Bali, Indonesia

Bali, Indonesia

BALI TRIP REPORT

In May 2011 Randy and I traveled on a wonderful adventure to Indonesia, to the exotic island of Bali and to the wilderness of the Komodo National Marine Park. The summer before Randy had mentioned to me that he didn’t care if he was working or not the next year we’re going on a trip! I didn’t need any further arm twisting and immediately began researching where to go and when. After our last trip he had mentioned that he wanted to go on a live-aboard dive boat on the next trip and it didn’t take me five minutes to decide upon Komodo as our destination.

This would be our first time in Bali and we were excited about going there as a great extension to our wonderful trip to Komodo. We discussed Bali with Jenny (Reef & Rainforest Dive and Adventure Travel), and she suggested a few places to stay and see. We researched these places and decided to stay in Kuta for two days before our dive trip to acclimatize and rest from the long trip from San Francisco. We decided upon the Bali Holiday Inn after it was recommended to us by a good friend and by Jenny. After our dive trip we decided to do a few more days of diving near Tulamben at SCUBA Seraya Resort, again recommended by Jenny and selected after some on-line research. Our last few days on Bali were spent in Ubud, the art center of Bali, at Alam Indah Hotel. I had found this hotel myself researching places to stay in Ubud and when I suggested it to Jenny she thought it would be perfect for us! And it was.

Bali is known for its exotic temples and palaces, like this one at Tirta Gangga.

Bali is known for its exotic temples and palaces, like this one at Tirta Gangga.

Continue reading below for my trip report on our journey to Bali and adventures there. Our adventures in Komodo are in the Underwater section of my galleries and trip reports.

The Long Journey
Our flight was fairly uneventful but was a little bumpy over the Pacific. While we were in line to check in we met a nice group of people from South Sulawsi, a local choir group that had been in Reno Nevada singing as part of a cultural exchange. They were very nice and we exchanged business cards, and they gave us a brochure and CD.

We stayed at the In Transit Hotel at the Singapore airport again. I’m always very happy to stay there and stretch out and get some sleep but I have to say the beds are hard as boards. The next morning we were back on a plane and off to Bali. We stayed at the in transit hotel again on the way home, but in the new terminal 3 hotel. The T3 In Transit hotel is similar to those in terminals 1 and 2 and we had a great laugh over the drapes covering what we at first thought was a window but really was just a blank wall. The new terminal itself is huge and has a very open, modern design. It was so long we wondered if to get from one end to the other it might be shorter to take the shuttles to and from terminal 2 than to walk the entire length of it. After a long flight we finally made it to Bali.

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Kuta and the Holiday Inn Bali Resort
In Bali we collected our bags, made our way through customs and were out to the  taxi line pretty quickly. Within 10-minutes we were at the Holiday Inn Bali Resort hotel and checking in.

The hotel is very nice and has one of the best locations in Kuta (the town the hotel is in) to watch the sunset. The rooms are beautiful and the lobby has some interesting sculptures and chairs. The pool is great with a swim up bar! We walked from the hotel to the Discovery Mall in downtown Kuta one morning along the city
streets, stopping for breakfast at a buffet, and back to the hotel along the beach. The walk was a nice change from hanging about at the pool and in our room.

As mentioned before we really enjoyed the pool at the Holiday Inn, spending quite a bit of time there. It is a family hotel and there were children playing in the pool with (and without) their parents. I wanted a picture of us at the swim-up bar. The bartender made me a fruity tropical drink (he didn’t have any umbrellas to put in it so put a flower on the edge of the glass) so as to look more touristy. Then Randy and I were taking pictures of each other and the bartender took the camera and took a couple of both of us. He had a lot of fun with it and didn’t even charge us for the drink. Said he loved Americans so no charge!

There were some disappointments with the hotel however. Even though their website says they have wireless internet access, that wasn’t entirely true. In some rooms the wireless isn’t strong and in our room which was in the back of the hotel there was no wireless at all. They very nicely provided wired access with a cable, but neither my new laptop or my iPad are set up for wired internet, so the only computer that could access internet in our room was my old laptop which Randy using on the trip. I missed having my iPad fully internet functional.

Also, the internet access was quite expensive. There were three options, pay by the minute or pay for one day or five days. When you pay by the day, access starts at the time that you sign up until the same time next day. If I must pay for internet I much prefer the way it was done at SCUBA Seraya where you can sign up for hours, 1, 2 or 5. I signed up for five hours and that lasted through our entire stay. At the Hilton once I reached that 24-hour point, I had to pay by the minute. My favorite type of internet access and the way I think it should be at any hotel is free. At Alam Indah in Ubud there was free wireless access with a good strong signal.

Uluwatu Temple and the Fire Dance
Our second evening in Bali we hired a driver to take us to the Uluwatu temple, where we toured the parts of the temple that we could; watched the sunset and then the Kecak and fire dance which tells the story of Ramayana. Ramayana was the bride of Rama who is abducted by the evil king and rescued with the help of Sugriwa (King of the monkeys) and his monkey army. The dancers wore beautiful dresses and elaborate costumes and it was very dramatic! The dance was very nice, and was accompanied not by musical instruments but a choir of 70 men singing and chanting. The dance was held in an amphitheatre with concrete steps that you sit on and it was very crowded and hard, not very comfortable, but a beautiful dance and story.

It was very pretty at Uluwatu, but very aggressive monkeys everywhere so we had to keep our valuables as close to us. We were warned by our driver and were glad we listened and were on our guard. One poor guy had his wallet stolen right out of his pocket. I’m not sure if he ever got it back.

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Off to Komodo!
At this point we flew from Bali to Sumbawa to board the S/Y Indo Siren and cruise the Komodo National Marine Park. Read more…

 

SCUBA Seraya, the Liberty Wreck, and Living Zen (or visiting it anyway)
After our 10-days on the SY Indo Siren our next stop was SCUBA Seraya near the well-known dive area, Tulamben. We found  our driver from Seraya waiting for us at the airport after the short flight back to Bali from Sumbawa (Bima), and into the van and off we went for the long drive to Seraya. From the airport it took about 3 hours. Maybe a little longer since we had to stop at an ATM and get some more money, plus the driver was
nice enough to stop a couple of times for us to photograph the scenery as we went. It really was a beautiful drive and if it hadn’t been mid day (harsh light) and if we hadn’t been so hungry we might have stopped more often.

The resort is beautifully landscaped and the layout of the resort is really nice. Our room, a Garden Maisonette, had an outside bathroom with a huge tub, and a shower. Plus we had a private gate from our bathroom right into the pool area. This made for easy pool use not having to go through our room to get to our bathroom to change after playing in the pool. In the garden in front of our porch was a massage table and we both had a wonderful massage by the resort masseuse. I wanted to take a look at one of the villas while we were there but they were all being used so had to do with taking a sneak peek inside when a door was open. From what I could see they look really amazing! When peeking I could see private courtyards with plunge pool and outside day bed, and I heard of kitchenettes and large indoor rooms in addition. And facing the ocean also, really nice! Next time I want to stay in a villa. 😉

We ate at Seraya for our entire stay. We thought of going in to Tulamben to eat but it was so pleasant at the resort and the food was good so why bother. One night there was an Indonesian buffet which we were invited to join. It was delicious and afterwards there was traditional dancing and the dive staff sang and danced (getting some of the guests dancing also).

Diving at Serya/Tulamben
On our second day we started diving! The diving at Seraya was all muck (macro) diving and Wit (our dive guide) showed us some great small creatures. All right there on the house reef! He really had a knack for finding the little things…often things smaller than what my camera could shoot. We were concerned because we had heard about the terrible rocky surf entry in Tulamben but at Seraya there is a black sand beach and unless there is a very low tide it isn’t difficult at all to walk in and out of the water. They are very concerned about it though and a staff member is always on the lookout for exiting divers, comes out and takes your camera from you or helps you out. And we were told to be careful of the waves, but I have walked through worse surf getting in and out at the Breakwater or Wharf II in Monterey.

We did two boat dives. The first dive was early in the morning at the famous Liberty Wreck and later we did another muck dive called Coral Garden. The Liberty Wreck was cool, but mostly for the huge schooling fish at the shallow end of the wreck! I took a few pictures then followed Randy and Wit down the length of the wreck
hoping to get to the end so I could turn around and get back to those fish. We did eventually make it back and Randy and I spent the rest of our time underwater photographing the school. They were so beautiful, swirling around in the blue water. My favorite part of the dive!

For beach diving or boat diving or just relaxing in a chaise looking out over the ocean, this is the place. The atmosphere is wonderful; exotic, very mellow and kind of…Zen. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay at SCUBA Seraya again, and certainly hope to next time we are in Bali!

Besakih Temple, Tirta Gangga Water Palace and Lake Batur
We had wanted to visit Besakih temple on our way to Ubud and the staff at Serayaarranged an English speaking driver to take us. The driver also suggestedstopping at Tirta Gangga and Lake Batur, with lunch in Kintamani overlooking the mountains and lake, and then a stop at a coffee plantation if weren’t too tired before heading to Alam Indah in Ubud. We agreed to all of this and also ended up stopping several times to photograph rice fields.

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Pura Besakih – the Mother Temple
Besakih is known as the Mother Temple and is the most important and the largest temple in Bali. It sits on the slopes leading up to Mount Agung, most holy place of Balinese Hindus and highest mountain on Bali. Besakih is composed of a number of temples surrounding the Pura Penataran Agung. This is the main sanctuary and
contains the lotus throne which is the focus of the entire complex. We weren’t allowed into those most sacred of sanctuaries but could look through the gates and over walls at the structures.

At Seraya the ladies at the desk arranged for our transfer driver to take us to Besakih on our way to Ubud, and for the sarongs and sashes to wear at the temple. When we arrived the driver found a guide for us and helped us put the sarongs and sashes on. One wears the sarong to cover the evil part of your body and wearing the
sash separates the good and evil. All of this, the sarongs, sashes and temple guide was arranged and paid for by the guide and included in the 40 Euro (approximately $56.88 USD) that was added to our bill at Seraya. I have read reviews online that some have been charged incredible amounts for all at Besakih, so I thought this amount was very reasonable.

We followed our guide up a steep road (that seemed long in the heat but probably really wasn’t) to the temple entrance. There were locals with motorbikes you could hire to take you to the entrance but we elected to walk. There were vendor stalls along most of the length of the road with the inevitable request to be the first “lucky” sale of the day. Once inside the temple the guide explained to us about the five temples of the North, East, South, West and Center, and showed us some of the more beautiful structures with more explanation of what was what. Unfortunately his English wasn’t great and accent strong and I really didn’t catch a lot of what he was telling us. I found myself most impressed with doors and roofs. There were some doors that were incredibly detailed with gold leaf. We did see some people who had come in to pray and another group who came in with the morning offerings. We were early and it wasn’t too crowded which was nice for taking pictures.

We followed the guide all the way to the top, past yet more vendors, to an area where you were obviously supposed to buy some souvenirs, maybe something to eat and drink. There were some nice paintings which we were really tempted by but decided to hold out (we were on our way to Ubud after all). Then we followed  the guide back down the stairs (did I mention there were lots of stairs) and came out on the other side of the center temple. It really is a beautiful place but the commercialism really spoiled the visit. There was someone selling something everywhere you looked. Even school age and younger children holding out flowers and bracelets get you to buy something. It was very sad to see people having to commercialize their holy places in this way to put food on the table. I’m glad that we went but I don’t know that I would go there again.

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There is a wealth of information on Besakih on the web but here are two sites where I found useful information.

http://www.bali-indonesia-tourism.com/2010/01/besakih-temple-largest-temple-in-bali.html

http://www.balistarisland.com/Bali-Interesting-Place/Besakih-Temple.htm

Tirta Gangga Water Palace
Tirta Gangga was beautiful and we wished we could have spent more time there (that seems to be the theme of this trip). We were there in the morning and the light was quite beautiful and I think it would have been nice in the late afternoon/sunset also. You can walk around the grounds and pools and take photos from all directions so for the most part are able to put the sun where you want it to be. And the sculptures, bridges, fountains and pools are so pretty and exotic!

Tirta Gangga is a royal watergarden owned by the royal family of Karangasem. The palace overlooks the gardens and pools and we were told that occasionally the royal family can be seen there. The garden has three levels with the upper level consisting of the natural spring (under a Banyan tree), the upper pool and some ponds. The middle level consists of two large pools with a beautiful fountain, the Nawa Sanga which has eleven tiers and rises from the middle of the gardens. This was very nice backlit with the sun in the spray. The lowest
level has the largest pool with two incredible bridges protected by dragons connecting Demon Island to both sides of the pool.

The water from the natural springs at Tirta Gangga is holy water used for religious ceremonies. The rest of the water is divided up with one third providing drinking water to the town of Amlapura and the remainder going into the upper swimming pool and then overflowing to the lower pool and eventually through the other ponds to be used to irrigate the rice fields below.

So when you go to Bali, take some time to visit Tirta Gangga in both the morning and afternoon to take advantage of the golden lighting. Use a fairly wide-angle lens and remember to take your filters; polarizing and graduated neutral density. And I think it would be a great location to try some HDR (high dynamic range) photography, so bring your tripod. I found more information on the palace at:

http://www.tirtagangga.com

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Git Git Waterfall
One of the things that I had wanted to do while on Bali is to visit one of its beautiful waterfalls. One of the ones mentioned was Git Git waterfall. On the map it didn’t seem that far from Ubud so we hired the same driver who brought us from Seraya to Ubud to take us. Turns out it is a bit farther than it looks on a map. The scenery was interesting as we ended up going into some pretty tall mountains where we passed a strawberry farm, some nice rice fields and a really beautiful but abandoned resort!

Unfortunately, Git Git is one of those places overcome by vendors trying to sell souveniers. It could have been a really beautiful walk along the rice fields and through the mountains next to the river up to the waterfall. Instead the trail leads from vendor stall to vendor stall where each one tries to sell you the same thing as the others. And where the trail is too narrow for permanent stalls there was someone selling things from a pack at their feet. It was very annoying and sort of ruined the day for us.

It is a beautiful waterfall. We took swimming things but the water was cold and the waterfall was really roaring! It was just past the end of the wet season and still occasionally raining so I shouldn’t have been surprised. I wish we could have gotten there before dawn and photographed the fall in the morning light (and maybe the vendors wouldn’t have been there yet). Again, something to do next time we go to Bali. Also, the driver wanted to stop at a lake on the way that had a water temple but we were tired and just wanted to get back to Ubud. I’ve since seen pictures of that water temple and now wish we had taken five minutes to go take a quick look.

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Ubud, the Art Center of Bali
Alam Indah Hotel
Alam Indah was beautiful! The reception area is surrounded by flowers and gardens and has a small temple where offerings were put out each morning. Our room was the Hibiscus room which was an upper room with a private balcony and a beautiful view of the river and forest. The balcony had a chaise and a couple of comfortable chairs with a small table. It was very nice to sit out there and read or watch the monkeys in the forest. The bedroom was large, and had no air-conditioning. But the bed did have a mosquito net and there was a good fan. We didn’t see very many mosquitos but the net fits the mood so we used it.

Alam Indah is built on a hillside, off from the main road which makes it very private. There are stairs from the parking area to the reception area, and stairs going back down to the very nice pool, where we spend some time every afternoon after spending the day being tourists and wandering around Ubud.

Shopping in Ubud
Aside from our trip to Git Git waterfall we wandered through the Monkey Forest and around Ubud a bit. There were shops everywhere, which of course is why people go there. I was quite surprised at how upscale some of the shops were, especially the ones marketing towards women. Some would fit right into Carmel by the Sea
or Beverly Hills. If you asked around and were persistent you could find the areas where some of the craftsmen and women would sell right out of their workshops. This is where we made most of our purchases. It also is interesting to walk the streets and window shop and it is a great place to find a coffee shop and sit at a table near the street and people watch.

What we really wanted to look at were wood carvings and weavings (ikat). I wanted a weaving in blue tones with maybe a little gold in it preferably of an ocean motif. After seeing a million shops with weavings, I asked at the desk and they sent me to two specific shops that carried good quality weavings, Threads of Life and Alam Asia Gallery. They both had beautiful weavings but not the one I was looking for. The driver suggested I try the central market in downtown Ubud, when walking back to Alam Indah from The Threads of Life. The market was kind of fun but quickly became very crazy. I think the vendors were communicating somehow to each other that I was looking for a blue ikat because every booth I passed they all called to me “I have blue, I have blue.” And the prices became lower and lower! I ended up buying a smaller weaving. It wasn’t the quality that I had seen in the shops…it was blue however. There were all kinds of vendors at the market, it was a lot of fun, and everyone should go there at least once.

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Getting Around
Ubud itself was interesting to get around. The streets are a maze, some one-way and others looping back and forth! Trying to keep track of where we were when we first arrived was impossible so using the drivers to get around was nice. After the first day or two we were recognizing land marks and with a walking map we
were better able to figure out where we were.

One of the fun things to do in Ubud was to wander around the Sacred Monkey Forest of Padangtegal. Read about it here: Sacred Monkey Forest.

We’ll Return Some Day
I really felt that we did not spend enough time in Ubud. I didn’t really want to do more shopping but we didn’t get to do the morning bird walk, and the rice field walk, and I would have like to have tried out more restaurants. And we wished we had taken a day trip to the temple at Tanah Lot. Next time.

CULTURE OF BALI AND OTHER ITEMS OF
INTEREST

The people of Bali for the most part are very friendly, some more so than others especially if they think you will buy something from them. Most people dress Western although some wear more traditional dress of sarong (male and female). Children wear uniforms to school. Most children in Bali go to school. School is free; however, parents must provide uniforms, books and other materials for their children. The children of the poorer families often do not attend school as their parents cannot afford these things, which is sad. Often these children end up trying to sell things to tourists alongside their parents.

Almost every house has its own small temple and every morning offerings made up of fresh flowers, incense and packets of spice and other items are laid made at the temples. Sometimes sarongs are wrapped around some of the statues I imagine to hide the evil just as they do on people. I enjoyed watching the Alam Indah
staff selecting the flowers and other items to put in the offerings in the morning. Then they would go here and there throughout the hotel putting them out and lighting the incense until there were bits of color and fragrance everywhere.

We also noticed that many houses along the road had rice drying in the yard. The rice would be spread in a thin layer on top of plastic tarps and sometimes you would see someone raking the rice so it would dry evenly. We ate twice in buffets. Grand Puncak Sari in Kintamani was very good with a large variety of Indonesian food to eat, and our table was on the balcony with a great view of Lake Batur!

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Most people in Bali get around on motorcycles. You could find all kinds of things being carried around on motorcycles, from baskets to babies! Many of the roads were under construction and right next to heavy equipment you would see groups of women carrying rocks around on their heads! And the lines on the roads are just a suggestion. In downtown Denpasar we noticed that there were three lanes in each direction but only lines for two. And like other areas in Indonesia, honking is used for many reasons; if you’re going to pass, if you’re going to turn, if you’re going to run someone over, if you see your cousin going in the opposite direction, etc. Some locals who learn English will get a job as a driver and tour guide. I believe this is fairly lucrative and we had two very good guides, the first taking us to Uluwatu from the Hilton and the second taking us from Seraya to Ubud and the next day to Git Git. I recommend this over trying to rent a car or motorcycle yourself unless you are experienced with these kinds of driving conditions. One thing though is to make sure you
are quoted a price for your tour before you leave or you may be surprised at the cost when you get back to your hotel!

One of these days we will go back to Bali and I plan on taking a little more time to explore. There are places that I heard of and read about that sound so interesting. I think it would be fun to work our way around the island along the coast spending a few days at each stop; diving, hiking, and photographing this beautiful island.

Websites with information on Bali:

Bali Tourism Board
Travelfish.org
Bali Plus.com
Bali Bird Walk
Bali Temples Guide