|At the end of any travel adventure, after the stacks of mail have been dealt with, the clothes have been washed, and the tans start to fade, Della and I like to recap how the money side of the trip panned out to a) help contextualize it b) log it away to help inform the next trip and c) to bask in the awesome memories a little bit longer. This trip to Singapore/Malaysia/Indonesia was the longest, most ambitious, and most expensive trip we've taken, which in my eyes just means MORE DATA!
After transferring the data from our travel journal to a spreadsheet and categorizing it, this is what it looks like.
A few random money observations along the way:
|Sunday March 15 2020||File under: travel|
|Transportation in Bali, at least from the perspective of this budget traveler, is severely broken. Compared to the trains, subways, public buses, ferries, and more of the rest of our trip, travel was so much of a bummer that for mostly this reason, we will have a hard time recommending Bali to prospective travelers.
Don't get me wrong: we saw some really cool stuff. There were oodles of seclude waterfalls, myriad gorgeous rice terraces, innumerable friendly people, countless cute monkeys, delicious food and drink, a really really tall statue, and more. But getting to each of said places was a challenge (and not the good kind of challenge where you feel like you accomplished something afterward, but more like the kind of challenge you might euphemistically call talking to your Trump-supporting uncle about politics.)
Bali's epic fail of a transportation scene is an open secret. The roads are overcrowded and sometimes downright scary due to poor infrastructure investment; the public transportation system that was once in place has pretty much ceased due to all locals now owning their own scooter; the taxi system has been called a "mafia" where prices are monopolistically high and the aggressiveness of the drivers is nerve-rattling; and renting a scooter, while an attractive option, comes with a risk of playing into police bribery*. Most travel guides suggest hiring a driver and private car to take you around to the various sites, but besides costing more than our total daily budget, this option felt just too chauffer-ish.
Enter Grab and Gojek, Asia's answer to Uber and Lyft. Prices are very reasonable and clearly communicated, the drivers never once failed to be friendly, miscommunication is rare since you select destination via the app, and the cars were all airconditioned*. While private ride-share takes away from the travel experience, separating us off in our own little bubble, it was pretty nice when it worked. But many areas ban Grab and Gojek* while others were so remote, there weren't any drivers around.
So what do you do in the absence of good transportation options? We got creative. We rented bikes and took to the back roads. We bummed a ride with the every so friendly locals. We walked...a lot. And, unfortunately, we did less than we would have otherwise. Temples went unseen, beaches went unswam, and chocolate plantations went ungrazed.
If we get a chance to tell you about our epic 2-month Singapore/Malaysia/Indonesia celebration trip, you'll hear about tons of the awesome stuff we saw and did, but you'll also probably hear about why it ended on a bit of a less than positive note all because of Bali's bummer of a transportation scene. So it goes.
|Saturday February 1 2020||File under: travel, indonesia|
|One of the main tourist attractions in Bali seems to be instagrammable photo ops. The roadside is littered with colorful signs to pose under, [albeit beautifully] woven hearts and nests, and swings galore. Never, however, was this photo-in-lieu-of-actual-culture made more apparent than today at the Handara Gate.
Due to a series of circumstances too convoluted to get into, Della and I hired a private taxi for the day to take us to some sights and drop us off at a somewhat off the beaten path mountain town. Sights included UNESCO World Heritage rice fields (which were pretty magical), a temple on a lake and surrounding gardens (which felt a little like Disneyland, i.e. contrived for tourists but still kind of nice), and the Handara Gate (actually a gate to a golf course resort).
The scene at the gates epitomized the it's-all-about-Instragram phenomenon that we can't help but sometimes feel overwhelmed by. You had to pay $3 and stand in line for 20+ minutes to get your photo op. And that's it. You never got a chance to actually admire the gate, since there was always someone posing there. There wasn't anything else there (unless you wanted to get in a quick 9). These hoards of people drove to this spot to stand in a line to get the photo and leave. But we weren't going to become one of them. We hopped back in our taxi (much to our driver's surprise) and were on our way.
The gates are beautiful. And we understand the draw for sure. And if we pass by again when the line is shorter or we don't have a complicated situation with a taxi driver, maybe we'll join the masses. But at the moment, we couldn't bring ourselves to do it. So instead, I thought I'd Photoshop myself a nice little picture. So I cropped myself out of a jumper from earlier in the day, and badabinga: you can't hardly tell*.
Pictures are a part of travel for sure. It's a great way to remember a place and a time. I cherish some of my travel selfies and look forward to taking many many more. But I hope that the next time I find myself lining up to get a picture in front of a faux cultural icon, I stop and take a moment to reflect. And then probably go post it on Instagram.
|Monday January 20 2020||File under: travel, indonesia|
|One of the things I was excited about in planning a trip to Indonesia was to check out Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. I remember taking a class in college that focused heavily on the temple, its intricate carvings, and the symbolism of, well, everything. Whatever knowledge I gained at the time has since gone far away. All that I retained is that Borobudur is kind of a big deal. So Della and I set the alarm for an ungodly hour, saddled up on our rented scooter, and braved the almost certain death of Yogyakarta's highways to get a glimpse.
In short, it was spectacular. We made it early enough that the temple was covered in morning mist and before there were too many people so we could get some goofy pictures. We watched the interpretive video*, ate at the restaurant*, but mostly walked around to look for new angles to take it all in from (always with the photo op, of course).
In the less-than-adequate planning that I did for this trip, I didn't pay much attention to mentions of Prambanan, the nearby temple complex which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I figured we'd figure it out when we got here, so that's just what we did. With little in the way of expectations, we again braved the melee of the roads* and struck out for Prambanan.
I don't know that I'd say that Prambanan was more impressive than Borobudur— because the latter had a lot of anticipation and acclaim, both of which usually tend to increase my enjoyment—but it was pretty rad. Esp. after we ran from the hordes at the temple proper and the constant dodging of line-of-selfie-sight, we found the place to be super nice and immensely photogenic.
Two spectacular temples in two unforgettable days*. If you ever find yourself in the area and planning on visiting Borobudur, I encourage you to consider buying the combo ticket for there and Prambanan. I think you'll be happy to did. But maybe consider a taxi to get there instead of scooting. Then you'll be both happy and alive to tell the tale.
|Friday January 10 2020||File under: travel, indonesia|
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|**Tap on the shoulder** "Photo?"
It would seem that people in Malaysia and Indonesia love to get their picture taken with me and Della. Not necessarily people who we've shared an interaction with or even made eye contact with. Sometimes it's parents herding their shy child to pose with the bule-bule or hip twenty-somethings wanting something for their Instagrams, but other times it is a group of giddy hijab-wearing ladies or families taking a stoic portrait-for-the-mantel. We try to match the tone and appear as fun as possible. Because it is fun! People wanting their photo with us for no reason? We feel like celebrities. The photo session is always followed up with handshakes all around and lots of shared smiles.
The phenomenon seems to happen more where there are less foreign tourists, places we might just be holing up for a day or two to wait for a ferry or catch up on some internetting. In Semarang, Indonesia, a lovely lady at a mall food court* asked for her photo with us because we were her first foreign customers! Naturally, I asked for our photo with her too! At Prambanan, Borobodur's lesser known yet still spectacular cousin, it was such a flurry of one after the next that I had to duck away lest I melt in the blazing sun.
Rarely do we capture the moment, because we're both busy being in the photos. But occasionally, after I've slunk away, I get a chance to snap Della who is always game to keep posing and smiling.
But now that we've hit Bali, it seems like a our fame has run its course. Among the sea of tourists, we're no longer a novelty. And I'm okay with that. The interactions, while sometimes tedious, always seemed to have a genuineness of real excitement and, afterwards, real gratitude. These traits encapsulate our impression of the people here—so nice, so helpful, and so proud of their country*. So until my fame hits back stateside, I at least got a taste of what being a celebrity is all about
|Saturday January 4 2020||File under: travel, indonesia|
|Today, with all our expenses combined—food, transport, entertainment, and hotel—Della and I together spent less than $30. And it isn't because we scrimped and saved, cutting corners and pinching every penny*. We have a hotel room with air condition and our own private bathroom. We eat out 3 meals a day (sometimes more), getting a beverage and dessert with almost every meal. And we do stuff! No, we only spent $30 today because Malaysia is inexpensive...and we love it!!
When travelling in a place where things cost approximately 1/4 of what they do in the States, it is easy to live like a king without breaking the bank. In fact, it was one of the reasons that led us to choose our destination this time around. And 2+ weeks in, it has totally worked out. We love it. We love being able to order at a restaurant and not worry about the price, because we know it will be reasonable. We love being able to take a cab when it's pouring rain because it will be less than a Starbucks coffee back home. We just love it.
But don't take my word for it. Here are a few examples of our expenditures over the last couple days to give you an idea:
Of course one could spend lots of money here. We opted not to go to the top of a tall building which would have cost almost 4X our hotel room. And the "hop on hop off" tourist bus is way more than public transportation and walking*.
To prove we're having an awesome time here despite spending less than one hour of Seattle's minimum wage each per day, here are some photos.
|Thursday December 19 2019||File under: travel, malaysia|
|A lot is said about food with regards to travel. And I'm sure I'll add my 2 cents before this trip is done. But one my favorite parts of Malaysia and Singapore so far are the drinks! Delicious, interesting, new, and cheap—couple that with a climate that makes you want to drink something cold and icy all the time and you've got a recipe for fun!|
To start with, there is, of course, tea. We got to tour a tea plantation and factory (being sure to take the requisite 1 million selfies). And although the traditional pot of tea is nice, my favorite way to take tea is with ice, milk, sugar, and BOBA! I finally get the bubble tea craze, though I will have a hard time paying $5 back in the states when it comes to about $1.25 here.
Other favorites so far have been fresh mango smoothies (made with real mango), coconut milkshakes (made with real coconut), strawberry juice (made with real, grown right out behind the restaurant strawberries), and corn juice (made with real corn)*. Who knows what Indonesia will have in way of can't-be-missed drinks. But I can only imagine they will be cold, they will be cheap, and we will drink a lot of them!
|Thursday December 19 2019||File under: travel, malaysia|
|The same way Paris has its Arc de Triomphe, Dubai its Burj al Arab, and Mostar its Old Bridge, perhaps the most associated image of Singapore is that of its Supertrees. In a slightly jet-lagged state and with first-day-of-vacation walking optimism, Della and I set out to find said icons to see what it was all about. We succeeded [and got the requisite photos to prove it], but we found Singapore's Gardens By the Bay to be so much more than Supertrees!|
I actively avoid getting too much information about a place before I visit lest I'm unable to keep an open mind upon arrival. Singapore, and Gardens By the Bay, was no exception. So aside from the trees, we didn't know what to expect. As it turned out, around every turn there was something new and wonderful to see: large scale installation art, topiary gardens, water features, an amazing food court*, and a holiday light installation to that puts Vegas to shame. We wandered through mostly deserted paths and were positively giddy*.
All in all, Gardens By the Bay set a wonderful tone for the upcoming 2 months of adventure: hidden wonders, delicious food, and being together. This is going to be fun!
|Sunday December 8 2019||File under: travel, singapore|
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|You know that sinking feeling when you reach for your phone in your pocket and it's not there? Imagine that feeling, but while being in a foreign country where you rely on said phone for not getting lost, figuring out what it is you're eating, and getting access to your plane tickets. Not to be overdramatic, but it can be a bit of a heart stopper. It was exactly this feeling I had yesterday as Della and I hustled off the crowded public bus in Puerto Vallarta on our way to see a two-bit (but still very enjoyable) Mexican circus*.
"Maybe I left it in the room..." [Nervous two hours of trying to ignore possibility of phone loss, search room top to bottom, ask hotel staff where bus lost and found is, enjoy staff's laughter at this concept, lose hope]
"Didn't I hear a podcast about an online way that can help you track where your phone is?" [Google "find my phone", log in, see blinking red dot a map nearby(!), hustle out on the street, get lost finding intersection, find intersection, don't find phone, return to hotel]
"Oh hey, the blinking dot moved!" [Internet sleuth everything possible about new blinking dot location, grow disheartened by very rural location, enlist friends' help to call phone, remotely lock down phone and prepare my goodbyes, search for phone replacement costs]
"The dot moved again!!" [Put on Sherlock hat, start spreadsheet of GPS coords with time of observation, frantically refresh website until bedtime, sleep fitfully]
"I think the phone is still on the bus!!" [Continue to track route, convert spreadsheet of GPS coords into map, develop a plan to find this bus out of the 100s of public Puerto Vallarta buses.]
"The buses seem to be laying over in this abandoned field. We should go there and search every bus we find!" [Jump through hoops to get internet on Della's phone, hop a bus that looks like it's going that direction, hop off bus once it diverts, see intermittently updated blinking dot pass us, furiously speculate, hop on new bus, bounce our way to the "station"]
"Yesterday he/she/it lose thing phone in bus please us look for"* [Start searching buses, try to connect via Della's phone to make it ring, no ringing, see dancing Della with phone in her hand, jump for joy, many self congratuations]
With a successful completion of the mission, we felt like badasses. From the get go, we felt like our chances were slim. But for a few pesos for bus fare and international data charges and a bit of ingenuity and persistance, we triumphed. In fact, it was a better adventure than the overpriced omni-present snorkeling excursions the resort keeps trying to pitch us. Adventure, badassery, frugality: that's the way we roll!
|Thursday March 7 2019||File under: travel, mexico|
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|Today, I am exactly half as old as my dad. Or, in other words, I am the age now that my dad was when I was born. This fun milestone was discovered as I was visiting him in Zipolite, Mexico. What an interesting perspective it can give about where I am in my life. But mostly, it was just a fun tidbit to toast over chiliquilis and fresh squeezed orange juice on the beach!
Della and I are on a bit of a Mexico adventure and Zipolite proved the perfect places to start it out: a mile long picturesque beach on which we found a circus hotel for next to nothing price-wise. We played in the surf, we juggled for locals while dad played accordion, and we ate really well for very cheap. As far as a place to relax a bit after a winter of back-to-back-to-back* housesitting and an intense run of Valentine's day circus shows, it can't be beat.
My dad and I have good travel history together. This trip is the third Mexico adventure together (San Cristobal 9 years ago, and San Miguelle de Allende 15 years ago (pre-BdW(!))). While "adventure" might apply less on this trip than it did to the others, easy time over crosswords and good food is an experience I can get behind just as much. I can only hope that when I'm his age, I'll be living as great a life!
|Wednesday February 27 2019||File under: travel, mexico|
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