I did not think that I would be updating the blog any time this year as it seemed all travel plans would have come to a halt for now. Yet I’m grateful for the unexpected opportunity to do so once again, as this means that another adventure (though short it will be) awaits in barely 3 weeks.
The Travel Companion (TC) and I toyed with this idea casually some weeks past – a trip to some place in Southeast Asia for a couple of days over Christmas or over the New Year – without paying much attention to the logistics that needed to be taken care of, before promptly dismissing it as a silly, impossible idea that was too fast, too soon.
Yet TC offhandedly suggested some time last week that it would be a nice change for once, and I jumped on it as I normally do at every opportunity to travel. It was after all, an embarrassing inauguration into Southeast Asia for me, after having last visited Malaysia at least a decade and a half ago.
We were consequently, predictably engulfed in the madness of planning and the destinations that were viable to us during this mad time. Our destinations seemed to pick themselves; they narrowed down to Koh Samui, Langkawi, Bali, Bangkok or Bintan or even Batam.
Flights are notoriously hard to get during this peak season, and it seemed as though accommodation on a shoestring budget was plain impossible to book, given the fancy peak surcharges and compulsory dinners guests needed to pay for in addition to the basic room charges.
Samui sounded exotic enough, and its fabled but heavily touristed beaches seemed a mouth-watering idea, but then all flights were full for the period we looked at, and it did – after making a few painful calls to several agencies – cost a lot more than what we hope to spend.
An escape from the congested city life here to the even crazier city life of Bangkok didn’t seem to enticing either.
Bintan was unimpressionable. Batam’s reputation as a seedy haunt for happy hours of the middle-aged sort was enough to make me run in the other direction of the globe. Plans for Langkawi hit some other snag early on. So Bali it was then, with flights surprisingly easy to get after some digging around.
Then came the nightmare of securing suitable sleeping quarters, many of which were booked for the period well in advance. We first needed to narrow our place of stay down to one region out of Bali’s many main regions that consist of Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Ubud, Candidasa, Amlapura, Lovina, Singarajah. The Kuta district, famous for its clubbing and after-hours activities, was also subjected to terrorist acts in the recent years, and thus did not feel like the safest of all. Eastern Bali – Candidasa, Amed, Amlapura – was just too far from the airport and seemed, according to the reviews I read, for the extremely stressed few who wanted secluded beaches and nothing much else.
Candidasa was our first option, until we found out that most things worked against our favour. Anything further than that was out of the question, and simply impractical for a trip that would last merely a couple of days.
Ubud thus became our next choice; we thought that its location in the mountains makes for (hopefully) cooler weather and its relative centrality meant that arranging day trips to anywhere else on the island would prove easier. Ubud’s inland jungle and its frightening insects (hilariously deemed exotic by Westerners) was however, a terse reminder of TC’s Pulau Tekong days.
Emailing the various hotels and waiting for a comprehensible reply (which more often than not, did not answer most of the questions I posed but merely rephrased the question back at me) was a most infuriating challenge that rivalled planning the accommodation for my typical 2-week sojourn across several cities in Europe in the past. Some Indonesian booking websites were suspect, and in desperation, we turned to external sites that offered more expensive deals, but with a secure option for reservation and payment.
We had the option of taking the easy, more expensive and lazier way out by letting the travel agent handle our rooms. It is however, all too often that these agents tended to have agreements with large resorts that cater to the entertainment needs of the typical family with children – the exact sort I would shy away from. Seen in this light of limited choices, securing a tranquil and more peaceful getaway meant the planning for rooms had to be done ourselves: fun, but painstaking, especially when one juggles price-considerations, location from town centre, and other transportation needs. We thus turned to the trusty web for our booking options.
For the past few years now, I’ve been making accommodation decisions based on traveller reviews on Tripadvisor that probably gives a rather wide spectrum of perspectives from all over the globe, and the reviews of hotels offered by the agents were at best, mixed.
TC sprang into action on the 11th hour, finally settling on ARMA Museum and Resort that, through Hoteltravel.com, provided instant confirmation of rooms. While it oddly seemed to ticked the correct boxes (not too far from town centre, falls within the budget, relatively good reviews), yet it somehow overshadowed by the larger and more famous resorts.
That settles our initial planning for now; perhaps some dogged research(and reservation) into spa-treatments that Bali is synonymous with should follow.