When traveling to Bali, beware the Bogans! The Australian version of Canadian Rednecks, these rowdy young men crowded our plane on the flight in to the island. They are loud, brash, rude and, by the time we had picked up our bags, they all had a beer in hand. They’re prominent in Bali, especially in Kuta and Seminiyak. We tried our best to avoid the party scene in Bali altogether.
We booked a stay at the Ghandi Hostel 2 in Denpasar. A modest home in the middle of the city equipped with bunk beds and mattresses adorned with an inaccurate American flag and Bald Eagle design(?). After arriving late at night, we woke the next morning with the humidity hanging on us like a wet blanket.
We spent most of our first day in Denpasar wandering the busy urban streets, marvelling at all the beautifully decorated temples and trying to avoid getting hit by gangs of dozens upon dozens of scooters! Along our walk I got a great (and much needed) haircut for about $2.50, and had a lunch (nasi goreng-fried rice) for about $1.50. It was the first real taste of culture shock in our trip – life is so different over here. That night we went down to the night market: a maze of stands selling counterfeit watches and sunglasses, (often lewd) t-shirts and stickers, clothes, shoes, and street food. We were mostly interested in the food (and just wandering around, taking it all in). Eventually, after obviously failing to make sense of the food/menu signs at dozens of stands, a vendor saw our predicament and said “Hello! You can eat here!”. -Sold! After some vague requests and translations we were served up bowls of soup (veggie for Sam, chicken for me) and rice. Making our way out of the maze of stands we hailed an “Uber”, went back to the hostel and went to bed. First day in Bali – completely not what I was expecting but, – check!
For our next day, we had booked a trip with Kadek- a guide/driver who worked at the hostel. First stop was Padang Beach – a beautiful beach on the south end of the island – lots of beach side warungs (food stands) and gorgeous scenery. For our first twenty minutes on the beach we were almost constantly approached by Indonesian kids asking us to take pictures with them and do interviews! Kadek later explained that this was a popular beach for Indonesian tourists from other islands that had probably never seen white people before! We enjoyed a nice swim at the beach but there was quite a lot of garbage in the water and ol’ good hearted Sam made it her mission to gather up as much of it as she could while she swam (I helped too)! After the beach was a tour of Uluwatu temple – full of tourists but a must see if you are in Bali.
The temple is located on top of a steep cliffs overlooking the ocean, it was easily the most beautiful place we saw in Bali. After about an hour of wandering around the temple we sat down to take in a traditional dance. The Kekak Fire Dance is a play/dance about Hanuman – the Hindu monkey god, as he heroically rescues a princess from the underworld, set to hypnotic chanting by 100 or so monks. The stands not only overlooked the stage, but the ocean behind it and the dance was perfectly timed with the sunsetting in the background.
The next day we caught an uber to Ubud. We had heard Ubud was the best town in Bali for non partying yoga-types. But within the first hour of us being there, we were planning our escape from the bustling tourism in this town. We had booked a home stay on AirB&B at a place called “The “White House”. Our Uber driver could not find the place and dropped us off “close”. We spent the next hour walking around town trying to decipher google maps and getting conflicting directions from (overly) helpful locals. Eventually we came to a hotel (on a quieter street than the one we were dropped off at) called the “White House”. We showed them our reservation and were promptly informed that this was not the same “White House” – our booking was for a different place entirely! The manager: Maddi, informed us that he only had one room available and it was $40,000 ($40) rupiah a night, tomorrow he would have a cheaper room available for 20,000 Rp a night. We looked out over the hotels lush garden courtyard and inviting swimming pool as we pondered splurging on a $40 a night, air conditioned hotel room, eventually deciding against it. As we began to walk away, Maddi shouted after us: “ok, I can do 30k rp a night”! Hot, sweaty and tired, we were sold! We moved our packs in to the luxury suite, took a shower and hopped into the pool! What a reward! This hotel was like a quiet little oasis in this busy town.
We spent the next day, walking around town, exploring our surroundings. Lots of clothing shops (many of them yoga-themed) and restaurants (some vegetarian, some local food, and some white-people-food) quite a bit more expensive than Denpasar ($3-$7 a meal – robbery!)
We wasted no time visiting the famous “Monkey Forest” the very next day. Admission was a reasonable 40k rp ($4). The monkeys, as well, wasted no time jumping on Sam and accosting her for bananas before we even entered the park! The thug was quickly shooed away by a park attendant and we went in (with a bag of bananas securely guarded). The forest was just gorgeous, lush and green and monkeys! Monkeys everywhere! Lots of cute little babies holding on to their moms as well as bigger older gents with grey beards and stern demeanours. We fed the smaller cuter ones of course but some Greedy Gus’s couldn’t be denied! Unfortunately, the older ones never seemed to get any bananas, though we later found out that there was a “pecking order”, and the smaller juvies often brought bananas to the older ones as a sign of respect. Sam was enamoured with the monkeys, while I was a bit more cautious (My dad had mentioned that whilst traveling in Africa, monkeys had gotten into his tour van, and hilarity ensued). The Monkey Forest contains many trails, two Hindu temples and a peaceful, flowing stream. Towards the end of our stroll, we saw a small male monkey getting sexually dominated by an older, bigger one! Giggling, I snapped a picture! While I was walking away, the smaller one jumped on me and bit my arm! – “That was a private moment! No pictures!” Haha! The bite didn’t break my skin and it was well worth the story!
A couple of days later we set out on a tour with a friendly cab driver we had met the day before (450K rp for two people – full day). Our first stop was a traditional Barong and Kris dance portraying the conflict between good and evil. The tour also included a stop at the waterfall (nice, but full of tourists and not much to do other than take pictures), a holy water temple, a viewpoint for Mt. Batur, a coffee plantation (with lots of free samples!) and a gorgeous green rice terrace (unfortunately we couldn’t walk through it due to recent rain).
Our days in Ubud began to blend into another each filled with amazing food (check out Sam’s food blog), wonderful yoga classes, kickboxing workouts (I found a local gym with a heavy bag!) and lounging by the pool. We had originally planned to stay in Ubud for one week, which then became two, which then became three and a half. Our original misgivings about the bustling tourism were defeated by our efforts to find the cheaper/better local food, shops, yoga and attractions. Ubud is a really amazing town with great food and lots to do, just don’t be a tourist!
On Christmas Eve we were eating dinner at one of our favourite restaurants: Hongalia, (authentic Chinese food made by a very friendly couple and their elderly mother) when our hostess came over giggling with a picture of Eminem on her phone: “This look like you! My Mom! My Mom say it you!”. Much laughter ensued and every time we went back the whole family would refer to me as Eminem! One night we even passed by the husband and his friends hangout out on the street and one of the friends said “Hey Eminem!!” and did an awkward hip hop dance! Hahaha!
Christmas morning was made special by a booked trip to Mt. Batur for a sunrise hike. We left town in a small tour van at around 2:30am accompanied by our friend from the hotel- Tamara. It’s a little over an hour drive followed by a two hour hike up the mountain. Our efforts were rewarded by a sunrise partially blocked by another mountain, but pretty nonetheless. Whether or not it was worth the effort is a matter for debate. Merry Christmas!! After the sun had rose, we were greeted by Bali’s ubiquitous monkeys – looking for handouts of course. Not much to be had. I’d imagine monkey life is a fair bit harder at the top of a mountain than in Sacred Monkey Forest.
Exploring the Elephant Cave Temple required that we rent a scooter ($5 for the day!). Renting a scooter did not require that I knew how to drive a scooter. We/I was the subject of much laughter and mockery (mostly by school-age girls it seemed) anytime I attempted to turn left, turn right, or stop. The Elephant Cave Temple was definitely worth the 20 minute ride from town. More of the ubiquitous beautiful Hindu temples, as well as some nice trails through the Jungle valley, and a cave all carved up to not resemble an Elephant(?).
After the Temple, we checked out a close by surfing beach called Kerimas. Black sand and big waves, the water was too rough for swimming so we drank frozen mango juice and watched the surfers with vicarious pleasure.
On New Year’s Eve we celebrated at a shisha bar called Club XL. Strawberry shisha complemented by coffee and later, a beer – a great combination for a non-drinker such as myself. A talented cover band played for most of the night, adding to the chill atmosphere (Oasis’s “Don’t Look Back In Anger” and Red Hot Chilli Peppers “Californication” were two of the highlights from their set). Directly outside the bar was a large soccer field where the locals had a constant display of fireworks on the go. What the fireworks lacked in quality, they made up for in quantity (and proximity!). After leaving the bar, we sat on the curb watching the fireworks with the locals. There seemed to be a competition between groups on different sides of the field – these folks are (literally) firework crazy! We got home shortly before 2017 and spent midnight in the swimming pool surrounded by fireworks on all sides of the horizon. Ahhh…… Bali, Bali, Bali, Bali…