Earlier this month I was one of the co-leaders on the Light Explorers' Tuscany In Spring workshop. We spent five days at a fantastic hotel just outside San Quirico d'Orcia with an awesome group of people shooting amongst the gorgeous rolling hills of Tuscany
Ubud is the cultural capital of Bali, an artist's town set amongst the rice fields and hills of central Bali. It's a place we planned to unwind and catch some culture like Balinese dancing, and although I had a couple of locations researched I wasn't really planning on much photography here.
One of the things that Ubud has is a wide range of incredibly stylish, sophisticated, but affordable accommodation. We'd booked 5 nights in a place called Alam Indah, on the outskirts of Ubud next to the famous monkey forest. It didn't disappoint, the room was beautiful with great views out over the forest and proved to be a fantastic place to relax (and write this blog).
We were up at 4am the next day again, but this time it was to get us to the early train in to Surabaya from Yogyakarta. Where the journey to Borobudur had taken almost 2 hours with the holiday traffic, the journey back to the station only took 45 minutes and we were there in plenty of time to get some breakfast and find our seats.
The journey took 5 hours and despite dozing a little on the train, I saw lots of the countryside through the window. Lush rice fields with people wearing conical hats, it was a typical rural south East Asian scene that made me wish, as ever, that we'd had more time to explore the area. At Surabaya station we met the driver we'd arranged with the Bromo hotel a few weeks previously. After about 2 hours we turned off the main road and started to head up into the mountains, the air got cooler and our ears started to pop.
Leaving behind Yogyakarta we headed towards nearby Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument on the world. It's the kind of place like Angkor Wat or Bagan, when you first see photos of it, it seems like it's the set for some movie about a lost world. It's a vast stone mandala-like structure built around the hill in a jungle over a thousand years ago.
By now though it's firmly established on the tourist trail and thousands of Indonesians travel from all over the country to visit it. I wanted to photograph it at sunrise, which I knew would mean a very early morning and difficulties in getting a clean shot as I expected the place to be very busy for first light in the way that Shwedagon Pagoda in Bagan was. Indeed both of these things were firmly on my mind as we arrived at Borobudur as I knew that it marked the beginning of four mornings where we would get up at 4am or earlier in both Borobudur and then Mount Bromo, and that both places would be incredibly busy with tourists making photography with a tripod sometimes a little challenging. When we'd planned the trip I'd tried to ensure that we visited Bromo away from the weekend hoping that would mean slightly smaller crowds, but also because we also wanted our time in Ubud, Bali, to coincide with a full moon festival. However, we hadn't realised that this would mean this part of the trip taking place in a week that began with a bank holiday to celebrate Indonesia's independence. The traffic as we left Yogyakarta to get to the temple was incredible and I started to realize how busy Borobudur was actually going to be.
Back when we first started looking into this trip, when we'd decided to go to Asia but weren't sure which country yet, the more I looked at Burma and saw places like Golden Rock and Inle, the more I wanted to go there. However, it was seeing photos of Bagan and reading descriptions of the vast plain covered with thousands of ancient temples that really made us decide "We have to see this place!"
Because of the route we'd chosen to travel around Burma Bagan was one of the last places on our itinerary, and despite all the amazing places we'd seen before there'd always been a sense of anticipation about finally getting to Bagan.
As it turned out, our plane landed at night and driving from the airport to our hotel in Old Bagan we couldn't really see much, just the odd tantalizing glimpse of a couple of large illuminated temples between the trees.