Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My New Favorite Restaurant in Ubud

Maybe 'restaurant' is a strong word. 'Roadside eatery' is still generous, but it's a more accurate description. This place doesn't even have a name, but serves up some of the best pork satay I've ever had, alongside strange-in-a-delicious-way slices of boiled rice. Simple, flavorful, cheap, and delicious. It's not vegetarian-friendly (which excludes about 90% of Ubud tourists/Expats) and doesn't have much variety on the menu, but I'm not picky.

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I've never seen another foreigner eating here, and they wouldn't win any gold stars for hygiene, but its so fresh that they literally take it off the grill and serve it, which kills the germs, right? I've eaten here at least four times this week and (knock on wood) haven't gotten any Bali Belly to speak of. There's usually a steady stream of locals from what I've seen, which is always a good sign.

After my first visit I started asking for 'no pedas,' which means 'no hot sauce' or, 'for the love of Annapoorna, spare me the eternal pain of your fire-sauce from hell'. If you're one of those freaks people that dares a restaurant to make your dish as spicy as humanly possible... fly here, eat it, and try not to weep. I dare you.

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The only negative about this gem of a find is that it doesn't seem to have regular operating hours. They're usually there in the mid-afternoon through early evening, but I can never be sure. Some days they're not open at all. When I round the corner from my guesthouse every afternoon, if I see the telltale smoke coming from the tiny charcoal grill, a little part of me feels like I struck the streetmeat lottery.

For 10,000 rupiah (~ $0.85) you get rice, 6 fresh sticks of satay, and (if you have a death wish) homemade hot sauce. They'll wrap it for you in paper to take away, or serve it up on a plate for you to eat there. This place is so exclusive, there are only three seats (and two of them are plastic kiddy-stools).

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If you're feeling adventurous, you can find it on Jalan Sugriwa near the Namaste store, maybe 20 meters east of the intersection with Jalan Hanoman, on the south side of the street. If they're closed, you'll just see a blue tarp covering a lump on the ground - better luck next time. But if you catch them while they're doing their thing - don't miss out!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Mt. Batur: Sunrise Trek in Bali

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One of the highlights of the trip thus far was a day that began with a 2:00am wake up call. What on Earth could be worth dragging yourself out of bed at such an ungodly hour, you ask? I'll let the photographs answer that question:

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That, my friends, is the hard-earned view - watching the sunrise from atop Mt. Batur, an active volcano on the northeastern side of Bali.

We booked this trek with a company called Pineh Trekking (you'll see their signs all around the tourist hubs of Bali). For 400,000 IDR each, or about $35 USD, our trek was all inclusive.

We were picked up at our hotel in Saner at 2:00am. On the way to the mountain, we made a stop at an organic coffee farm for a light breakfast of banana pancakes and a sampler flight of the coffees and teas grown at the farm.



When we reached the mountain, our driver handed us over to our guide, who told us that he has done this trek 6 days a week for the last 8 years. After experiencing it myself, I don't blame him! Our guide provided us with flashlights as well. These were definitely necessary, since 90% of the hike up was in total darkness save for what moonlight filtered through the scattered clouds.

I'd say that the first half of the trek was fairly tame - wide path, a little gravelly but not steep by any means. Eventually, though, the terrain became more challenging. It turned into rather steep, narrower path with large rocks to surmount, and required a moderate amount of physical fitness, balance, and agility. The whole trek up took a little over an hour, so it wasn't too strenuous, but there were plenty of parts that really do require you to be somewhat fit.

During the ascent, we were treated to the most spectacular view of the stars, and this alone would have made the trek worth it! You really do have to focus on the path while you're hiking, but make sure you take a couple of breaks along the way to enjoy the stars. Also, make sure you use caution and your flashlight if you need to venture off the path for a bathroom break - our Aussie friend came literally one step away from walking off a cliff towards certain death before lighting his footsteps. Don't do that.

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The first rays of light spilled over the horizon when we were about 10 minutes from the top.

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We reached our viewpoint with perfect timing to watch the sky slowly come to life in vibrant pinks, purples, reds, and oranges, revealing a beautiful lake in the valley below.

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At this point, our guide left us to enjoy the view, and came back 20 minutes later with banana sandwiches and hard-cooked eggs that he cooked in the volcanic steam rising from the earth. We enjoyed our breakfast as the sun slipped fully into view.

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Once the sun came up, the monkeys came out to beg (and steal) their own breakfast. Trekkers offered bites of banana sandwiches to the hungry monkeys, who were obviously used to being well-fed on the daily.

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You can try handing them bites at a time, but more likely than not, a cheeky one will come right up and steal your entire stash in one grab. There were lots of babies with their mamas and adorable monkey business going on.

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After watching them for a while, we trekked back down to the base.

 

Going down was a little trickier than going up - gravity plus gravel provided quite a slippery descent. Despite having to catch ourselves with our hands a few times, we all made it back down uninjured.

On the drive back, we stopped at the coffee plantation again for more sampling and delicious banana fritters. We also tried the Indonesian delicacy called 'luwak coffee,' the processing of which is partially completed inside the digestive system of a cat/rodent-like creature. It didn't taste like anything special other than a crappy cup of coffee, so I feel like its high price tag is for the novelty rather than the flavor. After reading about the modern production methods and the not-so-humane conditions of the animals, I'll skip it from now on.

After our morning snack break, we were dropped back off at our hotel around 10:00am feeling like we'd had a wildly productive day so far!

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I highly recommend this sunrise trek as a must-do when in Bali! Below are a few tips if you're considering the trek:

- Shop around before booking. There are many tour companies advertising this trek, and there are differences in what their offer includes. We paid 400,000 rupiah for our experience and felt it was worth it for what we received. Make sure you know exactly what is included.

- Don't try to go it alone. For safety reasons, no one is allowed to hike up in the dark without a proper licensed local guide, and the maximum ratio is four trekkers to one guide.

- Ask if flashlights or headlamps are included when booking. You do not want to climb in the dark - it would be too dangerous - so if they're not provided, bring your own.

- Bring long sleeves. It gets chilly at the top!

- Bring some toilet paper and hand sanitizer. There are toilets at the base, but trust me, you'll be glad you came prepared when you see their condition.

To see a full album of our photos from the trek, as well as more updates and pictures from the trip, like us on Facebook!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Getting Around Chiang Mai

There are several different options for transportation around Chiang Mai. Which one you choose will depend on several factors: your budget, how fast you want to get where you’re going, and how brave you’re feeling.

Motorbike:
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Definitely the cheapest option, and also the most dangerous. Renting a motorbike will allow you the freedom to go wherever, whenever, without shelling out extra cash each time you want to move.
It’s also a great way to explore a new city. You might get lost, which would mean taking longer to get to your destination, but getting lost is also the best way to get to know a place. A motorbike is also the way to go for aimless exploring without a particular destination in mind – just hit the open road and see what you find (but make sure you’ve got enough petrol).
If you have enough guts choose this method of getting around, drive carefully and please, for the love of intact skulls, wear a helmet. You'll see many locals without helmets - heck, you'll even see families of 5 packed onto one motorbike (including an infant in the mother's arms), all without a helmet. As tempted as you may be to chance it, your hair will always look better on a head that's in one piece. Also, road rash can really ruin a vacation. Be safe.

You can expect to pay about 150 baht/day (not including petrol), and you can negotiate discounts for a full week or month.
 

Songthaew

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Also known as 'red trucks,' these are basically modified pickup trucks that operate as on-demand public buses. The truck bed is covered with a roof and there is a long bench down each side for passengers to sit on. When you flag down a songthaew, there may be other passengers inside. The driver will take you where you want to go, but they might pick up/drop off other passengers along the way. This is the best option for large groups, because you can pretty much pack yourselves in as tightly as you want, and a couple of brave souls can even hold onto the handrail and ride on the bumper (look a little closer at the picture!).

Fares are paid per person - typically you'll pay 20 baht each, but for farther destinations or if your route gets caught up in the one-ways of the city walls, the driver may ask for more. One last thing: Especially when sharing with other passengers, the driver may not stop at your exact destination. Pay attention and ring the buzzer on the ceiling to alert him to stop.

 
Tuk-tuk
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These motorbike/wheeled passenger cart combos are a little pricier than a songthaew, but behave more like a proper cab - splitting the fare means you can get a better deal when you’re with friends. Unlike a songthaew, your tuk-tuk won’t stop for other passengers – you’ll have it all to yourselves - so you’ll probably get there faster. And you'll definitely get there faster when you convince two tuk-tuk drivers, each transporting half of your group, to drag race through the streets and promise a big tip to the winner. Actually, I don't recommend doing that... if I could do it again, I wouldn't. It was scary.

With good negotiating skills, a ride in Chiang Mai will cost you between 60-150 baht, depending on where and how far you’re going. As always, agree on a price first, and pay when you get there.

 
Taxi
Actual taxis aren’t very common in Chiang Mai. You’ll rarely, if ever, be able to flag one down on the street, but with songthaews and tuk-tuks aplenty, you won’t really need to unless you’re going to/from the airport at odd hours. We learned the hard way that there are no songthaews or tuk-tuks around early in the morning. Walking to the airport at 5:00am is not fun – so call and arrange a taxi the day before if you have an early morning flight. From the airport, there are a couple of taxi counters with preset prices for what area of the city you’re going to. They’ll write you a slip with the fare and the cab number and send you outside to the curb to be picked up.
 
Final Tips:
 
1. Always agree on a price before getting in any taxi, songthaew, or tuk-tuk, and only pay when you’ve reached your destination.
 
2. The old city walls in Chiang Mai are beautiful and historic, but they do cause a mess of one-ways and roundabout routes if you’re trying to go from outside to inside or vice-versa. Keep this in mind when determining ETA’s and negotiating fares.

 
3. It’s a good idea to have a map with you for communicating. If the driver doesn’t know the exact place you want to go, just point and he can probably get you close enough.
 
4. If you decide to hoof it, be careful crossing the street. Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way in Chiang Mai. It's pretty difficult to cross the street on foot without feeling like you're about to die. You basically have to wait for a small gap, step into traffic, and hope for the best. Drivers may or may not stop, but they will swerve around you until the last possible moment. There aren't many proper crosswalks (and even then, its a crapshoot), but there are overhead pedestrian bridges on some of the major roads outside the walls, so make sure to use them when available.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thai Massage School Review - Shivagakomarpaj (Old Medicine Hospital)

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The Thai massage school we attended, Shivagakomarpaj (formerly known as the Old Medicine Hospital) teaches traditional northern Thai massage. It is the oldest school of its kind in Chiang Mai to offer courses to the public in this ancient healing practice, and traces its lineage back to the 'Father Doctor' Jivaka Komarabhacca, the physician of Buddha. Thai massage is a systematic healing process that uses yoga stretching, acupressure points and energy line therapy to relax the body and heal specific ailments. Shivagakomarpaj offers four levels of traditional Thai massage training, as well as courses in oil massage, foot massage, and herbal compress massage.

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After a fair amount of research, we chose this school because of the price, favorable reviews, and the included accommodations. We were able to easily reserve our spot in the course online before leaving the states, and chose the option of paying cash on arrival. Here's a breakdown of our thoughts about the school after spending three weeks there:

Staff:

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Every single staff member at this school was incredibly friendly, helpful, and accommodating to our every need. Many spoke very good English, and we had no problems communicating. They helped us with suggestions of where to go for certain things around the city (health clinic, post office, restaurants, etc.), and would write down translations for us to take with us to communicate in Thai. They even helped us out with free rides to Chiang Mai Ram for vaccines.

Courses:

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Each of the Thai massage courses is 5 days long, Monday through Friday. The day begins at 9:00am with group prayers, which consist of giving thanks to the father doctor as well as wishing health, happiness, and freedom to all living beings (similar to a metta loving kindness meditation.

 
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There is a one hour break for lunch from 12:00pm - 1:00pm, and a shorter 'coffee break' both mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Classes finish at 4:00pm, and the day closes again with group prayers.

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For levels one and two, the course format consists of demonstration with note-taking, then taking turns practicing on your fellow students while the instructors walk around and offer help.

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At the beginning of the course, you are given a written manual with each Thai massage "move" illustrated as a picture.

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For each picture, the instructors break down every step one-by-one and have you write them down specifically. It is also fine to take photographs and/or videos during class.

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Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are spent learning and practicing the different "pictures," and then Thursday is devoted entirely to practicing. On Friday, there is an open book "practical exam." Everyone is paired up, and you go through and demonstrate every picture. The teachers watch from the front of the room, and come help you if you get stuck, and nobody fails. One partner goes in the morning, and the other after lunch. Once the practical exam is completed, there is a short written "exam" which is open book as well and completed in groups. Everybody passes. At the end of the day on Friday, there is a graduation ceremony, where each student receives their certificate and a blessing from the instructors.

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We absolutely loved levels one and two, and felt that we learned a lot of new information and skills. A few of the pictures were redundant from level one to level two, but it was mostly new movements.

The level three course was a bit different - the morning portion of the day was lecture in a classroom, and we're still not sure about the relevance of most of the information. The demo/practice portions of the day were more practical, but slightly confusing, because although there was a new written manual, the instructors did not break down each picture into step-by-step instructions. The movements we learned were mostly just variations and options of different ways to do the same movements from levels one and two. One thing we did like about level three was learning about the herbal compress massage, studying the different herbs, and making our own fresh herb balls. There was no practical exam or written exam for level three.

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After making it through the third week of classes, we were ready for a break, so we decided to skip the fourth level for now, in favor of traveling north to Pai for a few days to see another part of the country. We heard from other students at the school that level four provides lots of new information, such as learning what Thai massage moves to use for specific ailments and injuries, so we're definitely interested in completing the fourth level.We plan to return to Thailand during our travels, so we'll take the fourth level when we come back.

Food:

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Delicious, fresh, and sometimes mysterious homemade Thai food was served for lunch every day, included in the price of the courses. They had vegetarian options daily, and in the event that the dishes weren't gluten free, they would cook a special GF plate for Sarah. The food was usually pretty spicy and we didn't always know what we were eating, but it was great to be able to experience traditional Thai cooking that we wouldn't necessarily know to order for ourselves at a restaurant.

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The dining area also offered complimentary coffee, tea, water, and cookies throughout the whole day. They also have a pantry area with a refrigerator where students can store their own groceries. There is a great grocery store around the corner from the school called Rimping, and we kept gluten free muesli and milk in the fridge to eat for breakfast.

Accommodations:

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Also included in the price of the course are dormitory accommodations, which were rather basic, but you can't beat free! You can check in the Sunday before your course begins, and check out the Saturday after it finishes, however as long as they have space, they're pretty flexible if you need to come earlier or stay an extra night. The accommodations consisted of a massage mat on either the floor or a raised platform, with a somewhat uncomfortable pillow, and a light blanket. There's no air conditioning, but plenty of fans, and we found the nights to be cool anyway. There are curtains separating each bed for privacy, and each student is provided a locker for valuables.

The bathroom is shared, with one shower and one toilet each for males and females. We figured out quickly that the women's shower doesn't have hot water, but this didn't bother us too much. The water wasn't ice cold, just not warm, and it was actually refreshing. If we did want a hot shower, we just used the Men's bathroom without any problems.

On the premises there are three washing machines for doing laundry, that take two 10-baht coins to operate. You can buy a small packet of laundry soap at the store and do your own washing. In the dorm rooms there are racks and hangers for drying.

Our one gripe about the dorm was the bugs... not all of the windows had screens, so there were constantly some little flies and ants around, but it didn't bother us much beyond a slight annoyance. Nature is nature. Like I said, the accommodations were very basic, but we don't actually need much... we both know plenty of people who wouldn't last a day in a place like this, but for us, it was all good.

Herbal Steam Room:

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Another little perk about the school is the on-site herbal steam room, which is available to students at a discounted rate that works out to about $1.50 per use. You can also rent a towel and a garment to cover your body if you want, for a very small additional fee. There are separate steam rooms for men and women, and lockers are provided. We learned that what the Thai women do is steam for about 5-10 minutes, then sit in the room-temperature common area for about 5 minutes, followed by a short rinse in a cold shower. You then repeat that process as many times as you'd like. In the locker room area there are also showers stocked with shampoo and conditioner, as well as hair dryers that you can use. We went in a couple of times towards the end of our stay at the school, and our only regret was that we hadn't been using it daily since we arrived. It was super relaxing and refreshing. If you're in Chiang Mai, we recommend a visit, since it is open to the public.

 Final Thoughts:

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We had a great experience at Shivagakomarpaj, and would recommend it highly to anyone seeking to learn traditional Northern-style Thai massage. We met so many great people from all over the world who became dear friends as we studied and explored the city together. I can't compare with other schools from personal experience, but Shivagakomarpaj is definitely worth checking out if you're looking for a school in Chiang Mai. I'm looking forward to returning!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Chiang Mai - Wild Rose Yoga Studio and Some Fresh Eats

 
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This blog wouldn't be living up to its name if it didn't have at least one yoga studio review on it, right?!

Since we arrived in Thailand, we've been quite busy with full-time classes and weekend adventures. Beyond practicing with classmates at school or on our own, we haven't had much time to check out the yoga scene in Chiang Mai.

We did make it to a couple of classes at Wild Rose Yoga, and were consistently impressed. The studio is absolutely beautiful, and was conveniently located (for us) in the old city, not too far from the south wall. Mats and natural mosquito repellent were provided (the studio space is somewhat open-air). The students seemed to be mostly foreigners, and both teachers that we experienced were Westerners.

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Wild Rose definitely caters to a specific clientele, and they're not shy about it - Rose (the owner) will tell you straight up that her studio is meant for "more advanced" asana practitioners, and she can tell you about other studios in the city if you're looking for a different feel. The studio had a similar energy to many American/western studios - it had the attitude of a studio you could find in L.A. or NYC. Wild Rose draws well-known teachers from all over the world for all manner of workshops and special events, and they are well-connected in the yoga scene in Thailand, Bali, and beyond.

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After one of the classes, we chatted up a few girls who were doing a study abroad program together. They had been around Chiang Mai for a while, so we figured they would have a solid recommendation for a post-vinyasa lunch spot.

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They pointed us to The Salad Concept in the Nimmanhaemin neighborhood, with the promise that we'd find delicious, fresh, clean, and (most importantly) cheap salads, along with smoothies and fresh juices. They definitely delivered! For 60 baht ($2.00 US) you get a huge salad with 5 toppings and a homemade dressing of your choice. Meat/protein can be added for about $1 more. Not bad, right?!

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Not only was it affordable, but everything was super fresh and you could tell that they followed proper food safety practices. There's indoor and outdoor seating to choose from, and also a community board near the bathrooms with posters and fliers for all things yoga and wellness related. We had our first taste of fresh vegetables since leaving the states, and will definitely go back the next time we're in Chiang Mai!

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center

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The Cultural Center was our first real landmark in Chiang Mai because it is conveniently located across the street from our school. A portion of it is a café that serves standard fare like coffee, juices, smoothies, and small selection of baked goods. They provide free WiFi to customers, and we enjoyed the comfortable atmosphere that made the center suitable for studying, or even enjoying coffee with friends on the couches tucked away in the corner. Sometimes we just stopped in to escape the Chiang Mai heat, because unlike our dorm, the café had aircon.

The Cultural Center is a place where new visitors can enjoy dinner from a pre-determined menu featuring traditional northern Thai food. The meal is served family style and samples sticky rice, fried chicken, pork omelets, pork curry, vegetables with chili paste, etc. Some tables are close to a main stage, which is the focal point of the dining room. The seating closest to the stage is more authentic, with low tables and cushions for guests to sit on the floor as they enjoy the meal and watch a performance of traditional music and dance. The food was delicious, and the show was pleasant. However, tripadvisor had it right when they said visitors should check it out 'if they have time'. For us, it was a great way to bond with some fellow massage students and to get a taste for hill tribe culture. The traditional garb worn by the female dancers was exquisite. After a fair amount of rum, we joined the dancers on stage for a circle dance, and were able to see the traditional dresses in more detail. Following the show, they ushered us outside for more performances, making sure to walk us through a line of merchants selling small trinkets and hand-made hill tribe jewelry.

If you're pressed for something to do in Chiang Mai, then check out the performance. However, the hill tribe culture is best appreciated by taking a trip directly to a hill tribe village. Ultimately, you shouldn't have FOMO if you aren't able to make it to the Cultural Center show. Check out some pictures of the traditional dances below!

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Surfing Kuta Beach

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In Chiang Mai, our primary intentions were to learn Thai massage and to find hidden gem yoga studios (and boy, were they hidden) to maintain our practices. In Bali, surfing has joined yoga at the top of our priority list. Yes, these are REALLY our lives now, and YES you have permission to be jealous about it!

We chose Kuta Beach as the location to lose our surfing virginity. We expected the beach to feel stuffy and overused based on the amount of tourism the southern part of the island attracts, but it proved to be pristine and ideal for new surfers. We were very motivated to learn, and found many surfing schools that advertised, 'stand up on your first lesson or the second is on us!'. We quickly realized that $45 USD for this option is a tourist trap...even for a semi-private lesson.

We were fortunate enough to meet a fun and interesting group of travelers from Australia at Potato Head Beach Club, a vast and gorgeous lounge, bistro, and infinity pool-bar overlooking Seminyak Beach. Potato Head was more posh than we anticipated, especially following several unexpected experiences at 'resorts' in Thailand that turned out to be more like jungle huts with fancy websites. The guys we met at Potato Head are avid surfers who were more than happy to take us out for a lesson. We cannot thank them enough for their patience AND skill. We were both successfully surfing after a few tries and actually found getting out to catch the wave against the current to be the most difficult aspect of it all. We may be naturals, but we couldn't have done it without them.

Things we learned:

1. You can easily rent a board for a couple of hours, or an entire day (if you have the stamina, from the merchants located conveniently on the beach. For a few hours it shouldn't cost more than 50,000 rupiah. We paid 40,000 rupiah ($3.50) for 'one hour', but we stayed out for closer to two and they didn't seem to mind.

2. Be mindful of the flags along the beach that designate appropriate swimming and surfing areas. We posted up next to an area where surf schools were hosting group lessons and plenty of people were around (including a lifeguard) in case we needed anything. If nothing else, it was interesting to see how other new surfers were doing.

3. Wear board shorts and a shirt because you will have some serious board rash if you and your bikini try to catch a wave without them. We even used a long sleeve shirt that offered up some sun protection.

4. There will be an eight year-old surfing circles around you. He could probably board before he could walk. His tan is sicker than yours. Get used to it. Think Johnny Tsunami.

5. Do Less.

6. Be Warned: It's Addictive. Merely two days after our introduction, we have already been back to surf Kuta. For our second day out on the water we had some help from Sun, a teacher at the Odyssey Surf School who also offers some private assistance. He rented us our surf boards the first time around and today he was a fun companion and mentor. When you come to Bali and are looking to surf, you can find him by the entrance to Kuta Beach across from the McDonald's. He's worth seeking out. Also, you should eat an m&m McFlurry while you're there.

It goes without saying that Bali is an epic place to learn. We are beyond spoiled. We've since been to Keramas, a beach north of sleepy Sanur that is known for its shimmering black sand, world class waves, and laid back atmosphere. The rocky, reef-laden terrain draws a crowd of more advanced surfers. We would love to return to Keramas, and to visit other parts of the island that have been recommended to us by surfers we have met in our travels.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

9 Ways Bali is Different from Chiang Mai

 
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We've been on this island for just about seven days exactly, so clearly we're experts on the subject. We thought we'd share with you some of our first impressions of Bali, especially when compared with Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is the only other southeast Asian city we've experienced. Of course, there are obvious differences, such as the fact that they're different countries, have different cultures/religions, and Chiang Mai is landlocked while Bali is an island (i.e., sun, sand, surf), but we have noticed quite a few other practical differences between these two places. (Disclaimer: despite the post title, these are not generalizations of Bali as a whole... we've only seen Kuta and a little bit of Seminyak so far.)


#1. More English speakers

I'll be honest, Thailand was a little rough at first in this department. The teachers and staff at our school spoke decent English, but we often had to ask them to write things down for us if we needed to be understood beyond what little Thai we speak. In Bali, nearly everyone we encounter speaks at least a little bit of English, and many speak it quite well. I remember reading somewhere that many schools in Indonesia teach the children English in addition to the native language of their island and Bahasa, the national language of Indonesia. Seems to be true.


#2. Fewer animals wandering the streets

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Noticeably fewer. Apparently there's a part of the island where the monkeys steal your stuff if you're not careful, but compared to northern Thailand, there really are fewer dogs and cats out and about. Not that we're worried about it anyway.


#3. Scarier local food

bali-padang-food-indonesia

Scarier as in we wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. In Chiang Mai, a lot of the street food was sold from wheeled carts, and made fresh to order in front of you - pad thai, grilled corn, coconut pancakes, and my personal favorite, banana roti. Here the local 'padang' food is usually cooked once a day and then displayed in a (room temperature) window display. Super hygienic. One of our new Australian friends (who is pretty experienced with all things Balinese) told us about Padang food and how we have to try it, so we had been thinking of working up the courage. Until said friend told me he got food poisoning from some local food last night. Sounds yummy, but I think we'll stick to restaurants that at least practice refrigeration.


#4. Much more traffic

Maybe not compared to Bangkok (which we haven't seen yet) but holy smokes, traffic here is something else. Between taxis, cars, motorbikes, construction everywhere, narrow streets, and one-ways, its not unusual to see gridlocked intersections and traffic jams. We had read that having a taxi driver use the meter is usually cheaper, but if there's traffic along your route, which there usually is, setting a fare beforehand may be easier on the wallet. We've tried both options for the same route a few times just to experiment. When we've used the meter it certainly hasn't been cheaper than what we could get the driver to agree on beforehand anyway - it either ends up being the same-same or more expensive. We feel like we're pretty good hagglers, so we prefer to set the fare first and eliminate the risk of it racking up on the meter due to excessive traffic.


#5. Less WiFi

At least of the reliable variety, which is why we haven't updated much from here. Often times, we've found places advertising 'free Wi-Fi' to either have no WiFi whatsoever, or WiFi that "broke yesterday, sorry!" Our absolute favorite is when the WiFi 'closes' at certain times... as in, it's only on between the scheduled hours of 9am -12pm, and then 3pm - 8pm, because this is practical, obviously. We also discovered that some hotels/hostels/guesthouses advertise free WiFi, but its only available in the lobby or common areas, not in the actual rooms. This is rather inconvenient, but when you're paying $9 US per night for a private room with air conditioning, hot water, full en-suite bathroom, linens, daily housekeeping, and free breakfast, its hard to complain without feeling like a first-world asshat.


#6. Livelier nightlife

We've gone out on Legian Road once or twice, and suffice it to say, the place is poppin'. You can find bars and clubs to suit all tastes, but the scene is definitely dominated by a younger crowd of rowdy holiday-goers and people on gap years. Insert comment about drunk Australians here.

In Bali, the drinks aren't cheap, unless you're into vodka + red bull, or shoddy home brews that might make you go blind. In Chiang Mai, you could get a literal bucket of Sangsom and coke for the same price as a decent cocktail here.

Chiang Mai definitely had some great bars, awesome live music, and a few late night clubs, but they tended to be fewer and farther between. They also had staggered operating hours - one club is open from 8pm - 12am, another 10pm - 2am, and the next is open from 12am - 4am - so when one place closes, everyone rolls across town to the next place and parties on. In Kuta, there are countless venues all within walking distance of each other.


#7. Harassment

bali-kuta-poppies-magic-mushroom

I almost said 'More harassment,' but that would be inaccurate and probably a bit insulting to the people of Chiang Mai. We rarely, if ever, were we bothered on the street in Chiang Mai, other than the occasional honk of a songthaew or tuk-tuk. In Kuta, every five meters there's someone trying to sell you magic mushrooms down a dark alleyway, asking you to come into their shop or restaurant, or trying to get you to hop on the back of their motorbike for transport. I get it, Kuta is a tourist hub, so this kind of thing is to be expected. I just wish more of these shopkeepers and drivers would respect the words "No, thank you'. When we say no (whether in English, Bahasa, body language, or through straight up ignoring them), most reply with 'yes!' and repeat their pitch until we're out of earshot. The more persistent ones will literally follow us down the street, asking us where we're going, not taking no for an answer. Even at Kuta beach, merchants will walk up to your chair or towel, offering bracelets, artwork, massages, etc. and we usually have to repeat 'No, thank you' at least 7 or 8 times before they'll listen to you and leave you be (until the next one comes along, that is). End of rant.


#8. Pricier transportation

Chiang Mai definitely wins this one. With tuk-tuks costing an average of $1 US (split between all passengers) and songthaews costing about $0.30 per person, it was cheap and easy to get around. Here, private taxi is really the only option unless you're rocking your own motorbike, and the cheapest ride we've ever gotten was about $3.75 US to go from Seminyak to Kuta, and I think that was beginners luck. We're not brave enough to ride motor bikes of our own... its pretty dangerous, especially with all of the traffic. Chiang Mai spoiled us a little, so we shell out rupiah by the tens of thousands, and tell ourselves that it's still a screaming deal compared to cabs in Boston or NYC.


#9. Resorts are actually... resort-like

keramas-bali-komune-beach-club

In Thailand (especially in Pai!), 'resort' often seems to translate to 'rustic bamboo hut, complete with your very own personal mosquito net.' I don't think it's intended to be misleading. The standards of what's considered 'high end' are just different from what we're accustomed to in the west. In Bali though, there are absolutely stunning resorts, hotels, and beach clubs that you have to see to believe. Potato Head in Seminyak and Komune in Keramas (pictured above) are just two that we've experienced first-hand, and both knocked our socks off with the quality of the facilities, food and drink offerings, customer service, and of course the incredible views.


We've still got loads to discover about Bali. These are just a few of the day-to-day differences that have stuck out to us so far. We actually just moved from Kuta to Sanur, which is on the east coast of the island and much quieter, and we're heading up to Ubud in a few days. So, I'm sure these first impressions won't last forever. One thing I can say for certain is that this place is unreal, amazing, beautiful, and incredible!