I took advantage of my host family being on holiday for a month and decided to take a holiday of my own over to Bali. The flight from Darwin is less than 3 hours, which makes Asia a closer trip than Sydney or Melbourne and I couldn’t pass it up.
I arrived just after midnight, so I planned on staying at a hotel in Seminyak, closer to the airport, for that night. I took a taxi from the airport and got my first look at the city. My driver was very concerned that Americans felt Indonesia wasn’t a good place to visit (apparently my business wasn’t enough for him to think otherwise).
Tuesday morning, I wandered around Seminyak for a while, losing my debit card somewhere in the process. My hotel was about a 15 minute walk from the beach, so I headed that way. There were signs at the beach saying that they wanted to apologize for the yearly “rubbish phenomenon.” Intrigued, I went onto the beach and saw garbage everywhere. There were loads of people cleaning it up but it’s definitely going to take a long time to clear it all. It was insanely hot so I didn’t stick around for too long, and I get enough of the beach in Darwin. I went back to the hotel, gathered my things and asked a hotel employee to help me get a taxi to Ubud, where I spent the rest of my week in Bali.
The drive to Ubud was nothing like the drive between the airport and my Seminyak hotel. The cab was a van, but the driver acted like we were in a small clown car the way he was zipping in and out of traffic. Many people ride small scooters, and they wove all around us and sometimes on the other side of the road. I didn’t see a speed limit sign during the entire hour’s drive.
I got to my hostel, Puji Bungalows, before check in so I wandered around Ubud for a bit. The hostel was just off the main road so it wasn’t a far walk.
Wednesday, I walked down to the Monkey Forest, where Balinese long-tailed monkeys roam freely in a small park. It’s a $4AUD fee to get in, and then I was free to wander around for as long as I wanted. There are a few stands inside the park where employees sell bananas that visitors can feed to the monkeys, but they climb on everyone regardless if you have food or not. One jumped onto my shoulders, opened my backpack and tried to steal my water bottle before a ranger came over and scared him away.
That night, I signed up for the Mount Batur sunrise trek, a hike that goes up an active volcano for a view of the sunrise over mountains. It was an extremely early start, with breakfast at 2am before starting the hour drive to the base of the volcano. Our driver had a fondness for Justin Bieber covers, which wasn’t my first choice (or that of the 7 other people in the van). At the base of the volcano, we met our two guides, local girls who do the trek on a 6 days on/1 day off roster. We were each handed a small flashlight, a banana, a hard boiled egg and a piece of toast and we were off at 3:15 on our way to the top.
It was the hardest hike I’ve ever done, and it definitely wasn’t made any easier by the darkness. The beginning wasn’t too bad, but by the middle we we starting to slip on the sand and towards the top we were using each other to pull ourselves up the tougher parts. Our guides were very good about slowing down and making sure everyone stayed together, even though there were so many people on the trail that it would be impossible to get lost. At the top, our group was able to sit on the edge of the cliff, with a great view to watch the sunrise.
We stayed at the top for around an hour, until it was light enough to start the climb down without needing flashlights. On the way down, no one could believe that we had climbed up the same trail. It was ridiculously steep, and since it was a volcano it was mostly sand instead of rocks like typical trails. If I had seen the trail in the daylight before climbing up it, I probably would have backed out because of how intense it looks in the daylight. My legs were sore for days.
I spent Friday with some of my roommates and other people from the hostel, getting lunch and lounging by the pool. Normally I don’t like to spend a day of a trip doing nothing, but I planned a big Saturday with 3 others and didn’t feel guilty at all about my day in the pool.
Because I didn’t trust myself on a scooter in the Bali traffic, one of my roommates, and English girl named Jay, and I decided to hire a driver for our last full day, Saturday. Another roommate gave us a recommendation and sample itinerary, and we were sold. The driver told us it would cost 600,000IDR for the day, which would work out to $30AUD each–until two other guys wanted to jump in as well, making it $15 for a 9-5 tour around Ubud. Count me in.
Our first stop was a batik, where women make the traditional Balinese fabrics that are then used to create sarongs, blankets and clothing. It was a bit strange just staring at people at work–it felt a bit like a zoo–but it was interesting to see the level of detail that goes into creating these fabrics.
Our next stop was the Tegenungan Waterfall, which was beautiful but very crowded. We swam at the base for a bit, but the waterfall was so powerful it was quite the workout trying to stay in one place.
Next up was the Goa Gajah Temple, otherwise known as the Elephant Cave. At temples, everyone needs to be covered below the knee, so they handed out borrowed sarongs before we entered.
The temple was built in the 11th century, but it’s in great condition. Not knowing much about Hinduism made it difficult to understand what we were looking at, but it was still a beautiful place.
The next stop was a coffee plantation, where we learned about the different types of coffee and tea that are made in Bali. There is a special type of coffee that is made with the help of luwaks, a wild cat that looks a bit like a ferret. The luwak eats coffee beans, and then digests them and once they come out the other end, the beans are boiled and peeled by hand before being ground into coffee. This process gives luwak coffee the nickname of “cat-poo-chino,” and makes it the most expensive coffee in the world. As a part of the tour of the plantation, we were given a sample of 4 coffees and 8 teas, all of which were delicious. We split a cup of the luwak coffee, which to me didn’t taste much different from regular coffee, but it had a bit of a stronger flavor.
Back in the van, we were off to a traditional Balinese home, called a compound. Our driver took us to his family’s compound, so he was able to explain it in detail. Balinese men live in their family’s compound (a small neighborhood type space where 35 or so people live) for their whole lives, while the women move into their husband’s compounds after they are married usually around age 24 or 25. Each compound has a small temple for praying and ceremonies, as well as a meeting place for larger meals and discussions.
After the compound, we went back to the hostel, and Jay and I got dinner before going to Ubud Palace to watch a traditional Balinese dance. The costumes were amazing and the dance was beautiful.
My flight out of Denpasar was Sunday, so I spent the morning at the Agung Rai Art Museum, which had traditional Balinese art, before getting the shuttle bus down to the airport.
My first time in Asia was definitely a success, and I’m already looking forward to exploring more of it someday, hopefully soon!