The First Leg
16 hours on a plane. 16! That’s a whole lot of time to spend up in the air. Ok so it is two separate planes and there is time disembarking in between but still, this is the furthest and longest travel experience I’ve ever had. Before this trip the longest flight I’d been on was to New York and even that I found pretty exhausting.
Let me start with the admission that I’m not the best flyer. I know, I know it’s annoying when people say that – it’s as common as grabbing a taxi these days – but I’m not scared of flying, far from it, I love the fact that air travel can get us to the other side of the world in such an easy and convenient way. No, I just get really bad earache. I realise that statement makes me sound terribly lame and you were probably expecting me to tell you of some panic attack inducing crippling fear that I have managed to overcome especially for my honeymoon – sorry no such drama over here.
It is pretty lame but it’s true, terrible earache is my in flight entertainment no matter whether it’s a two hour flight or a twenty hour one. I know your thinking ‘Jeez! Man up! The pressure of being up in the air makes me feel like my head is about to explode every second of the flight. And then just when I think I’ve got a handle of the pain, we start the descent and then I remember the last five hours were bliss compared to this excruciating situation. I’ve tried everything – decongestants, nasal sprays, herbal remedies, sucky sweets, chewing gum the whole way through so my ears never close up – none of it works, and the longer the flight, the worse the pain. It’s always been my thing – discovered on my very first flight when we went on a family holiday to Holland and I proceeded to scream (not cry) the whole way there without an ounce of let up. In my defence I was very little and I didn’t know what was happening to me, I presumed that this was what you had to go through when you got on a plane and wondered why no one else around me seemed to be inflicted. I took the hot drinks and sucky sweets from the kind air hostess who clearly wanted me to shut up so her job wasn’t so difficult and attempted to get some sympathy from my mum who was clearly not expecting to have to deal with a screeching toddler so early on in the holiday.
Things have got better since then of course. I’ve learned coping mechanisms which start with loading up on decongestant tablets pre flight and end with stuffing a whole pack of wine gums in my gob and chewing furiously as we descend again. And I’d never let my infliction (so dramatic – it’s really not that bad) stop me from travelling to the parts of the world that we are now so lucky to be in reach of, but you can understand my nerves ahead of this epic journey. I’d never tested my wine gum remedy on a flight longer than seven hours, and I was about to head into a four hour flight followed swiftly by a twelve hour one with another five hour the day after that. Sheesh.
But paradise is awaiting us at the end of it, and a honeymoon of adventure and beauty and sights I’ve never seen before is calling, and so I’m ‘manning up’. As I write this I’m on around hour 10 of the flight marathon. I managed to persuade GB to allow us a night in Hong Kong to break up the journey before we tackle the final leg (five hour flight followed by two hour car journey followed by one and a half hour speedboat (or as its otherwise known ‘vomit comet’) followed finally by a horse and cart to our beachside accommodation) so we have about four hours of stiff calfs and aching bum muscles (and of course ongoing earache) before we are on solid ground once again. For one night at least.
Actually that first four hour flight wasn’t bad at all, apart from the mild head exploding situation which I’ve managed to block out somewhat in my old age, you could say it was even enjoyable. Four hours is enough time to get one good film in and maybe a few episodes of something. With it being the first foray into an aeroplane, the in flight meal is still mildly exciting (what did you get? Ooh chicken satay!) and the lure of free drink extremely appealing.
By hour 10 though, things aren’t quite so rosy. The films are starting to get tedious (Pitch Perfect 2 wasn’t nearly as funny as Pitch Perfect 1), the meals are no longer exciting, just repetitive, and that half custard half mousse dessert which on first try was the remedy to a sweet tooth is now making you feel a bit sick. Despite moving around as much as I could, my legs and feet have totally swollen up and I’m currently panicking I have deep vein thrombosis. There’s no comfortable way to sit in this seat any longer and everything smells of plane, including me. My stomach is completely confused as to why it’s getting fed stew at 3am and I’m too tired to figure out whether I should be sleeping or trying to stay awake. The little screen in front of me with the graphic of a plane flying over India is a depressing reminder of how little we have moved from our original destination despite being in the air for six hours.
Yup, Right now flying sucks and I’d give anything to be anywhere but a plane. But I just keep dreaming of those blue skies and cocktails and reminding myself why we’re doing it!
GB on the other hand hasn’t been able to wipe the grin off his face since we left. I’d like to believe it’s because he’s excited about our wonderful honeymoon together but I suspect it’s more to do with the fact he has sixteen hours ahead of doing nothing while watching back to back movies.
Sleep is the only option so I whip off my shoes, put my earplugs and eye mask on, pull the travel blanket over me and drift off to the sound of an annoying acapello song I haven’t been able to get out of my head since Pitch Perfect 2.
Arriving in Hong Kong
Never before have I been so happy to get off a plane. Feeling solid ground beneath my oversized cankles is the most wonderful thing and even my temporary deafness (a side effect to all the earache which provides GB with much amusement for the next couple of hours) can’t wipe the smile from my face. I don’t have to get on another stinky flight for at least 23 hours – hurrah!
And our bags come out into the baggage hold in the first drop – double hurrah!
As we take the 24 minute airport express train into the centre of the city, I’m glued to my window, taking in all of the sights on the way- high rise buildings reach way past my vision, mountains are peaked with smog and the lakes are lit up with the lights of the city nearby. We hop off the train at central station and get the short taxi ride to our hotel, a sleek 15 floor building looking out with a view of the city. Our surroundings are a total feast for the eyes and I’m struck by how familiar yet unfamiliar Hong Kong feels – in one way as we pass giant HSBC buildings, and see McDonald’s and Starbucks on every corner it feels just like home, but then turn the other way and your met with streets lined with Chinese, Cantonese and Vietnamese eateries, apartment buildings which reach so high they seem to merge into the smoggy sky and red and white taxis which speed through the streets narrowly missing people happily crossing the street with a wheelbarrow full of food without abandon.
It’s around 5pm local time as we arrive (although it’s really first thing in the morning for us) so after a much needed shower and power nap we head out into the area around our hotel in search of sustenance which comes in the form of chicken pho and Tsing Tao beer from a nearby diner. Our meals are huge and yet cost us the equivalent of around £4! Amazing!
We attempt a walk after dinner but as its getting dark and we don’t know where we are heading we find ourselves stumbling into a bar near our hotel instead. A hipster place full of cool individuals drinking cocktails, in my jet lagged state I almost forget where I am it all seems so normal, but then I see the Cantonese menu and the buzz of people speaking a language that’s so alien to us and I get a pang of excitement at the idea of where we are and what we’re doing. Despite the long journey that lies behind us (and the one ahead), it’s unbelievably amazing to think that in less than a day we have travelled to the other side of the world and are now casually drinking beer (at the equivalent of 10am in the morning) in a hipster bar in the middle of Hong Kong! As they say, the world is only as big as you make it.
A Day in HK
Waking up in our Hong Kong hotel room is a strange experience. Sleep was welcomed after the long flight but made me easily forget where I was waking up to. I’m not sure how much sleep I got last night but the jet lag has set in and I feel more tired today than I did yesterday. We know we need to get up and adapt to the time zone though so we pull ourselves out of the comfort of the bed, pack up and check out of our hotel ready for a day of exploring. We have one day this side of the holiday and one day on the way home so although time is limited we can probably cross off some of the key sights within the two stop overs.
We head to a cafe the hotel recommends for breakfast with a map in hand ready to plan our day over a relaxed morning coffee and we’re greeted with an altogether British (and once again very hipster) setting. The cute coffee shop serves pancakes and maple syrup, eggs benedict, and Bircher muesli. They have cheeses from Neals Yard and English speaking waiters – it’s like we’ve stepped back to London all over again. Still not really knowing what a traditional Hong Kong breakfast looks like, we order coffee, iced tea, pancakes and poached eggs and work out a rough plan for the day. We’ve got an overnight flight to Bali in the evening so we’ve got to head to the airport around 5pm. I grab some recommendations from Twitter and the two things that keep coming up are the Ladies Market in Mongkok and the peak (Hong Kong’s highest viewing tower to see the city). MongKok is a bit further away from where we are so we decide to leave that for the trip on the way back and instead explore some of the areas on this side of the city before heading up the peak.
GB seems overly excited at the idea of visiting ‘the worlds longest escalator’ and despite the fact I’m wondering how an escalator can be classed as an attraction, it’s nearby and seems like fun so we head there first. What actually awaits us is a series of outdoor escalators which take you up and up through the city so you can stop off and see the sights or simply ride to the top and marvel at the city as you pass. I’m unconvinced to begin with as it really does just seem like an escalator but as we get higher I realise it’s a clever way to get through the city without needing to climb lots of stairs or hills and getting a glimpse of the individual streets and people as we pass is pretty cool. We ride all the way to the top which takes us close to the zoological and botanical gardens so we decide to walk through this to get to the peak tram.
I was imagining a few plants and maybe an aviary but this place is huge, a million different entrances and exits and winding paths almost designed to make you get lost. There are far more animals than I had expected and I’m a little taken aback when we come to the end of a garden path to see a cage full of orangutang. I have to admit I’m not a big fan of zoos, especially those in the middle of a city like this which seem so random and the cages so small. Knowing that we’ll be seeing these beautiful creatures in the wild soon in Borneo makes me feel even sadder to look at their faces squashed against the glass windows. There’s quite an array of wildlife though and after passing a truly giant tortoise (giant!!) and some lion faced tamarins we find the gibbons who seem to be having a great time swinging across the bars at warp speed so I don’t feel so bad by the end of it. We don’t spend too much time around the animals though and carry on through the gardens to the exit.
The peak tram is right around the corner and we realise it truly is one of Hong Kong’s main attractions when we see the large queue for tickets. We wait for around 30 mins only to reach the counter and be told we can’t use our travel card and will need cash, with the nearest atm being back down the road at the citi bank. By this point the jet lag has really hit both of us, we’re tired and a bit grumpy and having also just got an annoying update about our flight which has messed with all of our travel plans and is basically going to see us miss out on a day at the beach (sad face) it’s all a bit too much and the walk back to citi bank to helplessly search for an atm that is nowhere to be found nearly finishes us off. We take refuge in Pacific Coffee (HK’s answer to Starbucks, they are everywhere) where I have to go and have a little de-stress cry in the public toilets (it happens to us all right?) while GB gets us some drinks so we can sit down, relax and re- schedule all our travel plans.
It’s now about 2pm so we realise that if we want to get up to the peak and back before the airport we should go now so after eventually finding the elusive atm we head back into the queue once again and get our tickets. The tram is a great experience- the journey is so steep it could be a very scary roller coaster ride was it going just a bit faster and we reach the top in record time. Yet more escalators take us through the shopping mall to the sky tower- the viewing platform at the top.
At this point I should tell you that Hong Kong isn’t nearly as hot as I was expecting- the smog is covering any sun and it may even be a little colder than the London we left behind. I’ve been wearing my only cardigan all day and still a little chilly, but the top of the peak is freezing! It’s so windy I’m scared to get my phone out for a photo in case it blows out of my hand and the level of fog is so low that we can barely see anything of the view! We realise we may have picked the worst day to come to this particular attraction but our coffees have kicked in now and and we end up having a great time, giggling through the selfies that look as if they could have been taken anywhere, and admitting defeat with the non existent view.
The Second Leg
It’s currently around 3am and we’re fending off sleep to wait for our flight to be called in Singapore airport. That annoying flight update I mentioned? Annoying doesn’t really cut it, total pain in the ass might be more apt. We were booked onto a direct flight to Bali from Hong Kong, which should have only taken about five hours and would have seen us arriving in Denpasar in the early hours of the morning, with a transfer waiting to take us to the first boat out of Padang Bai harbour. Now at the time we should be almost reaching Bali, we are stuck in Singapore, a five hour wait of which we are only three hours into. The airline waited until the day of the flight to inform us of the change – no longer direct and now a flight back to Singapore followed by an even longer flight to Bali with a five hour wait in between. We are essentially going back on ourselves (oh how I hate going back on myself) and taking twice as long to get to Bali as we should have. We now won’t arrive until 8am which safe to say has made us miss our transfer and our boat to the island we’re staying on. There are only three boats a day so we’re currently trying to find out if we can swap to one of the later boats out of Padang Bai but if not we may be spending the night in the airport and lose a whole day of our beach trip.
Understandably I’m not best pleased about this situation, but as I’ve mentioned that to GB around 500 times now, and he has repeatedly told me there is nothing we can do (rightly so) I’m attempting to keep my mouth shut and make the best it. Thankfully Singapore airport is large and bustling even at this early hour of the morning and there is plenty to do. We’ve opted to do none of it of course in favour of eating free food and lounging on large sofas in the airport lounge (thank goodness for that lounge card we got just before the trip that’s all I can say).
After a freezing cold departure gate and a few episodes of Americas Got Talent we are finally on the plane and on route. This second flight is due to take four hours (almost as long as the direct flight) and we’re now on our fourth aeroplane of the trip, clocking up 23 hours in the air. But I’m just so happy to be on route to our destination that I don’t care. I manage to sleep a little and wake just in time to capture a snap of sunshine clouds from the window before we’re heading down towards Denpasar airport.
Stepping off the plane we are immediately hit with HEAT! Thank goodness, after Hong Kong I was worried Bali might not be hot but oh boy it is, and the short walk from inside the airport to the Starbucks outside (where our re-scheduled transfer is picking us up) sees us both covered in sweat. Another two hour wait is in store but with a cold drink in hand and the sun shining it doesn’t seem so bad. I fall sleep in the chair for half an hour or so and then swiftly wish I hadn’t as can hardly keep my eyes open once the time has come to meet our pick up driver. When we finally greet each other though and begin the next step of our journey, we are met with a car that is sweltering hot with no air con. The driver doesn’t seem phased by this at all but we are nearly dying. We stop to pick up another young couple also heading the same way as us and small talk ensues for around ten minutes until we all realise we are SO tired and so hot that even talking is difficult.
The driver tells us the journey to Padang Bai harbour is only an hour yet this hot sweltering car situation seems to go on forever and we still don’t know if we are able to board the boat. After endless winding roads, overtaking motorbikes and a journey that feels more like three hours than one, with us drifting in and out of sleep, we eventually arrive at the harbour which is a frantic busy dock full of different boats, different boat companies, throngs of tourists and Balinese women trying to sell us fruit. It’s baking hot and the clothes we wore to fly feel like they want to be stripped off and thrown in the sea never to be seen again they are so icky. We are told we can’t get on the 1pm boat but can board the 2pm; later than we planned but I’m just grateful that we can at least reach our hotel today even if it is late by the time we get there.
Waiting that hour for the boat to arrive was the most excruciating wait of the trip so far – we are so unbelievably hot and sweaty and the air is muggy beyond belief. I’ve downed one bottle of water already and onto my second and I’m so tired it’s a struggle to even stand.
The boat is just as much of a crazy experience as I had imagined – we had read it was sometimes referred to as the ‘vomit comet’ and it’s easy to see why. Choppy was not the word – an hour and a half of pounding the waves while attempting to watch Fast and Furious 6 in Balinese on the screen in front to take my mind off the seasickness. Our bags were thrown in on top of a million backpacks and two floors of the cabin were full to the brim of students, families and fellow honeymooners. It was the most bizarre experience I’ve ever had but I wasn’t able to stop and realise that until after we got off as all I could think amidst the crazy speed ride was 1. Don’t be sick. And 2. Don’t pee yourself.
But then suddenly a shoreline was in sight and the words Gili Trawangan carved out in wood against a tree – we had arrived! It was 4pm when we hopped off the boat and waited for our suitcases to be thrown off with us, almost 24 hours since we left Hong Kong. But looking out to the most beautiful view I think I’ve ever seen made the horror of those last hours all fade away. It was quite simply BREATHTAKING.
We had reached Paradise and despite the fact we were hot, exhausted and a little shaky on the legs, it felt amazing!! I guess the most beautiful places on earth are never going to be easy to get to are they?
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! In my next travel diary I’ll share how we spent ours with the first part of our Bali adventure!