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Exploring Singapore and Indonesia

by Travelbag on 13 January 2020, 11:01AM

Last year, Travelbag’s Managing Director Lesley Rollo travelled to Indonesia with two of her children, Eva and Oliver – aged 13 and seven. Although they spent some time in Bali (often mistaken for a country itself), they also explored other parts of this vast and diverse nation. Incredibly, Indonesia is actually made up of more than 17,000 islands. Here, she spills the beans on her amazing trip.

Singapore

Our adventure began in Singapore. The Lion City is a great gateway for so much of Southeast Asia, but also hits the spot as a city break in its own right. With plenty of direct flights, Singapore is great for families. There are loads of activities and attractions, and some fantastic bars and restaurants. Plus, it is easy to get around thanks to the clean and efficient MRT system. It can be tempting to skip through Singapore and simply catch your onward flight, but I’d urge you to stick around for at least a day.

Singapore

Borobudur, Java 

From Singapore, we flew to Jogjakarta on the island of Java. Here, a two-hour journey through the bustling city and surrounding paddy fields took us to Borobudur, where we stayed for two nights. Despite being home to the famous Borobudur Temple, the surrounding area has managed to remain relatively untouched. This sleepy area is beautiful, surrounded by volcanoes and lush paddy fields. Most people choose to visit Borobudur Temple for sunrise, but we didn’t really fancy getting up at 5am with a seven-year-old and a teenager. Helpfully, the best piece of advice we were given was to arrive around 7:30am instead – just when all the sunrise seekers were leaving, and well ahead of the next round of visitors at 11am. It was perfect. We enjoyed exploring the temple before it was too hot; at times it felt like we had the place to ourselves. With Mount Merapi towering over us, it was a truly magical experience.

You can often see Mount Merapi poking through the clouds, dominating the landscape. It’s the most active volcano in Indonesia, and last erupted in May 2018. We didn’t hike the volcano in the end, as this required a full day. In hindsight, we didn’t really allow enough time for this area and should have stayed longer than two nights. But we did borrow some bikes from our hotel and cycle around the surrounding villages, where many people still work in the fields with little technology or machinery. Everyone was incredibly friendly and we had a warm welcome from the locals, who seemed to be unused to visitors. The standout moment for me though was sitting on our balcony with the children and hearing the call to prayer. Given that the surrounding communities are all Muslim, the evening prayer – just as dusk was approaching – was spectacular. The singing from each village carried across the fields, almost in competition with each other. It felt like another world, so far removed from daily life back home.

Borobudur, Java

Ubud, Bali

We really had to tear ourselves away from Java to move on to Bali – but logistics dictated this was the best way to get to Komodo Island. Urged on by my children’s fascination with Komodo dragons, we decided to incorporate a visit to see these dinosaur-like creatures. But first, we spent three nights in Ubud – the cultural heart of the island, famed for its natural landscape, rice terraces and lush forests. Ubud itself is a vibrant town teeming with temples, bars and shops. In years gone by, it was a hippie paradise, many of whom settled here – but now it attracts all kinds of holidaymakers, from backpackers to well-heeled travellers. There are many beautiful resorts to choose from, but we opted for Maya Ubud. It’s in a great spot, perched on a hillside overlooking a valley. Rivers and waterfalls snake through the valley, and there are pretty walking trails running across the resort itself.

Ubud, Bali

Flores and Komodo National Park

We left Bali behind and flew an hour to Labuan Bajo – the gateway to the Komodo Islands. Naively, I thought you could only see the famous dragons on Komodo itself. But Komodo Island only has a very small village, mostly inhabited by national park rangers and their families. So you have to stay on the larger island of Flores, and then take a boat over to Rinca and Komodo – the two islands where the giant lizards still roam today. You’ll need a whole day for this trip, as it takes around two hours to reach Rinca by speedboat from Flores. But it’s worth it: the landscape, beaches and crystal turquoise seas were unlike anything I’d seen before. The white sands and clear waters reminded me of the Maldives, but it was even more breathtaking thanks to the mountainous Jurassic coastline. This paradise stretched for miles, with very few other boats or people around. Prepare to be wowed.

We stopped at uninhabited Rinca, where the smaller dragons live. We hiked around the island with a ranger – who carried a fork-shaped stick, just in case – and saw one Komodo guarding a nest, and many others just basking in the sun. I can’t pretend I wasn’t nervous at first – they are very large and, like any wild animal, can be unpredictable. We all kept our distance, and never stepped ahead of our ranger during the hike.

Flores

A short boat ride then took us to Komodo itself, where the dragons are much bigger. They look like a cross between a crocodile, a lizard and a dinosaur. The dragons appear very staid and cumbersome, so it’s almost difficult to imagine them moving at pace after prey. It was amazing to see them in the wild, but also slightly unnerving to see how close you can get. Our guide, who was from Komodo, told us there had been potential plans to close the island for a couple of years. But the decision was reversed when research found that the Komodo population has actually remained stable, despite the increase in visitors. Certainly, to me, the area seemed unspoilt and fairly quiet, without too much commercialisation. But one tell-tale sign is the huge pier that has been constructed leading up to Komodo, which allows cruise ships to dock and, I presume, hundreds of tourists to visit at once. Had we arrived at the same time as a cruise ship, perhaps my experience and memory of this place would have been quite different.

After our morning on Rinca and Komodo, we returned to our boat for a beautifully prepared lunch and sailed away to explore some hidden beaches on our way back to Flores. We snorkelled in the sea, and walked on deserted sandbanks – all with the same guide, who easily switched from dragon scout to marine life expert, pointing out turtles, starfish and more. It was some of the best snorkelling you could imagine. And we had the coral reefs to ourselves, which is a rarity. As we approached Flores and headed to our boutique hotel on the beach, I reflected on the day. And you soon realise that, in order to experience all these amazing things somewhere like this, you have to be prepared for boats, planes and long journeys. You simply can’t access this level of remote beauty without something of an adventure – but the effort really is worth it. Plataran Komodo Resort & Spa was stunning, with lovely villa-style accommodation all along the beach. We had gorgeous views, and our whole experience in Flores was very relaxing. Even the airport was laidback – it’s so small that you just turn up 30 minutes before your flight, hop on the plane, and head back to Bali.

Komodo Dragon

Legian, Bali

Our holiday came to a close with four nights in Bali. No sightseeing, no day trips; just some chilled-out beach time in Legian, where our two older children – one of whom flew in from Australia – had already been visiting for a few days. In contrast to the rest of our adventurous trip, we spent the last few days in a large resort, the Legian Beach Hotel. We loved it – there was a big pool with plenty of sun loungers and one of the best buffet breakfasts I’ve had (and I’ve had many!). This was in a great spot, with the beach at the front and bustling streets at the back, filled with bars, restaurants and market stalls. The hotel was also perfectly placed for watching the sunset, as you could get comfy on beach beanbags at the end of the day. It felt a rather commercial finale to our travels, but why not? After 10 days of adventure, I could enjoy a bit of fun guilt free – because, beyond the poster-child of Bali, Indonesia has so much more to offer. And I felt very lucky that I’d been able to discover some of its wonderful, lesser-known sights.

Legian Beach Hotel

 

If you’re thinking about visiting Indonesia, check out our in-depth guide to the islands that are alternatives to Bali.

And if you’re flying into the Lion City, here’s how to spend 24 hours in Singapore.


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