Indonesia in rainy season: the ups and downs

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Going from Thailand’s sunny peak season to Indonesia’s predicted thunderstorms sounds like a terrible idea, I know. In some ways it was, but in many respects I’m glad we did it. Exploring Indonesia during the rainy season came with plenty of challenges, but because of the low points – like having no clean, dry clothes, or being unable to leave our clammy little rooms because of flooding, we were so grateful when the sunshine decided to make an appearance. One morning we even woke up at 5:45am, climbed a big hill and watched the sunrise, just to see the sun in all its glory. In Thailand I’d already started to take it for granted.

I guess we thought that after 3 weeks of sticky heat and sunburn in the land of smiles we wouldn’t mind the odd thunderstorm in the heart of the tropics. Well, we were wrong in some ways. We missed the promise of sunshine almost immediately. We’d taken blue skies away from the equation, doubled the stickiness and added flooding and thunder. Not exactly the change of pace we had in mind. We had no idea it was going to rain quite that much, which is a shame when you’re visiting Ubud’s beautiful Tegenungan waterfall (pictured above) or hitting the reggae bars in Gili T. In some ways however, rainy season is a great time to explore Indonesia. And if it had been sunny all the time, the temptation to do nothing but sun myself on the beach would have been all too great. Plus, we were still able to fulfil our dream of seeing Komodo dragons and trekking across Rinca island, so nothing was lost. Here are a few things we learned about visiting Bali, The Gili islands, Labuan Bajo and the Komodo region during the low season.

THE PROS

1. There is still sunshine, I promise
You will literally clap and cheer when it comes. It will generally either rain in the morning and brighten up, or the rain will come mid afternoon after a morning of sun. Plus it’s still hot, so your wardrobe is exactly the same, with the small factor of wearing a very stylish waterproof poncho on top.

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2. Low season means fewer tourists…
…and fewer tourists means cheap accommodation, less crowded attractions, better chances of seeing the wildlife and the opportunity to get to know the locals.

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3. You can party all year round in Gili T
There just tends to be one or two bars that everyone goes to depending on the night. The narrow streets aren’t full of drunk people, either.

4. Scuba diving trips are quieter…
…so you get a much more personal service. You can pretty much dive in any weather in Gili T because the dive sites are so close to the island. January/February time is also a great time for spotting the most marine life diving and snorkelling in Komodo. We were lucky enough to dive with 6m-wide manta rays (unbelievable), sharks, turtles and hundreds and hundreds of fish.

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5. You can still get a boat from Labuan Bajo to see the Komodo dragons!
When we booked our flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo, we thought our chances of getting a boat were slim, but as long as the seas aren’t too rough (and it’s down to you to judge) then there will be a captain willing to take you. The boat journey from Labuan Bajo to Rinca takes 2 hours (4 to Komodo) and is very sheltered by the many (staggeringly beautiful) neighbouring islands. I wouldn’t recommend taking the boat from Lombok, which is pretty much open sea and likely to be very rough and actually quite risky. Boats have been known to sink on this route in the past!

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THE CONS

1. Rough seas
Admittedly, some boat journeys were petty hairy. If you’re prone to seasickness or don’t fancy the idea of being on a little wooden boat in the rain, then maybe steer clear. Choose your boat wisely, especially if you’re diving in Komdo. Some dive sites will be off limits due to strong currents, but generally a bit of current means more fish and more fish means a higher chance of seeing sharks and mantas.

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2. You might be without electricity…
…and worst of all, WiFi. Most bars and restaurants will have generators just in case but it can be very annoying if your accommodation doesn’t. I’m so glad we took a good torch, and a power bar to charge our phones, but it feels pretty good just to embrace it.

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3. Say goodbye to your tan
It’s a sad fact of life that that hard-earned tan is likely to disappear when your sunbathing hours are limited.

4. You will dream of having dry feet
It’s far too hot for wellies, so your poor little feet will endure vast muddy puddles in nothing but trusty havaianas.

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5. It is quite hard work (kind of)
Add all the above together with lugging your huge backpack around in the rain, being stranded in the middle of nowhere on your moped whilst it floods, worrying incessantly about the safety of your phone/camera/laptop and being forced to eat at the nearest rather than the best places, and you get the gist. It was pretty fun though.

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I don’t regret exploring Indonesia in the rain, as much as I’ve always had a great time at water-logged British festivals. It was fun, a bit silly and I have so many memories of our hilarious hardships. No two days were the same. However, for future reference, I’m pretty sure we’ll appreciate the sun in peak season next time we visit.

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Thailand: 15 things I wish I’d known

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Flying from London to Bangkok is often the easiest, cheapest way to reach South-East Asia, so many travellers begin their journey in the ever-popular Thailand. We had just 3 weeks to get a taste of Thailand’s diverse culture and, although we had the best time, there are a few small things I wish I known before we arrived.

As someone very new to this whole travelling thing, I’ve been torn between a desire to be spontaneous and see where the week takes me and the need to plan each step with extensive research. I think a combination is important, with an open mind being the most useful possession you can have. We researched where to visit enough to know they had very different things to offer, but we didn’t plan how long we would stay at each place until we arrived. We spent 4 days in Bangkok, 9 days in Koh Lanta, 2  days in Koh Jum, 2 days in Koh Phi Phi and 3 days in Phuket. Here are a few things we learned along the way, as I’m sure anyone who visits Thailand will relate to…

1. What you see isn’t always what you get
And I’m not just talking about ladyboys. Whilst your instinct might tell you that the nicest-looking restaurants will serve better food, and cheap street food will upset your stomach, the street food wins every time. It is generally tastier and cheaper. As long as its cooked fresh in front of you, you can’t go wrong.
 
2. Cheese and Ham toasties from 7/11 are totally acceptable
A pre-made toastie in a packet from the corner shop should be so wrong, but it’s so, so right. I let my usual eating habits go completely out the window and ate whatever I felt like, at whatever time of day. It’s liberating to let go of old routines.

3. You don’t have to book accommodation in advance
It is perfectly fine to just rock up and ask for a room. 9 times out of 10 there will be a vacancy in the first place you try. Ask to see the room before you pay and don’t let anyone organise accommodation and taxis for you – chances are they are working on commission and you will end up paying more to cover it.

4. Leo is better than Chang
I love beer, but a few days drinking Chang left me feeling horrible – Leo is the one. Also, SangSom isn’t as bad as it should be. Cheap rum disguised as whiskey isn’t exactly my bag, but when it costs £5 a bottle and doesn’t give you a hangover then I’ll take it.

5. Elephant trekking and tiger temples are never OK
I already knew this before visiting Thailand, but the reality of the cruelty hits you harder when you actually see the poor animals and investigate for yourself.

6. Your laundry will come back half the size
I had no idea whether to take good-quality clothes or old stuff I can chuck if needed. Definitely take the old stuff and buy cheap essentials when you arrive. Clothes become far more disposable when you’re travelling

7. Phi Phi isn’t paradise (unless you’re willing to pay)
5 years ago I would probably have loved to party in Phi Phi, but it turns out I grew out of it before I had the chance. However, there are beautiful places on the other side of the island if you have a bigger budget. Also, you have to pay for Maya Bay (‘The Beach’) now, and it was very beautiful, but very busy.

8. Lanta actually is paradise
I never wanted to leave! Read my post on Lanta for the many reasons why.

9. There is another side to Phuket without the bad reputation
When most people think of Phuket, they have the image of party town Patong. We stayed in Phuket town with Joe’s sister, who lives in Thailand. It was great to go out with some locals to a Thai nightclub, and visit quieter beaches and traditional Muslim restaurants.

10. There are still some untouched islands
I’m so pleased we took the boat from Koh Lanta and went to Koh Jum (pictured above) for a couple of days. The island has only had electricity since 2014 and is so peaceful. We stayed in a bungalow nestled between the jungle and the beach and I literally spent my time reading, writing and swimming in the sea. Pure bliss. I think we saw about 10 other people the whole time we were there.

11. It’s the perfect opportunity to scuba dive
Thailand has a great reputation for learning to scuba dive. Courses are cheap and you’re guaranteed to see some exciting things. My first ever dive was mind blowing, and Lanta  is quiet with plenty of dive centres, so you get a great service. Read my post on learning to scuba dive for more info.

12. Every night you get drunk and manage not to get a tattoo is a miracle
There are tattoo parlours everywhere. Lots of my friends swear by bamboo tattooing, and it’s cheaper than the UK, too. Just be careful you don’t wake up with mysterious Thai writing on your white bits.

13. Beware beauty products with whitening agents
The last thing you need when you’re enjoying your new tan is a facial wash that bleaches your skin.

14. The cockroaches are massive, and terrifying
Insects don’t bother me, but cockroaches that leap out of your bag and into your face do. Also, make sure your insect repellent has deet in, as it’s the only thing that keeps the mozzies away.

15. Air-conditioning is overrated
I’m a big fan of the fan. Air-con gave me a cold after just one night, and fan rooms are cheaper!

There are so many other things I’ve learned in just 3 weeks in Thailand, but it’s funny how quickly the little things become the most useful. It’s a great place to find your feet before you move on to other countries, or simply have the holiday of a lifetime.

If you’re planning a trip to Thailand and would like any more information about how we went about ours, please don’t hestitate to get in touch.

Scuba diving: a lesson on facing your fears

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If you’ve been following my blog from the beginning, you might know that last year, I received cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for anxiety triggered by OCD. I basically couldn’t control the negative intrusive thoughts coming into my head and it escalated to the point that each day I convinced myself I would be burgled, pushed in front of a train, stabbed in the street etc, purely because the image in my head was so real and relentless.It was such a horrible phase and I’m so glad therapy made it a relatively short one. I never used to be the sort of person who was scared to take risks. I have always been fairly happy-go-lucky and carefree. I had moments last year where I was too scared and anxious to leave the house for fear of something terrible happening, and I never, ever want to feel like that again. I desperately want my experience, and the fact CBT worked so well for me, to help other people going through a similar thing.

Anxiety disorders are so common and absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. It can 100% be controlled with time and patience. It will always be a quiet battle at the back of my mind, but learning to scuba dive was the final push for me to face my fears.

I have always dreamed of travelling. I had planned to travel by a certain age, and that age was fast approaching. How was I suppose to head off around the world and face the unknown when I felt scared every time the doorbell went? Enough was enough. I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of a dream I had held close for so long, so I set about facing my fears one step at a time. It started with learning to ignore my own thoughts, which is pretty difficult when you feel like your negative thoughts are the only thing keeping you safe, and it finished with deliberately doing things I am terrified of. The biggest so far? Scuba diving. I decided to do my open-water course in Koh Lanta a week into my travels.

For those of you who have never been scuba diving, there’s a fair bit of theory behind it you have to learn for your own safety, with an exam at the end of the 4-day course. I was basically given a massive book that told me in every other paragraph how I’d get decompression sickness, drown or sink if I did something wrong. Or that my lungs would explode if I accidentally ascended too quickly. Throw in the fear of being eaten by a shark or stung by poisonous fish and there’s quite a lot to think about whilst your submerged 18m under water. There’s also the fear of looking ridiculous in your wetsuit, or forgetting how to prepare the equipment. Throughout the course however, my biggest fear became my greatest ally; the fear of embarrassing myself. I was diving with strangers, and the idea of them knowing how I felt inside was even more terrifying than all the above, which actually worked in my favour because I had no choice but to just get on with it.

On my first proper ‘fun dive’ a giant sea turtle swam gracefully past me, amongst hundreds of exotic fish, and I had a quiet moment of celebration to myself. It had all been worth it. Because, the truth is, you just aren’t living if you don’t take risks, and you will never see the truly beautiful if you don’t make sacrifices somewhere along the way. It won’t be easy, but that’s what makes it worth it. I hope anyone reading this can have the courage to believe in themselves just a fraction more, because if I can learn to scuba dive, you can face your fears too.

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Learning to dive wasn’t a spontaneous decision. It was something I’d been desperate to learn as a teenager, and something that was edging further and further away from me the more I thought about the risks. I would have been so annoyed with myself if I hadn’t taken the opportunity to do it whilst in Koh Lanta, which has a great reputation for dive centres.

‘Dive & Relax’, based on Long Beach, was perfect for me. They promise small groups and a personal service. You are effectively trusting your instructor with your life in some ways so it’s important to learn somewhere quiet if you’re a bit nervous. The 4-day course cost around £300, which included a day of theory, a shore dive, 4 boat dives, an exam, lunch and drinks.

If you would like any more information on CBT or scuba diving (or anything else I’ve covered) please don’t hesitate to get in touch.