Monday, April 4, 2011

Bali Part 1 – The Journey

Our first Bali trip came by accident – well sort of a planned accident anyway. Mr B& Mrs R and Mr A & Mrs M, two couples who are our closest friends had booked to go to Bali for the Easter week. Mr A always searches out the best fares and they booked a cheap fare with Air Asia, connecting to Denpasar through KL. The previous year, we went with Mr A & Mrs M to Sabah but Mr B & Mrs R didn’t come as they were trying to have a baby. Because they hadn’t fallen pregnant they decided to not worry about it and have a trip away. So they had booked flights, as well as a few places in Bali for accommodation. And you all can guess what happens next – Mr B & Mrs R get pregnant not 2 months after booking. After a few deliberations with J, we decided to help them out and buy their tickets from them. Air Asia only charged $90 per person to swap the names. We also took over some of their accom. bookings but luckily some had no cancellation policy so all was well.
As we had an early flight (9:20am), we knew we had to be there 2 hours prior to the flight. Living 1.5 hours drive from the airport, we decided to spend the night at the Holiday Inn Melb Airport to avoid having to get up at ridiculous o’clock. We got a good deal with room and a weeks parking. We got there about 9pm and had a beer/wine before bed. Next morning we just walked over the road and checked in with heaps of time to spare, rested and refreshed.
Tip: If you’re flying Air Asia, check in online. When we arrived there was a large queue waiting to check in, but there was a separate and almost empty queue for passengers that had completed online check in. And make sure your baggage is not overweight including carry on – they weighed everything and were very strict. We saw one guy being told to check in the bag he was hoping to carry on and he had to pay excess.
So we had dropped our bags and were having breakfast within minutes. Mr A & Mrs M and their teenage daughter, Miss B, met us and we were through customs after a fair wait due to the large number of people also travelling. Our flight went from gate 15 – the ‘cheap and nasty’ gate. It is downstairs from the main terminal with old and very basic facilities. To top it off, the plane was way out in the boon docks and we were bussed out from the ‘gate’ to walk onto the flight (no air bridge for these guys). Needless to say boarding took forever and we were a good hour late.
The flight itself was fine. The seats are cramped – yes. You must buy everything – true. But the real disappointment was that there was no drinking water on board unless you purchased it. And even then you had to hunt down an attendant to sell you one. Our pre-purchased meals were mixed... I’m vegetarian so mine was yummy ravioli with a rich ratatouille sauce, but poor Mr J got a dried out bit of roast lamb with bland veggies.
By the time we were making our decent, we conferred with Mr A & Mrs M about our connecting flights. Somehow, Mr A had thought we had a bit over 3 hours in KL for connection... however it was actually only 2. The pilot had tried make up time from our late departure, but not enough. To add to the impossibility of making a timely transit, the plane ‘parked’ a long way from the gate when we arrived in KL’s LCCT (low cost terminal – or as J came to name it, the cheap bast#*d terminal). It was a good few mins walk to the terminal only to find 100’s of people in long queues to get through immigration. All passengers were required to pass through, collect their bags and re-check in to the next flight. We were in the queue for well over an hour. Our baggage had been off loaded at the carrousel. The customs officers let everyone through without lifting an eyebrow. By this time, we had 55 mins before our flight and we ran to the check in desk but our flight was closed. Bother... They were very sympathetic but directed us to another desk to organise alternative flights. Unfortunately, there were no later flights to Denpasar that day but had choice of 5 for the following day. Wisely we choose the 10:45am flight to give ourselves max chance of not missing it.
So next task, find a hotel for the night in KL. Mr A & Mrs M knew it was a long way to the city and didn’t think that was a realistic option. The options at the airport were the Tune Hotel (bad reviews and super basic – but cheap), or the Pan Pacific (awesome reviews, gorgeous but super expensive). As it so happens, I had been researching KL hotels for our next trip in October when Mr J and I are off to Laos connecting through KL. I knew of a hotel not in KL city, but still 30 mins from the airport – the Pullman Lakeside. We asked the airport info desk staff to get their phone number and address. They actually rang the hotel for us and confirmed that there were rooms available and the price (well within budget). With everyone happy, we piled into a mini-van taxi and headed to our unexpected overnight stop.
As soon as we arrived, we fell in love with the hotel (will post photos and review). It was well past beer o’clock so no sooner had we dropped our bags in our rooms, we were at the restaurant having a tall cold one. Dinner was the hotel’s buffet and were only charged for 4 (i.e. no charge for A&M’s teenage daughter) with discount.

Next morning we left early to allow plenty of time to get to the airport and check in. Turns out we had more than 2 hours wait at KL’s LCCT. No missing the next flight. We purchased a few bottles of wine and were finally on our way to Bali.
About 3 hours later, our plane flew in over the water affording us views of Kuta and the beaches of the coast. I knew – yeap – I’m going to love this place. That first taste of tropical Bali air as we walked up the air bridge was a tonic.
We sent the men to purchase the VOAs, and us girls lined up to pass through immigration. There were maybe 5 lines open and they moved through at a steady rate. Within minutes we were one from the front. Craning our necks we looked for the guys – there were only 2 queues for buying the VOAs and it wasn’t moving fast. We had to let the family in front of us go before us. Just as we were about to let another couple through before us, the guys appeared with the VOAs. In total, it took no more than 15 mins to get through immigration and out to the sea of faces holding up cards with customers’ names on them. Mr A had arranged for airport pick with our villas (Yuli Beach Bungalows) and he quickly found his name amongst the crowd. Even as we followed our driver, other operators were asking us ‘Transport’? I couldn’t believe how many people were cramped into such a small space.
It took a little while to get out of the airport car park and we were weaving our way along the road to Legian. The traffic was diabolical. But I enjoyed the time to look around as we crawled through the mass of cars, bikes and small trucks. The sights, sounds and smells were intoxicating. Narrow stores standing side by side beckoning shoppers, open air workshops with craftsmen carving wood or stone, shop-front ‘warangs’ wafting out delicious aromas, and listless taxi drivers laying under shady trees either resting or waiting for their next fare. We were at our villa in about 40 mins and into ‘Bali’ attire in minutes flat – followed very quickly with a Bintang.
Hour 1 of Bali had passed and I was barefoot on Legian beach, with my closest friends, trying to decide where to eat... - k

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