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  • Writer's pictureDearbhla

Bali

Although Bali is sold as a paradise of pure, white sandy beaches and tranquil blue waters, with tourists comes rubbish and environmental degradation. You can definitely find little pockets of heaven but what Bali is best for is its unique charm, gorgeous food, fabulous shopping and quirky entrails.


Like many, I had wanted to go to Bali for a long time. I was enthralled by travel brochures awash with photos of pristine, crystal clear waters and empty sandy beaches that seemed to stretch for miles amidst vast palm trees and mountain-top temples. This picture-perfect image didn’t quite live up to my expectation largely because the popularity of the Indonesian island has meant tourists have the beaches overrun. I am aware of the irony that in bemoaning this, I was also directly contributing to the problem. I soon came to the realisation that the immaculate white sandy beaches and clear, turquoise hued photos were not entirely indicative of the Balinese experience. Swimming amidst turtles and colourful fish, I found myself marvelling at the distinctive beauty of the Gili islands, when I was thumped on the back of the head by a milk carton. According to a Balinese friend, there is no municipality in charge of collecting litter and it is up to the islanders themselves. Of course, with the influx of tourists, it is very hard to regulate. It hardly helps that we in the West have vastly contributed to the plastic pollution stretching across the globe by dumping our ‘recycling’ in places like Indonesia for decades.


Nevertheless, once you get past the initial disappointment of plastic-laden beaches, Bali is imperfectly perfect in its own way. So, although a far cry from the Eat Pray Love that many have sought to reproduce, I still loved every minute amidst the chaos of beeping cars, and mountainous, meandering rice paddies. I loved the ‘Genuine fake’ handbags and other accessories which hang from makeshift stalls, while hawkers find their niche through windy streets jammed with tourists in Kuta Legian. Traditional weavers, Batik classes, and turtle diving tours can be found alongside roadways potted with open sewers, wild monkeys that steal your food, and affected Western tourists wearing yoga pants ‘finding themselves’ amongst the higgledy piggledy buildings of Ubud. This mish mash is what makes Bali great fun and the Balinese welcome you with unending smiles and an abundance of banana pancakes, which are better than sliced bread. Below is a list of the places we were able to go to and my travel tips.


Across the water you can see the large looming shadow of Mount Rinjani, the second highest volcano in Indonesia, on the neighbouring island of Lombok. As we were bang in the middle of the rainy season, we were unable to climb it but it is something everyone who has been would recommend.


General Dos and Don'ts:

Medication:

I bought Malaria tablets and never used because we were going to go to Lombok to climb Mount Rinjani, but as I mentioned above, it was rainy season so we couldn't go. Make sure you bring lots of mosquito spray as there have been malaria cases on the Gili Islands, plus the mosquitos are everywhere, particularly during the rainy season.

Beware of Bali Belly. I advise bringing antibiotics from your local tropical medical centre and you can take them as soon as you feel ill. We ended up getting it from fish we ate at a restaurant on Gili Trawangan so they came in very handy. Bring motilium, anti-acid tablets, or any anti-nausea pills and definitely take electrolytes with you. This is particularly important in the heat as we generally ended up walking around a lot, which can lead to dehydration.

Sunscreen: An obvious one, but the rays here are quite similar to those in Australia – lack of ozone – and I got quite badly burnt even with Factor 30, so just make sure you have a hat.

Rainy season:

Bring a rain jacket or you can buy a very fetching plastic poncho in most places that look like plastic bin liners. You’re going to get wet anyway if you get stuck in a downpour.

Barter:

The first rule is barter. It is Balinese custom to haggle and they love a good bargain. Spend a bit of time walking around to see what the average prices are. You can pretty much barter for most things, including hotel rates, especially during wet season as it tends to yield fewer tourists. Rule of thumb is don’t buy from the first stall you see.

When booking a driver, massage or when buying one of the legions of sarongs and elephant print trousers on display along the street, the first price offered is usually the vendor chancing their arm. I tended to half their first offer and then negotiated to meet in the middle. If that doesn’t work, you can move on to the next stall. It’s definitely a bit of craic and takes some getting used to. Having grown up in the Middle East, price haggling is a right of passage and most of the time, if they don’t have a lot of tourists milling about, they will call you back to counteroffer. My main takeaway though is to always be respectful. Remember that although it’s great to get a bargain, the stall owners need to make a profit. It’s important to maintain a happy medium. Lowering the price too much can be seen as disrespectful since most tourists tend to come from countries with a better standard of living and stronger economies. The practice is less common in places like Seminyak with the introduction of high-end boutiques, all of which are far too overpriced catering mainly to wealthier holiday makers more so than backpackers. Give it a go though, you never know.

Know your currency:

Make sure you change money at a reputable Bureau de Change as there are lots of cowboys offering money exchanges. Always check your change and learn the currency. You need to know what the notes look like as they can be a bit confusing. Like anywhere, there are those who will try to short change you, or even do a swap on the note you gave them (e.g. you give a IDR 100,000 note and they swap it for a IDR 10,000 note and say you haven’t paid enough) the money can be a bit confusing because there are a lot of 0's. E.g. IDR 100,000 = $ US 10.

Transport:

The Traffic is generally pretty atrocious across most of Bali so add an extra half hour on to any journey. You will spend a lot of time travelling from one place to another. I would recommend booking a driver. The driving is a cacophony of bumper-to-bumper beeping and traffic weaving down opposite sides of the road. Leave an extra hour to get to the airport because of this.


Places I recommend (and places I don't)!

Kuta/Legian


Having arrived late at night into Denpasar Airport, I opted to stay at a lovely place called the Kubu Kauh Beach Inn in the Kuta/Legian area, which is only about a 20-minute drive from the airport. In hindsight, I would have avoided Kuta altogether and stayed somewhere equally as close like Nusa Dua. Kuta has the sleazy, low-grade feel of a beach strip in Magaluf, dotted with poorly lit bars pouring out Australians drunk on laced Arak (local, very potent liquor). The beaches, although good for surfing are extremely crowded and you are approached by beach hagglers selling everything from rings and watches to foot massages. Children surround you selling bracelets, under the watchful eye of their parents and if you buy one, you have to buy fifty. This is fairly common across all the main tourist areas on the island. If you look like you know where you’re going, you are more or less left alone. Having said that, the main shopping street is within a stone’s throw. Jalan Legian is where you can find everything from hats and dresses to souvenirs and watches. Walking the huge stretch from Kuta up to Seminyak can take hours and you can get barter fatigue so make sure you bring water or stop off to eat somewhere.


Ubud


I absolutely loved Ubud. It’s not just for those who want to do yoga, as cultural activities are in abundance and if it’s your thing, the shopping is amazing here. You can find lots of beautiful silk scarves, hand carved souvenirs, dresses, you name it.

My top tip for food would be to eat at KAFE. It's a gorgeous little restaurant on Jl Hanoman in Ubud- www.balispirit.com. The food is amazing (all veggie but seriously yummy). If you’re not really into vegetarian food, there’s a plethora of restaurants all along that road to choose from, and all are very good. We tended to stick to vegetarian food in an attempt to avoid Bali Belly, which we ended up getting anyway.

We stayed at an incredible place called Artini 2- it was like being in the jungle with a pristine pool area: www.artinicottage.com


We rented bikes but it's REALLY hilly- it would be worth getting them for a day at least to see how you like them. A word of caution, traffic can be quite chaotic, and they don’t supply helmets, so it’s a risk. One worth taking though as you get to see a lot.

Batik


We did a Batik course at the Arma Museum in Ubud. The Batik patterns are made by creating an image either by free-drawing or drawing dots and lines and going over them with a spouted tool called a tjanting in hot wax. The wax stops the colour from dying the fabric underneath. You then remove the wax with boiling water. You can repeat this to produce different colours and patterns. Batik is made using traditional Indonesian material. We also stopped off at a Batik Museum along the way to Ubud which was really cool and bought some incredible material. The man in the photo who runs the course is called: Inyoman Deking and he does it at his house for cheaper in Ubud. His no is: 081338784892 or email: dekinga@artmail.com

I would recommend taking a taxi tour for a day. The hotels usually organise a guide for you and they will take you around for a reasonable price to all the must-see places for the day and sit and wait for you, which is fantastic as it means you can spend as much time as you want in each place. This is pretty standard. They will take you to a coffee plantation for Kopi Luwak (poo coffee), a fruit plantation, and to Gunung Kawi.


Gunung Kawi


Gunung Kawi is the most incredible place. It is one of the island’s largest ancient temple complexes made up of five temples and 10 rock-cut candi (shrines). These memorials are cut out of the rock cliff face imitating actual buildings. You have to walk down hundreds of steps to get to the temple complex so better to do this when it’s not raining. This is the easy part of the trip as climbing back up the hundreds of steps in the humidity and heat is definitely less enjoyable so make sure you have water! It is surrounded by beautiful rice paddies. You need to wear a sarong or a sari with a sash. You rent them or there are stalls selling them just outside.


The rice paddies at Gunung Kawi


Mount Batur


Mount Batur: If you have time you must do this volcano trek! The view is outstanding. You begin the trek at about 5am and reach the peak by around 6.30am, just in time to see the stunning sunrise against the backdrop of the magnificent Mount Agung, the highest tip of Bali. This is especially good if you are there during rainy season, as the larger volcano at Lombok is usually closed off to visitors as it gets too dangerous. As we went during the rainy low season, there weren’t too many of us at the pinnacle, which was a relief as I had had quite a spectacular panic attack on the way up. Less witnesses is always good. It can be a bit daunting, especially if like me, you have a fear of heights and don’t particularly like walking up unsteady, rocky terrain on the side of an active volcano in the pitch dark! I slipped on some pebbles going up and I froze at the side of the steep ascent. The guide stood there baffled as I told him and my friend to carry on without me, the thought of walking any further terrifying me. He looked at me in dismay before telling me I was standing on the side of the mountain blubbing like a big fat baby. In what was a display of such a comical lack of empathy after he called me a big fat baby for the tenth time, I realised I was either going to have stay and listen to the guide making baby noises and imitating me, intermittently shouting ‘waa waa’ while rubbing his cheeks, or I had to suck it up and carry on. Watching his theatrics coupled with mine on the side of the mountain and realising the pure ridiculousness of the situation made me laugh and I was able to pull it together. Getting to the top was definitely worth it. And the hot coffee and toast at the top even more so! I would bring a warm jacket as after climbing up, it gets cold once your body temperature decreases. Bring water and bring some good shoes- so you don’t slip on rocks and have a panic attack.


Eat, Pray, Love


As is traditional in Bali, we went to see a healer. We thought it would be fun to go and see Ketut Liyer, the healer made famous in the book Eat, Pray, Love. It wasn’t and I didn’t end up talking to him. There was a queue of older women on a journey to find their own Javier Bardem and there were birds in cages all over the garden, which I found upsetting and somewhat indicative of the strange set up. I walked out after watching him talk to these women who clutched onto his every word, most of what he said didn't really make much sense, and he was repetitive, as he kept forgetting what he had said. He smiled the toothless grin of a man whose glazed eyes seemed to indicate senility. I thought he was being taking advantage of. Forced to see throngs of people all day long in what seemed to me to be a money racket. It was sad. There are loads of healers around though, and if you feel like it just ask one of the locals and they will tell you a good one to go to. It’s a really nice thing to do.

Monkey Forest Sanctuary is pretty novel. People feed the monkeys though so they tend to be a bit rabid. Plus, there are so many of them, so it tends to feel a bit like you’re in the movie ‘Outbreak’. Definitely an experience though! If you don't feed them (most people with any common sense wouldn’t) then they're pretty chilled.

Celuk


Go to Celuk for jewellery. It's not that far from Ubud and definitely worth a trip. The jewelery is all handmade and you can meet the owners and those who make the pieces. I got some beautiful bangles, earrings and necklaces. Great for presents too.

Seminyak


Seminyak is lovely if you only have a few days in Bali as it’s quite near Denpasar, and there are beaches and nice restaurants/funky bars. It’s quite honeymoon-esque so prices tend to be higher here than in the rest of Bali. You can find some really nice boutique hotels, but they tend to be in the upper-end of the price range. Seminyak has beautiful jewellery and clothes shops, and there are two very trendy bars called 'Potato Head' and 'Ku da Ta' where all the bold and the beautiful go. Seminyak is really upmarket, more indicative of the photos you see of 'Bali'.


We stayed at a gorgeous place called Casa Artista: a little boutique hotel with a Parisian/ art-deco influence. The breakfast was fantastic, banana pancakes until you die.

If you get a chance, definitely go to the Biku Tea Rooms. It is a very cute little café with an array of cakes, biscuits, sandwiches, plus many more calorific goods. Just like having a 'high-tea'.


Nusa Dua


Nusa Dua is pretty much built for tourists, which kind of takes away from the authenticity. We didn’t really stay around here as it’s very much the type of place that you relax and stay on the beach, although it’s incredibly pretty and nice to walk around in- plus a good place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Bali, which tends to be a bit hectic. It’s a little bit more expensive than the rest of Bali (much like Seminyak) as it caters for luxury travellers/high-end tourism. If you want to lie on a beach for the whole holiday, then this is a good bet. Although, the beaches can be super crowded.

Tanah Lot


Tanah Lot is an ancient Hindu temple sitting on top of a large rock located along the coast. It is only a 45-minute drive from Kuta/Denpasar, and about an hour from Nusa Dua. This is a must-see, it’s incredibly beautiful. You can take a taxi there and back depending on where you stay. Entrance costs about IDR 60,000 for tourists. Bali is unique as it is predominantly Hindu, the largest population outside of India. Balinese Hinduism (Agama Hindu Dharma), is an amalgamation of Indian religions, namely Shivaism and Buddhism, as well as indigenous animist customs that existed in the Indonesian archipelago long before the arrival of Islam and Dutch colonialism.



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