June 18-June 25
We were welcomed with shouts and waves at the Bali airport at 2am by forty men in blue floral shirts. And by shouts and waves, I mean yelling “TAXI! TAXI! I GIVE YOU GOOD PRICE!”, while flashing plastic signs in our faces. I thought, “Ah right, this again,” as I remembered my last trip to Southeast Asia. We certainly weren’t in Australia anymore.
Instead of getting flustered, we politely ignored them and their ridiculous prices, bought some cold water and a SIM card, and ordered a Grab Car for 80% cheaper than the taxi fare. Grab is a lifesaver and just like Uber where everything is done in an app without haggling or scams. I highly recommend it to anyone traveling Asia.
Our driver navigated the winding cobblestones roads and squeezed carefully into an alleyway. The walls were only three inches wider than the car, but he expertly maneuvered around and dropped us off at the Bread & Jam Hostel. I couldn’t be happier to settle in to the cozy room for some rest.
We were in no hurry that morning and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of fresh bread, homemade papaya jam, and kombucha on tap. This was all included in our $17 per night room. It felt good not to be paying Australian prices anymore!
Wandering the streets outside was like trying to escape a maze. The narrow roads zigzagged around walled tin roof complexes and suddenly turned into alleyways, which made our trek to Kuta beach an adventure. We emerged onto a main road and the tranquility turned into a frenzy of overweight Australians shuffling between western restaurants advertising the World Cup and Australian beers. Even the markets were geared towards bogun Aussies with jokes about Bunnings (their Home Depot) and the welfare system. There were also a ton of big surf brands like Rip Curl, Quicksilver, and Roxy. Down at the beach, the first ten meters were packed with vendors selling umbrellas, chairs, beers and coconuts. Others hawkers weaved between the makeshift restaurants offering massages, hair braiding, and henna.
We wandered some more and stopped for lunch outside a storefront that looked to be selling pork. The restaurant owner was patient with us and explained all the mysterious things inside his glass cabinet in broken English. Still pretty unsure of what I was looking at, I stuck to dumplings while Byron dove right in and pointed to everything spicy. To wash down our tasty lunch, we enjoyed a refreshing Bali Hai beer outside a 7-Eleven while watching the chaotic scooter traffic whizz by.
After a quick rest at the hostel, we headed back out to the beach to join the thousands of other people watching the sun sink down against the water. The beer here is only 25,000 rupiah, which is actually only $1.70, so we enjoyed a few and took in the scenery. Not only was the beer cheap, but so was Brazilian BBQ. In Australia restaurants like this are around $55 each. Here in Bali, it was $16 per person, including drinks! We feasted and wandered our full tummies back the the hostel along the windy streets.
Most people advise to get out of Kuta as soon as possible, since it’s the most urban and least cultural of the cities in Bali. We took that advice and headed out to Ubud, just a few hours north in a shared van. I was naive in thinking I would escape the over abundance of tourists here. Instead of Kuta, where the tourists were somewhat diluted by a large population of Indonesians, Ubud seemed to only be populated by Western tourists. Every shop, hotel, spa and restaurant along the main street catered to tourists, making it hard to understand why everyone recommended going here.
Our opinion of Ubud was also damaged by the relentless rain that poured for two days straight. We escaped our hotel room in quick bursts for meals of mi goreng (fried noodles), nasi kampur, Bali Hai beer, spring rolls, and delicious Indonesian coffee. It seemed every time we attempted an activity, the rain would get in the way, so we accepted our damp existence and waited for the rain to clear.
Things started to improve a few days later and we wandered out to the Campuhan Ridge Walk just outside Ubud. It offered a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the streets and carried us past picturesque rice paddies, palm trees, and farms. The sun was glistening off the smooth water of the terraces while we sipped fresh coconut water from a nearby hut. I was starting to understand what all the fuss was with Ubud.
Mount Batur and Temples
Because of the rain, we missed all the of the official tours that we were planning on doing. Instead, we decided to do our own tour and escaped the town on a rental scooter for $4 for the day. We zipped along with the flow of traffic past the Tellagalang Rice Terrace and up north to Mount Batur, Lake Batur, and Mount Agung. These mountains are actually active volcanoes, with Mount Agung erupting just a few days after we left the area.
Our trusty little scooter took us up the steep roads and through the winding forest to Basikeh Temple, the largest in Bali. Things were going well until we saw dark clouds in the distance and riders in the opposite direction slick with rain drops. Just as the storm descended upon us, we scooted under an abandoned shop front with an overhang, along with an Indonesian family. We waited out the worst of it, but bought ponchos and decided to hell with the rain and carried on to the Holy Spring Water Temple, and the Goa Gajah Elephant Cave temple before dark.
Cycling Tour through the Countryside
The next day, we went back into the peaceful villages by going on a downhill bicycling tour. With our guide, Wayan, and two Dutch girls, we rode 22km from Mount Batur back down to Ubud area to get an up close look at rural life. To get our energy pumping, we first stopped at a coffee plantation for some samples and to learn about the plants. This area is known for producing Lewak Coffee, a very rare and expensive coffee. Essentially, the lewak animal eats the coffee beans, and the farmers collect the poop beans to make this specialty beverage. Lewaks have a feline resemblance, leading to the beverage’s nickname of “Cat-Poo-Chino”.
With lewak coffee coursing in our veins, we pedaled down through the small communities and rice paddy fields and stopped at one family complex. Each family home can house over ten families including aunts and uncles–all in the same compound. This particular family produced hand woven baskets and black bee honey, which is sour in taste. They explained their daily routine before we hit the road again.
At one of the rice paddies, we dismounted and tiptoed along the terraces to witness a family going through the rice collection process. One group whacked the rice stalks to release the grains, while another sifted out the dirt, and another bagged the rice to be peeled. In all the places I’ve seen rice paddies, I had yet to understand how rice was actually made until now! For the rest of the day, we carried on through the fields and neighborhoods, getting high fives from the children running along the road.
The next day, we got out of Ubud and headed to Padang Bai for a change of scenery. This town is mostly just a stop for people continuing on the ferry to the Gili Islands. It seemed like we were the only tourists who actually wanted to stay in Padang Bai, as the town cleared out entirely as soon as the ferry left. There weren’t a ton of activities here, but the highlight was the Blue Lagoon.
Here, Byron enjoyed renting a snorkel set for $2 while I enjoyed a beer in a beach chair under a palm tree for the same price. His photos of a clown fish family in their anemone was adorable, but the floating layer of trash took away from the experience. After coffee and a jaffle at a waterfront cafe, we trekked up a hill and back down to Padang Bai’s other beach, White Sand Beach. For such a title, the sand was pretty dirty, so we carried on to explore the abandoned resort on the cliff before heading back to the hotel.
We felt that we had seen enough of Padang Bai, so we headed back to Kuta the next afternoon. For our last night in Bali, we enjoyed another sunset beer at the beach, and partied at the Sky Garden–Bali’s number one club, and rated 70th internationally. They had an $8 all you can eat BBQ and all you can drink deal, which kept us full and happy for hours. We made sure to dance at all the different floors of the massive venue until we were ready for a few hours of sleep before our flight the next morning. After spending our final rupiahs at the airport, we were off to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to meet up with my sister, Shannon!