Welcome to a new feature on the Independent Traveler Blog, a full-length travel article divided into sections to appear in following Sunday editions.
Unlike my posts when I'm on the road, the Sunday Travel Feature is more akin to a full length travel magazine or newspaper feature about places I've recently visited.
I’m starting the Sunday Travel Feature with one of my favorite places, Bali, Indonesia with a stopover in Singapore. Sit back an enjoy this armchair adventure.
Bali, part 1...
I haven't been to Bali for ten years, but this is my fifth visit. I fell in love with the island after writing a in-depth travel article almost twenty years ago.
As I write, our Garuda flight from Singapore is descending over Bali’s azure sparkling waters. The island continues to be Bali “Bagus” (beautiful) as the locals say that I fondly remember.
The trip over was exhausting. We left Anchorage, flew to Portland visiting friends overnight and hopped a flight to Singapore via Tokyo the next day. Ten and a half hours flight time to Tokyo, two hours on the ground and then another eight to Singapore.
We decided to spend a few days in Singapore acclimatizing to the 90 degree, 90 percent humidity before heading to Indonesia. Singapore is 90 miles from the equator. Bali is south of the equator, but the heat is still a pistol.
We didn’t have a hotel booked, but learned there was a transit hotel in the airport. Only $60 for eight hours. Given it was 1am when we arrived it was the prudent thing to do and so easy.
In the morning I got out the local hotel index. I called several three-star hotels and ended up booking one for about $125 a night. Not bad, given Singapore is very expensive with most hotels starting at over $200 per night.
The Hotel Bencoolen is a bargain, but more than our $50 a night budget. It’s clean, has cable, wireless and serves breakfast. The location is great. Walking distance to downtown on Bencoolen Street, near Little India.
Singapore is a very good choice for a stopover. It’s clean, but not sterile like many people think. That is if you know where to look for the local culture.
Little India is like Big India without cows and animals roaming the streets leaving their droppings along the way.
Singapore has several Indian Hindu temples and there is an interesting one in Little India.
Eating in Little India is phenomenal. Plus they must adhere to Singapore’s strict health regulations so you don’t have to worry about getting sick. You can eat at an outdoor hawker stall for a couple of dollars or spend as much as you would anywhere for a delicious, authentic sit-down dinner.
Singapore also has an Arab section and of all things, a Chinese section. The Singapore residents are about 77 percent Chinese followed by 14 percent Malaysian and 8 percent Indian. Most live in modern high rise buildings, many government built. China town is the historic section that was almost torn down until officials realized it was a major tourist attraction.
Our five-day stay was great, but we are now about to arrive at our destination, Bali.
After landing, we joined the throngs in the immigrations lines (two). Here we will get our 30-day visa. We know we are in the islands, because we’ve switched to island time, not just slow, but eternally slow.
After one hour, we’re at the head of the line. We fork over $25 for our 30-day stay, asking what happens if we want to stay an extra day or two. “You pay $20 each day,” is the response. Or, “You can call me at this number,” the immigrations officer says handing us his personal cell phone number. Welcome to a place where money talks and rules bend or disappear entirely.
We forego negotiating an independent taxi driver outside of the airport and get a taxi coupon inside the terminal to make sure we get to where we want to go for a reasonable price.
Getting a taxi outside of the terminal is cheaper, but in reality taxi drivers in underdeveloped countries generally want to deliver you to their brother’s or friend’s hotel where they can collect a commission. Wiser to book one with the airport taxi service inside the terminal.
Luggage in hand, all of it, taxi coupon at our fingertips ready to trade for our ride and we’re off. We are staying at the Santika Beach Hotel which we booked directly over the web. Our accommodations are in Kuta right on the beach at $70 a night with a full American buffet breakfast. (Walk-in rate $135.)
Breakfast is important to us. We eat late and skip lunch having an early dinner. It’s an easy way to save money and when breakfast is included in your room rate it’s basically free.
Kuta is located on the southern end of the island and is the heart of beach life which can be very hectic. Aussie’s fly in by the planeload to do their shopping and sunning as do newcomers from China and Moscow on direct 747 flights.
Off to the hotel. I’m a bit anxious as we haven’t stayed here before.
(To be continued in next Sunday’s Travel Feature.)