Bali, also known as the Island of the gods, is an Island of Indonesia and also the largest tourist destination in the country. It has a population of over 4 million people where Balinese Hinduism is practiced and it is renowned for its highly developed arts (wood & stone carving), including traditional and modern dance, sculpture, painting, leather, metalworking, and music. A tourist haven for decades, the province has definitely seen a surge in tourist numbers in recent years. It has been 5 years since my last trip to Bali and I can affirm that it has developed commercially quite a lot although the culture remain strong as soon as you leave the main touristic areas around Kuta/Seminyak.
This time, we were 5 friends to travel together in this tropical paradise. A friends reunion as two of them were permanently relocating in Quebec, Canada. Also, for myself another reunion with 3 greats friends, the Keeper sisters. Knowing the place quite well by now, I organised most of the trip to Bali. If you would like to get an idea, have a look here Planning Bali.
Here is the story of the trip:
20.09.2013: At 8am, I flew to Bali on the 20th of Sept directly from Brisbane with Olivier. A 6 hours flight that easily turn into a full day of traveling adding security, immigration, check-in, transport, etc. Got to GrandMas hotel in Seminyak around 5pm. There is a 2 hours time difference with Brisbane. I picked up a SIM card at the MiniMart and surprisingly we had a driver asking for my name to pick us up to Jimbaran bay for a sunset dinner on the beach with the Bali Crew Karina & Paul Raudia and Kartika. With the traffic we arrived just a little too late to catch the sunset. Dinner was sublime, seafood was abundant and delicious. Some big waves were crashing on the beach and the surge was reaching our legs so we had to move up the table closer to the restaurant. It was great to catch up with the Keepers, great vibe, as always. We also met Paul, Bruno and Omar. After dinner, we caught up with Louis that has just arrived back at the hotel before heading out for some drinks in Seminyak, at Mantra, Red Drum and finally at Maria Magdalena. Night ended around 3am. Fun night, place were interesting but in Bali the crowd doesn’t really picked up before late so the places we visited we not very crowded.
21.09.2013: Alex and Rob arrived around 8:30am the next morning and gently knocked at our door. All freshen up by a 5 hour slept, it was already time to wake up! We went out for a breakky on the beach and went walking exploring the area up to Legian.
We later met for lunch with Karina, Paul, Raudia, Bruno and Kartika at Cafe Bali, good cafe I visited some years ago. We did make the commitment to have massage everyday so as we are all man of honor, we had our first balinese massage. I didn’t had a massage for like 3 years so it was good. Then we called up our driver M. Ketut Polus for a visit to Tanah Lot to catch the sunset and see the famous Kecak Dance. There was some traffic to reach the place but it was well worth it. Beautifully located along the coast, the place was perfect to catch the sun set. Following the site visit, we assisted the Kecak Dance. Kecak dance which is often called “The Monkey Dance” include a story drama, in which the circle of light around the torch becomes a stage, and its periphery of men dancing on the ground in a trance ceremony and chanting a weird “chak a chak” sound in akapel. The whole stage become a living theatre with all dramatic effects. The show is performed by around 50 people with also other dancers who portray the characters of Ramayana as Rama, Shinta, Ravana, Hanuman, and Sugriwa. I was a bit deceived by the performance at Tanah Lot having watch a similar but better performance at Uluwatu back in 2008. Neverthless, the crew enjoyed the show.
Went back to the Hotel for a quick refresh (Bali is quite hot and humid) before heading for dinner and drinks to magnificent Kudeta. That place is modern and really impressive, food was incredibly good. However, the place was quite quiet after 11pm so we headed to Woobar at W for some drinks and meet up with Kartika. Let’s say, this was another quite impressive place. Music was great, we had some drinks and fun and got back at the hotel around 2am. Already too late for the next early morning departure.
22.09.2013: Few hours later, we left Seminyak to Tulambem for a diving day at one of the most famous dive site in Bali, USS Liberty a 120m army transport ship topedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942. We completed in total 3 dives directly from the beach. Visibility was quite good, very calm surface, no current, the water was warm so we didn’t require a wet suit, at least for the 2 first dive. There was an horde of fishes and beautiful corals. We also did the Drop-off and the Coral Garden. After the dives, we were driven to Ubud, where I rented a vila for 5 nights. I was a bit nervous at first because I didn’t really know the place and neither AirBnb the website I went through to rent the place. Finally, arrived at the place around 8:00pm, we were all very happily surprised. The place was fantastic and very local among rice fields and farms land!!! Our host ordered lunch and Bintangs for us and we went to bed.
23.09.2013: Next morning, after the roosters woke us up couple of time, we ate a delicious breakfast prepared from our host and then went out exploring a bit more of Ubud. We met Wallie, a friendly tour guide that brought us around to Tallangalaga to walk around the beauty of the Rice Fields and also the sacred place of Tampak Sirik and Gunung Kawi where there were rituals and ceremonies performed by locals.
We also stopped by a coffee plantation where we learned a bit about local plants, harvesting technique and the famous Kupi Luwak coffee. A Luwak is a type of wild animal that eat the coffee beans. The digestion process of the animal refine the beans that are later collected. They are cleaned out from the poo poo and finally processed and fine grinned to produced the tasteful coffee.
We had massage in town and then went out for dinner. Came back to the vila around 10pm prepared our stuff to hike Mount Agung as we we’re going to be picked up at midnight for a night hike to catch the sun rise. We could sleep a little bit but only once we got rid two massive spiders in Louis and Olivier bathrooms. According to Komang, the local manager of the vila, they were not dangerous… yuk
24.09.2013: One hour sleep later, our guide Mudi came to pick us up for the big climb ahead of us. We reached the parking lot around 2am then walk up the stairs to the temple that sits at around 1500m high. From there, we started the ascent. The climb wasn’t technical or nothing but it was constantly steep and required sometime our hands to continue. We were over the clouds already with a clear view of the sky and the numerous stars, beautiful. We walked up for over 3 hours and a half with some quick rest and water. Near the top we sat and rested for half an hour waiting for the sun to rise. Alex felt asleep.
It was cold, around 5-6 degrees with the wind blowing on us. Stars were still magnificent and shining. Sun was slowly rising on the horizon over Mount Rinjani in Lombok. We were freezing! Mudi prepared breakfask while the sky was being lit up in orange, it was amazing!
After the sun has risen, we climbed to the top. Mudi performed a traditional ceremony and we had a Bintang 🙂 After all it was beer’o clock! We rested there for a little while before starting to walk down.
It was still quite steep and my left knee started to feel the pressure of my own weight and the energy that was pushing me down. I had to go slow. We passed monkeys along the way. They were going up to pick of the offering left by Mudi! We reached the parking lot around 11am. We drove back to Ubud after stopping at a local warung to eat chicken satay and a local temple where was hold again another ceremony. Mudi explained us many of the rituals performed and the local culture.
Once back at the Vila, we had massage by the swimming pool. Balinese masseuse know how to reach all your pressure point. Considering the challenging hike we just did, this was so painful! We slept early that night.
25.09.2013: Somebody knocked at my door, it was Louis. Already morning massage time by the pool! Still painful but how nice with the roosters and bird signing. We went to central Ubud to walk around and get a feeling of the place. We shop a little bit around. Stopped for lunch at a very nice cafe, Bali Buda, where through some incredible coincidence I recognized the owner of the vila (from the vila website picture). We chat a little bit and took some pictures, she offered us delicious brownies. We continued our urban exploration a little more before we visited the Monkey Forest.
26.09.2013: Another early morning, another massage. Breakfast and then we were picked us by AquaMarine Diving to go at Padang Bai about 1 hour an half away from Ubud. We completed again 3 dives. The first and second dive (blue lagoon and Jepun) were not bad but not as incredible as Tulamben. Numerous fishes and several blue spotted stingray. Some small wreck, corals. Unfortunately, there was a strong surge which reduced our options for dive site. For the last dive, we were lead to a Jetty. The surge was getting bad and the dive didn’t went that great. The current and the wave were just balancing us dangerously between the pillars, visibility was horrible, the sandy bottom was filled with piece of scrap or garbage. 40 min later we were out the water. We saw couple of fishes (parrotfish, unicorn fish, eel and some weird fish with wings!) but overall the site was far not up to the diving paradise we hear about Bali.
Back in Ubud later, we went out for an incredible dinner at Clear Cafe. I ordered the Sunshine Tuna Steak for 5$. It was so good. That was our last night in Ubud, however we were pretty exhausted so came back to the Vila early.
27.09.2013: We woke up with massage once again, then it was time to head back to Seminyak. It took close to two hours to reach our destination because the traffic was horrible. We dropped our bag at Grandmas hotel once again and then we went to met for lunch with Karina and Raudia at Gourmet Cafe. After lunch we walked around Seminyak for a bit of shopping however, no good deal to be made there. It is now very trendy and commercial with big brands and prices are almost as high as back home.
We met once again for drinks at sunset on the beach at Chiringuito with the extended crew. We chatted, had a lot of fun then we had dinner at Delicious Onion just beside the hotel. It was a great time. Sad we had to leave for the airport as there was such a good vibe. It will have to be continued another time hopefully! Our flight departed for Brisbane a little bit after midnight. Trip was great but now over.
Bali is a place I really like. It is very easy to travel within. It has a strong culture and spiritual spirit. Balinese people are kind, generous, helpful and very friendly. Although public infrastructure in general remain largely deficient (roads, bridge, sidewalks, etc) and that traffic has become a plague, the architectural side of Balinese home, temples and building is impressive with a lot of stone and wood carving and a strong attention to details. The country side is beautiful and you must take some time to visit it. Although maybe not for everyone, Bali remain one of the best place in the world for value for money and live very interesting adventures. In fact, many expats have made Bali their home. The big question is how much more can Bali growth sustainably and by keeping its culture and tradition? See you again sometime Bali!
Thanks for reading!
What’s next? Trip to Uluru in the outback of Australia,
PascalPS: Credit to Olivier & Alex for many awesome pictures!