Bali : So Culture, Very Nature

Travel Period : 29 Sep – 5 Oct 2010

For many years, Bali eluded me. It was for me, what a transparent glass jar full of candy high on a shelf would be for a child. Or a very short person. Who likes sweets. I was that financially short person who never quite had the means to reach it. Bali isn’t an expensive place to go to from Singapore but when one starts realising just how hard-earned money is, spending it became a personal taboo.

I joined the workforce in 2000 and Bali has always been a place I wanted to visit. Friends who’ve been there all raved about it. When I saved up enough, that’s where I’m gonna go. Then in 2002, the Bali bombing happened and its appeal as a tropical paradise went up in smoke.

Handsome as it stands, the epitaph is an ugly keloid on the history of Indonesia that marked the worst act of terrorism to date. Extremism is a killer.

Who could forget that terrible turn of events on 12 Oct 2002 when religious extremists bombed Paddy’s Bar and Sari Club, two popular nightspots at the tourist district of Jl Legian in Kuta, leaving more than 200 dead and scores injured? Then 3 years later, on 1 Oct 2005, another series of terrorist suicide bombings exploded in Kuta and the neighbouring Jambaran beach resort. Holidaying in Bali became sort of a roulette suicide mission in itself.

But the terrorist situation seems to have diffused in the last couple of years with increased security collaboration between the Indonesian government and the various embassies, especially Australia. So I decided it’s time to visit this island of the gods.

AIRFARE & ACCOMODATION

My airfare was booked about 4 months in advance during a Jetstar promotion. For accommodation, we decided to spend 3 nights in Kuta and 3 nights in Seminyak. Kuta and Seminyak are along the same stretch of beach. While the Kuta area is more vibrant and messy, the Seminyak district has a laid-back feel with many nice-looking hotels and resorts. In-between the 2 is the Legian area where its beach is known as Double Six. It is possible to walk along the beach from Kuta to Legian to Seminyak in about an hour.

Jetstar Ticket : S$28.00 return – not inclusive of Rp 150,000 (S$22.50) airport tax paid when departing from Bali

Exchange Rate : S$1.00 = Rp 6,670 / Rp 1,000 = S$0.15

Tune Hotel, Kuta : Approx. S$25.00 per Single Room per night

The Tune budget hotel chain is great value for just having a place to sleep at night. I’ve stayed in Tune Penang and Tune Kuching and my experiences were always pleasant. This hotel choice is great when you’ve travelling with friends because the cheap rates mean you can get a room each rather than having to share.

Basic room amenities with no frills, Tune hotels are ideal for budget travellers who won't be spending much time in the room.

In Bali, there’re 2 Tune Hotels – Kuta and Legian. I don’t know about the Legian one, but the Single Room option in Kuta feels like a jail cell. A small window in the room opens out to a common corridor. In Penang and Kuching, the rooms have large windows that provided street or city views. Tune Kuta is about a 5-minute walk to Kuta Beach so it’s pretty convenient.

Harmony Hotel, Seminyak : Approx. S$85 per Deluxe Room per night

The Harmony Hotel resembles a collection of semi-detached houses facing a common pool. The rooms are spacious so it was very comfortable even for triple-sharing. There’s nothing really wow about the hotel but I love it that there’s free wi-fi and free use of the hotel’s computers that comes with Photoshop CS2 for image editing! The internet connection was pretty fast too.

Harmony Hotel Seminyak is a cozy & small hotel where you're very likely to know all the guests staying there within a very short time.

The staff was friendly, the pool relaxing and the hotel environment is clean and tidy. The only thing that sucked at this hotel was its boring breakfast which hardly had any variety in its menu. There were only 4 items and I had to pay when I asked for 2 sunny side up eggs.

TRANSPORTATION IN BALI

For tourists, the best way to travel around Bali is by hiring a car and driver. All hotels have cars for hire or you could just get a metered cab on the streets. Every few steps you take, there will be cab and private car drivers who will ask to take you around so there’s really no need to worry about transport. There are other modes of transport such as the bemo, which is basically a van, and buses that the locals ride in but I never saw a bemo or bus-stop so I have no idea where to get on or get off.

The flag down rate for a cab is Rp 5,000 (S$0.75); each increment per kilometer is Rp 4,500, and if you require the cab to wait for you while you visit the tourist attractions, a charge of Rp 30,000 (S$4.50) per hour applies.

Traffic in Bali : Skinny roads, fat vans & APVs, hundreds of motorcycles, few traffic rules... It's a science being a pedestrian here.

Generally, the cab drivers will try to get you to book their cab for the whole day to go sightseeing and they all come prepared with a chart listing all the attractions. They can also suggest an itinerary for you. Booking a cab for a full day of about 10 hours is around Rp 300,000 (S$45.00). If the places you want to go to cover long distances, the driver may ask for an additional petrol charge which ranges from Rp 50,000 to Rp 100,000 (S$7.50 – S$15.00). If you hire transport from the hotel, the petrol charges are mandatory but with transport hired off the streets, you can always negotiate with the driver.

On our first day, the 3 of us booked a 7-seater APV from Tune Hotel for 10 hours at the published rate of Rp 360,000 / S$54.00. We also had to pay a Rp 100,000 charge for petrol. But our day’s tour lasted 13 hours so we paid an additional Rp 100,000 for the over time. In the end, we paid a total of Rp 560,000 / S$84.00 for the day trip (S$28.00 per person) which brought us to Batubulan (to watch Barong and Kris Dance), Royal Family Temple, Goa Gajah (Elephant Temple), Gunung Kawi temple, Tirta Empul temple, Batur Volcano, Tegallalang rice terraces, Kokokan (bird watching) and Ubud Palace (to watch Legong Trance & Paradise Dance).

A great way to zip around Bali is the motorcycle. Most rental places don't ask to see your license but if you have no experience at all, better don't try because the traffic lacks discipline and the roads are not well sign-posted.

A 10-hour packaged day tour with a similar itinerary costs between US$35.00 and US$45.00, so booking our own transport seemed like cheaper way to explore Bali. However, when factoring in all the entrance fees to the attractions and meals, following a packaged tour if you don’t have many travelling companions may be a better deal. But of course, the good thing about having our own transport is that we don’t have to follow a group schedule and can take our time to see the sights and skip those we’re not interested in. The exception is if you intend to go white water rafting because it is more economical to join a package tour.

We also tried the flag-down cab mode of transport on our fourth day. After some negotiation, we paid Rp 300,000 / S$45.00 for an 8-hour day tour. The fare includes petrol and the cab driver suggested places for us to visit. We were brought to the center of Ubud where we visited the Ubud Palace, Ubud Market, had Babi Guling, visited the Monkey Forest Temple, Mengwi Temple, and Tanah Lot sea temple. Other than an occasional jam during peak hours, traffic in Bali is pretty smooth flowing.

This is Nyoman, our booked driver with the APV from Tune Hotel. On hindsight, it may be better to hire transport off the streets because with hotel transport, the drivers will bring you to eat at places where they probably get a commission from so you don't choice.

CULTURAL ENCHANTMENTS

As soon as I stepped out of the Bali airport, the first thing I noticed was that the air smells different. It smells of the sea. And the other thing I noticed was the distinctive motifs and cultural emblems used in Balinese architecture.

The whole island is one big intricately carved living museum of culture and arts. Everywhere we went, original modern art is infused with the traditional artistry of elaborate temples. The island should be called Bartli.

Saw the traditional Legong dance for the first time and I immediately fell in love with it. Totally mesmerised by the precision grace of the dancers and their big, expressive eyes.

The interesting thing about Bali is that it is a Hindu island in a Muslim country. That explains the strong Hinduism-Buddhism influences in its artistic heritage. Many of the stories and myths in the Mahabharata and Ramayana school of Buddhism comes alive in gigantic statues scattered around the island that mark the junctions of important roads, in traditional dances such as the Legon, Dagong and Kecak, and on carvings of thousands of beautiful temples.

The accentuated way that a day says "goodbye" was made even more spectacular with the 15th century Tanah Lot Temple.

One cannot be considered to have visited Bali if you have not seen the captivating Legong dance and the awe-inspiring Tanah Lot and Uluwatu sea temples. Especially at sunset. The magnificent blend of man-made wonder with Mother Nature’s splendid colours created a view so beautiful, I wanted to cry. Sunset in Bali starts at 6:00 pm so be there by that time to catch the best moments.

NATURAL AMUSEMENTS

I’ve always thought there’s nothing more to Bali than just temples and beaches, but I was so wrong when I realized just how many amusements parks of nature there are on the island. Rice terraces and never-ending stretches of corn fields aside, the island bleeds with countless rivers and waterfalls, and offers a wide range of activities to delight in nature’s bosoms.

Dense forests, raging rivers, wide beaches, live volcanoes and a whole lot of monkey business... Bali truly brings nature to your doorstep.

From close encounters with monkeys at the Sacred Monkey Forest Temple, to seeing live volcanoes, to jungle trekking and swimming with dolphins, I wished I could do them all. But alas, budget and time decided that I should not be greedy and save them for future visits to Bali. Yes, I’ll definitely go back again.

Bali is dominated by 2 volcanoes - Agung and Batur. The majestic Batur volcano (this photo) is still active and hiking trips can be taken to see its lava pools.

Of all the encounters with nature in this trip, my most memorable experience was white water rafting at the Tegala Wala river. I’ll share more about it later in a post dedicated to it because riding directly on the raw power of nature was just simply too awesome!

SHOPPING & FOOD

If there’s only one thing you remember about shopping in Bali is to BARGAIN. Everything can and should be bargained. And you can push the prices down as low as just 20% of the asking price. Yes, I’m not kidding. I have lots of anecdotes in being a fool to pay a higher price. The following are some examples…

Bali will put shopaholics into overdrive. There're tons of shops everywhere and the Ubud Market (this photo) will tempt even the most retail adverse to buy something.

Sunglasses – I bought a pair of sunglasses at a shop for Rp 50,000 / S$7.50. Then when I was at the beach, I was offered the exact same pair of glasses for Rp 20,000.

Straw Hat – The asking price for a woven straw hat was Rp 150,000 / S$22.50. I offered Rp 40,000. No deal. I raised it to Rp 60,000. Still no deal. I walked away. I was promptly called back and sold the hat for Rp 60,000 / S$9.00.

Henna Tattoo – I first got a rather large henna tattoo on my back for Rp 70,000 / S$10.50. On the next day, I got a slightly smaller but equally intricate tattoo on my arm for just Rp 20,000 / S$3.00.

Didn't really do much shopping but I did buy 2 henna tattoos, a straw hat, a necklace with a pendant that is the symbol of Bali, 3 sunglasses and a Bali t-shirt.

One of the best ways to bargain is when you already possess a piece of the item, eg. sunglasses. When the vendors on the beach saw me wearing the sunglasses, they asked how much I got it for. Even though I got it for Rp 50,000, I said Rp 40,000. And the next thing I knew, I was offered 2 of the exact same sunglasses in different colours for Rp 40,000. Same thing with the tattoo. They saw, they asked the price and offered a lower price to get more tattoos on me.

If they don’t want to lower the price, just walk away. There’re many shops and vendors selling the same things. They’ll likely ask you back. In fact, you can’t walk 2 steps without someone trying to sell you something or offer to drive you around. It can be irritating but I guess tourism hasn’t been reinstated after all the bomb scares.

The famous Ibu Oca Babi Guling (Ibu Oca roast suckling pig) near Ubud Palace is well deserving of its fame. I've never tasted pork of such soft texture, it's like liquid meat.

As for food, it’s generally not cheap in Bali. A meal will set you back for about S$5.00 even at the local warungs (foodstalls like Singapore’s local coffeeshops). The most expensive meal I had was at The Cruise restaurant at Jimbaran, a popular area for fresh seafood where you dine on the beach. The dinner for 2 set us back about S$55.00 for 3 dishes (squid, fish, and prawns) and 2 small glasses of white wine. Taste-wise, it’s not bad but not so unusual that I think they’re worth the price.

The best food we had was at Warung Murah in Seminyak. It is like a chap chye beung (mixed vegetable rice) stall in Singapore but the food is delicious at a reasonable price. I love the chicken skewer and beef curry there. Address : Jln. Double Six, No. 99. Another yummylicious place to eat is a fastfood outlet, Es Teler77, at Discovery Shopping Centre in Kuta. The avocado, coconut and jackfruit dessert is divine.

CELEBRATING LIFE IN BALI

There’s no reason to not celebrate or enjoy life in Bali. It may not be polished or offer the convenience of city-living but there’s a certain magic in the atmosphere where one can live it up, or find solace in the abundance of nature.

For a place that has survived terrible acts against the freedom of belief, Bali invokes a sense of peace that’s not to be taken for granted. While its people are friendly and cheerful, there’s no denying that life is pretty hard there. And the best way to forget about life’s troubles is to celebrate with the Kuta Karnival which is held every year around late September to early November to heal the 2002 tragedy.

Celebrate Life Lah! loves the theme for this year's Kuta Karnival which calls for a Celebration of Life!

For a first time visit to Bali, I can see many reasons to celebrate life there. If it’s not for the beaches, culture and nature, it is purely for the fact that a piece of paradise like this exists on earth. Please let peace prevail.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Magdalene
    Oct 17, 2010 @ 17:11:31

    Thanks for a brilliant recap of your holiday in Bali! It was truely a feast for my eyes and an enjoyment to read!

    Reply

  2. Patrick
    Oct 17, 2010 @ 21:10:28

    Nice! You have dinner at Jimbaran beach? Any comment about this?

    Reply

  3. Eugene
    Oct 18, 2010 @ 09:14:12

    “Another yummylicious place to eat is a fastfood outlet (can’t recall the name) at the Discovery Shopping Centre in Seminyak. The avocado, coconut and jackfruit dessert is divine.”

    The shop is Es Teler77 @ Discovery Shopping Centre in KUTA (not Seminyak) level 1. :)

    Reply

  4. Patrick
    Oct 18, 2010 @ 11:43:20

    Opss, guess I missed the line :) Yes it was written there.

    Reply

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