Bali was one of those places that had never been on my radar as a must see, I had thought that it was a place that was only for surfers or sunbathers, I am neither of these things. In fact there was lots to do and plenty to see in Bali. It is certainly not the cheapest place to visit which is why I skipped it in my backpacking days. It has a steady market of honeymooners and is the Spain of Australians so their economy is strong and it is reflected in their prices.
We stayed in two locations the first being Sanur meaning Snore. It is seen as the quiet dull town in the South of the island. Whilst I will admit that it was not the beer fueled surfing and diving town of Kuta it was far from dull. I welcomed the tranquility of Sanur and it served as an excellent base for exploring the island. As much as it can be temping to find a favourite place to eat when you are away from home and camp out there we were insistent on trying somewhere new to eat very day and for every meal. As free of clubs and parties as Sanur was it was not short of place to eat. Some of the larger restaurants also had live music on. Further along the coast from Party Kuta and Sanur was Nusa Dua, now if solitude is what you are looking for than this is the place for you, although the choice of food and drink was limited.
Although we changed restaurants one of my favourite dishes to have was Nasi Campur, it very roughly translates as mixed rice. It is a scoop of rice served with between 3 and 7 dishes on the same plate, or leaf if you get it from a street vendor. Each restaurant had a variation on the dishes served with the rice and I loved it as it was a great way to try a variation of foods in one meal.
Sanur is walking distance to Denpasar, the capital of Bali. The route is all flat so achievable even in the heat of the day. You will get stared at for walking there and may, as we did get asked several times if we had lot our tour group. It is not the done thing to walk around but if you want to you can, you do have to brave the odd looks and take your life in your hands to cross the road traversing an endless stream of weaving beeping mopeds and the occasional air conditioned tour bus. On the walk we saw a number of stunning carving workshops, all the embassy residencies and stumbled upon the orchid farm. We were very happy to have stumbled upon this.
In Denpasar itself the moped traffic may wear you down and you may feel like hailing a tuk tuk just to cross the road. The two place that are certainly worth seeing in the capital the first being Bajra Sandhi a imposing black structure in the centre of a public park that tells the story of Bali on the road to independence from Dutch rule through dioramas. The second is museum Negri Propinsi, whilst the exhibits themselves are a little timeworn and not that engaging the building and gardens are well worth the visit.
During the day in Sanur was much quieter but had endless coastline to explore. The shops and markets in Sanur, Kuta and Nusa Dua are not the best, mainly beer t shirts and novelty nonsense. That being said there were a couple of gems in Sanur that had beautiful Indonesian puppets and carvings. Sanur was also perfectly situated for visiting surrounding areas such as Tannah Lot, this must be one of the most photographed temples, it is stunning in its architecture and situation. From Sanur we also visited Temple and went to see a Barong dance.
It is possible to rent a car but the rates are only favourable if you take it for a week or longer and unless you are driving everyday it is not worth it. You could rent a bicycle but we saw what was on offer and did not fancy our chances of steering.
We opted for getting a taxi or tuk tuk for shorter distances. Do not be afraid to haggle. The fares from the airport are set by the government so we used the distance and cost of that journey as a basis for future haggling/negotiating. The drawback of taking a taxi is the ensuing argument of being shown the shops. Bali is not the only place in the world that operates a driver kick back from shops and restaurants. Depending on what mood you are in you can hold firm and say no to shop stops, or, as we did on one occasion said hey what the heck let him take us. We did not end up buying anything from the shops but we did see nice things and found that side of it enjoyable….that once, everyday would have been a different matter. The Hindu temples were stunning and very different to the ones I am used to in India.
Along the coast there are a range of hotels, from the grand to the intimate. Personally the large grand hotels did not appeal to me and I did not want to get caught up in any all inclusive deals. I like to go out and explore rather than feeling I need to stay in the hotel complex to ‘get my moneys worth’. Certainly on the South side of the island the sea is better for diving and surfing rather than swimming. Be cautious of quiet bays as there are a number of areas that have very dangerous undertow, be sure to check before swimming. With that in mind if you really like a holiday swim perhaps finding a hotel with a pool would be the best option, you can still do this for a reasonable price. We did pick our favourite snack and breakfast spot in Sanur, a place called Manik Organik, fantastic range of juices and smoothies.
The second place that we made our home during this trip was Ubud. This was indeed my favourite out of the two locations. The markets were a great place to shop and haggle. I also spent the day on a cooking course here, it was so much fun and a great way to bring a little of Bali home. There are various restaurants that will run courses, just ask, I took mine at Bumbu Bali, Ubud.
Prices for restaurants and hotels were a little cheaper in land and we stayed in a small guesthouse by a rice paddy which was great for walks and spotting dragonflies. We also went on a tour of a coffee plantation, the coffee was not as smooth as Central America but the whole day was really interesting and I saw my first fruit bat, they are huge and a real problem for the farmer, as you can imagine.
If you do nothing else in Ubud you should visit the monkey forest and see a fire dance, both were unforgettable in very different ways. I have traveled the world over and never known monkeys with such an amenable temperament. The one piece of advice we were given at the sanctuary was do not hide food if a monkey asks for it give it to them. I was actually petrified when the huge monkey came and sat on me but he looked in my bag, saw I had no food and left. Bali certainly is worth the trip and there are several small islands that you can take a boat out to. And if you are a little more sporty than I there is diving and water sports.