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  • Writer's pictureAnne B 10milesfrom

Big Trip 2024 - Beautiful Bali all in one blog!!

Bali here we come, via a quick overnight in Singapore due to flight times. The hotel I found for the stopover was massive and called D'resort, and it was close to the airport. Very clean and comfortable but then we noticed a long black thing on the ceiling. Investigation revealed... not a snake, or a large bug, but an arrow telling us which direction Mecca was in! Phew!

When we were telling people about our itinerary, it was the mention of Bali that provoked the biggest response! Amongst a few positives, there were lots of "Why are you going there?" "It has been ruined and is all hotels and clubs" "The beaches are full of washed up plastic" and "isn't it dangerous?". We had no desire to stay in the big resorts, and we are not good at sitting on a beach. Also, it is rainy season here, so we didn't know how much dry time we would get. So it was with a little bit of trepidation that we left our excellent Singapore Airlines flight, and found our taxi! We had forgotten that in Thailand they drive on the left, like in the UK, and now we discovered that they do the same in Indonesia! Slightly more chaotically though!  Bali's population is 4.4 million, and over half live in the Southern  tip, around Denpasar, Kuta, Caniggu and up to Ubud. Consequently the 25 mile drive took nearly 2 hours! Ubud is up in the mountains, and a strange mix of hectic activity, and a laid back vibe!

Home of Bali's thriving handicrafts industries, it is a crazy jumble of galleries, workshops, markets and cafes, interspersed with the incredible architecture of what seems like a temple in almost every other building!

Later we found out that every home creates a mini temple in their gardens, consisting of shrines to family members. Sometimes homes are clustered in family compounds which have elaborate gateways with beautifully carved doors. Often, as you go through the gate, you meet a wall, and a statue of Ganesh. This wall is to stop the evil spirits entering. Bali, unlike the rest of muslim Indonesia, is 87% Hindu. Belief is very active here, and the vast majority of homes and businesses place offerings of flowers, incense, rice and water outside their doors, and in front of holy statues, objects or trees, each day. They are everywhere.

In the midst of all this, just a few hundred yards down a side street was an incredible oasis, The Ubud Aura Hotel. Incredible. You couldn't hear the traffic. A very comfortable room, and a lovely garden with a small pool and breakfast area. We particularly liked the mosaic paths, following Yin and Yang to breakfast.

The staff were really helpful, and they helped me put together a great day out with a driver. More on that later! We went out, and wandered around the town and markets. Stall holders call you to come and look, but they do not hassle you. The prices seem very low to us. We visited the Ubud Water Palace, a lovely water temple. All guests, men and women, have to wear a purple sarong and headress. Chris wanted to keep his sunhat on as well to protect his head from burning, and ended up looking like a London flower seller! I didn't look much better! The temple was beautiful.

Most Hindu temples here have no 'indoors', just roofed platforms where people wait their turn to pray , or create their offerings. The central, or inner part of the temple is the most holy, and where prayers are offered to the different shrines, and the central God of that temple. This being a water temple, it is for purification, and had lovely fountains and pools filled with carp. We also wandered through the remains of the Grand Palace from when Ubud was home of the King.

That evening we found a super place to eat just around the corner from our hotel. Citrus Cherry was a modern restaurant offering traditional Thai food with a slightly modern twist. In the heart of Ubud, it had a terrace looking out over working rice paddies and the sunset. Fabulous. And a delicious 2 course meal.with drinks for £10pp.

We think we love Bali! already! I had found lots of small places within about 10 miles of Ubud that looked worth visiting. A great way to explore is to ask your hotel for a car and driver. It cost us £11 each for 5 hours of his time, and we had the bonus of a lovely cool car to get into after each hot and humid stop!

1. Goa Gajah or Hindu Elephant temple. It centres around a cave with ancient carvings, and altar niches, which is thought to have been used by monks, possibly as long ago as the 10th century.

2. Pura Gunung Sawi Sebatu is a Holy Spring temple and may date back to the 11th century. Away from the main tourist trail it is a wonderful, peaceful place to explore with carp and flower filled pools surrounded by jungle, temple buildings and flowers. We were given offerings to place, and encouraged to wash in the spring water!

3. I Made Ada Garuda is a remarkable place off the beaten track but worth a visit. This area is famous for woodcarving and almost every house has a workshop, or store selling their products. I Made Ada Garuda is on another scale! They carve enormous statues, wall decorations and bespoke items for hotels, corporate lobbies and wealthy private individuals. Most pieces are hand carved from a single tree trunk, with wings added afterwards for 'ease' of transport!! We were shown round by the owner's daughter who implied that he is always coming up with bigger ideas, and they have to keep him reined in!

4. The Ceking Rice terraces! Rice is the top agricultural product in Bali, for domestic use and export. Rice paddies are everywhere. They can plant and harvest 3 times a year, with one rotational crop in the 4th quarter. These terraces have been turned into a commercial attraction with the addition of swings, zip wires and a rather alarming bicycle high wire! Traditional costumes are available to hire, and then you swing out with the long train flowing hehind you! There was quite a lot of screaming, but luckily that doesn't show on the photos. Chris chose to 'perch' in a rather more sedate option as befits a birder. Spot the swings!

5. Pekelu village is home to over 4,000 Egrets of 3 species, that come to roost here every night after feeding in the newly ploughed rice paddies. The photos don't begin to show the numbers. These trees are all around people's houses, and you definitely don't look up! The villagers tolerate the noise, the poop and the smell because they believe the birds are sacred,  and bring good fortune   The balcony on the community hall is an informal viewing platform giving you an eye level view up close to the birds. Incredible. And we were the only people there!

Back to Ubud and we decided to revisit the Citrus Cherry for another great dinner.

Next morning we were collected by a driver from our next hotel. He did the transfer, plus an all day tour, for £35 total! Firstly we visited Ulu Petanu waterfall. Bali is very much a landscape of mountain ridges interspersed with incredibly deep, jungle filled valleys. Like most places,  there were lots of steps, but a very pretty waterfall, and refreshing, although we didn't swim!

Next onto Pura Tirta Empul , a beautiful 10th century Hindu water temple, centred around a spring. It is one of the 6 most holy temples in Bali, and many Hindus come here to cleanse their body and soul. There are strict rules about admittance! The temple is surrounded by lush, dense jungle and flowers, which adds to the atmosphere! It is located next to the Presidential Palace, which was not open to the public.

In a week's time Indonesia is having a General Election. We saw flags, and campaign rallies. The current president is popular, but has to step down. Bizarrely, his son is standing as running mate to another candidate, not from the same Party. And the President has endorsed them rather than his own party! No-one is sure how the result will go. There are 3 candidates. If one gets over 50% of the vote, they have won. If not, the 2 highest have another vote in June!

On we drove past rice paddies and through villages, each of which seem to have a craft or tradition practised in nearly every house. We headed for Mount Batur National Park, and were really lucky to see the tops of the mountains before the cloud came in. MT batur is about the height of Mt. Snowdon (Yr Whyffa) in Wales. It is a Volcano, and last erupted in 2000. You can clearly see the rocky lava flow across the countryside!

We were taken to an incredible cafe with a huge terrace looking out onto the volcano. While we were there, the clouds came closer and closer. Suddenly, the mountain had disappeared, and a torrential rainstorm started!

After lunch we wanted to visit the Pura Segara Ulun Danu Batur temple on Lake Batur. Much to our guides' surprise, we asked to go ahead in the rain! This temple has beautiful fountain statues around it in the water, and is reached by a floating bridge - closed today!  Worth the visit even in the rain!

From here it was a 30 minute drive back through Bangli to our next hotel, Asli Bali Villas. Out in the countryside, away from any tourist areas, its name means Real Bali, and it really was! Run by a really charming family, it was paradise! Nothing was too much trouble. The Balinese suppers cooked by Mum were delicious, and so reasonable. Breakfasts were excellent, and I had a wonderful massage there too. And of course a swimming pool.

Best of all were the gardens, filled with beautiful plants, pools, fountains and statues.

J.T was the son, and, among his many duties, he was a very knowledgeable tour guide, and great driver. He took us out 3 days in succession on super trips. On day 1 we visited Penglipuran, one of several designated traditional villages, which grew up around the bamboo forest which they manage. They use bamboo in house building, thatch making, musical instrument making and many other things. In return for their status, they receive benefits, and can charge admission. They must keep the traditional appearance, and adhere to the social rules of their village, so they cannot marry outsiders if they want to stay in the village. Some still use traditional kitchens, and all the families have a meeting platform where family events like marriages take place. They also lay dead family members here for people to come and pay their respects. Each family cluster has a plaque outside showing who lives there.

Outside every house were offerings. A leaf and rice, sprinkled with salt or coconut is to keep bad spirits away. A basket with flowers water and incense is an offering to the Gods. This tower is used to send messages across the village, by someone playing different rhythms on the hanging wooden poles.

All over Bali we saw people selling masks... of goodies and bad guys! Which do you think are which?

And how about this for a grasshopper!

Next was the beautiful Kehen Temple which had extremely ornate stone carving, and a huge, possibly 700 year old, Banyan tree, with a monk's prayer cell high up in the branches. These pots are to hold the Holy water used in ceremonies.

We drove past a temple where a ceremony was taking place honouring the God of the Cow. Women each bring a basket of food which they place on the tables. After prayers, the food is blessed, and they take it home to eat with their families.