Bali, Indonesia by Way of Taipei, Taiwan

Dear readers, my site re-design is in full swing…and will require my attention over the next two weeks.

To keep you entertained and inspired, I’ll be re-publishing my account of our incredible trip to Bali, Indonesia in December 2007.

Please enjoy, and I’ll see you with new material — and a new layout — very soon!

Bali is one of those dream-destination places that had always seemed to me both exotic and theoretical, the land that produces the intricately-carved teak furniture now ubiquitous in Los Angeles interior design, possessive of a reputation for natural beauty, a vicious struggle between two military leaders (Sukarno and the recently deceased Suharto), and being an Australian beach bum’s Indian Ocean playground.  Until this past December, when my husband, Adam, and I disembarked from 20 hours of travel and our first journey to the Asian half of the globe, I’m not entirely sure I’d believed that Bali was really there.

Because we only decided on Bali as our Christmas holiday in September, I did what I almost never do and turned to a travel agent for help.  Recommended by both Travel & Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler as America’s go-to travel insider for Bali, Diane Embree, helped me put together an itinerary that allowed us to see about half of what we’d hoped to see on the island.  If only we’d had another week, Diane would have made sure we saw the other half.

We took China Airlines on a two-part journey from LAX to Taipei, Taiwan (13 hours plus an overnight), and then from Taipei to Bali’s Denpasar (4 1/2 hours).   It wasn’t a bargain, but we were able to get exit rows on several of our flights; apparently, the Chinese don’t prize these as much as Adam and I do.

Know that China Airlines doesn’t allow its overnight stopover travelers to access their luggage between flights; remember to pack a small extra bag with your toiletries, jammies, and a change of clothes.  Otherwise, you’ll end up, like me, having to hastily un/re-pack in the check-in line.

Taipei’s Taoyuan Airport doesn’t really have nearby hotels and stopover travelers must generally head 40 minutes into the city via a costly cab ride; Diane had only been familiar with this kind of arrangement.  Through Tripadvisor.com, I found the much-closer and comfortable Monarch Plaza Hotel.

The sparkly Monarch Plaza was tricked out in about eleventy-five-thousand blue LEDs, and in the lobby was a gingerbread diorama that had to be 5 feet across, with electric lighting and outdoor candy scenery.  Taiwan is serious about Christmas.  All of the hotel staff, even the bellhops, were clad in Santa hats, and everyone seemed very happy to see us. (Or maybe you just can’t look unhappy in a Santa hat.)  Out on the nearby streets, there was a wandering church group singing carols, and it was comforting to see that this was just as annoying to local people as it would be in, say, New York.  The carol leader stopped us and asked where were from — when we said Los Angeles, he had his entire choir sing to us personally, which was not at all embarrassing in front of a scruffy fish restaurant full of disgruntled dinner patrons.

Stopping into a tinsel-strewn convenience store to find an ATM, I was entranced by chocolate bars from all over the Earth and non-dairy vegetarian drinks with the inexplicable logo of a cartoon cow.  Catty-corner across the street from the Monarch Plaza, we sat down in a blazingly-lit white cubicle of a restaurant, surrounded by shiny photographs of the available dishes, to a sizable and tasty dinner of veggies and dumplings…for $3.  We later dozed off in our clean, sparsely- decorated room while watching a Chinese game show in which everyone appeared to be some form of cheerful underground nightclub host circa 1985.

Good night and sleep tight, Taipei.

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