Bali, oh Bali

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I’ve always wanted to visit this seemingly magical place that has been hiding across the globe. Also, I have to admit that reading and watching Eat, Pray, Love only turned that interest into longing. However, on this trip we’ve received mixed reviews of this island in Indonesia from fellow travelers so when we finally decided to add it as a destination on our trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

What I learned from my visit is that Bali will reward you for what you put into your trip there. Yes, it is overrun with tourists from Australia and yes, they are partying non-stop on the coast, especially around Kuta.
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It wouldn’t be hard to get wrapped up in the constant party scene of vacationers and expats there. However, there is more to this island than first meets the eye. To see the beauty and culture of this unique island, you have to do the work and dig deeper under the touristy beach scene.

When you go to Bali, I advise you to travel deep into the island to see a small town of Ubud, the historical spot of Bali. There you will discover what the locals are most proud of. On the picturesque way into the town, we passed rivers, forests, rice plantations and multiple local temples.
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As we explored the island, we quickly noticed something very interesting that makes the island unique in the most muslim country in the world, which is the fact that Bali is mostly Hindu.
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It is believed that a holy man from India, whose name was Rsi Markaneya traveled to Bali on a spiritual journey to spread the teachings of Hinduism. He fell in love with Bali and was attracted to the spot where Ubud stands now, a magical place that he thought radiated light and energy. I know what you meant, Rsi.

Once in town, we visited the Hindu Temple that was established by Rsi, the Ubud palace and cave temples at Goa Gajah. I recommend doing them all – the images of these sights with stay with you forever.
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What I enjoyed the most though was simply strolling through town checking out sights, watching folks selling various handmade good and peaking into medicine shops. The name “Ubud” comes from the Balinese word ubad (medicine) so you will also find many local, handmade recipes to heal your soul, body and mind.

We also rented out a scooter to ride around and simply try to get lost in a sea of green, endless rice plantations.
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Of course, we also found ourselves going to the beach, relaxing and enjoying some of the party scene.
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We stayed at a really nice hostel by the beach, called Island hotel, and lounged around by the pool sipping on cheap beers during hostel’s happy hour.
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Those beers were only a little over a dollar. A great thing about Indonesia is the exchange rate for a dollar so being there truly felt like a vacation even given a tight backpacker budget.

Honestly, I loved Bali and everything about it. Maybe it’s overrun with drunken tourists but we’ve had a few conversations about moving there. We’ve met a few ex-pats who are enjoying the comfortable life in a country with a lower standard of living and where many people speak at least a little English.

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Finance on the Road

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There’s nothing worse than not having access to your money while you’re traveling. Make sure you prepare yourself before the trip!

Planning ahead

If you expect to be traveling internationally in the upcoming months, consider a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees. Also look for a bank card that will refund your ATM fees.

Look for credit and debit cards that offer perks that will be useful during your extended international travel. Find a bank that offers an ATM card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and will refund your ATM fees. Traveler favorites include the Charles Schwab Investor Checking card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa. You can find a great breakdown by by our friends at Traveling 9 to 5.

As your travel nears, be sure to call your bank to place a travel alert on your cards. This is pretty simple: just call the phone number on the back of your card and tell them that you’ll be traveling. They will ask you where – and it is helpful, but not necessary, to include exact dates. Throughout the course of our trip, our plans have changed, so we have been calling the bank periodically to update our itinerary.

When you’re packing, make sure your cards are secure. And, it’s a good idea to carry one or more of your cards and some cash in separate baggage. Don’t forget to take some US dollars with you as they are useful around the world – on our trip we have found them most useful in Argentina, Georgia, and SE Asia. It’s worth picking up a money belt so you can hide some money and cards on your person.

Dealing with problems

Expect problems while you’re on the road. First of all, your cards may not even be usable. Even some first world countries, such as Japan, don’t always accept international cards. Make sure that you always have some of the local currency on you.

Be sure to monitor your email or voice mail, at least once per week for messages from your bank. On many occasions during our trip, we have had to call to verify charges. Once, there was actually a fraudulent charge on my credit card.

If there is fraudulent activity on your account, your card is lost, or your card is stolen, be sure to contact your bank as soon as possible (that is, if they haven’t already contacted you). On the back of your card there is often a number you can call collect if you’re traveling internationally. However, this may be more difficult than you’ve bargained for. Explaining a collect call in a language you can barely communicate in is very tough. We’ve found that it is easier to use Skype if you have a decent internet connection. If that’s still not do-able, then it is possible to buy a phone card.

Receiving a replacement on the road

It can be very challenging to receive a replacement card on the road. When a fraudulent charge had been identified on my card, it had to be replaced immediately. We were wrapping up our time in Istanbul, Turkey and about to embark on a 15-day Greek Island hopping tour. We would be in Athens for one night at the beginning of the 15 days, which would probably be the easiest place to get the card by mail. Not exactly the optimal scenario to receive a credit card on the road.

Luckily, Chase was willing to overnight the card at no additional cost. The particular agent that I was speaking with had a very hard time understanding where the card needed to be sent. I struggled through that call, but made sure that they had the hotel’s address correct (after five tries…). I couldn’t believe it when they actually had the card waiting on us when we checked in!

Tracking spending

Our trip was the first time we’d be traveling for such a long time with only our iPads. We found that the most useful tools to keep track of our spending were Numbers (Apple’s spreadsheet app) and Mint. We will provide some more financial information as our trip comes to a close.

South East Asia Food Court Etiquette

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If you consider yourself a foodie, you should definitely consider making a pilgrimage to one of the many hawker centers that are hugely popular with the locals in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Before you unbutton the top button on your pants and head out the door, I’d like to tell you about the rules at these establishments so you don’t look silly in front of the locals. Everyone is there to get yummy, cheap food so people will not tolerate a foreigner getting in the way of their goal.

Step One: Overcome your fears of street foods. Hawker centers are the source for very cheap meals that are often better than restaurants, where you will pay at least double. Hawker centers are open buildings without air-conditioning housing a few rows small food stalls that serve a various local specialties as well as favorites from neighboring nations. You can typically find your favorites from the following cuisines: Malay, Indonesian, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Middle Eastern. Also, you can find fresh juices, desserts. Everything is almost always prepared fresh after you order.

Step Two: Choose a hawker center. Do a bit of homework before venturing out. I suggest simply googling and checking out reviews online. For instance, as huge Anthony Bourdain fans, we made sure to visit the Maxwell hawker center that he chose as part of his episode about Singapore.
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Step Three: Finding a place to sit. Once you are there, first try to find a place to sit. It’s likely that the hawker center you’ve decided on is going to be busy, especially if you go during the lunchtime hustle and bustle. It may be that all the tables are taken. Don’t be shy and feel free to approach a table with a free seat and ask if it would be alright for you to sit down. It’s pretty common for a couple of parties to share a table. Prior to getting up to browse, claim your seat by placing a packet of tissues on the table. Yes, tissues – you will not be able to find napkins at hawker centers so it’s common practice to carry a pack of tissues with you, which also serve to claim your spot. Trust me, you’ll need all the tissues you can get with those hot, spicy and flavorful dishes! If you didn’t get a chance to pick up some tissues on the way, no problem: you’ll easily spot peddlers roaming the hawker center trying to make a living by selling tissue packets.
One more thing: if you spotted a table number on the table, make sure you memorize it. If you don’t see one, no worries, it simply means that your are at a self-service hawker center. More on that later…
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Step Four: Picking the right vendor. With so many choices, how to narrow it down to just one?! The beauty is that you don’t have to. Usually portions come in two or three sizes: small, medium and large or small and large. I recommend starting with small and just seeing how it goes. If you love it, get more. If you don’t, try something else!
When I get to a Hawker center, I usually browse for a while checking out the scene in front of every vendor. If there is a long line, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good dish there. Also, look around the tables in front of the food stall, do you notice a dish that most everyone is eating? You should go for that.
For instance we knew we had to visit the chicken rice food stall Anthony Bourdain he raved about on his Singapore show at the Maxwell hawker center. We were not disappointed.
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Our other favorites include: Bak kut teh
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Spicy wings:
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Popiah:
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Stir fry char kway teow noodles with cockles – sounds scary, tastes awesome:
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Fish ball soup – look for homemade (someone making fish balls in the back):
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If you see similar pictures at a fairly busy stall, head for it. We give you a foodie’s guarantee.

Step Five: Ordering. If you don’t understand the menu, most food stalls have a display of pictures for you so you can simply point to the one that looks best to you. At some hawker centers, you will see signs for “self-service” all over, which means that you order your food, wait for it and pick it up and take it to an available table. However, most of the time, hawker centers are not self-service and you are supposed to go pick out your table number prior to ordering (all tables should have a little number on it somewhere). As you place your order, you will be asked for your table number. Once your food is ready, your food will be delivered to your table. That’s also when you pay.

Step Six: Getting your drink. There are separate stalls for drinks. If you’re at a self-service hawker center, you will need to spot that stall and head over there to pick out a cold beer or a juice to accompany your meal. If not self-service, someone should be walking around to take your order and bring the drink to your table. By the way, hawker centers is where some of the cheapest brews are hidden throughout South East Asia. If you’re not up for alcohol, or hung-over, I suggest sugar cane juice, which is prepared fresh and tastes delicious.
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If in the mood for something creamier, especially to go with that extra spicy dish, you might want to go for an avocado juice. I know it sounds odd, but it’s surprisingly tasty.
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Step Seven: Enjoy! This one is simple. Once you finish, and still have a bit of room left, it’s not unusual to hit up another stall to taste something else. Again, small portions is the way to go!

Step Eight: Cleaning up. Feel free to leave your tray at the table. All hawker centers have employees who clean up tables in a quick, efficient manner. Your tray will be gone in moments to make room for another hungry local.