Santi Mandala Villa & Spa was nothing short of magical. For $100/night we had a private villa with exotic outdoor bathroom at this quiet resort in Ubud, Bali. There’s nothing as serene as sitting on your private deck gazing at a waterfall and watching the birds flitter by. The grounds are lush, hilly, and floral with lots of stone paths to explore on your spa day in, which you’ll need after pounding the pavement for a day or two. The excellent breakfast spread included pink crepes and a pool view.
It’s hard not to describe Bali in hyperbolic terms like “paradise” and for good reason. One of 17,000 islands in Indonesia, this home of four million people is only 90 miles (east to west) by 50 miles
Contrast the fury with which Balinese drive to the languid charm of terraced rice fields, blackened temples, and impromptu gardens. After our sojourn up the enchanting mountain, I was irresistibly draw down. A steep descent through charcoaled lava fields was rewarded with this stunning lake view and a spontaneous dip in hot springs, eh hem, sans swim suit (no photographic evidence below). Hey, that’s why I always bring a scarf when I travel.
Not for the faint of heart or flimsy of shoe, a visit to the idyllic Gunung Kawi temple in Tampaksiring requires descending nearly 400 steps, which is fine until you realize there’s no way out but back up. As Balinese never miss a merchandising opportunity, the steps down to the temple are lined with fierce hawkers (watch out for the women) of sarongs, jewelry, and all the standard Balinese bric-a-brac. Whatever you do, don’t buy until you’re almost out of the place.
Just being near the mountain was invigorating for me. Without going all Crouching Tiger, I truly felt a sort of energy from it, and at the same time, a peaceful tranquility. We couldn’t have had a better view, a refreshing breeze wafting through open-air balcony of Grand Puncak Sari Restaurant where we lunched. This is a good time to tell you just how fresh, spicy, and flavorful Indonesian food is. For someone who subsists on veggies, tofu, and seafood, I was in heaven.
With its iconic skyline, I was very much looking forward to seeing Hong Kong. It mattered not that the fog rolled in and didn’t roll out. The weather was cooler than Guam and that’s all that mattered to us! For a panoramic view of one of the world’s most famous skylines, we hopped aboard the Star Ferry. Transversing the Victoria Harbour in 15 minutes, it’s the best way to take in both the dramatic mountains and the skyscrapers lining the Kowloon and Hong Kong islands. And for only $2.50, we rode the Ferry a couple times to give our aching feet a respite from all the pavement pounding.
One of the highlights of our Hong Kong visit was a leisurely ride through the mountains in a glass gondola. It was a relief after navigating the über crowded Victoria Harbour area. Whether your destination is the Big Buddha or you just want to take in the fog-laden scenery, riding in a glass gondola is a spectacular visual treat. The cable car links rural Ngong Ping with urban Tung Chung.
Hong Kong is not the kind of city you visit without an agenda. Even if that agenda is as simple as sightseeing and shopping, you need a reference point to navigate the bustling city streets and crowded alleys. Fortunately, Hong Kong’s metro (MRT) is one of the best and cheapest in the world. Just purchase an Octopus card for multi-rides and map out your destination before you get packed like sardines into a subway car in this cosmopolitan city of 7 million.
Our travels this month took us first to Hong Kong before jetting off to Indonesia. A big city is always a welcome experience for this island-dweller. Hong Kong has an easy, cheap, and efficient metro that allowed us to do a ton of exploring in just three days.