Travelogue Indonesia 1: Bali – Padang Bai

BALI – Padang Bai
07 June 2015

We could not have picked a better time to take our winter break. En route to work, in the dark, on the morning of our travel, the pretty little blue snowflake icon on the car digital dashboard did nothing to warm my heart, let alone thaw my numb toes. It was, not to be dramatic, the coldest day in the world.

A day that flew though in the usual mad dash to the finish line. It was a relief to sink into the outsized wingback chair at the Shongolo lounge – with an enormous glass of pinotage and a plateful of stroganoff – knowing that Out Of Offices were activated, dogs were all safely at their respective Holiday Camps, car was valet parked and baggage was checked. Our biggest challenges for the next 24 hours were to choose channels, decide between chicken and beef (with the odd fish curveball, no doubt) and to try and get some – but not too much – rest on the flights to optimise our acclimation on The Other Side.

It’s a real “planes, trains and automobiles” to get to Bali (doing it our way, that is). The usual Joburg to Dubai hop was a well-practiced cinch, the transit skip a great opportunity to catch up on some steps (almost 6000 end-to-end in our Terminal, celebrated with extortionate R151 pints at the Heineken Bar) and the 7,5 hour jump to Jakarta quite painless, thanks to Big Bang Theory Season 8 and Brooklyn Nine Nine Season 2 boxsets on Emirates’s unbeatable entertainment system.

Arriving in Jakarta, we were greeted by a slightly shabby but spotless Terminal. It was the understated utilitarian set-up we’d expected… but what we didn’t expect was the magnitude of the airport complex. Landing at 11pm and flying out again the next morning at 10am, I’d booked us into the Airport Hotel, conveniently situated (as all the online literature said) right in Terminal 1. Typically though, we’d flown into Terminal 2 and were to fly out of Terminal 3 the next day. And the terminals are spread generously over the airport complex, requiring a (fantasy) shuttle bus (which we gave 20 minutes of doubt’s benefit) or a taxi (a bargain at R40 for the convenience, especially since I was still in my thermal vest and approaching expiration at a rate far quicker than the fantasy shuttle’s alleged arrival).

Our hotel, the d’Prima, was pleasant and our room small but perfect for what we needed: barely enough width for suitcases (big but empty, at an unprecedented 10kg Travel Light Record each) on either side of the big, white, poofy-pillowed, silky-cotton-sheeted, perfectly-horizontal, no-belt-buckled bed; airconditioned heaven, it was. And Christian, a bath of perspiration from the stifling humidity, was thrilled to have a long, cool shower.

The hotel stay included breakfast. We weren’t expecting much since our induction included a vague wave toward a coffee bar counter and the instruction that breakfast is “only” served between 4 and 10am.

We were pleasantly surprised the next morning when we were told the breakfast du jour (and probably every jour actually) was a roti, expecting the cheese-filled pancake sort of thing we’d had in Sri Lanka. It was nothing of the sort – and nothing like we’d have called a roti. A warm bun with a cover layer that looked and tasted like a soft fortune cookie, with something sweet melted in the centre that must’ve been syrup-inspired because the overall flavour was like a waffle or one of those steam puddings you have to make in a double-boiler so the syrupy sauce runs down the outside when you turn them out of the pot. It looked plain and I was expecting it to need condiments to jazz it up… but it was so soft, warm and moist that the whole thing was gone before I could really bed down the flavour and its genius contributors. Mental note to try those again to get a handle on them properly.

Breakfast came with tea and coffee, both served black as standard and requiring me to ask for milk for my tea. The breakfast bar attendant seemed surprised by my request, but complied. Mental note also to try tea black and see if the local brew somehow justifies the absence of dairy.

Catching a taxi to the (correct) Terminal was easy. All we had to do was step out of the hotel and we had drivers flock to us.

The flight check-in was equally simple with a very uncluttered Terminal thanks to the banks of machines outside where passengers could check themselves in, print their own boarding passes and even print their own luggage tags. And everybody actually does it. At home we seems to have a very laggard attitude to new technologies, queuing for habit’s sake and wordlessly committing to progress “next time”.

By stark contrast to the already-29-degrees morning weather, the plane was bloody freezing! Christian loved it, of course, (already glistening from the short trot across the runway to alight the plane) and I fear that hour and a half onboard Air Asia Refrigeration might rank as one of the highlights of his holiday for him.

I appeased his reintroduction to Outside with a “Welcome to Bali” Burger King lunch (still at the airport) and joked that I’m going to submit the tillslip with my tax return since it said R149,000 at the bottom. We’re going to spend like millionaires this holiday!!

It was easy to get a taxi; again, stand and let the drivers come to you. R400 for a 2 hour transfer down the coast to Padang Bai? Bargain!

The drive itself was interesting too. The airport isn’t actually in Denpasar, but in Kuta. We’d been advised not to stay in Kuta (on our return to the mainland at the end of our itinerary) because it’s too hectic and touristy… and this advice rang true in just the small bit of it we saw on our evac route. We did drive past Sanur Beach, where we will be staying, and saw Lambongan Island distant on the horizon, which made me a bit giddy from excitement, seeing all the topography from my flat online planning take shape before my very eyes! And the aircon in the car was blasting so Christian was happy too.

The transfer was slow going, mostly because of single carriageway and the type of traffic rather than the amount. It gave time to take in the sights – very tropical with lots and lots of frangipani and palm trees, and small square pagoda-style buildings close to the road. Bali is *very* Hindu so the houses and gardens all have adornments and intricate statues that keep the eye busier than this flash tour does justice.  Although maybe “flash” is an overstatement as at one point a hotel salesman pulled up on his Vespa alongside our driver, knocked on the window and a proceeded to hard sell… all at 40km per hour!

First stop in “town” was to get our boat tickets sorted for our island-hopping, more by our driver’s insistence than our request, so he presumably gets a kickback. Happily so, since it was quick and easy to sort the lot and that concluded the admin for this holiday, especially since the boat ticket includes door-to-door transfers to the port.

The driver then dropped us at our hotel, a charming place at the end of the waterfront called Beji Bay. It exceeded expectations from the sweet open-air reception, through the gardens and pool area to our roomy suite!

Eager to explore, we headed straight out and hit a right to “town”. We traversed the harbour and concentric inland areas of activity to get a lay of the land (and do some market shopping, for a Bintang vest for Christian and some swim shorts for me), and then passed our resort to go up the hill to explore the resort and temple.

Confident we’d done the small town justice, we resigned to our pool. Well, pools, considering it was an infinity jacuzzi into a big pool into a paddle pool. We had the place to ourselves, which was great for a splash around and relax.

Next activity had been pre-decided early on. We’d spotted a cocktail bar with an appealing happy hour from 5-7 that reminded us of the place in Mauritius that had served us so well. So that’s what we did!

The whole waterfront strip was quite quiet, but at least Padangbai Bay Resort had some lads at the bar, some ladies on the terrace and some divers preparing for their night dive. Weirdly, the Bintang only comes in 300ml or 700ml… so we worked our way through the large ones as the waiters refreshed our complimentary popcorn. It was only when the bill came and there was a 21% mandatory service charge that we realised why the staff was so attentive!

From there we surveyed the eating options in an effort to find somewhere both atmospheric and appealing. Instead, we found Molly’s… and had to stop in for the sake of homage to Christian’s local at home, Molly Malone’s.

By then, the dinner crowd had started moving in and we found ourselves at the upstairs front-and-centre harbour front restaurant (Kerti’s) that Christian had liked from the start. Unable to decide, we ended up ordering the marlin, tuna and prawns to share… a bargain at R45 per main course dish, so why choose?! All delicious, and quite different to the way they’d have been prepared and presented at home, with a tasty spicy brothy gravy.

We’d obviously made the right choice in eatery as most of the people we’d noticed passing had ended up moving through while we were there. Winning!