Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world, the largest country in SE Asia and contains the largest Muslim population in the world. Bali is one of over 18 000 islands and is a popular tourist spot for both international visitors and Indonesians.
Getting to Bali
We arrived in Bali having taken the public ferry from Lembar in Lombok. This was the cheapest option and having heard stories about poor quality boats and speed boats travelling way too fast, also the safest. It was not, however, the quickest. We arrived in Padang Bai in Bali, 11 hours after we had left Gili Meno where we had taken a boat, shuttle bus and then ferry with around 3 hours just waiting on the ferry at either end.
Top Tip: if you are going from the Gili Islands to Bali then shop around and consider your options carefully. There are a wide range of prices, the quality of boat varies drastically and the timings are often confusing if you have to make a number of connections. We opted for the combo ticket sold from the official Koperasi government stand on Gili Meno which took us all the way through to Ubud in Bali and meant there was always someone waiting for us to show us to the next form of transport.
Ubud is one of the main towns and a centre for culture within Bali. Easy to explore on foot you will come across more Hindu temples than you can count and many are just the entrances to accommodation or restaurants. The intricate detail on these temples are impressive and are reflected in the architecture of many of the other buildings within the town. Only a short walk away from the temples you will come across sweeping fields of rice and the chance to see local agriculture in action.
Accommodation is so plentiful in Ubud that unless you are going in peak season there is no real worry about having to book too far in advance or at all! This is great news if you are backpacking around and are not sure what you plans will be, giving you the freedom to remain in one place as long as you want. However, if you want to know there will be a bed waiting for you so that you need not wander from place to place then there are plenty of choices already on popular sites such as booking.com, hostelworld and hostelbookers.
We stayed in Karemba Bungalows (which we booked only the evening before we arrived in Bali as we were unsure of how late the ferry would get us onto the island). Our accommodation was on a side street (Arjuna Street) off the main thoroughfare (Monkey Forest Road) and less than a five minute walk from the main tourist information centre. We felt it was an absolute bargain for only 140 000 IDR (£7) per night for a double room with fan, private ensuite, private balcony with an excellent view (as our bungalow was raised above another), wifi, included towels and linen as well as a breakfast delivered straight to our terrace (toast, egg/omelette and fresh fruit salad with tea/coffee). Our accommodation like many in the area also appeared to be a temple in its own right as there were beautifully engraved wooden entrances, a number of small shrines and Hindu decoration throughout. It was such a peaceful place that we decided to stay on for an extra two nights – our hosts appeared used to travellers changing their plans and remaining on. We noticed on the booking board that one individual was due in the next few days and had booked for an entire month – they wouldn’t be disappointed.
Ubud had a range of food which equalled the Gilis (except for the fresh BBQ on the beach!) and even the more exquisite locations were great value for money. We ate at a number of places throughout our stay including both restaurants (Ibu Rai & Taman Curry) and Warungs (e.g. Warung Ijo, Warung Biah Biah & Dewa Warung) – a Warung being a small family run business which is often a cafe, restaurant or shop. The Warungs served local food for local prices with us never paying more that 20 000 IDR (about £1) for a meal. Firm favourites included Lawar, Mie Goring, Nasi Goreng and a crispy noodle dish. If you fancy a break from Indonesian food then a range of other more Western favourites are available including Italian, Mexican, burgers, fish dishes and much more!
The Palace is a focal point in Ubud with the main tourist office situated diagonally opposite and a number of main roads meeting at a staggered cross roads. Free to get in and not requiring much of your time, this Palace is worth a visit. It is a great example of the local architecture and design, a peaceful spot considering the traffic outside it and allegedly is also the site where the royal family still reside when in the area! Can’t imagine they’d let you wander round Buckingham Palace whilst the Queen was only in the next room! The Palace is also one of the many places where you can see a Balinese dance performance in the evening.
Ubud, although a bustling town contains a peripheral beauty – the rice fields. You don’t have to walk out from the town for very long until you come across them. With the Palace on your right and tourist information on your left keep walking until you see a right hand turn whereby the road is made up of slabs of concrete containing paid-for memories. At first we were amazed and confused by this road but later found that people had paid to have their memories preserved in concrete for a small price as a way to help rebuild the road after it had been damaged. If you keep going straight you will eventually be rewarded with a view of rice fields as far as the eye can see. Please take extra care following heavy amounts of rain if traversing the fields but otherwise this is well worth doing. Look out for wildlife and locals to really immerse yourself in the experience. We headed off on a path towards the left which was signposted main road though we were quite dubious for some time as it seemed to head to nowhere. On the way we found a secluded cooking school, local bird life, locals tending the fields and eventually came full circle back to the main road.
The Art Market
Described as the “art market” this is more just a collection of stalls where you will get the chance to hone your haggling skills. It is difficult to see where it starts and ends as it merges into a number of stalls and shops which seem to spread out like arteries away from the main point which seems to converge opposite the Palace. Be prepared to barter for anything you want! I opted for a neighbouring shop as there were postcards to add to my ever increasing collection and no need to barter.
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
At the end of the aptly named Monkey Forest Road, we came face to face with a monkey before we had even paid our 30 000 IDR to enter. Once inside you will see a great many long tailed Balinese Macaques (around 600 in five groupings) just going about their daily routines including feeding, grooming, playing and sometimes fighting. Do not be fooled by their cute faces as they will be constantly on the lookout for anything you may have that they will want including food and plastic bottles (which they love and I was nearly relieved of mine before a guard came to my rescue!). That said, if you keep these items concealed they are generally very pleasant and won’t give you a second glance.
Nestled within the sanctuary are three Holy temples including: the Holy Spring; Holy Pool and Main Temple. These are all accessible to visitors (and monkeys!) and are located throughout the sanctuary. In addition, exploration of the area will reveal a deer stable, art gallery and even an in-use graveyard! Beautiful carvings depict typical Hindu design such as the dragon stair, komodo dragons and yet more monkeys!
Even non-animal lovers will be unable to resist the cuteness of the baby monkeys as they run near to your feet only to be dragged away by the tail by an older sibling or parent. If lucky you may get the opportunity to feed the monkeys though this is best done with a guard nearby and one monkey at a time! If you are feeling particularly brave you can buy bananas at the entrance and go it alone. Anthony was able to get up close and personal feeding a monkey sweetcorn with the help and guidance of a guard – another animal encounter to add to his list!