Opps...It seems i found a stash of images from Ubud, Bali that I never posted. So before I update you on our progress through Thailand I will give you a brief rundown on Ubud. The cultural center of Bali, Ubud is known for its painters, craftsmen, and silversmiths. It is also home to a beautiful landscape of impossibly lush green rice terraces, winding mountain fed streams, and crashing waterfalls. The town is relatively small, but has grown quite a bit since the filming of "Eat, Pray, Love". I visited the area a couple weeks ago and thought it would be a great place to spend our final days in Bali here. The town is a blend of backpacker havens and boutique hotels, roadside warungs and 5-star bistros. I spent a lot of time wandering the market area, which is one of the best in Bali. We got a taste of our first good live music in several months at the Laughing Buddha, which also had excellent tapas. We also saw a traditional Balinese ceremony performance, something I usually wouldn't bother with but am glad I did. We revisited the Monkey Forest, and MJ did pretty good-only one incident involving a marauding group of Long Tailed Monkeys. Since we only had 5 days to spend there, we have decided to return to the area in January for a while so MJ can properly enjoy all there is to see- her eyes are almost totally healed!
Well it has been an interesting week- in my last post I started to explain that MJ had an eye infection that needed more treatment than the hospitals in Bali could offer. After some research we decided it would be a good idea to fly to Singapore to visit The National Eye Institute. That turned out to be a good choice, the Doctor there is a highly regarded corneal specialist who works with colleagues around the world and in the US. We ended up having to fly back and forth to Singapore several times for appointments as it was much to expensive to stay there long term. After her second appointment things were looking good and we prepared to head back to Bali for the remainder of our time. The Balinese gods had different ideas. It turned out there was a volcanic eruption on Lombock (one island east of Bali) and the airport in Bali was closed with all flights cancelled. Not knowing how long these things take, we decided to stay in Singapore to check out some sights and rebooked a flight to Bali the next day, It is impossible to predict how long the ash cloud would continue to drift across the flight patterns.
We found Singapore fascinating. Very clean and orderly, great mass transit, and very friendly people. It was, however, very expensive- Hotels could easily run upwards of $400 a night. There is a large population of Chinese and Indian people living and working there. As such there was a very lively Chinatown and Little India area within the relatively small city/country (I had forget Singapore was its own country and was celebrating 50 years of independence). We took some time to explore Chinatown and the surrounding area. The next day we checked the flight status before heading to the airport and everything was good, airport open and flights back in the air. When we arrived at the airport however, it was a different story. The airport in Bali had been closed again and all flights cancelled. We were sure we didn't want to stay in Singapore because it could be days/weeks before the Bali airport reopened. We decided on the spot to make our way to Thailand as this was on our itinerary anyways and would give us an opportunity to check it out before staying long term. We decided to fly into Krabi, which is on the south east coast. Situated on a river delta, the town was, and still is, mainly a fishing village. It is surrounded by stunning limestone cliffs and dotted with many small islands- the book/movie "The Beach" took place in this area. Because we were forced to book a hotel and transportation quickly while at the Singapore airport, we were caught a little off guard when we landed and found no one there to pick us up. It was late and we were the only flight arriving in the small airport, so we were a little anxious (and very tired after a long day of travel). We managed to find someone to call the hotel and were told to have a taxi take us there instead. Ok, so we found a taxi and headed out. The next two days are like a Twilight Zone episode.
We were driven through some very dark and mountainous areas. I knew from mapping the hotel location that it was in a good size town about 15 minutes from the airport so 30 minutes into the drive I was a bit nervous. Nobody knew we were here! I almost asked where we were going when we pulled into a hotel the middle of a field. The Tama Hotel was really quite beautiful, but it was nowhere near where the map said. The closest attraction was a gravel pit and water treatment plant. The hotel staff spoke no english so we decided to just go to our room to get some sleep and talk to them in the morning. The next day we were surprised to find we were the only guests in the large hotel (probably 80 rooms or more). The staff would hover over our every move as there was nothing else to do. They fed us excessively large meals and offered us a complimentary bottles of red wine...great, we could at least have some drinks and enjoy the pool. Wrong, the wine ended up being sparkling grape juice and there was no alcohol served in the hotel!! The humanity of it all! We found out later that it was run by Muslims and designed for Chinese tour groups. We managed to escape the hotel and found a small place in Krabi Town. That was a good move, Krabi was a cool little place. More of a backpacker haven than resort town which is more our speed. We meet a German guy Benjamin who was traveling alone for 6 weeks and was in town to get his diving certificate. We ended up hanging out with Benjamin and checked out the night market together. We also managed to get a little intoxicated once or twice. It was the beginning of the rainy season in southern Thailand so there wasn't a lot of time to see the beaches (and MJs eyes were still weak from the infection) so I went to Ao Nang Beach myself for a day to explore. While I was there a strong storm hit and I was forced to sit in a beach dive and drink Thai beer.
We enjoyed our sneak peek of Thailand and made our way back to Bali in a few days. I am now sitting in a Cafe in Ubud writing my final post from Bali- tomorrow we head to Thailand for the next month. First stop is Phuket (we needed to be close to an airport as MJ has one more check up in Singapore), then up to Chang Mai in northern Thailand for the Loy Krathong Festival, then down to Koi Lanta before moving onto Vietnam.
Forgive me, it has been a while since my last post. I have a lot of images and information to share, but let me first update you on where we are and where we are heading next. We are in our final days here in Sanur, Bali. This has been a great stop and the location was a good launching point for day trips to other parts of the island. Unfortunately, MJ has been battling an eye infection since arriving and has been unable to enjoy all this wonderful place has to offer. We have spent a lot of time, energy, and funds trying to clear up the infection and allow her eye to heal to a point that she can function regularly. In addition, since having PRK surgery in August, her eyes have been slow to heal and are very light-sensitive...this obviously makes being in SE Asia very difficult as it is very bright here. After many trips to a reputable hospital in Bali and several longer trips to the National Eye Center in Singapore, she is showing vast improvement!
Here are the final images i shot in and around Sanur. I had my driver Agung take me to Ubud which is in the highlands of Bali. Ubud is known for its talented artist community, stunning rice fields, and beautiful temples. It was also unfortunately featured in the film "Eat, Pray, Love" and has been quick to jump on board and ride the fame game. You can't blame them though as it has attracted a lot of tourists and their money. The town is still quirky and fun, though there is a staggering amount of references to the now 5 year old film. Some high end boutiques and guest houses have popped up but very modest places to stay abound. We will spend our final 5 days in Ubud when we leave Sanur on Friday and it will cost us the kingly sum of $140...not per night but for all five nights! After walking the streets of Ubud I wandered over to the Monkey Forest which is a nature reserve and Hindu temple complex. I had been avoiding coming here as it is a very popular tourist attraction and I detest such things. Since I was on my own and not part of a planned group excursion I gave myself permission to check it out. The forest is not very large but there are 115 different species of trees across a very dense forested area with a deep river ravine splitting it in two. There are about 700 Balinese Long Tailed Monkeys in total. They are very territorial and have separated into 5 groups that each control a part of the forest. It was a little unnerving at first to be so close to these creatures without any sort of enclosure but I soon forgot about that and thoroughly enjoyed a good two hours zig zagging throughout the place.
I also visited the Tegallalang Rice Terraces. These were much smaller than the fields of Jatiluwih Terraces I visited a couple weeks ago but still stunning. It is hard to explain or even capture in camera how green these terraces are. Being fully functional and producing rice for the surrounding area I was able to see and talk to a few locals who work the fields. One older man, who spoke very little english, saw my camera and gestured me to follow him. He was finishing his day of work and began "showering"...he was giving me a free show.! Luckily he removed only his hat!
After my shower show, I headed to the famous Elephant Cave, or Goa Gajah which was built in the 11th century as a sanctuary and bathing site. It is one of a few UNESCO World Heritage sites around Bali. I met yet another older man who began telling me the background story of the site in very broken english, hand gestures, and drawings he scraped into the soft ground with a stick. He was explaining how a portion of the temple had fallen down in the early 20th century, and went so far as to climb down the slippery rocks in his bare feet as I followed, barley keeping up. After his story, he of course wanted a donation (a very common occurrence around the tourist sites). He was so humble about it and was such a nice guy I obliged. I went on to ask him for a portrait and he happily accepted.
I enjoyed this portion of our trip but am relieved that MJ's eyes are getting healthy enough to begin enjoying this journey together. Our next stop after a short stay in Ubud is Thailand. My next post will detail our recent trip to Singapore which included an unexpected side trip to Thailand.
Ok, so the title is a little misleading...its never cold in Bali. Both MJ and I are fighting head colds this week and haven't been out as much as we would like. Here is some photos from the last week including some abstracts I have been working on. The city-scapes are long exposure and hand held- a technique I really enjoy employing. It is especially good for capturing light trails and making ordinary skylines look like technicolor dreams. We hope to both feel better soon so we can get back to exploring the beauty of Bali.
For now, here are a few more things I learned about Bali:
Locals don't walk anywhere. Motorbike or Bemo Bus (local open air bus) is almost always used.
Grocery stores here use the same "move everything" tactic used in The States.
Driving is open warfare. There are very few traffic signals, signage, or even lanes. Many motorbikes don't even turn on their lights at night. The lack of signage is somewhat refreshing as it can become overwhelming in other parts of the world (I'm talking to you USA and Australia).
Posters and banners advertising events are never taken down. They seem to wait until they disintegrate.
Very often it is cheaper to buy beer at a bar or restaurant than at the grocery store.
Only use BlueBird Taxis when in Bali. Everyone else will try to cheat you.
Tourists are usually charged more for things than locals- But its still cheap.