[Words: Janice, Pics: Mark]
When people think Indonesia – they think Bali – and we can see why, because it definitely has a lot to offer from shopping, restaurants, beaches, trekking, history, culture and art. We only had a week for Bali, so we decided on three spots: Seminyak/Kuta – an expensive party beach area on the west coast, Ubud – an art & cultural hotspot in the middle and Amed – a serene beach area on the east coast. Bali is a small island, and so, the transportation between each spot only took a few hours, not the usual 10-12 hours… amazing.
We stayed in the Seminyak/Kuta area for 3 nights – which basically consisted of streets with high-end shops, bars, lounges, clubs, and restaurants built around a rather unspectacular beach, although the beach is apparently really good for surfing. About every 3 steps you take, whether on the beach or on the streets, someone is in your face trying to sell you something – a sunchair, a massage, a sarong, a taxi… anything. With a huge variety of restaurants, we got to change up our usual diet of fried rice and noodles and enjoyed sushi and pizza. We also splurged on a couple drinks at Ku Da Te, one of the most popular lounges in the area, where we relaxed on lounge chairs overlooking the beach. Our favourite afternoon involved taking a taxi about one hour out of the main area, to Uluwatu, an area with a temple perched atop a steep cliff face, with extreme surfers below riding some of the biggest waves in Indonesia. We enjoyed sunset drinks in a surfers’ bar clinging on the edge of a cliff overlooking the surfers enjoy their last few waves of the day at the famous Padang Padang sets.
For dinner, we stuffed ourselves with barbequed calamari and fish at Jimbaran beach, which turns into kilometers of seafood restaurants in the evenings. It was a decent place to visit for a couple days, but if you aren’t into loud techno music playing all day and obnoxious drunk people in the streets, this area probably isn’t for you.
Our next spot Ubud, was probably just about as touristy as Seminyak/Kuta, also swarming with extremely annoying locals trying to sell you taxis and other souvenirs. However, Ubud was absolutely gorgeous as the area is set amid cascading rice terraces and temples with intricate carvings and statues. Our first day, we were just exploring the town and Mark heard his name being called out, and very surprisingly, it was his cousin and his wife who were on holiday from New Zealand to attend a wedding. We knew they were in Bali, but despite our earlier attempts, we weren’t able to coordinate, so it was great luck that we ran into them and we all ended up going out for drinks and ribs later that night – very fun!
Our second day, we took an enjoyable tour to a number of temples and rice terraces outside the main town of Ubud. Our favourite spot was the Holy Spring Water Temple, where locals were bathing in the various pools of water as they believe the water has healing power and to cleanse themselves of their sins before going into temples to do their ritual prayers. That evening, we watched a Legong dance show at the Ubud Palace, which is a form of traditional Balinese dance characterized by intricate finger movements and extremely expressive facial expressions. I enjoyed it, not sure about Mark.
On the morning of our last day, we visited Monkey Forest – which is lush forest with gorgeous carvings and home to hundreds of monkeys. The monkeys are so smart, but aggressive – if tourists brought bananas into the park, and hid them in their pocket or bag, the monkeys would jump up on to them and take them out – they knew exactly where they were being hidden and how to get them out. The monkeys could even open boxes of food and plastic bottles of drinks. In the afternoon, we left the city and trekked to the peaceful surrounding villages and enjoyed some amazing views of rice paddies. On a side note, it was in Ubud where I first remember hearing the roosters and stray dogs… all night long. Mark and I had gotten somewhat used to the noise of traffic all night, but the cock-a-doodle-doos and barking were new and kept us up most of the night.
Moving on to our last spot in Bali, we were looking forward to leaving the tourist hubs and visiting Amed, a quiet and peaceful black-sand beach with amazing snorkeling and scuba-diving. Our sole purpose for visiting Amed was to dive the USS Liberty ship wreck. It is only 30 meters from shore, so we walked out from the shore with all our diving gear and dove down. The diving was AMAZING!!! The coral was gorgeous, there was a huge variety of sea life including my favourite, the turtle, and we saw the most spectacular sight of a school of trevally fish, swimming in a huge tornado formation, with a couple of giant trevally (each about a meter long) in the middle. We got to dive through parts of the wreck, which involved going through some very small spaces, and we even saw some parts of the old ship, like a wheel, ladder, and rudder covered in coral, all now part of the sea. The snorkeling was also very good, with probably the best variety of sea life we’ve seen in south east Asia so far. This was definitely a great way to end our visit to Bali! Now on to more beach, snorkeling and diving in the Gili islands located off the coast of Lombok, our next island to visit in Indonesia.
It was only a two-hour fast-boat ride between the islands of Bali and Lombok, but the wind was up, so we were bumping our way over swells and waves that were several feet tall. Needless to say, it was a horribly rough ride, as we were being thrown up and rocked hard back down with each passing wave. I had a serious headache afterwards. We finally arrived at our destination, the Gili islands and had to choose which of the three – Meno (quiet and undeveloped), Trawangan (parties and overdeveloped) or Air (inbetween) – we would stay. If you couldn’t guess, we decided to go to Gili Air and I can honestly tell you that we didn’t do much over the 4 days/5 nights that we were there, other than read, sleep, snorkel and dive in the turquoise blue waters. During our dive, we saw the banded sea snake, the most venomous snake in the world, and lots of turtles!!! We were told that the sea snake is extremely passive and would bite only if severely provoked. We were further told that they only have teeth at the very back of their jaw, so they can only bite you on your fingers or ears, so all you have to do is ball up your hands into fists and cover your ears. Other people told us that was a myth and that this snake could bite you anywhere. I thought it this was all very fascinating.
The only stressful part of this island, was trying to book the rest of our flights for our last couple of weeks in Indonesia – these are times when we really missed the efficiency of the developed world. Also, there were more loud and annoying roosters, dogs and this island even had donkeys, so we were lucky if we could sleep in to 8am. Otherwise, we did a lot of relaxing at really cool beach front restaurants in their many bamboo huts and loungers. We walked around the island one afternoon, which took all of 90 minutes or so, and watched the blood red sunset at what seemed like to be the edge of world.