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 – 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.

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.