Archive for the ‘RTW2009’ Category

The End: Bali, Singapore, Melbourne

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Bali is a much larger island than we’d imagined, so we can say that we’ve had but a small taste of it.


Considering that we only booked flights in and out of there to fill an 8 day gap in our itinerary, it was nice to taste that über-popular destination that, despite being so close to home, we had never previously visited.

Ubud is a stunning town quite unlike anywhere else we’ve visited on this trip. I highly recommend you spend some time there rather than in Bali’s beachside resorts. The beaches are better – and cheaper – in Thailand anyway.


Ubud excels with beautiful jungle landscapes and exquisite architecture without too much in-your-face development and touts. Although to comprehensively avoid the touts you need to be on a scooter rather than on foot. And do yourself a favor by staying in Ubud Bungalow. Brilliantly located luxury for around $35 a night.


One place you do not want to ride a scooter on Bali is around Kuta / Legian and Denpasar. I confidently contend that the driving habits of Indonesian road users are among the deadliest in the world. It was a genuinely scary experience and not one I intend to repeat. Riding conditions around Ubud and in the highlands, however, are fine and the routes are rather enjoyable.

We made the obligatory visit to Kuta, and were privy to the “Australia Zoo” experience we expected. Keep well away from there is our tip.

Oh and we had our laundry done for the final time. I’m really going to miss laundry service:

We flew out of Denpasar to Singapore for our final stop, with Jetstar playing their usual “make everyone board the plane 30 minutes before scheduled departure, and then depart 30 minutes late” trick.

Singapore was the 30th and final country we would visit – more out of necessity than explicitly wanting to visit. For starters I needed to buy a suit for the string of weddings scheduled shortly after our return to Melbourne. And indeed some day to day clothing to replace what is so easily destroyed / lost / stolen / discarded during 10 months on the road.


It’s a nice enough city, though. As clean and modern as you’d expect. Shopping is probably not as good as KL, and certainly inferior to Bangkok or Hong Kong. Food options, though, are spectacular.

For our final nights we splurged and stayed at the Scarlett Hotel, fittingly our fanciest accommodation for the whole trip. It’s located in Chinatown and for once we were in the right place at the right time: Chinese New Year was rung in on our last night with the pomp, ceremony and volume levels you’d expect in a city where 77% are of Chinese descent.


So on February 15th, after managing to squeeze in a few more hours of rooftop jacuzzi, we headed to the airport on eerily quiet new year’s day roads to wait for our brand spanking Qantas A380.


Simultaneously heavy hearted and brimming with excitement we boarded and crept back to Melbourne overnight. And what do you know, there was a Chinese New Year dragon float to greet us in the arrivals hall at Tullamarine.

Southward Bound

Friday, February 5th, 2010

The days remaining in the trip are ticking down very quickly now. In some respects it’s quite refreshing to feel like a traveler with limited time; we’ve regained that sense of urgency to see, feel and do stuff. As in Central America we’ve been striking toward the equator, but this time we’re aiming for home.


To fill in the gaps since the last update:

Phi Phi Island in Thailand was looking like it might be a one-day destination; such was the dearth of available accommodation. The place was full.

But through a combination of good luck – finding places to stay and a surprise visit from Melbournites Katie & Sam – and bad luck: Jess contracting Dengue fever – we ended up staying for two weeks.


We made the single day boat-bus-bus-bus-boat scramble across the peninsula to Koh Phangnan with Jess still recovering, and in hindsight we should have tried to find a flight. Our backpacks were raided during the bus trip (inside the baggage compartment) and although we didn’t have any valuables in there, they lifted (or lost?) some clothes and a cheap (but very useful) bag. They also slashed a hole in mine to access a section with a stuck zipper. Hopefully they cut themselves on my uncapped razor blades in there.


KPN is a very picturesque place with reasonably low key development (by Thai standards) and we quite enjoyed a few days there in proper jungle-garden-resort-ocean-view-pool style. No full moon parties for us though. It’s a big island, though, and doesn’t have the walk-ability of Phi Phi. You really need scooters to get around.


We took our final (rough) boat trip from KPN onto Koh Samui where we flew out of possible the world’s most picturesque airport, thinking 52 straight days in Thailand was possibly overdoing things a tad.


A few days in Kuala Lumpur made for a nice city break from the endless sand and oceans of Southern Thailand – we enjoyed the city even more than on our last visit four years ago and noted how much our perceptions have changed since then. As much as we adore Thai food, a change in cuisine was also welcome.



We’ve since jetted out of KL for our first visit to Bali – starting with Ubud. At first glance the tourism operation is much slicker here than in Thailand, and right now the air is thick with monsoon
humidity. It’s a very beautiful place, and the rain is bucketing down.



Little Opportunities & Lounges

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

We were pleasantly surprised after traversing security for our departure from the “low cost airline terminal” in Kuala Lumpur that we had access to a rather nice lounge fortified amongst the human zoo that forms the public gate area in most all airports we’ve visited.

This one, named “Plaza Premium Lounge” had a novel feature that I’d not encountered in previous lounges: Electronic massage chairs.

I’m not big on massage, in fact I’d politely declined at least 794 offers of massage in Thailand, and probably 40 more in the 4 days we stayed in KL. But I’d always found the Asian interest in massage chairs fascinating, and having never sampled the delights I availed myself of the opportunity.

The experience itself was interesting if not noteworthy, but it exemplifies part of the joy I take in travel: Little opportunities, never anticipated, that wouldn’t otherwise present themselves.

The existence of a lounge at all is often the unexpected delight. Before commencing the trip we purchased “Priority Pass” memberships – which theoretically provide members access to several hundred lounges in most airports throughout the world. Even at that time, when we expected to make half as many flights as the 30-odd we’ve boarded thus far, it seemed like a reasonable deal at around $450 for 12 months unlimited access.

The theory we held is that waiting in airports is one of the least pleasurable aspects of travel. Particularly at some of the low rent airports we knew we’d be visiting, where departure gates can be horrendous smoke filled places crowded with morons and irritants. So we hoped we could transform the horror into decadence replete with complimentary wine, Wi-Fi, decent food and, most important of all, silence.

When this worked according to plan – as it did today in KL – it worked out very well indeed. Although we didn’t partake in the “free flow of beer” advertised out the front, the food was exceptional, the Wi-Fi fast and the silence golden. Worth every penny compared to counting ones toes seated on cold metal benches in the departure gate, especially during inevitable flight delays. More so when you’re boarding a budget airline with minimal intrinsic comfort.

On the whole, though, it’s difficult to decide whether it’s worth $450. By the time we get home, we’ll have taken 33 flights over the course of the year, and perhaps 60% of the time we’ve been able to make use of a lounge.

Early morning flights often get in the way – where there’s no reason to get the airport sufficiently early to find the lounge. It’s also common in larger airports for our Priority Pass cards to provide access to a number of different lounges, all of which are a long (and unknown) distance from the departure gate, making it a risky and tense affair trying to determine how long to sit in the lounge before heading to the gate.

Some airports won’t have any participating lounges at all, and occasionally (particularly in the USA) the lounges have been rubbish.

The highlights have been high, though. What springs to mind was our Quito → Lima → Sao Paulo leg where the lounges in both Quito and Lima were fantastic. The one in Lima is apparently much awarded, so it should be complete with dedicated cocktail waiter, freshly squeezed orange juice and an outdoor terrace. Both lounges were affiliate with LAN Peru, meaning we were personally escorted when it was time to board our flight at the absolute last minute. No queues, no waiting, perfection.

In Amman the Royal Jordanian “Gold Class” lounge was similarly opulent, spanning a jaw dropping 2200m². The Virgin Blue lounge in Melbourne, with showers and a pool table, also deserves a mention, and was a great way to start our adventure.

To summarize, I think the Priority Pass membership offers the best value to frequent fliers who know that the airports they frequent have high quality lounges, and are familiar with the respective distances to the gates. Otherwise it is something of a gamble.

Doing nothing in Thailand

Monday, January 11th, 2010


That title is simultaneously accurate and misleading. As the sun sets over Loh Dalam bay in that spectacular Thai fashion I’m sitting on our rusty balcony considering the past 30 days as we’ve wandered from beach to island. While we certainly haven’t been over-doing it, I can tally a reasonable list of stuff that we’ve done.


Snorkeling (lots of), scuba diving, sitting in deck chairs on the beach reading, drinking soda water with ice and lots of lime, searching for good coffee (and winning more often that I’d expect), identifying the characteristics of the perfect pad thai, som tum, grilled chicken and wondering why one of the three won’t exist from one island to the next and finally, of some importance, working out how we’re actually going to join the dots between here and home.


What’s been notably absent from our activities of late includes trawling Lonely Planet for a clue, arguing with taxi drivers from a weak position, lugging our gear to a new place and a new room every few days, and looking at museums, temples, churches, historic sites or indeed any culturally significant thing at all. It’s official: We’re on holiday from traveling. And it’s nice.


I’ve spent quite a lot of time considering what it is to do nothing. Admittedly, whatever it is, we must be pretty good at it by now. But I’m increasingly convinced that having unlimited spare time is not the holy grail that it might appear to be.


This, of course, sounds obvious. I’ve held this view for a long time, so I’ve often asked people what they would do if they retired from working tomorrow. The answers predictably included traveling the world, learning new skills and maybe some golf. “Working on the house” is another favorite, and that they don’t consider this to be work is of particular interest to me.


Travel can, shockingly, be considered work. We reached the point sometime in Vietnam where we realized that we didn’t want to see another thing on the tourist trail. An enormous Buddha statue or unique hill tribe? Forget it. The big hitters like Ankgor Wat? Not a chance.


After just 8 months (a pretty short trip as far as round-the-world-ers go) our patience and interest had waned, and the act of traveling had become work. As I sit here having transitioned from traveling to “on holiday” I’m considering some of the things I’m looking forward to when I get home, and I note that some fall firmly into the “work” category.


Chief among them, actually, is work itself. I’m genuinely looking forward to sitting in front of a couple of very large LCDs and writing some code.

Setting aside the work vs spare time considerations, what’s really been missing from our lives during the trip is our friends. Which is food for thought for anyone who, like me, wonders if you really can create a remote existence. Be it perpetual travel, or setting up shop somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Filled with beautiful tropical beaches and cheap pad thai as it may be.


Perhaps even retiring too early. Who are you going to play golf with?

So as the perpetual holiday draws to an end, we’re looking forward to seeing lots of you soon, and some of you someday, somewhere. Oh, and doing some work again.



Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Bangkok was something of an unexpected delight. We’d headed to Thailand in a bid to escape noise, mayhem and city life in general, so while we weren’t expecting Bangkok to fit the bill, we thought we ought to spend a few days and give it a chance to impress us.


We were suitably impressed. It’s an accessible, foreigner-friendly place with a healthy dose of “exotic”. And it’s not nearly as intense an experience as we were expecting – although perhaps it just seemed that way in contrast to Hanoi. Very few horn-honking maniacs here.


For most of our trip we’d been wondering if Thailand really was the “perfect” tourist destination we’d remembered it to be, mostly assuming that our rear-facing rose colored glasses were misleading us. But within hours of arriving, the weather, the food, the friendliness and service had us more or less convinced.


So it’s official: Thailand wins. And we hadn’t even seen a beach yet.

Bangkok’s primary shortcoming seemed to be transport. Just about any way to get around was a major hassle; buses, walking, taxis. Although taxis proved to be very cheap and comfortable, if time-consuming due to the epic traffic congestion.


We suspect the traffic situation was exacerbated by our visit coinciding with the King’s Birthday which, perhaps unsurprisingly, involves a solid week of street parties, fireworks, major road closures, live bands performing freshly minted dedications to the king and millions of people wearing pink (!) shirts. Pink being the color apparently chosen for it’s auspicious nature in relation to the King’s current state of health.

It was quite the week to land in Bangkok. We even found excellent coffee: