Gili Meno, how we got stuck in paradise

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This is the nicest beach in Gili Meno with sand

I guess that’s not bad to be stuck in Paradise …  And this is what happened:    After finally leaving Nusa Dua we were craving to see some authenticity of the Balinese life, beaches and people.  We always dreamed about Gili Islands and taking a trip to Komodo Islands ( yes, to see the biggest lizards  on a earth , Komodos ) . Once we realized this is the rainy / monsoon season we knew we aren’t going to see the famous Komodos, we started to question ourselves whether we should go to Gili islands as well.    We changed our minds influenced by our son’s best friend Nikki , the avid traveler who we love and trust her opinion.  The tickets to Gili islands by all means aren’t cheap so isn’t the accommodation there. But who knows if we will have a chance to come back again.   We chosen Gili Mano the smallest of the Gili islands mainly because our good friend’s cousin lives on that island… talking about small world.  We took the Indra Jaya Fast Boat (this is the only boat that stops at Gili Meno).  The trip took only about 2 hours but without a doubt couple times I had my stomach turning around. The waves were quite big, and the small boat caring 60 passengers was going very fast.

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This small boat carried 60 passengers
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Thank God for so many motors
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This is actually Gili T harbor …. the boat stops on a beach, wear sandals !

Once we arrived to the island, Livia was waiting for us and we had no more doubts we made the right decision.  The island was beautiful and our accommodation was exactly as we were imagining… a small bungalow directly on a beach , with a covered porch great  to sit outside during rain.  Almost perfect…our accommodation didn’t  have  AC,  internet and even hot water.   We didn’t care about it as  we were waking up everyday to this view.   Thank you Livia !

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Our view !
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Newly open Sunset Beach cottages
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View of the Adeng Volcano, Bali

The weather was sunny and windy.   Just the  perfect vacation.  We were planning to spend 4 days there. On our third day we learned all fast boats for the next 5 days got cancelled.  Not a bad place to get stuck. Likely we didn’t have any immediate reservation in our next place.   Peter took this extended stay as an opportunity to take the PADI certification.  Something he always wanted but never had time to do it .

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Peter and James
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After a dive

I got my snorkeling fix, as I was able to snorkel from the beach each day.   Most beaches on Gili Meno are coral beaches, that said it’s hard to walk barefoot.   The biggest attraction there are the big turtles.  This is the perfect environment for them, the dead coral. There are also abundance of fish, many of them we’ve seen for the first time.

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Last dinner with friends
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Me and Livia
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Gili Meno

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The time on the island went fast and it was time so say Good Bye to our new friends.  We got to the harbor in the morning just to learned the fast boat got cancelled again!    At first we thought that was a joke, but it wasn’t .  Since this time we really had to go , the company offered us to take us to Lembar, Lombok to get to Bali by slow public ferry.   There were many people in  similar situation.  The transportation from Gili Meno to Lembar, Lombok went really fast and well organized.  Just in two hours we got to the port and an hour later we boarded the slow ferry.   During the time in port local people flooded the ferry selling everything and I mean everything… It was just crazy.

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Waiting for the slow ferry. There wasn’t much too eat there… Peter enjoys his cup of soup
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Passengers and local vendors awaiting embarkation

Finally our boat left the port.  Probably 95% passengers were tourists, as aparently all fast boast got cancelled that day.   The trip on the slow ferry took much longer than we were expecting. Let’s just say we wouldn’t recommend to take the slow ferry to anyone.

It was almost eleven o’clock by the time we got to the hotel.

Nusa Dua, another lesson learned

We always knew we wanted to spend Christmas and New Year in a very special place during our journey.   When we choose Bali for our destination, we thought we made the best decision,  envision Bali with sandy white beaches,  lush landscaping, wonderful food and travel memoirs like Eat Pary Love.   Probably it  was true years ago.  In the end all worked for us, but we felt we were  lucky…

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Beautiful pool at Mercure Hotel, Nusa Dua

We have to admit, we didn’t do too much homework before booking our 12 night accommodation  in Nusa Dua.   We booked the hotel  in advance, before even we booked  our flight to Asia.  We ended in a place that felt  like a resort bubble with not too many things to do.  Truly we didn’t feel like we were in Bali.  Having said that, Nusa Dua offers luxurious accommodations, golf resorts, fine dining and clean beaches.   Bali Collection is the place where the streets are wide and paved, beautifully landscaped and almost without any traffic (so opposite to the rest of Bali ).    Our hotel was located about 2 miles from the beach but it offered a free shuttle to the beach along with a free shuttle to Bali Collection.

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Beach in Nusa Dua

Note:  Later on our trip we visited Kuta beach, that we also considered  for our Christmas /New Year destination.    Kuta Beach is one of the filthiest places we ever been or seen.    The beach is lined with beautiful resorts….it was beyond our imagination how would anyone wanted to vacation here.

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During our stay in Nusa Dua, we met a Balinese girl that spoke some Polish .  We became  instant friends and enjoyed our daily conversation with Kadek.   She recommended to visit another beach, located south of Nusa Dua.   It supposed to be the most beautiful beach aka Secret Beach.    She probably was correct, except we went there during big Balinese celebration and the beach was flooded with local people.    It wasn’t that secret after all.

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Since we were spending Christmas alone we decided to treat ourselves to a visit to Club Med  (our favorite all inclusive resort, and yes they offer daily and evening passes for outside visitors).    It was just perfect day filled with activities like snorkeling, paddle boarding, food and drinks.

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Us, at Club Med
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Amazing grounds
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Where are the people ?
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We love fresh coconut juice
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One more drink please
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Just perfect
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Walking the Club Med grounds
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Fantastic food

We decided to  spend New Year’s Eve at Club Med as well.  We embraced the Polish tradition and  stayed at the club there till the end.  We got back to the hotel at 4am.   During the evening/night  we enjoyed  beautiful performances, great music, dancing, fireworks, fantastic  food and super cocktails.   We couldn’t asked for a better way to celebrate the New Year.

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Happy New Year !
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We met Polish group at the Club Med
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Amazing presentation of all food
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Great performance with fire
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Ice bar
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Peter in his “Sunday’s best” clothes

Practical Information

Club Med day passes prices aren’t cheap.   Our Christmas Day pass cost 695 IDR / person  (that was the regular rate) and the New Year pass cost  price of 1,500.000 IDR /person.  The regular evening rate is 910 IDR/person.   The exchange during our visit 1$ /12,500 IDR

 

 

 

 

Stunning Angkor Wat, a photo essay

As our trip continues the travel photography became huge part of our daily life.   Without a doubt, Angkor Wat was a visual feast and we had so much fun photographing all the temples.   Here are the highlights.

The Angkor Wat

This is the largest,  best preserved and the most impressive of the monuments.  The temple complex covers an area  0.9 mile by 0.8 mile.

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South Gate.

Beautifully preserved  with 54 gods  and 54 demons  pulling on a giant snake on each side.

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Bayon

One of our favorite temple, the Bayon is known for its huge stone faces with the  enigmatic smiles of the Bodhisattva of Universal Compassion. No one is sure exactly how many faces there are… we didn’t attempt to count them.

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Bayon Temple

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Ta Prohm

The infamous Tomb Raider’s temple, Ta Prohm where nature took over the remnants of a once mighty civilization. Man-made objects coexist beautifully with nature. Truly amazing

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 Phreah Khan

Another of our favorite temple as we visited this temple on the first day and  last day.  There are well preserved frescoes with a lot of detail.  It is an amazing and  is very unique in its own way and still in very condition.   We loved it so much.

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Getting to Siem Reap, so glad we didn’t take the night bus

After a very relaxing week in Kampot it was time to move to our next and last destination in Cambodia, Siem Reap.   There isn’t a direct bus from Kampot  to Siem Reap, and we had to go back to Phnom Penh, to take the next bus .   We decided to do the whole trip in one day, starting at 8am and finishing at 7pm.  We used Giant Ibis bus company again as it is the most reliable and it  has the best safety records.  Travelling by bus is cheap as we paid $8.00/each for the first part and $15.00/each for the second part.

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The first leg was quite enjoyable, easy and smooth ride with an internet on board.  The next leg that was something else.  We knew it supposed to be a bumpy road, but we didn’t expect to be that  bumpy and so dusty the whole road.   There are many parts of the road under construction, but it will be a while before all will be done.   There is also an option to take a boat or plane  from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.

We arrived in the city at dark, and hired tuk-tuk to take us tour hotel.  The hotel  was a good find and we stayed there for the remaining time in Cambodia.

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Each night we were heading to the Pub street. Pub Street is easily one of the most  busy place in Siem Reap.  There are many  pubs, restaurants, cafes, boutiques.

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Otherwise there isn’t too much to do in Siem Reap .  Most people come to Siem Reap is to visit Angkor Wat.   This is an actually big complex with many different temples around the area, with  Angkor Wat as the largest and the most preserved.

The entrance tickets cost $20.00 for one day, $40.00 for three days and $60.00 for a week.   We bought a three day pass, however two days would be sufficient time for us.   You can visit the temples by bus, tuk-tuk or bicycle.   We did the big circuit  by tuk-tuk the first day and the remaining two days we were on the bicycles.  The bicycle ride  was actually quite easy.   There is about 7 km from the town to the Angkor Watts and the small loop is about 10 km.   The weather was perfect , with cool mornings and very comfortable temperatures throughout the day.

We took many, many pictures of the Ankgor Wat, to be posted in the next blog.

 

 

 

Kampot, why this sleepy town became our favorite place in Cambodia

We absolutely loved  Kampot, the small riverside fishing town.  There are still not too many tourists there, as most people are heading to the famous Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) or beachside town of Sihanoukville.   We found Kampot to be an excellent value for accommodation and food.   We were planning to stay there for 4 days, but ended up to stay there for 7 days.  To get to Kampot from Phnom Penh was easy.  We took the Giant Ibis bus.  The ride took about 4 hours ( there was more traffic outside Phnom Penh) and it cost $8.00/person.

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The mix of French and Chinese architecture truly grabbed our  heart.   Majority of the  buildings are without a doubt dilapidated, but few of them have been already beautifully renovated.

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All we could see was buying a property and doing another renovation until we realized how expensive these old building were.  The real estate prices ended our dreams of buying any place there. We enjoyed our stay in Kampot  with just taking pictures, enjoying meals and cheap drinks in restaurants with gorgeous river  view.

There is not much to see in Kampot, but here is plenty to do in the surrounding countryside.   We made few trips outside the town by motorbike and by bicycle.

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The bicycle trip was an interesting one, as we biked all the way to Kep,  about 16 miles one way.  The bike ride there was easy ….until we had to go back, riding against the wind.    Forgot to mention, the bikes we rode were the free bikes from our guesthouse.   Let’s just say these bikes had seen better days…

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Kep is mostly famous for its seafood.   We had a fantastic lunch there:  grilled fish and squid.  There is also a nice beach in Kep, where most accommodation is located.

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For our next trips we decided to stick to a motorbike.

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During our trips we visited:

Salt Fields.   Salt, that’s what Kampot is really famous for.  There are many salt fields just outside the town.  It’s a quite an interesting process to make the salt, as the water is let in from the ocean to the fields.  The fields are then blocked, and the water is allowed to evaporate, leaving salty crystals.   We found many salt fields, but during the time we were there,  we didn’t see any salt collection taking place.

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Pepper Farms.    We visited pepper farms by a motorbike, however there are many tour operators or tuk tuk drivers offering to get there.  All pepper farms were located in the same area.   We stopped at the Vine Retreat and Pepper Farm.   Truly we didn’t know much about pepper, but after a tour we learned about different types of pepper and its process.  Harvest takes place from February to April.  Since we visited the farm in December, the fruit wasn’t ready to be picked up.  We tasted one and it already had a quite nice pepper taste.

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Amazing sunsets.  The sun sets behind a beautiful mountain range.   It truly a remarkable view with a river in front of it.   We spend many evenings and took many pictures.  Simple we couldn’t have enough of it.

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During our stay in Kampot we stayed in three different hotels.

Hotel Mea Kulpa.  I came across this hotel in one of my favorite blogs.  We spend two nights there and paid $25.00/night.  The rate didn’t include breakfast.  The hotel is located about 10 minutes from the town center.

Hotel Moliden.  We loved the style of the hotel, but we only spend one night there, as the room was too noisy from early morning. The cost $20.00/ night including breakfast.

Hotel Little Garden.   We spend last 4 nights.  This  hotel worked for us, with simple but quiet room.  The cost was only $15.00/ night , without breakfast.

Phnom Penh, learning the Cambodia history

Our first city we stopped in Cambodia was Phnom Penh. The visit was short as we stayed only for two nights, but oh boy it was so educational, so heart breaking while we learned about recent Cambodia history. We started our day by hiring a tuk tuk driver to take us to see the Killing Fields also known as Choeung Ek Genocidal Center. When we arrived at first, the fields looked beautiful and peaceful, but as time went on, we walked in silent, learning the horrific history of Cambodia people. During the visit we weren’t taking many pictures, but just walked slowly through the field listening to our audio guide. The only picture we took is the memorial stupa, looking very beautiful from the distance. As we reached the tower we realized it was full of human skulls and bones behind the acrylic glass windows.

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The tower has 12 levels with over 5000 skulls, broken bones and blood soaked clothes of the people who were brutally slaughtered by Khmer Rouge regime. This site of mass genocide used to be a Chinese cemetery but between the year of 1975 and 1979 around 17 thousand men, women and children were killed here. There are many, many killing sites likes this throughout the country. We learned there was an estimated death toll of around 3,000,000, due to executions, starvation, diseases , or hard work. That was almost 25-30 percent of the total population of Cambodia.

Note: Later on our trip we watched an amazing movie “The Killing Fields” made by a director, Ronal Jaffe in 1984. This movie shows the terror of the Khmer Rouge. It based on the real experiences of two journalists: Cambodian Dith Pran and an American Sydney Schanberg. We highly recommend to watch the movie for anyone who would like to learn more about Khmer Roug regime.

`The next stop was Tuol Sleng Detention Center also known as S21. It is a former school converted to a torture center during Khmer Rouge.

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Each prisoner who passed through S-21 was photographed. The museum displays include rooms of harrowing black-and-white photographs of all men, women and children that were killed . Without a doubt a visit to Tuol Sleng is a profoundly depressing experience, but we were glad we’ve done it.

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Other things to do in Phonm Penh:

Independence Monument.   We stopped there with our tuk-tuk driver.

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This is an important landmark for Cambodian people, as it was build to celebrate the independence from French people.

The Royal Palace, this a major attraction in the city. There are many buildings to visit there, but the Royal family doesn’t live there. We decided to “skip” this attraction .

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On a lighter note, Phnom Penh isn’t  a shopping mecca like Bangkok, but there many great places to shop.  The most architecturally interesting market is the Central Market, also called the New Market.

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Russian Market, the market got its name in 1980s where the only tourists were Russian. Today you can buy all sort of things: clothes, watches, shoes. The prices were cheap , but the quality adequately cheap and low. We didn’t buy anything there.

During our stay in Phnom Penh we stayed in a beautiful Green Lime hotel . The hotel has a nice swimming pool with a cool sitting area around it.

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Our room at Green Lime hotel

 

The breakfast was really good and it was included in the price. It is located close to city attractions, but about 50 yards from the main road, giving the peaceful setting at the pool and quite sleep at night. We booked this hotel via Booking.com. It cost around $50.00/night. Practical Information: There isn’t a public transportation in the city, therefore we hired a tuk tuk. The driver took us to both sites at $15.00 and waited for us while we visited both places. The entrance fee for foreign tourists is $6.00 for Killing Fields and $2.00 for S21 Museum