Bali – Wake up, smell the coffee and cycle home

One of the best days that my family and I spent in Bali was the day we went on a cycle tour through rural villages, paddy fields and mountain scenery north of Ubud.

We were picked up from the place we booked the tour and driven about an hour to a “coffee farm”.  I am not convinced the place we stopped was anything more than a tourist spot but we had good time seeing what coffee and cocoa plants look like, tasting various coffees and teas and eating breakfast looking out over the forest in the valley below.  Although they also had lewaks on site, they were hard to see, and in fact we got a better view of them in the markets at Tanah Lot.

Mount Batur

Mount Batur

After breakfast we drove another 30 minutes or so to a look-out over Mount Batur and after a brief photo stop we headed 5 minutes back down the road to meet our “hogs” for the day’s trip.  Bikes and helmets are supplied as part of the tour and we cycled back down the hill towards ubud stopping at some of the key sights along the way.

Bike Stop

Bike stop at the village temple

We stopped in a traditional Balinese home in a rural village and visited the local temple in the town where our guides gave us some information on the traditions and culture of the area. (This is one of the areas where I believe you get what you pay for and we went cheap so we got pretty rudimentary information.)

A man herds his ducks down from the paddy fields

A man herds his ducks down from the paddy fields

We cycled further and stopped to look at a cock fighting arena.  Whilst the arena itself wasn’t really much to look at while we were there one of the local farmers was herding ducks on their way to market.

Duck Wrangling

Duck wrangling

He was getting the ducks from the paddies and herding them to the flat area afforded by the arena and from there they were corralled and loaded on to a waiting pick-up truck.  We watched this amazing scene unfold for some time and have to say it remains one of my best memories from our travel in the region.

Ducks ready for market

Ducks ready for market

Our penultimate stop on the tour was a set of paddy fields where a farmer was ploughing his paddies in readiness for planting.  This was pretty interesting and made all the more exciting by the balancing act that was required as we made our way along the tiny paths between the flooded paddies.

A man ploughs his paddy fields in readiness for the next crop

A man ploughs his paddy fields in readiness for the next crop

Finally we stopped at another set of paddy fields where we thanked our guides before re-boarding the minibus for lunch – Nasi Goreng at a local restaurant overlooking the river, where they initially “didn’t realise” lunch was included in our tour and tried to get us to purchase from their hugely over priced menu so be aware of what’s included in the tour you book.  Then after lunch it was back on the mini bus and the trip “home”.  All in all a great day and a bit of exercise.

The rice fields near Ubud, Bali

The rice fields near Ubud, Bali

For me the key take aways are:

  • Based on our tour don’t expect breakfast to last you till lunch – eat before your tour begins.
  • Be aware of what the tour includes as the lunch fiasco we had just felt more like a scam than an innocent mistake.
  • Suitable for almost all levels of fitness as the route is carefully selected to ensure most of the trip is downhill and gravity does most of the work (on our tour I think we had 3 hills to climb the longest of which was less than 100m in length).
  • Take your time and don’t be rushed so you can see what’s happening around – without that we would have missed the duck herding.
  • You get what you pay for.

Bedugul – Home to Bali’s ultimate lakeside temple

In the highlands of Bali lies this most picturesque and to many, most holy of temples.  Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is devoted to Dewi Danu and used to give offerings to this Balinese god of water, rivers and lakes, to give thanks for the fertility of the region provided by the waters of Lake Bratan upon whose shores the temple is built.

The mountains loom large over Pura Ulan Danu Bratan

The mountains loom large over Pura Ulan Danu Bratan

This is one of the most serene settings for a temple that we encountered in our trip to Bali but again I did find myself being disappointed by the crowds that greeted us when we arrived.  My advice to those looking for the tranquil temple of our imaginings would be to arrive early.

Given the elevation of the lake (1240m above sea level) make sure you bring a jacket – particularly if you’re making an early day of it – as it can be cool compared to the tourist spots in Nusa Dua, Kuta and Seminyak.

Since the site is open from 7am aim early.  I know if I visit the site again I would either make an overnight stay near Bedegul or a really early start from the coast in order to try for one of those quiet dreamy images we see of this temple, and which the early morning light, with potentially some fog, would offer the best chance of obtaining.

The temple complex at Benugul has many statues of fish around the grounds

The temple complex at Benugul has many statues of fish around the grounds

My advice for a visit here is:

  • Arrive early to maximise your Rp30,000 entrance fee, beat the crowds and get the best of the atmosphere
  • Bring something warm to wear
  • Bring a large bucket of patience to deal with the crowds if you plan on arriving later in the day

Tanah Lot – Bali’s rugged coastal temple

The temple of Tanah Lot sits on a small island located about 50 m off the coast and at low tide is accessible via a soggy, rocky pathway that at other times is hidden beneath the waves.  The setting is spectacular and as it sits on the eastern coast of Bali, the sun sets behind it making it even busier in the hour before and after the sun sets.

Tanah Lot Temple

Tanah Lot Temple

The temple is about a one hour drive from Kuta (less from Seminyak and only about 25 minutes from Echo Beach – of Martha and the Muffins’ 1979 hit song) although a trip in the early morning or late afternoon will inevitably extend this as traffic snarls in the daily rush hour in Denpasar.

There is a second temple across a cliff bridge in the Tanah Lot complex

There is a second temple across a cliff bridge in the Tanah Lot complex

There is a fee per car at the Tanah Lot parking lot and then a per person entry fee (of Rp20,000 per adult and half that per child) to access the site of the temple.  Having made your way through the gates there’s about a kilometre of stores selling the usual Bali knick-knacks that you will need to negotiate before you reach the coast and the temple reveals itself to you.

A traditional gamelan recital entertains the crowds at Tanah Lot

A traditional gamelan recital entertains the crowds at Tanah Lot

On the day we were there the temple was extremely busy being the Balinese festival of Kuningan,with Balinese worshipers delivering offerings to the spirits of their ancestors.  Although this meant that the complex was extremely busy there was an air of celebration to it as white clad figures made an endless procession up the steps of the temple island to deliver their baskets offerings.

The waves roll in across the Indian Ocean and crash on the shore north of Tanah Lot in Bali

The waves roll in across the Indian Ocean and crash on the shore north of Tanah Lot in Bali

Take the time to walk along the cliff tops to the north of the temple as the coastline in this part of Bali is spectacular with rolling waves crashing against the cliffs and swirling mists giving a real sense of mystery to the landscape.

My recommendation would be to ensure that you visit his spot but be prepared for the crowds, especially if you come for the sunset.

Ubud – Peace and Tranquility

As anyone who has read previous of my posts regarding Bali will know I am not a believer in the notion of Bali as a destination for a tranquil holiday.  That said it is not impossible to find those tranquil and quiet moments of ones imagining in Bali it just needs a bit more work than I think is the case in other parts of the world.

If you really want a quiet and serene moment in Ubud then I suggest that you look at an early start – how early is up to you but I went out at 6.30 am although the town really heats up after about 10.30 am when all the day trippers from the coastal resorts make their way to the town, so I would suggest heading out before about 8:30 am.

Reflections in Rice Fields Ubud

A farmer’s hut in the Ubud paddy fields

Make your way north on Monkey Forest Rd all the way to the end and turn left into Raya Ubud Road.  Just before you get to the museum car park on the right hand side of the road is a small lane-way with an even smaller sign that directs pedestrians to the paddy fields.  If you’re anything like me when you walk up the small track between the buildings you will assume you’ve taken the wrong turn and just when you’re about to turn around the lane opens out into the paddies – which really are spectacular.

I spent a fascinating hour walking along the paths through the fields watching the farmers tending their crops, a duck farmer “herding” his beasts to the far end of the fields, a lone Balinese woman jogging and best of all there was no other tourists around.  All this made for a great start to my day without the crowds and noise I had become accustomed to in the region.

Lotus Garden and Water Palace - Pura Taman Saraswati

Lotus Garden and Water Palace – Pura Taman Saraswati

On returning to Raya Ubud Rd turn left back towards the markets and when you see the signs for the Lotus cafe turn into the gardens of the Water Palace – Pura Taman Saraswati.  The lotus garden in front of the temple is one of Ubud’s most spectacular sites and being able to see it when the light is subtle and you are the only visitor certainly makes the early morning worth while.  If the cafe is open then why not have a coffee and although I can certainly vouch for the setting I have to admit that it was not open when I visited and so am not in a position to recommend the coffee itself.

So my advise for getting that feeling of tranquility in Ubud is to get an early start and head to the paddies and the lotus garden before breakfast somewhere on the way back to your hotel all before the day trippers arrive from the coast.

Bali – Monkey Thieves and Cliff Top Temples

Perched 70m above the water atop the impressive limestone cliffs of the south western tip of Bali is Pura Luhur Uluwatu also known as Uluwatu Temple.

Ulluwatu Temple on top of the cliffs

Ulluwatu Temple on top of the cliffs

The temple itself, whilst impressive enough, is dwarfed by the splendor of its location and although we visited during the day it is apparently best visited at sunset when the sky and ocean are set afire by the waning sun.

On arrival at the site, it is important to be properly attired and anyone with their knees uncovered and their shoulders bare will be required to borrow one of the sarongs and belts from the gate.  Entry to the park was a fee of around 20,000 IDR (about US$2) but beware of the “monkey scarers”.  We were nearly charged an additional 100,000 IDR for someone to protect us from the monkeys and it was made to sound like this was a required service – not optional.

Monkey on Ullawatu cliff

Monkey on Ullawatu cliff

The monkeys which live in the area are pretty bold but our family really had no issues with them but there was a family with small children there when we arrived and before they had left the car park one of the monkeys had stolen the flip-flops off the feet of their young son who I guessed to be about 5.  Given the monkeys are there I strongly advise against taking any food with you from your car as this could lead to unwanted attention.

Ulluwatu Temple courtyard

Ulluwatu Temple courtyard

Once through the gates walk along the impressive cliffs taking in the views and head up to the temple at the highest point in the complex.  As with all Balinese temples that we came across, you will not be able to access the actual temples themselves but you will be able to walk around and look into them from the gates.

All in all this is well worth the visit, watch out for monkeys and take your head for heights with you.

Ubud – Monkey Business

A short walk from the market in Ubud (we managed to do it in about 15 minutes) is one of the most famous attractions in the area – The Monkey Forest.  Now this may conjure many images in one’s mind, but if quiet trails and serenity are amongst those then I’m sorry to have to disappoint.  Like so many other parts of Bali in the peak summer months, which is when my family and I visited, the place is busy with other people (the official web site states that on average the Monkey Forest sees 10,000 visitors a month).

Family of Balinese Long Tailed Macaques in Ubud's Monkey Forest

Family of Balinese Long Tailed Macaques in Ubud’s Monkey Forest

That said, it is in my opinion well worth the visit but this relates to those who are not worried about a CLOSE encounter with the monkeys of the forests name – when we visited there was a young woman from the UK making a big fuss and squealing about how much she hates and fears monkeys.  If this is how you feel then stay away, for as the name suggests there are monkeys here and not only will you hate it but you will also negatively impact the experience for others.

The face of a dragon on the end of the serpentine bridge over a gorge in the Money Forest in Ubud

The face of a dragon on the end of the serpentine bridge over a gorge in the Money Forest

The area is a sanctuary for the monkeys but also a religious area so please visit with that in mind and only access any of the three temple areas on the site if you are appropriately dressed to do so – although the actual temples are only accessible by those who are there to pray.

Temple in the Monkey Forest Ubud, Bali

Temple in the Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali

Under no circumstances should you enter the forest with any food on you – these little guys will smell it out and procure it – and if its not fruit or vegetables then it is fair to assume these guys shouldn’t eat it.  If what you are after is a really up close and personal experience then buy bananas from one of the vendors at the gates and use these to lure your new friends in.

A lion statue lies in wait covered in moss in Ubud's Monkey Forest in Bali

A lion statue lies in wait covered in moss in the Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali

Believe me when I say you will be instantly one of the cool kids in the forest – this is not for the fainthearted – and the monkeys will climb on and over you to get to the bananas.  Another must follow piece of advice is that when offering a morsel to a macaque, DO NOT be tentative (this means it is unlikely to be a good idea for very small kids to be in charge of the bananas).  If the monkeys feel that you are “teasing” them with the food (nervously pulling food back once its offered certainly will be seen as such) then these fellas can become aggressive.

Monkey in Ubud's Monley Forest

Monkey in Ubud’s Monley Forest

So having decided on the type of experience you want from your visit then my advice is go for it and enjoy a walk with these incredible little guys, enjoy their antics and the wonderful surrounds.  To get the most from the experience allow yourselves a couple of hours there.

Kuta Beach – Sunset & Swill

The evening ritual of sundowners is an absolute DO NOT MISS if you ever visit the Indonesian island of Bali.  Kuta Beach is walled off from the road and amongst the trees that line the top of the beach can be found the beach bars.  Now, if your idea of a bar includes a roof and walls, then you may be surprised by what constitutes a bar along this stretch of coastline, where no more than an ice-and-drink-filled esky (cold box), an umbrella and a plastic chair are required.

People walk along Kuta beach at sunset

People walk along Kuta beach at sunset

With Kuta on the western side of the island, the sun sets directly off the beach and I have to say that the sunsets are fantastic.  Given that the drinks are also always cold, there really is no better start to your evening than heading to the beach, watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean as you listen to the waves crashing on the shore, discussing your day and making plans for dinner.

I will admit that the “hawkers” on the beach can be persistent, but my experience was that if you are polite, jovial and firm they do eventually take the hint.  Even better still, take the time to talk to some of the ladies and you may find that they have fascinating stories to tell and love a good laugh. Just remember that they are trying to do nothing more than make a living so, please, treat them with respect.

Depending on where you have chosen to stay, there are any number of options for an evening drink but I would recommend Joseph’s Bar if you’re up by the start of the pedestrian walkway in front of the Legian Beach Hotel.  He’ll definitely look after you and ensure that your Bintang is always full and cold.

A volcano peeps out from the clouds as the crowds gather to watch sunset from Kuta Beach.

A volcano peeps out from the clouds as the crowds gather to watch sunset from Kuta Beach.

Each bar owner has their own unique way of keeping track of your tab.  Some work on the crate principle.  When you arrive you will be provided with a chair and an empty crate.  Every time you finish a drink you put the empty in your crate and when its time to leave the bottles are counted and charged accordingly.

Joseph is well geared to big groups with a crate/bottle top combo.  On arrival you will receive your empty crate and when each opened bottle is delivered you are also presented with the bottle top.  When leaving you will be charged based on the bottle tops until the last person leaves and they will have to pay for the balance of what is in the crate.  Both methods worked extremely well and in all our visits we never had an issue with the bill.

Whatever you do in Bali make sure you have sundowners on at least one evening and if you do it on your first night I can almost guarantee you won’t miss a night during your stay.

Bali – It’s not for everyone

It has been some time since I last wrote anything on this site and I apologise.  This has in large part been due to not quite knowing where to start.  I was recently lucky enough to visit Bali and I thought I would get a number of amazing stories to share and a number of great images that I would be able to put on the website and Facebook and I have to admit that when I got there I was very disappointed.

A scooter with gas bottles for delivery

A scooter with gas bottles for delivery

As I was visiting Bali to attend the wedding of a couple that are very dear to me, and for whom Bali is very dear, this disappointment left me in a quandary about what to say and what to write.  I want always to be fair to the places I visit and represent here, but also need to be true to myself with what I post and so I had to work through this one in my own time.  I have finally done this and realised that my opinions of any place are exactly that – my opinion. They are not fact and everyone who visits a place will have their own experience and all I can include here is my own perception of a place based on the experience I have had and, as such, here is my first Bali post.

I initially stayed in Kuta (just off Poppies 2) and then in the more salubrious environs of the Legian Beach Hotel, before a trip to Ubud and a return to Kuta.  My over arching feelings really comes down to two things.

Firstly, we went in late July/early August and everywhere was incredibly busy.  The tranquility I had expected – particualrly from Ubud – was not my experience.

People are silhouetted against the sunset over Kuta Beach

Sundowners at Kuta Beach

The second is that the place seems to have lost most of its soul somewhere between a Bintang vest and a penis shaped bottle opener.  In these highly commercial areas, it has without a doubt sold out its unique Balinese culture for trinkets meant to make adolescent backpackers titter and childish bumper stickers based on name calling and toilet humour.

As such I had to search much harder than I want to when on holiday in order to get away from the massage and tattoo parlours that seem to adorn every street corner to find the kindness, good nature and beauty that is the Bali of one’s imagining.