“Your karma just ran over my dogma.”
My heart was pounding, palms clammy. It was time to learn how to ride a motor scooter in Bali. I was never much of a biker type, unless you count my mountain bike. But here in Bali, it is almost essential to rent a motor scooter if you want to see the sights. The roads around Ubud, on the other hand, are a story unto themselves. Ancient volcanoes carved deep valleys, while numerous rivers created even deeper verdant gorges. Roads twist and turn around blind corners, the effect akin to a roller coaster, and one can only marvel at the engineering feat required to keep many of these goat paths open for driving.
Training Day- Lee Trevelyan gives me a quick course on moto driving.
Motorbikes are very cheap to rent, less than $3/day long term, a full tank of gas costs less than $2 (Indonesia being a major world producer of oil). There are no shortages of places that will facilitate rentals for you; motorbike leasing companies seem to be on every corner here in Ubud.
Lucky us! We landed in Bali just prior to Nyepi, or “Day of Silence” commemorated every Isaawarsa (Saka new year) according to the Balinese calendar. This is a Hindu celebration mainly celebrated here as a day of silence, fasting and meditation and the day after Nyepi is celebrated as New Year. The day before the Bhuta Yajna Ritual is performed in order to vanquish the negative elements and create a balance with God, Mankind, and Nature.
Devout Hindu Balinese villages usually make ogoh-ogoh, demonic statues (once made of bamboo and paper but now the majority are skillfully carved styrofoam) symbolizing negative elements or malevolent spirits.
After the ogoh-ogoh have been paraded around the village, the Ngrupuk ritual takes place, which once involved burning the ogoh-ogoh but these days they may be destroyed in other ways to avoid burning the styrofoam; sometimes they are even sold to art collectors who ship them to other countries. Then, for 24 hours, from 6 a.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning, EVERYTHING STOPS! Even the airport shuts down.
Sitting in the carriage of our tuk tuk we were moving dreamily through a thick grove of old growth trees, the pre-dawn air cool but already hinting of a blistering day ahead. Our first tour of the ruins had been almost unbearably hot, so today we thought it best to beat the heat and get out to Angkor Wat before daybreak. The bonus would be that after the prescribed sunrise over the temples, we would have most of the ruins to ourselves during the cooler morning hours.
Continuing along the south coast of Cambodia, we took a mercifully short journey from Kampot, Cambodia to Kep. Although we enjoyed Kampot’s faded charms, it was dreadfully hot so staying at The Columns Hotel, despite its restored colonial beauty and comfortable up-to-date rooms, was a bit of a drag since it lacked one vital ingredient: a pool!
Our minibus, which picked us up right at our hotel and then spent an hour hunting down other travellers before departing Kampot, bounced over a largely unpaved dusty red trail through countless sad villages whose trees and huts were covered in road dust to eventually deposit us within 2o kms of the Vietnam border at Kep, a small town revered for its crab shacks (really more like wooden restaurants) hanging over the Gulf of Thailand. Our minibus carried us up a hill to our resort, The Kep Lodge, which was set a good piece from the main road and nestled against a protected jungle (at least for now in the land where corruption is the number one industry!)
After spending a few days in Cambodia, we began hearing about a quaint riverside town in the southern part of the country near the Vietnam border that had become favoured among travellers: Kampot. This was all the impetus it took. While the journey from Sihanoukville, Cambodia was about three hours which didn’t seem to0 arduous. Our journey was to begin with a minibus that was to pick us up from our current hotel, The Beach Club Resort. Of course it was late but eventually our gear and bodies were packed into the already full vehicle and we were on our way.
Packing it in the minvan
Cambodia is a desperately poor country, still recovering from the ravages of the Pol Pot regime some thirty years before. The road was terrible and most of the villages along our route were merely at the subsistence leve – huts on stilts. A bit depressing but not definitely not dull.
Once an independent traveler plugs into the coconut telegraph, certain places pop up with amazing regularity. Sihanoukville in southern Cambodia has emerged as one of those hot spots so we landed knowing it would likely have many amenities travellers love- mainly a wide selection of places to stay and eat.
Named after their beloved King Sihanouk who passed away in October and was coincidentally cremated in an elaborate ceremony while we were in Cambodia, Sinville as it is called was developed as the major port for the country in the 1990s. With its lax visa regulations, Cambodia has become a haven for expats who are escaping from Thailand as that country tightens its rules for foreigners who wish long-term stays. In fact a good proportion of the operators of restos and hotels in Sinville are escapees from sleezy pattaya in Thailand- or so we were told.
Independent travel can take its toll- you have to make all the arrangements and count on things to go wrong. Normally we don’t mind but before we departed for Cambodia we saw numerous signs on Koh Maak offering direct minibus service to Sihanoukville, our next destination.
Inquiries were made, associated costs discussed and eventually we settled on a package that would include high-speed boat to the mainland, pick up by deluxe minivan at the dock and onward to our next destination. Keep it simple.
On the appointed day, we headed to the little dock next to our Makathanee Resort in a downpour. To the east a magnificent water spout was rolling across the water, backlit by morning sun- it was eerily beautiful but dissipated before hitting any land mass.
Our high-speed motorboat was an adventure as we bounced along over the waves at a record pace. I enjoyed watching the passengers seated in front bounce about as if they were bobble heads.
Wish I had a tiny island, floating in the sea
Palm tree sway won’t get in the way
It’s a tropical ease.
Lea Kottke, Tiny Island
We are trying a new photo gallery tool as I am unhappy with the one that comes with WordPress.
KOH MAAK PHOTO GALLERY- CLICK HERE
Click on the link ABOVE- if you click on one of the photos in the gallery they get bigger. You can follow the arrows and see the entire gallery.
A gallery collection of some of our photos in the busy but nonetheless enchanting city of Chiang Mai- the gateway to northern Thailand. Click on any photo to view slideshow.
Jan. 18 – Jan. 25, 2013
masked policeman controls traffic during a typical afternoon in Chaing Mai
After a mellow and spiritually uplifting couple of days in the nearly 800-year-old city of old Sukhothai, arriving in Chiang Mai was a bit of a shock. While we were certainly aware things had changed since our memorable first visit in 1989, when we had traveled here from Bangkok (a slow, hot, long train ride) with Chris’s mom Ange, merely travelling the short distance from the train station to our hotel revealed how incredibly busy the city had become. No longer a peaceful haven from loud, busy, polluted Bangkok, it seemed that “progress” and tourism had turned this northern hill tribe centre into a smaller version of the capital.
close call on our train from Sukhathai
Our spirits sank, especially as the nearly 10-hour train ride here from Sukhathai had exactly been a picnic: cramped, slow, dirty, cock roach invested, and it even caught on fire about an hour and a half outside of Chiang Mai! Fortunately, no one was hurt and there was no structural damage as the fire started underneath the carriage of one of the cars. No bus or other alternative transport was provided; we were all loaded back on and the train carried on.