Deepak’s Weblog

Bali: Paradise on Earth
January 4, 2009, 9:55 am
Filed under: Travel | Tags: , ,

Bali easily is the best holiday destination in the south-east aisan region, for the sheer diversity and variety of holiday activities it has to offer… You can laze around on the beach, snorkel, go diving in the coral filled waters or quench your adventure thirst by rafting on the white waters of Agung river, trekking the valcano mountains at dawn, go parasailing or water skiing…and when your muscles begin to ache…rejuvinate yourself at the Spa, tour the artists’ villages for some mesmerizing paintings, wood crafts and mirror works, click some beautiful photos of bali temples and rice terraces and ofcourse not to forget the mother of all timepass – shopping and bargaining… Phew! If all or some of that interests you, read on…

Day 1

Our trip to Bali started at an unearthly hour 3.30 in the morning…To my surprise, it took only 5 mins to flag a taxi (and as I gathered later, people in  Singapore dont wait longer…even if it be 3.30am). The Lion air flight was full and at rates as low as $100 all inclusive…it was only expected. I slept most of the way; except for a quick 10 min for nibbling into my breakfast. The flight landed at Denpasar around 10. The visa on arrival costs USD 10. I had fixed up a taxi guy over the internet at USD 40 a day. It was convenient to have him pick us at the ariport but it was a low season and I could have found a taxi at $30 a day after landing in Bali. Anyways, Ketut, the taxi guy spoke good English and that was important too. We checked into Sri Ratih Cottages in Ubud…Again fixed through email to the hotel. It was low season and so we got a fan room for just USD 25 a night. The cottages were simple but tastefully done. The space was small, but well used – with swimming pool and gardens. A quick 30 min later, we were back in the taxi (a white Avanza)  to tour East Bali.

Aside: Bali has variety in Geography too…The south – Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dua, Sanur – is the most popular part of Bali with Surf friendly beaches, European style eateries and more on offer for night life. The Central – mainly Ubud – is laid back, famous for paintings, wood carvings and definitely more relaxed and cooler than South. The East (Candiddasa) and North (Lovina) have a few good beaches and diving spots. However, they are not famous among the casual tourists. The West is only seen on day trips to the National park and does not offer much for accomodation.

So East Bali it was on Day 1 – I had done some google aided research – and we wanted to visit the Semarapura area for the historic palace and court of justice, Tenganan village for ancient Bali style homes, Candidasa Beach and Rice fields along Sideman road. Ketut had his own route though and we ended up skipping Sideman road…He did add in the Gua Lawah temple to compensate. The temple had a beautiful Balinese style. It was not a busy Day 1 …but considering that we had travelled from Singapore that very day, we were not complaining. We ended the evening with a much appreciated Indian Thali at Ubud, very close to Sri Ratih. There was not much on offer after sunset. Blame it partly on the low season, the markets closed, and streets were dimly lit – not very suitable to explore. There were a few good retaurants though, lined along Ubud market.

Day 2

The day was bright and Ketut mentioned the Mt Batur view should be good. It was anyways on our itinerary for the day. The tour agents and dirvers have their own routes and schedules and it is sometimes wise to follow them, sometimes not. I get the feel that the plans are well crafted to help the locals, relying on the tourist fed economy. This day, we decided to go with Ketut’s plan. The first stop was a Barong Dance performance. There are many shows happening each day mainly at Batubalan village. The show was a routine performance for tourists, with elements of dance, music and colourful attire and masks. Then followed the Celuk village, famous for its silver art. We then visited the  very artistic painting halls of Ubud and also the wood carving centers at Mas village. Never a painting buyer, but I ended up picking up 3 small pieces of art for USD 20 each.

Aside: Each village has a special art form and the authorities have done well to showcase their talents. The travel agents ensure that tourists are brought to each of these places and the internal arrangements are well executed. But never the less, these villages are worth a visit and you may find some good bargains here – especially  to decorate your home.

It was time to hit the road, north bound to Kintamani. The roads in Bali are not wide, but they are well laid and road manners appreciable. After an hour’s drive, it was lunch time at Kintamani. The buffet spread is again, another arrangement with travel agencies and is a must stop on the itinerary. The lunch did allow us time to absorb the striking beauty of Mt Batur and Batur lake – a valcano mountain – dark and shining in the afternoon sun, with a pristine lake nearby and just enough greenery to form a natural gradient of colours.  A mesmerising view indeed – so much so I did not pay much attention to my lunch (Yes, me!)

After lunch, we traced back the route we had taken in the morning. The first stop was Thirtha Empul, a temple famous among locals for the holy water. The temple was not as attractive as the Gua Lawah. However, the huge local crowd was an indication that this was among the most sacred of temples. Next stop was along the Teggalagang rice terraces. We had read a lot about the rice terraces in Bali but were still wonder struck at the beautiful patterns and shades of green fields. The mix of randomness mixed with geometric patterns at some places, punctuated by tall lines of coconut trees… I guess prose is not apt here. Along the roadside, there are many shops with glass works – wall mirrors, lamp shades with mirror decorations, etc – a good bargain got us a red tiled wall mirror. So far Ketut’s plan had served our interests. Now he threw in a surprise – we had taken a route leading away from the Besakih temple, the Mother of all Bali temples. After many attempts to persuade him, it was a lost battle. I half remember visiting the Elephant Cave after that. The Besakih temple was the biggest miss on our trip.  Such disappointments are probably part of the travel experience. We dropped into our rooms for the evening. As the lights faded, we went exploring the Ubud market area. Dinner at Lotus Pond, with a long view of Bali dance performance was not a bad idea.

Day 3

There are days in life, when I hardly see what I eat. However on holidays, the simplest of breakfasts seems enjoyable.  Toasts & eggs and some tea got us going for the day. We had planned to take on the white waters of the Ayung river today. At USD 55 for 2 persons, it was not a bad deal. Sometimes, the best deals come packaged. We had negotiated for another day’s extension of stay at Sri Ratih plus a rafting trip – just the kind of benefits one can expect traveling in a low season. The pick up guy arrived on the dot.

Aside: This was another thing that impressed me in Bali – the tour arrangements were executed as per the design. All the packages – be it spa or beach sports or rafting – included a pick up and drop. With gas prices as low as Rp 6000/liter, I guess it did not add much to their costs. However, their precision and courtesy was commendable. I guess these things go a long way in making Bali a great tourist destination.

At the starting point, we got into the rafting gear and trekked down to the river. This was to be my first experience at rafting. To add to my already shivering nerves, I was asked to take the front position in the 5-seater raft. I started shaky…but at the end of the rapids, I was itching for more. Along the river side, the stone carvings from Ramayana and the waterfalls were magical. The rapids we took were just the class 1 type. Bali offers further options for all levels of adventures and thrills. To top it all, the rafting package included a much needed lunch.

For the second part of day 3, we had planned to drive north to view Ulan Danu temple. On the way, we made a stopover at the Mengwi Royal temple. This temple used to be frequented by the royal family and till today, the structure looks true to its name. There is so much written about Ulan Danu, the temple by the Bratan lake. It is situated in Bedugul region, which has cooler air than even Ubud.  The view of the temple amids the misty lake and green hills was mesmerising. When the skies opened up, view was even more heavenly. Ulan Danu is definitely a must-see on a Bali trip. From Bedugul, we drove south-west through Bedugul to Jatiluwih rice terraces. What can be said about these slices of greenery? WOW – too beautiful for words, I will let you see the snaps for yourself.  The last stop for the day was the Tanah Lot. Sadly, we missed the sunset and were just in time to catch the last light of the day. After Day 3, we wanted to switch base to Kuta or Legian. Ketut took us to Montri, for USD 40 a night. We were looking for better deals but it was late in the evening and we had been a long day. We bid farewell to Ketut (and paid him ofcourse). It was useful to have a vehicle to go around Ubud, East, Kintamani and Bedugul. For the rest of the tour, we planned to manage it on our own.

Day 4

The best part of staying in Montri was the breakfast buffet. The spread was tastefully done, with a choice of western and asian cuisine. The other aspect about Montri is its accessibility to the beach. From the breakfast area, you can take an eyeful of the sea. We ventured to the beach to find out more of the attractions.

Aside: Kuta & Legian are surfer’s paradise. Nusa Dua further south, with its shallow reefs  is well known for water sports, snorkelling and deep sea diving. Kuta & Legian are filled with budget hotels, with bed & breakfast deals. Nusa Dua is heavier on the purse and home to all the 5-star hotels. The region has a plethora of tourist attractions such as spas, seafood restaurants, shopping areas and night clubs. Compare this to Ubud and it would feel like you are on a different holiday altogether…

As we browsed through the various activities, a couple of them attracted us. Parasailing at Nusa Dua sounded fun. The other thing that we found unique – a photo session in traditional Balinese costumes. As usual a package deal with the same agent came with a small discount. Though Montri was comfortable, we decided to shift to Bali Sani to save another USD 15.  Parasailing was not bad but I found the duration to short to savour the view from top. In the late afternoon, we went to the spa that would do the balinese costumes & make-up for the photo session. The traditional dresses were fun to wear and funnier to photo-shoot in; definitely a good addition to our ‘memories’ photo collection. We rushed back to catch a glimpse of the famous Kuta beach sunset. The evening sky was beautiful and the view of surfers, silhoutted against the sunset was breathtaking. Dinner today, and we chose to go Spanish.

Aside: Bali has an assortment of food to offer. Ofcourse, seafood options are galore. Even among asian choices, there is so much to pick from – Japanese, Chinese, and ofcourse Indian. A lot others cater the thronging Australian tourists. Beer pubs are in plenty. Some restaurants, especially in Ubud allow guests to see dance performances while they dine, at a premium ofcourse.

Day 5

We chose a slow pace for day 5, never in a hurry to end the last day of holiday. After a relaxed breakfast, we scouted around for a good spa at a reasonable price. Similar to Thailand, spa is a big attraction here. However, the massage styles in Bali & Thailand are very different. Not sure if it relaxed a muscle or two, but the massage really helped rejuvenate our spirits. Later in the afternoon, we checked out and hired a cab for the last leg of our tour. We headed towards the southern tip of Bali, Ulawatu. Apart from the temple, I loved the seaside cliffs. It was a rare sight to see the hillside run along the sea. The surprise draw for the evening was the Kekak dance performanace – a scene from Ramayana played out in a very unique style that was all Balinese, from the dance form to the chants of “Kekakekak…”. Our final dinner stop was Jimbaran Bay. As our cab driver said, no visit to Ulawatu is complete without a seafood dinner at Jimbaran. The restaurants are lined up by the beach. Guests can choose the catch – fish, lobster, crab… and 15 minutes later, the candidate is cooked food. Jimbaran bay is an ideal setting for a candle lit dinner by the breezy seaside, with live bands playing your favourite tunes.

Aside: There was an interesting piece of trivia we picked up from our cabbie. People in Bali have one of the four names – Wayan, if he/she is the first child, Made if second, Nyoman, third and Ketut if fourth child. It is preceded by I, if male and Ni, if female. e.g. I Wayan Budiarsa or Ni Ketut Arini Alit. Even though Bali Hindu traces back its origin to India, the religious practices have changed over the years.  This Balinese touch is evident is all things – art, architecture and religion.

Our return Lion Air flight at 11 PM was a full house, just like the one that brought us to Bali 5 days back. I was not surpised though. The Bali bombers of 2002 were executed 3 days back. That may not be a victory against terrorism in the true sense. The spirit of tourists from all over the world, to continue to visit places like Bali is the true answer to any act of terrorism. Do visit Bali.

Bali Attractions:

  • Kintamani valcano view of Mt Batur 
  • Bedugul – Ulan Danu temple on Bratan lake
  • Jatiluwih rice terraces
  • Rafting on Ayung river
  • Trekking up valcano – Mt Batur or Mt Agung (early morning)
  • Dinner at Jimbaran Bay
  • Ulawatu temple
  • Besakih – Mother of all temples. Other temples – Kehen & Thirtha Empul
  • Art villages around Ubud like Batubulan, Painting museum
  • Indonesian Cooking classes – e.g. Bambu Bali
  • Spa
  • Bali traditional costume wear & photo shoot
  • Water sports @ Nusa Dua
  • Snorkelling & Deep sea diving
  • Surfing @ Kuta & Legian
  • East: Semarapura, Candidasa, Sideman Road, Gua Lawah temple, Tenganan village, Bale Kambang

Bali Travel Tips

  • Avoid peak season – mainly when it is holiday time in Australia
  • Fly Lion Air – easily the best fares
  • Avoid traveling around Nyepi – day of silence. The island effectively shuts down
  • Stay in Ubud for a part of your trip, Kuta or Legian for the rest