White water rafting in Bali

On our third day in Bali, after one day spent with a private driver hopping from spot to spot and one day spent on scooters out in the tropical elements we decided we were ready to slow down a little bit and enjoy some idle time.

..So we booked white water rafting tickets. Which may sound like a bit of a joke but which actually did signal a slower day for us, as we planned to do only this one activity.

So we were collected by a private taxi at around 8am and driven to the headquarters of a large white water rafting company which our Airbnb host had arranged tickets for us with. We handed over some cash, signed a waiver, locked away our belongings, collected life jackets and helmets and then we’re hurriedly shuffled off into a second taxi with an Asian couple (who would be joining us on our down-river journey) and were off again – this time headed for the rapids!

Only a short ride later we pulled up to a beautiful, quiet little rice field where we were handed yet more gear – this time oars – and then marched off through rice fields towards our start point. We descended some 400 stairs from the edge of the rice paddies down a ravine towards the river, growing steadily tired in the thick, tropical heat with all of our gear. But as far as I was concerned, after having seen locals much smaller and older than ourselves carrying rafts about on their heads, we had no right to complain. However by the time we made it to the river side we none the less were all dripping with sweat and happy to rest and wait a moment while our guide sorted out which vessel would be ours.

And as we stood waiting I made sure to drill Sam and Casey – who had both been white water rafting before – on how best to stay aboard and what to do if I fell out of the raft. And although I don’t think that at any point I felt anxious about the upcoming experience, I did wonder whether or not our guide would find it appropriate before we left to give us some form of safety briefing.. Which fortunately he did.

Once on board we were given a short list of simple commands – ‘forward’, ‘backward’ and ‘stop’ for rowing. ‘Left’ and ‘right’ for leaning directions and ‘bang bang’ for when it was time to brace. We were told not to attempt standing up if we fell out, and we were ready to go!

We sailed downstream over some decent rapids and some more mild. We were shoved over huge rocks, bumped into cliffs and splashed and flooded. We rowed hard and braced hard and sometimes were almost tossed to the water. But we had an awesome time! And in between rapids we drifted beneath a beautiful, wild canopy of trees and hanging lianas. We spotted monkeys, bright blue kingfishers and large lizards, we stopped at a small waterfall to bathe and we enjoyed cheeky chat with our guide.

It was an experience which exceeded my expectations – especially in regards to how well it was all organised and how professionally the whole thing came off. And when we reached the end of our journey I was very reluctant to climb back ashore. But alas, our ascent back up the 400 steps was inevitable.

And once we were back at headquarters we were pleasantly surprised with towels, showers and a buffet lunch! – which was delicious.

And then, with no plans for the rest of the day we asked the taxi driver who had bought us here to drop us off at the Ubud tourist markets instead of back to our Airbnb, which he was very happy to accomodate. And we spent the rest of the afternoon strolling the busy marketplace and bartering lightly with locals over the few items that caught our eye. I must say though, after 2 days travelling through rice fields staying in a local village and visiting beautiful locations too far afield for the average tourist, being in the Ubud markets, for us, was quite a shock. Of course we had made trips into Ubud for dinner and dance previously, but in the light of day it was clear that Ubud was a town completely overtaken by tourism. It lacked a lot of the sincerity and beauty of the the Bali that we had experienced up to this point. And while most tourists base their stays in Southern Bali, in towns like Kuta and consider Ubud to be an ‘off the beaten track’ experience, I was glad that we had based our stay further afield and we’re able to see Ubud for the true touristic hive that it is.

And beyond the markets we achieved nothing but relaxation. With some victories won in the market place and a small collection of new items to take home we hailed a taxi and returned to our room to lie beneath the fan and overlook the rice fields one final time. Tonight we would move to Denpasar to meet with another friend (Martyna). And from there we would really experience the tourism trap.


Phi Phi!! Lovely Phi Phi

Phi Phi Island was lovely. We spent just 4 nights on this lovely island.. Lying on the beach, snorkeling, watching the sun set and lazing about with a beer in hand. It was just.. So lovely..

But I suppose I should include a few more details…

Day one:
Getting to Phi Phi from Phuket involved a public bus, a taxi, and a ferry trip. Which sounds exhausting but was actually completely practical. Starting early and operating with efficiency these transports ultimately got us to Phi Phi at a completely reasonable hour.
And actually the public bus out of Phuket is definitely worth a mention before I even get into Phi Phi.. Because unlike a conventional bus this one didn’t make many stops at all..
It simply drove along the beach front at a crawling pace, with its back open to any members of the public who were interested in running up to it, and jumping in.. Which is exactly what we had to do.. Backpacks and all we ran/hobbled up to the slow moving bus and threw our back-heavy selves into a moving vehicle.. It was pretty cool.
It made us feel quite James Bond-y. And obviously we both made it without incident.. It even kind of instilled a camaraderie amongst the tourists on board – who all sympathised over/laughed at one another’s entrances..
Actually I’m a little surprised so many people figured the system out and made the jump… because if you hadn’t read up about how this kind of bus operates beforehand, it would be very easy to watch it drive by and assume that the driver was not interested in collecting anyone at all! Although I must admit it did seem to make occasional stops for women carrying babies, and monks..
Quite an excellent system if you ask me! – Ultimately everybody who make the jump was welcome and catered for, without stops the bus probably always ran on time (if there was a time table.. which I don’t think there was…), there was no stress for the driver of having to pull in and out of stations.. AND tourists who made it on board got to have a little fun along the way!

But any way.. When we arrived in Phi Phi as is typical of most day ones we didn’t achieve or see anything major.. We just scouted the island out, got our bearings, found our hotel, ate, walked down the beach and settled in for a quiet night.. because travelling is can be quite tiring.. For some reason sitting on public transport is often the most exhausting thing that you can do with a day.. Personally, I was pooped.

Day two:
On day two we embarked on a long walk up to a viewpoint which looked out over the whole of Phi Phi and it really did feel like nature put on a show for us as we walked! I mean, we must have encountered most of the creatures that the island had to offer on our walk up.. First of all a rabbit. Then some monkeys.. A snake. Lots of roosters and hens. Butterflies in every colour and size (yellow, black with white spots, brown… Some that were tiny, some that were pretty freakn huge..) and of course, flies and mosquitoes.. AND we made a special kitten friend! Who followed us along the path for quite some time. Until that is, it came time to cross the path of a local man working in the bush.. and then our kitten friend seemed suddenly more interested in eyeing him suspiciously and chewing on some grass off to the side of the track.. But none the less it was absolutely gorgeous to feel so fully surrounded by mother nature and all of her various babies.

And the lookout was a pretty nice one – a hilltop view peered out over the main beach and port of Phi Phi and across to the thick green hillsides of the opposite island (as became apparent from this lookout, Phi Phi is actually two islands joined by a sand spit).

And of course we weren’t the only ones who made the journey up – there was a large handful of tourists up there, taking all of the generic (arms raised, backs turned, sitting in lotus position, standing on a cliff side) photos and selfies that their hearts could handle. And there was even a small cafe established at the top, which I could make a cynical comments about.. But which I won’t.. because it served cold ice cream after a hot uphill walk.

Although I do have to concede that the walk was only a mildly strenuous one.. I mean, it didn’t involve any river crossings, vertical climbs or the buying out of any dangerous and extremely hideous trolls…. but.. it was uphill.. and it was off-road (with some stretches taking us across slippery clay).. and.. it is just so damned hot in Asia at this time of year..

And on our way back down.. quite to the contrary of the heat on the way up… It began to rain.. and it rained the fat, tropical kind of rain that you never get at home.. the rain that comes just as quickly as it goes, but that none the less manages to fully drench everything in it’s path within the few minutes that it lasts.. the kind of rain that comes regularly in this part of the world at this time of year, and thus is never completely unexpected, but that none the less manages to stop all outdoor activity and send people running for cover.. And this particular rain caught us half way down a clay slope.. So it added a little urgency to our descent. And it also cancelled out snorkeling intentions for that afternoon, as it no doubt would have tossed up the sea bed and scared away the marine life during it’s visit.. But! Alas, it was another show of mother nature, on a day that was unexpectedly committed towards the idea of showing off her abilities.

Day three:
This was a beach day. A lazy day alone. It’s hard travelling with only one other person.. And on this day me and Sam split apart.
So I spent my day abusing the early morning emptiness of the beach by taking a morning swim in the sea. Then I lay on the beach a good amount, before running out of book to read (I had just finished the very relevant: ‘The Beach’ by Alex Garland). So I set about looking for a bookstore and a new book on the island. Which proved a fruitless task.. Although there were actually a few book sellers located within Phi Phi’s little township, all of the novels were generic, overdone detective stories and romances.. which are just not my style.. And one of the bookstores had a seriously evident rat infestation problem! – The whole place smelt like rat pee and every time I pulled a book from the shelf a small shower of tiny droppings would accompany it.. So with that one, I could barely stand the smell for long enough to finish reading a blurb… Which meant, that eventually I just gave up.. I spent the rest of the day snacking and people watching instead.. And eventually returned back to our room early with digestive biscuits and chocolate soy milk for my dinner…

Day four:
We were actually not originally going to stay for a night four.. But decided there was more to do on Phi Phi than we had accomplished. And as the heavy and sporadic tropical rains of Asia had caused us to cancel some previous snorkeling plans, we thought that we should probably put in one more days attempt.
And thank goodness we did.
On day four we booked tickets on an ‘around island boat trip’ which took us through clear waters, under a bright blue sky to four beautiful spots.
The first spot was Monkey Island – An island which was literally teeming with small monkeys! Unfortunately however the monkeys were probably outnumbered 2:1 by tourists.. But we were lucky to apparently arrive during baby season! So there were lots of little bubba monkeys clinging to the undersides of their mothers and scampering about with the rest.. and it was only a brief stop – allowing just enough time to jump off our boat and take a few snaps of the critters, but good to see all the same.



And then we were back aboard and headed for a gorgeous wee inlet where steep, green, tree covered cliffs rose out of sparkling, pristinely clear water.

And actually, most of the rest of the trip was through and alongside scenery of a very similar beauty.
I mean the stops were good. But just being on that boat, under the sky, out in that ocean was in itself really nice.

Our third stop was a snorkeling stop! (Exactly what we’d been waiting for). It was out in the middle of the ocean, as opposed to off the coast of an island, and it was both refreshing and beautiful. We swam with jelly fish most notably, and even spotted one tiny, baby squid (it was really cute). And of course there were little tropical fish all about as well, of which some small blue and white stripped ones became my favourites because they were so friendly and curious! They’d swim right up to and alongside you as you snorkeled. They were adorably fearless (there wasn’t so much coral though).

And our final stop was, the famous, Maya Bay – otherwise known as The Beach (from the book… or the movie..). And… especially after having just finished the book.. I… was really disappointed.
First of all.. our boat dropped us off on the side of a craggy cliff, which the beach lay on the other side of, so we had to swim and then climb in very rough waters, over very sharp rocks, to actually get to the path which led to the beach… and apparently this was a deliberate ploy… because the small bay which we then arrived at, was controlled by a few local men who stood at the end of a narrow path which apparently would lead us through some bush and on to ‘The Beach’, and these men wanted everyone to pay 100 Baht to enter… And they weren’t friendly..
We did reluctantly oblige though… the only other option for us at this point would have been to sit on the boat for an hour while the rest of our tour group went in..
So eventually we did get to lay eyes upon the famed beach, we got to feel it’s most beautiful sands and swim in it’s picturesque sea.. except… that’s not how it was.. the sea was only ankle deep for several metres out from shore, and you had to be exiting the bay altogether to find a decent depth (nothing like the book)… and… it was filled with litter… plastic cups, plastic bags and rubbish shards floated disgustingly on the waters surface..
The Beach… wasn’t anything like the perfect sanctuary from the story… what it was… was the aftermath.. it was what would have been left had the story continued after word spread of the beaches whereabouts.. it was The Beach after the tourists came, with their carelessness… And it was a heartbreaker.

So after an hour of trying to float in ‘crocodile’ position (because to cover our bodies with water we had to be lying down on the sea bed) whilst dodging dirty debris, it was time to return – back over the sharp, wave battered rocks – to our boat..
And we enjoyed a little bit of snorkeling around and under the boat while we waited for the tour group stragglers to return.. which was unexpectedly enjoyable, because all of the little fish in the sea were crowding beneath the various boats, moored in waiting for their tourist clusters to return, in gently bobbing groups. I think they may have been feeding off of the algae growing on the boats undersides. But it meant we could just float and stare, and see all of the oceans variety in one spot quite effortlessly..
It soothed my upset about the condition of The Beach just a little bit.

And then as we were on our way back to the mainland of Phi Phi again.. the sun began to set. And we got to watch the sky begin to turn a bright orange over the silver sea.


But we finished watching the sun set after we were back on shore.. Sitting out on some mats laid put on the sand at a beach front bar, with beer in hand. And It was spectacular! – perhaps, my favourite sunset yet.



And as night grew deeper, the club owners began to light up fiery markers all along the beach.. and the flashing multi-coloured lights of the bars cast foreign colours out over the sea, while the music changed slowly from sunset reggae to night time r’n’b and hip hop.. And fire dancers came out to perform brilliant acts at several bars.. throwing flaming sticks and chains into the air, and lighting massive circles around themselves and members of the audience.. and they were amazing.. we were mesmerised by them all night long..
It was nothing like Phuket. No one was trying to force us in to a sale. No one was trying to drag us into their club. There were no seedy old business men, leaning over counters trying to buy bar-top dancing girls…
It was just casual youth, the outdoors and relaxed socialising. And all in all the beach front atmosphere of Phi Phi at night, was gorgeous.


Our unexpected fourth night was definitely the best one.