From Bangkok to Bali
Vail, CO Colorado
Editor’s note: This is the second part in a two-part series on Southeast Asia. To see the first part in the series or to view more photos, visit http://www.vaildaily.com.
The man’s head bounced on the floor, and for a second he lifted it, long enough for birds and stars to circle had it been a cartoon, before he passed out cold on the mat. Watching this incredibly fit fighter getting knocked unconscious and, within seconds, being carried off on a M.A.S.H.-style stretcher so the next fight could begin was a testament to the tough, demanding crowd at my first Thai boxing match.
When I visited Bangkok before, nearly a decade ago, I stayed on Khao San Road, the popular backpackers’ area. This time, I was determined to experience the city differently, so I booked a room at the boutique hotel, Immfusion Hotel, located on the opposite side of the city but right next to a sky train station, giving me easy access to the entire city. With only two nights to explore, we jumped right into the adventure with a traditional Thai boxing match, ringside! Quickly downing a noodle curry dish and some Thai-style barbecue chicken from the nearby street stalls, we headed in to the show. We watched 10 consecutive fights, with fighters varying in both age and weight, the youngest being a ripped little 12-year-old. Their ferocity was more intense than anything I’ve ever seen on TV.
With only one full day to explore the rest of the city, we headed out early the next morning. We took the convenient and cheap sky train across the city to the Tha Saphan Phut pier and then jumped on a small ferry, which took us down the Chao Phraya River to the center of the Ko Ratanakosin area, renowned for its many temples, markets and the Grand Palace. Disembarking right next to the Grand Palace, we were quickly set up with a 60 Baht ($2) tuk-tuk ride around the key tourist attractions, two temples, the Reclining Buddha and back to the Grand Palace. The tour lasted as long as we wanted. Sounds like a great deal; however, $2 can quickly turn into $2,000 if you indulge in the in-between stops at the jewelry stores. Thailand is known for its gemstones and custom tailoring shops, and the drivers get commissions from the sales. Nevertheless, considering I am not usually that interested in temples and such, I was suitably impressed by the the size and grandeur of the Reclining Buddha and by the peacefulness and detail of the temples.
Since it was too late to make it to the Grand Palace, we headed back to the pier to make our way home. Unfortunately, due to an official ceremonial procession on the river, including a stream of traditional Thai dragon boats, the ferry service was postponed. Waiting at the pier with a growing crowd of would-be ferry riders, we passed the time shopping in the small pier stalls for art. As the time went by, the water began to rise in the pier. Soon, the shop owner was removing artwork from the floor to prevent it from getting wet. By the time we made our final purchase, we had removed our shoes and were ankle deep in water. By the time ferry service recommenced, the entire waiting crowd – tourists, local residents and a number of Buddhist monks – were wading knee deep in water. Our shop owner assured us that this was a normal daily occurrence for this time of year. As the sun set over the river and we stood knee deep in water, we realized we’d shared a very unique Thai experience with those around us. And with Thailand recently facing some of the worst flooding in its history, I have a better appreciation for what’s happening having stood on that wharf.
The next morning, we boarded a plane for Bali, Indonesia, via Singapore, hoping to find sun, surf and relaxation after our whirlwind travels.
Sunny Bali is one of the largest of the thousands of islands that make up Indonesia. With some of the best surf breaks in the world, as well as infinite cheap shopping options, it’s been a popular tourist destination for years, especially for Aussies since it is so close to Australia. The first time I visited Bali, I stayed in Kuta, the heart of the tourist district. Then it was noticeably overrun with Australian tourists. Sixteen years later, and it’s worse. It was like being in Bondi Beach, Sydney, except with cheaper shopping and Balinese shopkeepers doing their best Australian accents. The rows of bars and restaurants with Australian names, such as Boomerang and Captain Cook advertising “good, cheap piss,” made me wonder if I’d landed in the wrong country.
After a day of shopping and realizing that surf lessons would not be cheap there, we escaped to the island of Gili Air, the second smallest of three tiny islands off the coast of Lombok, another large Indonesian island, and about a half day’s travel by shuttle van and ferry from Bali. Gili Air was a stark contrast to Kuta, offering peace and quiet, incredible snorkeling and diving in crystal-clear warm water, white-sand beaches and delicious fresh Indonesian seafood and fresh fruit cocktails. At this point in our trip, this was all we needed, and so we were happy to find ourselves on the quiet side of the island, staying in a beachfront bungalow for $25 per night, breakfast included, with few other tourists and only views of the sunset and the next island over to entertain us. Seven hundred people call the island home, and the only modes of transport are bicycle or cart and pony. It’s so quiet that roosters and the occasional tourists giggling on magic mushrooms, a local delicacy, were the loudest part of our day.
We’d only planned to stay two days on the island and head back to Legian to try surfing again. But two days of perfect relaxation turned into three and then four days. On our last day, we headed out on a snorkeling trip with two local brothers who took us to clear, deep coral reefs crowded with sea turtles and numerous tropical fish. Though both brothers had only a first-grade education, they had a wealth of knowledge and environmental understanding of the surrounding coral reefs, including the need to protect them, which they shared with us. They exchanged fishing tips with my boyfriend, showing him how to fish for octopus, while he taught them how to use his fly-fishing rod, which he later gave them. For our final night, we were invited back to one of the brother’s traditional small stilted bamboo homes for dinner. We were given a tour of the three-roomed house, where it was quickly apparent from the cracking of the bamboo floors under my boyfriend’s feet they were not designed for a 190-pound visitor. Our host’s wife then prepared a traditional Indonesian 10-course feast for us, including the freshly caught octopus, all cooked on a two-burner stove sitting on the floor of her home. I felt self-conscious about my constant whining for a bigger kitchen in my own house. But, more than that, lucky for the intimate look into their simple-but-fulfilling world on the island.
Vail Daily Photo Editor Dominique Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.