Japan, Bali, and Seoul, part 2: Bali and Seoul

Indonesia

The next stop on our trip was Bali, Indonesia. You can see all 195 pictures or the best 22 (mixed in with pictures from Japan).

We stayed at a beach-side resort for two nights, then moved inland and stayed in a bungalow on a small rice farm, then moved to a small hut near the beach.

Our resort

Bali is tropical—only about 600 miles from the equator. It’s warm and sunny and rains regularly, which means they can grow pretty much anything they want. We had a wide variety of high quality fruit at almost every meal. The island is volcanic, so the landscape tends to be hilly and there are many creeks that flow from higher elevations to the coast. When you get away from the touristy areas, the island shows a relaxed, agrarian lifestyle. Rice paddies are common. People live on the land they farm. Women carry jugs of water on their heads. Houses are minimal, often with tarp or thatch walls and rooves.

But there were things I found frustrating.

In touristy areas, taxis cruise the streets asking everyone if they need a taxi. Shop owners relentlessly hawk goods. Counterfeit apparel was rampant. Polo was especially popular. At one point we walked past three “Polo” stores within just a few blocks.

The area frequently reminded me of Mexico. Tourism accounts for 80% of their economy (the rest is mostly rice and other agriculture). The large tourism industry results in Bali being one of the wealthier areas of Indonesia. People are overly kind when they think you might tip them, otherwise they are pretty lethargic. When arriving at the airport you’re flooded with people offering to take your bags, drive you somewhere, or sell you a tour. The customs and visa agents, on the other hand, don’t even acknowledge you when you step up to them—you’re forced to guess whether they want your passport, boarding pass, or both. They charge $25 per person for a visa when you enter the country then charge a $15 “service charge” when you leave—why not just charge $35, once? Also it’s kind of sleazy to charge someone to leave.

In multiple places we encountered this system:

  1. Buy ticket
  2. Walk 20 feet
  3. Give ticket to guy at entrance

Why not do away with the ticket completely and pay at the entrance? The inefficiency astounds me. Maybe they’re just trying to keep people employed?

Littering is a problem. At Pura Luhur Uluwatu, a beautiful temple overlooking the ocean built in the 11th century, I saw an employee drop a handful of paper tickets off a cliff.

Anyway, enough of my complaining.

Bali Grand Hyatt

This was nice. The room was cheap, but food and drinks were expensive. In the end I think it evened out to be a decent value. The room could maybe have been cleaner. It felt… “beachy.” The beach and ocean were nice. The water was maybe too calm. The pool was great.

Bungalow in Ubud

This place was really memorable. See the location on Google Maps. Also the word “bungalow” starts to sound funny when you say it a lot.

Our bungalow

Volcano Hike

We signed up for a tour that picked us up maybe around 4am. We rode in a van with 6 or so other people to the foot of Mount Batur. From there we hiked to the top and watched the sunrise.

Gunung Kawi

This is an 11th century temple in a jungle, and it was really cool.

Gunung Kawi

Terraced Rice Paddies

The people of Indonesia have built rice paddies on the side of steep hills to take advantage of every inch of land possible. I’d seen pictures of terraced rice paddies before and really wanted to see them in person. We spent a few hours driving around in a taxi looking for them. Many of them had already been harvested, and so were yellowish instead of a deep green.

Rice terraces

Balangan Beach

This beach seemed great for surfers, but was a bit rough for swimming. The ocean floor was hard rock in many places. There was a calm section, but, meh. We bought a really cheap meal and had a beer at one of the cafes on the beach. This was the same “cheap food and beer on the beach” experience that I’ve heard people talk about in Thailand.

Padang Padang Beach

Similar to Balangan Beach, this seemed great for surfers but was just ok for swimming. This did seem a little more calm than Balangan. There was a frat-party vibe at sunset… people sitting around smoking and drinking beer. There were also some bolted climbs here, which was kinda crazy.

Pura Luhur Uluwatu

A temple built on a cliff. This was also really cool.

Pura Luhur Uluwatu

Food

The local food is very spicy. Places that cater to tourists tone it down a bit. The food is similar to Thai. Lots of rice and noodle dishes. I liked it.

Other Stuff

Temperature
It was hot and humid. Highs around 85 and lows around 80. Maybe 70% humidity.
Bikes
A fair number of people rode bikes for transportation. There were very few recreational cyclists. Almost no one wore a helmet, and I think that’s crazy.
Dogs
Wandering dogs were common. It wasn’t clear if they belonged to anyone. Most seemed calm and friendly… possibly a side effect of high heat and scarce food—they were usually quite skinny. They also didn’t look neutered. They tended to be mutts. During our pre-dawn van ride to the start of the volcano hike, the streets were void of people but meandering dogs were common.
Smoking
Smoking is common here—both by locals and tourists—and seemed to be allowed everywhere. Most people smoked clove cigarettes (apparently they originate from Indonesia, who knew?).
Cars and Driving
There were more motorcycles than scooters. They were low-powered, small (same size front and rear tires), and usually had a surfboard rack on the side. It’s common for tourists to rent a motorcycle. Few motorcyclists wore helmets. Drivers are crazy, and I would absolutely not feel safe on a motorcycle, scooter, or bicycle. Lane markings are loosely adhered to. Lots of Toyotas. Also Suzukis, Mitsubishis, Daihatsus and Kias.
Roads
You’d have a hard time describing their road infrastructure as “planned.” There were few highways and traffic tended to make traveling slow. After leaving the urban, southern part of the island, roads were small and winding. Thankfully, most roads were paved. I’m guessing people aren’t usually in a huge hurry, so they’re ok with slow traffic.
English
People who dealt with tourists tended to speak English, which was convenient. Bali is close to Australia and Australians were by far the majority of the English-speaking tourists. As such, the locals tended to speak English with an Australian accent.

Seoul

From Bali we went to Seoul, Republic of Korea (aka South Korea). We were here for only 36 hours before flying home.

Like Tokyo, Seoul is a huge, modern city. The location of our hotel was fantastic. Close to the subway and close to many restaurants and a popular pedestrian street and shopping area. Check out the area south of our hotel on Street View.

We saw more American companies here than anywhere else: Dunkin’ Donuts, Krispy Kreme, Baskin Robbins, Smoothie King, Jamba Juice, McDonald’s, Burger King, Outback Steakhouse, California Pizza Kitchen, The Coffee Bean, Nike, Adidas, North Face, Wilson.

We also saw more buses here than anywhere else. There was practically a constant stream of buses at the bus stops near our hotel.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

This is an old palace that is open to the public. It’s a sprawling compound with many buildings.

Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, South Korea

COEX Mall

Apparently this is the largest underground shopping mall in Asia. In addition to lots of shopping and food there is a movie theater and an aquarium. You could easily spend a full day here.

Namsan Tower

As is our nature, apparently, we visited the tallest point around: Namsan Tower on Namsan Mountain. The mountain is in the middle of Seoul. There’s an observation tower and you can see a panorama of Seoul.

Panorama of Seoul at night from Namsan Tower

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