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.

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.

Best Pizza in Town

Naples_20150514_243 Brandi

Italy has the best pizza in the world and the best of pizza in Italy comes from Naples and the best in Naples (according to many) is Brandi’s in Salita S. Anna di Palazzo.

Brandi’s has been making pizza since it opened in 1780 (and boy is she now tired) and I have to say I had a really great lunch there. There was a singer in the restaurant singing Italian- esque songs that really made for a magical atmosphere.

I recommend keeping it simple and ordering for the Marinara – which is Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil.