Sunday Traveler: Scott Jordan – A CEO Goes to Indonesia

While my travels have been extensive, I can’t experience every type of travel. Occasionally I like to let my friends have the podium to tell their travel stories. Today’s post is from Scott Jordan, the founder and CEO of Scottevest, one of my sponsors. We spoke about his upcoming trip when I was in Las Vegas and invited him to guest post on my site. His recent trip to Indonesia was an eye opening experience for him and it was an interesting look what happens when a CEO has to step away from the office. Here is Scott…

Scott and kids in Indonesia
Scott and kids in Indonesia
Three weeks ago, I made the decision to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Two weeks ago, I went on that trip. Like most things I do, it was a whirlwind process. I have not traveled much recently, despite owning one of the most innovative travel companies in the world. Traveling used to be part of my life, but my wife and I have been so dedicated to our business in the last decade that leaving for extended periods of time has been difficult. Our rather remote location (Sun Valley, ID) also makes traveling a challenge. The timing was right, however, and the opportunity was one that could not be missed.

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Bye Bye Bintan

Where I stayed in Bintan
Where I stayed in Bintan
I’m writing this in Bintan, sitting on a gazebo perched atop the water on the Straits of Malakka. My bus to the ferry terminal leaves in about an hour, so I figure I’d take this time to do a short write up of my week. I don’t normally write reviews of the places I stay at, but I figure I’d make an exception, because I found this to be very affordable, in a nice location, in close proximity to Singapore. (FYI, I am assuming an exchange rate of 10,000 rupiah to the US Dollar in everything below).

The name of the resort is the Yasin Nostalgia Resort. It is the low end cousin of the Agr0 Beach Resort which is a five minute walk up the road from here. Agra is sort of the high end resort (nonetheless, the top end jacuzzi room only costs US$100 a night). The great part about staying at Yasin is that even though you are only paying US$13 a night, you can go to the other resort and use all their facilities including a pool, restaurant and spa. They will also shuttle you to the main resort for no cost. The walk is an easy one. I was able to walk from one to another during it time it took for one long song to play on my iPod. Also, there is a school along the way so you’ll have a ton of kids waving to you saying “Hullo Mist-tuh”.

In the five days I was here, I pretty much didn’t do a damn thing. I got completely caught up on my photos, edited a podcast episode, totally deleted another episode because it sucked so bad, and got another one ready to go. I also ate a lot of cheap food.

To give you an idea of the prices here, a can of coke was US$0.60. Compare that to Tahiti where the same can would cost US$5. You could order off the menu here and most things could cost around US$1.80. Save for three meals I had at the restaurant which I paid in cash, and the occasional use of internet time (which was US$3/hour…cheap), my total bill for 5 days, room, food and drinks, came to US$94.

It isn’t just that it’s cheap. The bungalows are nice and you can get some above the water. A similar (albeit nicer) room in Bora Bora would cost over US$300 a night….plus you have to fly to Bora Bora. Granted, my expectation of luxury are much lower than most people. They had no hot water and the toilets had no water tank. You had to dump a bucket of water in the bowl. But still, even the “high end” resort, the normal rooms were US$45/night.

I’ve been to a few places now that have all shared similar features: smallish resorts, friendly staff, locally made bungalows, and cheap price. Others include the VIllage Inn in Pohnpei, the Village Inn in Kosrae, and place I stayed in Bali the name of which I can’t remember off the top of my head, but it had a stone bathtub the size of a sarcouphous.

One of the dirty secrets I’ve learned traveling is that the best places to stay aren’t the most expensive ones. As a treat to myself, I stayed a weekend at le Meridian in New Caledonia. The room was nice, the bathroom was nice, but in the end, that was all I was paying for. A lot of money for nice sheets. I didn’t meet anyone and the food was over priced. If you want to stay in your room the whole time (which, when you travel like me, is exactly what you want to do sometimes) My standards for luxury now are hot water and a bath tub. (I’m not a big bath guy, but sometimes you just need to sit in water for a long time to get the grime off you and the dirt out from under your fingernails) Oh, and free internet, which you almost certainly will never, ever find in an expensive hotel. The cheaper the hotel, the better the odds of getting free internet.

Hopefully, I”ll be able to find more places like this in the coming weeks as I work my way through SE Asia. I might even stay a few nights in a swank hotel just because the cost of doing so will probably much cheaper than in a place like Singapore or Australia.

Cheap + Beautiful = Bintan

I’m on the island of Bintan. The internet connection isn’t fast, but it works. I really enjoy the place I’m staying at. I’m staying in a wooden bungalow about 10 feet from the water’s edge. The view is amazing. Lots of little islands are right off the coast.

The cost of everything in Indonesia is so much cheaper than Singapore it is amazing. (and I think Singapore is cheap compared to Australia) I’m really surprised that more people don’t come here. Given the price and proximity to Singapore, I would have thought it would be packed with people. This would seem like a natural attraction for backpackers.

A can of beer here is about US$1.80, and that is at a hotel bar. I’m sure it is even cheaper if you went to a store. A case of beer in the outback near Uluru was US$60 (24 cans). It is even more expensive in Singapore because of the high alcohol taxes. My bungalow is US$13 a night, which is one of the cheapest places I’ve stayed on my trip. Its a single too, so I don’t have to share it with anyone.

The Indonesian currency has a lot of zeros. The exchange rate is 10,000 rupiah to the US Dollar, and the smallest bill is 1,000 rupiah. That means you basically have a wallet full of dimes. I did see some coins during my previous swing through Java/Bali, but they aren’t that common.

I got a cab from the ferry terminal to the place I was staying. As usual, the cab driver had an ulterior motive in trying to sell you something. In this case, he was trying to serve as a pimp. He had photos of girls on his cell phone and kept showing them to me. I’m sure that will only get worse in Thailand.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Bintan became the next big backpacker destination. It has the two biggest selling points of cost and access.

Well, I have to go have lunch and I have an active day ahead of me of doing nothing.

BINTAN!

I’ve had a jammed packed couple of days here in Singapore. I’m currently at a McDonald’s at the Singapore Harborfront waiting to take the ferry to Bintan Island, Indonesia. Bintan is like a 45 min ferry ride from Singapore and it, along with neighboring Batam island, are cheap, close tourists destinations for people in Singapore. I have no plans to do any sighseeing or anything else while I’m on Bintan. I’m going to hunker down and edit video. I’m staying at a place on the beach which costs like US$13 a night.

Yesterday (Sunday) I went to the Singapore Zoo. I had heard it called one of the best zoos in the world, and I can see why. Like everything else in Singapore, it is top notch. I got about 30 min of video at the zoo and it will be its own podcast episode.

Saturday, I went with Dave and his girlfriend Mingko to Malaysia to visit a tropical fruit farm and eat durian. Durian is a fruit I’ve never heard of before I came to Singapore, but some people here are crazy about it. It isn’t anything like you’d expect from a fruit. It tastes more like a baked vegetable or a pastry. It is really hard to explain. The fruit itself is large with spikes, with a giant seed in the middle. In the wild, it is normally eaten by elephants or tigers who spread the seed. The smell of durian is so strong that you can’t bring it on the subway in Singapore. Some people at the farm at so much durian, they had enormous piles of durian husks on their table.

I’ve also done a fair amount of just walking around the city. Had dinner in Chinatown and at at a real vegetarian restaurant in Little India. (I’m defining “real” as a place where normally only Indians eat, most everyone eats with their fingers, and they have a sink to wash your hands in the dining room). A meal there was SG$2 (US$1.50). I also went inside a function Hindu temple for the first time.

In terms of sheer variety, Singapore is by far the best food city I’ve visited on my trip. There are hawker stands everywhere where you can find any number of varieties of food. (I’ll have a lot more to say on that in a few days in a post of its own).

I visited the Asian Museum of Culture, which is one of the better museums I’ve been to (Singapore….go figure). The museum covers most of Asian culture from SE Asia to the Middle East. (It omits anything from Korea or Japan which I thought odd. I was told later that it might be a matter of difficulty in getting artifacts from those countries.)

Everyone I talk to says Singapore is expensive. Compared to the rest of SE Asia it is, but coming from Australia, it’s like shopping at Wal-Mart.

I also got to talk at length to several native Singaporeans, and their thoughts on the country are interesting to say the least (more on that later as well). Suffice to say that Singapore is a truly unique country. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

I hope to have internet access somehow on Bintan, but we’ll see. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some sort of connection given its proximity to Singapore.

Borobudur: Icon of Indonesia

Moon over Borobudur
Moon over Borobudur
Iconic symbols are a theme I will be referring to often. For example, when you think of Paris, what image comes to mind? Probably the Eiffel Tower. Rome? The Colosseum. London? Big Ben. New York, LA, San Fransisco? The Statue of Liberty, the Hollywood Sign, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

I can go on and on about how certain places have certain images associated with them.

Sometimes the image isn’t of an object or a building. If you think of Argentina, you think of people doing the tango or of gauchos.

What comes to mind when you think of Indonesia? Unless you live there or have visited there, my guess is it isn’t a good image. It is probably one of the earthquakes, landslides or tsunamis.

I would like to suggest, however, a new (actually quite old) iconic image for Indonesia: Borobudur

Borobudur and Prambanan have not achieved the level fame of a Taj Mahal or the Great Pyramids, but they probably should be on the short list of the great, ancient places of the world.

It was difficult to get the entire structure in my camera, even with a wide angle lens.
It was difficult to get the entire structure in my camera, even with a wide angle lens.
Borobudur is a Buddhist temple in central Java which dates to the year 800. Prior to the introduction of Islam in the 1500’s, Hinduism and Buddhism were the predominant religions in Java. Borobudur was constructed during the Srivijaya Empire which covered all of Java, Sumatra, peninsular Malaysia, and coastal areas of Borneo.

It is labeled as the largest single Buddhist temple in the world. Many people think that Angkor Wat is, but that is technically a temple complex. Borobudur is larger than any one temple in Angkor Wat.

The temple was lost for hundreds of years, buried in volcanic ash and covered in forest growth. It was only during the brief period which the British ruled Java (1806-1811) when Sir Thomas Raffles re-discovered Borobudur. Being covered in ash for that long probably preserved the temple from thieves and earthquakes. The Indonesian government commissioned an expansive restoration of the temple in the 1980s and it is in relatively good condition considering its age. (It should be noted that the temple was never really “lost” to locals. Local legends always knew it existed, it is just that no one ever bothered to excavate it. it should also be pointed out that much of the archeology on Java was done during the brief British control of the islands, where as the Dutch controlled it for hundreds of years and did very little.)

Bas Relief
Bas Relief
The architecture of the temple is quite clever and isn’t readily apparent. The temple is built in tiers. The traditional way to go up to the top of the temple is to climb up and walk around each level in a clockwise direction, so the reliefs are on your right. The major divisions of the temple represent parts of the human body (head, body, and feet). Moreover, it was later found to be built in a 9:6:4 ratio, which is used in other Buddhist temples in Asia. In the 90s it was discovered that two other nearby Buddhist temples were in a straight line with Borobudur, making the construction of the temple even more impressive. There is also evidence that there may have been a lake near the temple which was filled with ash in an ancient volcanic eruption.

Near the top of the structure are many bell shaped objects called stupas. They contain statues of sitting Buddhas. There is one grand stupa at the top center of the building which does not have a statue inside.

Me and the teachers
Me and the teachers
My trip to Borobudur started out at 4:30am. I had signed up for the sunrise trip and I was the first person the tour van picked up. In addition to seeing the sunrise, if you arrive early you will not have nearly as many vendors trying to sell you stuff. The size of the vendor area seemed many times the size of the parking lot. Everyone seemed to be selling the exact same things. I’m not sure how anyone was able to make a living selling stuff.

I had a bunch of students walking up to me and asking me questions in English. Everyone also wanted to get their photo taken with me (something which happened to me all over Indonesia). It turned out they were there for an English class trip so they could practice speaking English. I was able strike up a conversation with their teachers. They said that Borobudur used to be packed with foreign tourists. Since the 2002 Bali bombing, hardly any foreigners come to Java anymore. Now you will see mostly domestic tourists at Borobudur. That is really a shame because Borobudur and neighboring Prambanan are really the two standout attractions in Indonesia.

Getting the Hell out of Bali

I am sick of Bali.

To be more precise, I’m sick of every single person I encounter while walking down the street harassing me to buy their shit. I literally can’t go 10 seconds without someone trying to get me to take a taxi, get a massage, buy their cheap crap, eat in their restaurant or rent their motorbike.

I’ve experienced this sort of thing before in Manila and Hong Kong, but never anything close to the degree which I’ve experienced it in Bali. In Java, at worst, someone would come up to me and want to practice English. They’d talk, ask about the Presidential elections and just chat. Here, you are a walking dollar sign. It has made my experience in Bali less and less enjoyable the longer I’ve had to stay.

I’m staying in Kuta which is sort of the tourist area, but the thing is, it is actually worse as you go into the island. When I took my day tour, I actually had about six women pushing and rushing up to my car door to sell me crap when our car pulled in to park.

it isn’t just that they try to sell you stuff. I actually understand that and get it. It is part of the territory when you visit a place like Bali. However, when they stick t-shirts and postcards in your face, they literally stick it in your face and will not back away when you say “no”, as if they were trying to find new ways to make sure you didn’t buy anything from them.

If you should make the mistake of buying something when you are on the beach, you will be mobbed by people who saw you buy something. They must think that anyone who will buy one thing will buy an infinite number of things. Again, it is as if they they want to make sure you never by anything by making the experience as unpleasant as possible.

I have also been highly annoyed because it has been so difficult to get a ticket to Dili, East Timor.

I first stopped at local places that had “Airline Tickets” on a sign out front. The first three places didn’t do international tickets. I eventually found one that only took cash and didn’t have a computer. Their “reservation system” consisted of calling some guy. When they called their “guy”, he kept quoting me different prices for a one way ticket to Dili based on how long I was staying. It made no sense.

There is one and only one airline which flies from Bali to Dili and their website doesn’t do online reservations.

I eventually just asked the front desk at the place I was staying where a real travel agency was. They made a call to their “guy” and worked it out, but to pay with a credit card, they had to send a courier over to get a photocopy of my credit card. There is no way in hell I’m going to make a photocopy of my credit card and give it to some “guy”. I eventually had to get a ride to the travel agency to take care of it in person.

East Timor has to be one of the hardest to reach countries in the world, which is especially odd considering it is just north of Australia and connected to a large country like Indonesia. There is also one and only one airline which flies to Australia and that flies into Darwin. The flights from Bali and Darwin are the only flights which service the entire country of East Timor.

My flight to Darwin was easy to book as was my flight from Darwin to Melbourne. The Darwin to Melbourne leg is by far the longest, but also the cheapest. Competition will do that.

I have to kill 12 hours in Darwin because my flight to Melbourne leaves at 12:30am Tuesday morning. I hope they have lockers at the Darwin airport.

I think I’m also becoming frustrated because I’ve been sort of mentally looking forward to taking time off in Melbourne and taking care of business. It is odd that when you take a vacation from vacation, you end up working and doing stuff. It really is an anti-vacation. Everything which is delaying that is making me frustrated and pissing me off.

Yesterday I did something I’ve never done before. I visited a spa. The area around my hotel has a lot of spas which are really cheap. You can get a massage, facial, body scrub, and a pedicure for $15. That’s about 2 hours of time. There is really very little overhead and labor is cheap, so you see a lot of spas around Bali. It was quite nice, especially considering I didn’t have to pay much for it.

I’ve heard spotty things about the Internet in East Timor, so I have no idea how often I’ll be able to log on. I’m sure I’ll manage at least one post, but don’t expect too much the next few days.

Don’t Say I Never Did Anything For You

Thanks to everyone who sent me emails. I was surprised at how lengthy most of them were. Postcards have been sent to the following people:

  • Scott, Minneapolis, MN
  • Wendy, Springboro, OH
  • Cheyanne, Durham, NC
  • Annie, Murrieta, CA
  • Ben, Bloomington, IL
  • Matthew, Appleton, WI
  • Gunter, Belgium
  • Saumel, Switerland
  • Denise, NSW, Australia
  • Sherry, New York, NY
  • Wayne, Long Beach, CA
  • Susie, Crystal Lake, IL
  • Sean, Irving, CA
  • Mike, Indianapolis, IN
  • Jay, Minneapolis, MN
  • Aibek, Czech Republic
  • Kevin, San Rafael, CA
  • Claire, Eagan, MN
  • Robert & Courtney, Antigo, WI
  • Rolf, Germany

I have some knick-knacks which will be sent out a bit later.

I don’t think the Komodo Dragons are going to be in the cards for me. I could do it, but it is going to cost way too much for what would amount to 3-4 hours on the actual island. I’m just going to head to Melbourne via East Timor tomorrow.

Over the last several days I’ve seen cops shake people down for bribes three times. There only difference between the police here and the mafia seems to be the uniforms. I’ll have a lot more to say once I can sit still for a few days.

Bali Ho!

Today was a pretty interesting experience. I hired a driver for the day and explored Bali. I got to see some traditional Bali houses, a Bali ceremonial dance, had wild monkeys sit on my head, ate lunch overlooking a volcano and a lake, and got dressed up in traditional Bali garb to visit the Mother Temple.

My guide was great. When he isn’t doing tours he works for Australian news outlets reporting on Indonesian stories.

I was prepared to write about how my trip to Komodo wasn’t going to happen. I’ve had no luck finding a reasonable priced tour out of Bali. However, as I sat down to write this, I got an email from a company in Flores (the populated island near Komodo) which gave me hope for just flying out to Flores and doing something directly from there. My travel instincts were correct. Tomorrow is devoted to figuring that out and booking my ticket. Either to Flores or to East Timor/Melbourne. I also need to send a package of crap back to the US.

My other goal for tomorrow is to find a place where I can watch the Super Bowl over breakfast.

I have an enormous glut of photos that will be dumped on everyone once I get out of Indonesia. I still have photos from Sabah and even a few from Brunei to put up. I probably took close to 200 today (but I hardly took any prior to today in Bali).

With that, I’m going to go watch one of my 29 DVDs I purchased for $20 and take a bath in my giant, stone bath tub in my room which is so big, I can literally float in it and not touch the sides.

Slaying the Dragon

I’m having a hard time finding a reasonable tour to Komodo National Park. Everything out of Bali requires at least two people and if you go alone you have to pay an arm and a leg. I’m seriously considering just flying to Flores and doing some sort of tour from there. It should be much cheaper if I take care of the flight myself and use a local tour group near Komodo than trying to do it out of Bali.

The more I research going to Komodo, the more interesting stuff I discover to do in the rest of Indonesia.

Tomorrow I’m off to explore the rest of Bali. I have a guide who will be driving me around the island for the day and the price is very reasonable. I can see why the culture of Bali is so interesting to people. It is very different than what I saw in Java. I’ll have a lot to say about it once I’ve left Bali.

The area where I’m staying in Bali is very touristy. There is a Hard Rock Cafe here which I think sums the area up nicely.

I just had dinner with Dave from GoBackpacking.com. We were both in Bali at the same time. He just came from Australia and I’m on my way there after Bali. It was nice to be able to talk to someone who is both American and doing a similar long term trip (and blogging).

Also, I will probably only be in Indonesia for another 5 days or so. If you want a post card, please remember to send me an email (gary (at) everything-everywhere.com). Right now, if you email me, your odds of getting a postcard are looking very good.