Sunday, June 1, 2008

Touring Bali

This is for those people who are thinking about doing something a little different during their stay in Bali. We visited Bali in September 2003, spent the first week in Ubud, then the second week touring. We aren't youngsters, my husband the driver is 67 yo, but apart from a few scary moments, thoroughly enjoyed the freedom that comes with driving yourself.

A few pointers: an International Drivers Licence is essential, and try to stick to the quieter back roads. The most dangerous road: the one between Denpasar/Kuta and Gilimanuk where there is a lot of truck traffic. Even with a Balinese driver this road is very scary.

We rented a car in Ubud. There was a choice between a smaller Jimney and a larger Toyota Kijang. For an extra few dollars a day, the sturdier Kijang got the nod. Renting it for a week it worked out at A$12 per day. Armed with map and guide book (buy the most up to date edition in your home country) we left Ubud and made for the nearest petrol station as the tank was empty. Petrol is very cheap and can be bought at road side stalls. The petrol stations are better though. Even with a map and a guidebook it is still easy to take the wrong turning, as we found out quite a few times. Distances aren't great though, and having to turn back usually isn't a problem. When we were completely lost, we'd stop at a little shop, say 'selamat pagi' (in the morning), then 'ma'af' (excuse me) followed by the name of the town we were searching for. Once they understand your pronunciation, they'll point you in the right direction.

We had booked by telephone the first night of our trip at the Sacred River Resort near Lalang Linga. We drove West through Mengwi, Tabanan, and Antosari. It took about 2 hours, driving on a winding, and after Tabanan, very busy road. Soon after leaving Ubud my husband noticed that the clutch was in a very sorry state. We were lucky, it only gave in when we were in the driveway of the Sacred River. Not a good start to the trip! We telephoned the car rental company in Ubud and arranged for another vehicle. Unfortunately they did not have another Kijang available, only a Jimney. Guess that had to do. They duly swapped the cars and refunded us the difference between the vehicles. Not a very profitable transaction for them as they had to have the jeep repaired before they could drive it back to Ubud.

Sacred River Retreat is located in lovely grounds. There are two swimming pools, quaint wooden cottages with fans and mosquito nets. It is a very peaceful place. You can sit and read in your cottage, overlooking a magnificent forrest. The restaurant is vegetarian and alcohol free. The emphasis is on spiritual activities with meditation & yoga sessions plus guest participation in Balinese religious ceremonies. What we noticed was the friendliness of the guests. Total strangers would strike up conversations while eating at the restaurant, or at pool side.

By the next lunch time the thought of 'real food' and an ice cold beer became too much, and we drove to Medewi Beach, further west. We decided to try the restaurant of the Hotel Pantai Medewi, on the left as you drive into the parking lot. We were glad we did. The prawns and the fish were fresh, and the price was very reasonable. Medewi Beach is a well known surfers beach and there are also a couple of beach cafes. On the way back to Sacred River we nearly met our Maker. Two trucks overtaking other vehicles and driving on the wrong (our side!) of the road, forced us into a ditch. It was quite a shock and we decided not to venture on this road again.

The next morning we headed for the north coast. We drove left, out of the Retreat, and then took the first road on the right towards Tista. It was a beautiful, quiet, back road which took us through rain forest, small villages. The only problem, I had read about a wonderful place to have breakfast - we never found it. I think it must have been on the second turn-off, at Pekutatan. We headed for Seririt on the north coast. The scenery was magnificent, but by now we were getting very hungry. Funny how you never see any cafes when you need to eat and drink. Finally we reached Seririt. Very busy town. We stopped at the market right in front of a small cafe. Here we needed sign language. As I'm a diabetic I needed a snack. Decided to stick to the cold drinks as the menu did not look very inspiring. We knew we could get a much better choice of food at nearby Lovina Beach. Because of the food problem, we decided to turn right to Lovina, instead of left, to Pemuteran, where we had not been before. Will have to go there next time!

After a hearty meal in Lovina's Kakatua restaurant (near the Dolphin statue), we decided to drive on to visit the Air Sanih where we thought we might spend the night. The springs did not inspire us, neither did the accommodation. Even though our backsides were by now slightly weary, we drove further east. A couple of hours later, driving along a coastal road which still showed signs of volcanic eruptions, we reached Tulamben. The sign to the Mimpi Resort attracted us, and by the time we had reached the lobby, we were sold! It is a lovely resort. They showed us a spacious, tastefully furnished room with a massive open bathroom and a small front patio and fish pond with fat koi. We bargained but could not get down to a rock bottom price. However, we got the room plus breakfast for what we thought was reasonable, and happily installed ourselves in our air conditioned room. It had been a long day. The resort is geared for scuba divers, their equipment looks excellent, and during the day they receive a lot of groups who come here to dive on the US Liberty. They have a lovely open air restaurant overlooking a swimming pool. Shade is provided by trees and colour by masses of Bougainvillea planted in pots. After dinner we sat on their lounge chairs overlooking the bay, watching people go out on their night dives. The next morning I hired some snorkelling gear and flippers, and ventured over the rock beach into a rather uninteresting looking sea. This was only the second time I had snorkelled. Well, underneath the surface I found a colourful world of small and large fish. It was a wonderful experience. All in all we spent two nights at the Mimpi and enjoyed every moment.

Day 5 and we drove along the coast towards Candi Dasa. It would have been possible to turn off to Amed but we had been there before and were more interested in seeing the Sidemen/Iseh area north of Candi.

We looked at a few hotels in Candi before deciding on the Rama Hotel where we managed to get a sea front bungalo for a very good price. We did have a look at some of the other hotels, such as the Puri Bagus Hotel which looked lovely, but on a very hot day the bungalow at the Rama seemed the most attractive.

That night was my husband's birthday and we had a very disappointing dinner at the Lotus in Candi. The Pina Colada wasn't up to scratch, they mixed up the food, and generally the service wasn't up to the usual Balinese standard. The barman came to the table and argued about 'his' recipe for Pina Colada. There were no apologies for the wrong food either. The next night we had a much better dinner in Candi, at a fairly new restaurant with upmarket accommodation on the hillside (maybe someone knows the name).

The first morning in Candi we visited Tenganan village which was very interesting and dates back to the 14th century. We then drove to Padangbai for lunch. Saw lots of backpackers and it appears a thriving little fishing town. Our lunch was very cheap and not very inspiring (you get what you pay for). We walked around a little and made our way back to Candi.

The next day we drove east towards towards BugBug. We were told to turn left at Jasi but made a mistake and turned earlier towards Asak. It was a lucky error. The road was deserted, was in excellent condition, and wound through spectacular rice fields. We turned left towards Sibetan, Duda, Iseh and Sidemen. Spectacular scenery all the way. We were planning to have lunch at the Sacred Mountain Resort but in spite of lots of signs, were unable to find it. Other places did not look very inspiring, so once again very hungry, drove on to Klungkung and from there to Ubud where we had booked a room at the Ubud Village Hotel. It is worth the wait to eat in Ubud in any case. We were given a suite at the hotel, and treated very well by the staff.

We handed in our little Jimney which had not given us any trouble at all. I suppose we should have checked the other car more carefully before setting off for a long trip, but you live and learn! Apart from the incident with the trucks we never had any problems on the road.

More information, a letter to a friend

Hi TK.

I read your post with interest and look forward to hearing all about your experiences in Bali. Your itinerary is well thought out and I would like to add just a couple of things. When you say you'll be travelling inland heading north, do you intend to travel to Lovina that way? If so, try and visit Munduk, a delightful coffee and clove growing area near Lake Tamblingan. The nicest road is the one from Seririt (just west of Lovina) and Munduk. Plan to arrive in Munduk at lunch or dinner time and have a meal at the restaurant 'on stilts' at the Puri Lumbung Cottage. We especially enjoyed the Balinese/Indonesian dishes. You'll find a lot of information on this delightful place, either through the Bali forum or by searching the web for "Lumbung". It is worth spending a couple of nights and exploring this beautiful region. We met quite a few Canadians there on our various visits.

With regard to wining and dining, that's an important part of the trip to us as well, although we found the imported wines very expensive (by Aussie standards!) and stick to the ice cold beer and fruit juices most of the time. Unless you hate beer, you'll find it suits the climate. The Bali Forum is a good place to find popular restaurants. The best ones I think are in the Ubud area. We've enjoyed having lunch at the Casa Luna (you can even get sandwiches if by this time you want a change from the nasi goreng). If you like Indian food, a good place for dinner is Bumbu just off the main street. I could go on and on, there are just so many great places. Guess why we love Ubud. Another favourite, for their atmosphere and excellent cuisine, is Cafe Wayan. It's also an oasis for cold drinks on a hot day, and their mango lassi is the best I've tasted. Unfortunately I don't have recommendations for eating in Lovina or Candi Dasa, maybe you can get some feedback on the web. As you're in excellent health I wouldn't worry too much about getting Bali Belly. We avoid salads like the plague, also seafood, unless you are in Jimbaran Bay or at the Ketupat restaurant in Kuta (another must). Grilled fish should be alright in any of the seaside places. One year our daughter became very ill with giardia. We think she may have caught it by rinsing her toothbrush in tap instead of the bottled water which is freely available and supplied by all hotels. All this may seem extreme but who wants to waste a couple of days feeling ill! Travel insurance is very valuable. A doctor's visit to your hotel can cost up to $200, including medication. All doctors we met spoke excellent English and were very thorough.

Accommodation in Legian, we always stay at the Legian Beach Resort in one of their bungalows facing the ocean. You can sit around one of the pools or rent a deck chair and umbrella on the beach, swim (between the flags), walk for miles with your feet in the sea, and just watch the passing parade of tourists and, now, licensed hawkers. You might even like to do some last minute shopping while lazing on the beach, while sadly contemplating your return home. The open air restaurant at the Legian Beach serves great food and we've enjoyed many lazy lunches there, caressed by breezes off the ocean. If you're energetic you can walk on the beach to the shops in Kuta, much more comfortable than along the streets. Coming back, taxis are everywhere and cheap - just make sure they switch on the meter! Again the Forum will supply you with the names of lots of good eating places. We haven't tried them all. A visit to La Lucciola (north of Legian) and Ketupat (central Kuta) is always on 'the menu' though. Both great dining experiences.

As far as shopping is concerned, buy it when you see it. We've been caught out a few times on the road when we thought we might buy it before we leave, in Kuta. It probably won't be available. Good buys are the leather sandals in the Ubud markets, as are the table cloths, batiks, handicrafts etc. Overall the shopping in Ubud is very good and quite often the prices are better than in Kuta.

I'm afraid I've rambled on a bit. We too have travelled a fair amount. Having lived in South Africa, France and Portugal, and finally ending up in Australia, our favourite holiday destination for the past 10 year has been Bali. I hope you'll get to love it too.

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