Hello: Halo (everyone recognizes “Hello”)
thank you: Terima kasih
Currency: Indonesian Rupee (approximately 12,000/$1)
Walking along the sidewalks of Ubud, I am greeted by small displays of colorful flower petals wrapped in small palm leaf boxes. This is part of a daily Hindu ceremony to please the gods similar to prayers of thanks or the rotations seeking merit for the Buddhists. The wandering dogs, insects and birds benefit greatly as many of the small boxes contain rice or other food. I watched a dog patiently stand aside while a woman arranged several small boxes so he could give thanks by nosing through the boxes once she departed. Each morning the sidewalks are swept and the process begins again.
Life can be relatively relaxed in Bali and I decided to stop here for several days to reboot after six weeks of travel. Since I had been to Bali in the past, I didn’t feel like I had to rush around to see everything. And since I’m traveling for so long, shopping was not really an option despite the numerous temptations.
Bali has changed in four years. There was certainly more traffic, more variety in the tourists (now a key destination for Koreans and Japanese), and prices have increased. I also noticed that many of the smaller shops were less likely to bargain on prices as they did in the past. But Bali is still very affordable for the casual traveler. There are many options for backpackers and you can find lodging for less than $30/day. Even a more “upscale” place can be found for less than $50. It’s not hard to find a meal for a few dollars and even spend as much as $15 on dinner as more higher end restaurants seem to have emerged in the last few years. Perhaps there was the influence of “Eat, Pray, Love” which had just finished filming the last time I was here. Numerous people come here for yoga and spas but you should shop around as some prices are as expensive as at home. You can spend your time walking, shopping, getting massages and generally relaxing for less than $70/day including lodging. And it is not hard to do it for about half, especially if you are sharing a room.
Ubud exudes a vibe unlike that of the more touristy areas of Kuta and Seminyak, crowded with people on beach vacations. I think people come to Ubud seeking something different. There are yoga shops, plenty of places for massage, temples, and numerous shops and markets. For me, this was a second visit and I spent time relaxing and writing and just walking through the various streets, observing the growth since my last visit.
First impression - a very dirty beach. I was appalled at the trash that rushed onto shore with each wave. As I ventured into the surf, strategically walking between the red caution flags advising “No Swimming”, I was jumping back as unseen objects were wrapping around my legs. I looked down to see plastic chip bags. straws, plastic water bottles, and the occasional discarded flip flop. Gross!!! There were men and women raking the bits of trash into small piles in the sand. It was a feat fit for Sisyphus. If you want to go swimming in the ocean, it is better to stay in Sanur Beach where the water is very calm and much cleaner.
Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud - 20,000 IDR entry fee. I think to think of this as the “stupid human forest” as I observe people indulging in somewhat scary behavior with wild animals. Wild monkeys freely roam this small forest but people seem to think they are ostracized pets and try to touch them and let them climb on them. You can take in bananas to feed them, but most people don’t get too far past the entrance before the monkeys threaten them into dropping their full bags that they can quickly loot through. It is interesting to go in and watch the monkeys cavorting about, but watching foolish humans is just as entertaining.
Market in Ubud- For those interested in shopping, the market provides plenty of clothing, scarves, jewelry, bags, and other handmade items to keep you busy bargaining for hours.
Temples - There are plenty of temples to visit on the island as Bali is mostly Hindu. Just remember that many temples require appropriate attire, such as a sarong to enter. It is worth the trip to see the beauty of the art within.
Rice fields - You can find excursions to go walking in the rice fields and enjoy the emerald glowing green of the quiet hillsides. I definitely recommend this to see a side of Bali that doesn’t include shops and beaches.
Mt. Batur - sunrise hike. You will be getting up at 3 a.m. to climb in the dark to the top of a mountain to watch the sunrise over this volcano. It is a great experience but make sure you are fit enough for the terrain and keep in mind that you will need a good headlamp (hands free) for the hike. Many tourist shops advertise this hike as you walk along the streets of Ubud.
Dolphins - One of the most amazing experiences I had in Bali was the sunrise excursion into the waters off of Lovina to watch the morning frolicking of the dolphins. Many small boats filled with people go out into the water as several pods of dolphins swim around, jumping and cavorting around the various boats. The only problem - there are too many boats! Everyone is trying to enjoy this unique experience and the constant zooming around of the boats is a bit crazy. However, the dolphins seem to have a sense of humor as they effortlessly glide through the water, oblivious to the numerous boats full of camera happy tourists.
Snorkeling/Diving, Menjangan Island in the Marine National Park by Lovina - On my first visit to Bali, I went snorkeling in this park along the coast. Although it is a bit of a journey from the south east side of the island, it is worth the trip. From Lovina, the park is about an hour drive, but you will swim in calm warm waters and see hundreds of fish varying in size and color. At one area, we were able to swim over to a small cave along the rocky shore and look inside to see hundreds of bats huddled along the ceiling. Remember to wear plenty of sunscreen and even a t-shirt to protect your back from the strong sun.
Nusa Penida snorkeling/diving - You can arrange a variety of snorkeling/diving trips all along the coast in Bali. I went for a full day to this small island off the coast. The ride out to the site was very rough and getting in the water was just as challenging. Some of the apprentice dive masters were seasick on the way out and I felt the effects once I entered the water. It was delightful watching my breakfast become fish food. But the destination was Manta Point to see the amazing giant mantas swimming off the coast. Imagine looking down to see an animal with a wingspan of several meters, open mouth large enough to swallow you whole, and you will understand why anyone even attempts the rough ocean for a viewing. After this adventure, the boat moved to calmer waters for the rest of the day where both snorkelers and divers were rewarded with views of spectacular fish and sea life. If you are sensitive to rough waters, be sure to ask before booking a tour. There are several sites that are much calmer and can make your trip more enjoyable.
No matter where I stopped, I did not have a bad massage. Some places are more basic than others and may only pull a curtain around you on the massage table. A couple of suggestions that cost a little more (about $10-$14/hour) but do provide you with a private room.
There are shops everywhere and there is also the market. Some stores do not bargain (versus the market), but the quality seems to be a bit better on some pieces.