When I heard my parents were coming for a visit I’m not sure what I was more excited about: seeing them or the chance to travel. We had hoped to get away for a week in April, but Paul’s work was very busy and he couldn’t get away. My parents coming meant I had travel companions! It didn’t take me too long to decide that we should go to Bali; I only hoped my parents were on board. I chose Bali because it is somewhere I had never been before and Paul and I love to add another country to our list. But also because it is inexpensive to travel, it looked beautiful and sounds exotic. My parents put their trust in my hands and didn’t seem to care where they ended up as long as they got to spend time with their grandkids. Paul would be able to join us over a long weekend for 5 days…or so we thought. Skip back a few blogs to see how that turned out! Being the crazed travel planner that I am, I spent many hours planning the perfect 12 days in Bali. I’m not sure what I would do without Tripadvisor, Lonely Planet and the many other great travel websites and forums out there; so much information at your fingertips.
Beaching it in Bali: Sanur
One of the downsides to living in Ipoh is that you have to go to the airport in Kuala Lumpur to really get anywhere. We do have an airport in Ipoh, but they only fly to Singapore. So we have to make the 3 hour drive down to KL to really get anywhere. This makes weekend away flights fairly impossible. We were flying with Air Asia, the low cost carrier on this side of the world. They are low cost and do fly just about anywhere, but you pay for everything (checked baggage, to speak to someone on the phone, to pick your seats, etc). Although I suppose most airlines are turning this way anyway. After getting stuck in some traffic in KL and getting mighty worried that we might miss our flight, we arrived at the airport. The Grand Prix had just taken place in KL on the weekend and lots of people were headed for the airport. After a smooth 3 hour ride, we arrived in Bali. Bali gets lots of tourists, mostly from Australia and Europe. They know how to cash in on this as you have to purchase a $25 US visa on arrival AND you have to pay 160,000 rupiahs to leave (sounds like a lot, but it is actually only about $20 US). The currency took us a few days to master (well it took my Mom the whole trip). The exchange rate is roughly $1 CAD = 8,000 rupiah…and those zeros can get confusing! We were carrying around millions, which kind of reminded me of Zimbabwe.
Most of the tourism in Bali is in the southern part of the island and it is quite congested with many motorbikes. We had opted to stay in Sanur, a quieter beach town, then the busier Kuta. We were staying in mostly mid-range accommodation, but in Sanur I had booked us into a guesthouse that was a 10 minute walk from the beach. We had two basic rooms overlooking a small pool, with lovely hosts, a short walk down a charming little alley to the beach and restaurants. Ella hit it off right away with the son of the hosts, Joshua and they enjoyed swimming together.
The culture of Bali is quite unique and one of the main draws for any tourist. Indonesia is mostly a Muslim nation, but the Balinese are Hindu. The Balinese are known for their elaborate ceremonies and for their strong beliefs. Offerings are made several times a day and we quickly learned to dodge the little banana leaf bowl filled with flower petals, rice, and incense that lay at the door of every shop and home. We found the Balinese people to be very sweet and of course the children got lots of attention. Although tourism is the largest industry in Bali, the people are still very poor.
We spent our time in Sanur at the beach. They beach is public and you therefore get approached quite a bit by ladies selling clothes and other beach items, massages, hair braiding, manicures, etc. Ella was really worried about the ladies that wanted to braid her hair and made me promise not to let them. I think she thought they might kidnap her and braid away. We did a daytrip to Kuta, which we decided was much too young for us and we visited the famous Tanah Lot island temple. Ella did decide that she wanted her hands and toes painted and we easily found a lady on the beach to oblige. Ella was very excited to get back to see her friend Joshua and show him her mani/pedi.
Becoming Cultured in Ubud
After 4 nights in Sanur, we were off to Ubud, the cultural centre of Bali located inland amongst the rice fields. It has long been a favorite for expats and most recently was the setting for the “love” part of the “Eat, Pray, Love” book. Our first stop on the way was to see a traditional dancing and music show. It featured exquisite costumes, a very unique dance style and told the story of a traditional legend. Surrounding Ubud are the craft villages, where each village specializes in an artistic pursuit. There is a woodcarving village, a silver work village, a basket village, a batik village… Our driver would take us to one shop in each village. They were large shops where you were swarmed when your car pulled up, there were no prices on anything and the driver got a commission if you purchased anything. This wasn’t really the shopping experience we were looking for, so we made our way directly to Ubud. That being said, the artists in Bali are exceptionally talented. We found the woodworking to be especially beautiful and intricate. It was on this drive that my heart fell as I read Paul’s email that he would not be joining us. We had so been looking forward to seeing him and although I was pretty bummed, I felt horrible for him. But he made the best of it and had that spectacular experience of hiking through the jungle with leaches and sleeping in a cave, which I’m sure you are all very jealous of.
We were staying at this sweet little hotel just on the outskirts of Ubud with the rice fields in our backyard. It was a beautiful setting, but bitter sweet without Paul. Central Ubud was just a walk through the Monkey Forest or a hotel shuttle around. The monkeys in the Monkey Forest are fairly aggressive and you don’t want to bring any food with you, as they are quite cheeky. Breakfast at the hotel was very entertaining because the monkeys chose to visit most days. They were quite brazen and managed to grab some bread or such most days. The staff tried diligently to keep them away using a slingshot and sticks. It made for some good entertainment in the morning. We did lots of shopping in Ubud and we quickly learned how to barter in Bali. The initial asking price is absurd and you end up paying max one third of the original price. You have to barter hard and be prepared to walk away. My parents did a bicycle tour one day from the volcano, Mt Batur, through the countryside, visiting some local homes, a coffee plantation (ask them about poop coffee), and seeing the rice being processed. They have great spa facilities in Bali and I indulged in 4 hours at the spa for a mere $75 US – heaven! It was a real treat having my parents traveling with us. In the mornings when the kids woke up at the ungodly hour of 6 am, I sent them across the way to snuggle with Nana & Papa, while I got some extra rest.
Off the Beaten Path: Amed
After 4 nights in Ubud, we were off to our last spot: Amed. Located 3 hours north on the east coast Amed is more off the beaten path and quieter. We made a few stops along the way at a traditional village, the Raja’s water playground in the hills, and of course lunch. We found the food in Bali to be really good. In addition to great Indonesian food, with the influx of tourists, there was some great Western food to be had. We loved the fresh fruit juices that you could get everywhere. The kids were thrilled to find bangers and mash on the menus, their British roots evident. One night at dinner, I looked over to see Gavin driving his croc (shoe) through his mash. We even got to try a new exotic fruit: the snake fruit. The texture of the peel feels exactly like snake skin.
Amed is a series of villages set amongst black sand beaches. The people here were the poorest we had seen in Bali and were mostly fishermen. The beach was doted with coloured traditional Balinese boats. Amed is well known for its great snorkeling. My parents rented a motorbike one day and explored some of the reefs in the area. We spent most of our time in Amed lounging by the pool. After many straight days of swimming, Ella’s swimming had improved dramatically and she could now swim unaccompanied in the deep end. At our hotel in Amed, we had our own beach cottage equipped with a lovely outdoor shower.
After 3 nights, we made our way back south towards the airport and spent our last night in Kuta. I thought I had gotten us a good deal at a swank hotel that had just opened up. Well it was too good to be true and the hotel was not really fit for occupants yet. But I’m sure it will be swank one day. We had to dodge workmen throughout the hotel, put up with loud construction noise right outside our room, and best of all after starting to take a shower I discovered that the drain had yet to be installed – nice! After some polite, but forceful complaining we got a partial refund.
Sorry for the novel I have written if you made it this far. I really loved Bali and it is definitely somewhere I want to go back to (and hopefully they will let Paul in next time). The culture is really unique, the people extremely friendly, they have an excellent tourism infrastructure and great food and the countryside and beaches are beautiful.
Where We Stayed:
Sanur – Kesari Guesthouse – nice, budget option. Rooms were small and basic, but had a nice seating area and we enjoyed the shared pool. 5-10 min walk to the beach. 220,000 IDR/night.
Ubud – Saren Indah – such a gem of a place. Lovely rooms in a lovely location, set in the rice fields, on the other side of Monkey Forest. Breakfast was served each morning in an open air thatch hut. Great food – we ate there most of the time and used the hotel’s shuttle a few times. $45 USD/night.
Amed – Life in Amed Boutique Hotel – beautiful cottages in Balinese style, loved the outdoor shower. Beach cottages are great for families as there is a loft. Pool and wifi was great. Amed is quite off the beaten track and this hotel is nestled in a true Balinese town – be ready to see poverty and the non-touristy Bali. Food at the hotel was great and we also ate at Sails and Bali Ku, which provide free pickups.