Having heard so much about Bali, I had huge expectations of this island. I feared that I may be over-expecting and it may not be as awesome! My anxiety was put to rest as soon as our flight landed on Balinese land in Denpasar (capital of Bali). The Balinese architecture outlines the airport and one can see the gorgeous looking temple doors on the arrival and departure terminals. From the start to the end of my trip, the whole experience was a fairy tale. This “Paradise Island” offers a magnificent and visually apparent blend of art, culture, spirituality, blue waters, volcanoes and immensely adorable people.
An exquisite aspect of Bali is the uniqueness of its villages wrt the art forms they specialize in. Tegalalang is known for handicrafts, Ubud and Batuan are known for their paintings (different kinds), Mas for its woodcarvings, Celuk for silver smiths, and Batubulan for stone carvings (God forms of Siva, Brahma & Vishnu). So, I think I would be right to say that almost every person in Bali is an artist of one kind or the other.
Balinese culture of making offerings to God is particularly intriguing. Neatly dressed Balinese Hindus make daily offerings called ‘Canang Sari’ to the God in temples, outside shops and in home-shrines. The Balinese Hindus also have one dedicated shrine in the villages for each of their families to pray. There is so much to share about the art forms and beliefs here, I will have to create a separate post for it.
With a heartfelt desire to know more about the Balinese lifestyle, culture and to experience the countryside, we decided to stay in Ubud (central Bali) which is one of the 6 regions in Bali. Staying in Ubud made it easier for us to see East as well as West Bali. We ruled out staying in South Bali as it is extremely commercialized and not as rich culturally.
Glimpse of Our Trip
- We visited Bali in early July which coincided with the Hari Raya break in Indonesia. This attracted a lot of local tourists in addition to the usual foreign tourists. If possible, avoid such periods which coincide with school holiday season (April-June), Indonesian public holidays and New Year week.
- We booked our 4 nights in Rumah Jepun, Ubud through Airbnb. Julie and the rest of her team were absolutely phenomenal. We spent our wedding anniversary with them and they helped us arrange my favorite chocolate cake. Julie assisted us in arranging a local driver and Mt. Batur trek that not only helped us to save money but also enhanced our overall experience. Unless you want a beach resort like vacation, Airbnb is a pretty good way to save on costs and have fun.
- Whether or not you are an art lover, the villages around Ubud are a must-see. They are extremely fascinating.
- The tour map:
- Day 1: Batubulan> Celuk> Batuan> Mas> Tabanan (Tanah Lot)
- Day 2: Mount Batur Trek> Tegenungan waterfall
- Day 3: Ubud (Monkey Forest)> Tegallalang> Kusamba> Tenganan> Karangasem (Tirta Gangga)
Re-Living Experiences: Food, Vacationing, Photography & A Lot More
Day 1: Batubulan>Celuk>Batuan>Mas>Tabanan (Tanah Lot)
There are many Barong dance performances in and around Ubud but the best one is in Sahadewa Batubulan, 30 minutes from Ubud. Enroute, you can see many artists displaying their fine work of stone carvings in Batubulan. The show starts at 9:30 am every day and lasts for about an hour. The entry ticket costs USD 7.5 per pax and can be procured at the entrance.
Celuk, a village know for exquisite silver work. Here, we saw many silver artisans/ workshops. I highly recommend Prapen Jewelry & Artifacts Workshop.
They have a very elaborate section for demonstration of jewelry making and a large gallery that you cannot leave without a shopping bag. I tried my hand on jewelry making by sticking a silver bead on the ring. Trust me it was indeed very challenging! The whole experience sensitized me on how these women spend hours together to make these pieces which look perfect for all the lovely women in the world. After another 15 mins of driving, we were in Batuan village, known for its beautiful temple and paintings ( esp. paintings on paper with acrylic colors). The ‘Pura Desa Batuan’ temple or ‘The Village Temple Batuan’ is gorgeous and one of the first temples that we visited in Bali. All visitors are requested to wear Sarong, a long piece of cloth that is wrapped around the waist. The sarongs are available outside the temple and one can choose to make a donation to the temple in return.
The temple visit was followed by a visit to the painting gallery ‘Dewa Ketut Rai’ (Email ID: firstname.lastname@example.org, Ph: +62 361 2984391). The gallery beautifully displays all forms of art which can be bought at a good price post negotiation. We bought a lovely Barong painting for ourselves too!
We were completely engrossed in the beauty of these villages that we hardly noticed the time. It was already around 3 PM in the afternoon. We had our lunch in Bebek Teba Sari Resto. What an incredible place! We sat in one of the shacks which open onto an artificial pond. The extension into the pond gives you an opportunity to put your feet in the water and get a fish spa for free! Post lunch, our next stop was Mas village, known for wood carving. We saw the wood carving in action. Artists were creating fine impressions on the wood to bring it to life.
The countryside experience was indeed memorable and we were all set to see the sunset in Tanah Lot. It took us about 1.5 hours to reach there. We arrived at about 6 PM. Unfortunately, we not only missed the chance to capture our perfect sunset shot but also missed seeing the temple as it closes after sunset. I’d say, arrive around 4:45 PM so that you have enough time to walk around and enjoy the view and the sunset.
We decided to have dinner in Ubud. The Monkey Forest street and the Ubud Central market have multiple options for Indonesian, Italian, Indian, Mexican and European cuisines and can be easily reached by foot if you are staying near the Monkey Forest.
Day 2: Mount Batur Trek> Tegenungan waterfall
I must say, we were quite daring to start the trek at 2 AM after a very intense first day of the trip. Mt. Batur is an active volcano with the most recent eruption in 2000. The Mt. Batur tour cost us around USD 27 per pax and these rates are much lower than what you see online. We used the Uma Kutuh tourist service (+62 812 38445426, Adi). The tour includes a pick up and drop off service from the hotel, breakfast box, torch and a local guide. The tour operators were quite professional and the overall experience was quite good. You can book the tour once you are in Bali to ensure the weather is suitable.
The pick-up time varies from 2 to 2:30 AM based on where you are staying. Our group had 1 American, 4 British, 2 Chinese, 2 Indians and 1 Thai. We took a pit-stop for coffee and were handed over a breakfast box which included water bottle, banana, bread with butter and boiled egg. Very few of us ate the breakfast. Many of us enjoyed feeding it to the monkeys on the summit.
It took us about an hour from there to reach the base camp. While we were waiting to start the trek, we enjoyed the company of each other and got to know some of our fellow travelers. We started the trek at 4:15 am. It was pitch black and the only light was through our torches. Far away, we could see the torch lights of the fellow trekkers who had already started their ascend. The motion of the torch lights resembled a bright shiny snake that is moving forward towards its prey.
The ascend until mid-way is not so exhausting. The climb is slightly steeper thereafter. The mid-way point has a small shop to buy water, soft drinks etc. in case you need them. We reached the summit at 6 AM. It was very windy with sparse fog. Strongly recommend to carry a windcheater so that you can truly enjoy the summit without feeling cold. (We did not carry warm clothing to Bali and bought something from Coco Supermarket there). We enjoyed taking pictures on Mt. Batur with Mt. Agung. The sun rise was beautiful, one of the best I have ever seen. The landscape had everything: lake, mountains, grassland, clouds and the rising sun.
Our tour guides, Andre (English speaking) and Made (Balinese speaking) gave us the tour of the summit. We saw the crater and experienced the hot steam. The sun was playing hide and seek with us and the weather kept transitioning. We saw the ancient Balinese Hindu Temple on the summit as well.
We started our descend at 8:20 AM. The climb down was fast but hard on knees. Once half way down, you can either retrace the same path or you can choose an alternate path with well-constructed road. Some also chose to rent a scooter for USD 10. We reached the base camp at about 10:15 AM and started back for Ubud. There are certain tourist points (like Besakih Temple, Holy Water, Hot Water Spring etc) which one can visit on the way back to Ubud. But our tour did not include any of those. Moreover, we were too exhausted to consider visiting these. Overall, it was a phenomenal experience. We enjoyed the views, our trek and most importantly built new bridges of friendship with fellow travelers around the globe.
We slept through the afternoon. Our driver, Agung, was a super excited human being. He wanted to show us the whole of Bali in 3 days. He showed us more than what we hoped we could see. It is just because of him that we got the energy to go around for the second half of the day to Tegenungan Waterfall. The good thing about this waterfall is that you can see it both from the top and from the basin. However, this waterfall is very busy. Unless you are visiting any other good waterfall in Bali, I recommend you to enjoy a dip in this one.
After a really strenuous day, one cannot not think about Balinese massage! We enjoyed 1 hour of relaxing aromatherapy massage on the Monkey Forest street. The massage is very cheap (approx USD 7 per person), much cheaper than anywhere else in Indonesia (Bintan, Lombok, Gili Trawangan). You get one almost every day!
Day 3: Ubud (Monkey Forest)> Tegallalang> Kusamba> Tenganan> Karangasem (Tirta Gangga)
Monkey Forest is an absolute highlight and we decided to go there early morning (8:30 AM) to avoid the crowd and enjoy our share of time with the monkeys.
We were pressed for time, otherwise we could have just sat there and enjoyed watching the 600+ monkeys for hours together. These monkeys are generally harmless and are very adorable. You can feed them with bananas or sweet potato. Bananas can be bought inside (USD 4 for big bunch and USD 1.5 for small bunch) whereas sweet potatoes are lying everywhere in the forest, so you can just pick them up. The monkeys can smell the bananas from far-far away so be careful if you are trying to hide the bananas under your shirts. From the Monkey Forest, we headed to Tegallalang village to see the rice terrace. It is lush green with coconut trees rising from the ground thereby creating a beautiful landscape on a bright sunny day. We really enjoyed getting down into the rice terrace. There is no fixed route and no staircase. You create your route. It was fun to watch everyone figuring their way out to the other side of the rice terrace.
Kusamba, a salt mining and fishing village, has clear blue waters and a black sand beach which sparkles under sunlight as if diamonds are mixed with the sand. We approached a salt farmer in a small hut by the beach to understand the salt making process. Having the local driver with us helped, as he could act as a translator. With his help, we could learn about the farmer’s day-to-day activities. The processed salt majorly serves the local population.
A 5 minute drive from Kusamba took us to another marvel of the 11th century, the Goa Lawah Temple. It is also known as the Bat Cave temple and houses over 6 million fruit eating bats that can be seen from outside the cave. Be open to experience the strong bat odor. Like other Balinese temples, Sarong is a must to enter into the temple. Do not get trapped into buying a Sarong. You can rent one, inside the temple near the visitor’s gate (Entry ticket+rented Sarong at USD .75 per person).
Next we drove towards Tenganan village, an ancient Balinese village. The drive to Tenganan is beautiful with coconut trees bending over the road on both sides. One can see the sunshine piercing through the leaves thereby creating beautiful visuals. Enroute, we crossed Manggis village. Manggis got its name from mangoes as this village originally had lots of mango trees. However, as habitation increased, trees were cut down. No mango trees can be found here today.
Tenganan gives you a glimpse into the day to day life of traditional Balinese people. It is one of the few traditional Balinese villages on the island of Bali. The village has houses on either side of a long street. The central area has some community complexes and structures for public use. In this central area, many Balinese men have put up stalls to showcase their creative lontar work while the women host demonstrations of the intricate ikat weaving in their homes.
Lontar are palm leaf manuscripts that demonstrate various aspects of life such as religion, mythology, calendars etc. These lontar are inscribed with a special tool called pengerupak that is made of iron. Once the impressions are made, the color powder is sprinkled into the impressions resulting in beautiful artwork. We also requested and saw cock fighting, which is a famous sport in the village during ceremonies. We paid a token amount USD 1.5 for this. These cock fighters were beautifully colored and differentiated from the non-fighting ones. We spent about 1.5 hours just looking around and observing the rural Balinese life and culture. After a pleasant experience in Tenganan, we passed through Candi Dasa beach but decided to skip it as we had already seen the black sandy beach at Kusamba.
We continued our drive towards Tirta Gangga, a royal bathing place that offers ancient architecture and a beautiful garden complex with water fountains. Personally, I feel this place is too far for what it has to offer. You may want to consider the gorgeous and magnificent Lempuyang temple.
On a side note, both Candi Dasa and Tirta Gangga offer eating joints and we chose ‘Good Karma’ restaurant in the parking lot of Tirta Gangga and found it to be a decent option.
We did not indulge ourselves in surfing and diving in Bali as we spent the next few days in Gili Trawangan and Lombok. So if Bali is the only destination you will be visiting, do consider surfing and diving.
These 3 days were extremely memorable for us and we really owe it to our dear friends in Bali: Julie, our host in Rumah Jepun and our driver, Agung (+62 852 3722 5847). We promised them to revisit Bali. With mixed emotions, until next time….