I can't believe I'm writing a just back report. I should still be there. My feet hurt from wearing shoes for the first time in two weeks. First and foremost, terima kasih to the Bali Forum and all its contributors. The information I found here was invaluable and allowed my girlfriend and I to venture off with confidence. I hope I can give a little bit back. Bali is an amazing place. We both loved it and had the time of our lives. Everything you read about Bali is true. It may not be the place for everyone but you'd have to really, really focus on the negatives not to enjoy it. If you're coming from the States, give yourself two weeks. After a week you're just starting to stretch out and it is about 20 hrs in the air to get there.
Some great tips from the forum: take those hundred dollar bills (I never experienced any slight of hand with the money changers), take the Blue Taksi (Made Rattana was our driver several times, a nice, nice man), eat dinner on the beach at Jimbaran Bay, get used to 'transport, transport', take a torch (the holes in the sidewalks in Ubud are DEEP and the beachwalk in Sanur is washed out in a couple of spots), take a sense of humor and above all, relax, enjoy yourself and remember - you're on vacation!
The following is a pretty long narrative.
My girlfriend was traveling in China and Singapore and we met in Denpasar on Sept 12 (I flew Cathay Pacific from San Francisco). I booked the Bali Hyatt for three days just to decompress. The rate was US$120/night for the Regency Club. This included CBF and evening cocktails/appetizers. Given the cost of hotel cocktails, I think we made money! The rooms are modern and smallish but the grounds are great and the beach is nice. The funniest thing is the early morning chaise lounge ritual. Little gnomes emerge before dawn and place towels down reserving the lounger for the rest of the day. We didn't mind low tide at Sanur as it was pretty nice to walk out to the reef and check out the tide pools. We dropped by the Grand Hyatt one afternoon and it was equally shallow when the tide was out (I hadn't read about that). We took a Blue Taksi out to Uluwatu one afternoon. We rented the sarongs and had a guy at the gate show us around the place. He didn't really offer much so don't feel bad about saying no. It was during the heat of the day and the monkeys were pretty lethargic(a good thing). We did see one poor guy who'd lost his passport to a monkey the day before. If you go out there make sure you stop by the surf spot about 1/2 mile down the road. It's a beautiful sight and you'll get to experience the shop girls who ask your name and where you're from and please buy a t-shirt from me, etc. We kept the Blue Taksi all afternoon and it was about 67,000Rp on the meter. Jimbaran Bay for dinner that night - great. While lounging in Sanur we used ABL Travel to book a couple of places for us - Kamandalu in Ubud and Taman Sari in Permuteran. We also booked a few nights at the Taman Bebek in Sayan/Ubud ourselves. ABL (aka Bali Roomfinder) was very helpful and recommended but I'm sure the Bali Hotel Bargain Finder is just as good :)
Ubud - We booked the least expensive room at the Taman Bebek (around US$50 nett w/ABF) and then immediately went for the Valley View Suite (for $100 nett) when we saw it. That's one thing we found, for around that price you can get the most amazing rooms. This one was three stories, build on the side of the cliff over the Ayung River. It's open on one side. We looked down on the Four Seasons (figuratively and literally) about 1/2 mile away. The room used to be the home of Made Wijaya ("Diary of an Expatriate in Bali") and we shared it with a very large Gecko (Tokay?) we named Ulu. We had a great time in Ubud though the town can be a little much. We rafted w/ the Ayung River Company (as well run as Sobek or the other one), saw a Kecak dance, ate some nice meals (Ary's Warung was great), went to the Puri Lukisan Museum and hiked in the rice fields. This rice field hike was thanks to Victor Mason's Bali Bird Walks (US$33/person). If you like that sort of thing (hiking, bird watching) don't miss it. Even if you don't like that sort of thing you may want to give it a try, Victor is an irrepressible British ex-pat (30 years in Bali) and the day is a wonderful respite from the two-cycle engines of Ubud. We ran out of film on the walk and actually headed back out on our own the next day to take more photos. By the way, Victor claims that drinking from the green coconut cures Bali Belly! From our walk in the rice fields we stopped in at Antonio Blanco's art studio. We actually thought the guy was long dead but there he was, ready to offer us his views on life. After 3 great days at Taman Bebek we headed over to Kamandalu to indulge ourselves a little (hey, we traveled half way around the world!) ABL got us a $230 nett price (no breakfast - Warning - very, very expensive breakfast - don't do it!) for a Garden Villa and we were upgraded to a Pool Villa upon arrival, not sure why. Maybe they wanted to keep us next to another couple of Americans???? Our time at Kamandalu was mainly private so they'll be no reporting. We did book a couple's spa
treatment and were completely spoiled. From Ubud we traveled to: Permuteran - We used Made Rattana and his Blue Taksi to take us there. This is about a 3 1/2 hour drive and it was about 135,000rp on the meter. We bumped it up to 200,000 for his return, which is about the price that most other transports were offering (but we like Made quite a bit). We took the road from Ubud past Lake Batur to Singaraja and then up the coast to the Taman Sari bungalows. This part of Bali is arid and the towns and scenery reminded me of Baja California (by the way, if you can deal with traveling in Mexico, Bali is a piece of cake). We went to this area for the snorkeling and a few days of isolated beach time. We got both in spades. Taman Sari is a wonderful oasis. Of course we immediately upgraded from our very decent standard room to the Frog Suite ($100 nett w/ABF), another incredible accommodation - ocean view, veranda, beautiful outdoor bathroom, etc. In addition to the bed in the room, it had one outside under netting. Massage was 20,000rp/hour. The Taman Sari kitchen puts out a fine, inexpensive meal.
There are several dive centers in the area and I really wish I'd gotten certified before I went, especially after visiting Menjangan Island. The dive centers and hotels all offer snorkeling trips to Menjangan and the snorkeling money is supposed to go to the village. I'm not sure how that works. If you want to go to Menjangan for snorkeling it's just as easy to do it on your own (and probably cheaper). The prices at the National Park are all fixed - 10,000rp admission, 160,000rp for the boat (4hrs) and 60,000rp for the guide (mandatory). Transport will run you about 70,000rp round trip. Pay more than this through a third party and that's just what you're doing - paying more.
Unfortunately all good things must end. We booked transport back to Sanur for one last night at the Bali Hyatt. The driver (lo and behold - 200,000rp) drove us through Seririt past Lake Bratan, a breathtaking drive. We departed on Sept 24, both talking about it as best vacation we've ever had. You good folks from OZ are lucky to have it so close by.