If you know anything about Indonesia then you'll know that it's made up of a ton of islands (over 17,000 of them), picking which islands to go to during our month there was our main problem. We decided we'd start with Bali for 2 weeks as it was easy to get to from Thailand and then we'd travel to the tiny island of Gili Air and then to Lombok. We've now been here 2 weeks and during our time in Bali we decided to base our stay in Kuta (think beach and market) and Ubud (think rice fields and yoga).
Normally in our accounts of places we visit we do a day by day diary, but for Kuta I've decided to do a summary as everyday was the same – breakfast, beach, lunch, wander around market streets, dinner. Neither of us were particularly taken by Kuta.
Prior to our arrival in Bali, Josh had researched how to get from Denpasar airport to our accommodation in Kuta. He'd found that there were airport official taxis that wouldn't rip you off, so as soon as we'd sorted out our visa on arrival we headed out to find the official taxis. We were hit by a wall of people shouting 'TAXI!', waving pieces of paper in the air and waving their badges at us. We looked around desperately for the airport official taxi signage, whilst trying to get taxi drivers to stop following us. In the end we saw a desk, it didn't look official at all but we hedged our bets based on our previous experience in Krabi and went for it. Turns out it was the official taxi, however the prices that Josh found online were quite a number of years out of date and the price we paid was a LOT more than we were expecting [But still less than about £10 for an hours drive – Josh]. Oh well, it got us to our hotel!
During the five days that we spent in Kuta, we didn't do very much at all. We went out everyday to watch people trying to learn to surf on the beach, whilst batting away people trying to sell us surf lessons. We also spent a lot of time browsing the many market stalls and shops, trying to find some new clothes for me to buy. I've quickly found that if you only wear the same few clothes in rotation they soon become full of holes. However I've lost my ability to shop that I had during my teenage years and didn't like anything that I tried on as it didn't suit my body shape. So I am still stuck with my old clothes that I've had to repair using a hotel sewing kit.
The highlight of our time in Kuta was the surf lesson that I signed us up for. I did some research on Trip Advisor to find a surf school that could offer a private lesson for the two of us and had good reviews. It turned out that UP2U Surf School fitted those requirements. On our last full day in Kuta we got picked up on the back of motorbikes – you should have seen Josh's face as we drove the wrong way down a one way road! When we arrived at the surf school we met Paul, the owner, who talked to us about the volcano Mount Agung which the Balinese people are waiting to erupt as it's ruining their tourism trade. After the other people who were also having a morning lesson arrived we all walked down to the beach with surfboards and rash vests. Josh and I were given our own instructor called Dennis, he taught us the basics of how to carry a board and how to stand on a board on the sand before taking us into the water.
Once in the water it was clear to see that Josh was a natural (no surprise there, that boy can pretty much do any outdoorsy thing he turns his hand to!). He was able to stand up on his board immediately and catch the waves, I took a little while longer but I got there eventually. Neither of us had been in water with such big waves – we went in up to our chests but as soon as a wave came along we were swept off our feet and back towards shore. During our lesson we both got over some of our personal dislikes – Josh got over having water up his nose and I got over my dislike of being under water. After two and a half hours of surfing we went back to the surf school to look over our photos with Paul (there was a guy taking photos from the shore), who gave us advice on our surfing postures.
The next day we got on a Perama Tour minibus to Ubud, desperate to get away from the hustle and bustle of Kuta's markets.
Once we arrived at Perama Tour's Ubud office we decided that we would walk to find our next accommodation. We knew it was about an hours walk so we decided to get lunch. As I'm the one that gets hangry in the relationship it's usually left to me to find a spot for lunch. On our way to Lotus Villa we walked past Kafe, it was everything that Ubud promises – laid back atmosphere, healthy fresh food and at a good price! We scored lucky. Once we finished off our amazing lunches we continued our trek to find our accommodation, unfortunately the pavements in Ubud are littered with random holes and ramps which led to Josh putting his foot through a hole – luckily he wasn't hurt! [The footpaths are above 50cm deep rainwater drains and many of the path sections are either a little bit broken or very broken. Look where you're going around Ubud! – Josh]
The place we were going to had two addresses, so we had no idea how long our walk would turn out to be. Unfortunately for us it turned out to be the address further down the road! Once we finally got to our accommodation we were pleasantly surprised by how luxurious it was and settled in. We only left to go to an equally nice Warung (cheap restaurant) for dinner a hundred metres down the road, again it was full of healthy food at good prices. We instantly knew we were going to like Ubud a hell of a lot more than Kuta.
Today we decided to venture into Ubud centre and spend a bit more time there than the previous day as we didn't have to carry around our rucksacks. The villa offered a free shuttle service at 10.30am so we made use of it, although there was confusion as to whether it was actually free… We didn't get charged for it when we checked out so it's all good. Once in the centre of Ubud we visited a local temple with amazing stone carvings, wandered around the art market and the shop lined streets. After a lunch stop at Kafe again we decided to explore some more and we stumbled upon a bike rental place (we'd been wanting to rent bikes since arriving in Ubud as we knew our accommodation was far out and we can't ride scooters), so we rented two bikes for a week and cycled back to our hotel.
Once back at our hotel (15 minutes later rather than an hour) we relaxed by the infinity pool that overlooked rice fields and then went to Warung Ithaka for dinner again.
Knowing how much we both enjoyed doing the tour of Pai and how much Josh likes cycling, I booked us onto a bike tour of Ubud using Bali on Bike. We had an early pick up of 8am so we made sure that we had breakfast early in the hotel. The tour company was early but they waited for us to finish our breakfast and then we set off.
Bob (the owner) explained that his driver would drive through a few sites and then would get the bikes out of the car where we would start cycling for 2 hours through local villages, the driver would follow us for safety and then we'd end at Bob's home for lunch. Sounded great to us! Bob was super friendly and encouraged us to ask as many questions as we liked as well as saying we could stop wherever Josh wanted to take photos. Whilst making use of the driver we stopped at a rice terrace to see how rice is grown in Bali, after showing sufficient interest and asking lots of questions Bob and his driver took us to a rice drying area to explain more about the process of getting rice ready to sell.
Once we were back in the car we drove to Mount Batur which last erupted in 2000, we took photos and asked questions before getting back into the car to be taken to a coffee plantation. Josh and I were both dubious about this part of the tour as neither of us drink coffee. However, we went open minded. We tasted 12 different coffees and teas which were actually pretty damn tasty! We were also treated to a second breakfast of Balinese pancakes that had been made by Bob's wife (YUM).
We then got into the car for the last time and drove further uphill whilst Bob answered our questions on the caste system in Bali, languages, religion and family life (particularly compounds where many generations of a family will live together). Once the bikes were set up for us at the side of the road we got on and cycled for over two hours, we went past numerous rice fields, villages and compounds. It was all very beautiful and interesting to witness! Halfway through we stopped at a temple for a green banana snack and then continued into the rain, as the rain got heavier Bob produced a bright green poncho for me to wear – super glad that Josh didn't get photographic evidence! [Trust me, it was hilarious. Think Violet from Willy Wonka – Josh]
At the end of our cycling we arrived at Bob's family compound. His wife made an amazing Balinese buffet for us [Best local food in Bali so far! – Josh] and then Bob explained the traditions of a family compound and then his driver drove us back to our hotel. The experience was incredible and it felt like we were truly being immersed in the culture as we did with Tom Yum Thai cooking school.
We cycled into Ubud centre again, this time we were on a mission to find a ridge walk that Josh had discovered on Trip Advisor (a traveller's online bible). On our way Josh stopped to take photos of men doing stone carving at the temple we'd visited a few days ago [We'd got up early to find this ridge walk and found Ubud largely devoid of other tourists. We stumbled upon a group doing some stone carving and to them what was just normal was to me quite amazing to watch. I was the only tourist there, watching these men carve stone, already laid into the wall or floor, freehand into amazingly detailed shapes. I said hello to some of them and had a brief and disjointed chat with one guy and took a few photos in-between. Sometimes it's the random, unexpected things that are the nicest – Josh].
Once we found the ridge walk we followed a Balinese lady for a little while who was carrying offerings to the Gods on her head. Thankfully the walk wasn't too long as the weather in Bali is extremely hot and humid at this time of year. Despite the walk being short it packed in lots of pretty sights and at the end we treated ourselves to coconuts and a fruit platter in a cafe where we could sit in a hut over a pond.
After we returned to the beginning of the ridge walk we found a small Warung for lunch and then went on a hunt for a temple that I knew to have a cultural dance performance that evening. People had said it was best to turn up during the day to get tickets so that you didn't miss out in the evening – turns out we were probably too early as no one was there selling tickets. We went home earlier than expected as it started to rain, I felt extremely defeated!
Today was moving day – we were moving to the South of Ubud in an Airbnb called Putra's homestay [We highly recommend it if you're looking for accommodation in Ubud. There are two rooms which are both the same, but it's popular so book in advance – Josh] – we'd booked this place first and based our other accommodation bookings around it as it looked so good. However, getting there did not prove easy…
Our first stop was yoga at the Yoga House, it was in the middle of a rice field and very pretty. After a cycle ride along a narrow raised path we arrived with ten minutes to spare and then joined the gentle yoga class. There were nine people in the class in total, but we felt rather out of place as the discussion prior to the lesson was about being vegan. But the lesson went well and we were super chuffed that none of our poses got corrected by the teacher – our previous online yoga lessons didn't do go too badly then! However, we were both unsure of the weird metaphors used by the yoga teacher and the super slow pace of the class so vowed not to do that type of yoga lesson again.
We set off from the Yoga House on our bikes with our large rucksacks on, heading in the general direction of South and hoping for the best. Once we got as far as we knew, Josh checked Google Maps and said we needed to find a museum and then take the next left. Josh knew the directions better than me so I said that he should go in front – big mistake. Josh cycles faster than I do so I soon lost him [I did keep checking behind me at regular intervals and went slower than I otherwise would have done! – Josh], but I found the museum and took the next left. Normally Josh waits for me if he looks back and can't see me so I was really confused when he wasn't round the bend. Oh well I thought, maybe he's a bit further on so I carried on. He still wasn't there. Turnings off of the road started to appear, I hadn't heard any instructions about turnings… Shit. I stopped and walked to see if I could see him further down – nope. I turned around and walked back from where I'd come from – maybe I just hadn't seen him stopped. Nope. I went back to the museum – nope. I had absolutely no idea where I was or where he was, roll on the tears. I was lost in the middle of Ubud with no data to check maps, and even if I did I had no idea of the address because you have to book the Airbnb to get the address (Josh had booked it). So I just stayed put at the museum as it was the last landmark we'd discussed and waited for what seemed like forever, it was probably no more than 15 minutes. In the end I turned my phone on and tried to call Josh, we eventually got through and met up. PHEW. Turns out that he had missed the turning and then turned back, but I must have been at the museum by that point.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful apart from meeting the cute dogs at the Airbnb.
Josh knew that the sun would rise right outside our balcony over the rice fields, so we set an alarm for 5.30 so that he could take photos. It was great to watch the sun rise from the comfort of bed through glass doors [I made great use of the remote for my camera by setting it up on the tripod outside then just getting back into bed and using the remote to take a shot every now and again. Why can't all sunrise shoots be that easy?! – Josh]! Even better when our host delivered a delicious breakfast on the balcony.
We decided that we would like to do another yoga lesson, getting our zen on and all that jazz. So we went to the Yoga Barn and joined a class of 40 (it was huge) and followed the instructions of a Justin Timberlake sounding guy. It was chill and we were chilled [Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm – Josh].
After a short stop for lunch at a place that was situated on a corner so had a member of staff stopping traffic to let customers cross the road we decided to go to Ubud Monkey Forest. When we got there we were surprised at how cheap the tickets were – about £5 in total. The entrance was covered in warnings about how to avoid monkey attacks – so I spent the first fifteen minutes being petrified of all the monkeys [She did, it was quite annoying – Josh]. Turned out that we had nothing to fear and we were all good, Josh got some epic photos ["Hello, is that Nat Geo?" – Josh] and then we watched a Balinese cultural dance performance in the open stage. The monkeys even watched too! It was fun to see and was included in the ticket cost so we saved by having to go to a separate one that evening! Success.
We returned to our favourite Kafe for dinner, but stayed a little too late and it ended up getting dark on our cycle home… We did not have lights. We felt like right plonkers and won't be risking that again.
We woke again for sunrise, but unfortunately it wasn't looking too great with all the clouds so we fell back asleep again. When we eventually got up and ready we went on a rice field walk in the centre of Ubud – it felt like the Balinese version of taking a walk through the English countryside back at home. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful with unsuccessful shopping, more cycling and food.
When we woke up the bed was shaking, Josh has a tendency to shake when he's falling asleep [And Nikki has a tendency to overshare – Josh] so I thought it was him and ignored it for a few seconds. But then it continued and it was the whole bed, so I turned over to check on him. I was greeted with him wide awake looking at me like 'What the hell is that?'. It turns out that we had just experienced our first earthquake! We both ran to the door to check if the volcano was erupting, but it wasn't so we both dozed again [4.9 incase you're wondering – Josh].
We then decided to visit a nearby butterfly park. When we got there we were greeted by a procession of overly helpful staff and a welcome drink – imagine getting that in England! When we entered the park it was incredible, there were so many butterflies absolutely everywhere and the pupa room was incredible. We obviously spent quite a long time there as a biology teacher and a photographer.
When we got back to our Airbnb after lunch we had a woodcarving lesson with our host's family – the only problem being that there was a complete language barrier as they only spoke Balinese and we only speak English. But that didn't stop us all laughing, mainly at mine and Josh's complete inability to carve wood into owls. Our host's sister kept wincing as she thought that Josh would cut himself [Made worse by the fact I'm left handed, which she couldn't adjust for! – Josh] and her father kept leaning back whenever I had the knife in my hand! The owls turned out okay in the end, but that was only because the majority of our work was corrected by them! Oh well, we tried and we had fun!
We finished off our day with dinner at a place that had a handful of reviews on Trip Advisor and no photos (until now as Josh took some), it was a pleasant surprise inside as there was a free pool table that we used whilst waiting for our food. Unfortunately my pool playing isn't any better than my wood carving [I thought I was bad at pool but Nikki, well, you should ask her to play some time – Josh].
We rode into Ubud for the last time to drop off our bikes (luckily the owner didn't see that Josh had adapted the broken spoke by bending it). We then went for a wander around Ubud to get ice cream and lunch. The rest of the day consisted of a ton of walking and more food.
It's fair to say that Bali was a game of two halves (not a football reference… Josh even got asked about which football team he supported whilst in Bali and he didn't understand the question so I stepped in for him [Ha, yeah. That's true, it was so far out of context for me I was like 'wahh?' – Josh]). Kuta was not our cup of tea at all, but we thoroughly enjoyed our time surfing. Ubud on the other hand was right up our street with its chilled atmosphere, great healthy food (especially for the new vegetarian that I'm claiming to be), amazing views and yoga aplenty. The culture of Bali was the most interesting culture that I have experienced so far on this trip and I'm glad we got to experience it ourselves by staying with a Balinese family and visiting the home of another family.