Air to Bali

Bali is a destination beloved of backpackers over many years, the combination of low prices and great weather proving irresistible. The geographical location also attracts Australians in particular, as their closest foreign resort island. Indeed, the very use of the term ‘exotic’ when referring to holidays is partly defined by the location. No matter how attractive a place might be it is relegated to the normal if it happens to be on the doorstep.

That is why Bali is always going to be a special attraction for people from the UK, Europe or the Americas; it has that air of being somewhere special and magical. For Australians that might be a European island destination instead – distance turns the beautiful into something even more exclusive.

It does mean that Bali operates on at least two different levels; Kuta fulfills the mass market and backpacking needs while further along the coast towards Seminyak you find the more exclusive retreats, while inland to Ubud there is the flavour of a more authentic Bali.

Those travelling from great distances are rather more inclined to do the kind of exploration that turns Bali from being just another beach destination into something special. For islands around the world suffer from the same problem, that large numbers come to the resorts and don’t explore beyond. Majorca is a stunningly beautiful island, largely ignored by the majority who visit in favour of the nightlife and resorts. And that is of course ok, but the side benefit of taking the trouble to come from afar is that more time is set aside. Two centre holidays, excursions, trying to find the soul of the place becomes much more the focus.

Without long enough to truly do that, it is a matter of scratching the surface. Scratching will commence shortly.

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Reflections

The Laos part of the journey is drawing to a close, to come is the trip across the border to Thailand and then a flight down to Bali for a few days exploring. So it is the right time to think back over the trip and and the experience.

Prior to this one, my only previous time in the country was a couple of days in Luang Prabang. That’s how most people do it, the city is as much a draw for Laos as Siem Reap is for Cambodia. Thus much tourism involves flying in, having a quick look around and then moving to the next destination. It’s understandable too, it’s the one genuinely famous place that appears on so many travel wishlists. Yet it’s no different (except in scale) to the situation in many other countries. In the UK London is the big draw and many tourists go there and consider they’ve visited the country. Hardly the case.

This particular itinerary involved starting at Luang Prabang, heading our north east before describing a large semi circle and aiming down the finger to the south east of the country. Being work it was necessarily compacted in terms of time, but with a limit on that it was the only way to experience a decent portion of the nation in the time available. Holidays will likely take in some elements of it but not all, unless an unusually long amount of time is available, but it’s not easy to decide which parts should be omitted.

Laos is an extraordinary, fascinating country. It has limited western influence, particularly from tourism, and the lack of western fast food outlets is a strong indicator of that. It therefore appeals strongly to kind of traveller who seeks unusual destinations, off the beaten track, away from the usual volumes.

Nature is a big part of it, trekking, eco-tourism, historical tourism, and actually foodie tourism too. The landscape is stunning, the attractions peaceful, and you are unlikely to be pushed along at the pace of all the others. It does require a degree of independent mindset, and a realisation that this is not a wealthy country. The roads and the towns are anything but we’ll maintained or spotlessly clean so those hoping for an anemic environment comparable to home will be disappointed. But the nature of travel, as opposed to simply holidaying, is to seek out these places, especially because in the years ahead it will change.

The curse of the traveller is finding that no matter where you go, everything is the same. Monoculture prevails all too often. Therefore finding somewhere radically different can be challenging yes, but ultimately thoroughly rewarding.

Laos is one of those places. There are a finishing number and Laos too may no longer be one in the years ahead. Going there while it still is should be on the list of all those who appreciate the diversity of our wonderful planet. It’s time to think about somewhere you haven’t up till now. It’s easier than you think.