Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bali, Indonesia: Pura Lempuyang Lehur: Mountains and Monkeys

The view of Mount Agung from Pura Lempuyang Lehur

After spending a relatively fast-paced few days in the Gili Islands (by Indonesian standards, that is), there's nothing like hiking up two-thousand steps or so. That's how the saying goes, right? Well, perhaps not, but that's what happened shortly after Bri and I hopped off our loud "fast boat" and touched down on the shores of Bali. The fast boat was more like a jet powered water devil, but, safety aside, we got there quickly. The waves were just as tall as our last little trip on the Bali Sea, but this boat was a little more sturdy than our last boat.

We weren't interested in the touristy offerings of Kuta, Bali, so we bypassed Kuta and headed straight for Amed. Amed is an up-and-coming tourist area in Bali, but not yet ruined by the influx of said touristry. Consider that it was only about ten to fifteen years ago that paved roads came to this destination. Amed refers to a coastline of about 15 kilometres, and constitutes about seven villages in all: Amed, Jemeluk, Bunutan, Lipah, Selang, Banyuning and Aas. It's as quaint a coastline as you'll hope to find, and worth stopping by if you happen to find yourself on Bali.

With blue skies overhead one fine morning, we decided to rent a surprisingly quick Honda scooter and make our way to Lempuyang Lehur Temple or Pura Lempuyang Lehur. The rice terraces along the way made for a rather scenic drive. I took this photo while pulled tightly to the side of the road still on my scooter as other scooters and cars whipped past me. Yeah, it was worth it.

The temple, and the subsequent mountain, are located in the Karagasaem Regency of Bali, which is in the East. The temple itself is noted as being one of the six major temples on Bali along with Watukaru Temple, Andakasa Temple, Uluwatu Temple, Besakih Temple, and Ulun Danu Batur Temple.

We arrived via scooter to the base of the mountain and bought a few assorted snacks, as well as some water and pocari sweat (essentially Asia's Gatorade. Lovely name, I know) for the hike. The walk up to the summit is about two thousand steps, and the stairs are strewn with fellow people on their pilgrimage, shrines, and more monkeys that one could reasonably fathom. These monkeys get quite aggressive. I had to fend off a monkey with my makeshift sword (a stick I found on the ground) when it tried to attack Bri for her pocari sweat. To be honest, with the right amount of hissing and teeth showing, the monkey won the battle, and she tossed her pocari sweat to the creature as we jetted off into the canopied forest.

Pura Lempuyang Lehur is said to have been established sometime around the tenth century, but no one is quite certain, which adds to the mystique. Our hike ended up taking a little longer than expected, but that's largely because we had to stop frequently to absorb the views. There were vantage points galore, especially of Mount Agung, the highest point on the island. Not to mention, we had to do the hike with a sort of fishtail version of a sari that loosely covered our legs. This, in a showing of respect for the Hindu pilgrimage. I broke a sweat during the walk, but every drop was worth it. As were the approximately two thousand steps.

Thanks for popping by, folks. Have yourselves a lovely weekend.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Gili Trawangan, Indonesia: The Gleeful Gilis

This post is emblematic of my continued attempt to recount past adventures that I've written or posted next to nothing about. I'll be in Nicaragua in about two weeks, and I'll be moving to Istanbul in a few months, so this seems like the appropriate time to try to play catch-up. Honestly, I don't envision myself harkening back to my Southeast Asian travels on my blog while I'm experiencing all the new sights and smells of Turkey and the surrounding area. Forget about the future for now - let's go back to late 2012 in Indonesia.


Visible from the shores of Lombok are the stunning Gili Islands. Bri and I had flown in from Singapore a week or so prior and spent a very memorable week on Lombok - split between our time in Sengiggi and Pemenang. Our time in Pemenang was spent couchsurfing with a wonderful woman named Moya who welcomed us into her house and made us feel comfortable from the very beginning. Moya, if you're reading this, I will certainly write my own post on that experience in good time. For you, Bri and I, and, of course, Ikut the chicken. You know what I'm talking about. You're the best.

We found a gentleman with a horse-drawn carriage, known as a cidomo,  that could take us (and our backpacks) to the Bangsal Docks where we could take either a local boat or a fast boat. We were headed to Gili Trawangan, the largest and most popular of the three Gili Islands. Gili Trawangan, known as Gili T, has a reputation for being a remote destination with no automobiles or motor traffic, and generally no real enforced laws either. It was kind of like a traveller's paradise, especially for those travellers who had just traversed through large, busy Southeast Asian cities like ourselves. 

We spent a majority of our time on Gili Trawangan, but did venture off and do some snorkeling with a little break to feast on a tuna steak on Gili Meno. The experience we had in the Gili Islands is owed almost entirely to Herry, a native of Lombok and an outgoing guy who helps run a local tour company there. If you find yourself there, you must find him and his friend Nizar and go on one of their arranged adventures through their company Barracuda Tours. They're both legends, and they'll not only help you out, but show you a great time around both the Gilis and Lombok. Both Herry and Nizar were good friends of Moya, which is why we were so fortunate to meet them.

Thanks largely to them, we were able to go to several beach parties and gatherings, some great bars and restaurants, snorkel at a very reasonable price, organize our ferry to Bali (also at a very competitive price), and a whole bunch of other intangibles. One of my favourite memories was taking the last day to wander around the entire perimeter of the island, which is really only about 8km. I should also mention that we were able to rendevouz again with Freddy, with whom we couchsurfed with in Bandar Seri Begawon, Brunei. He's a very fun guy with a big heart. It is to these people that we owe our memories.

The trip started off with a bang, as our ferry on the way over was quite close to capsizing. Literally, I was preparing my backpack to hop off into the sea, and waves violently crashed into the sides of our tiny boat. It makes for a good story in retrospect, but at the time, I wasn't quite as fond of the scenario. Now that I've given the context, here is our experience through a series of photographs. 

Bri deserves credit for this photograph. She says this is her favourite photo from Gili T, and I can see why.

As always, thanks for stopping by. I'm hoping to be posting with more and more frequency, so try not to forget about me.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chiang Rai, Thailand: "The White Temple"

It was a late September afternoon, and Bri and I found ourselves crowded into a white rusted van bumping along the back-roads of the Northern Thai country side. We had just spent several days in Chiang Mai, which offered some intriguing adventure opportunities, as well as a healthy dose of Muay Thai Boxing, naturally. The idea was to cross the border in northern Thailand in the small river-side city of Chiang Khong, then take the slow boat down the Mekong River all the way to Luang Prabang, Laos. That's precisely what we did, and it was quite the experience. However, what I want to write about today is a temple that we stopped at on the way to Chiang Khong - one that I'll never forget.

After spending a year in South Korea and visiting Japan a few times, I'd certainly had my fill of temples. It's not to say that I was "bored" of temples by any means, but more than I had seen hundreds upon hundreds, and so I generally had a hankering for something unique.

We chose this particular route to Laos with the understanding that we would be able to visit "The White Temple." We had heard about this temple from a traveller we had met in Vietnam only weeks earlier. Officially, the temple is known as Wat Rong Khun, but among many travellers and foreigners it's known as the White Temple. This temple was made by the well-known Thai visual artist Chalermchai Kostitpipat not so long ago (1997). He blends together Buddhism, imagination, and surrealism while using the temple as his vehicle.

We arrived to a light rain, and the white of the temple marvelously contrasted the stormy skies above. Immediately, I was taken aback, and I likely would be again if I had the chance to visit sometime in the future. As you cross the bridge towards the temple, suffering hands reach out towards you. Demons and guardians adorn the bridge's rails, along with silvered dragon scales. Symbolic heads hang from trees nearby. The list goes on, and the detail is just astonishing. During my year and half in Asia, it's possible that I saw a thousand temples or more, but none were like this.

Everything catches your attention.

Not to get decidedly metaphorical, as I'm fairly wont to do as an English major and travel writer, but this temple is full of symbolism and metaphors. All good surrealism should be, it seems. Perhaps the most prominent symbol or metaphor for me was the notion of crossing a difficult path to find meaning and, to some extent, enlightenment. The initial bridge presents itself as something any reasonable person should turn around and run from, but only in crossing in it can you discover the temple's true meaning and beauty. So to in life.