trip report: Yogyakarta, Lombok, and Phuket, November 2015

IndoThai_CoverComputers and internet are a big part of today’s travel community. A clear example is this blog where I try to provide tips and experiences to help the next person plan their trip. Planning from communication and the information out there is probably the single most useful role that technology is able to provide. Ok, it’s arguable that looking at pictures while procrastinating can be the inspiration of it all, but that’s still information in some regards. Anyways, the lack of connection to technology is really what made this trip so different and it is really the first time since my backpacking Europe summer trip where it wasn’t so planned out. That wasn’t my intent for this trip but volcanoes have their own will sometimes.

the decision

Southeast Asia wasn’t a place I had high on my list of places to visit. However, I’ve never been in the area and it is an area favored by expats and backpackers a like recently. This is largely due to how favorable these countries in Southeast Asia rate on the Big Mac Index. What really determined the trip for us was a fare sale from Delta in April with the all inclusive roundtrip cost of $386.60 from LAX to Jakarta (CGK). Since we have the southwest companion pass, it wouldn’t be too expensive for us to reposition ourselves to the other side of country. Even though it was an incredible deal, I was on the fence so I asked Meg about it. She pulled up a buzzfeed page, pointed to number 15, and it was decided. If you need more convincing or ideas about Indonesia in general, try this site.

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pre-trip research and planning

when, where, and what

After we decided to go for the deal, our first task was to figure our when we can go. It was more of a team decision as our friends Shannon and Kevin jumped in on the deal and were initially planning to travel with us. Dongil also did, but he only planned to spend a few days with us before going home. The fare was only available from in May and from September to February excluding the holiday travel season. So that left us with only one major break we can take advantage of, Thanksgiving, where Tech has the complete week off.

The end of November was the end of the dry/high season in Indonesia and it seemed like a trek up Rinjani was possible, though we’d expect it to be wet climb. Wanting to have a contingency plan incase of a Monsoon, we looked at other areas reachable via budget airlines. We saw that November was the start of the dry/high season in Phuket. I’m sure you’ve all seen pictures of the beaches in Phuket, so I was sold on traveling there. Meg was sold by the possibility of swimming with a whale shark, but that meant we’d have to look into scuba certifications. Lastly, Kevin and Shannon like the idea of going to the islands in the bay around Phuket and doing some climbing. So we decided to make it a 2-week trip with roughly a week in each location. After purchasing the tickets, we tabled the rest of the logistical planning as we were still eight month away.

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logistics

For our trip to Southeast Asia, there are several logistical tasks that we needed to take care of before our trip. Secondly, this trip required way more planning then my previous ones because of the activities we wanted to do and the multiple locations we wanted to go. Even with some of these original plans being disrupted by volcanoes, there were still plenty that needed to be planned.

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vaccinations

The first was getting vaccination shots. Since either Meg or I had any shots since we were still in grade school, we had to get several. The CDC website has a good list of what you should look for, but the best to consult with your doctor or one from a travel clinic. I’d recommend to start this early, because our health network here gave us the run around for about a month and we finally got our shots right before we left. This meant they were not going to be active until really after we got back. At least we don’t need to go through the BS for another 10 year. Our shots include the MMR and Hepatitis A and B. We got pills for the Typhoid vaccine and Malaria. These cost us a pretty penny (~$1000) and I am still in the process of submitting our receipts to our insurance company for reimbursement. So it is good to get these taken care of as early as possible. If you end up getting the shots last minute or not at all, you just have to be extra careful in only eating cooked foods and treated water.

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open water scuba certification

The second logistical task was possibly getting scuba certified. As I wrote in a previous update, we decided to get it done before our trip with Tech Dive Center based out of Blacksburg. I would recommend a certification beforehand even though there was a billion dive shops in Phuket because there are a good amount of work that comes with open water certification. You don’t want to spend your time on vacation studying during the nights. One of the guys on our boat was going through the certification while we were in Phuket and he ended up not finishing because of the time it was taking away from his vacation and his girlfriend. Diving is all about being calm and comfortable, so doing it in an environment where you won’t be stressed training and sight seeing at the same time will help in your overall training. In term of costs, our open water certification course cost $350 for the course and equipment rental and $200 for a weekend of open water quarry dives each person. Talking to those on our ship that were getting certified, it might be roughly the same or may a little less there.

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itinerary and air travel

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Above is the itinerary we planned. Our trip can be divided into 4 specific stops, 3 days around Yogyakarta, 5 days on Lombok, 4 days on Phuket, and 1 day layover in Tokyo. We decided to spend a few days around Yogyakarta to visit Candi Borobudur and Prambanan as Dongil was only going to be with us for a few days and climbing a mountain isn’t his travel style.

As you can see with the 3 main destinations and the need to reposition for our flight to Jakarta, planning our trip legs took some work. My original plan was to use my companion pass with Southwest Airlines to reposition Meg and I to LA. However, we wanted to travel with our friends so when a United attacked AAs’ hub with a $177 ai roundtrip flight from CLT to LAX, we jumped on it. The total flight cost to fly to Jakarta from CLT and back for us was $564 per person. Relatively, the best deals from the east coast to Southeast Asia is around $650. So we didn’t save as much as I’d liked. The risky part about connecting two bookings is that a delay on one leg can be disastrous even when you space out the connections like we did. I’d recommend using cards that have built in trip insurance or getting some beforehand.

Once we are in Jakarta, there are several options to travel among the islands in both Indonesia and Thailand such as trains, boats, or buses. To save time and because of the many discount carries, we chose to book flights. One issue that you may run into is that buying tickets from the US is a bit challenging because American credit cards will not work on several airlines (Lion air for example). The way to get around that is to use nusatrip for your booking. Most budget airlines were pretty reliable. Both Air Asia and Lion Air had decent leg room and included free check bags on domestic flight tickets. Tiger Air had much smaller space, as my knees were up against the chair in front of me, and fees for checked bags. Be sure to check with each flights luggage allotment. Lastly, the prices of flights do vary as the date of the flight gets closer, but the cost isn’t as much as flights within the US. So, you can stay flexible booking pretty last minute.

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general planning

At this point in the logistics, it seems like a lot of planning. It was to an extent; especially most of our planning was more preparation for the region. However, we really didn’t have any set plans of activities other than things we were interested in doing. In addition as I mentioned earlier, baby volcano Barujari under Rinjani made everything flexible. Since our flights in the area were budget airlines, we had the flexibility to change it up. The usual websites are going to be your best bet of helping you prepare. They include lonely planet thorntree, trip advisor, wikitravel, and ofcourse google. I did put up part of our rough itinerary on the thorntree forum and picked up a few good tips, though nothing concrete in the form of this is what you should do.

Part of what made planning a bit difficult is both the seemingly lack of infrastructure in the Southeast Asia and the way traveling seemingly approached by those on the ground. Unlike national parks in the US, the alps in Europe, Torres Del Paine, and other regions that have a hiking culture we were use to, it wasn’t set up where you can easily just get in a do it yourself. You can’t just find information online or hiking guidebooks, grab your backpack, and head up established trails that were planned and mapped out. All the activates we were looking to do seemed to be the easiest, and recommended, for us to just hire a group, a guide, a boat, or a driver. Its just things are changing or unestablished and the locals on the ground knows best.

Speaking of locals, most make their livelihood on tourism. So, there are many companies and locals that are there to accommodate the plans of tourists. Because the cost of living is so different from the west and Southeast Asia, what we see as very little money can be a lot for them. I have no issues paying the locals to guide me and show me around, but what’s difficult is figuring out the companies and people that can best fulfill what you want out of the your travel and in a way that you agree with. To clarify, if you want to have a specific experience trekking up Rinjani, you want to make sure the group you hire will do their best to provide that for you rather than seeing you as a money bag. Furthermore, if you want to emphasize good backcountry practices such as packing out trash or you want to make sure the money you are paying are going to the locals rather than some organizing company, you’d have a hard time really finding consistent information to help you plan that ahead of time. Sure, tripadvisor can provide some information, but that can be messy too as many of the companies are big companies that contract out to different locals on the ground or just have a good online presence. There are also plenty of people there are just trying to get the most money out of you and will say anything to accomplish that, making it harder to plan.

So in summary, much of the planning are probably best done on the ground when you get there. It is mostly what we ended up doing during this trip. That’s not to say there aren’t good companies out there you can find online and we experienced that also. The best advice in my opinion is use your personal judgment regarding the companies and the people you talk to and don’t be afraid to push for what you want. Anyway, I’ll get more into the specifics in the trip report sections. It has been a while for me to travel by the seat of my pants rather than planning it. It can more stressful but more adventurous at the same time.

Having said all that, I’m not saying that you can’t go out and do things yourself. For me, it just seemed more difficult to do with limited time and the given resources. Again, this is my first time in Southeast Asia and I’m sure doing thing myself would be easier with more experience in this part of the world. If you do want to try to do things yourself as much as possible, then my recommendation would be to rent a scooter. You can pretty much access anywhere if you have one. Just be aware, the traffic is pretty much free for all and you just have to take it easy. Also, you do want to have an international license or be ready to have bribe money ready for the police as they will target foreigners.

Lastly, much of our spending on this trip required cash rather than credit card. So a card that has no fees for atm withdraws and low foreign exchanges is recommended. You can read more about that in my travel hacking section.

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equipment

Our plan was to travel light, especially with limitations on certain budget airlines and so we can avoid checking bags. Furthermore, many of the Rinjani trekking tours can provide tents and sleeping bags. But we did end up bringing our Alps Mountaineering Tent, 2 big agnes sleeping pads, and our lightest sleeping bag – Kelty Cosmic Down 20. Some specialty items we brought were our hiking umbrellas for the sun and rain, a steripen to treat water, our fitted diving masks and snorkels for scuba diving and snorkeling, fleece soft layers and rain hardshells for Rinjani, and our trail-runners. I did have my Chaco hiking sandals, which were amazing for this trip. Lastly, my electronics included camera equipment and laptop to do some writing. Meg brought her REI Crestrail 65 backpack, because it was smaller than mine and would fit the tent and sleeping bag. I carried our Camelpak day pack and my dell tek 17’ computer backpack.

Looking back, I’m glad we had our tent and sleeping pads. I knew we can get a good night sleep with them, the tent was useful when we camped on the beach as it kept out mosquitos, and it helped in negotiating the price of our tours. It wasn’t much of a hassle either as we ended having he luggage company hold our camping equipment at CGK when we traveled to Phuket (HKT) on Tiger Air, who charged for check bags. That being said, you can just go with 2 day packs and be absolutely fine.

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trip report

pre-trip

The major event that took place pretrip was that Kevin and Shannon’s Dog, Lucy, was found to have a cancerous growth in her private region. Her surgery was right before the trip, so they couldn’t come.

Otherwise, everything went relatively smoothly. We drove down to Charlotte the night before where we had a park, sleep, and fly reservation at the Ramada Inn. The night staff overcharged us, but a email next day with the ParkSleepFly people cleared up the problem. The hotel was poor, but included 21 days of parking. The parking area is a free for all with no extra security in a semi-shady area with a strip club next door, so it’s better to park your car right in front of the hotels’ main entrance. My car was as I left it when we returned.

We had 4 legs to reached CGK from Charlotte (CLT). Our United flights were uneventful and we didn’t check any bags so we were able to check in at LAX for our next flight right away. We did check our bags for the Delta flight but made the mistake of not asking to check it to our final destination. Because of that mistake, we had to leave airside at Haneda (HND) during our night layover to pick up our bags. It was fine though since HND is one of the nicest airports both landside and airside I’ve been in. Our 12 hour Delta flight was uneventful.

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Even though Delta gets a lot of crap from the frequent flyer community because of the changes to their program, their coach service and seats are better than expected. The number of drinks we had on this flight was actually the most we drank the entire trip. After a night landside at HND, our day flight from HND to CGK was also uneventful. We were all shocked by how well Garuda’s service was and how much room we had. I’m pretty sure their normal coach seats would qualify as economy plus in the US.

We arrived Jakarta in the evening and I used my Orbit bucks to book a room at Swiss-Belinn Airport Jakarta Hotel for free. It was a good hotel with free shuttle service, very friendly staff, good wifi, and good rooms. They front desk guys were also able to help me buy a sim card for my old unlocked iphone5 I use for travel. We were all very tired and pretty much crashed right away after showers. The hotel provided us with a good breakfast with made to order omelets and shuttle service for our flight to Yogyakarta. We flew our first budget airline in Air Asia and it was uneventful as well.

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Yogyakarta

Dongil planed to travel with us for a couple of days before heading home to South Korea, so Yogyakarta and the temples or candi in the vicinity seemed like the best idea. Our main goal was mainly to adjust to the time change, relax, and see the Buddhist Candi Borobudur. There is a second Hindu Candi in the area call Prambanan. This site with more things to do around Yogyakarta, but we only had a couple of days. The plan we had was to get take a taxi up to Borobudur region and spend a night there. We can see the temple either that night or next morning for sunrise. On our second day, we planned to taxi back to Yogyakarta and visit the Prambanan. Our flight was in the afternoon on the third day so we thought we’d just relax and walk around some to get more immersed.

After landing in Yogyakarta, we headed for the departure area to find a taxi. If you are a solo traveler, there is a bus that goes up to Borobudur for 75k rupiah. We were able to negotiate with the taxis to take us for 200k rupiah with about 5 minutes of bartering and he was able to drop us off at Cempaka Borobudur Guest House, which we booked a few days ahead. It was a good place to lay our heads with western toilets, air conditioning, and wifi. The reception girl was very helpful in giving us a lot of information and can book everything for us, including sunrise entrance at Borobudur through Hotel Manohara and taxi to Prambanan and our homestay in Yogyakarta. If you don’t want to see the sunrise or sunset at Borobudur, there is a package price for both Borobudur and Prambanan. We decided to go for the sunrise tour since we were only here once. We also booked the taxi since it was going to be more convenient.

With the afternoon still available to us, we first headed over to the restaurant at the sister hotel Cempaka Villa.

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I enjoyed it, though nothing amazing and that’s generally how I felt about the food in Indonesia. However, it was a lot cheaper to eat here than in the states. It started to rain as we eat our luner, but cleared up after about an hour.

We ended up walking to Candi Pawon

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and then Candi Mendut, which we ended up missing because it was dark. But we did see the modern temple next to it.

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I didn’t find out about number 18 on this list until I was look up stuff for Lombok, but I would have been interested in going to this small candi in Ubud. It was blatantly clear to us at this point that no one walks in Indonesia, everyone rides scooters.

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We woke up early next morning at 4am to catch the sunrise on Borobudur.

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Lucky for us, it was completely overcast.

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Regardless, Borobudur was very interesting to see especially with the clouds and hills in the backdrop.

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We did take our time and walk around all the levels.

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After a snack back at Hotel Manohara, breakfast back at our hotel, and sampling some luwak poop coffee (which we did the tourist thing and bought some to give as a Christmas gift), we were on our way back to Yogyakarta and Prambanan. Meg read the Wikipedia page on Borobudur and Prambanan as we traveled and we learned about the tradition of religious toleration that these structures were centered around. Now if you weren’t aware, Indonesia’s official religion is Muslim. For some here in America, that’s something that would bias them against visiting Indonesia. I can assure you it shouldn’t be as toleration is one of the key principles in Indonesian society. There is even an education program that gathers up Indonesian teens from every island and had them live among the locals on another island to gain an additional point of view. The island they go to changes every year. That mentality of tolerance is something that America should be envious of.

We arrived at Prambanan midday. Be sure to bring your student ids to get the discounted entrance fees. Prambanan is a series of hindu temples, though the majority of the smaller temples in the outer areas are currently in ruins from earthquakes.

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Around the archeological park, there are several other small Buddhist temples ruins north of Prambanan that are also in the process of being repaired.

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Further north of those is the large Buddhist Candi Sewu, which has several large structures but many of the small ones are still in ruin from past earthquakes.

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The close proximity of the temples is another symbol of tolerance.

After walking around in the heat for a couple of hours, we headed for our homestay near the airport, Safa-Homestay. The homestay had all the western comforts and provided a shuttle to the airport for only the airport drive in fee, but there wasn’t really much around it other than shack restaurants. To find something a little more than street food level, you had to walk along a busy major street for 10 to 15 minutes. The process that I found convenient in assessing the quality of a food place was whether they had a “parking lot” or area in front of the store where cars can park with attendants to stop the traffic for cars to exit. The biggest issue with the homestay was that the family upstairs is very loud and there is really no wall separating you from the stairs leading up to their flat. Next time, I’d probably go for something near downtown where we can walk around easier rather than convenient to the airport. I mainly say that because we ended staying in the flat the next day because we didn’t have time to go anywhere far.

We did find some food places around 15 minutes walk from the flat. The first was a chinese influence place that was overpriced and didn’t have half their menu available. Both Dongil and I didn’t enjoy our food, though it was more because of what we ordered. Meg’s deep fried fish was really good. The second was a noodle, soup, and meatball place that was good for a second dinner for Dongil and I. The last was a nice lunch rice and jackfruit curry place, which we enjoyed.

As we arrived at the airport to check in, we ran into the first disaster of the trip. I realized I booked the wrong month for our flight. Luckily there were seat still available and it only cost us another 1.4 million rupiah. At the gate, I realized it could have been an opportunity to stay on the island of Java, avoid Lombok volcano uncertainty all together, and visit a few other places like number 9 and 16 on this list. It was too late as we boarded our Lion Air flight for Lombok, something I don’t regret at all in hindsight.

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Lombok – Tetebatu

We really didn’t have anything specific planned other a place to stay for the first two nights. We had a total of five full days on Lombok not counting the night we arrived and originally I wanted to have the first day to set up a hike on Rinjani. We originally wanted to take the route from the Sembalun and return to Senaru, which would be the 4 other days we had planned. However, with Baby Barujari still huffing and puffing, all accounts seem to say that route was closed with maybe a 2 day, 1 night option to the rim. I figure I might have better luck talking to locals on the ground about the situation. Secondly, we wanted to make sure the money we paid goes directly to the local people rather than an internet organizer taking a large cut. Of course, I also figured if we negotiated directly with the locals, we’d be able to get a better deal without an intermediary.

We didn’t really have any specific reason to book a hotel in Tetebatu other than a base to organize. And a great base we found when we booked Thomas and Katie’s Les Rizieres.

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Our initial decision making was that it was closer to the mountain, there were some local hikes around their place, and they were friendly hosts that may have some contacts we can use. Mainly, they seemed to be great people that we can talk to (my detail review of their place here). If you want to book with him, it is cheaper to contact him directly because there are no intermediary fees from the booking sites. After booking, Thomas was able to arrange a driver for 250k rupiah to take us from the airport to his place. After talking a bit with Thomas, we found he did know a guy that can come the next night to talk to us about trekking up Rinjani (I’ll get to that in the next section). Otherwise, he was able to recommend a couple of waterfalls and places we can explore on our first full day. If you’d like a guide for the local hikes, he knows a local guy too.

trail information

  • rice fields, extreme falls, and the monkey forest
  • type: loopish, not really trails in the Western sense
  • distance: 5.2 miles
  • elevation change: 972 ft ascension and 502 ft descend
  • time: 3.5 hours including get lost a few times and wondering around
  • location: Tetebatu, Lombok, Indonesia
  • there are no marked trails but everyone’s friendly

After breakfast the next day, Thomas and their helper Ronnie drew me a map of the rice fields.

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The main points they recommended as extreme falls and then the monkey forests. There is another falls to the east, but the government has been charging 150k rupiah for foreigners, so they didn’t recommend it.

The walk wasn’t marked trails but rather you are walking along the rice fields.

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The locals didn’t have any issues if you were talking through their land and they were very helpful in point you toward the right direction. The rice paddies were pretty awesome and at one point, we saw a lizard that’s about 5-6 foot long. After a few wrong turns, we descended into the stream valley, crossed a concrete damn, and arrived at the entrance to extreme falls marked by a bamboo hut. To reach the falls, you have to walk up the stream until you reach a cavern with a small water wall. I actually like the walk through gorge more. Meg was barefoot but my chacos were pretty clutch.

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After the falls, we continued northwest toward the monkey forest. As we continued on the road, a couple of locals said it’s better to get to the monkey forest through the rice fields, so we did that. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t know where we were going but fortunately we bumped into John of Tetebatu. He was leading a Danish couple toward the monkey forest and was cool with us joining them. Apparently he had offered to guide the Danish couple around when they came up to Tetebatu.

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We walked continued through the fields before entering the monkey forest. There are 2 types of monkeys on Lombok. The first are the more common brown macaques that hang around closer to the ground. The second are the black macaques who are more unique to this area, more skittish, and mostly hang out in the tree canopies. We saw several of the latter on this day jumping around the trees.

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After the monkey forest, we had lunch at John’s cousin’s place right by the park.

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Over lunch, we talked to the Danish couple about their experience and to John about his hiking company (more on that in the Rinjani section). After lunch, headed over to a second pair of falls close to the restaurant

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before John and company took us back to our homestay. Because John offered to take us around, he didn’t ask for any money but we decided to tip him 200k rupiah.

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ratings (1-5)

  • views: 3. Good views of the rice fields with Rinjani peaking through the clouds at points. Exploring the 2 small waterfalls were pretty cool and enjoyable, but nothing tremendous. Seeing the monkeys were cool too.
  • difficulty: 1
  • technical: 2. Since this wasn’t a real trek, you kinda have to just find your way around. Really it means talking to the locals who are very helpful. I know, we cheated a bit by finding someone that knew the place.

For dinner, Thomas and Katie usually tailor their meals to local flavors but also add in French concepts. We enjoyed the dinners very much and the costs were fair. Meg’s favorite was the tempeh burger and deep fried bananas. Though, Meg was stuffing her face with fried tempeh at every Indonesian place.

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Rinjani, trek from Tetebatu to Gunung Timanuk

During our first day in Tetebatu, we first ended up meeting with two hiking locally organizing companies to help us plan our time on Lombok. The first was with John, who we randomly bumped into while wondering around the rice fields. The second was Jaya, who was an acquaintance with Thomas.

Because of the volcanic activities, the 4 night/ 3 day trip from Sembalun was out as the park services deemed it unsafe. However, John said he could organize and take us up from Tetebatu to the second highest peak on Rinjani, Gunung Timbanuh, in a 2 day/ 1 night trip. He also talked about possibly taking us on a trip out to remote islands that only locals knew, called Gili Kondo, for another 2 day/ 1 night trip. In the end, we went with Jaya’s company for the hike up Rinjani and with John to visit Gili Kondo (which I will describe in the next section). Even though they are two separate companies, they are both part of the local community and work together. The difference is who organizes and such. Below are my impressions of both companies.

John from Tetebatu Trekker

  • mobile: +6287763498371
  • email: johntetebatu@gmail.com
  • John’s company seems to be smaller and newer of the 2 companies. From what I gathered, he isn’t officially licensed guide by the park services. However, I question what that actually means there. Because his company is smaller, it seems like John will personally guide the treks and he did personally take us out to Gili Kondo. Perhaps because it is a smaller company and there isn’t the middle man, John was able to offer us the best deal. He offered to take us for 2 days trek and 2 days on Gili Kondo for 4 million rupiah since we had our own tent, sleeping bag, and backpack and John didn’t have to rent them for us. Overall, we had a much more personal experience with John and I’d consider John a friend.

Jaya Trekker

  • mobile: +6281997714771
  • email: jayattb@gmail.com
  • Jaya’s company is the bigger company and seemingly been around longer. He is an officially licensed guide, but he seems more like the organizer. For our trek up Rinjani, Egol was our guide and he guides all of Jaya’s trips from Tetebatu (though it wasn’t explicit when we first talked to Jaya and were under the impression he would be the guide). Because Jaya’s company is larger, it seems that his company offers more options such as the traditional treks from Sembalun and he has his own equipment. As a larger company, he charges more because of the increased number of people he has to pay. We were able to negotiate the 2 days trek and 2 days Gili Kondo package for 5 million rupiah with Jaya.

Initially we agreed to go with Jaya’s company and pay the higher cost for a couple reasons. First, he was officially licensed and he emphasized the safely aspect of the trip. Second he said he would be with us the entire time. Lastly, Thomas was more familiar with Jaya. After our trek up Rinjani, I request that Jaya work out a deal with John for John to take us to the second part of our trip to Gili Kondo even though we did have an amazing time on the mountain. The reason for our decision was because we felt mislead that Jaya didn’t guide our trip and that was a main reason we were willing to pay more to go with his company. I don’t think you can go wrong with either of these companies and it’s cheaper because you are dealing directly with the locals. My personal preference when I go back would be to go with John’s company because he is much more personable and he really did treat us like friends rather than customers. Anyways, it wasn’t my intent to poke my head into the local politics and I do hope everyone succeed there. So if you are thinking of a place to go on Lombok, check these guys out.

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trail information

  • Tetebatu to Gunung Timbanuh
  • type: in and out
  • distance: 16 miles
  • elevation change: 7393ft ascend and 7881ft descend
  • time: 2 days (9 hours on day 1 and 8 hours on day 2)
  • location: Tetebatu, Lombok, Indonesia

The morning began early as we gathered at Jaya’s place for breakfast and then John’s to tea as everyone helped to gather all the equipment and supplies. As everyone got ready, we all jumped on scooters and headed through the monkey forest to the trailhead… or at least as far as the scooters would carry us. And we were finally on our way up around 7am.

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A little further up the trail we met up with the 3rd member of our 3 team support crew. Egol was our guide and we had porters Masri and Mahrup, along with his dogs.

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Our initial ascend was through the jungle with breaks here and there where we got a views at the mountain or down back into the village. There really aren’t any trails like typical hiking areas. Most are just routes that the locals use for their every gather use or worn away from continued use. There were a couple of markers as up continued further up, nothing otherwise. If you are thinking of doing this without support, just not the easiest to navigate. The second major thing about hiking so near the equator is that it was very hot and humid. We are use to hiking in climates much colder, so we were drenched right away from sweat and were guzzling water. I can understand why the trail was going through the jungle for the most of it. If you think that describes you, you want to request more water or bring someway to treat water as there is a source of water near the campsite. Lastly, everyone in Lombok smokes including the porters and guides. “More cigarette, more power” was the model for the porters.

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About a few hours of climb, we reached the clouds and stopped for lunch. The porters made us a ramen noodle and veggies. After some tea, we hit the worst of the climb. There are very few places I can think of that had the incline of the next section and I definitely needed a quick stop every minute or so. Yes, the porters definitely made me feel out of shape as they had no problems and carried much more then us.

We reached the ridge around mid afternoon where the earth was scotched from a wild fire and a bit eerie with the fog.

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This is where a nature spring is, but you’d have to climb below. The porters keep a water jug here to be refilled for the next group. Continuing along the ridge, we reach our camping spot for the night.

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After a nap, the clouds cleared a little bit and we enjoyed our fried rice dinner with veggies, Lombok sambal, and fried chicken.

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Meg hates fried rice normally, but not here. From our camp spot we also Gunung Rinjani peak through the trees.

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Another unplanned view we the full moon that rose in the east right next to the mountain. Unfortunately for you, I’m not that good of a photographer so only a blur of a view. We turned in for the night so we can make the early climb for sunrise.

As we got ready next morning, Rinjani decided to say good morning, twice actually.

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So to be safe, we waited until the ash clouds cleared and for the volcano to be calm before starting to make our way to the top. Because of the delay and our slow pace, we caught the sunrise on our way up.

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After a 2.5 hour climb, we reached the top of Gunung Timbanuh.

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Then begin the long way down back to Tetebatu.

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My right knew which is still recovering from the last Ultimate tournament was very unhappy with me. As we reached our campsite to pack up and eat breakfast. Rinjani bid us farewell.

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The trip down was pretty uneventful other than me knee being very unhappy. The guides and porters ran out of cigarette and their saying became “no cigarettes, no power.” We also ran out of water as we reached the jungle section, so we were eager to get back into town for something cold. The one unfortunate thing about Indonesia is that beer is much hard to find, but luckily Thomas had one on hand for me.

The internet is unclear about exact tip amount. We decided to tip 500k rupiah the guys to split as we were very happy with Egol, Mahrup, and Masri. We thought they would make an interesting group of comic characters with Egol to social and leader, Mahrup with the grumpy and wise one with is dogs, and Masri the kid.

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ratings (1-5)

  • views: 4. My favorite views on the trip were definitely after we gained the ridge after the hellish climb. Camping above the cloud were pretty amazing along with the full move illuminating Gunung Rinjani. I wish we had longer at the top so I could see the sun light up the lake in the crater. But that’s a reason to return, though I’d like to approach from the more tradition route from Semblum so we can camp on the lake rather than below the crater.
  • difficulty: 3.5. Even with the porters, the routes were challenging with amount of altitude change over such a short distance. It might have been that I felt more pathetic. Even it being the rain season, we encountered very little. The steep trail can be much more difficult.
  • technical: 1. With a guide it was easy and there were no specifically technical components it. Navigating would be much more difficult without a guide, but doable.

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Gili Kondo

Gili in Indonesian means islands. There are a triplet set of islands on the western side of Lombok, but those are known as touristy islands. Gili Kondo is on the eastern side of Lombok and they are islands that attract mostly local tourists. In fact, John said the island is actually hidden on the map (I verified this on google earth and Gili Kondo was indeed not labled). After packing the scooters, we started on the 2 hour ride toward the island with John and Jucie.

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One thing we forgot on this trip was sunscreen and sunscreen doesn’t exist in Lombok. Even after the 2 hour ride, Meg was beginning to burn already. So definitely bring your own sunscreen. Meg learned one Indonesian word and that was “mira” and it means red, something Meg was referred to several time in the next couple of days.

After the scooters, we boarded our boat called the Kostuba to our own little island.

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It was everything you’d imaging what a perfect island looks like.

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After lunch,

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we did some snorkeling.

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In the late afternoon, we weathered a short storm

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before sunset.

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For dinner, Jucie made some fried Tempah, fried squid, smoked red snappers, and a veggie soup. We bought a bottle of homemade rum from Tetebatu and it mixed well with some Sprite. It was a feast under the moonlight.

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Meg and I were still tired from the trek so we headed to bed early. My sore legs, the hot summer night, and a group of late arrive local partiers prevented me from having a good night of sleep. But a nice sunrise was a welcoming sight.

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After breakfast we had more snorkeling around Gili Kondo before our boat took us around to several other snorkeling spots. The reefs were the high point of snorkeling around Gili Kondo.

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We had lunch on another picturesque sandbar with Rinjani in the background.

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We want to thank John and Jucie for the couple of amazing day on the islands of Lombok.

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After lunch, we headed toward our hotel near the Lombok airport where we said goodbyes to John and Jucie.

The dpraya Lombok Hotel was decent looking airport hotel, but they over charge for everything including bottled water. Being so remote from anything, you didn’t have a choice. It was ok as we were sunburned and very tired. The next morning, they provided us with a short shuttle to the airport for our early morning Lion Air flight back to Jakarta to connect with our flight to Phuket.

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Phuket – diving at Ko Racha Noi and Ko Racha Yai

Our flights on Lion and Tiger air all the way through to Phuket were uneventful. At Jakarta’s Soekarno–Hatta Airport (CGK), we stored Meg’s backpacking bag with our camping equipment and cloth we didn’t need for 5 days at 175k rupiah total. The luggage storage is located in terminal 2 on the lower floor. Terminal 2 at CGK is where international flight take off, so it was convenient for us.

Even though the Tiger Air flights had some of the smallest leg space I’ve seen, they were only about half full. So we had the entire row to ourselves. Because of construction at Singapore Changi Airport (SIN), we were about to get our transfer fee back in the form vouchers. The vouchers were handy came in useful as we were about to turn them into a couple of meals traveling through SIN, which resembles a mall more than airport.

Our lodging for our entire time in Phuket was at a gorgeous airbnb. It cost more than I wanted to spend for lodging, but Amex’s promotion that gave us a $50 rebate from Airbnb made it ok. Our hosts Stephen and Wanphan were great hosts and can help you plan your time in Phuket. If you are interested in diving, Stephen is an avid one and he can help get you set up.

We took the first day just to relax and recover from our trek and our sun burns. We went down to the local super market to get some snacks and meet with Simone from Blue Label Diving to finalize our dive plans. We went with blue label because a diver that used to work with our local shop trained there for a while. Based on our experience it seemed like Blue Label Diving mainly did the booking for us. They did have a masterdiver at the shop, but he wasn’t available to be our guide. From their trip advisor page, it seemed like they were more suited for more advanced training. However, it would probably be easier and cheaper for open water divers like us to book directly with a company that had their own boats. Those companies would include the Aquatic Dive Center (who we dived with for 2 days) and South Siam Divers (who Stephen recommended). That night, we went over to the local restaurant called Cookie’s for their happy hour. I was glad to get a couple of beers for 45 baht each.

On our second day in Phuket, we were ready for our first diving experience outside the quarry. A car from the Aquatic Dive Center picked us up and took us to the pier. With the Aquatic Dive Center boat, breakfast and lunch were included along with all our equipment. Dave was the captain of the ship and our dive guide was Tammy with the bunny ears. Diving with us on this day was Simon from Australia.

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Our first dive was at Ko Racha Noi Marina Bay South. On these large boats there are about 60 divers, so it was much more hectic to giant stride out of the boat than when we were taking our time in the quarry. When we first got into the water, but Meg’s hair got caught strangely on her mask so Simone helped her get it untangle it. It was good since it gave me a little bit of time to calm down. The largeness of the ocean I think got me a little more worked up and it felt like I wasn’t getting enough air through my regulator. Tammy was great in checking on me and then making sure my valve was open all the way. She said it hadn’t been, which might be just to calm me down. Having fixed all our problems we were finally reading for the descend.

As we descended, I pulled out my go pro and checked it to see if it was working. Then I looked up and saw a whale shark.

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I estimate it was only 5 meters long, but it was magnificent with moving through the water. I couldn’t capture it on film but the way the grid pattern moved on the whale shark made it appear so elegant as it just glided through the water. I looked to Meg to draw her attention to it, but she had seen it before I did. I saw it as it was passing us so I didn’t get a look at its head, but Meg saw it come toward us and then pass us. Simon was rubbing Meg’s head for luck the rest of the day, as the delay was the only reason we saw it.

The whale shark was by far the high point of our day, not to mention our dive careers so far and we saw it on our first descent. We made two more dives, one at Ko Rachi Noi Camera Bay

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and the last at Ko Racha Yao Bay Wreck.

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These areas were pretty high in visibility with a lot of small fishing around. There was a sunk boat at our last dive site with some obstacle.

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We saw a couple of Mori eels, lion fishes, and large schools of other fishes.

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After seeing all the fishes, we decided we wanted to eat some so we went to the hotpot/sushi buffet at the super market near us and eat ourselves silly.

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Phuket – diving at Ko Phi Phi

Our second day of diving was going be around Ko Phi Phi, which is where you see all the pictures of hotdog legs on a beach out there. Tammy was leading us again today, but Simon only had one day he could get away from his family for a dive. Our first dive of the day was at Turtle Rock, where we saw a turtle.

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A portion of another group did see a small black tip shark before it swam away quickly, but we weren’t as lucky on day 2. Turtle rock wasn’t my favorite as it was close to that famous beach were everyone wants to sit on, so there was a constant buzzing sound from all the longboats and speedboats. It reminded me of trying to sleep in while the neighbor is mowing the lawn on Saturday mornings.

After our first dive, we had lunch while the boat drove into the bay where the popular beach is. I can see why.

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Our second dive site was right at Koh Bida Nok, just south of Ko Phi Phi. It was a pleasant dive with huge schools of different fish, including tuna.

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We did one last dive on the way back to Phuket at Anemone Reef. We saw a puffer fish, couple of sea horses, and a lot of large lion fish there. However, the low visibility from an incoming storm really prevented me from getting many good shot.

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I did get one of the sunset as we headed back into port.

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In general our 2 days of diving were a lot of fun. The high point was definitely the whale shark, but seeing the massive schools of fish and the pretty lion fish were cool too. In terms of coral, we thought that the islands in Indonesia were better, but that’s probably because there are a lot less tourists there. The one thing about diving on such a big boat was that there were so many divers together. It seemed like at certain sites like Amemone Reef, you had to take a lot of effort not run into other divers. If you can, I’d recommend looking for smaller boats. We thought Tammy did a great job guiding us during our dives; she really brought a lot of energy that really made it fun. Talking to her, she said her favorite spots to dive in Phuket are Shark Point, King Cruiser, and Ko Rachi Noi (where we dived the first day). So some spots to look out for he next time we are back.

With our flight out the following night and we needed a 24 hour wait before flying, that concluded our diving for the trip. We ended our day back at Cookies for some Thai Hot cuisines, Meg had the fish and chips though.

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Phuket – kayaking Phang Nga Bay

On our last day in Phuket, I wanted to do some exploration of the islands we have been seeing from the boat. Stephen had to us that there are a lot of tour groups that head up to Phang Nga Bay and the James Bond rock with some kayaking. His contact actually offered a really good deal for the tour and shuttle to the airport. It was around 3000 baht for the both of us, which was at least 1000 less than what we saw online. However, we also saw that most of these trips are crammed into a boat with tons of other tourists and that didn’t appeal to me. While looking online, I came across Paddle Asia and really like their approach to ecotourism and the real kayaking experience. Even though there was no listed day trip to Phang Nga Bay, I found out that they had another couple interested in the trip so they can put together a day trip for us. It was more expensive at 8600 Baht for 2 people, but it was worth it.

After bidding Stephen and Wanphan fair well, we were driven to the public speed boat dock where we met our guide (I can’t remember his name for the life of me though). There we also met Glynn and Bernie, the British couple that would be paddling with us. After the speedboat, we boarded our longboat and headed out toward our starting point, Ko Roi.

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This was on the eastern parts of Phang Nga Bay, where not a lot of big tours go.

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Because of the low tide, we walked under the cave into mangrove forest in the middle of the island where there were some huge ass bats.

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After a banana, we were off in our kayaks. Meg and I decided to share a tandem kayak, which was nice since we could take turns paddling.

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We paddled around the Ko Roi and I couldn’t get over how awesome the shear rock faces were.

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As we reached the eastern edge of Ko Roi,

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we then paddled directly east toward the beach on Ko Ku Du Lek.

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Since we had some extra time before lunch when we reach Ko Ku Du Lek, we took a lap around it.

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Lunch was on our own private beach with some awesome local thai food.

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Glynn and Bernie were great company as we talked about traveling and different places in the world.

After lunch, we were back in the boats and looping around Ko Ku Du Lek

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and continuing on the northern side of Ko Ku Du Yai.

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As we reached the eastern side of that island, we saw an afternoon storm in the distance and choppier waves.

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Along Ko Ku Du Yai, we found a few caves to go through

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and a big opening with more mangrove trees. The opening provided very good cover as the storm was on top of us at this point.

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Once the storm passed, we were back into the choppy sea and continued our paddle around the island.

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Rounding the last corner, we saw our destination.

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Forget Phi Phi, this was a pristine beach that we pretty much had to ourselves.

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We rode the longboat back toward the docks with the sun shining on us. We really couldn’t asked for a better way to end our trip.

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post-trip: the way home

Paddle Asia was able to drop us off at Phuket International Airport (HKT) where we begin our 6 leg of flights back home. Hurray for saving money. From HKT we flew the first leg on Tiger Air back to Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) for our overnight layover. Because we didn’t pay extra for the transfer pass, we would have to go through immigration. It was good that we only had carry ons so we could stay in the terminal for the night before going through immigration in the morning and checking in for our flight the next day. SIN has some nice padded couches all around so we had a pretty restful night before our Tiger Air flight back to Jakarta.

I had given us a whole day in Jakarta in case we were delayed and so we had the option of going into the city. Being a bit traveled out, we decided to just find a restaurant or coffee shop to relax at and do some Christmas shopping. After retrieving our bag from storage and going through security, we saw that we couldn’t check in our flight until 7pm and so we had about 10 hours to kill. CGK’s security checkpoint is before the check in and immigration. While walking around, we saw a Citibank Lounge, specifically the one on the domestic flight side since we couldn’t go through immigration without boarding passes yet. Having just opened a Citigold bank account, I was able to get free entrance with my debit card and Meg able to get in with our Citi Thankyou Premier Card for 1 rupiah (yes, not a typo). Apparently Citibank Lounges are all over Indonesia, so take a look. In the lounge we were able to just relax can catch up on a couple weeks worth of interneting and do some work. They had a full stocked food buffet and different non-alcoholic drinks. It’s not the fanciest of lounges, but it was free.

After dinner, we went to check in for our flight back to the states. Since we knew we had a whole day layover in at Tokyo-Haneda (HND), we asked them to check our bags all the way though to LAX. It was a lesson we learned coming the other way.

After a little shopping, we boarded our red-eye Garuda flight for HND. Again, their couch is probably one of the best experience out there and I slept great. We arrived at HND mid morning and ready for a sushi breakfast. We bought the cheaper Toei Subway day pass for 800 yen each and headed toward the Tsukiji Fish Market. Because it was Sunday, the market itself was closed but there were still plenty of sushi restaurants next to it. We eat at Tsukiji Sushi Sei, the newer location.

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Afterwards, we headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building’s observation deck to get a glimpse of Mount Fuji in the distance.

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We also found a Stargate.

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Then we headed to the Ueno area where we wondered around the madness that is Japan markets.

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Followed by a talk through the park with a cool looking pagoda.

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Lastly, we headed to the Asakusa area to find a place for dinner. After walking around and seeing the shrines, we stumbled across a yakitori on the 2nd floor right by the subway entrance. The food was some of the best we’ve had, including the appetizer. Meg even ordered a full bowl of it.

After some ice cream, we were on our way back to the airport for out Delta flight back to the states. We arrived at LAX at night. I had pre-booked a room at cheapest Holiday Inn Express around LAX for IHG’s Accelerate promo and under the assumption we’d want to stay in a real hotel. Our flights were on United the following day from LAX through ORD and CLT. It was uneventful other than a security lady having a beef with our backpack for carry on. I removed the top of Meg’s bag and it fit into the box. That’s the first time someone has giving us shit about carry on sizes. Another reason on the list of disliking LAX, I was pretty pissed. We had a chance to take a $300 voucher on the LAX to ORD flight, but decided against it since we still had a 2.5 hour drive from CLT.

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final impressions

Even though we were gone only 20 days, this trip felt much longer. Part of it was the completely new surroundings that had us exploring new things everyday. Again, it was a different kind of travel that I’m use to as we as to plan as we went and we ended up paying people to really organize the activities we did.

Even though we were in Southeast Asia, Yogyakarta, Lombok, and Phuket felt like completely different cultures. Yogyakarta was a huge city with a huge population. It definitely felt overwhelming at times, but we only had a couple of days there. Lombok on the other hand was much less populated and our experience was a place that was full of amazing views. It was also a place that lacked infrastructure, which meant it was a week disconnected from the Internet. Phuket was the opposite where it was a big tourist destination. Stephen put it this way, where everything is cheap but everything is also fake. I think that applies more to the nightlife, city, and tourist trap aspect of Phuket. Though things are also completely opposite of what we went for while there. I felt very satisfied in the natural beauty we saw that really made Phuket a destination to begin with.

Looking back at these places, I’d place Indonesia higher than Phuket on my return to rankings. There are so many more islands and volcanoes I want to trek to there. That includes going up Rinjani again from the other side. If I were to return to Phuket, I probably would want to do more of what we did this time. It isn’t an island that offers a lot in terms of hiking. Stephen pointed out that a cool thing to do would be to go from island to island with speed boats starting at Phuket and end all the way down in Singapore. I wouldn’t mind that at all.

budget

In all our total spending on our trip was $4,050.24. Not included are the amount Dongil paid for splitting expenses when he was traveling with us. I also tried to make a point in tipping our guides well so you could save more money there. We could also have cut costs by eating at less fancy places and staying at cheaper locations. Below is the spreadsheet and chart of out spending in USD. The conversion are either from the direct bank rate based on my atm withdraws or credit card conversion on a fee free card. Lastly, this doesn’t include our pretrip scuba training or immunization costs.

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