Bali is, despite its relatively small-ish, island persona, a destination that can be quite hard to navigate if you really want to tick off the sights on boxes. For starters, traffic is atrocious, it could take you an hour, on a good day, to get from the southern reaches of Nusa Dua to Seminyak, and if you plan to venture beyond any of your base, be it Seminyak, Kuta, Ubud or Nusa Dua, I would always recommend at least an hour lead time. Having said that, the neighbourhoods themselves are pretty self-contained, ideal for a relaxing-ish escape.
As a disclaimer, I will be talking about the Bukit Peninsula, the larger geographical area of Uluwatu. Uluwatu-proper is located on the south-west of the peninsula, and has arguably some of the most stunning hotel locations there is on the island. Beaches, though are not aplenty, as this is a plateau with a lot of cliffs, so if you do need a beach on your island holiday, the southern end of Nusa Dua, is a good, quieter option.
I stayed at the Hilton Nusa Dua, which is technically outside the main tourist enclave of Nusa Dua, but easily accessible from the airport with the new highway and by-pass that, let’s just say, prioritises the main economic driver of Bali.
The beach is pretty good, though waves can be rough at times. The setting is stunning, as part of the hotel is perched on the cliff, with the Cliff Tower rising from the beach below to the plateau above.
You will be in good, quiet company, it the Ritz-Carlton and Mulia Resort Nusa Dua nearby, with the tourist enclave and commercial area of Nusa Dua a 15 minute drive/ride/shuttle service away.
Day Clubs Galore
One cannot go to Uluwatu and not enjoy the day clubs here. While not as ‘hot’ or as ‘hip’ as the day clubs on the beach in Seminyak (read: Finns/Ku De Ta/Potato Head), the day clubs here have a certain charm about them.
Sundays Beach Club is at the bottom of the cliff and has a beach, and while that as on my list, regrettably, time constraints (read: spending waaaay too much time in one day club and writing off the entire schedule.
OMNIA Day Club, the tropical outpost of OMNIA Las Vegas, is definitely a destination bar, with people coming far and wide just to chill and relax on the day beds or pool. The stunning is setting, with the aptly named ‘Cube’ being a focal point of the bar, and tropical-inspire lattice work at the main building’s Japanese restaurant. Be warned, reservations are recommended for day-beds.
I admit, I am a fan of fancy perches that have stunning views looking out to a destination, be it nature or urban escapes. The bars in Uluwatu on the other hand, raise the bar, with a combination of stunning sunsets and fancy perches.
Single Fin, the ever popular cliff-top bar, is a regular haunt among the surfer jet-set or surfer-lifestyle aficionados. With the spectacular views overlooking Uluwatu beach and the surf of the Uluwatu coast, this spot is a good, upmarket watering hole to enjoy a few drinks and watch the surfers ride the waves from your cliff-top vantage point.
If more jet-set and less surfer-vibe is what you are after, then Ulu Cliffhouse is definitely one of my favourite spots in Bali. Coming a close second to threesixty, the chill vibes, stunning cliff-side pool setting and beach house music can easily tempt you to stay here all day and miss the kecak dance at Uluwatu Temple.
One of the attractions to Uluwatu, beyond the clifftop bars and surf beaches, is, well, Uluwatu Temple. One of the key temples and a major holy site in Bali, this is also the site of one of the most stunning performance arts paired with a spectacular setting: the Kecak Dance and Ramayana excerpts of Uluwatu.
Be here early, preferably before 1700 to secure your tickets, priced at IDR 100,000, and a nice seat, as even though it starts at 1800, it gets crowded fast, and tickets sell out quickly. Once you brave the heat and direct sun as it starts to set, the mystical chants, trance-life fervour, the melodies draw you in. The setting sun, rugged cliffs and temple perched precariously on the edge will provide the perfect setting to reflect, and undoubtedly distract, from both the performance below and the mass of humanity crammed in the amphitheatre.
OMNIA Day Club
Address: Jalan Belimbing Sari, Pecatu, Kuta Selatan, Bali 80364 Indonesia
Threesixty at The Edge
Address: Jalan Pura Goa Lempeh, Banjar Dinas Kangin, Pecatu, Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia
Address: Pantai Suluban, Jalan Labuan Sait, Uluwatu, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Address: Jalan Labuan Sait No 315, Padang-Padang, Pecatu, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Kecak Performance at Uluwatu
Address: Jalan Raya Uluwatu, Pecatu, Kuta Selatan, Bali 80364, Indonesia
Jason’s Trot: Nusa Penida
Bali is, for all intents and purposes, a major tourist destination, filled with, well, tourists. There is no denying that at all. However, if you want a little escape away from the main island for a little peace and quiet, and rugged adventure, then Nusa Penida is a very good alternative.
One little interesting tid-bit I learned about Nusa Penida: this island was once the penal colony, a sort of place for exile, for the Balinese of old. Now, it feels like a refuge colony, for those seeking all-terrain explorations or excellent dive sites. You get fantastic views of Bali from the north shore, and you can see why this was the perfect place to be if you (or the Balinese community of old) want to be in exile.
A short 40 minute speedboat ride away from the main landing point on Sanur, Nusa Penida is close enough to Bali that it has become a sort of day-trip destination from Bali, an alternative to the somewhat party isle of Nusa Lembongan. I will be honest: do not expect much, Nusa Penida is very, very rustic.
But this rustic-ness is the charm of Nusa Penida. While you may get a slight shock when you get off the boat when you arrive, this raw beauty in the form of rickety country roads, rugged terrain and a dearth of built-up space makes for a refreshing experience.
Dirt Trails Galore
The roads in Nusa Penida are, to be honest, questionable. With the exception of a few sections that have been maintained, on the whole, roads away from the main north and west shores are almost gravel-like. Great for an off-road moto-session.
On arrival at the pier, there are options for renting motorbikes, which is a fun way to explore the island, but unless you are a capable rider, you can either get a motorbike with a driver and ride pillion, or get a car. Riding in Nusa Penida is not the same as riding in Bali, and some stretches can get very, very (very) challenging, especially towards the south-east.
Beaches, Cliffs and Holy Springs
The beauty of Nusa Penida is best experienced on her beaches, cliff-side walks and rugged drops. There is a certain charm about this island, despite it being somewhat dry, without as much dense vegetation compared to Bali. However, this does transport your mind to somewhere else, a wind-swept island, a perfect retreat.
There are quite a number of stunning beaches, mostly concentrated on the western and south-western end of the island. As with most destinations that have appeared on the radar, expect crowds, particularly day-trippers from Nusa Lembongan and Bali. If you time your visits right, you can either catch the tail-end of them, or leave just as they come in.
If you are a bit more adventurous and want a good workout, then the holy spring by the Peguyangan Waterfall, a temple perched at the bottom of a cliff, where a natural spring meets the sea below, provides for a stunning experience, both for a meditative but challenging walk down, and the views of sheer falls from the cliffs above.
If there was one iconic picture of adventure, travel and wanderlust, it would be one taken when looking down towards Kelingking Beach from the top of the Kelingking Peninsula. This spot has been made famous thanks to Instagram, and it is not hard to see why: the spot is stunningly photogenic. It can get crowded around lunchtime, so come by around lunch, have something to eat and wait for the crowds to thin out before heading down.
However, the beach at the bottom of the steep descent down is well worth the effort, but not suggested if you are on a tight day-trip from the main island. Once you are at the bottom, enjoy the crystal clear waters, white powdery sand and the knowledge that you just scaled down a collection of rickety bamboo ladders held by, well, let’s not go there.
Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach are also iconic spots in Nusa Penida. Both are next to each other, with both getting very packed during day-trip and tour sessions around 10/11 am. Very ingenious local residents have identified the best places for selfies or photo opportunity spots, and these are clearly marked, and are there for a reason: the angle is just right.
Angel’s Billabong is very nice, but beware of the steep, slippery stone ledges and waves, that are not as calm as they seem: like the angels of the bible, they look divine but they can smite with a vengeance.
Broken Beach, just a short 5 minute walk away from Angel’s Billabong, is a sink-hole with a stone arch, and clear water down below. This spot is arguably a very close contender to the ‘iconic Nusa Penida shot,’ and the rugged beauty of the terrain makes it easy to see why. Come by just before lunch, when the tour groups leave for Kelingking Beach, if you want the place quieter.
After seeing Kelingking Beach, Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach, Crystal Bay may suddenly feel not as stunning. Crystal Bay is a pretty bay, a secluded harbour with a good spot to see the sunset, but to be honest, it just makes me appreciate Kelingking Beach that much more.
While you can squeeze in all the main highlights of Nusa Penida’s West Coast in a day-trip, you will not get to experience the whole island in her rugged beauty. The ride down to the cliff temple brings you through rolling hills and quaint villages. The ride along the north shore brings you past some of the best views of Mt Agung. The thought of spending a few hours on Kelingking Beach does not sound out of the question when there is no boat to catch.
However, as this is pretty much the sticks, facilities, street lighting and infrastructure are limited. Wifi may be spotty and mobile reception is focused on the north and west sides of the island. Perfect if you want to unplug, chill and do basically nothing. Plus, the sunset views get that much better when there are no big crowds blocking your view as the main chunk of the crowds leave at 4pm.
To the island - There are quite a number of operators that go to Nusa Penida from Sanur. Most provide one-way transport to the ferry point if you book in advance. I used Maruti Express Boat, with a return fare of IDR 550,000
On the island – 3 options, either a) rent your own bike for around IDR 60,000/day, b) rent a bike with a driver for around IDR 200,000/day or c) rent a car with a driver for IDR 700,000/day
Stay?: Accommodation is limited on Nusa Penida, with most properties under 20 rooms, and concentrated on the northern and eastern sides of the island. Book in advance of your trip!
If there is one location that started the beach club trend in South East Asia, it would be Bali, or more specifically Rock Bar at the Ayana Hotel in the Bukit Peninsula, within the general Uluwatu area.
While there was a time when the trendy nightlife started to drift northwards along the west coast of Bali, stretching along the Seminyak stretch, there have been a few openings down in Uluwatu which would undoubtedly return the centre of destination bars away from ‘sunset views’ of Seminyak to ‘cliff-top settings’ of Uluwatu.
OMNIA Day Club, Uluwatu
I get mixed comments on OMNIA. Some people love it, some people not so much. Regardless of their feelings on the bar, they do agree that the architectural setting is something else.
Perched on the cliff edge, with stunning vistas left and right (with the exception of a hotel currently under construction to the left of the property), there is something about OMNIA that makes you want to go all ‘insta-famous.’
The area is divided between the two day-bed areas, where you get access to the swimming pool, day beds and resort amenities, and the ala carte areas, mostly concentrated in the ‘Cube,’ the iconic structure that abuts the cliff edge and seemingly floats above the sea. The ‘Cube’ is the main draw for this place, which gives it a distinct character from the other day clubs in Bali, and the corner glass balcony being one of the ‘must take a photo’ spots.
Drinks-wise, there is a wide selection of crafted signature cocktails to choose from, all having a local flavour within. Unlike other day clubs, most of the cocktails here are served in wooden cups, that are quite effective in maintaining a cool cocktail on a hot tropical day. There is a basic menu, and if you are peckish, the bar snacks are, interestingly enough, very filling.
Overall, OMNIA exudes the jet-set crowd feel, and this can be quite apparent with the clientele it attracts. There will be a lot of photo taking, selfie shots and the likes, and the atmosphere feels more clubby than chilled. If you want your day clubs as a see-and-be-seen destination, then OMNIA might be just the right fit.
P.s. Come early, preferably around 1pm, otherwise it will get full. If you do plan on coming on a weekend, or after 4pm, I suggest making reservations, and be aware there is a minimum spend and cover charge.
Atmosphere: Open, wide terrace, with two pools. The main building has a trendy Japanese restaurant upstairs, and the Cube houses the main cocktail bar. Avant garde architecture on display.
Drinks: signature cocktails a-plenty
Price Point: Average for destination beach bars. Expect to pay USD 8 for a cocktail.
Feel: Packed, bustling, trendy, see-and-be-seen. There is a reason why this spot is Insta-famous.
Address: Jalan Belimbing Sari, Pecatu, Kuta Selatan, Bali 80364 Indonesia
Imagine someone has a beach house with a few outhouses. Connect these outhouses through corridors and have a pool in the courtyard at the back. Add in a terrace that hugs the cliffs, with well-manicured lawns. This is the Ulu Cliffhouse.
Like someone’s private beach house who he lets out once in a while if he isn’t in town, the Ulu Cliffhouse has an intimate feel despite it catering to a very hip crowd. Not as big as OMNIA, with an equally stunning setting with views of the sunset on the left and the western Bali coast on the right, Ulu Cliffhouse has a charm that will remind you of Mykonos.
The space is divided to three distinct areas: a restaurant area on the right, a day-bed area by the pool, in the centre of the courtyard, and a cocktail bar on the left, where the DJ booth and cliff terrace are. While there is free seating in the restaurant and cocktail bar area, there is a minimum spend for the day beds, approximately IDR 1,000,000 or USD 70.
Drinks are pretty good, with a great selection of signature cocktails at reasonable prices, with a good food menu that would satiate your hunger as you laze away under the tropical sun. The atmosphere is very chill, keeping in line with the beach lounge feel, and while some of the crowd are in to their selfies and group photos thanks to the beautiful setting, you do get a very relaxed vibe when said photo groups leave.
The beauty of Ulu Cliffhouse’s setting is well placed, and the limitation on deck chairs, seating areas and the preference for bookings, ensures that this lounge does not feel too crowded. Perfect for a lazy afternoon while sipping cocktails and waiting for time before heading to Uluwatu Temple for the sunset kecak.
Atmosphere: Private beach house party venue, complete with jet-set and glamorous patrons
Drinks: Great cocktail selection, with a lot of tropical-inspired signature cocktails
Price Point: Average day club prices, USD 7/+.
Feel: I want to say trust-fund babies and jet-setters who have a certain nonchalant-ness
Address: Jalan Labuan Sait No 315, Padang-Padang, Pecatu, Bali 80361, Indonesia
It is quite hard to really describe Single Fin. Unlike the other entries, this destination is less a day club and more bar. Entry is quite interesting, where you have to pass the iconic Single Fin Surf Shop and a few other bars before finding the terrace that leads to Single Fin, next door to the Surf Shop. The split levels and areas of the bar does get a haphazard, and it would be hard pressed to get reservations here. It feels part beach-shack, part terrace restaurant, part pop-up club.
However, if you are wondering why the bar is packed in the middle of the afternoon, and you are roaming around trying to find a spot to sit down, just sit on the balcony and you will get a rough idea. To your left, the cliffs of Uluwatu. Right in front of you, the stunning waves of Uluwatu that is the spiritual home of surfing on this island. To your right, well, we don’t really talk about the private pool on the right, we just focus on the surf right in front of us.
Undoubtedly, this is a major drinking hole for the surf crowd, or the corporate-career-turned-surfer crowd. The setting is pretty rustic: no clean lines like the other destination bars here, oh no. While the drinks selection are decent, with the constant crowds and the hectic feeling, I would highly suggest getting a beer.
As the late afternoon progresses, balcony seats do become a premium, as crowds descend on the terrace to get that perfect sunset view. While the ‘premium sunset seats’ on the left of the mid-terrace have the best views, you also get the full force of the afternoon sun. Bring a hat, or angle yourself just nicely under the umbrella.
Atmosphere: Imagine beach shack-turned-fancy, but still wants to keep the ‘rawness’ to keep it ‘real.’
Drinks: Decent cocktail selection, but go for the beer to reduce waiting time.
Price Point: Lower than similar bars, but still higher than average Bali bars. Expect USD 6 for cocktails.
Feel: Surfer-vibe, traveller-heavy, flash-packer.
Address: Pantai Suluban, Jalan Labuan Sait, Uluwatu, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Oneeighty, The Edge
Part of me feels selfish and does not want to talk too much about this spot, but the other part of me knows such a destination could not possibly stay as private as possible. Of all the bars on this list, oneeighty at The Edge is undoubtedly my personal favourite for a host of reasons.
This is a day club that has a very private, very intimate feel to it, perched on the edge of the Uluwatu cliffs. There is a good degree of space between deck chairs. There is a good layer of sand instead of tiles where the deck chairs are. There is a very nice pool which abuts the cliff, and has a glass bottom, giving further credence to the name ‘The Edge.’
While service overall in the other 3 day clubs above are good, here they do go the extra mile. They will ask you nicely if you need anything without being pushy, they are super helpful when you are peckish but don’t want a full meal, and best of all, they know the best spots for the perfect shot of you, either in the pool or on the terrace. Perfect for the narcissistic Instagram shot.
The drinks are very well made, and their cold brew martini is one of my personal favourites, and high on my list of ‘great cocktails in Southeast Asia.’ Unlike other bars on this list, they use well-made plastic martini glasses instead of proper glasses, and it became apparent why when I was allowed to take a dip in the pool with my martini.
To maintain the private setting, the bar has a policy of prioritizing advanced reservations and not packing in the crowd. It also helps that while The Edge Hotel is somewhat sprawling, the bar is not, and the small, intimate setting gives the perfect environment for a lazy, private space on a relaxing afternoon.
There is a minimum spend here, approximately IDR 400,000 (USD 30), where IDR 50,000 is your entrance fee and the remaining IDR 350,000 is your resort credit. Not too bad considering the privacy on offer, the untouched cliff-side setting and limited, mostly jet-setter crowd present. You may just choose to spend your entire afternoon here and not move from your deck chair.
Atmosphere: Super private beach club, very jet-setter approved, especially if you like to indulge with smaller crowds and increased exclusivity
Drinks: Good cocktail selection. I am in love with their cold brew martini.
Price Point: Average by Bali beach club prices, USD 7
Feel: Your fancy friend’s rooftop terrace extension, with ample space to laze around. The chairs are that comfortable.
Address: Jalan Pura Goa Lempeh, Banjar Dinas Kangin, Pecatu, Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia
What is my criteria?
In 2016/17, I was involved in a fairly large World Bank project involving Indonesia, and it was during this particular sojourn where I discovered the beauty of Komodo. While I have heard of the islands and its reptilian residents, it was only after this project when I suddenly got the call. In the grand scheme of ‘calling’ and my actual ‘action,’ this was definitely one of the fastest I have ever ‘implemented.’
The Spice Islands
Komodo is the main island within the Komodo National Park area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite its world renown, it is still relatively untouched, all for the better. To get to the site, there is the usual ‘cruise from Lombok’ option, or for those with a rush, the ‘fly to Flores’ option, which personally, introduces you to the Spice Islands and the Pacific Ring of Fire first hand.
The most realistic option getting to Flores, named so because the Portuguese were spellbound by its beauty, is from Jakarta, where regular direct and connecting flights are available. Arrival in Komodo Airport is an experience in itself, as you pass volcanoes in the middle of the sea, or stunning landmasses amidst the deepest blue.
On arrival in Flores, and specifically Labuan Bajo, the sense of ‘island-life’ and ‘rustic idyll’ permeates, as there is no true ‘town centre,’ especially considering that this location is essentially a fishing village which relies on the tourism and fishing industry. You would want it that way, as what better way to relax than having a nice drink overlooking the bay, with good fresh seafood from the fishermen and vendors who give you a fair price?
The primary reason most travellers come by to this relatively remote part of Southeast Asia, are for the komodo dragons, islands and diving. While regrettably I did not have enough time for diving (as I need a refresher after 3 years of not diving), I did make sure I had enough time for dragons, islands and beaches.
There are a number of operators that do island safaris from Labuan Bajo, some on speedboats, some on dive boats, some on liveaboards, some on cruisers and some on fantastic yachts. I opted for a liveaboard. While not as fast as some of the dive boats or speedboats, I did have the whole boat to myself, with the only noise being the waves crashing against the bow. The speedboats on the other hand sounded like 10 Harley Davidsons with loudspeakers.
Most operators conducting day trips would suggest Komodo Island or Rinca Island as part of the itinerary, with a stop at Padar Island. While on maps, the islands look relatively close by, the straits that separate these islands are at the confluence of the Java Sea and Indian Ocean, and currents can be strong, especially between Rinca and Padar Islands.
I went with Komodo Transportation and Travel, a local outfit with a fantastic guide, who made my private tour really something. My boat, the aptly named ‘Traveller,’ was the perfect vessel, being a liveaboard, and having the capacity for 14 people. Yes, a boat for 14 guests and I was the only one.
As smaller, faster boats passed us, I lazed on the sundeck, with drink in hand, book by my side, sunscreen on the ready. We passed small fishing communities and wildlife on the islands as we cruised towards Padar Island, that large island between Rinca and Komodo, and where those stunning travel photos are usually taken.
The cruise, like all seabourne journeys, is subject to the currents, and while the first 2 hours from Labuan Bajo to the tip of Rinca were smooth sailing, the crossing between Rinca to Padar did get rough at times. If you are ever contemplating squeezing in Komodo’s Pink Beach, Padar Island, Rinca Island and Kelor Island, that would be almost impossible. It is either Komodo or Rinca, one cannot do both in a day cruise.
Green Hills & Gaping Thrills
Padar Island is worth the stop, if only for the summit climb. The beauty of being on my larger but slower boat, as that by the time we berthed at harbour, the larger tour groups were descending, meaning I had the summit walks mostly to myself. The mostly barren, steep island with sheltered beaches and coves makes it a magical site, with unobstructed views of Komodo and Rinca islands.
Rinca Island is one of two sites within the Komodo National Park where you can view the fabled komodo dragons safely. While Komodo Island is a spot where you are assured of sightings due to the dragons being used to humans, Rinca Island is a good spot to see the dragons in their natural habitat.
After a short walk from berth to park headquarters, pass low-lying flat lands and mangroves and the occasional buffalo, you will be mesmerized by the rolling hills of Rinca, resembling pastoral New Zealand than tropical Indonesia.
The 1.5 hour walk, with our park ranger, resulted me in counting at least 16 dragons. Yes. 16 dragons, from 2 baby dragons, to countless larger dragons underneath the kitchen giving a Japanese TV crew quite the fright, to a dragon guarding her nest to my favourite: dragon lazing on top of the hill, under a gazebo, monarch of all he surveys.
From Rinca, we made our way to Kelor Island, the final stopover before Labuan Bajo, and a frequent spot for snorkelling, kayaking, SUP-ing or a climb to the summit for a fantastic view.
Due to time constraints, I had to pass on the evening bat exodus, but time flies when you are having fun on a cruise.
View from Paradise
Despite the rural idyll, Labuan Bajo is a tourist town, but not in the veins of San Sebastian, Ubud or Queenstown. Prices are reasonable and the locals, on a whole, do not attempt to make a quick buck from travellers. The bars are good, the restaurants serve fresh fish and everything is mostly walking distance.
One of these spots, a bit off-centre, is Paradise Bar, which lives up to its name at sunset. Cool beach-house beats play, with a wide terrace overlooking Labuan Bajo, the bays, islands and sea beyond. Drinks are reasonably priced, and for the sunset views, worth the steep hike up.
La Pirate, a sister property of La Pirate in Bali, has a lovely rooftop terrace and bar, with an infinity pool overlooking the harbour. The drinks are pretty good too, and it’s a nice spot for a late lunch.
The stalls of the night markets along the seashore, where the fishermen dock and unload their catch, is an excellent site for good, cheap seafood in the evenings, frequented by locals and tourists alike. No overpriced fish for tourists and reasonable prices for locals here: it is very egalitarian.
For something posh, Atlantis on the Rocks at the Plataran Komodo, is without a doubt, a good escape from the world. Taking a car (or in my case, a motorcycle) along narrow roads, looking down at steep cliffs, rolling mountains, crystal clear seas to my left and right while riding on the saddle of a mountain, makes the journey (and the drink) worthwhile.
Komodo Travel & Transportation
I used Komodo Travel & Transportation, and Ali is a fantastic guide. His boat, the ‘Traveller’, is apt for those who want to rekindle that romance of travel. www.komodotraveller.com
Komodo National Park Fees
Weekdays: IDR 295,000 (trekking) IDR 310,000 (trekking + snorkelling)
and on Sundays/Public Holidays: IDR 370,000 (trekking) IDR 385,000 (trekking + snorkelling)
Times to visit:
Peak – April to October, as the monsoon is less prominent, and particularly busy during the dry months of July to September, when komodo dragons are out and about and the sea is more agreeable.
Off-Peak – October to December is a decent time to visit: weather is not as hot, the sites are not crowded and the komodo dragons are still around, as they tend to hide when the storms roll in from December onwards.
Jason’s Essay: Adventures in Review
The past year has been a very interesting year for travel, personally. Scaled up challenging peaks for one of the most spectacular views, sought shelter in an old lava tube amidst near freezing temperatures and played the explorer while on an island safari. While travel teaches us much, it is also a very good mirror held up to ourselves.
Target missed, experienced gained
If I were to pick one lesson as a highlight, then the climb up Mt Merapi in February 2017 would be a master class. I did not really plan for the climb until about 4 weeks before my trip. When I did finally book it, I had 3 weeks to prepare. Preparation is not the lesson here, but making the best of unforeseen circumstances.
Whenever I post on Instagram or here, or even on Facebook, I seem to project the image that everything goes according to plan. No hiccups, all targets achieved. This ascent up Mt Merapi would be a class to remind myself that not everything is within our control.
For 3 weeks I ran hill-sprints and focused my training regime on building my legs. At the eve of my trip, I felt as ready as I could ever be with such short training. The competitor within channelled my inner mountain athlete as on the day itself, I held my own with the front of the pack, keeping good pace and navigating the rocky terrain.
I had my own mission: to reach the top in a very respectable, preferably top percentile range. The mountain, on the other hand, had a lesson in store for me. Winds howled, sleet rain splattered on my face, cloud covered the last 1km of the summit. The benign weather in the day time turned in to a tempest by nightfall.
We never reached the summit, only the last checkpoint before we were told we could not proceed any further. The pain of being stuck in an old lava tube, cold, wet and shivering, trying to find a way to stay warm, as fellow hikers who were used to sub-arctic temperatures complained about the cold, suddenly felt like a further blow.
Yet, it was the experience, the possibility for me to relay this story of defeat instead of the usual tales of conquest, which brought a smile to my face as we descended. While 2 other hikers realized this lesson too, a few others did not take heart, and trodded down with disappointment.
Yes, we travelled far, we brought fancy kit, we trained as much as we can, but it is from the unexpected, the defeats, the targets missed, which remind us of why we travel: we make the best of it.
From uncertainty, jubilation
It was the lesson from the mountain that kept me going, hoping against hope, but to revel in what is to come, regardless of the outcome, as the weather turned for the worse as I was on an expedition to the Mulu Pinnacles in June 2017.
Heavy downpour the night before my hike to Camp 5 made me question if it was possible. The clear weather on the hike brought hope, but the weather the evening before the morning climb, brought a literal dampener.
We were informed that even the slightest hint of rain in the morning would mean that our climb would have to be cancelled. All our expectations, our hopes, our desire to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site hinged on the weather. Come what may, I had a fun hike and boat ride, enjoying drinks by the crystal-clear stream.
Come morning, the weather was absolutely perfect. Clear skies, hardly a cloud in sight, with Venus lighting the way. The realization that I could ascend up the peaks to view the Pinnacles, brought a cautious optimism.
My annoying competitive side within saw me once again be right behind my guide, who happened to be lead guide. A few slippery stones made me cautious, the slightly wet ladders and ropes heightened my awareness. Then, once at the top, passing a crevice, with cuts and bruises on my shins and knees, I heard my guide call out: last ladder and you’re done.
And indeed, at the top, I had the whole view to myself. I was mentally prepared to be disappointed, but having achieved this, the climb and view of the Pinnacles, I was in jubilation. The mini bottle of champagne waiting at Camp 5 was worth it. The realization of uncertainty of a trip, once achieved, makes the experience even more jubilant.
Experiences to talk about
The fine balance of uncertain possibilities to see the sights against the anticipation of expectation is something you will experience as you travel, and is something that shapes your outlook on your journey. Cautiously optimistic is personally better than the expectation of perfect sights.
It was this lesson that closed my 2017 adventures. I went to Komodo National Park, hoping to see dragons in December 2017. First, the eruption of Mt Agung on Bali island brought a standstill to my flight plans. Then, a tropical cyclone in the Indian Ocean brought about uncertain weather, yet I still wanted to go. The islands called me.
I made my booking, I liaised with my expedition team, and they advised that yes, my private boat can be arranged, and yes, my desired stops can be placed in the itinerary, but no, I cannot be guaranteed all the stops I wanted. Ocean currents and weather were both to play a role in affecting my trip.
Yet on the day itself, the weather was perfect, the ocean currents agreeable, clouds made the heat somewhat bearable and the dragons came out to play. I cruised the islands on my little island safari, seeing stunning islands, rugged hills and wildlife in their natural habitat, all while playing an explorer who finally visited Jurassic Park.
This expedition to end the 2017 season was apt: I prepared as much as I could, being cautiously optimistic and reminded myself that not everything will go according to plan. I left my travel fate to the gods, but I did as much as I could to improve the likelihood of the situation.
When the sights was seen, and the experienced surpassed expectations, the feeling was surreal. Do not set your expectations on too low a bar: just remember that life always finds a way…finds a way to both amuse you and annoy you, to impress on you. And of course, make the best of any experience!
Happy travels in 2018! Here’s to more adventures!
Old Jakarta, Kota Tua, Batavia, Jakarta Kota: the old city of Jakarta goes by many a name, but this old heart of the city is seeing somewhat of a renaissance after years of being overshadowed by, initially the grand planned city around Weltervelt during the Dutch replaning, and by the area around Thamrin-Sudirman in modern Indonesia. A distinct charm is ever pleasant, and it is one of the most interesting places to see a different side of Urban Indonesia.
The focus of Old Jakarta, or Batavia if you are so inclined, is the old town square, now named after one of Indonesia’s local heroes. Most of the monumental buildings of Old Jakarta built during Batavia’s heyday in the 18th century was concentrated here, before the gradual move upriver in the 19th century.
On weekends, this square becomes alive, with buskers, street performers and tradespeople vying for the attention of youth armed with large cameras, families grouping in for selfies and couples cycling on tandem bikes: this old square becomes the nexus of local Jakarta life.
Look out for the old cannon, and look very carefully at the end: I’m convinced the cannon is trying to indicate something with that fist.
Stadthuis/Town Hall/Jakarta History Museum
The iconic backdrop to Jakarta, the old Town Hall dominates the square, with her white washed walls, wooden outward opening windows and frontage evoking, unsurprisingly, a small town Dutch civic building.
What was the old hear of the Dutch East Indies, and functioning as the governor’s offices and residence, is now a museum to the Dutch East Indies, with a rather, if I may say, eclectic display of artefacts.
Personally, the internal architecture, old staircase, statements the rooms tried to exude and the view from the loggia are the main highlights, with stunning views overlooking the square. Worth a detour if you don’t mind the crowds on weekends.
The wayang kulit, or shadow puppet, is a cultural institution in Indonesia, and a potent symbol of the rich heritage of the region. This collection of old trading houses built in the style of, naturally, a Dutch merchant’s establishment, is filled with it, with fine display cases showcasing the different types of puppets, the different styles and the unique history of the art form from ancient times to present.
The collection is not only confined to shadow puppets, made from cow hide, but also conventional puppets, each with their own style and story to tell. The gift shop downstairs by the exit as a fine collection of puppets on display. Do haggle, it becomes part of the ‘game.’
Numerous Bank Buildings
Part of the restoration of the Kota Tua/Old Jakarta involved active private sector participation, and quite a number of the modern iterations of old Batavian banks took up their old buildings and did them up as museums of their respective banks.
The architecture is monumental, and the restoration commendable, making them a shining beacon amidst the forlorn buildings that surround them. While the interiors are stunning and the setting elegant, crossing the street from the Fatahilah Square quarter to them might take nerves of steel: it is at a busy junction.
Jakarta Art Gallery
Housed in a fine, low neoclassical building, the gallery is set in its own gardens, and serves as a green oasis set apart but adjoining the ever busy Fatahilah Square. A nice stop if only for the elegant architecture and imposing yet human scale of the buildings.
This is essentially an institution in Jakarta, and especially of the Old City/Kota Tua. A perfect pit-stop and a respite from the heat after a day looking around the Kota Tua. There is a decent selection of local cuisine in the menu, local drinks including the local concoction they call jamu which, in a nutshell, makes me think of a juice mixer.
The décor feels as if someone froze the café in the 1950s, with old black and white pictures and period posters placed all over the walls and in the washrooms. The bar is well appointed, with a fine wooden grand staircase and dark wood abounds in the upstairs dining area.
Grab a seat by the window and watch the world go by from your perch, overlooking the hectic yet quaint Kota Tua of Jakarta.
Side Trip: Jakarta’s Old Port, Sunda Kelapa. This destination is not exactly walking distance from the Kota Tua. Advisable to get a car. The sights of old, wooden ships, mast up high, ready to sail the high seas is something.
Transport?: I rented a Silver Bird from the hotel to bring me to and fro, including stops. You can get your taxi to wait for you as you explore. Taxis can be challenging to get to in this part of town, in particular the ever reliable Blue Bird or Silver Bird taxis, but the local ojeks or motorcycle taxis are everywhere.
Bring?: Water. It can get hot.
Jason is a world traveller and avid seeker of high perches, on a mission to capture the unique experiences that makes destinations iconic.