The island of harmony - Bali
The long-awaited moment has arrived, the post I have been planning to write for so long. Not only one of my eternal favourites but also the favourite of many other travelers: Bali is the island of the Gods.
Bali is the most popular tourist destination among more than 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago. No wonder, because the island itself is a Paradise on Earth.
The island is in complete harmony thanks to its unique religious and cultural traditions. So not a surprise, that the beautiful unspoiled surroundings dotted with rainforests attract many tourists. It is quite certain that when you arrive in Bali, you‘ll have the feeling as if you were dropped into another world. The locals are extremely kind, hospitable, and quite special. Despite not being very rich, they are extremely kind-hearted and fully respect their Mother Nature and their Gods.
Bali has two seasons: the rainy season from December to March, before-and-after a short period when the rainfall is at a medium level, and from April to November the drier and warmer season when there is less rainfall. The average annual temperature is around 30 degrees.
If you travel to Bali, you will most likely arrive at the Denpasar International Airport. Already at the airport, beautiful orchids and flower wreaths await the tourists, and then through an ornate Bali-gate, you can leave the airport in the direction of the car park.
In Bali, most of the accommodations offer an airport shuttle, which is not a minibus that transports tourists, but much friendlier, kind drivers who are waiting at the airport arrivals with your name written on a paper, in their hands.
Thanks to this, we had a very loving welcome from the very first moment, because we were lucky enough to meet the kindest driver ever, Depoe! :)
The English language knowledge of the locals is mostly developed through their conversations with tourists, as Depoe told us, he also gained his English knowledge at the local Ubud market. And his English was good enough so that we were able to understand and talk to each other without any problems.
One of Bali’s most iconic cities, Ubud, is 36 km from the airport, which, however, means a little more than an hour’s drive. But already during the car ride, we can admire the roadside Bali-gates and the roadside vendors.
For those who want to get to know the island’s special places and local culture, furthermore, love nature and the jungle atmosphere, I would definitely recommend spending a few nights in or around Ubud.
On the other hand, those who prefer beaches and want nightlife will prefer Kuta.
Of course, it is possible to split the holiday and spend a couple of nights here and there, but the more adventurous hikes, natural wonders, and attractions are located in and around Ubud, in the direction to the north and the center of the island.
Bali is a place you can’t get bored of, whether you stay for a few days or for months, you won’t be bored and nature will surprise you with new and new wonders every day. Not to mention the beautiful surrounding islands of Gili and the islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida.
The longer you can stay in Bali, the better, but if the length of our trip is limited, make sure to spend at least 4-5 days on the island of Bali itself, and at least another 4-5 days on the surrounding small islands.
How to get around in Bali?
The 2 best ways of transportation to choose from in Bali:
For adventurous young people, this can be a tempting solution. However, it is better to be aware that these rental scooters are not in the best condition. Before departure (especially before longer routes - e.g. the northern part of the island - it is worth checking the tires and brakes because there are a lot of ups and downs and it is important to be able to drive safely. And of course, you have to take into account that there is left-hand traffic in Bali, so additionally you have to pay attention to it as well.
You can refuel your motorbike at tiny “refuel stations”.
Those tiny machines rather remind me of a circus popcorn maker machine, than a gas station. :)
Car rental with/without a driver
If you have a young child, or an older family member, or who doesn’t feel safe on a scooter, especially having to drive on the opposite side, I definitely recommend renting a car with a driver. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, we met the nicest driver ever, Depoe, who I can only recommend to anyone who visits Bali.
You can get in touch with him via Facebook or via phone (+6281916184727) and you can directly book the car-driver service, airport transfer for the duration of your trip.
The main attractions of Bali that you should definitely visit during your vacation:
Monkey Forest in Ubud
This is a real jungle tour with hundreds of monkeys - an amazing experience. Even before you get into the Monkey Forest itself, monkeys can be easily seen on the road outside. In the Monkey Forest, you have to be very careful about what you wear and what hangs from your bag. These monkeys are already got used to humans, and they are brave enough that if they see something on you or in your bag that they think might be interesting/delicious for them, they try to snitch it.
The monkeys should not be fed at all by tourists. If you want to watch their feeding, this is possible because at certain intervals the caretakers of the park feed them with bananas and other fruits. But you only hurt them if you offer them human food, maybe chips or sweets. Don't do this!
So you need to hide everything that can be interesting for them: food, drinks, glittery plastics that reminds them of food package, sunglasses, glasses…
We carefully packed everything up, zipped it off, even took off our glasses, and even so, once a monkey climbed on our backpack and we couldn’t shake it off, we just spun around to get it off, I assume from the outside it could have looked like when parents are spinning their kids around in the air, by holding their hands.. :)
For the second time, we weren’t so scared anymore. (I’m not saying there wasn’t a bit of a scream of surprise). Suddenly one monkey thought that a tissue completely tucked into the net pocket of our bag was definitely some kind of delicious food, so it jumped on my backpack and started to get familiar with it on my shoulder. At that point, I was no longer trying to shake it off but took the opportunity to shoot some great photos of this one-time opportunity.
BUT it's better to be careful anyway. It is also tabulated that you should not look directly into the monkeys’ eyes for a long time because then they will become aggressive. If one looks in their eyes long, they start to snarl and maybe attack, because then they feel threatened. If there is a local caretaker nearby, he will chase the monkey with a slingshot in such a case, but if there is none, it is bad luck. So it is better to be on the safe side and respect their privacy.
The Monkey Forest is not only unforgettable due to the proximity of the monkeys, but also the surrounding nature itself, which is a beautiful jungle. So if you are visiting Ubud, make sure that you visit the Monkey Forest to gain some beautiful memories.
Ubud handicraft market
The Ubud market is also a must-visit place. It is very cozy to walk through and admire the beautiful bags, clothes and souvenirs made by the locals with their own hands. Additionally, between some sellers, you can find hidden inner gardens with beautiful plants and sculptures. In other parts of the market, local fruit specialties await tourists.
You can get to this temple from the main street through a small gate and the wonderful view unfolds in front of you. In front of the temple is a large artificial pond filled with Sacred lotuses. The Sacred lotus is a special water flower similar to the water lily, just 10 times the size of the water lily.
Campuhan Ridge Walk
Campuhan Ridge Walk is a hiking trail leading through a high “dam” over rice fields. Wonderful sight. And after a few km of hiking you arrive at beautiful restaurants on the sides of the rice plantation, where you can relax and enjoy delicious smoothies and have lunch or dinner. Try the coconut too. I was very surprised because it tasted completely different than I expected. - Not that typical coconut flavor, but a completely different milkier, more special flavor.
I think the rice terraces are one of the most special places in Bali, especially the Tegalalang Rice Terrace at sunset when the late sun rays illuminate the whole rice terrace.
You can go down the stepped valley and walk between the plantations, and there are also swings in some places, where you can glide on huge swings over the rice terrace (If I remember correctly, trying the swing cost ~6 EUR, but there are restaurants, which provide a coupon for the swing in case you’re eating there). Although it should definitely be mentioned that these are changing very quickly, because when I was first there, it wasn’t even paid everywhere, and there were no giant swings, but when I went to Bali for the second time, it had completely changed - you had to pay everywhere to try them, and larger giga swings were also built to enhance the experience.
It is certain that anyone who visits Bali goes to the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, but fewer know that a tiny bit northern there is an equally wonderful rice terrace, but the big difference is that there are way fewer tourists there.
Jatiluwih Rice Terrace
This rice terrace is also less touristy as it is much further away from Ubud and located in a much larger area.
Its nature is also different because it takes place on a larger area and its end is barely visible, unlike the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, where the rice fields are practically located in a valley that is perfectly visible from above. There is an admission fee to Jatiluwih Rice Terrace.
Goa Gajah became famous for its carved stone cave from the 9th century.
But beyond the sacrificial site and the cave, the beautiful little arboretum in the valley is worth mentioning with its beautiful waterfall, pond and a huge ficus tree.
Tip!: If you go to Bali, take a nice scarf with you or get one at the local market, because you can only go to temples, places of sacrifice with Sarong (a big scarf that you put around your waist), and if someone doesn't have their own sarong, they give one to you at the entrance, but that sarong was probably already worn by thousands of tourists before you, plus you look much better on the photos with a nicer scarf in your style.:)
Goa Rang Reng Waterfall
Goa Rang Reng Waterfall is located in the middle of the jungle, the access to it is not built (at least in 2018 was not yet). You can reach the waterfall on steep staircases. The adventurous visitors can climb the waterfall with a rope stretched to one side. However, at the top, you have to be very careful not to lose your balance with the drift because if someone falls at the top, s/he will surely roll down to the bottom of the waterfall, which is quite dangerous.
If you don't want to climb the waterfall, you can relax on a small bamboo terrace and admire the beautiful view.
Tegenungan Waterfall is a more touristic waterfall south of Ubud. It is also a tour with steep walks, but the area is much better developed here with proper steps and a railing where you can hold on. But for the elderly and children, the hike can be strenuous, as saircase with very high steps lead down to the waterfall.
In the lower part, where the water of the waterfall flows, you can admire a “gravel-tower park” that radiates harmony, where we can build balancing stone towers from the pebbles and stones taken from the riverbed, along with many other tourists.
This waterfall rushes down from a height with a big bang, very spectacular, but for me, the Goa Rang Reng waterfall was a bigger experience because of the adventurous climbing.
Ulun Danu Beratan Temple
This Hindu temple is considered to be the most iconic temple in Bali. This is the temple found in every photo-selection about Bali.
It is beautiful as it is built “into” a lake and has a stunning garden surrounding the place of sacrifice. On religious holidays, the place is adorned with ornaments made of banana leaves and other natural materials, and the shrines are filled with more and more abundant sacrifices and gifts that the locals give to the Gods.
A little further northwest, you arrive at Lakes Danau Buyan and Tamblingan, respectively. Here you will find several stops with a very nice view over the two lakes from the heights. At many of these small rest areas, locals have built photo swings where it is possible to shoot super flying swing pictures with the lake in the background. Usually, to try these, you need to pay a few Euros, and then you can try all the swings at that lookout point.
Getting to Gitgit Falls with a rental scooter is only recommended in good weather, as a very steep road leads there, and coming from the lakes you have to “climb” the mountain, then descend into the valley, and then take the same road on the way back. The road is quite steep, therefore:
Make sure to have enough gasoline in the tank because it’s not very funny if you run out of it on the go and have to climb back to the nearest gasoline vendor on foot.
If you start to feel that the brake is not working properly anymore, stop to take a rest, because the brake can very easily overheat, and the winding mountain road can become very dangerous.
Calculate the duration of the return trip, in the case of Ubud about 2 hours and especially by scooter, it is worth getting back before it’s getting dark. If you are short on time, I think you should skip Gitgit Falls and then you don’t have to rush at Beratan Temple and the lakes.
Of course, with a car and a local driver is different, it is totally ok to get back when it’s already dark.
Mount Agung’s an active volcano in Bali, when we were there, there was smoke coming out from the crater (on the photo you also see clouds), which was a bit scary as the volcano could erupt at any time and locals would be evacuated from the surrounding towns and flights would not be able to travel due to the large clouds of dust. It’s not like it’s not good to stay in Bali, but for those with limited time, it’s risky.
Areas affected by previous eruptions of the volcano are covered by black solidified lava, where vegetation is completely extinct. And because the volcano is still active, much of the population lives outside the volcano’s scope.
Hidden Canyon-Beji Guwang
For adventurous young people who love challenges and have no fear, the canyon tour is one of the most superb adventure programs on the island of Bali.
It’s quite unbelievable how hidden it really is, as from the street and parking place you can’t see anything from the canyon, not even at the entrance. Therefore you might be surprised, why you need to pay for a guide, you might think you could do it alone, but they don’t let you. You must be accompanied by a local Balinese guide. And soon you’ll realize why.
As soon as you go down the steep stairs to the level of the river, the canyon becomes visible, and the further you go the more challenging it is gonna be. And you definitely need a local person who knows the canyon and can help you if you are stuck.
The canyon tour is an amazing experience, but be prepared that you will be totally wet until the top of your head.
Therefore, it is advisable to leave the larger stuff and values up in the car or at the reception. And it is definitely useful to wear shoes or sandals in which you can climb, swim, jump in the water. And take your waterproof camera if you have one.
Reaching an intersection, the guide asks how you want to proceed, cause you have the option to end the tour at the end of the shorter lap, but if you still have the strength and can’t wait to overcome the next barrier you have the option to go further on the longer lap. It is so much fun, I can only recommend it!
Coffee and cocoa plantations
Bali Pulina is a coffee and similar exotic plant plantation just north of the Tegalalang Rice Terrace. In addition to Bali Pulina, there are many other similar small hidden plantations in the area with wonderful views of the jungle.
If you go with a local driver, he can definitely recommend a place where to take you, but if you choose the scooter option, you can still notice these hidden plantations, as they are marked with small handmade signs and there are small parking lots to stop at the side of the road.
This can be read-only in a few itineraries even though it is such a cool experience, especially for those who love special plants. Here you will find coffee plantations, cocoa bean trees, pineapple plants, which is also a great experience to see it in live (→ as contrary to many people’s expectations, pineapple grows on a plant similar to a small houseplant), as well as coconut palms and spice specialties such as turmeric.
During the visit, you can try the process of making coffee (from peeling to grinding) in small workshop areas and after all, you will be invited to a coffee and tea tasting on a beautiful panoramic terrace overlooking the rice fields and the jungle in the background.
Pura Gunung Kawi
Pura Gunung Kawi is famous for its huge ~10 meter high shrines carved into the rocks. But the environment itself is also picturesque. We reach a small valley on steep slopes and stairs, surrounded by a river breeze and surrounded by rice terraces.
Tirta Empul Temple
The Tirta Empul Shrine is special because people come to this Hindu-Balinese holy place not only to sacrifice and pray, but also to bathe in the holy water and thereby go through a spiritual cleansing.
Before you leave, take a quick look at the lake to the left of the holy water, which is full of giant koi fish.
Tanah Lot Temple is perhaps one of the most iconic sunset spots in Bali, so it’s quite crowded by late afternoon, but it’s definitely worth the ride for the beautiful view. It is about a 45 minutes scooter ride from Kuta.
The temple was built on a rock in the sea, which is surrounded by water at high tide, but can be reached on foot from the mainland at low tide.
It is very spectacular how fast the sea level changes and how the rocky beach becomes walkable at low tide, where in the holes and cracks formed by the sea, beautiful sea creatures can be discovered. It’s worth taking a walk there at sunset and exploring special shells, corals, and other creatures in the small underwater holes.
If we walk a little further south from the temple, we can admire the silhouette of the sanctuary on the cliff with the beautiful sunset in the background.
Last but not least, go to Kuta, one of the most popular surfing spots on the island. A lot of people come to Bali to surf with their own equipment but for those who are new to surfing or do not have the equipment, Kuta is the right place, as the waves are great and there are a couple of spots on the beach, where you can rent a surf, or even take some surfing lessons.
In the evening, it is time to discover Kuta’s nightlife and try some good bars and restaurants.