I won’t take too long over this bit. I’m not going to rub it on by telling you all about how hot, sunny and beautiful Bali was, how good my tan is or how much time I’ve spent doing jack shit except swimming, spa-ing and sunbathing. That would just be cruel when it was barely 5 degrees back home. Besides, as you may have noticed, I got lazy and am a bit behind so the moment’s gone! So here are the highlights …
So remember that dude Murphy i blogged about before? The one with a law named after him? Well, Murphy and I were about to run into each other again on my way from Sydney to Bali. Standing in the world’s slowest queue at the Jetstar desk (note to self: ask Trailfinders how the f**k i ended up on budget airways anyway!), feeling quite rank from the remains of the flu and the fact it was 4pm and i hadn’t eaten yet that day, i was trying to block out the screams of a small child having a full-on temper tantrum. You probably already know where I’m going with this, right? I exchanged a wry ‘eye roll’ gesture with the woman in front of me, who laughed in agreement when i said those fateful words “i hope that’s not sitting anywhere near me”.
One hour, an inhaled Big Mac and fries and a stressful Travelex experience later, i was on the plane hoping the adjacent seat would be free so i could spread out. As luck would have it, it WAS free, so i bunged my bag under that seat to give me some extra leg room. My luck ran out however, when the row in front of me was occupied by the family of five with the screaming child, which sat on it’s father’s lap … oh yeah, in the seat right in front of me. Thanks Murphy, cheers. Wanker.
Despite announcements that the sale of alcohol would be limited, the stewardesses weren’t cruel enough to let me suffer without a skin-full. I therefore spent the next five hours (yes, FIVE hours), three sheets to the wind and trying to avoid the pay-per-view entertainment whilst also trying to block out the screaming child. Landing in Bali, the heat hit me full force – it had been cold and wet when I left Sydney, so of course I was dressed in trousers and a chunky jumper. D’oh! Three queues and a surprising amount of security later, I was out and looking for my driver. After walking through the arrivals area twice looking for the card with my name on it, I finally found my driver who was frantically brandishing a sign with “Mrs Penson” on it. Naturally, the hotel had assumed that my significant other and I were married, and I was referred to as “Mrs Penson” for the rest of the fortnight – it was easier to smile and nod than to correct everyone!
We spent the first week in Jimbaran Bay, doing pretty much nothing – I swam, sunbathed, drank fizzy water and ate raw fish and was feeling pretty fabulous after a few days. The villa was amazing – absolutely huge, with its own private pool, four poster bed and sunken bathtub. Somewhat ostentatious for just two people, but I won’t lie – I was enjoying a little bit of luxury!
For week two, we headed inland to Ubud to see a different side of Bali. On arrival, there had been another misunderstanding – the hotel had assumed we were on honeymoon and had upgraded us accordingly for a couple of nights. If the first villa was ostentatious then the second one truly was ridiculous. It was huge, on 2 floors, with its own private infinity pool and outdoor dining area. It was completely secluded and was surrounded by lush green hills and forest. We discovered later that the upgrade hadn’t been a gift in the truest sense – they were having some work done on the trees in the main villa area and were anxious to shield us from the noise and protect their Tripadvisor rating! However, it was a little slice of heaven so I didn’t dwell on it too much!
The one thing I struggled a little with was the nighttime visitors. Earlier in the day I had gone for a shower to discover a huge toad sitting right in the shower tray, which I promptly asked the butler to remove. Unfortunately the local wildlife was still able to get in no matter how tightly the doors and windows were closed, which made for some creepy noises in the night. Getting up in the night required a good scan of the floor with a head torch before putting my feet down! Anyway, there followed a couple of days of relaxation, massages and manicures.
After almost 5 months of ‘proper’ travelling, I was starting to twitch. Normally I wouldn’t have an issue with sitting on my arse and getting a tan for 10 days, but the cabin-fever was setting in. The villa, while beautiful, was completely secluded. The service couldn’t be faulted, but after doing everything for myself for the last few months I was finding it a little intrusive when they wouldn’t even let me put my own napkin on my lap.
To stop me from drowning one of the staff, we needed to get out of the villa, so off we went to the nearby ‘monkey forest’. I think monkeys are quite cute – as long as i’m over here and they’re over there, so to speak. The ‘monkey forest’ was a small reserve where they run free and the tourists take pictures and feed them, and to be fair they do make good photo subjects. The little ones are really cute, whereas the big males are, frankly, scary. We sat down to allow me to take some shots of a mother monkey with her baby clinging to her front. I swear i put my bag down for about 10 seconds and he darted in out of nowhere – thieving little hands straight in my bag, my sunglasses case extracted before I could do anything about it. Thankfully the glasses weren’t in it! The tourists were all laughing, and there was nothing to be done but to start snapping away – may as well get a good photo out of it! One of the rangers appeared to see what all the fuss was about and retrieved my glasses case for me, although it has to be said that I was very reluctant to touch it! I’ve kept it as a souvenir – how many people can say that the gaping great wound in their glasses case was caused by monkey fangs?!
Now, I know a lot of people rave about Bali, and for those of you who do … seriously, broaden your horizons! It was nice to be sure, but i’ve seen much better beaches much closer to home and the weather’s pretty unpredictable. The booze costs the absolute earth due to the government-imposed ‘luxury tax’ on alcohol, and once you’ve done the obligatory temple tour, monkey forest and elephant safari there’s not a hell of a lot else to do. So having done all of the above, we set of in search of something else on ‘The List’ – Kopi Luwak. For anyone in ignorance, Kopi Luwak is the world’s most expensive coffee, and it’s made from coffee beans that have been eaten, digested and then excreted by a tree cat. Yes, it’s coffee made from catshit. And it tastes … remarkably good, actually! We bought some to bring home, which is now sitting untouched on the kitchen counter owing to the absence of a coffee grinder. Didn’t think that one through – should have bought the ground stuff! It’s maybe the only time I will ever spend over a million units of any currency on anything – 1.1 million Rupiah for the tub, which we figured to be around $100, give or take.
Completely by accident, it transpired that we were to be in Bali over the Balinese new year. “Great”, i thought, “party time, rock n’ roll”. How wrong I was. New Year’s Day in Bali is a quiet time – a time of reflection. It’s actually not permitted to be walking around outside in public, and we were therefore going to be confined to our villa for the day. New Year’s Eve, however, was a bit more interesting – we found a bar serving cocktails on the edge of the green in the middle of Ubud, and watched the procession of sculpted figures that the locals had made for the festival. All were intricate and represented hundreds of hours of work, and most were really quite grotesque with distorted features. Most also seemed to have breasts, although the Balinese have slightly strange ideas about what breasts look like. I doubt there are any eminent plastic surgeons originally from Bali! Anyway, we watched the procession, enjoyed the festivities, and then stocked up on some moody DVDs to help us while away the next day’s confinement.
So our two weeks in Bali came to an end, and it was back on the aeroplane, this time bound for Hong Kong. Our plans for HK revolved mostly around drinking and shopping, so the plan was to check into our room and then head off out to meet an old colleague of mine for birthday drinks. We arrived at the Mira Hotel (highly recommended if you’re in HK!), and were shown up to the Club floor where we were efficiently processed and shown to our room. I had to hand it to myself – I was doing a really good job of booking hotel rooms with amazingly comfy beds. There was something strange about the room however, something I couldn’t quite identify – until I decided I needed the bathroom. It was then I realised what it was about the room that wasn’t quite right … the bathroom was a glass cube. No privacy whatsoever. Now if you’ve been married for a fair old while this probably isn’t a big deal but, not being funny, we haven’t and I was hoping to preserve a little of the mystery for a little while longer! After an initial panic we chilled out when we discovered the button that controlled the blinds. So actually this is now quite cool – you get your privacy when you want it but you can also lie in the bath and watch a movie on the widescreen.
Next stop, the bar. We ordered a bottle of champagne and settled in while I tried to get confirmation of the venue for James’s birthday drinks. So a bottle of champagne and 2 cocktails later, we were in a cab and on our way to Lan Kwai Fong. What followed was a blurry haze of vodka with a few cheeky sambucas thrown in, a poncey club called ‘Dragon-i’, dancing on podiums, fending off hookers and a big spanking hangover. I didn’t begrudge myself the hangover however, since I could still just about count the number of cripplingly bad heads i’d had over the entire trip on one hand, and three of them were in the first 3 weeks.
Now what could we do given our rather ropey state the next day? Easy – shop and eat! Before any serious shopping could be attempted, we needed a fat-fix and I had a vicious craving for a Big Mac, large fries (with BBQ sauce) and a large ‘fat’ coke. Supplemented with a double cheeseburger. Having demolished everything on my tray in record time, I was unable to resist the lure of another double cheeseburger when my hungover companion was defeated by his after just one bite. Having now eaten three burgers and a portion of fries, washed down with a large coke, it was time to hit the shops. Within two hours, we had acquired two MacBooks, two GoPro Hero Blacks, and a top-bollocks digital camera. It was nap time.
That evening, the fancy Chinese restaurant in the hotel seemed a logical choice on the basis that a) i wanted to eat Peking duck, and b) I couldn’t be arsed to go out. We dragged ourselves downstairs to the restaurant, where we discovered that Peking duck was only served whole. As there were only two of us (one of whom had already eaten three burgers and a large fries), this was going to be another ‘Fletcher vs Food’ moment with a potentially unfortunate outcome. I have to say, we made a pretty decent crack at it and probably managed to put away about two thirds of the bird. And I managed not to throw it all back up, although I had a pretty sucky night’s sleep that night!
The next day we were off to Macau for a day of drinking and gambling (well, just gambling for me, since my hangover had slipped over into another day). Macau is a bit like Vegas (actually it’s a LOT like Vegas), dominated by big hotel / casino establishments with a phenomenal amount of cash moving through every hour of every day. Since the only game I can play is blackjack, I took a seat at the table and watched James attempting (and failing) to beat the dealer with any level of consistency. Joining the game myself, I managed to lose £150 in about 15 minutes. Time to bow out gracefully and go and do something i AM good at – eating!
Our time in Hong Kong passed in a flash, and before I knew it I was boarding the plane home with a heavy sense of dread. Thankfully the flight was relatively comfortable, but as we landed in a cold, dark, dreary London, I had to ask myself … why exactly did I come back again? How did I get here, and more to the point, what am I going to do about it?