Monday, 21 October 2013

Whitsunday Islands

As part of the program that I came to study abroad through, I was offered a choice of a 3 day trip to either Fiji, Bali, Airlie Beach or New Zealand.
Since the flights to the non-Australian locations were way more expensive, Airlie beach seemed like a cheap easy weekend getaway. Lucky for me, most of my friends here are studying through the same program and we all booked our trips together.
I left last thursday and drove to Brisbane then flew to Airlie beach. Flying domestically in Australia is awesome! Super fast and easy and they don't even make you take off your shoes going through security. Definitely a breath of fresh air after travelling to Asia.
After arriving at the hostel (this one was one of the nicer ones we've been to) a couple of my friends and I headed to the beach to eat dinner and watch the sunset.
It was gorgeous. All the ocean there was like turquoise glass. Nothing like Craigville beach ocean.
After a few beers and a slightly disappointing karaoke experience (the karaoke contest never happened)  I went to bed early so I could be ready for the 9am boat ride the next day.
Friday morning my friends and I set out on an ocean rafting tour through some of the Whitsunday islands. I popped two dramamine (the drowsy kind oops) and then was ready for the adventure! It turned out to be a really enjoyable ride, mainly because the weather was perfect, the water was smooth as glass and there was barely any wind. It was one of the more beautiful things I've ever experienced, and the pictures that I have don't even do it justice.
First we snorkled, where I saw lots of cool fish and had a much more enjoyable experience snorkling than the last time (in cairns) Apparently if the tide had been lower the snorkling would've been even better but I was pretty pleased as it was, even though my sunglasses broke while on the boat immediately afterwards and my friend Emily lost her hat right before we were about to snorkel.

Next we went to Whitehaven beach, home of the number one image when you search whitsunday islands on google images. We went on a quick nature walk to get to the lookout spot, which had an unbelieveable view. Definitely my favorite part of the day.
A cool thing about the white sand on Whitehaven beach is the sand never gets too hot, so even though it was a summer day it was almost cool to walk on. The whiteness of the sand was overwhelmingly awesome.

Next, we went to another part of Whitehaven beach to relax for the rest of the day.
The sand there, the same white stuff as the first spot, has a high content of silica, so it can clean jewelry! I polished my rings while sitting in the sand.
It felt like the definition of paradise to sit at the edge of the water on a perfect beach day.
Our tour guide was a weird dude who was probably of aboriginal descent. He charmed us with a Kings of Leon song on our trip back. 
We walked past a wedding reception on the way back to our hostel. Wedding pics must've been beautiful.
That night we went out in Airlie beach again, where people had started drinking at noon. The streets were full of drunk people by 4pm which isn't really my style but also pretty entertaining.
On Saturday and Sunday we walked through some markets then headed to the lagoon, which is the only water suitable for swimming at Airlie beach since the jellyfish and stingrays are so dangerous there.
The Whitsunday airport is so tiny that it has one gate for arrivals and one for departures.
The plane on the way home only had two seats on each side! Smallest one I've ever been on.
It was good to be back after travelling for so long only a few weeks ago, and now it's the last week of classes.
I have one assignment due before my next trip to Melbourne on Nov 1!!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Vacation from vacation

After the not so strenuous semester that I've had so far, spring break didn't feel like much of a break at all, just a continuation of the vacation that I've been living since July.
Anyways, here's a recap of my adventures in Bali (and then Malaysia)
Day 1:
Five of my friends and I woke up at 430 to get to the airport, flew from gold coast to kuala lumpur, Malaysia.  I had my 3.8 million indonesian rupiah with me and i was ready to go!!
I sat next to a man and what I am pretty sure was his mail order wife from Burma. But that's beside the point.
After waiting forever to get on the plane in Malaysia, we flew to Bali.
The first cab ride was eyeopening! Since it's a third world country and there are basically no rules to the road, my backseat driving habits were in full swing. I was actually clutching the dashboard as our cab driver swerved in and out of mopeds, oncoming traffic and horse drawn carriages.
For the first seven days of our trip we stayed in Kuta. The hotel on the first night was beautiful, with a nice pool and free breakfast!!

Day 2:
Crossed the street to the Kuta discovery mall where we did some shopping and hit up the spa, which was so cheap. I was going to get a temporary tattoo of a scorpion but then we learned that airbrush tattoos weren't allowed at our resort since the ink bled onto the sheets. Saw the beach and the indian ocean for the first time, which was right behind the mall.
Then we checked into our resort, the Risata Hotel. I was slightly disappointed when I got to the "gym" and realized it was a singular treadmill in a room with no air conditioner, but needless to say I lived.
For dinner we went to bamboo, a pretty touristy place, but they had a karaoke contest and a lot of lively entertainment.
Day 3:
Accidentally, we thought that the 10 hour culture tour was the next day, so we were awoken by the hotel front desk saying that our ride was waiting for us.
We rallied quickly (i think i wore the ugliest outfit i could find that day) and then hopped into the van with our driver whose name i couldn't even attempt to pronounce.
First stop was a "traditional" balinese dance show which ended up being a little disappointing, as the dancers often came out of character and posed for pictures and came into the audience (I hate things in costumes, especially animal costumes) but it was interesting and the music was cool.

Next we went to a coffee plantation and tried all sorts of coffee and tea. My favorite was Balinese ginseng coffee. There are a lot of tourist coffee attractions in Bali that sell luwak coffee, which is coffee made out of poop from luwaks, which are animals similar to ferrets that eat coffee beans. When they poop out the beans, they are then cleaned and ground into coffee. It is apparently the most expensive coffee in the world!

From there we went to Ulan Danu, a temple which was beautiful! It was right on a lake with a lot of colorful boats docked along the edge.

Next we stopped on the side of the road to play with some monkeys, which I have decided are eerily smart and not my favorite creatures. Regardless, they were cute and fun to play with.

Tanah lot temple was our last stop which was beautiful in the late afternoon sunlight.
Underneath the temple there was a cave with fresh water and hindu priests/monks/religious leaders/i'm unsure what to call them purified us with fresh water and stuck rice grains to our foreheads. Definitely a new experience. I put my feet in the Indian ocean there too!

That night we went drank Bintang (indonesian beer) in our room while wearing robes then went to Skygarden, a 5 story bar which was a really fun time. Since asia is a little behind the times in terms of music, they played my favorite, as Jackie calls it, delayed pop. The jams that aren't cool enough to be old enough to be cool but also aren't new enough to be popular.
We met a group of guys from perth, which apparently is only a cheap short flight away.
Day 4 and 5:
We spent the next days exploring the beach, which was so hot! but also fairly empty save for the merchants who sell things from bracelets to ice cream bars to crossbows and who don't take no for an answer.

We hung out poolside at the resort before heading to the Kuta markets for a taste of some balinese handcrafted shopping but found instead that the huckers at the markets were too much to handle. Didn't find too many good souvenirs there, but it was worth the experience. We went to bed early in anticipation of the next morning, our sunrise hike over an active volcano.
Day 6:
The next day began at 1am when a rickety van picked us up and we drove to mount batur, the active volcano. We shared the van with two german men on vacation with their families whose families didn't want to hike with them.
After possibly the scariest car ride down what i think was a cliff, we arrived at the volcano's base, were given flashlights and started the climb!
It wasn't an easy climb, as the path was all gravel and difficult to get traction, but we reached the top just in time to see the sunrise and eat breakfast.
We then hiked over to the volcano's crater, and felt the steam from the crater.
The worst part of the day hit me hard and fast when I realized I was in dire need of a restroom which they do not have at the top of rural volcanoes. Our tour guide lead me to a rock in the middle of the path which was by no means out of the way, but luckily it was a false alarm and I didn't have to stoop that low.
The hike down was slippery, but beautiful as we could see the path in the daylight and the beautiful mountains surrounding the volcano.
The rest of the day we spent napping, then hung around the pool and relaxed.

Day 7:
Thursday morning came early and we were all excited to go ride elephants!!!!
The ride to the elephant safari park was the probably the third worst car ride of the trip, as it was hot as anything and into the boonies of Ubud, the rural jungle area. Once we finally got there, the elephants hung out with us and let us pet them. We watched a creepy elephant show which reminded me of the bear show and clark's trading post, then went for a ride! My elephant was a 40 year old male with giant tusks. The trainers each accompany their own elephant from the Indonesian island Sumatra, and my trainer said that the elephants become their second families. Something I quickly noticed was the prevalence of statues of mating elephants, by far the most popular thing in the gift shop.

Thursday night we participated in Rick's pub crawl, which apparently is the only pub crawl in Indonesia, unsurprisingly.
Rick's was a great time, we went to a fire show, a drag bar (unfriendly drag queens but I danced on the stage) and then two more places. I think the ride between each place was my favorite part though.
Day 8:
Free day, we went to the beach after laying out by the pool then watched the sun set over the water at dinner. There were indonesian women dressed in traditional garb by the beach who looked incredibly beautiful but also so hot. We were tired from all the sun and spent the night watching tv in our hotel robes. Relaxing to say the least.

Day 9:
Woke up early and I got a facial (fancy!) then we checked out of our resort and took my second least favorite car ride to Ubud, which is further inland and less touristy than Kuta.
Besides the car ride which lasted forever and featured a full cattle truck right in front of us, it was a good day full of sopping around the Ubud markets (much more laidback than Kuta!!)
We went to a balinese dance show, still not my favorite but very cultural, while eating dinner, then went back to our villa on the river. The villa was carved into a hillside, and we were so slose to the river that our beds had mosquito nets around them!

Day 10:
After breakfast we hit the markets hard, stopping at the Ubud palace to take some pictures and then went to the Ubud monkey forest. Again, realized that monkeys aren't my thing but they were cute and some wer friendly while some were attacking small children. I watched one monkey take an earring out of a girl's ear!

We ate our last dinner in Bali at a pizza place before going to sleep and waking up early to head back to Australia, or so we thought.
Day 11:
Laid by the pool then headed to the airport, where we quickly realized that due to the APEC conference in Bali, our flight was delayed and wouldn't make the connection in Kuala Lumpur. The bad news? No flight to Australia til WEDNESDAY! (it was monday at this point)
Upon landing in Kuala Lumpur, an aggressively angry asian man followed us to the help desk and finally bothered the air asia attendants so much that they got all 24 of us stuck in KL onto a flight early wednesday morning. This was fine, but we were sitting in 90 degree heat for three hours. Thank god for the free McDonalds they brought us (not). When we arrived at our "hotel" I started getting a little worried and was so tired and ready to sleep. Good thing the sheets were fairly stained so I slept on top of a towel.

Day 12:
Thankfully, we figured out how to get into the actual city from the hotel, and took a train to KL. It was a beautiful city! We went to central market, then china town, then to the mall which was GIANT. Saw a movie to pass some time which ended up being really great (About Time, classic chick flick styke with Rachel McAdams). Then went to the skybar which had the perfect view of the towers and watched the sun set. The day that we spent in KL actually ended up being one of the best days of the trip and was a welcome detour on the way back to Australia.

Day 13:
FINALLY got to the airport and then after 9 long hours landed in Australia after probably the longest and most interesting vacation I've ever been on.
My pictures definitely don't do it justice, but Bali was an incredible place and very beautiful!
I'd go back for sure if it weren't so far away.

Things I don't miss about Asia:
-brusing my teeth with bottled water
-hoping each meal i ate wouldn't make me sick
-paying for toilets
-language barrier
-foreign currency conversions
-being ripped off by cab drivers

Things i really liked about Asia:
-amazing architecture
-really beautiful landscapes from cities to rural towns to beach, we saw it all
-everything is so cheap
-air conditioning
-robes at the hotel