EXPLORE: Indonesia – Bali

Continuing my Indonesian adventure from my previous post, I took the short flight from Jogja to Bali’s Denpasar airport. My first homebase in Bali was Ubud.  Away from the tourist masses on the beaches in South Bali outside Denpasar (e.g., Kuta), Ubud offers a quiet relief from the Bali “city life” and is just a little over an hour from the airport.  It is also positioned well to act as a starting point for most of Bali’s outdoor adventure opportunities.

Village Temple in Ubud

Ubud, itself, is comprised primarily a few main streets.  It was recently made famous by the book, and subsequent movie with Julia Roberts, “Eat, Pray, Love” – the “love” part in that equation. I actually attempted my own reenactment of the books, well not finding Javier Bardem, but seeking out Kutut Liyer, the medicine man that set all the wheels in motion in Elizabeth Gilbert’s head.  Located just outside the main part of town, off Jalan Raya Pengosekan, Kutut’s family home is open daily for visitors looking to gain his advice.  I was wary of visiting Kutut because everything I read online said that he gave the same speech to everyone – you will live to 100 years, you will have three kids, you need to not drive so fast, etc. – and all that for the very hefty fee of 200,000+ rupiahs, a huge amount in Balinese standards.  I hesitated going, then finally said why not?  When will I next be in Bali, if ever? And Kutut is no 90+ year old spring chicken.  When I arrived in the afternoon, with the help of a local driver, Kutut was still taking his afternoon repose.  I, in fact, saw him emerge from his rest wearing an Arizona football t-shirt of all things, a sarong, and a white head wrap – smiling with that one huge front tooth sticking out too!  Unfortunately, I arrived at a time when five more people were ahead of me – there was actually a “take a number” method employed – and was informed that it would be another two hours before he met with the first in line, meaning a 4 hour wait for me, possibly.  So, I think fate intervened and my gut was right to not waste the money.  If you’re determined to trace the footsteps of Elizabeth Gilbert, Wiyan, the single mother/healer she helped has a shop in Ubud as well.  Like Kutut Liyer, read the reviews before you go to know what you’ll experience. 
 
As I said before, Ubud is central for a lot of Bali’s fun adventures.  While in Ubud, I did three:

White Water Rafting – Very fun 2 hour river tour down Telaga Waja with beautiful scenery, including rice fields and waterfalls (guarantee you will find yourself directly beneath one getting pelted with water).  Exotissimo booked me with Sobek, and they were very good.  Expect to have to climb a lot of stairs and for your guide to give the “BOOM BOOM” command often, which means hold on tight, we’re going to hit!

Mountain Biking – I was intimidated when my guide said we were going to bike 40 km, but he said it was mostly downhill.  We started at a ridge overlooking Lake Batur, at the base of Mt. Batur, one of Bali’s smaller volcanoes.  Yes, it was mostly downhill, but boy were my hands sore from braking.  And the few uphills were doozies!  But having the chance to tour small villages and see Bali life is worth the effort, though. 

Rice Terraces

Safari Tour – If you ever wondered where the world’s supply of VW Things (1970s VW 181 model) went, they were shipped to Bali!  

My super cute ride!

These tours head towards West Bali to view temples, lakes, and rice fields  My safari stopped at the Pura Samuan Tiga, the temple that used to be exclusively for the King in the Udayana Warmadewa dynasty in the 10th century.  It is a great example of Balinese temple architecture, with the orange brick and grey stone, as well as the multi-tiered pagoda roofs.   

Pura Samian Tiga

Next, the tour headed up into the mountains to arrive at the picturesque Ulun Dani Beratan Temple (pictured at the top of this blog post) and to stop for lunch overlooking a view the “twin lakes.”  

The downhill journey back toward central Bali included some amazing rice terrace views!  Since we were close, I asked the driver to make a special detour at the end of the trip to visit the popular ocean temple, Tanah Lot, as well.  I was a little disappointed with Tanah Lot, after hearing about it from friends and after visiting the beautiful Ulun Dani.  Plus, it was very crowded with tourists from the southern beaches doing their one required vacation “cultural activity.”  

One adventure I passed on was the sunrise trek up Mt. Batur.  I chickened out the night before because of the 3am wakeup call.

Tanah Lot

Ubud has some fun attractions as well.  The most popular is the Monkey Forest, where hordes of monkeys harrass tourists for food.  You can buy bananas and rambutans to feed them, but beware, you will become an instant target.  I had no food, and a monkey surprised me by climbing up my leg and back before I shoved him off my shoulders.  Entry fee was only 20,000 rupiahs.  

You can also wander the main roads – Jalan Monkey Forest and Jalan Hanoman to do some shopping for overpriced merchandise.  Of course, I had to seek out the one and only cupcake shop in Bali, Localista Cafe on Jalan Suweta.  Through my Exotissmo tour, I also had opportunities visit surrounding areas to trek across rice fields, visit local woodcarvers and silversmiths, view a pretty waterfall, and attend a performance of a traditional Balinese kecak dance (youtube example).

Kecak – Ramayana Dance

Having got my fill of Central Bali, and upon completion of my arranged tour with Exotissimo, I headed to the Northeast coast to do some SCUBA diving, opting to stay in the quiet fishing village of Amed.  

Fishing Boats in Amed

I chose to stay at the Puri Wirata Dive Resort for the convenience of having a 5-star PADI dive shop on site, Bali Reef Divers.  The hotel was satisfactory, smaller than expected, and the staff was really nice.  They had a restaurant that turned out to be very convenient, since Amed wrapped around a cliffside, making it challenging to go exploring for food.

View from the restaurant

I got two dives in while in Amed, at the USAT Liberty (a WWII Army Transport wreck) and Coral Gardens in the nearby village of Tulamben. They were both shore dives, and I could not believe that the female porters for our tanks and BC vests carried the equipment from the truck to the beach ON THEIR HEADS!  Do you know how much that stuff weighs??  

The dives were very successful, and I got to see two new interesting creatures – a mantis shrimp and ribbon eel – and spotted two black tip reef sharks. 

Mantis Shrimp

Ribbon Eel

Clown Fish (Nemos!)

While almost 100km from Denpasar, Amed was surprisingly a long drive to the airport – 3 hours!  So, my advice is to arrange for extra time to make sure you don’t miss your flight, wherever you are staying, because you can’t predict traffic in Bali and there are no highways.

Additional Bali Insight and Tips:
Thank you very much – Matur Suksma (mah-tour sook-smah) = the key to a warm reception
Rainy Season – November through January is the heaviest part of rainy season in Bali.  This doesn’t mean that it rains all day, but plan on at least one good downpour.  In my short experience there, it seemed that the rain preferred afternoons and nights.  Bring an umbrella and poncho, if you have room.  

Visa – On arrival, you can get a 30 day tourist visa for $25 US, no paperwork required
Airport taxes for Departing Flights from Indonesian Airports –  150,000 rupiahs for international,  30,000 rupiahs for domestic flight departures (only cash accepted)
Getting to Asia from the US – My airline opinion:  For all my trips to Asia, I’ve always flown EVA Airways.  Based in Taiwan, EVA has always provided me with comfortable and convenient flights out of Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.  For a very reasonable price, you can upgrade to the Evergreen Deluxe Class where you feel like you’re in business class, with more legroom and recline, but without the sharp price increase.  Also, I find the airport in Taiwan to be small enough to not be congested so that you will not have to worry about transferring to your connecting flight – just deplane from your arrival flight, go through a security check for your transfer (no customs), head up the escalators, and you’re there in the departure hall.

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