Two months. Eight countries. Nineteen airports.
Time has flown by, I can’t believe that my wife and I are now wrapping up our Asia travels. We’re flying home to San Francisco for a one-week respite and wedding, and then will ship off to Europe for three months.
We capped off our Asia travel in style, spending a week in Indonesia — most of that time in Bali.
Indonesia is so freaking huge. It’s got 240 million people and a gazillion islands, each featuring very unique sets of people and cultures. My wife and I have only seen a tiny speck of the country but we loved what we did see. We’ve vowed to come back later to do a dedicated Indonesian trip where we can take in some more islands.
You gotta visit Indonesia. This place is so freakin’ cool. Here are a few highlights from our trip.
Sunsets in Bali
My wife and I spent five days in Bali. We Airbnb-ed a great place in Seminyak, located in the southwest region of the island. Seminyak is pretty cool but really touristy; it’s like the South Pacific version of Waikiki beach in Oahu.
Even still, the beaches there are phenomenal. And because they are West facing you get to take in a gorgeous sunset every evening.
Because we were lazy, we just walked to the closest beach to our apartment most evenings, which was Ku De Ta beach. It’s a bit of an infamous because it’s mainly filled with Australian tourists, whom I learned are loud and drunk all the time.
The views were still very pretty, but the EDM music bumping in the background was kind of distracting from the zen moment I was trying to achieve.
For a more peaceful sunset, all you need to do is cab it about 20 minutes south and you’ll enjoy the same views with peace and quiet.
When most people think about Bali they usually think about the amazing beaches. But for me the most interesting parts of the island are inland, where you can find quaint villages, forests, and volcanic activity.
The neatest thing that we did while in Bali was drive into Ubud (away from the beaches) and visit the Sacred Monkey Forest. This place is crazy cool!
First of all, the sanctuary is really beautiful with windy trails, ponds, and temples. Layer on tons of cute macaques swarming the place and you’re pretty much in sensory overload heaven.
An important warning before you visit: the monkeys here have a reputation for being a bit aggressive. At one point, my wife crouched down to take a picture of a monkey on the ground, and another monkey jumped on her back. I think he just wanted to play, but when I hissed at it to get off, he hissed back and bared his fangs. That of course freaked me out and clearly put me in my place as the non-Alpha in that showdown. Eventually he got off my wife, leaving her unharmed, but we were definitely peeking over our shoulders for the remainder of our stay in this forest. So worth it.
In our last day in Indonesia, my wife and I stayed in Jakarta with our friend. Our buddy was kind enough to set up a unique tour of Jakarta’s slums during the afternoon.
Why did we want to visit a slum? Well, we never visited one before. Up to 50% of Jakarta’s population lives in poverty and my wife and I were curious to see how these folks lived.
There is a massive population of people who live in illegal dwellings by the river. The government is constantly trying to remove these ad hoc villages, but this is only option that many people have for shelter.
There are two big takeaways I had from this experience. First, despite the fact that these people are living with so little, the slum villagers appear incredibly happy. And second, they are so generous. Everyone we met (especially the kids) were sincerely pleased to meet us. It was quite moving to feel that love everywhere we went in the slums. I definitely don’t feel that same kind of positive vibe walking around the pristine streets of Silicon Valley neighborhoods.
I had a bit of an internal crisis during the tour — a thought that was nagging me was whether we were just engaging in poverty porn. Who the hell were we, as rich Westerners, to visit a slum like it’s a zoo?
I finally brought the issue up with our tour guide. Our guide is an amazing guy named Ronnie who runs an NGO to provide financial assistance and awareness for the poor in Indonesia.
His counter was that before he started these tours, the poor were invisible within and outside of Indonesia. Ronnie is not a popular guy with the Indonesian government, who views his organization as subversive to the Indonesian tourism industry. But the controversy is welcome in Ronnie’s perspective, in that it keeps public dialogue active on what the Indonesian nation should do with the poor. If awareness is Ronnie’s objective in conducting these tours, he certainly made a lasting impression with me and my wife.
If you are interested in learning more about these Jakarta slum tours or wish to participate in one, please visit the Yayasan Interkultur website.
I definitely have more to write about this experience in a future post.
And now it’s time for Europe
I’m really curious to see whether Europe can top the experiences we’ve had in Asia. It’s a hard act to follow.
My wife and I will be starting in travels in Istanbul, Turkey. Ninety-one days later we will be flying out from Bilbao, Spain. What happens in between will be decided on the spot. Keep reading, it’s going to be a fun adventure!