Ubud, Bali. 13-16 December.
If you don’t like temples, rice paddies and waterfalls, Ubud is not the place for you. But what’s not to like? Though very touristy (due to the Australian summer holidays), we immediately fall in love with this place.
Our first mission after landing in Bali is to crack the code of public transport. At first it seems that only taxis are an option, and fares at the airport are pretty inflated. Stubborn as always, I set myself the task of finding an alternative. A few years back an attempt was made to roll out a public bus service on Bali, but today only two lines have survived: one to a nearby beach resort area, the other the one we take, which gets us halfway to Ubud. From there we plan to take a Bemo (public van) to Ubud, but no such luck, as the Bemo terminal doesn’t exist anymore.
Just a random guy in a car offers us a ride and after a bit of negotiating we’re on our way and make it into Ubud.
First impressions of Bali are nice. We drive through beautiful surroundings with loads of greenery, it’s clean, sunny and the roads are in excellent condition. I think we’ll be okay here!
On top of that, our hotel has a pool, which is extremely welcome in the hot Balinese weather, and the room is an absolute bargain at £15 a night: One of the best we’ve stayed in so far!
First we set out to explore the town. There are more than 20.000 temples and shrines in Bali, and even restaurants and homes are built in similar fashion, each one sporting intricate stone carvings. Ubud Palace (or Pura Saren Agung) used to be the royal residence and is just around the corner from where we stay.
Right next to the Palace is the Saraswati Temple, dedicated to the Hindu goddess of learning, literature and art.
We get talking to a girl from Germany and grab a coffee in one of the many, many coffee places the town has to offer. With about 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia, the rich volcanic soil and hot climate are ideal for coffee growing. Balinese coffee contains loads of caffeine; ideal for two junkies such as us. Kopi Luwak, or civet coffee, is brewed from partially digested coffee cherries, eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet, which makes for a less bitter, slightly sweeter taste.
On the edge of town you can walk over the Campuhan Ridge, with views over rice terraces and Mount Agung, an active volcano and the highest point on Bali.
We finish our tour of Ubud at the Sacred Monkey Forest, which has about 700 Balinese long-tailed macaques roaming free. I don’t know what it is with Lauren and monkeys, but even the chilled-out, old, blind one tries to bite her, after first delighting in her attention for a while.
We explore a bit more of Bali by scooter, starting with the famous Tegallalang rice terraces for the perfect photo opportunity.
I’m glad I learned how to drive a scooter in the Philippines first, as the traffic in Bali is quite hectic with vehicles coming in from every direction. Though the condition of the roads is good, they get very steep and bendy, with little room to overtake slower vehicles. It’s the rainy season and when we leave the rice paddies a tropical rain turns the road into a river for a pretty intense ride. After Ubud I’ve definitely become a more confident driver.
Goa Gajah, or Elephant Cave, was built in the 9th century. The exact origin of the cave is unknown, but the complex contains both Hindu and Buddhist imagery.
This place has it all: the coastal path takes us to Blue Lagoon (it lives up to its name) for a refreshing dive in the clear water of Bali Sea.
Our final stop is Mount Lempuyang where we visit the temple complex hidden away on its peak. It’s a long, arduous drive up, but has amazing views, you can practically see the entire island from the top!
After a long climb we pass by the different temples forming the complex on top of the mountain. It’s quiet and empty except for a few monkeys and well worth the trouble of getting there.
At night in town we sample as much Balinese cooking as we can. Across from our hotel, Sun Sun Warung is the best place for dinner (judging by the long queue out the door) and we eat our way through half their menu. The Nasi Camphur, the sateh, and esspecially the pisang goreng are absolutely delicious, along with Indonesian ice tea flavoured with a pandang leaf, just incredible!
In Ubud we’ve had it all: a great hotel, great food, temples, rice paddies, waterfalls and even a beach. Add to that a shop selling cheddar and french bread, good coffee and tea and a whole bunch of little boutique shops and it’s unanimous. We’ll be coming back here in the future.