We flew into Bali last week, arriving in Denpasar the capital of this small island. Most tourists hang out at the beaches to the south of the city, but having seen many beaches recently in the South Pacific we instead opted for Bali’s capital – Ubud. We were picked up from the airport by the hotel we were staying at and although it is only 30km on the small roads with lots of traffic it took us an hour and a half to get to Ubud. When we finally got there though we found Ubud to be a nice place, traditionally a place where artists work there are lots of galleries and chilled out cafes. Our hotel, Jati’s Homestay, was great, overlooking green rice fields with Hindu statues in its gardens it was a lovely place to retreat from the bustling streets. Even better it was great value for money, a step up from the budget accommodation we have been used to, as Bali is pretty cheap.
We had four days in Ubud, and we made the most of its location to visit many surrounding temples and other cultural sites. We took a day’s cycling ‘eco tour’ to see the ‘real Bali’, which was really great as we were able to get off the main roads and ride through some very picturesque countryside. Before we did any riding though, for breakfast, we drove up to the rim of the volcano Mount Batur, which at 1717m dominates the skyline of the island. We had some great views (this photo doesn’t really do it justice), including of the lava field that has been left following the most recent eruption in 1962.
After breakfast we visited a nearby coffee plantation where we learnt about Bali’s coffee industry and got to sample one of the world’s most expensive coffees – Luwak Coffee. The Luwak is a cat like animal that is partial to the fleshy pulp of the red coffee berry, however it cannot process the beans so these are passed out keeping their shape – yep you’ve guessed it, Cat Poo Coffee!
After gathering, thorough washing, sun drying, light roasting and brewing, these beans supposedly yield an aromatic coffee with much less bitterness. At about 5 quid for a cup it was expensive by Bali standards, but nevertheless it had to be tried and it tasted quite mild and earthy – I think I’ll stick to the regular coffee. We also got to taste some other coffee varieties (non poo’d) and some teas, and we particularly liked the Ginseng Coffee.
It was time to get on the bikes and with us being high on the volcano it was downhill most of the way. Along the way we passed many villages, and with each family having their own temple plus a main village temple it was a fantastic experience.
Each village is surrounded by rice fields, which forms the staple diet here, making the ride even more picturesque. We stopped to see some villagers working the fields, with men doing the cutting and digging and women doing the sifting and bagging it was a real team effort – not easy in the heat of the day.
Other stops included a massive Banyan tree, nicknamed the ‘Bob Marley Tree’ owing to the many strands hanging from its branches. It was so big we couldn’t take a photo that included all of the tree!
The last part of the ride was an optional (you could ride in the van) uphill 8km slog, which we opted to do – it wasn’t too bad though and nice to do some fitness again! At the end of the ride we had a nice lunch, which included the local delicacy of smoked duck – yummy. It was a really nice day and I would thoroughly recommend the tour if you come to Bali.
We also visited the Ubud Monkey Forest Sanctuary, which is a dense swath of jungle on the edge of the town that is inhabited by some very cheeky Balinese macaques. There’s also a temple in the middle of it all making it a pretty cool setting. The monkeys look innocent enough, but if they have any inclination that you may have some food they grab at your bags and climb on your back until they get what they want! However a bit of common sense by keeping things hidden and they leave you alone, and we were left in peace.
It’s cheap here to hire a car and driver for a day, so we took a tour with our driver Matti and another tourist, Lin from Hong Kong, around some of the main sights of the island. I found myself wearing a sarong (as is local custom) as we visited many of the islands temples. First stop was the Elephant Cave (Goa Gajah) a temple built in a cave and only recently discovered.
We also visited the Unesco Heritage listed ancient site at Gunung Kawi, which with its 8m high carvings in the cliff face set in a river valley surrounded by green rice fields is a very picturesque place.
Coincidentally we were in Bali during a period of full moon, a sacred time for the Hindus who make up 90% of Bali’s population. It is important that they visit the holy springs and temple at Tirta Empul during this time to bath in the water. It was really interesting to see this first hand.
We visited Mount Batur again and had lunch overlooking the crater rim at, we enjoyed it so much on the cycling tour we were happy to come back. It was another nice meal, the food here is really good with Nasi Goreng being a favourite.
Later we visited Bali’s mother temple, Pura Besakih, which is perched 1000m up the side of a volcano. The site actually consists of 23 temples, with the largest and most important (Pura Penataran) towering over them all. With lots of pagodas and colourful decorations it is a very impressive place and one of the best temples I have visited.
Ubud is good for shopping, especially for the ladies, with many shops and a market selling cheap, but surprisingly good quality, souvenirs and clothes. You can barter for most things so I let Lisa chose what she wanted and then I handled the price negotiations, which is the fun bit!
Ubud is also the place to see a Balinese dance performance and went to the Ubud palace to watch a Legong variant. With an Orchestra of 20 people playing traditional Balinese music with drums, silaphones, and gongs it was a nice evening of entertainment. In traditional costume the dancing consisted mainly of some slow but complicated movements with some pretty intense facial poses!
After four days in Ubud we have spent our last couple of days on the south coast in the Legian area. It is pretty touristy (mainly Aussies) and there’s not much to do other than sit by the pool, shop, eat, and drink. Thankfully our ’boutique’ hostel was a nice place to hang-out, so we have used the time to relax before our onward travels in Malaysia. The beach gets some strong waves (it’s popular with surfers) and we did not find it too impressive as it’s pretty dirty and packed, but it is a good place to watch the sunset.
We have really enjoyed our time in Bali, as expected it is very touristy (the Mallorca of Asia?) but nevertheless it is a beautiful place and if you get away from the mass tourism of the south coast there is some very interesting culture to experience. Of course people make a place and the Balinese are very friendly, charming, and welcoming a real asset to their island.
Whilst Bali is part of Indonesia, with its own language and Hindu culture (most of Indonesia is Islamic) it almost feels like a separate country. Now that we have had a taste for Indonesia we’d like to visit some of the other islands, but that will have to wait for another trip. Later we fly to Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia where we intend to spend a few weeks and hopefully get over to Borneo.
Bali is a very photogenic place, hence lots of photos here.