During the planning stage this trip evolved as we added more and more places we felt we had to visit. We started with just Korea, but realised we wanted to revisit Japan also. We also wanted to pace ourselves better than our last major trip to Vietnam and China, which meant spending more time at each city or town (3 night minimum).
We quickly worked out we needed more than the normal 3 week vacation, but for both my wife and I to get a longer break difficult, unless we built the trip around the quiet Christmas period.
Kuta Beach Sunset
Five weeks was doable for us both over the Christmas/New Year Break, but taking a holiday at this time and location presented some challenges to overcome.
First, its High Season, so airfares and accommodation are more expensive and second, it would be winter, and particularly cold in Seoul, something we were unaccustomed to.
We tackled the expense issue by using two new approaches. As a previous Gold Frequent Flyer with Qantas/ One World, where practical I had booked flights using One World carriers. This allowed me to use both points and business class lounges, which usually made the cost comparable to low cost carriers such as Air Asia, and made for a more enjoyable airport experience.
Using points to reduce flight cost works best during non peak times though, so we cast all alliances aside and turned with an open mind to an app called Sky Scanner.
Sky Scanner allows you to compare flights on a wide range of carriers at once, all from a mobile app. This made it easy for me to run multiple scenarios over a wide range of dates and stopover combinations in order to find the best value.
In the end by shifting the trip a week earlier, enduring a 12 hour iBali stopover and flying out of Seoul instead of Tokyo we saved $500 Aud each on the main airfare, paying $1046 Aud each all up for return Sydney to Seoul, flying Garuda.
Garuda wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice based on reputation, but as the next cheapest was Air Asia with a 8 hr early morning stop in KL, we concluded reputation is relative. Plus Garuda is a full service airline, which is always nice. For the second approach, accommodation expenses, we experimented with Air B&B.
We were dropped off at Sydney airport at 8am, allowing the standard 2 hours check-in before our 10am flight. My wife works in the travel industry so is familiar with some of the benefits you more often than not are required to ask for rather than just offered, and apparently if you are on a stopover for more than 6 or so hours you can get lounge access. Unfortunately we were given passes to the Garuda lounge in Jakarta, when our stop was in Bali, but we didn’t realise that at the time. After we got through check-in, security and customs our next stop was TSR to get a GST refund on an iPad we purchased before leaving. The queue, however, looked a good hour long and we only had 30 minutes to board. Lucky they had a manual postal system, but it was still a mad rush towards the end. Airports are tiring places. Good thing this trip only has seven flights.
We took off from Sydney on time at 10am on Saturday 13th December 2014. The flight was comfortable, though I thought the economy cabin was a little tighter than normal.
We landed at Denpasar for our Bali Stopover around lunchtime local time, and with our connecting flight leaving at midnight, we decided to spend the afternoon and evening in Kuta.
Unfortunately the Indonesian government is not stop over friendly, the cost of a visa on arrival was $35 US dollars and was the same if you stayed for one day or thirty.
We caught a taxi into Kuta and looked around for a place to stay, the only requirement we had was that it had a pool and a bed. We found a nice looking place on Hotels.com and were able to save around 200,000 rupiah by walking in and haggling.
After a quick rest we walked down to Kuta Beach, taking the first two pictures. My last visit to Bali was shortly before the bombing in 2002, and I can’t say too much has changed.
That trip was a road trip from Jakarta to Bali via Bandung, Jogjakarta, Surabuya then car ferry to Bali. I had noted then how friendly the locals were all the way across Java, until you reached Bali and the Hawkers, who were just short of relentless.
There did seem to be less of them this time around, but a group of them were parked outside our hotel and each time we walked past we were offered a variety of services and told how amazing the nearby shop was. The beach was the same, if you made eye contact with anyone selling anything they would set themselves on you. After an hour or so walking around in the tropical heat we went back to the hotel and hit the pool, resting until just before sunset.
I walked down to the beach again, suprised at how crowded it was.. literally a thousand people watched the sunset. I took a couple of pictures then looked for a suitable place to eat dinner.
After dinner we had a shower then checked out and caught a taxi to the airport. A good general rule for travel, which I constantly forget, is to always choose taxi’s with meters, as opposed to an agreed fare.
We thought we were smart talking down our ride into town down to 100,000 rupiah, but the metered taxi the hotel called for us charged around 50,000 to get back there. Another 200,000 each in departure tax at the airport and we were good to go.
Total cost for our Bali Stopover was 700,000 rupiah each, plus the $35 US voa. Was it worth it? Sure, better than spending 12 hours in an airport, and we saved a tonne on the airfare. Would I do it again? Guess we’ll find out on the trip back..
Dinner in Kuta
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