22.12.2012 - 29.12.2012 30 °C
As Canadian ex-pats living in Australia, we have a goal of doing a lot of travelling in Asia; and finally got started over Christmas 2012 with a trip to Bali. We only had a week to travel, which we knew would not be enough, so we decided to do a few things well, and leave some other sight seeing and tourist destinations for "next time".
We found a good deal on Living Social for a gorgeous and quiet resort in Gianyar (we were the only guests for 4 nights!), which is about 20 minutes from Ubud. The rooms, pool and hospitality at XL Vision Villas (http://www.xlvisionvillas.com/default.asp) was fabulous. We enjoyed a leasurely breakfast and swim in the mornings, before heading out in the afternoon for some shopping, culture and dining out in Ubud.
We met great friends from Canada at the resort, and they had already been travelling in Bali for about 3 weeks before we got there, so they were well adjusted to Bali life. They had also rented a car, which was great for us, considering that the resort is in a quiet, remote area. The traffic around Ubud is somewhat hectic with limited signage and plenty of scooters, but it was nothing compared with what we encountered around Seminyak/ Kuta and to the airport! (but I'll get to that). I tried to buy a sim card for my iphone so we could use the mapping and data, but despite a few hours and multiple trips to the phone shop, we couldn't get it to work out- and no one could figure out or explain why. In hindsight, we should have just used free wifi (available in most restaurants) to load the maps and gone from there.
The first things we noticed about the Balinese people was that they are very happy and welcoming; eager to assist with directions or advice, (I even had someone chase me down to tell me that I hadn't locked the car properly!) and even more keen to sell you something- but generally not pushy. They like to joke and laugh when bartering, and are usually willing to make a deal. Common phrases we heard while walking past shops included "for you, good price!" and "cheepcheep!" The shopping around Ubud is fabulous- with plenty of gorgeous wood carvings, statues, furniture, unique cultural clothing, masks, jewellry etc. We would generally start the bardering at half the verbalized price (there are no written prices, so it is assumed that they try to pick a price they think we would pay) which generally got a laugh and a "nooooo nooo", and a counter offer. The prices are fabulous anyway, so I often had trouble haggling over a few dollars, when it means so much more to them. If you like to shop, I'd recommend either taking only a few outfits and buying the rest, or at least getting an extra 5kg on your checked baggage allowance to come home. The shopping in the Kuta/ Seminyak area is generally well done "knock-offs" of common labels or sports jerseys, and customed designed t-shirts, so if you're looking for traditional Balinese items, buy them in the north.
There are plenty of cultural dances that take place every night in Ubud. One of our first nights there we watched a traditional dance in a temple in the middle of Ubud. The music was a variety of traditional instruments that seemed overwhelming at first, with little rhythm that we could pick up- but once the dancers came out it all seemed to fit very well together. The dancers moved so intricately to the music, with every gesture and movement purposeful and well timed. A few nights later, we enjoyed the Kecak "fire dance" which had only vocal music, completed by men (mostly elders) sitting in a circle around a small fire, chanting and waving their hands. A story was depicted with a few dancers, and ended with a sea of embers as a stomping horseman kicked and ran through the fire.
The monkey forest was a highlight for me with countless monkeys running, climbing and jumping around the trees. There are plenty of statues and a gorgeous temple toward the end. Our only negative experience was being bombarded by some ladies selling some wood carvings near the temple - they have access to a gate at the back. Once they had one of us stopped, there were soon a number of them surrounding us, not taking no for an answer. Once we agreed to buy anything they were trying to talk us in to more, and when they saw how much money was in our wallet they said that we had to give them more- it was a fairly uncomfortable experience that could have been avoided by being a bit more stern, and also having a little spending money available in a pocket or somewhere seperate from other cash.
We were lucky enough to be invited to Lembongan with the front desk manager from XL Vision Villas. We met him early one morning and hopped aboard the local fast boat at Sanur. It was a special occasion in the Hindu culture, and we were honored that he invited us to attend it with him. We visited his family's home on the coast, and soon had a handful of youngsters following us around. We had a quick dip in the ocean before changing to go to the temple for the event. There were men performing dances and skits, ladies balancing baskets on their heads to the table full gorgeous offerings; mostly fruit towers, flowers, incense, rice and "origami" style woven baskets and decorative pieces (http://visitbalionline.com/Offerings). We also got to see a cock-fight, which was a very unique experience, that I'm happy to say was over quickly without much gore.
We were never disappointed with the meals- the food is always fresh and tasty, and very reasonably priced. Be careful if you don't do well with spice, and do prepare for some "Bali belly" - it's best to bring medication and electrolyte repacements from home, as there is little english on anything you find at a local shop. We found the electrolytes particularly helpful as we were constantly sweating from the high humidity!
The most economical drink available is their local beer, Bintang, which is easily found at grocers and corner stores for around a dollar for a small or a couple bucks for a large. Wine and spirits are rather costly, so taking some from the duty free shops at the airport is a good way to get around the cost of that.
We spent our last couple nights at the Pelangi Bali in Seminyak (http://www.pelangibali.com/), which is a nice resort with a great beachside location, nice pool and restaurant that overlook the ocean. A decent buffet breakfast was included in the price, and room service was a cheap and tasty post-pub-night snack. If you are concerned by some of the recent news headlines about the dodgy nightlife culture in Bali, Seminyak is a good option. It is not quite as hectic as Kuta, and has some of the better (ie reputable) nightclubs in the area. After a quick search, we started out our night at the SOS (Sunset on Seminyak) rooftop lounge at the Anantara Resort, which would be a gorgeous place to catch the sunset, but we were a bit late for that. After a (rather pricey) cocktail, we headed out to Potato Head, which also gets good reviews- it's a very cool restaurant/ lounge with a large stage and swimming pool, but not much of a dance club, so after (a rather pricey) drink, we continued on. After speaking with the taxi driver, we decided to skip Ku De Ta, as it has a similar vibe to Potato Head, and we were looking to dance. He took us to a small club that had decent music and a lot of dutch people who were keen to get down (there are plenty of dutch tourists and ex-pats as Bali was a dutch colony).
Our last day in Bali was spent in heavy traffic between Seminyak and Kuta, surfing at Kuta beach (amongst the garbage that litters the water), doing a bit of shopping and touring of Kuta in the afternoon (where we received our first undesirable offers), and then in a stressful traffic jam between Kuta and the airport. We travelled less than 30km all day, and sat in traffic for over 3 hours... but, we made it in time, and most people at the airport were in the same position as us - frantically arriving and relieved to have made it! The airlines must be somewhat accustomed to people arriving late, as no one seemed concerned. To settle your nerves, I'd recommend checking in online prior to arriving at the airport, and giving yourself an extra hour to get there. There are plenty of restaurants outside the airport, but none once you go in. Once you arrive at the airport, your bags must be scanned before you can enter, and there are multiple searches before you can arrive at your gate.
The colours in Bali make gorgeous photos, and just such a lovely treat to see not only the lush green landscape, but their clothing and architecture is bright and beautiful. The only unfortunate experiences we had were seeing a puppy get run over, women and children begging for their livelihood, and garbage everywhere with no evidence of recycling. We felt a desire to help these happy, friendly people, and hope that the goverments of more fortunate countries (especially Australia and the Netherlands) will someday see the worth of assisting Bali with education and assistance on sustainable living practises and recycling depots.
I look forward to revisiting Bali to take a cooking class, do some hiking or cycling, visit Uluwatu and hike Gunung Agung at sunrise... but we'll have to plan for a time of year when it isn't quite as hot and humid!