The time has come for us to leave Australia and start a new adventure in South East Asia. As I said last time out, we are on the way home to the UK. However, we’re going the long way via Bali, Singapore, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Bangkok!
Saying goodbye was hard; especially as the Perth winter had decided to heat up just for our last day. Once we were at the airport though we were ready for our first taste of Asia.
Both Emma and I were anxious when checking our bags in as we were so overweight when coming across to Australia. We had so much stuff we had to send back a suitcase for almost $400 once we moved into the van. We’re normally great at packing light but, with Australia, we’d planned on working in legal roles so we had suits and all sorts!
For each flight we’d paid for 25kg of luggage each; surely that would be enough. Luckily, it was more than enough! I think we had about 8 kilos spare between us but the bigger issue was my hand luggage. In my backpack/camera bag, I had to carry my camera, three lenses and batteries plus my laptop, drone and three drone batteries. Somehow that ended up being 9 kilos! We were given the option to check in Emma’s hand luggage which meant we didn’t have to pay anything extra. I’m going to have to work some magic on the next five flights!
Arriving in Bali
Anyway, we arrived safe and sound in Bali about 9:30pm but it took over an hour to get through security and collect our luggage. It could have been quicker if we’d accepted the offers by security staff to take us to a side room and give them money in return for a quick entry. Welcome to Bali.
Our first week was spent in Ubud, a town nestled in the mountain foothills surrounded by jungle and rice fields. It shot to fame thanks to the book/movie ‘Eat Pray Love’ and has always been considered a town of culture and the arts. Ubud gets its name from the Balinese word for ‘medicine’ and, just like in the film, people come here to relax, meet medicine men and have countless massages.
We had considered staying in a hotel resort just outside Ubud, some of which you’ll have seen all over social media, but they were far too expensive. We instead found a six-roomed guest house within a local family’s temple compound. For £98 for seven nights, you can’t complain.
The drive from the airport to Ubud took a further hour and introduced us to some craziness on the roads. Scooters everywhere, horns sounding constantly and red lights being ignored. I felt a lot safer by the time we arrived at the guest house at midnight. We didn’t get much sleep unfortunately thanks to dogs barking and cockerels cockling (if that’s even a word).
After a quick breakfast made for us by the family (banana pancakes), we tackled the fifteen minute walk into central Ubud. Our first opinions were great with us having to constantly dodge scooters and cars as there wasn’t really a path. When the path did appear, we would have to jump across open holes. I didn’t fancy falling into the sewage drains. The first day was more a case of getting our bearings. We both went back with headaches.
The most annoying thing is the constant cry of “TAXI TAXI” or “MASSAZZZZE”. I appreciate that they are all trying to make a living but if I wanted one, I’d ask. There’s no point getting a taxi either as the traffic is always at standstill during the day.
My first impressions of Bali are that it’s dirty and full of tourists. However, I can see its raw beauty with thousands of temples, steep ravines and palm-filled jungle.
What We Didn’t Do
We’d decided not to go to the sacred Monkey Forest as we’d seen the monkeys out and about on the nearby streets anyway and we’d heard some horror stories. The monkeys are renowned for biting or scratching people. We’d left Australia so quickly that we didn’t have time for the rabies vaccination and there have been so many people that have had to try and get rabies shots post-bite in Bali. Neither of us fancied risking getting rabies to see some monkeys anyway. Little rascals.
We also decided to give Tegallalang Rice Terraces a miss also. If you’ve been to Ubud, or seen photos, you’ll probably think that this is one of the top things to do in the area. I have seen pictures of the rice terraces, at sunrise, which look absolutely beautiful so I was in two minds. However, it was made up once we learnt that all the rice had been harvested, you have to pay to enter before being accosted at every level of the rice fields for more money and it’s actually quite small. It’s also apparently full of tourists. Anyway, we’d read about some better rice terraces towards the centre of Bali which took our fancy.
Back to What We Did Do
So, if we didn’t do the top two things to do in Ubud, how did we spend our days? Mostly just wandering the streets, shopping in the markets, drinking beer (obviously) and trying as many local foods as possible. This included Balinese curry, ribs with fried rice, pork sate and suckling pig. I think I even ate intestine.
One of the highlights was also wandering along the Campuhan Ridge to Jungle Fish, a beach club in the jungle without the beach.
What was a little annoying is that, if I forgot to bring any money out with us (at least twice), we’d have to walk all the way back to the guest house before returning. It took at least half an hour. We also had nowhere to really relax as the guest house didn’t have a pool area so, when it was raining, we spent a bit of time in our room! This also meant I could have a little nap as watching England lose the World Cup Semi-Final until 4:30am took it out of me!
Time For A Private Driver
On our last day in Ubud, we hired a private driver through our guest house for 700,000 IDR (about $70) to take us to the rice fields I mentioned earlier and a temple on a lake up in the mountains. One of the family we were staying with recommended a few other places but we had no idea what they were until we arrived at them.
So, our first stop on our full day’s outing was Taman Ayung Temple which translates to ‘beautiful garden’. All of the temples we’ve seen are really nice (and there are a lot of them in Ubud, even the houses) but this one stood out. It’s set between rivers and has a little moat inside around the temple itself. You can’t actually go into the praying area as it’s constantly in use by local Hindu’s but it was good to walk around in the early morning sun. By the time we’d finished, the tourists were starting to pile in so I’m glad we avoided that!
The locals in Bali are extremely religious, constantly putting offerings to the Gods outside their shops and homes. The offerings are placed in a little bamboo square with things such as rice, fruit and incense sticks in. I’m pretty sure I even saw a few with what looked to be Jacob’s crackers inside! The offerings are everywhere and you have to be careful not to stand on them. At the end of the day, you often see stray bamboo packets lining the streets. I guess the Gods didn’t want those ones.
The next stop was Jatiluwih rice terraces. These are a UNESCO world heritage site and the rice fields cover over 2,000 hectares! There are a few different walks you can do through the fields but we stuck to the shortest one as it still took over an hour to complete. There were plenty of locals actually working on the fields which shows they do still rely on the rice out here rather than tourism! I’d highly recommend coming here but you’ll need a driver or, if you’re feeling brave, your own transport.
We were then taken high up into the mountains to Lake Beratan and the Ulun Danu Temple. After a while, I guess you could say all the temples begin to look the same. This one is set in the lake itself with a small walkway to gain access. Again, you can’t get to it so all you really do is wander. The grounds weren’t that big so we had lunch and then left.
Next was the gate to the Handara Golf Resort that had been made famous by Instagram. We were so close the driver decided to take us up there for ‘selfie’. It cost us $3 each for ten minutes at the gate but there were so many other people you couldn’t really get a decent photo. The gate is of course nice but it is just that, a gateway.
On our way back to Ubud, our driver decided to stop at a coffee plantation for us to try local coffee. Once out of the car, we were immediately greeted and ushered through some hedges onto a pathway. Our guide pointed out a coffee tree and a cacao tree (I think one or two of each; this definitely was not a plantation) before moving us deeper into their complex. He pointed out a porcupine in a tiny cage with no explanation as to why they had one. He couldn’t speak much English. We were then shown to a table where we had numerous teas and coffees poured for us including the world’s most expensive coffee, Luwak Coffee.
I don’t drink coffee, ever, and for some strange reason, having it poured it front of me and our guide looking at me intently, I decided to try it. A luwak is an Asian Palm Civet, a sort of cat/weasel. The coffee is made by basically force-feeding the luwak coffee cherries and collecting the bean from its poo. The bean, having been subject to ingestion and fermentation, is then roasted to produce coffee.
Honestly, I cannot believe people drink this stuff let alone rave about it so much that it’s become the world’s most expensive coffee. It’s awful, absolutely awful. All I could taste for the rest of the day was pure poo.
It became obvious that it was just some tourist scam as we were quickly taken to a shack with stuff to buy. The lemongrass tea that we tried was about $15 whereas some tiny chocolate bar was $10. We quickly decided to get out as quickly as possible but there was that moment of confusion between me and Emma where I thought she wanted to buy something and she thought the same of me. We nearly ended up buying some chocolate and tea so as not to upset the other person! I ended up having to pay $6 for my cup of poo coffee. Not impressed.
To finish off our time in Ubud, we found a great local restaurant famous for its ribs and fried rice. We had three main meals; the ribs with fried rice, pork sate with a different kind of fried rice plus a chicken yellow curry. With drinks as well the cost came to under $25.
We packed in the morning before saying our goodbyes and ordering a car through the app ‘Go-Jek’. Next stop, Seminyak. A bit controversial as online taxis are banned by locals in Ubud. There’s a taxi cartel where they try to keep the transport for themselves so they can charge a higher price. The price was three times higher though so it made sense to go through the online app. It’s much safer that way too!
I loved Ubud, but it’s not quite the relaxing mountain retreat tourists flock here for. I’m ready for Seminyak now; a more upmarket resort where it’s mostly about the food, drink and sunsets!
Thanks for reading, I’ll be back soon with a new post about our time in Seminyak. Once I’m back home I’ll be posting guides so that you’ll know be able to plan your own trips!
Until next time…