Indonesia - Bali

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
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Monday, February 5, 2007

We caught the hotel taxi (more expensive than it should have been it turns out!) to Ubud in the centre of the island of Bali. The journey was, once again, a heady mixture of dodging mopeds, cars and wild dogs whilst driving about 1 foot away from the vehicle in front (PIC). The odd over-the-top roundabout decoration (PIC) added some visual distraction from the traffic chaos until our cab dropped us off at our accommodation, Argasoka Bungalows.
 
The bungalows are best described as a low budget villa-style collection of buildings set in an overgrown garden (PICS). The picture of the room actually does it slightly more justice than it deserves, as it does not show the stains and general dirt that lurked around the room. However, it was the price that attracted us to the place (4.50 a night with breakfast!), and the friendly host made us feel welcome and helped with our luggage. It did seem that we were the only ones staying at the bungalows that night so we would certainly get his undivided attention.
 
We decided that the best way to see most of the sights around the island would be to hire a driver for the day (we had read that this could be done quite cheaply). No sooner did we mention this to our host he helpfully offered the services of a driver he knew well - his brother! We agreed to hire him as our chauffer for the following day at a rather competitive price of 400,000IDR or about 25 for the entire day!
 
 
Walking down the main street of Ubud from our accommodation we reached Monkey Forest, which, as the name suggests, is a forest full of wild monkeys (or macaques). As soon as we neared the entrance to the forest we could see the monkeys sitting on the walls along the pathway (PICS), munching on bananas and rambutan (like lychee), that paying visitors had thrown to them. The tiny baby monkeys were exceptionally cute and looked very timid and unsure whenever they were any more than a foot away from their parents.
 
A forest ranger fed a large group of apes in an open area of the forest and this gave a good opportunity for some great photos (PICS). We were amazed by the number of monkeys and how untroubled they were with our presence. After getting their fill they progressed to either sleeping (PICS) or fighting in the nearby fountain (PIC & VID). The top end of the forest also had a randomly placed temple - perhaps for the monkeys to practice their daily prayers? (PIC)
 
 
Leaving the Monkey Forest we wandered back up the main road. It was MUCH nicer than Kuta or Nusa Dua both in terms of its appearance and the degree of hassle that we received from the locals. We obviously were approached to enter shops and buy their goods but a simple "no thank you" sufficed in Ubud, whereas the Kuta-ites would not give in. Ubud is known as a much more cultural and arts-oriented town than Kuta and the surrounding area features many examples of painting, carving and stone cutting that are then sold in the main street. The main street in Ubud is basically the only street of any worth and contain most things a visitor could want; from hotels and bungalows, to restaurants, art galleries, shops, banks, Internet cafes and one or two 'tourist information' tour sellers.
 
Each shop had a number of religious offerings outside the door, assumingly to bless the store for that days trade (PIC). They seemed to be multi-purpose, looking pretty and smelling nice with their incense burning and also attracting the ants with a small cracker - apparently to keep them out of the shop.
 
There is a large rice paddy field halfway along the main street (PIC), which seems remarkably out of place. Slightly further up the road is a larger field that the locals use constantly for games of football (PIC), making Andrew miss his regular games (both playing and watching) back in the UK.
 
We stopped along the main street for a taste of the local cuisine and were pleasantly surprised with what we discovered. A good-sized meal of chicken satay, rice and drinks cost us less than 3.
 
 
We awoke early the following day to begin our day tour of the 'best of Bali' and after a quick breakfast of fruit and pancakes we met with our driver Nyoman. A brief discussion ensued where we planned our route around the islands attractions; we were relieved to find that Nyoman seemed to know what he was saying and seemed to know where he was going - we were worried that this was a one-off favour from his brother and he may have never done it before!
 
Climbing into our transport (which we are still convinced Nyoman had hired for the day) we began dodging the road-happy dogs and chickens around the rural areas of Bali on our way to our first stop - Goa Gajah, otherwise known as Elephant Caves.
 
Goa Gajah was the first of a number of temples that we would be visiting on our day trip. This one was deserted, as it was so early in the morning. This is a good tip for anyone planning to visit such temples; the shops were all closed and we were able to get in for free as the payment office was also closed. The temple is based around a cave carved into the rock and features a number of buildings dotted around a large pool with statuesque fountains flanking the edges (PICS). The cave is surrounded with a large rock carving and a number of small sarong-wearing statues (PICS), which are far more interesting than what is inside the cave (nothing). On a lower level, down a long flight of steps from the main temple area, lies an oasis of lush greenery and a few smaller shrines around an algae-covered pond (PIC). The entire place was very peaceful and tranquil, mainly due to it being so early in the morning that we had preceded all other visitors.
 
 
The second temple on our day's itinerary was Gunung Kawi, a temple that, according to the Lonely Planet is one of the most impressive sights in Bali. A bizarre statue of two woolly mammoths (PIC) and more importantly, 310 steps, lay between us and seeing whether this fact was true - so we began our journey downhill. The path down to the temple has good and bad attributes. Firstly the good is that along one side is an array of huge rice terraces running down the hillside (PIC), thus giving us our first view of what we had pictured a rice paddy to look like; impressive in its vastness. The bad side of the path is a run of shops that continue for most of the length of the stairway. Luckily, once again, the early time of day meant that most shops were still closed.
 
Finally reaching the bottom of the steps we rounded a corner and were presented with a startling view of four enormous rock carvings (PIC). Walking further into the temple (PIC) a range of carved structures, both wooden and stone, stood in a courtyard with a crypt alongside used for cremation ceremonies. The local wildlife, ducks and stray dogs, wandered around the temple site seemingly oblivious to our presence (PICS).
 
 
Temple number three was a 'water temple', known as Tirtha Empul. A collection of impressive stone pagodas and gateways encapsulated pools and ponds (PICS) throughout the temple grounds. One of which was used by the locals as a bathing pool (PIC). The fruit hanging from some of the trees nearby was almost as big as a human head (PIC) - and would probably win against one if it dropped from that height! A maze of stalls had to be negotiated before we reached the car park and our driver - onto the next destination.
 
 
Our next port of call, we thought, was to be Mt. Batur and its surrounding lake, we were surprised to find out that our driver had additional plans. Pulling through a gate in the side of a large wall we wondered where we were being taken. Disembarking our car we found that we were in a coffee bean plantation. It was the first we had heard but we decided to play along.
 
We walked through an orchard of different plants and reached a small hut with an old woman sat at a window slowly roasting coffee beans (PIC). It was like being transported back in time to an age before farm machinery and high capacity production techniques - the smell was amazing! We were subsequently ushered to a balcony overlooking a massive plantation and served with a selection of coffees and teas, including Bali Coffee, Cocoa, Ginseng Coffee, Ginger Tea and Lemongrass Tea (PIC). Most of the drinks were surprisingly nice, especially the Ginseng Coffee which tasted like Red Bull in the form of coffee.
 
We waited for the bill but to our amazement we were taken to another area to try some local fruit (PIC). We recognised the mangoes but had no idea what the other three things were. They turned out to be Mangosteen, Salak (aka Snake fruit), and Rambutan and were all really delicious.
 
Finally we arrived at a shop - it all became clear. We were impressed with the Ginseng Coffee enough to consider buying a few sachets, until we saw the price and politely haggled and then refused. If they had any of the fruit for sale we may have relented but instead we left empty handed and without having to spend a cent.
 
 
Our next stop was on our planned route; Mt & Lake Batur. They are part of a volcanic landscape in the very centre of the island and can be climbed if you have the time and energy. We had neither so we stopped at an outdoor restaurant to take in the views on the mountain and lake (PIC). The restaurant was a better place to stop, according to Nyoman, because local sellers would not bother us. It would have also made a good place to stop for lunch if we hadn't filled up on coffee and fruit just half and hour earlier.
 
 
Heading south from the mountain we reached Besakih Temple, the largest temple in Asia. We also encountered a perfect example of the local con artists. Approaching the temple we had to pay 25,000IDR (about 1.50) for entry to the area - this was about double the price of every temple but we relented due to the fact that it was supposed to be so big....and they had guns. Parking up we then got to the temple gates and found that we had to pay for a guide to take us around the temple. Disbelief was followed by a heated discussion as a German couple paid 200,000IDR for their guide! There was no way we were going to pay anything like that. It looked like there was no way we were getting in without a guide so we eventually managed to (quietly) get a guide for 50,000IDR. The biggest con was that some cars were not stopped for the initial payment and some groups with their own private tour guide did not have to pay for a temple guide either - CONNED!
 
The temple itself was immense, a sprawling mass of buildings and walled courtyards linked by thousands of steps that climb up the volcano that the temple is built into. Some parts of the temple climb over 5km up the volcano slope; these outer buildings are used as pilgrimages for the devotees at certain times of year. We were fortunate enough to witness a ceremony taking place with the devotees in full regalia (PIC) and incense burning all around.
 
Some of the buildings are constructed using volcanic rock, giving the temple its characteristic black colour. The layered roofing is also a very distinguishable feature of this temple and gives it a dramatic appearance when set against the surrounding woodland as seen in the panoramic shot (PIC).
 
 
Leaving our fourth temple we stopped at a nearby restaurant for a buffet meal of local delicacies, and were joined by a rather noisy cockerel (PIC) whilst trying to eat. Perhaps he was worried that he would be the next one on the menu!
 
 
Driving further south we passed several more rice paddy fields and an unusual watermelon field with the local workers hard at their jobs (PIC). In the next village we came across a colourful ceremony involving the entire community (PICS). We later discovered it was a cremation ceremony but the colours and music seemed like much more of a celebration - perhaps a fitting way to say goodbye to someone, especially as in the Indonesians faith they believe they are moving onto paradise.
 
 
Our final destination, and final temple of the day, was Tanah Lot - one of the more famous temples in Bali, mainly due to its unique location. Tanah Lot is built on a rocky outcrop out in the ocean and can only be reached at certain levels of tide (PICS). It is an amazing spectacle to behold and certainly contrasts dramatically with the other temples that we had seen that day.
 
On a cliffs edge just behind Tanah Lot lies a smaller shrine, which we christened Tanah Little (for want of its real name)(PIC). On our way back to the car we were stopped in our tracks by an unsuspected creature across our path (PICS). It was known as the Holy Snake but we doubted that there was very little religious meaning to the snake, more just a way for the locals to gain some extra cash with tourists getting their pictures taken with it.
 
 
Tired and ready for our not-too-comfy beds in the not-so-clean and not-so-air-conditioned room we headed back to the car, passing a couple of bats hanging from a nearby branch in the marketplace (PIC). It had been a long day but we were very pleased with the amount of area we had covered and the sights we had seen. It was definitely a great, and reasonably cheap, way to see a lot of the island. Something we would recommend to anyone planning to visit Bali.
 
 
The day after our mammoth day trip we left the Argasoka Bungalows and checked into the much more comfortable, clean and air-conditioned Ubud Bungalows just a minutes walk up the road. The price reflected this improvement, over 4 times the price, but for one final night in Bali we decided it was worth the outlay. We had suffered a few nasty mosquito bites the day before (PICS) so needed somewhere a bit more restful to recover! (or that's our reasoning anyway!).
 
The Ubud bungalows are simple but well appointed and above all clean! They have a number of attractive features such as the ornately decorated doors and intricately carved wooden fixtures (PICS). The gardens around each bungalow are also very attractive and add to the overall ambience of the place, as does the pool (PICS).
 
 
We spent hours of our final day in Bali booking planes, trains and hotels for Singapore and Malaysia before grabbing another local meal. We needed cash to pay the 100,000 IDR departure tax (7 each) so went to the nearest ATM. The ATM was offline so we crossed the road and used a neighbouring one. After plugging in our details and selecting our withdrawal we were shocked to find that no cash followed our card out of the machine. On second inspection the machine looked like it could have been tampered with so Andrew called his bank and told them to prevent any transactions for the next day or so (as of yet it hasn't appeared on his account).
 
In desperate need of money we consequently had to walk over a mile to the next ATM, which we found in a newsagents. The shop had a selection of 'original & authentic' DVDs for sale - movies that we hadn't seen yet as they were only just out in the cinema. As they were selling them in a shop we knew they must be kosher so we set about trawling through the titles and eventually picked out 8 that we fancied - costing us a grand total of 7.
 
Eventually, almost 2 hours later than intended, we got our local meal.
 
 
With a bit of time to kill before leaving for the airport, we decided to 'enjoy' a local massage. It was a steal at less than 2 for 30 minutes so we jumped onto the massage beds and relaxed - although not for long! The massage was the hardest, most painful and bone crunching experience of our lives. The tiny women doing the kneading must have had finger muscles like Arnold Schwarzeneggers biceps, to be tenderising us to such a degree. At certain times it was all we could do to stop ourselves from screaming 'STOP'. All in all - it was quite nice!
 
 
A taxi took us from Ubud to the airport. We managed to negotiate a fairly good deal of 120,000IDR, although we still think we could have got it for less. At the airport a quick check-in and no less than 3 security checks and we were on the plane to Singapore.
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