Strictly: Striking Out – Volume #1

Now, down to the mysterious reason behind why I’m so backed up with things to ramble on about at the moment. Well, two reasons actually, but they’re more-or-less interconnected. Number 1 is that I, again, had some visitors to my Far Eastern abode, this time Lorna and Eleanor. A lot of the things we did together I’ve already done, so you’ll be pleased to know I’ve no intention of rehashing the stuff I’ve already bored you to death with. But their appearance in my neck of the woods meant that I was encouraged to spend all my money and strike out into the unknown lands of Indonesia and Malaysia – Bali and Melaka to be precise. So here, I’m afraid, you’re going to be bored to death by the former, before I prattle on about the latter at a later date.

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Because I’m a maverick I decided that, who needs a proper holiday off work to travel over 2 hours by plane to a different country, when you can achieve the aim of going to Bali in 2 and a half days. So, rather than wait until I had time off work, I let Lorna and Eleanor talk me into a lightning-stop trip to Bali over the weekend. Not a long weekend, mind, just an average, run of the mill, Sunday night – Wednesday lunchtime weekend. It seemed like such a good idea at the time and, the debacle of travelling home (which I’ll wax lyrical on later) aside, it pretty much was. As I didn’t have a lot of time to spare I didn’t see an awful lot of Bali, but my first (very brief) sight of the country was of the seaside resort of Kuta, a land of scummy bars and wasted white people, it’s basically the Aussie Magaluf. I was only there for a few short hours, and I was asleep for most of those, but its safe to say that I have absolutely no desire to return to Kuta, ever. That’s not saying that I didn’t like Bali, because Ubud, where I spent the majority of my two days, I loved. It’s just that Kuta is a dive.

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A couple of hours north of Kuta, and outside of the influence of drunk Australians, Ubud is the hippy capital of South East Asia (probably). Made famous by Julia Roberts and Eat, Pray, Love the rapidly growing town is a mecca for anyone who loves eating wheatgrass and hates washing. These introductory sentences, while catchy, probably don’t sell it particularly well so let me lay down here that, hand on heart, I genuinely, absolutely, loved Ubud. It’s a place made up of a strange mix of ancient Balinese culture, mainly present in the architecture, tourist baiting shops and attractions and hippy baiting hippy-ness. It’s also an area very, very prone to rain. I got pretty wet on my first day in Ubud, so much so that I felt like I was at home (if home was really hot and humid and filled with monkeys). Ubud probably doesn’t offer the most authentic Balinese experience, I’m pretty sure I saw more white people than locals in my two days, but for a weekend away, or longer if you’re inclined to actually holiday, it is a brilliant destination.

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Day 1 was spent mainly being miserable, because of the rain, and getting in my shopping fix. Ubud is famous for its reasonably priced handcrafted goods, and I made the most of sounding out that claim. Compared to home, or Singapore, it was pretty cheap I grant you, but I was actually surprised at how expensive Bali was. I expected to have a fully Spanish experience and spend pennies on food and drink, but I actually ended up spending around £150 over the 3 days I was there. That’s not a lot for a holiday, but it is on this side of the world. Anyway, I digress. Day 1 was mostly spent exploring the town and dodging the rain storms, but we did discover that Ubud does a lot of very good vegetarian and vegan Indonesian food, and that a Balinese massage is ridiculously cheap. I also very briefly toyed with the idea of indulging in one of Ubud’s more famous pastimes and going to Yoga Barn for some (probably not very) relaxing yoga, but thankfully I quickly realised how stupid that idea was and quietly abandoned it.

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Day 2 was dubbed ‘the day we fit a weeks worth of sightseeing into one’ as I attempted to see and do everything Ubud has to offer in a 10 hour period. First up was an early morning trip to the Sacred Monkey Forest. This is somewhere that’s pretty easy to explain because it’s more or less exactly what it says on the tin: A forest famed both for the fact that its got a lot of sacred temples and because it’s filled with an army of Balinese Macaque monkeys. My feelings towards monkeys are very similar to my feelings about swans, I like them in theory, but in practise they are actually terrifying. The idea of these monkeys was nice, from a distance and on their own they were cute, but when you’ve got a handful running about your legs trying to steal all your possessions, or fighting, or just existing within 5 feet of you, they are nightmare-inducing. Eleanor bowed out of the monkey forest excursion because she doesn’t like monkeys (a fair excuse under the circumstances), so Lorna and I were left to brave it alone. Dear reader, I’m pleased to tell you that we survived the experience, and that we both loved the forest and all it’s hidden temples, but more than once we did run away from an advancing pack of monkeys, and we were pretty pleased to explore the temples along the river where the monkeys didn’t venture. Ironically, though, our closest call with a monkey wasn’t even in the forest, but on the road where our hostel was, when Lorna tried to do her paparazzi thing with a monkey minding its own business and it nearly clawed her face off.

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After sufficient time had elapsed for us to recover from our morning we set out and undertook stage 2 of ‘tdwfawwosio’, or ‘the afternoon of enjoying, and not failing at, traditional Balinese crafts’. While trying to find some weird and wacky things to do in Ubud we’d stumbled across silversmithing classes and decided to try our hand at making our own jewellery. I was slightly worried that they wouldn’t be able to handle my crazily amazing art skills (or not), and that I would make something so mind-blowing that all jewellery companies would be put out of business forever (read: I thought I’d probably be pants and make something embarrassingly awful) but luckily there was a brilliant team of actual silversmiths on hand to check my genius (read: make sure I didn’t screw it up). Making jewellery, if you’re not an actual jewellery maker, is normally associated with adolescent girls and generally involves a lot of beads. This needed no beads, but it did make me feel like I was 12 again, even down to the use of a hacksaw and some clamps, which was very reminiscent of woodwork class. Despite the serious déjà vu I really enjoyed making my necklace (that looks like Dougal, obviously) and now reckon I can pass as an actual silversmith… probably… just about. For anyone planning to visit Ubud, who reckons they could take to the craft as well as I did and wants to try their hand, I’m sure there are a couple of dozen classes out there. And I’m sure that they’re all very good and all that, but they’ll probably be in a boring shop, in the middle of town. Chez Monique has its studio in the middle of nowhere, in a traditional covered courtyard that I can only presume is part of someone’s house, and which makes you feel like you’ve stumbled into a Balinese village in the back of beyond. The classes are also run by the nicest and happiest man I have ever met, who had a great knack of fixing any dumb thing we managed to do wrong with our jewellery. Seriously, go to Chez Monique, you won’t regret it.

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After becoming a bona fide craftswoman there was very little of the day left, and only time for one more outing. I had wanted to go to the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, but they were a car ride away and it was already past 3, so we instead settled on the Campuhan Ridge Walk, voted number one in TripAdvisors list of things to do in Ubud, through the Balinese countryside and a smattering of rice terraces, to Karsa Cafe, a watering hole and spa famous for its ridiculous location. This kind of ridiculous is the good kind. Karsa Cafe is a wooden building on the edge of something that’s probably too small to be called a village, or even a hamlet, with views over the neighbouring rice terraces. There’s a small outdoor area and, most weirdly of all, a series of thatched hut-like decks with tables that are actually perched over a lake (well, a big pond really). I’m not describing this well, I know, but the setting and the view are both pretty breathtaking, lets just leave it at that. It was getting dangerously close to dark by the time we managed to tear ourselves away from the cafe and its views, so we raced back along the hilltop path and stumbled into Ubud, just in time for a bit more rain.

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And this, my friends, marks the end of my stay in Bali. Yes, there was dinner and one final Indonesian beer before bed, but the good times more or less end here. The bad times, thanks to AirAsia, are only just starting, however. Now, there’s nothing more boring than hearing someone whine on and on about something that’s happened to them, so I’m going to keep this rant short, but I will leave space to say that AirAsia are the most useless airline I’ve ever encountered – beating RyanAir by a mile – and that’s saying something. Despite the fact that I booked my flights in February, and checked in online before I even left home, they decided to wait until 5 hours before my flight to tell me that it was rescheduled, 4 hours later than it was supposed to depart. This is not what you want to hear when you have to get back for work. Thankfully, budget airlines are ten a penny no matter where you are, so I got a flight with someone infinitely better, but AirAsia are now ignoring my complaints, which is nice of them, and are making sure that I’m never foolish enough to fly with them again.

And… rant over. No one likes to end on a downer, so I’m going to ramble on for a line or two about nothing in particular to pick this up a bit. There’s no doubt that I was thoroughly exhausted by the time I arrived back in Singapore, and that a weekend trip to another country is not something I could do all the time, but I really enjoyed my time in Bali and (like literally every other place I’ve been) I definitely need to go back so I can experience it properly.

Leah Out X   

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