Karen’s mum, Bernadette was taken on a surprise Asia Trip for her 60th Birthday in Feb 2019. The last leg of that trip was in Bali. Unbeknownst to her Iain and the girls had arranged to make this part a family trip with Laura and Dan flying out from Glasgow in secret and Karen and John taking the commuter flight (Bali is like 5 hours from Sydney) to join them in Nusa Dua.
Karen and John had a cheeky night to themselves at the Putri Inaya Hotel down the road before we surprised Bernadette the next day when Laura and Dan had gotten in.
Nusa Dua is the main resort area in Bali, located south of Denpasar City and the airport. Built in the 1970s as an enclave of 5 star resorts and hotels it pretty muchcovers the bottom peninsula of the island.
We spent the first few days of the trip going to the beach at Nusa Dua, at the hotel pool and catching up with the Hamilton Clan. Highlights included watching Dan try to surf, drinking from coconuts and visiting the Water Blow.
Cutting Nusa Dua Beach into half is a rocky peninsula, a cliff formation that owes it’s aesthetics to the harsh waves of the Indian Ocean. A large narrow gap has formed over the centuries to create a blowhole with soaring waves. The rock formation looked like something out of the original Star Trek series. The peninsula also has some impressive Hindu statues.
We decided to mix things up one day and do a half day trip to Sanur on the east coast. We had not been there since 2009 so it was crazy to see how much more it had developed. The 5km of paved beachfront had now been filled in with hotels, bar and beach clubs. We chose one, the Artotel Beach Club – and for the price of a few Bintangs per head we got to spend the day on the loungers and swim in the beach – and use the shower facilities for changing to dinner.
While things had changed somethings had remained. It was reassuring to see that Café Batu Jimbar is still operating – albeit with a swanky make-over. It looked like a jungle the last time we ventured here.
The absolute stand-out event of our sojourn on the south coast of Bali was brunch at The Mulia. A 5 Star luxurious hotel (that we could not afford to stay at) plays host to an outstanding brunch in the Soleil restaurant.
Free-flowing booze, a free welcome drink that looked like Blue Wicked but no one could finish and a huge selection of food and a collapsing desert made for a great afternoon. The only downside was that John had recently had an allergic reaction to fish so couldn’t have any seafood – absolute torture – but at least there was like 20 types of cheese to try out instead.
But it was not all 5 Star Luxury and degustation. Not having breakfast included in our room rate meant we would get a chance to go out an explore Nusa Dua and we happened upon this amazing coffee shop that did a simple but tasty breakfast. We could have done with this place backpacking all those years ago.
Secret Café is cleverly named – tucked down a street from all the resorts. It has a great vibe with colourful décor, bicycles and surfboards on the wall and overgrown plants out front. The table was an old window or wooden door frame. It reminded us of some of the cafes in Fort Cochin or Laos.
The entire trip was waaaay too long to keep things just to Nusa Dua so we arranged for a villa in Ubud to mix things up. At this point I should mention Derrick – our driver and tour guide for the week in Bali. Good recommendations are hard to come by and this was a great find. He made sure we made the most of our trip and locked us in for a transfer up to Ubud via a very exciting and action packed scenic route.
Our first stop was the village of Batuan. Most of the villages between Denpasar and Ubud are known for a particular craft – some prefer silversmithing, or woodwork. Batuan is a major painting center and as we drove in we past many galleries. We were headed to other thing about Batuan village – the Temple.
Upon entry we were all given a loan of vermillion sarongs and then posed for a family photo
The temple is a complex of shrines laid out across a number of streets with well preserved sandstone bas motifs and great examples of traditional Balinese temple architecture
It is also known for Teak wood so after the temple we went to one of the many workshops for the “commercial” part of the tour 🙂 – that said the craftmanship was stunning.
In the 1990s TLC warned us not to go chasing waterfalls. Ignoring that advice our next stop was the Tegenungan Waterfall. An entire warren of shops and markets has sprung up along the valley and you have to pay an entrance fee to get close to the waterfall. At 20m high its an impressive waterfall and we enjoyed some photos and a cold drink before heading to our next stop.
We continued our scenic stops at the Tegallalang Rice Terraces. This was a great example of the innovative irrigation system that the Balinese use for their rice fields called Subak. The road is on the high ground so after parking we descended down into the valley and posed with some locals (for a small fee of course – “Photo Money”).
All that walking made for thirsty work so we went for a cup of coffee – Ubud Style at the Bali Pulina Plantation. It was quite a large complex with a herb garden, shop, terraces and one of the best views for a ‘coffee shop’ ever. They also created Kopi Lawak here.
Kopi Lawak is made from partially digested coffee cherries eaten by a type of mammal called an Asian psalm civet. The civet has to first poop out the cherries 🙂
They also served some amazing ice-cream.
Spring in our step
Our last stop on the tour was probably the best. Bali is unique in Indonesia. It maybe one of 17,508 Islands but it is the only one that has adopted Hinduism as its main religion (83% of the Balinese population). It arrived here due to sailors, traders and priests and as Muslim sultans began to exert authority throughout the archipelago a lot of Javanese Hindus migrated to Bali.
A large part of the Balinese Hinduism involves ritual purification – washing away ones impurities. To do this they built Puras or Water Temples. (We had previously visited one on the East coast on our last trip).
Our last stop was to visit one of the biggest – Tirta Empul.
Founded in 962AD it has two large bathing areas with 30 showers and the entire temple is dedicated to Vishnu. There are elaborate statues everywhere – mostly guarding the entrances (Candi Bentar) to the various courtyards. In 2017 US President Barack Obama chose it as one of the sites on his Bali visit.
Return to the Monkey Forest
And then we had made it to Ubud the main jungle town of Bali. The town was originally important as a source of medicinal herbs and plants and that gives it it’s name (Ubud = medicine). Tourism has been a major staple of this town since the 1960s with bohemian artist retreats ceding ground to adventure tourists and those seeking a more chill vibe compared to the party atmosphere of Kuta and Seminyak.
Here we had our own private villa and spent our days lazing by the pool, exploring the town and getting in some last minute shopping. There was also more rice paddies beyond the main streets to explore. We also bumped into our pals Joe and Cara from Sydney who were also there on holidays.
Speaking of the Monkey Forest – while the girls spent even longer shopping the boys decided to brave the wildlife. The town of Ubud surrounds a forest called Mandala Suci Wenara Wana. It is a proper slice of jungle that contains a temple complex overgrown with over 186 species of trees and plants and a troop of long-tailed Balinese Monkeys. Back in 2009 when we visited you could just walk into the Forest from the town but these days there is a proper Tourist Information centre and a fee to enter. With more tourists hitting Ubud than anywhere else on the island on average it was only a matter of time.
There are over 1,000 Monkeys inhabiting the forest and they are very cheeky. Jumping on backpacks and throwing shade at anyone and everyone. Rangers walk around with miniature slingshots to scare them away from the unwary and to break up scuffles that break out between the 5 gangs of monkeys that have been established in the colony. We spent a couple of hours walking the numerous trails – it is quite hilly.