An April 2000 trip
to Bali by Ozzy-Dave
Quote: Ruined by tourism? Culturally exploited? The purists might say YES, but Bali continues to attract backpackers, billionaires and bright-eyed babyboomers in droves with a heady mix of authentic culture and unplundered scenic wonders. All swaying to the convenient, cheap and alluring sounds of Tourism-Asian-Style.
And so, my top 10 in no particular order...
1. Tirtagangga - swim, chat, walk, or just enjoy the stunning lcoation.
2. Mountain drive to Culik - for remote villages and jaw-dropping rice terraces.
3. Beachside dining in sleepy Candidasa.
4. Drinking Kopi Bali fresh from the plantation in Pupuan.
5. Going feral in the jungle setting of Banjar Hot Springs.
6. Finding a cool and peaceful spot at Gunung Kawi, and just looking.
7. Exploring the colour and pageantry of Besakih.
8. Meeting the woodcarving artisans of Tegallalang and Pujung.
9. Tengenan, for maintaining its timeless atmosphere.
10. Attending a kechak or barong performance.
WARNING:I've done my best to quote accurate prices in these journals but, because the rupiah has been unstable, I've resorted to for most entries.
BUDGET:We lived (very) well for less than a day, including everything.
If you like what you see here, check out Bali's neighbour for a contrasting view of Indonesia in Java - Land of Confusion.
WHEN TO GO: Tourists overrun the island during the European summer (June to August) and for a month around Christmas. It's uncrowded outside these times and you can bargain for accommodation and safely arrive without reservations. It supposedly rains more during the "wet" season from November to March. We've visited during April, October and November and found warm days, cooler nights and little rain.
WHERE TO STAY: Family-run accommodation (homestays) and small hotels provide the best value-for-money. Bungalows with private facilities, often with wonderful gardens, rice-field settings or views, cost -10 and sometimes have hot and cold water and swimming pools for around . These places are more likely to negotiate and less likely to be full in peak season because they're not advertised in travel brochures.
WHERE TO EAT: Bali abounds with good quality, cheap warungs (local eating places), but the food might disappoint, it all starts to taste the same after a while - not as adventurous as other Indonesian destinations. The up-side is that with all that tourism you'll find plenty of cafes and a choice of western food, especially Italian, prepared quite well.
Touts fill the gap between these two options and you'll never be caught short for a ride. Bargain hard, they love to play, but you should never pay more than a couple of dollars for a one-way trip anywhere.
We found that hooking up with a couple of other like-minded travellers and hiring a car and driver for the day was good value. Four of you can do this for around . Have a broad itinerary in mind when you do this. Otherwise, regular tours operate from all the main centres and if you go with local operators using jeeps and small minibuses you'll find it's very good value since there's usually only 4 to 8 of you.
You can also hire cars (around ) and motorbikes (around ) by the day.
We saw most of these attractions on small jeep-based tours from Ubud or by hiring a car and driver for a day. All sites, with the exception of the road down through Pupuan, are within a short drive.
1. If you go to Mas, visit the factories, not the over-priced retail shops along the main road. Tell them you want to buy for export to America or Europe - this gives them an excuse to drop their prices.
2. If you like woodcarvings, go to Tegallalang and Pujung. You can visit the small villages of the area and meet the people who make the stuff. Prices are cheaper here and you're more likely to see things they won't have in Mas. The spectacular countryside is a bonus - you'll recognise it from the postcards!
3. Down the west side of the mountains are some coffee plantation villages (just north of Pupuan). You have to get off the beaten track to find them but it's a worthwhile diversion. They don't get a lot of visitors here - we got a warm reception and stayed for an impromptu tour and finished up sitting around drinking Kopi Bali with the village.
4. Further down the the mountain (south of Pupuan) are spectacular rice terraces that were incredibly lit when we stopped for the sunset.
5. Pura Kehen, just out of Bangli, on the way up to Kintamani, is one of Bali's more enchanting experiences. It’s one of the most revered temples in Bali but doesn’t get so many visitors – it’s a peaceful and beautiful place, well worth a detour.
6. If you're after good leather and didn't go to Yogyakarta (in Java), then bad luck. There's some average gear at Goah Gajah (The Elephant Cave) and in Denpasar, but it's nothing by Yogyakarta's standards. If you go to Goah Gajah, take the 30-minute walk through the rice fields (signposted) to nearby Yeh Puluh - a fascinating site that the tours miss and few people bother with.
7. It's a bit of a walk down to the cliffs, but put a visit to the 11th century Hindu carvings and tombs at Gunung Kawi on the top of your "to-do" list. This is one of Bali's best sights and the shady river setting is ideal for a picnic. There's always plenty of vendors around selling fresh fruit and simple food. Perfect.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 21, 2002
BALI - Central Area Highlights
We saw most of these attractions on a small jeep-based tour from Ubud but you could hire a car and driver for a day. Most can be covered in an anti-clockwise circuit loop starting with Bedugul and could be combined with some Central Area Highlights (see separate journal) to form a two-day tour.
2. Near the hot springs (ask directions), at the top of a steep hill is a Buddhist monastery, temple and adjacent warung. Less than 5% of Bali is Buddhist and this is the island's only monastery. It's setting on a lush hillside with views over the north coast is stunning and the resident monks are keen to show people around. Be sure to make a donation. There's a Sukothai-style gold leaf Buddha image from Thailand and several beautiful statues.
3. The markets at Bedugul are small but jam-packed with a range of fruits, vegetables, plants and other trinkets at a fraction of the prices in the south. Further north across the mountains there are many roadside stalls with a reputation for selling the cheapest and best durian on the island. Foolishly, I bought some (very) ripe ones for a friend, but within an hour my travel companions were threatening to throw me and the durian out of the jeep. And that's in a jeep. Can you imagine the smell in a car!
4. Ulun Danu Bratan, near Bedugul, and Ulun Danu Batur, near Penelokan are justifiably famous. The misty atmosphere of Batur's temples and Bratan's attractive gardens and dramatic lakeside setting at the foot of Gunung Catur guarantee a photo-fest. Don't miss out - you'll be pleasantly surprised at the lack of (foreign) intrusion at both sites, and there's usually the colourful bonus of a festival or celebration.
BALI - Northern Area Highlights
We saw most of these attractions from Candidasa by hiring a car and driver for a day. All these sites are only a short drive away.
2. Allow at least half a day to visit Tenganan. You can observe traditional village life and the quality of art and crafts produced by this village is outstanding - possibly the best on the island - and it's reasonably priced. Beware, though, this is Bali and you still need to bargain hard. This is the only place left in Indonesia whose residents make the double ikat cloth and you can see it being produced around the village. Tengenan is 3 kilometres (uphill) from Candidasa. It's a good walk through thick and cool forest, but there is plenty of transport available if you're feeling lazy.
3. Put a visit to Tirtagangga near the top of your list if lazing in ancient, cool spring-fed pools surrounded by colourful gardens, rice fields and volcanoes is appealing. The locals come here to play, swim and wash and it's a good way to meet some of them. Bring a ball or something to play with in the water - the kids will be swarming in no time. Avoid the (more expensive) pools reserved for snobby westerners and mix it with the Balinese. There are many walks in the area, quality warungs and well-priced acommodation with killer views. If beaches aren't critical, you could consider using this delightfully unhurried rural location as a base.
4. From Tirtagangga you can drive north into the hills through to Culik. Along this stretch you will see the most beautiful rice terracing on the island (in my opinion). More postcard fodder. You'll also pass many rural villages that don't see many visitors.
BALI - Eastern Area Highlights
This is what we thought about UBUD...
TRAVEL DIARY DETAILS - UBUD AREA
From the airport
The airport is well organised, open and modern, and there's a taxi desk outside where you can purchase regulated and fixed price travel to anywhere on the island. Additionally, if you don't have anything booked, there is a helpful visitors' desk inside the terminal where you can look at a range of accommodation options in all the major centres, catch up on local "specials" and discover dozens of places to stay that aren't in any of the (overpriced) brochures. If something looks interesting, the staff will phone the place and make sure there is a vacancy before you get there.
We scanned the information and found a small hotel called the Grand Ubud that looked good. They had plenty of rooms so we jumped in a taxi ($8) and headed off.
First impressions are that Ubud is the sort of place you go for a few days and end up staying a few weeks. Some people are still there. It seems that traditional culture and the demands of the tourist industry can coexist to some degree, and this collection of villages is a shining example.
Our hotel has 20 or so rooms with private facilities, choice of fan or airconditioner in a lovely garden with a small (and welcome) swimming pool. We chose a fan room for $12 a night including a breakfast feast of fruit, breads and pastries. It's at the southern end of Monkey Forest Road only a few metres from the forest, handy to all services, a ten-minute walk to the main road and less than a 30-minute walk to several other villages. We ended up staying ten days and negotiated a further 15% discount.
If your budget doesn’t strecth this far, there are dozens of places in the small streets and lanes off the main road. These are called "homestays" and are generally the Asian equivalent of a B&B or a pensione in Europe. They offer bungalow-style accommodation with private facilities usually centred around a pleasant garden, and are nearly always run by friendly families. One we can definitely recommend is Gandra Homestay - huge self-contained fan cooled bungalows in a lovely garden for $5 including breakfast and fruit during the day. You can find it behind the Ubud market off the main street at Jalan Karna 88.
TIP:Unless you're fragile or wilt at the first sign of the sun, don't waste money on air conditioning in Ubud. It cools off nicely here at night, so a fan is good value, especially in the humid climate.
Despite the swelling visitor hordes and the services they demand, Ubud still has a tangible charm. Balinese life continues, defying the tourism tentacles: from customary offerings to the gods each morning to farmers tending their fields the time-honoured way with ox and plough.
Spend a morning in the incredible local market where true bargains abound, or just explore the dozens of craft and art workshops up and down the local streets.
TIP:Buy a sash and sarong at the local market for around $2. You can use the sarong as a towel, wrap, hat and fashion statment, and together they'll save you money if you plan to visit many temples - all require this standard equipment before you can enter, and rental prices are rising.
There are quite a few decent warung around Ubud, and most of them are concentrated along Monkey Forest road or the various other tracks and roads running adjacent to it. Half the fun is exploring the area and finding new places to eat. A few that we can recommend are Ibu Rai, Cafe Bali, Casa Lunar, Kubuku and Cafe Wayan.
At Cafe Wayan you can have outstanding ayam jeruk and rustle up a game of chess with the locals but beware, they take it seriously and they're very good! We found that most warung do Indonesian food well but western food not so well. You'll get decent pizza at most places but if it's a home-style steak you're craving, don't be too critical.
NOTE:If you are eating local food most of the time you will eat well for around $10 a day for two people. Add your drinks to this, but you will probably find you're drinking water most of the time - it's the best thirst quencher.
A lot is said about Bali's monkey forests but from what we saw Ubud's must be one of the better experiences. It is small and peaceful with few hawkers - even the monkeys are a little more well mannered here. It costs 1100rp to enter and there's also an interesting temple.
TIP:If you take food for the monkeys, don't put it in your pockets. These guys can smell it a mile away and will think nothing of ripping your pocket with their (very sharp) teeth to steal the bounty.
The tourist centre on the main road offers a comprehensive range of well-priced half and full-day tours for $5-10. They are excellent value and dozens more operators on Monkey Forest Road offer similar packages. These tours use jeeps or small mini-buses and are therefore limited to 4-8 people. This allows flexibility for the group to bend the itinerary to suit the participants as well as offering a more intimate experience.
The tourist centre also has a number of bulletin boards where it posts information about events, details of transport costs and upcoming cultural attractions. It pays to check it each day - there's always a lot happening. Try and attend a few of the dance performances in Ubud and some of the outlying villages. The Kecak and Barong performances were two of our favourites. They cost around $2.
Full moon ceremonies are traditional affairs that last for many days and involve lots of praying, eating, singing and dancing. It's a wonderful opportunity to meet the people and witness some of the pageantry and colour of the island. Sambahan and Taman (near Ubud) had ceremonies while we were there and the experience is highly recommended.
Go to Petulu at dusk and watch hundreds of herons arrive. It's a peaceful, rural setting amongst the rice fields and you can walk there from Ubud (it's about five kilometres) or organise transport for around a dollar.
A walk to Campuhan village and through its surrounding area is also quite beautiful. Further west is the painters' village of Penestanan, also an easy walk from Campuhan or Ubud, and from here you can turn north and walk to Sayan where the rice terraces and views from the hills are stunning, especially in the morning.
Singakerta and Pengosekan are also walkable from Ubud and worth a look. This is where some of the best woodcarvers make their livings, and you can safely negotiate a better price for a superior product by visiting the tradesman’s home (don't forget to take cash). Some of the best kodok (frame) work on the island can be found in these villages.
TIP:Get a BALI PATHFINDER map for about $5. It's a good memento but, more importantly, it's got a good map of the whole area that's handy to use for any walks or independent exploring you might plan.
CULTURAL NOTE:The villages still have a spotty power supply, so you will need a torch. Also, when you wander the streets at night after about ten o'clock don't expect to see too many locals - they all seem to disappear shortly after it gets dark. They believe that night is the time for evil spirits to wander and tempt the community. You will also see many mangy dogs. The Balinese believe the dog is the lowest form of life and represents the embodiment of reincarnated thieves!
This is what we thought about CANDIDASA...
TRAVEL DIARY DETAILS - CANDIDASA AREA
I love Candi (chandi)dasa. No hawkers, just an old fishing village - one main street (the through road to Amlapura) with some shops, a couple of small supermarkets, a pharmacy, doctor and a few moneychangers. There are also a few tour companies and plenty of transport options for those looking to explore further afield. We found the cost of provisions in the shops and supermarkets here was usually much cheaper than anywhere else we had been on the island! The place is not overrun with tourist art, craft and textile shops, although there is enough to keep the devoted shopper happy for more than a few hours.
SPECIAL NOTE:Candidasa offers the best of both worlds. It's over two hours from the mayhem of Denpasar and the southern peninsula, so it attracts a more laid-back crowd. It's also handy to many outstanding cultural attractions in the east - Pura Kehen, Tengenan, Besakih, Tirtagangga and Klungkung to name a few. With a distinctly rural feel and "far from the madding crowds", Candidasa is worthy of consideration as a base for your trip. Oh, and it's also handy to the Lombok ferry from Padang Bai.
Seafood is fresh, abundant and cheap; mainly bream caught by the fishermen and sold to the local warungs. There are dozens of small, quaint and friendly warung to indulge your tastes, some of them sublimely located overlooking the ocean. The beach isn't much now - if it's a sand-based holiday you're after, don't bother, but there are still a few places to swim where the sand hasn't completely disappeared , especially on the western side of the village and around the lagoon area.
The Pandan Restaurant on the sea wall in the middle of the village is worth a mention - good food, friendly staff and a romantic, candlelit setting. They have a regular (amazing) smorgasboard for about $3 a person. Some of the larger restaurants also offer impromptu dance performances, just watch out for signs around the village. These are often informal, intimate productions involving a small stage and cast - definitely worth seeing. The cost is usually included with the meal, but you can arrive separately and pay a small fee.
Candidasa is a slow and friendly place, a world away from the Kuta crowds. Fishing or snorkelling expeditions to the nearby reefs can be easily organised in the village. I spent an afternoon out at the "Blue Lagoon" where the water is quite shallow (around 5 metres) and the variety of fish and coral was good. The trip was on a local catamaran and I had a ball. It cost around $3, including equipment.
There are dozens of accommodation options, most of them on the southern side of the road along the "beach". Prices are generally comparable to Lovina (on the black-sand north coast), with bottom end homestays at about $5, up to three and four star resort hotels and luxurious bungalows on the road east of the village towards Balina Beach, where you can pay more than $100 a night in the high season.
TIP:Don't stay too far out of town, you'll be relying on (expensive) hotel transport. Base yourself somewhere within a one to two kilometre radius of the village - there are some nice coastal places just to the west of the lagoon (west side of the village) and on the eastern approach.
We were finishing the holiday on a decadent note and Candidasa was going to be our last stop, so we tried the Rama Ocean View Resort on the seafront a kilometre east of the village.
The manager presented the customary (ridiculous) price list which said $75, so we explained that we were looking to stay about a week, that these prices were terlalu mahal (too expensive), that occupied rooms at 30% were better than nothing at all, and then walked out with our packs mumbling something about the Candidasa Beach Bungalows.
Good strategy - within five minutes we had an ocean view room for $25, including breakfast!
TIP:Even 3 and 4-star hotels will bargain, especially in low season and especially if you are staying more than a few days.
At that price the place was a bargain. Large airconditioned rooms with beautiful garden bathrooms, ocean front swimming pool (with bar), reasonably priced restaurant, tennis court, sauna and only about a dozen other guests. Hell, it even has an artificial beach! The staff were very friendly, probably because they had nothing else to do. From the Rama it's an easy fifteen-minute walk into the village and close to the perfect place to finish a holiday.