Generally when going to a tropical island for a holiday, one would partake in relaxing activities such as lying on the beach perhaps stirring for the odd massage or cocktail. I however discovered at a very young age that staying still bores me very quickly. I found myself in Ubud and after a sufficient amount of time checking out temples, hanging out by the pool it was time to track down some action.
Everywhere you go in Bali you can find a multitude of stalls selling tickets to pretty much any activity you can imagine. While there was the temptation to climb Agung or Batur, the fact I hadn’t done any real hiking in a few months made me reluctant knowing how terrible climbing a volcano overnight can be when unprepared. I couldn’t however go to Bali without checking out a volcano up close so finding a tour which involved cycling from Mt Batur back to Ubud was just the thing for me.
Not a bad view for breakfast
We left early driving for almost 2 hours up to Kintamani, a village on the edge of the sprawling Batur caldera, a spectacular spot overlooking the massive volcanic landscape and the perfect location for breakfast. From here it was to be a 40km cycle back to Ubud with stops along the way to check out some local industry and villages. I was unsure as to what cycling in Bali would be like after a few attempts to tackle the roads of Central Java on a bike which were soon abandoned after a few too many close calls with trucks.
Along the way we sampled kopi luwak, which I still think does not have a taste that justifies the cost (Sarawakian Coffee though.. I’ll post about that later), saw a traditional Balinese compound, cycled through sprawling rice fields and stopped at an amazing hollowed out tree where some local kids came along and laughed at the tall white girl who spoke Indonesian with the funny accent. It was an amazing insight into Indonesian culture and the Balinese way of life.
Typical Balinese village temple
Reaching the end of the road we were given two options, jump in the truck to head up to lunch or ride an extra 10km uphill. Recovering from a cold and in 30+ degree heat I was apprehensive but the guide assured me that it would be very easy and mostly flat with a few little climbs. It wasn’t. The next 30 minutes were possibly some of the most painful in my life with a feeling that my lungs were going to be ripped out of my chest. Suddenly those beautiful rice paddies became a lot less scenic as I gasped for breath and threw bottles of water over my head in futile attempts to lower my body temperature to make it over the next ridge and then suddenly it was over.
After having an amazing Balinese lunch and a few soft drinks to get the blood sugar levels up to a healthy level again, I realised that the whole day was quite amazing in the end. By cycling we got away from the tourist trail and saw the more authentic Bali, a place full of unique culture and spectacular natural beauty. Would I recommend cycling in Bali? Definitely, in fact when I go back I’ll probably attempt to do some touring on a bike. Although maybe wait until you’ve fully recovered from that cold.
I just realised how ridiculously long it’s been since I last posted. Unfortunately with thesis deadlines approaching there is little time in my schedule for anything else.
But I promise, come November there will be some hopefully amazing articles about Bali, Borneo, food, adventure sports, culture and the environment! Looking forward to writing something different for a change!
Here’s a picture of an orangutan and its baby in Borneo. A taste of things to come you might say
Happy Independence Day to one of my favourite places in the world! 67 years and still going strong!
Monumen Nasional, Jakarta
Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve posted- Bali and Borneo stories will be up soon once my thesis decides to write itself/my thumb becomes less dislocated and lets me type more easily
Where- Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia
The Kecak dance at sunset is magical. The rhythmic cak-cak-cak of the chorus paired with the stunning backdrop creates an incredible atmosphere and it’s a real must see while in Bali.
Mention Ubud to a lot of people and the connection with the (in)famous novel Eat, Pray, Love will probably come to mind. The book didn’t do anything to inspire my trip to Ubud and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a must read before visiting Bali but I can understand the appeal.
Needless to say I didn’t go to Ubud looking for any deep spiritual fulfillment but what I found was nothing short of amazing. I stayed in some villas about 15 minutes out of Central Ubud and it was fantastic to be out in the peaceful banjar (village area) and a bit isolated from the tourist throng. Driving into town each day was great looking out at the sprawling rice paddies which make you reconsider your definition of the colour green.
I’ve seen a lot of rice paddies in my time but there were rather special.
Central Ubud itself was very cool. It definitely had a very laid back vibe with all of its alternative culture and yoga classes. The town is focused on a few streets with lots of little shops and it’s really easy to walk around. There are a few popular sights including the Palace and the Monkey Forest. Personally I didn’t go to the Monkey Forest with them not being my favourite animal in the world and around town you hear a few horror stories about how aggressive the monkeys can be.
There is a fantastic arts scene in Ubud. We saw some wonderful traditional dances and whether you want to check out sculptures, wood carving, silver smithing or pretty much any other art form you can imagine you will find it in Ubud.
Busy Ubud Markets
There are specialty villages for each art form scattered across the region and it’s definitely worth going for a drive to check them out and pick up some unique souvenirs.
So that’s my Ubud experience. I didn’t marry a Portuguese man or meet any Balinese medicine men but I had a very enjoyable time exploring the area and highly recommend adding it to your Bali itinerary. It’s best to have a few days there as it is quite a large area and it makes a fantastic base for activities to the north of the island.
Bali. It was a place I traveled to with a degree of apprehension. “It’s not really Indonesia” was something I was commonly told among other horror stories from friends who had been there in the past. I was worried that this island would somehow change my opinion of Indonesia, a country that I love dearly.
It turns out my feelings were somewhat unwarranted. Bali was a truly incredible place. From the rice paddies to volcanoes, temples to beachside resorts, chilled out Ubud to ultra-hip Seminyak- the island has it all. In a week I was able to experience an amazing culture and meet some of the friendliest people in the world and do a wide range of activities which allowed me to immerse myself in the island.
People there would tell you their stories; the Hindu culture was so different to anything I had seen before with it being so overt yet so laid back. The landscape is breathtaking, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anywhere so green and the beaches were beautiful with blue water lapping the sand either pure white or black from the island’s volcanic past.
I went to Kuta- it wasn’t great but was nowhere near as bad as the media makes it out to be. It was to be honest no worse than Phuket or any other popular beach resort. These are places you go to quite frankly drink and hang out at the beach and not somewhere you go to have a deep cultural experience (although it could be argued that this too is a certain type of culture) but there is still the option to go out and see the “real” Bali if you want which is incredibly accessible with places like Tanah Lot under an hour’s drive away.
Bali is diverse, which is something which can be said about the whole archipelago. I’ve never been to two towns in Java which are alike let alone to two separate islands and while I love Java dearly, Bali emphasises what I love most about that country. Unity in Diversity- with hundreds of ethnic groups and thousands of islands there are millions of opportunities to have a wide range of amazing experiences in Indonesia. We need to give Bali a break and recognise it for what it is.
An Update- I’m currently in Borneo and have a bunch of notes from things I did in Bali which will soon turn into several posts. I will attempt to get them posted soon but with so little time to explore Borneo, it may take a few weeks to get it up. There will be a bunch of new content from Bali, Borneo and Singapore soon though!
I’ve written about Jakarta before and been here a few times now but this trip is the first time I’ve really made an effort to do anything that vaguely resembles any type of sightseeing. That said I have been here on business so there has been the necessity to do some work.
After arriving in the centre of town I did something which seems natural in Jakarta- I went to the mall and ate some Western food. Yes not the most cultural of experiences (or is it in Jakarta) but the Grand Indonesia complex is amazing- heaps of levels of shops and when I saw a Pho 24 stall well I couldn’t resist the temptation. Then I met a few friends for dinner and we went to a pizza place where we enjoyed pizza and red wine which again while not very Indonesian was rather enjoyable.
So the next morning after a meeting I thought I’d take advantage of how close I was to Monas and finally see what it was all about. It was… well previously I thought the negative reviews from friends were a bit harsh- honestly it wasn’t that bad but it really wasn’t that great. I did find the dioramas at the bottom celebrating the liberation of Irian Jaya and the Integration of East Timor pretty hilarious and if I was the leader of a large country I’d probably build myself an incredibly large monument and deck it out with gold but would I go back to Monas? Probably not.
The National Monument (Monas)
I did have a couple of funny experiences around Monas though- firstly in the taxi going there where the driver was quite the character and tried to convince me to give him my sunglasses in exchange for the taxi fare. That wasn’t going to happen so instead he asked me why so many Western men like Indonesian women. Couldn’t help him there. Then standing beside the road trying to flag a taxi next to Merdeka Square a procession of tanks drove past and all the gunners on top wished me good morning and waved. It seemed rather fitting given the history of the area and it was definitely quite strange.
The afternoon saw me do some more work before meeting up with another lucky person currently enduring thesis writing for coffee which turned into a lovely walk around the neighbourhood and dinner at an amazing little restaurant called Restoran Trio which has been around since the 1940s and all its menus are written in the old style of Indonesian spelling. The place is famous with Indonesian scholars and it was great to hopefully become a part of that history. We also bought beers from the petrol station and drank them in the street watching the traffic jam- only in Indonesia.
Restoran Trio- Charming little place
Jakarta is not really known as a particularly pleasant or even safe part of Indonesia and to be completely honest there isn’t a huge tourist appeal to the place however there are some hidden gems. It was an interesting trip for me because I did 3 things which I have never done before;
- Catch a non-Bluebird taxi- not recommended for non-Indonesian speakers or first timers to Jakarta. Express is a reasonable company but it is good to have a vague idea where you’re going and be able to communicate with the driver
- Walk around- not something that has appealed to me in the past but it is a really lovely way to experience Jakarta. Use common sense of course. I even walked across an overpass which seemed a bit dodgy but there were plenty of police around due to me being in the CBD.
- Ride on an ojek (motorbike taxi)- Only really good for short trips unless you are keen. Jakarta is full of one way streets so these little things are the best way to avoid the horrific traffic by taking back streets or the “Honda highway” (footpaths, tiny spaces between cars etc)
So that’s Jakarta. I could live here but would slip pretty much into the expat life and frequent a lot of Western restaurants which although is not really getting in touch with Indonesian culture it is a fun way to spend time in the city. It’s probably worth a visit for a quick introduction to Indonesian history with some of the museums not updated in recent years and still showing the glorious patriotism of the 1970s.