected for most services. Depending on who you ask the amount varies, but it is not percentage based. Say 5-10,000 rp.
  • Everyone knows someone to give you a ride, the best place for you to stay, and the place you absolutely must see. It’s their friend, their cousin, and the the place where their brother is a guide. Sometimes it’s awesome, sometimes it’s not. Do you research (especially on accommodation) and don’t be afraid to shop around.
  • Carry travellers-diarrhoea medication and, if you are at all prone to seasickness, gravol or something similar.
  • When it comes to massages, you pretty well get what you pay for. It’s not worth saving a few dollars to get an exponentially crappier massage.
  • Related to the above, keep the exchange rate in mind when you are deciding on prices. Is it really worth arguing over that extra dollar?
  • Getting around is not that hard. Pretty well anywhere you ask, people will get you in contact with a private driver. Be aware of what the going rate is for where you want to go and don’t be afraid to walk away. Always set the price ahead of time.
  • For those planning on using ATMs we were never able to withdraw more than 2,000,000 rp ($200) at a time and often not even that. This resulted in some significant bank fees from our home banks. Take a fair amount of cash with you or go into bank branches where you can.
  • Temples: they are nice, but are also where you get the worst tourist traps and pressure sales. Go to one, but you don’t really need to see more than that. Carry a sarong with you so that you don’t have to deal with buying one when you need it to get into a temple – not an ideal bargaining position to start from. Gunung Kawi was the nicest one that we saw.
  • Laundry is relatively cheap but not fast. People don’t have dryers, so they need at least 24 hours to do your laundry, assuming it does not rain.

Ubud

  • If you are in Ubud, you have to see the Monkey Forest: it’s great entertainment and you only need an hour.
  • The main streets of Ubud are pretty busy. It is probably best to find accommodation that is a 5-10 minute walk out. It’s nice to have somewhere peaceful to go.
  • Ina Inn was very nice: we would certainly recommend it.
  • The dancers were pretty cool. Apparently there are a lot of different shows, but it is worth it to see at least one of them.
  • From here you can day-trip to see some of the traditional terraced rice fields. This is definitely worth your time. When you get there, pay the money for a cup of coffee at one of the valley-side cafés and enjoy the view.

Nusa Lembongan

  • You must visit here. End of story.
  • Scoot fast boats was a great service, but in some ways we wish we had taken one of the local supply boats just for the adventure.
  • There are several small reef breaks here that are not crowded at all, so it was a great place to take surf lessons without having to fight over waves.
  • Diving or snorkelling with the Manta Rays is something you really should do.
  • Rent a scooter and check out more of the island.
  • Based on our short time visiting it, Mushroom Bay is not a place you want to stay.
  • There are a couple of places (Indiana and the Beach Club) along Jungubatu Beach that have beach-front loungers as part of the restaurant. Spend at least one evening sipping drinks and watching the sunset from one of these.
  • Tarci Bungalows were excellent with great service and friendly staff. They are towards the end of the beach though.
  • New Bros Surfing are a great company if you want a surf lesson. At least this is true for beginners.

Padangbai

  • This was one of the larger let-downs of our trip.
  • Blue Lagoon was not as beautiful as it appears in the pictures and there is great wade-out snorkelling in several other areas along the coast.

Amed Coast

  • If you are looking for somewhere relaxed to visit, this is a good place to go because the road essentially goes to nowhere.
  • Despite there being only a few listings in guidebooks, there are actually quite a few places to stay spread out along the coast.
  • We were really happy with Wawa Wewe II. Good service, clean rooms, and a decent location.
  • Things here are spread out, but the traffic is light, so it’s probably best to rent a scooter to explore.
  • While you’re doing the above, take lots of pictures.
  • Many places accept only cash and there are only a couple of ATMs along the coast. Plan accordingly.
  • Dive the Liberty wreck. We did not do it but it looks amazing.
  • Be aware that if you stop in some of the more remote villages you will quickly draw a crowd.
  • Sails restaurant locally sources its food (according to the menu) and it’s delicious to boot.
  • Although we did not have time, there are several hiking trails ascending nearby volcanoes. Most hotels appear to be able to direct you to the trail-head.

Bali: The Amed Coast

After our inland tour, we washed up in Amed a bit after four and were taken to a little guest house that our driver recommended. It was a cute little place right on the beach just outside Amed, with two little bungalows that are well put together and relatively private for only 300,000 ($30) a night. Sadly, the neighbours had opted to use their stretch of the beach as a chicken coop and, in aid of this project, had spread cow manure on the beach in front of their property. Combine this with the mess of the chickens themselves and the stench was overwhelming.

We dumped our stuff off in one of the rooms and wandered back out along the road to get our bearings. We knew that the area was pretty spread out, but also that it is relatively quiet so we decided to rent a scooter from the nearby Paolo’s Guest house and headed south-west down the coast. At this point we had decided that our accommodation was just not going to work for us and we were searching for good alternatives. Despite the fact that Lonely Planet notes only a few options along this coast, there is a plethora of guest houses, hotels, and inns of varying quality and price.However not willing to take our chances and end up with another bad experience, we decided to focus on those listed in the guidebook.

Adding to our little adventure, in the middle of our exploration our scooter ran out of gas (we had asked about the fuel level before we left and were informed that the gauge was broken – well in this case “empty” was bang on!). We rolled down a hill and came to a halt in front of a little Warung and Tamara popped in to ask where we might find petrol. The people who owned it were amazing. The lady first tried to get us to borrow her scooter to go get petrol for ours, but there was some confusion about where to go. Next thing we know, her son (maybe?) jumps on his scooter, tells Blake to jump on, and takes off. It’s a good thing too, as the nearest place to get petrol was a couple of kilometres away, and you really had to know what you were looking for. Twenty minutes later, they returned with Blake holding a plastic water bottle of fuel on the back of the bike. They filled up the scooter and off we went. Not one request for money or an attempt to sell us anything. So refreshing after a day of dodging vendors at the temples. We left a very healthy tip there!

In the end we settled on the Wawa Wewe II (pronounced “Wah-wah Way-Way 2” – one of the places listed in the guide) and headed back to our original accommodation. Now, we had several things to juggle: our luggage was at one point, the scooter was from another about a kilometre away, and Wawa Wewe II was three of four kilometres in the other direction. We arranged for the Wawa Wewe staff to pick us up at Cafe Garam across from where we rented the scooter. A quick stop at our original accommodation to grab our bags (and pay for the room for that night to avoid any complications), and then we jumped on the scooter with all our crap and returned it, before grabbing a couple milkshakes at Cafe Garam and waiting for our ride.

We finally got settled into our room a little after nine and grabbed a bite to eat at the restaurant before turning in. Even though it was a pretty crazy evening, it was well worth it. We got a great room for 500,000 ($50) a night. The bathroom was open air with a cool stone wall going around three sides of it and the room included a loft area with a second bed. An infinity pool looks out over the beach, making a perfect spot for a quick dip to cool off. The restaurant also had a great view of the ocean and down a part of the coast.

Our first morning on the coast we had a quick dip in the pool before renting snorkelling gear from our hotel and heading to the beach (about 10 meters away). Big sections on the coast have pretty darn good wade out snorkelling, complete with coral, sea life, and even two different shipwrecks.  One of these is the American transport ship Liberty which was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942. Although we did not see the wrecks, it is certainly something that is easy to do and the photos look amazing.

Who doesn't love snorkelling?

Who doesn’t love snorkelling?

After a leisurely morning breakfast overlooking the ocean, we rented a scooter from the hotel and headed out to explore the area.

Ready to ride!

Ready to ride!

The entire coast is a series of small bays with headlands between them and mountains behind. Each bay has its own little village with fishing boats pulled up along the sand. The further we got from Amed, the fewer tourists and tourist amenities we saw. There are places to stay all along the coast, but as you get closer to Aas there is less and less development between the villages. There are several points where streams flow right over the road and you have to just drive through blindly (although we always waited for a local to go through so we could follow).

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We stopped several times to take photos and at one of these stops, several teenagers and kids stopped to talk with us. They were pretty friendly, but we as we started to draw an increasing crowd we decided that perhaps a narrow road on the edge of a cliff after a blind corner was not the best place to draw a large crowd of people and vehicles so we headed back towards our hotel.

Chickens were a regular hazard driving through the villages. There were chickens everywhere in Bali!

Chickens were a regular hazard driving through the villages. There were chickens everywhere in Bali!

These two kids were the first to stop and chat and as soon as they saw our camera they wanted their picture taken.

These two kids were the first to stop and chat and as soon as they saw our camera they wanted their picture taken.

Food was a big part of our day. We had a great lunch at Sails restaurant which, according to their menu, sources all of their ingredients locally. The food was great, especially the desserts. Once the rain storm was over we headed down the coast cruising through one little village after another and stopped in Lipah to try the Smiling Buddha restaurant. It was a nice open air restaurant with a view out to sea through a red gate. Much of the food is more traditional Balinese fare than we had seen elsewhere and everything we tried was great. We rounded out our day with dinner at Puri Wirata Dive Resort, right next to Wawa Wewe II, which was delicious.

Our final day in Bali was a quiet one. We took one last dip in the ocean and a wander down the beach before we packed our bags and boarded the van that would take us to the airport.

We had arranged transport through our hotel the day before, so we did not have to worry about dealing with logistics. It took us a little over three hours to arrive at the airport, much less time that we had expected, so we caught a taxi to a nearby mall for a bit of last minute souvenir shopping before heading through security. We watched the sun set over the runways and sadly said goodbye to Bali.

Bali: Padangbai to Amed

When we were originally deciding what our time in Bali would look like, we had decided to limit the number of times we would move to maximize relaxation time. Accordingly, our plan had been to spend the last three nights of our trip in Padangbai. Because we had taken the 12:30 Scoot boat from Lembongan, we did not arrive in Padangbai until close to 3:00. We walked along the beach until we found a place at the Kerti Beach Bungalows. It was kind of interesting as it was made almost completely of bamboo and thatch. As it turned out this was not awesome, and Blake was kept up most of the night by things scurrying around in the walls next to his head.

Once we had settled into our bungalow, we grabbed lunch next door at Penginapan. This was also not great. Aside from wrong drinks, Tamara found an ant cooked into her food. Travelling in the tropics you must have a certain tolerance for bugs, but cooked into the food is a bit much. Full, but not exactly satisfied, we wandered up to one of the temples overlooking the town, but did not enter as neither of us had a sarong. We did locate the Blue Lagoon Beach, one of the go-to places in Padangbai. It was a lot smaller than we had thought based on the pictures we’d seen, as well as being rather run down and covered in litter. Overall, Padangbai was a bit of a disappointment. Over dinner at the Grand Café (good food, but they were out of a lot of menu items) we decided that we would rather change plans and move on, so we tucked into the Lonely Planet and decided that the Amed Coast was close enough to make it a feasible stop for a last minute change of plans. We booked a driver with one of the tour companies that would include several stops in the interior part of the Bali on our way to Amed.

Padangbai

Padangbai

Blue Lagoon Beach

Blue Lagoon Beach

After a very restless sleep, our driver picked us up at 8:30 and we headed to our first destination: Goa Luapah (Bat Cave Temple). This was only a short distance away and was actually pretty interesting. It is a smaller temple and you have the option to hire a guide for a negotiated price. We chose to hire a guide and we are really glad we did. The price was reasonable and our guide was really informative. The cave contains resident bats and snakes that feed on them. As we understand it, the cave is sacred largely because of the continuous presence of the bats. While we were there, a funeral ceremony was in progress. A month after a person is cremated, all of their friends and family gather at this temple for a ceremony. Sadly, our exit was a bit more problematic than our entrance. As we came, in hawkers had thrown necklaces around our necks, despite vehement protests on our part, and insisted they were gifts for good luck. Of course we knew the pressure sales were really going to be nuts when we left, and they were. Surprisingly, we actually made it out of there without buying anything.

Behind the main structure was the cave. All those black things on the roof are bats and the cave goes way back out of sight.

Behind the main structure was the cave. All those black things on the roof are bats and the cave goes way back out of sight.

At the Bat Cave temple. Note the gold bat above the doors.

At the Bat Cave Temple. Note the gold bat above the doors.

We stopped briefly at Klungkung (Semarapura) which has a traditional market that centers on temple paraphernalia. Tamara bought a really nice batik sarong there that is apparently quite good quality. We also had a look at the old court of justice from the Agung Dynasty which is just across from the market. From there we headed up to Pura Besakih, the largest ‘mother’ temple of Bali. We stopped briefly at a coffee plantation in Rendang for another tour and coffees. This was our second try at Lewak coffee and it was actually quite different from the first. Not necessarily better, just different.

Pura Besakih is a huge, seven layer temple complex built onto the side of the largest mountain in Bali. Each level represents one of the seven karmic states of being. There are many, many side temples and certain areas that you are, allegedly, not supposed to enter. At the gate you are asked to give a ‘donation’ in return for the services of a guide. While this is apparently negotiable they have a ‘suggested normal donation’. If you go, negotiate down from this. Our guide actually did a really good job in terms of passing along such useful information as this. The temple is very beautiful and it’s really neat to progress through the levels and have some of the symbolism and significance pointed out to you. There are huge doors, roofs of with an odd number of levels between 3 and 13, and massive wooden bells. All pretty cool. On a clear day, the entire scene would be set against the mountain with sweeping views out towards the sea. Sadly, it was cloudy the day we were there.

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The tour was going great until we were heading back towards the gate. At this point, the guide not-so-subtly mentioned that the money we had paid at the gate (quite a substantial amount by Bali standards) goes largely to other things and only a little of it to him. Now, you usually tip for decent service in Bali and indeed we had planned to. His bringing it up was when things started to go a little sideways. It got worse when Blake handed him a tip and he then criticized the amount  and demanded more. We were so shocked that we did give him more. Sorry to everyone who might follow us for reinforcing that practice. Besakih was not originally on our itinerary for the day so we did not check Lonely Planet where these scams are noted. Temples are where we experienced the worst pressure sales and demands for money. Also, after having been told we required a guide to see certain areas of the temple we discovered that is total bs. Temple complexes are open to anyone, so long as you don’t breach decorum. While all temples came complete with very persistent vendors, this was the worst experience of that kind that we had in Bali.

Once again, lunch was something of a saving grace. Our driver took us to a gorgeous restaurant overlooking another set of rice fields that was once again a delicious buffet.

Our view at lunch.

Our view at lunch.

Finally, we stopped at Tirta Gangga, a water palace. This was built for the enjoyment of the royal family and is actually quite beautiful. There are two freshwater swimming pools that you can use for about a dollar, but we opted out of that, given the fact that it was already raining. We actually spent only a limited amount of time in the palace before heading off to Amed. It was pretty nice though, and certainly worth a brief visit.

This was our second day-long tour with a private driver to a bunch of the different sights in the interior, and two was certainly more than enough for us. If we were going to try to do more, we would take our own vehicle and avoid the more touristy, must-see spots. By the time we got to Amed, we were pretty tired of having to run the gauntlet of hawkers and deal with pressure sales and guide pitches that accompany these areas. On the other hand, the places we saw were really beautiful and interesting and the odds are we would not have seen them without paying for a driver. For the most part it was a good day, with the unfortunate exception of the ‘mandatory’ guide at Pura Besakih. While this temple is gorgeous, there are others that are nearly as nice and come without less of this sort of shady dealing.

Bali: Nusa Lembongan

Sunday afternoon found us charging across the ocean towards the little island paradise of Nusa Lembongan. We had hired a driver to take us from Ubud to Sanur where we purchased a return ticket to Nusa Lembongan from Scoot cruises. The Nusas are three islands (Penida, Lembongan, and Ceningan) tucked away off Bali’s south east coast. Penida is by far the largest, but also the least visited. They are only about 15 kilometers off the coast, but they are a very different world. At least, that is our contention. Several different services, like Scoot, can take you across to the Nusas. There are a couple of fast boat services that cost 50-60 dollars or there are public boats and even cheaper supply boats. These latter two options take significantly longer to reach the islands but are less than half the price.

We washed up on the beach (you have to wade from your boat) a bit after lunch and went hunting for a place to stay. After getting dropped near the north end of the Jungubatu beach we wandered into a place called Yogi Beach and got a great deal on a bungalow and breakfast for 350,000 rp. You can walk right out the front gate onto the seawall and there is beach on either side.

Through the beautifully clear water you can see the neat green rows of the seaweed farms and in the morning watch the farmers harvesting their crops. The green mounds filling the yellow boats on the light blue-green water is a gorgeous site to enjoy over breakfast.

Lembongan Seaweed Harvest

Almost all the boats used for seaweed harvesting were pole driven rather than using motors.

Almost all the boats used for seaweed harvesting were pole driven rather than using motors.

After a bit of lunch, beach time and swimming we rented a motorbike and headed out to explore the northeastern end of the island. This was something of a challenge. The road was paved once and sections of it are still in OK shape, but much of it is now a mud pit with chunks of asphalt jutting up. The mangroves are certainly interesting though, and apparently enough people tour through on bikes that kids have set up little stands selling necklaces and bracelets. Nusa Lembongan was our first major encounter with this. Balinese kids go to school six days a week, either early in the morning (say from 7 or 7:30am until noon) or in the afternoon (about 1pm to 5pm). After about noon, little stands will start popping up along roads or on the seawall with bracelets, necklaces, and various other knick-knacks for sale “to make money for school.” Although the kids are the face of these little businesses, if you look around you can usually spot the adult loitering nearby. It’s a bit heartbreaking.

Taking a break on our way through the mangroves.

Taking a break on our way through the mangroves.

As is often the case with day one in a new area, we spent much of our time getting oriented. That evening, found us wandering the streets and beach, eating at one of the warungs listed in Lonely Planet and then heading up onto the hill at the south end of Jungubatu beach for dessert on a patio overlooking the harbour area.

Our first morning on Lembongan saw us up early for a quick breakfast of Balinese noodles before boarding a small boat and heading out on a four-hour snorkeling trip. There were only five of us in the boat, including lady from France and a couple from 100 Mile House (Canada). It was a little strange running into people with a shared frame of reference (geographically and culturally) so far from home, but it was great to share stories of northern BC. The snorkeling was amazing. We started out in Manta Bay (on the south coast of Penida) where we dove with, you guessed it, Manta Rays! It was both cool and a little scary when they got really close. They are so much larger than we originally envisioned. Sadly, the photos are a little dim as we were diving in the shadows of a cliff and in slightly murky water.

After about half an hour the rays vanished and we boarded the boat to head to our next destination, Gamat Bay on Penida’s west coast. Tucked away from the main tourist area is an amazing pocket of beautiful beach shaded by palms. It looked like it came straight out of a postcard. Here there were more fish and coral ridges to explore. On a small, steep island in the middle of the bay there was a temple. Blake swam over (the currents were a bit strong) and got a photo of the stairs going up.

Stairs up to a temple on a tiny island.

Stairs up to a temple on a tiny island.

The final stop was off the northeastern tip of the Lembongan mangrove swamps. There were more fish at this location and we were dropped right on a coral edge. Towards the island, the coral was so near the surface that we had to be really careful not to touch it. Thankfully, the boat was anchored in a good four or five metres of water. This spot probably had the most fish of all three, but nothing as dramatic as the Manta Rays! We arrived back at the beach just in time for lunch.

Sadly, we were not careful enough while we were snorkeling and were treated to some pretty bad sunburns across the tops of our shoulders. These would plague us for the remainder of our time in Bali. We stayed under cover reading for most of the afternoon, but eventually ventured out in search of a sunset view for dinner and drinks. We settled into one of the west-facing beachfront loungers at Indiana Kenanga and had drinks while the sun settled down behind Bali. After full dark we moved to a table in the dining room for dinner. The food here is excellent, but it is also really expensive. It was probably the most expensive restaurant we ate at for our entire trip. Having said that, it’s worth a visit for the beachfront loungers if nothing else. You really can’t beat the sunset views!

We moved accommodation for our third night. Not because we wanted to, but because we had only booked two nights initially and by the time we tried to book a third they were full. We ended up a few hundred meters down the beach at Tarci Bungalows. One advantage was that one of their prime rooms was free for only that night so they gave it to us for the same price as the low-end room we had originally booked.

The view from our room was pretty amazing.

The view from our room was pretty amazing.

As soon as we were settled into the room, we went down and spoke to some of the staff about the possibility of getting a surf lesson for the afternoon. Unsurprisingly, that guy knew another guy and we were set up for a beginner lesson starting at 1:00 with New Bros surfing. Thankfully they were really good and patient. They started us out on foam pieces at the shop, teaching how to pop-up and stand on the board then took us out to playground. There are three offshore surf breaks along Jungubatu beach. Shipwrecks, Lacerations, and Playground. It certainly looks like Playground is the tamest of the three and as all are reef breaks, we were more than happy to take a reduced chance of getting pushed into coral. Blake got a little seasick near the end of the lesson, but it was still a great time and everyone involved managed to get up on at least a few waves.

Dinner was once again a beachfront/sunset affair, this time at Lembongan Beach Club & Resort. While they also have beachfront loungers, the caliber of experience was not quite what we had at Indiana Kenanga; however, the food was good and not quite as expensive. Of course, the sunsets were amazing either way.

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Our final morning on Lembongan we woke up to an amazing beach view from our balcony and a leisurely breakfast. We got everything packed and ready to catch our 12:30 Scoot boat back to Sanur. We had hoped to go straight to Padangbai, but the boat for that run was undergoing repairs. Since we still had a few hours before our departure, we stashed our bags with reception, rented a scooter, and headed out to explore a bit more of the island. We popped over to Mushroom Bay, a place we had considered staying, and discovered that, while pretty, the beach is small and the bay is crowded with boats. Glad we did not stay there. We also toured through some of the back roads and ended up at Dream Beach. There is what appears to be a relatively new resort located here that makes it difficult to get to the beach itself. Because we had only a limited amount of time, we wandered out onto the cliffs overlooking it and took a few photos.

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We arrived back at Tarci just in time for Scoot to pick us up and whisk us away to the boat. It was a bit of a struggle for us to leave Lembongan. While we were there, we were relaxed and able to take things slow and enjoy life. There was not the same crazy traffic and far fewer pressure sales compared to the mainland areas we had seen. It truly was the relaxing tropical paradise we had been looking for. The fact that it started to rain as we approached the mainland did not help. 

Just leaving the islands on the boat.

On the boat, just leaving the islands. Goodbye, Nusa Lembongan! We’ll miss you!

Bali: Arrival and Ubud

Our initial arrival in Bali was a little anticlimactic. We had flown in with Air Asia X and the necessary stop in Kula Lampur meant that it was after 10:00 before we escaped immigration and customs and located our driver. We had booked a single night in Kuta, and after a day of travelling we simply got to the hotel and passed out.

We had planned to get away from Kuta and the surrounding areas as quickly as we could and the next morning we booked a driver to Ubud through our hotel and were on the road by 10:00. Boy were we glad that we did not have to drive! Being on the opposite side of the road is disorienting enough, but the rules of the road seem to mean very little in the area around Denpasar. It’s every man, woman, and child for themselves.

On the way we stopped at a model coffee plantation, had a little tour and tried the famous Lewak Coffee. It was OK but frankly, the coconut coffee that they also served us was WAY better. Not sure what all the Lewak fuss is about honestly. For those of you who have never heard of it, Luwak coffee is made from beans that are “specially selected” by Luwak cats. These cats swallow the beans whole because they like the sweet taste of the outermost casing. After they poop them out, the beans are then cleaned, roasted, and ground. It sounds like the coffee should taste like, well, poop, but it definitely doesn’t.

Seeing as neither of us was driving, we made it through to Ubud before lunch and settled into our hotel, the Ina Inn, on the outskirts of town. As part of the negotiations around the price (it seems that pretty well everything is negotiable in Bali) we set up a driving tour for the next day. Happily ensconced, we headed out to see some of the town. On the ‘must visit’ list for Ubud is the Sacred Monkey Forest, so we headed down Ubud’s main street towards this particular attraction.

Our hotel room at Ina Inn. We loved how open and airy it felt.

Our hotel room at Ina Inn. We loved how open and airy it felt.

As forest lovers, we are likely predisposed to giving favourable reports about areas where the paths meander between rocky walls, temples, and massive trees, but it was the monkeys (long-tailed Macques) that really made this a great show. They were everywhere and they were not shy at all. We wandered among the trees and temples snapping photos of Monkeys until we found an area just below the large performance platform. Here there was, for lack of a better description, a monkey bath and a ton of mothers with little monkeys. We must have spent 45 minutes watching the little ones learning to climb and the juveniles taking flying leaps at their friends in the water. Great entertainment!

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Once we tired of this show, we headed back up the street browsing through a few shops until we ran into a spa (one of many) that offered Balinese massages and in we went. The massages were great and the perfect segue into dinner. We ate at Ibu Rai restaurant and it was amazing. We were still getting used to how inexpensive restaurant meals are in Bali, but it worked out well when Blake spotted the selection of steaks. As most people probably know from previous posts or personal experience, Korea does not have a lot of steak. It was the perfect way to wrap up the evening!

Day two was not actually spent in Ubud. One of the great things about staying in Ubud is the proximity to all the cool stuff in the interior of Bali. Our first stop was south of Ubud to watch traditional dancers in Batu Bulan. We came in around act two of a five act performance. It was pretty cool. The dance told a story dealing with transformations and fighting various mythical creatures. And monkeys. There was a man dressed as a monkey who played some kind of important role not explained on the handout, but who was a pretty great dancer nonetheless.

From the dancing we headed to Gunung Kawi, a temple set down in a river valley. You descend 300 stairs through rice fields into the welcome coolness provided by the cliffs. Carved into the cliffs are huge statues that the temple is famous for. Beware, you (men and women) need to have your legs covered. There are many vendors happy to gouge you when they sell you a sarong. Indeed, you will be forced to run a gauntlet of persistent vendors all the way to the temple gates, so be prepared.

That persistence was nothing compared to the banana wielding lady Blake encountered at our next stop, Tirta Emple, the spring temple. We were just heading into the temple complex when we saw two women with baskets of bananas on their heads. Knowing what was coming as they moved towards us, we began patting the air and saying no thank you immediately. In this case that was not enough. Taking advantage of Blake’s open hand, a lady pressed a small banana into it and peeled back the skin. Now left holding a peeled banana, Blake felt compelled to pay for it. Of course starting negotiations when you have already ‘accepted’ the product is a horrible starting point indeed, and we definitely got gouged on that one. Lesson learned: keep your hands closed and close to your body in those situations. It might not hurt to be a little bit rude as well. The worst part was that the temple, while interesting, was not nearly as cool as the first one, and many sections were closed to tourists. After a short time wandering, we dashed through the gauntlet of vendors and into our hired vehicle.

A big part of this temple's tradition is bathing in the spring water after you have made an offering. Behind Tamara you can see the bathing area.

A big part of this temple’s tradition is bathing in the spring water after you have made an offering. Behind Tamara you can see the bathing area.

Lunch made up for our slightly unfortunate time at the temple. Our driver took us to the Sari restaurant in Bangil Bulan, which is perched right on one edge of the valley, looking across at the volcano. Through the occasional gap in the clouds we could catch glimpses of the mountain, the lake, and the different vegetation on the lava flows from the last eruption in 1963. Even though we never got a clear look at all the scenery, the floating cloud wisps were beautiful in their own right… even after the massive downpour started.

Lunch looking out over the volcano.

Lunch looking out over the volcano.

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Our final stop was the Cekeng Rice Terraces. Originally we had planned to visit the UNESCO designated Jatiluwah rice terraces, but going to Cekeng instead allowed us to see all the other stuff as well. Seeing as the UNESCO designation was about the traditional terraced method we figured that it would be similar. Similar or not it’s certainly beautiful. Sadly, the photos don’t really do it justice. We wandered along the top edge of the terraces and eventually settled in for a little dessert at one of the cafés overlooking the valley. It had stopped raining and the view was amazing. It is possible to walk down through the rice terraces, but we were a bit time-constrained as our driver wanted to be back in time for dinner so we did not pursue this particular part of the experience.

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The drive back to Ubud was enlightening. We had pictured Bali as a place with a series of villages with not much in between. This may be the case for some of the more remote areas, but the parts we drove through were essentially one long string of village interspersed with rice fields. Basically there is nowhere you can’t see a building.

Our last night in Ubud we decided to try a massage before dinner again. Sadly, the second attempt was less successful. The place we selected was slightly cheaper and it quickly became apparent why. We were led into an upstairs area over a clothing shop where there were several old massage beds separated by curtains sitting on a bare concrete floor. Our observations were supplemented by the growing realization that the ladies had next to no training and the end result was basically that we were covered in oil but no more relaxed. Live and learn. Tamara would like to add the following (to the non-lyrical tune of Jeff Foxworthy’s “you might be a redneck if…”)

You might not be in for a relaxing massage if… the “spa” is located above a clothing shop – and is staffed by the same people.

You might not be in for a relaxing massage if… the floor is bare concrete and the room smells just a bit like mildew.

You might not be in for a relaxing massage if… the calming music CD appears to not only be on repeat, but also be skipping. And accompanied by a nearby yeowling puppy.

You might not be in for a relaxing massage if… the masseuse appears to use different approaches with the right and left sides of your back.

You might not be in for a relaxing massage if… the said masseuse drops the warm cloth on the floor… and then promptly continues to wash the oil off your back with it.

Just something to consider. 🙂

During our planning-and-debriefing chat over dinner at Tropical Seafood and Grill (good but a little expensive) we discovered that we had witnessed several very interesting transactions throughout the day. Blake had seen someone (possibly a shop owner?) slip our driver a small bill when we were leaving the first temple. When stopped at a police roadblock, our driver got out to ‘confer’ with the police at the back of the car; he took no paperwork with him. While he was doing that, Blake saw the driver in front of us exchange a golden handshake with another policeman and then drive off with no need to discuss things further. It was a bit of an eye opener.

Goodbye Bali, hello back to school…

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Goodbye Bali, hello back to school...

Bali posts and pics to come.

In the meantime, today is the first day back to school to begin the 2014 school year.

While the education system might be a little taste of hell for many students here in Korea, at least my school’s kitchen’s sweetens the deal with lunch time welcome-back-white-chocolate cookies (complete with my school’s name, the year, and “welcome” in Korean, of course).