(Technically that should read “Arrival ON Bali”, as Bali is an island, not a city. But some may argue that Bali is a state of mind and therefore, the grammar works.)
After flying Singapore Air aboard one of their new A380 (full length double decker MONSTER) planes, I arrived in Indonesia at the airport in Denpasar, the main airport of Bali. After checking in and being greeted by an extremely friendly hotel staff, I found my room at the Kuta Airport Hotel. For just $30 a night they offer a clean room with a free breakfast. When I entered the room I was surprised to find twin beds. As my wife was joining me I asked the staff if I could change to a room with a double bed, as I had requested in advance. They were surprised to hear that we did not travel together. After explaining that our work and travel schedules often mean we’re apart for long periods of time, they insisted on upgrading me to a “family room”, with a large bed and even a couch.
After dropping off my bags and grabbing a quick shower, I headed out in search of some cheap eats. The nice girl at the reception desk told me about a restaurant just next door. I decided to give it a try. More street food than restaurant, they offered ‘nasi goreng’ (which I later found out means Fried Rice) for only 1,300 rupiahs. That’s just over $1 US. I found a cheap plastic table and chair to sit on and dove into my food. DELICIOUS! I thought that if this was a poor man’s version of Indonesian food, I was going to be in for a treat on this vacation. Sadly, this was probably the best flavoured food I’d try of the entire trip.
After lunch I decided to use the free wifi to check my emails. In the room I had no luck at all getting my macbook to connect to the internet. I took it downstairs to the lobby to see if the signal in the room was a problem. It wasn’t. My phone connected straight away, but in the two days I was there I never got my laptop to work on their network. For everyone else it seemed to work fine.
Alina’s flight arrived right on time and the hotel provided a free ride to/from the airport even though it would only be a short walk. After a good night’s sleep and a quick breakfast, we set off to explore a bit of Denpasar. Traffic seems a bit chaotic when you first arrive here. We’ve both been to countries where driving on the left is the norm. But the rules of the road are a little different here. It is the responsibility of each driver to brake for vehicles entered the roadway from the sides. There is no right of way as is common in the rest of the world. Drivers simply honk their horn once to let others know “I’m here” and enter the flow of traffic. This would cause a panic in most places, but in Bali it seems to work. As most people use scooters or motorcycles, there is often room on the road for such manoeuvres. Although the roads themselves are often quite narrow. There is also an unwritten rule that you must pass every other car on the road. They all seem to want to get there first. Many times slow riders were difficult to pass, but I never heard an angry long blast of a car horn, as one would expect in other places. Here they just go with the flow.
One of the first things we noticed is that there are many, many (many!) temples. It seems you can’t go 20 meters without seeing some sort of place to pray or leave an offering. Small temples and shrines are everywhere.
After a short walkabout, we check out and hop into a car headed to Ubud, which we are told is the center of the universe for “chilling out & yoga”. Sounds perfect to us. Hopefully they have a few good restaurants and some place that has good coffee.
About an hour later, after driving through non-stop city (seriously, no gaps between “cities”) we arrive in Ubud. The only trouble is that our driver doesn’t know where our hotel is located. Never mind that I asked him before we left if he knew and provided him with a map. After finding our location by way of street signs and hotel names, we point out the required u-turn to get us back on track. The driver does not seem to understand and stops to asks people for directions. Once again we’re heading in the wrong direction and I repeatedly show him the map, indicating where we are and where we need to go. He seems more confused than ever and again stops to ask directions. While he’s out of the car, I realize that he cannot read and has no clue what the map says. Upon his return, I point with my hand that we have to go “that way” and he finally gets the message and turns the car around. We find the proper street and are at our hotel shortly thereafter.
Well off the road and surrounded by the first empty space we’ve seen all day, is the Swasti Eco Cottages. Our Lonely Planet guidebook recommends this place quite highly (for a budget stay) and we quickly see why. Set on several acres, the property is beautiful. A large pool is central, surrounded by gardens and many multi-level cottages. After a quick welcome drink at the reception, we head to our room. We’ve lucked out! Our room is probably the most secluded and has the best view of any of the cottages around us. It has a large terrace and a HUGE bathtub that is obviously made for two. For the next 5 nights, this is home!
A quick bite in the restaurant tells us that finding good food won’t be hard. The satay chicken melts in your mouth and has just enough spices to really make your mouth water. YUM. It’s here that we first hear that mangoes are not ‘in season’. What a disappointment! On a previous trip to Thailand, eating ‘mangoes & sticky rice’ for breakfast each day was a highlight of the trip. Will we not have any on this trip?
Ubud has quickly grown to match the fame associated with the book/movie “Eat, Pray, Love”. Portions of the film were made in the actual locations written about in the book. And a few of the locals are actual people that you can meet on the street. Combined with being named Conde Naste’s “Top city in Asia”, the number of people coming here has recenlty exploded.
Alina has some friends from Poland visiting Bali and we take a quick trip through the “monkey forest” to have dinner with them in town. (A word to the wise: If you are staying in a hotel on the south side of Ubud and the forest is between you and your hotel, take a cab after dark!!) We quickly realize that Ubud is not the heaven-on-Earth we had been expecting. It’s a very busy little town with very narrow streets. Constant traffic makes crossing the street difficult and although it’s not New York city, it’s far too noisy for us to find it relaxing. The largest yoga school in the town actually has to employ valet parking staff, just so they can fit more scooters. Is that the type of chill we’re looking for? No. Luckily for us, our hotel is really far from the city center and we can easily forget that we’re even near a town. We did find a nice cafe for a morning coffee. If not for visiting our friends, we probably would have stayed at our hotel or maybe even checked out a few days early and moved on. The “Eat, Pray, Love” crowd is just that, a crowd.
Lonely Planet’s guidebook gives us a suggested hiking route with “views of ricefields”. As avid hikers in Europe, we feel well qualified to follow this route, to hopefully escape the town and get some fresh air. I take my camera, of course. Many times we have to stop and verify that we are on the right path. Most of the route is on city streets and the turns are not marked. We are forced to retrace our steps several times. We abandon the route and venture off in search of the promised rice paddy views. Although we did find some, it wasn’t quite what we were looking for. A stranger even jumped in and starting guiding us along a rarely trodden path. He quickly disappeared when we told him that he would not be paid. We ended up inside the grounds of a resort, which leads out to a main road. There’s a restaurant not far down the road and we treat ourselves to a quick lunch with some liquids to replace what we’ve lost on this very hot day. We trek on for another few hours, but eventually give up and stop at a gas station to find a taxi back to the hotel. It’s time to leave Ubud. It’s just not what we’re looking for.