20 Signs You’ve Been in Southeast Asia Too Long

20 Signs You’ve Been in Southeast Asia Too Long

Use Grammarly for proofreading because typos are for dirty backpackers. Ha.

You’ve been in Southeast Asia too long when…

Chang starts to taste good. And Singha tastes even better.

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You no longer flinch when you jump into an ice-cold shower.

You consider $2 to be an outrageous price to pay for a beer.

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You haven’t had a massage in two weeks and that feels like a really long time.

You’ve had your clothes and wallet stolen when skinny-dipping.

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You carry a huge bottle of water wherever you go.

It seems completely normal to take off your flip flops before entering a building.

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You refer to tank tops as singlets and mopeds as motorbikes.

You’re starting to get an English accent because 70% of the people you meet are from England. You also use expressions like “taking the piss” and “I can’t be asked.”

You have survived at least one border crossing.

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You have scars all over your legs from scrapes and mosquito bites.

You have to throw out all your make-up because you’re too tan.

You’ve stayed at a hostel with bedbugs.

5 pints of beer no longer makes you tipsy.

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You’re definitely templed out.

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You’re a pro at using squat toilets…

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…And you throw toilet paper away in the trash without even thinking.

You own more than one pair of hippy pants.

You can get a good night’s rest on an overnight bus.

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You’re emotionally attached to your backpack.

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And even though you have to sleep here…

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You get to eat here.

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And party here.

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And lay out here.

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So life is pretty damn great.

Have you ever backpacked Southeast Asia?

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Tiny Paradise: A Week on Gili Trawangan

Tiny Paradise: A Week on Gili Trawangan

After my three-week yoga retreat in land-locked Ubud, I was craving ocean air. So I booked a ferry ticket to Gili Trawangan, a tiny, teardrop-shaped island off the coast of Lombok.

Though Gili Trawangan (or as it is locally known, Gili T) is geographically close to Bali, culturally it’s worlds away: most of the islanders are from nearby Lombok, a predominantly Muslim island that speaks Sasak, not Balinese.

Gili Trawangan in a word is utterly, stupidly beautiful. The first time I stood on the beach and looked out at the tourmaline waters and backdrop of sharp, navy blue mountains, I couldn’t believe my luck; my last week in Asia would be spent here?

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During my week on Gili T I carved out a blissful routine; waking up to a banana pancake breakfast, riding my bike around the island’s sandy main road, snorkeling with sea turtles, sipping a Bintang with my toes in the sand.

There were so many moments that had me longing for my camera: a girl riding a lime green bike on a path strewn with magenta flower petals, a man washing his horse in the ocean with a cone-tipped island behind him.

But it was good to take a break from photography, from documenting every moment; it was healthy to just be. Sometimes it starts to feel like everything I do is for this blog. When I travel I spend my days writing posts in my head, snapping photos and imagining how they’ll be formatted on a web page.

On Gili I just soaked it in; dodging horse-carts and kinky-tailed cats on my bike (there are no cars or dogs on the island!), waking up to the call of prayer at the mosque, savoring my daily slice of homemade banana coconut bread, the juice of a freshly sliced mango.

I also found a few new ways to stay active- stand-up paddle boarding. It’s a low-key workout that let me slip into a near meditative trance; I found such joy paddling around and staring at the clear water and reefs below me.

Aside from reveling in the island’s backpacker nightlife (a much-needed escape from my ascetic existence in Ubud), here is what I got up to on Gili T.

Scuba-diving with Sharks and Sea Turtles

No visit to Gili Trawangan would be complete with a bit of diving- I splurged on two dives during my week-long visit. The diving on Gili is truly exceptional, and as my dive instructor put it, “Gili T makes Koh Tao look like a swimming pool.”  

On the first dive I tried deep-water diving for the first time and descended to 30 meters (nearly 100 feet), and after a slight mask-clearing panic I saw my first lion fish at Haliks. The instructor showed us a few deep-water diving tricks: how red becomes purple at 30m underwater (i.e. a red coke can looks like a cherry coke), and how when you break an egg the yolk stays together and you can toss it around like a volleyball.

On my second dive at 18 meters (60 feet) at Shark Point I spotted lots of sea life: a baby reef shark swimming inside a cave, four sea turtles and one enormous sea turtle that was about the size of Blastoise. (Props if you understand that reference.)

Indonesian Cooking Class

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On account of my growing love of Indonesian food (which may strongly involve peanut sauce), I signed up for a cooking class at Sweet & Spicy Gili Cooking School.

On the menu?

Gado gado with peanut sauce, nasi goreng, steamed fish in a banana leaf, curried chicken and pandan balls rolled in coconut. Gili LR1

After the class we got to feast on all the food we made! The cooking class was the perfect activity for a rainy afternoon, and I definitely plan on recreating that addictive, spicy peanut sauce at home.

Price: about 350,000 IDR, $28 USD

Night Market

The best place to have dinner on Gili T is the local night market. Frequented by both locals and backpackers, the night market serves up tons of Indonesian delicacies on the cheap. I was so annoyed I discovered it on my second to last night!

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 Satay skewers: I loved the squid, beef and chicken. They give you a paper cone of peanut sauce to accompany your satay too!

I ventured there with a big group from the hostel and munched on satay with peanut sauce and grilled red snapper with spicy sambal. It was so much fun to have dinner with a big group, sitting around a picnic table and drinking beer for hours. Gili LR2

Left to right clockwise: three types of satay (chicken, beef, fish) soto ayam (chicken soup), grilled red snapper with sambal. 

 Sunset Bar

On my last night in Gili I rode my bike with some hostel roommates to Paradise Sunset Bar to watch the sunset. While the cloudy sky made for a lackluster sunset, we still got to enjoy a couple of Bintangs in a picture-perfect setting.

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All in all my week in Gili T was so special and I think back to my stay on this tiny island all the time.

Practical Info:

Party nights on Gili T are Weds. and Sat. Irish Bar is particularly fun for dancing!

Where I Stayed: Gili Hostel. I don’t know if I can recommend this place- when I was there the bathrooms were so filthy it was hard to breath and the beds were fumigated due to a bed bug infestation. But the rooms are large and the upstairs lounge has a lively common area.

And the hostel’s right next to the mosque so be prepared to be woken up by the loud, early morning call to prayer.

Also the shower water is brackish so girls, use buckets of leave-in conditioner.

Where to Eat: Night Market!

Where to Dive: I had an amazing experience with Blue Marlin- my Kiwi instructor Mike was amazing so ask for him.

Have you ever ventured to Gili T?

Note: None of the diving or classes I received were comped- I just want to share some great experiences I had with you guys in case you ever make it to Gili T! And you definitely should!

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Ultimate Luxury at the Samabe Bali

Ultimate Luxury at the Samabe Bali

When the same company that owns the Grand Mirage asked me if I would also like to review the Samabe, their brand-new luxury suites and villas, I couldn’t believe my luck.

My parents are fans of luxury hotels and as a kid I stayed at hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, The Peninsula or the St. Regis on special occasions. But I have never stayed anywhere even close to as luxurious at the Samabe.

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When I walked into our ocean suite, I think I actually said, “I feel like Beyoncé right now.” And when I was introduced to our personal butler for the day, I really did.

As we were granted the “Unlimited Priviledge” package, everything was complimentary: one massage a day, the mini bar, room service and all meals and alcohol.

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The view from our suite. Talk about an ocean view…

We made the most of our 24 hours in paradise. From an Indonesian cooking class…

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to lounging out on the pristine beach, enjoying an afternoon tea service…

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to knocking back a few drinks. (Obviously.)

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One of my favorite features of the resort was the infinity pool. We headed there for a dip at sunset and I now know you haven’t lived until you’ve sipped a rum cocktail under a technicolor sunset while swimming in an infinity pool.

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After the pool we enjoyed a five-course, oceanside meal.

And then in the morning we woke up to a complimentary multi-course breakfast in the room. Let’s just say we ate very well at the Samabe.

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After breakfast I took a tour of the grounds. There really are no words for how beautiful the design is so please take a look.

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Needless to say I postponed leaving as much as possible; the hotel even offered us a four p.m. check-out!

Overall I would highly, highly recommend the Samabe if you’re looking for a special vacation like a honeymoon or anniversary. I have never felt so taken care of at a hotel; from the personal butler to the beachside tea service.

Have you ever stayed at a high-end luxury resort?

The Samabe generously hosted my stay for one night. As always, all opinions are completely my own.

Climbing Mount Batur, Bali’s Most Active Volcano

Climbing Mount Batur, Bali’s Most Active Volcano

On my last week in Bali, I decided I needed to break up my serene yoga and coconut water routine with something a bit more… adventurous. So I signed myself up for an early morning trek to Mount Batur, Bali’s most active volcano.

When my alarm jolted me awake at 2 a.m. (the earliest alarm I’ve ever set), I wondered if I really need to incorporate “adventurous” activities into my Bali itinerary.

Nevertheless I piled into the van with my fellow trekkers and drove to a nearby coffee plantation for a tea and coffee tasting and a banana pancake breakfast. After my 2 a.m. wake-up call the coffee was quite welcomed.

In pitch blackness, we started out the trek on flat ground. Rocking out to Grizmatik and SBTRKT, I led the group thinking, “This is easy! Why don’t I do this more often?” My false confidence began to soar as I fantasized about my next climbs: Macchu Picchu, Ciudad Perdida in Colombia, Mount Rinjani on nearby Lombok… if this was so easy, then why not?

As my loaner flashlight started shorting out I wished I had brought a headlight. And as the incline became agonizingly steep I wished I was warm in my bed.

When I removed my headphones I realized how hard I was panting- yoga clearly hadn’t been enough cardio prep for this volcanic excursion. I took a moment to catch my breath and let everyone pass me- I don’t know about you guys but I find it stressful to worry about people behind me getting fed up with my slow-pokiness.

Thankfully, our sweet guide noticed I was struggling and offered to carry my backpack. Relieved of my heavy dSLR and water bottle, I started to feel a little hopeful. But when I asked the guide how long we had left, he cooly responded, “Only 30 more minutes.”

My internal reaction was along the lines of WHAT????? But fortunately we weren’t heading to the summit of Mount Batur, only to Sunrise Point.

As I huffed and puffed my way up the mountain, I asked my guide how often he climbed Mount Batur.

“Almost every day.”

Jesus.

When we reached Sunrise Point I rejoined my fellow trekkers in a  simple concrete shelter. The far-off mountain was still shrouded in a grey haze, so we sat down and relaxed, awaiting the sunrise. Ubud Trekking LR

Watching the fog roll in, I savored a banana sandwich and hard-boiled egg. Though the sharp-toothed macaques who were leaping around and stealing food made me feel a bit… unsettled.

Confession? I don’t like monkeys. They creep me out.

IMG_1323                                                 It’s like a cross between a rat and a human… 

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Once the golden-rayed sun made its appearance, we took a few shots and headed to the crater, where I snapped my best photos of the day- if I do say so myself. IMG_1332

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Macaques eating the offerings, par for the course on Bali.

And once we returned to the summit my hostel roommate and I staged a mini mountainside photo session. When in Bali…

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On the way back down the mountain I found myself slipping on loose, brittle, igneous rock. Even with the slipping, I much preferred descending the mountain as I felt less like dying and could actually hold a conversation.

We then crawled back into the van and drove home and on the way we saw adorable Balinese schoolchildren from the window. In my dog-tired state I realized they weren’t coming home from school, they were going to school. As so much had already happened that day, it was incredible to me that it was only 10 a.m. Normally I’m barely awake at 10 am.

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And while I was sore for the next few days, my hike to Mount Batur was an untraditional Thanksgiving that left me feeling very, very thankful.

Have you ever climbed a volcano?

I was not paid or perked in any way by Pineh Bali Tours. I would highly recommend their tour as they were super professional, punctual and needless to say had the sweetest guides ever. The trek is 400,000 IDR or about $35, including all transport and food.

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f you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it! Also, I’d love to keep you updated on my adventures in Asia and beyond, so feel free to subscribe to Ashley Abroad by email in the sidebar or connect with me on TwitterFacebook or Bloglovin.

A Girls’ Weekend at the Grand Mirage in Bali

A Girls’ Weekend at the Grand Mirage in Bali

While l I loved my ascetic yoga and green juice lifestyle in Ubud, I knew I couldn’t leave Bali without a taste of the high life. So for my last three days in Bali I high-tailed it for the coast to review the Grand Mirage, bringing along Ashley, an American girl I knew from the Yoga Barn. Why experience paradise alone?

And I’m not ashamed to say that when we saw the view from our room we danced around like Olsen twins. Look at that view!

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The Grand Mirage Resort & Thalasso Bali is a beachfront all-inclusive resort.  As a food-lover, my favorite part about an all-inclusive is that you can order whatever you want and not worry about the bill (don’t you wish that eating out was always like that?)

So on our first day we ordered a three-course lunch menu and lounged on the beach- a real departure from juice fasting and vinyasa.

My favorite part about the Grand Mirage was its prime, ocean-front property, and beautiful, well-cared for beach. And our visit was extra special because Ashley had never seen the ocean before!

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On our second day we continued to enjoy the hotel’s luxurious amenities: four restaurants, pool and poolside bar. After breakfast we even took a ride on a catamaran!

We also spent some time sipping coconuts by the pool, enjoying the ocean breeze, the sway of palm trees, the magenta bougainvillea. Heaven.

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Then I took a tour to see the rest of the Grand Mirage. Isn’t the Ocean View Suite beautiful?

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And after more beach time, we headed to the Thalasso Spa for 85 minutes of bliss- my first Balinese massage. It was hands-down the best massage I got in Asia. I also enjoyed the spa’s design, with a sand-on-the-floor, nautical theme, and as always in Bali, the incredible service.b

On our final night at the Grand Mirage we headed down to the grill for a dinner show.

When we arrived the staff addressed us by name and also remembered my friend was a vegetarian. And during the meal the chef came out to make sure that the vegetarian meal had been up to her standard.

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And although all-inclusive hotels generally don’t boast the best food, I was impressed-  at the dinner show I really enjoyed my beloved satay (a.k.a. meat on a stick), roasted pumpkin and cheeseburger.

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But the best part of the dinner show was watching Legong for the first time. Legong is a traditional Balinese dance set to gamelan music, usually performed by a pre-adolescent girl. The dance is very complicated and is known for its many intricate finger movements. I love gamelan music and really enjoyed the theatrical make-up and costumes.

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Overall I really enjoyed my two days at the Grand Mirage. It is the perfect place for families and is the kind of resort my parents would have taken me to when I was a kid. However it isn’t the place I would recommend for twenty-somethings- it’s too expensive for backpackers and not designed enough for flashpackers.

The biggest area for improvement is that the hotel needs an upgrade- the design was tired and the Spanish-style terracotta roof looked like it was in bad shape.

Have you ever stayed at an all-inclusive resort?

The Grand Mirage generously hosted my stay for two nights. As always, all opinions are completely my own.

Chasing Eat, Pray, Love in Bali

Chasing Eat, Pray, Love in Bali

When I was 16, back in 2007, I read Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s New York Times bestseller. And then I read it again. And again.

Needless to say, Eat, Pray, Love firmly put Bali on my map of dream destinations. And seven years later, I finally ventured to the island I had read so much about.*

And I’m not the only one entranced by Gilbert’s descriptions of the lush, mysterious island; Many tourists come to Ubud, Bali, seeking sunshine, spirituality and possibly a Brazilian lover. And Bali has cashed in on this craze. When strolling Ubud, one will see Eat, Pray, Love branding on everything from ice cream shops to vet clinics.

*(To be fair Eat Pray Love is definitely not the only reason I came to Bali. Also I reread Eat, Pray, Love this year and found her voice to be much more self-involved then I remembered… holy navel-gazing. Moving on.)

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And I won’t lie- during my three weeks in Ubud I sought out many of the people and places I had read about in Gilbert’s memoir.

 

A Palm Reading at Ketut Liyer’s

In her memoir Elizabeth Gilbert writes extensively about Ketut Liyer, an elderly Balinese medicine man who lives in Ubud.

When I arrived at Ketut’s compound the family promptly asked me to pay 350,000 rupiah (about $30 USD) for a palm reading. Which felt a little… presumptuous and invasive, to be honest.

When I laid eyes on Ketut he was exactly as I had imagined; a small, wizened Balinese man with a broad smile and only a few teeth.

After a brief wait, Ketut held my palm in his hand as he predicted I would have two babies, enjoy much success in my career and someday get divorced. 

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He then gave my friend a nearly identical fortune. “You are beautiful. You lucky, much success.” (Though instead of a divorce he predicted she would lose all of her money for being too generous.)

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I really hate to say this, but I do want to be frank with any of my readers- um, I wouldn’t advise getting a palm reading from Ketut. Ketut Liyer is a very sweet old man but is very advanced in age- and 350,000 rupiah is a steep price to learn you are very beautiful and will have two babies.

 

Wayan’s Shop

Next I visited Wayan’s shop. In Eat, Pray, Love Wayan is a kind-hearted divorced healer who runs a healing shop with her 9-year old daughter, Tutti.

The shop wasn’t what I had expected; I was shocked by its filthy and cluttered state. But soon Tutti came over and I couldn’t help but exclaim, “You’re so big!” when I saw a beautiful teenaged girl with black hair down her back instead of a little girl.

“The book came out nine years ago,” she said shyly.

Tutti then made us a turmeric tea by grating turmeric root and mixing it with water. As we sipped the tea Tutti said that someday she wanted to be a healer like her mother.

Then Tutti brought over some leaves that she instructed us to chew. “What are these leaves?” I asked.

“They are for overweight adults.”

Oh. Um, thanks. She also handed us a sheet explaining that normal adults should chew 7-10 leaves and overweight adults should chew 11-15. (For the record, she prescribed me 14. which is like practically off the charts.)

I almost returned to Wayan’s shop the next day for a body reading but backed out when I read on TripAdvisor that the reading is a total ripoff and that there are rats scurrying around the house. Sorry guys. Phobia.

Reflexology

The most worthwhile holistic pursuit I found in Bali was reflexology. On my last night in Ubud I headed to Sandat Bali, a guesthouse and reflexology center run by a Balinese couple everyone calls Mama and Papa.

Papa happens to be the resident reflexologist, and I eagerly asked him for a reflexology session.

It turns out reflexology involves having a wooden mallet pounded into the sole of your foot to identify your maladies. At times it was agonizing.

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As Papa hit zones of my foot, he would observe, “Ah, you have bad neck.”

By the end, his diagnosis was scarily accurate- he had identified that I have problems with my neck, back and stomach. The only one I didn’t agree with was my stomach.*

Overall he reported that I haven’t undergone a lot of pain in my life. He told me this was clear to him because I wasn’t writhing and screaming on the table. (Apparently people who have endured intense traumas like car accidents will howl and cry in reflexology.)

*But then when I came back to Michigan and I discovered I have a gall bladder problem so the healer totally called that. How weird is that? He also examined my friend and correctly identified that she had no kidney on her right side, which is true- she donated it when she was a teenager. WTF?

And another thing that was weird?

One Saturday night I was walking around the streets of Ubud by myself with a bottle of Bintang. (Um… No comment.)

And up walks a handsome, tall, dark-haired Brazilian man named Elio. He invites me into a Cuban bar for a drink where we communicate via a hodgepodge of Spanish and Portuguese. Then I hop on the back of his motorcycle and we drive to another lively bar where we smoke hookah and dance salsa. And then we hit up a few more bars and at the end of the night he drives me back to my homestay. (Unfortunately I documented absolutely none of this with a camera but it totally happened.)

So what I’m trying to say is that despite a few disappointments, my Eat, Pray, Love fantasy totally came true.

Have you ever read Eat, Pray, Love?

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If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it! Also, I’d love to keep you updated on my adventures in Asia and beyond, so feel free to subscribe to Ashley Abroad by email in the sidebar or connect with me on TwitterFacebook or Bloglovin.