Cheow Lan Lake

View of the lake from Smiley Lake House, in the  morning.
View of the lake from Smiley Lake House, in the morning.

Cheow Lan Lake was built in 1982, covering an area as large as 165 sq km. Located in Khao Sok, it took an hour ride from Surat Thani to reach its Rajjaprabha Pier. As it was a national protected territory, nothing was allowed to be built on the land surrounding the lake. However, floating houses were allowed. There are several tour packages. Tourists should definitely stay at least one night on these houses, although there are alternative day trip. Advice: Stay one night.

My friend and I stayed in Smiley Lake House on May 27, 2015. We were so lucky that we were the only two guests for the Lake House. There were 6 the night before and 44 guests the night after. Usually, Smiley Lake House would want to have more than just 2 guests to be in operation for the day, but I guess my friend and I were just lucky. It was a quiet evening and serene morning. The 2D1N package cost us 2500baht per pax, which included the van pick-up from Smiley Bungalow, the boat ride, 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 1 dinner, free water, coffee/tea, evening and morning safaris on the boat, free canoes and caving or viewpoint trekking. We took the rare viewpoint trekking. Be prepared to be pampered by good food. It was sooooooo good!

As we did not have any vehicle and wanted only budget trip, we did research and came up with an easy access to the lake. Arriving at Surat Thani airport, we took the shared van to Surat Thani Railway train. At the train station, ask around for the stop for the local bus to Khao Sok. The helpful Thais would point out the way. We bought our cheap 120baht per pax ticket and waited for the bus, which arrived shortly. It was an old bus but what was impressive was that it had a workable and fast wifi connection. Tell the bus conductor that you wish to get down at Khao Sok. Around 2 hours later, we reached our destination – a dead, boring town of Khao Sok. But it was only for a night at Smiley Bungalow. So, it was ok. Forget mosquito repellent. It did not work on the mosquitoes in that town. (The lake had no mosquito at all).

Be totally empty, embrace the tranquility of peace. Watch the workings of all creation, observe how endings become beginnings. - Lao Tzu -
Be totally empty, embrace the tranquility of peace. Watch the workings of all creation, observe how endings become beginnings. – Lao Tzu –
Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that’s very important for good health. – Dalai Lama –
Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset. - Saint Francis de Sales
Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset. – Saint Francis de Sales
Remain calm, serene, always in command of yourself. You will then find out how easy it is to get along. – Paramahansa Yogananda
The pursuit, even of the best things, ought to be calm and tranquil. – Marcus Tullius Cicero
There is no greater misfortune than not knowing what is enough. There is no greater flaw than wanting more and more. Whoever knows contentment is blissful at all times. – Lao Tzu
Mastery of the world is achieved by letting things take their natural course. If you interfere with the way of Nature, you can never master the world. - Lao Tzu
Mastery of the world is achieved by letting things take their natural course. If you interfere with the way of Nature, you can never master the world. – Lao Tzu
Breathing is central to every aspect of meditation training. It's a wonderful place to focus in training the mind to be calm and concentrated. - Jon Kabat-Zinn
Breathing is central to every aspect of meditation training. It’s a wonderful place to focus in training the mind to be calm and concentrated. – Jon Kabat-Zinn
The truth, is really very simple. All things that arise and pass, the whole world of changing phenomena, is really only "that much!" When we truly discover what this means, then here in our world we can come to peace. - A Still Forest Pool
The truth, is really very simple. All things that arise and pass, the whole world of changing phenomena, is really only “that much!” When we truly discover what this means, then here in our world we can come to peace. – A Still Forest Pool

Smiley Lake House in Cheow Lan Lake

I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am. – Sylvia Plath
The tree has its own pace. Your job is to dig a hole, water and fertilize it, and protect it from insects. That much is your affair, a matter of faith. But the way the tree grows is up to the tree. If you practice like this, you can be sure all will be well, and your plant will grow. - A Still Forest Pool
The tree has its own pace. Your job is to dig a hole, water and fertilize it, and protect it from insects. That much is your affair, a matter of faith. But the way the tree grows is up to the tree. If you practice like this, you can be sure all will be well, and your plant will grow. – A Still Forest Pool
This photo and the ones above were taken from the hiking up the hill for the viewpoint. It was not so tough at the beginning but eventually, we had to climb over pinnacles.

Our practice here is not to grasp anything. – Ajahn Chah

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The Guilin of Thailand

After lunch, we bid goodbye to the quiet getaway. As the boat took us away, other guests arrived. Together with them, came the shouts, yells and more. As said, we two were lucky. It was like we had the whole lake to ourselves the evening before. Nothing but nature and us. It was good. It was really good. It was a good time to do a lot of slowing down, relaxing and contemplating.

You cannot find peace by avoiding life. – Virginia Woolf

Backpacking in Bali

Ceking Terrace Paddy Field
Ceking Terrace Paddy Field

May 21: Lombok to Bali RM80 – Lion Wings

I bid goodbye to Lombok and came back to the familiar Bali. I had visited Bali in 2013 and decided that I did not have enough of Bali then. I wanted more – namely Ubud and Tanah Lot.

Pura Luhur Uluwatu (Uluwatu Temple)

Uluwatu temple lies 30 minutes drive away from Kuta. However, with the narrow roads and traffic, it took me around an hour to reach the place. Again, I have to thank Maps.Me Android app for helping me not to get lost in Bali. Entrance fee: 20,000 rupiah. Parking fee for my scooter: 1,000 rupiah.

I did not take me a long time to walk the whole stretch of the 70m high cliff of Uluwatu. I preferred the walk to the left side of the cliff as it stretched out to open field and up close to the cliff for viewing.

Near the temple, I was so cautious when it came to anywhere near the monkeys. Read so much about thieving monkeys and held on tightly to my possession.

I was a witness to a Taiwan girl who was so into posing for photo that she did not realise a monkey was behind her and snatched her sunglasses. Her boyfriend watched helplessly as the monkey bit the sunglasses and jumped away with it. So, now we know who has not been reading TripAdvisor before going to Uluwatu.

Kidding. But seriously, one should read a bit more before going on holiday.

Uluwatu was crowded but there was more space at the end of the trek. It was nice to spend some time away from the temple structure, enjoying the sound of the waves crashing onto the cliff and the breeze.

Uluwatu temple is best to be visited in the late afternoon. I stayed for the 6pm Kecak Fire Dance. There were several places in Bali that showed this kecak dance. However, in Uluwatu, at the right seating, one could view the dance as the sun set. The price was 100,000 rupiah.

To really appreciate the event, explanation of the show was distributed free to tourists. There were 5 acts shown. However, I suspected they skipped Act 3, to give a bigger role to the popular Hanoman (white monkey). The dance was not that really captivating, other than the regular kecak-cak-cak repetition. Things got more interesting when Hanoman showed up.  There were a few stories to how kecak fire dance became popular. The stories were either about the dance popularised somewhere in 1930’s or even earlier.

The fourth photo would show you Ramayana and Sita, who were supposed to be the leads in the show. Entertaining Hanoman stole the scenes too often.
The fourth photo would show you Ramayana and Sita, who were supposed to be the leads in the show. Entertaining Hanoman stole the scenes too often.

The show ran for almost an hour, leaving the exit time somewhere after the sun set. I was afraid the lane would be too dark for me to ride my scooter. However, since other vehicles were leaving too, and there were many, the ride was not so bad.

May 22: Ubud

I let my imagination of Ubud got the better of me. It was still a nice place, but not what I had expected. Perhaps too touristy now. It felt crowded. Still, it was a nice getaway from Kuta, Bali. Perhaps it was nice too because of the right accommodation.

Duana's Homestay. RM50 a night.
Duana’s Homestay. RM50 a night.

Duana’s Homestay was really near to Art Market and offered really quiet, cool accommodation. I loved the breakfast. Free coffee and friendly staff members. If this looks familiar, it is the same design as the Bali house Julia Roberts’ character visited in Bali, when she went to talk to the fortune teller.

Campuhan Ridge Walk

Stated in TripAdvisor as the no.1 thing to do in Ubud, I set out for Campuhan Ridge Walk after Duana’s Homestay. Although there was an advice to take a stroll there in the morning (aka cooler), I wanted to see if I could view sunset from the end of the 2km walk.

There was no entrance fee, and I bumped into local lovers hanging out at the beginning of the walk. At the end of the walk, there was a cafe, overseeing the paddy field. And in between, growling dogs that would make Campuhan a less popular place in the future.

Without those dogs and the warm afternoon, the walk would have been nicer.

The whole walk took me around 2 hours.

Ceking Terrace Paddy Field

In 2013, foolishly not knowing what Tegalalang was famous for, I turned down the suggestion by my tour guide to take a walk in the paddy field. I did not know the big deal about it. Yes, it was beautiful and the morning was quiet. But I just thought it was a casual stop. Since then, I had been eager to return to walk around the UNESCO World Heritage Site paddy field.

No entrance fee was imposed. However, to cross the small bridge, a small donation was asked. I gave 5,000 rupiah and was accepted with a kind smile.

Incidentally, a funny thing happened on my way up and out of the terrace. Check youtube and anyone could see black and white videos of old Bali, where it was acceptable for Bali women to be topless. On my way out, I came across an old Balinese woman, topless, holding postcards to sell to passing-by tourists. She was waiting for them along the steps. When someone pointed camera at her, she danced, jiggling her old breasts before asking the photographer and friends to buy postcards from her at the price of 30,000 rupiah.

I was at the bottom of the steps, awaiting to go up. I made way for the other tourists to come down. As I was walking up, I realised I had made a mistake. By waiting, I became the last person to pass by her. I did, and tried not to make any eye contact or even looking at her. She called out to me, wiggling her postcards and said 25,000 rupiah. I declined, politely. Still, no eye contact. As I walked away from her, I could hear her shouting for me to wait. I quickened my pace. It was like I was trying to run away from a naked old woman. I could hear her laughing as I got away.

Phew.

Pura Gunung Kawi

May 24: Mount Kawi Temple

Mount Kawi Temple was wrongly mapped by Google (and it was not 1.5 hours away but merely 30 minutes).

There were two Gunung Kawi in Bali. One was above Tanah Lot. The other one was near Tirta Empul, Tampak Siring. The second one was the right one.

I rode out in the morning to see this Mount Kawi Temple, which was relatively less crowded. There were more popular temples in Bali that somehow, this 1000 year old Mount Kawi Temple complex was outshone.

Pura Gunung Kawi (Mount Kawi Temple)
Pura Gunung Kawi (Mount Kawi Temple)

There was 330 steps down to the complex. Entrance fee was 15,000 rupiah.

I liked this site more because there were less people. There were many young locals on the morning I was there. It was a nice walk to the complex. with a pleasant view of paddy field. Before entering the complex, with your sarong, of course, I was required to sprinkle holy water on myself. The water was provided near the entrance, at the end of the 330th step.

Pura Gunung Kawi is the only temple complex in Bali where candis are carved out from the rock cliff in the valley. There are 9 candis in this complex. 4 are near the entrance, to the left. The other 5 are located across the bridge. The 5 candis remind one of the similar sculptures of Prambanan candis. There is a stream and a small waterfall in the complex.

I enjoyed my morning walk there. It was cooling and less touristy. This complex offered nothing much, but it was a good getaway from the crowd in other tourist areas.

It was a day where many young locals came for offering. I did not manage to ask them what the event was.

On my way out of Ubud, I stopped by and snapped some photos of Ubud Art Market.

Kuta Beach

May 25: Kuta Beach

Kuta Beach, Bali
Kuta Beach, Bali

Kuta Beach did not leave any great impression on me the last time I was in Bali. Perhaps, it was so scorching hot during my last trip. This time, I forced myself to go there in the morning, when the weather/temperature was kinder.

It was a good stroll at the beach. Even in the early morning, beach activities were already picking up. Many stopped me along the way, asking me if I had wanted to learn surfing.

I cut myself, trying to climb up some slippery rocks. So, it was a wounded walk along the beach, where blood was oozing out of my injured foot. Still, nothing stopped me from snapping more photos of the busy, long stretched beach. The waves were strong and I was told that the water was not that deep. Hence, more were willing to learn to surf.

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Busy morning at Kuta Beach, Bali.

Tanah Lot

Pura Batu Bolong, Tanah Lot
Pura Batu Bolong, Tanah Lot

The ride to Tanah Lot took more than an hour. I journeyed out early, in order to be there before the sun set. Just like the day before, the sky was cloudy. And yet, just like that day before, it did not rain.

Entrance fee was 30,000 rupiah and 2,000 for parking fee.

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Same place for posing, as in 2013, for Tanah Lot.

The best journey was to the left, seeing all those other temple lots before the main one.

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To have the famous Tanah Lot temple with the sunset as the backdrop, I have to walk to the further end of the beach. There, in hoping for a good sunset view, I sat and waited. It was not meant to be, with the dark clouds and more. Still, it was nice to see there, enjoying the quiet space and the breeze.

And as the sun set down, it was time to bid farewell to Bali and its famous landmark Tanah Lot. It was a worthwhile trip and an adventure, definitely, to go around Bali on scooter.

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Sunset arrived, signalling the end of my journey in Indonesia for this year.
Goodbye, Bali.
Goodbye, Bali.

Backpacking in Lombok: Coconut trees, emerald-green water beaches and waterfalls

May 17: KL to Lombok: RM136 Airasia.

Sendang Gile Waterfall

May 18: The scooter ride from Senggigi La Casa Homestay took longer than 3 hours, as the road from Senggigi to Pemenang and then to Senaru offered some many beautiful sceneries. It was impossible not to stop. Senaru is known for the point where hikers will climb Mount Rinjani. Not me. I was there for two known beauties – Sendang Gile and Tiu Kelep waterfalls.

Entrance fee was 10,000 rupiah for a foreigner. I got myself a guide. That cost me another 60,000 rupiah. It was worth it, coz Anong really watched over me – offering to carry my items for me, warning me of slippery path, being my cameraman and more. The walk to Sendang Gile was only 10 minutes from the entrance.

After spending a few minutes struggling to snap good photos of Sendang Gile, I was ready for the real beauty – the most famous beautiful waterfall in Lombok, other than Benang Kelambu waterfall. So, Anong walked with me for another 30 minutes, on the path, bridge, passing by the tunnel and across the stream. And there, I felt my joy. I saw it from afar. Tiu Kelep Waterfall This is Tiu Kelep waterfall – the ageless waterfall. It is known as such as the water never runs dry, even during non-raining season. A bath in the pond beneath the waterfall is said to cure anyone of any skin disease. There were less people there than at Sendang Gile waterfall. Spent several minutes trying to get the best photos and then, dipped myself in the water. It was really cold.

On my down the hilly road, the terrace paddy field on my right caught my site. I had heard of Teres Genit Village and its paddy field. It was beautiful.

Teres Genit Village, view from somewhere near Rinjani Lodge.
Teres Genit Village, view from somewhere near Rinjani Lodge.

Down the hill and turned right, feeling adventurous, I rode out to seek for Teres Genit Village to have an up-close view of the place. It was another 6km before I found a split road. Instead of turning left, I rode my scooter into the straight path

Before the day became dark, in an unfamiliar land, I decided to ride back to Senggigi. Also in hope to see sunset at Senggigi beach. It was not easy. Too many wonderful scenery along the way that made me stop too often.

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On my way to Bangsal to catch public ferry to Gili Trawangan.

May 19: Parking my scooter at the motorcycle park for only 10,000 rupiah (for one night), I walked past all the touts and headed for the office where I bought my public ferry ticket, for 15,000 rupiah. Plus entrance fee into the island and other stuff – another 3,000 rupiah. The ferry ride was a 45 minutes journey. Sitting on the left hand side was a blessing as shade helped to protect one from the burning sunlight. As the ferry (which was a normal boat) reached Gili Trawangan, I understood the fuss over the island and its sisters – Gili Meno and Gili Air. I did not go to the other two. Gili Trawangan is known as the party island. I moved away from the crowd, and found my own space in this lovely island.

Almost everywhere, the beach looks like this in Gili Trawangan. Multi-fold colours of water.
Almost everywhere, the beach looks like this in Gili Trawangan. Multi-fold colours of water.

Stayed in Intan Inn Hostel, in a room of 3 beds. I booked one bed but ended up having the whole room to myself as it was a low season. With in-room bathroom and aircon. Cool, right? No blanket, unfortunately. Sigh. Still, it was a good place to stay in. Cheap and at the right location. Not far from the main road, and quiet enough. Good wifi connection. One can handle Gili Trawangan by walking around. If not, one could hire bicycle for 40,000 rupiah. Or take a ride on cidomo.

I walked. It was easier to snap photos that way.

Walk to the end, near the viewpoint, one could see the surfing activities. I sat in water but spent more time snapping photos of the surfers.

IMG_6477Before the evening came, I made my way to search for the viewpoint. It was not easy to find the spot. I swore I was lost before turning up at a spot so flat, among the bushes and trees that I knew it was there I would stand to greet the setting sun. More tourists showed up, sharing the small space. It was never that crowded. Just a nice size of people who wanted to get away from the partying crowd. The sun set at 6pm and I made my way back to the main road. There, I passed by the night market, where I bought 10 sticks of sate for the price of 20,000 rupiah.

Sunrise at the main road of Gili T. Across the water, stood Mount Rinjani.
Sunrise at the main road of Gili T. Across the water, stood Mount Rinjani.

I headed back to Lombok. The initial plan to catch a fastboat or cheap public ferry to Bali was cancelled after reading the net stories/experience of those who dared. The advice would be to take morning ferry to or from Bali. Afternoon sea was rougher. Still, after finding out that Lion Wings offered lower price for flight, I changed my itinerary, to include flight to Bali, from Lombok. So, it was time to set out again – back to Senggigi.

May 20: The journey back to Senggigi took longer than I had expected. I stopped by Pantai Vulkanik Nipah, a curve along the highway, where it stood out as a cliff. It was also known as Malimbu Hill. The cove after the cliff displayed wonderful mixture blue and green sea., where the beach would rise up to meet the green valley.

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Pantai Vulkanik Nipah (Nipah Volcanic Beach)

By the time I reached La Casa Homestay and headed out for Benang Stokel and Benang Kelambu waterfalls, it was already close to lunch time. The journey took me through the city Mataram.

Benang Stokel Waterfall
Benang Stokel Waterfall

The journey took me 2 hours, across the city and then to quiet town roads, leading into village. As the turning approached, there would be many stalls selling tourists’ souvenirs. Turned left and headed for a long journey into Aik Berik Village. Here, I faced another situation where there was an attempt to coax me to pay a tour package for Benang Stokel and Benang Kelambu waterfalls. I refused to pay for the package, which was more than 150,000 rupiah. At the end, I settled for 50,000 rupiah, where I thought I would be getting a tour guide. I was not given any. Entrance fee was supposed to be only 10,000 rupiah. Felt bitter. And was already tired.

The walk to Benang Stokel started almost immediately after going through the main gate. There would be a path on the left. A walk around 10 minutes on that path led me to the area where Benang Stokel waterfall stood.

Turning back, and back to the main road, I walked up the hill. This was more tiring than walking towards Tiu Kelep Waterfall. I was told that I could ride my scooter in. However, I had no idea that the walk would take more than 30 minutes. Although there were others who offered to fetch me for a fee, I continued walking. The path split twice. Somehow, my tired mind told me to continue with the left turning. So, I did. Eventually, I found someone who would fetch me for free. It was a short ride, as I was almost there.

Benang Kelambu waterfall
Benang Kelambu waterfall

Some tourists walked here. Some drove here. Some paid for tour package to come here.

Although I had wanted to check out Tanjung Aan, Pink Beach and the other beaches in Lombok, somehow, my watch told me that I was running out of time. The afternoon was about to roll into evening. Moreover, I was getting a bit tired of seeing beaches for awhile. So, I headed back and reached the beach behind Jayakarta Hotel in Senggigi, around 5.30pm.

May 21: The next morning, La Casa Homestay helped me to call for Damri bus to pick me up at the main road. I was heading for Praya Airport, to catch my flight to Bali. Lion Wings flight to Bali took only 30 minutes and cost me RM80.

Tips:

  1. Despite what they claim, no tourists need to pay for tour guides/tour package, just to get into the areas to see the waterfalls. The entrance fee are only 10,000 rupiah each. I paid for a tour guide at Senaru and was happy with my decision.
  2. Try to fill your gas/petrol at Mataram. The price would be half of what one pays for petrol, sold by villagers, along the way at Pemenang.
  3. The best time to ride out and see the beaches in Senggigi, in my limited experience, is around 9am. Any earlier, too misty. Any later, less calming sea.
  4. Use Maps.Me app from Android. Download Indonesia map. It really helped when I did not have any data plan. Maps.Me works without internet. It is not perfect but it helps.
  5. If you are willing to, pay more to ride on safer boat from Bangsal, Lombok to Gili. I paid 18,000 rupiah. A fast boat ticket should be around 73,000 rupiah. At least it would not be overloaded. However, if you should go into public ferry, try to sit near the very few life jackets/life buoys.
  6. Heading to Gili T, try to sit on the left hand side of the boat as you enter the boat. Heading to Lombok, sit on the other side. This should help you to avoid sunburn.
  7. Try Intan Inn Hostel cafe for meals. The food was good and the price was lower than those on the main road of Gili Trawangan.
  8. If you really want to take the fast boat from Gili T to Bali, then, it is best to buy the ticket when you are on the island. Do not buy online as the price is higher. But if you want to buy online, then, I have heard of good remarks on Blue Water Express.
  9. The best time to travel between Gili and Bali is in the morning, when the sea is calmer. Avoid using these boats during rainy season.
  10. I was told that there would be hostel room for the price of 50,000 rupiah a night, with air con and hot shower. I could not verify this. This would definitely be better than the 120,000 rupiah I had paid for La Casa Homestay. La Casa Homestay is around 4km away from Art Market. Generally, the whole Senggigi town is a quiet town. So, it does not really matter where one stays in Senggigi as it would be quiet nights there.

Generally, although my stay was short, I had fond memories of Lombok and Gili T. Definitely would recommend friends to these islands.