Bali with a Backpack

Whoever it was that said ‘95% of life is just showing up’ is definitely right (Woody Allen, perhaps?). My friend Laura and I embarked on a journey to Bali with a very, very rough sketch of exactly what we would do, where we would stay, and how we would get there. We had no reservations, no hotel bookings, and no transport organised. And strangely, we were not worried about it at all. In fact, I am fast learning that in South East Asia, this could actually be the best way to travel….

Play it by ear…

‘What should we do first — go to Ubud, or to Kuta?’ Laura asked me, as we sat on yet another excruciating (but cheap) Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bali.

‘I don’t know… Ubud?’

‘Ok, Ubud it is. Let’s catch a taxi when we get to the airport.’

So said, so done. We arrived in Denpasar in a very lovely little airport that looked a lot like a temple and caught a ride up to Ubud, which was about an hour north into the lush mountains in the centre of the island.

‘Aye, boss,’ we said to the taxi driver, ‘where is an area of Ubud with lots of cheap, cheap guesthouses?’

‘Cheap? Hmm. I think Monkey Forest Road is good for you. Very cheap!’

‘Ok, drop us off in the middle of Monkey Forest Road please!’

An hour later, we were deposited in Ubud exactly where we needed to be — the centre of town. The road was very pretty, lots of little shops and boutiques, restaurants and bars, and a large number of young men sitting on the side of the road, smoking, and offering transport.

‘You need a room?’ one guy called out as we hauled our backpacks onto our shoulders.

‘Yes, you have rooms?’ we asked.

‘Yes yes, please follow me!’

He took us into a place called Devi Ayu, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that although the street front of the compound was not much to look at, tucked behind in a garden was a lovely little place with a beautiful pool and lots of greenery.

Laura and I gave each other that look — we liked it.

‘How much?’ we asked the young man.

‘130,000 rupiah a night.’

‘Per person?’

‘No — for the room. Two single beds. You like?’

Again, Laura and I raised our eyebrows at each other. A beautiful guest house in the middle of Ubud? With a pool? For US $7 per person a night? SOLD!

Oh well, I guess it will do… after all you can’t expect too much for $13 a night… sigh…

Ubud is considered Bali’s culture and art centre, and we were not disappointed. Something I was not anticipating was the excellent shopping. Beautiful wood carvings, paintings, art, bowls, clothes, everything a travelling girl could want to bargain for. The nearby Ubud market was overwhelming — everywhere you look you saw something you’d love to take home. I had to resist the urge to hire a container to ship a whole load of goods back! I wanted to buy damn near everything.

Laura in the market

The lazy way down

The next day we joined up with a tour company called Bali 2000 for a bike ride down Mount Batur, one of Bali’s many volcanoes. This I think was my favourite part of the trip and I would certainly recommend this company. The guide picked us up at our place bright and early and we began our drive north of Ubud further into the mountains. The countryside of northern Bali is just stunning, lush, extremely green. And, of course, the volcanoes and lakes aren’t bad either.

Breakfast before the ascent

We first stopped at a local farm growing cocoa and coffee, and now offering agri-tourism. This particular place was famous for a very special type of coffee — Kopi Lemak — made from coffee beans which have been eaten and excreted by the civet cat. The farm had a few civet cats in big cages and I suppose they eat a heck of a lot of coffee beans. The beans are collected, cleaned, roasted, and turned into what I have to admit was one of the best cups of coffee I ever had. Can’t imagine who invented Kopi Lemak though… how did they even think of doing this? It was damn good, but the farm was trying to sell a bag of beans for US $50. One cup I guess would have to do for now.

Beans drying in the sun
Bottoms up!!

After getting all hopped up on far too many cups of coffee and ginger tea, we were ready to start our biking. This was definitely a lazy man’s ride — it was mostly downhill so we got to enjoy coasting through the little villages and Bali’s famed rice terraces. The towns were just amazing, there was absolutely no tourism there; not a gift shop, not a guest house, just the people going about their daily life, tending the fields, taking care of the kids, making offerings at the temples. Everywhere we went, little kids jumped up and down shouting, HELLOOOOOOOOOO!! They were incredibly cute. I suppose they don’t see foreigners in their village very often.

Through the village
Statues on the temple

Kickin’ it in Krazy Kuta

After Ubud, we headed back down to Kuta beach, which is very pretty, but absolutely overrun with horny Australian tourists with bad tattooes and Bintang beers in their hands. We sadly did not have the same luck we had in Ubud in just showing up and finding a place, so we had to walk from place to place asking if they had any rooms. Much to our surprise, all of them were completely booked, so it took us quite a while to find a room! But once we did, we plopped our bags down, changed into our sexy bikinis, and hit the town.

At one of the bars, we met an older Australian gentleman named Clive who said he had been travelling here to surf for over 20 years. He was sunburnt like a piece of old leather and wore a stripe of white sunblock down his nose.

‘I just got these stickers made,’ he said, handing us each one. ‘But check it out — there’s a typo! I gotta take these things back!’

Being an editor, I thought the typos were kind of cool. Can you spot them?

Apparently being a drunk in Bali makes you a bad speller
Beach patrol

Unexciteable, in every way…

That night we decided we would have to check out the vibes and find a little action going on, since Ubud did not have much in terms of nightlife. Kuta had a lot of bars, and a lot of great bands playing, but we kept walking until we reached the next area, Legian. Laura and I found ourselves drawn inside the Apache Reggae Bar which was pumping out some Sizzla. After all, two Caribbean girls living in Asia are just looking for an opportunity to wine down de place!

We walked in the door, and were instantly swarmed by a group of eight very large, beefy and semi-intoxicated Australians from Victoria. The club was still pretty empty but they assured us that it would get better, and that the band was great. We were not disappointed — by 11 pm the place was getting more full, the band was jamming, and Laura and I were having a great time showing these boys how to shake their waist.

I did, however, have a little trouble with one of the guys in the group who was as persistent as the lone mosquito that keeps buzzing in your ear as you try to sleep, the one that you can’t seem to hit no matter how hard you try. This guy just could not take a hint even though I was paying him no attention. Eventually he came up to me, and said a line that really flabbergasted me:

‘Don’t you ever get excited about anything?’

Is this guy serious? I thought to myself.

‘What do you mean by excited? Excited about you?’

He shrugged his shoulders; obviously I hit the nail on the head.

‘Well, I’m excited about the party, about this band, and about the music. And I’m getting married in three months, and I’m VERY excited about that. But you? No, I’m not excited about you one bit.’

And with that, he just walked off! After strutting around like god’s gift to women all night, demanding everyone’s attention, he simply walked off to lick his wounds. Pathetic!

But, the fete was good. Oh gooosh, Laura and I wined down the place! I think they never seen bumsees move like that before. I only wish they had a reggae bar in Hong Kong.

Me and my bemo

On the last day, Laura unfortunately had a flight in the morning, we had to check out at 12 pm, and my flight was not until 8 pm. So I decided to hire a driver for the day, and go do some sightseeing and temple chasing.

We jumped in his car, struggled through the endless Kuta traffic, and went to our first destination — Taman Ayun, the garden and temple of the Mengwi dynasty.

It always amazes me how each country in South East Asia has such distinctive styles and architecture. For example, Chinese temples are entirely different from Japanese, Thai temples are different to Taiwanese, and so forth. Balinese temples seem to be quite heavy on the stonework, carvings, and dark wood. I quite like the style of the meru as well.

Love it!
Peeking in to the temple

The next stop — and my least favourite — was the most southern tip of Bali, an area called Uluwatu. The place was overrun with aggressive monkeys, stupid tourists who were aggravating them and screaming when they got too close, and local ‘guides’ who offered to walk with you and protect you from the monkeys with their big stick, for 50,000 rupiah. The temple itself was not much to look at and I’m really not sure why this place is such a big attraction, considering how much more beautiful Taman Ayun was. However, the view from the top was simply stunning.

Stupid monkeys!


After Uluwatu, it was time to say goodbye to Bali, and get my tail to the airport to head back to KL. I have to say, just once I would like an Air Asia flight to leave on time… but that seems a near impossibility.

In retrospect, if I were to do this trip again, I would probably start by spending one night in Kuta to enjoy the beach and the bars (one day in Kuta is MORE than enough), then head up to Ubud for a few days to do more eco-activities such as hiking and biking, then head north to Tulamben for diving, and further to the north-west coast to see more village life. Bali is quite a large island and really has a lot to offer. I think I would definitely like to go again. Just not to Kuta!


2 thoughts on “Bali with a Backpack

  1. I think you hit Uluwatu at a bad time. Maybe it’s the one temple on Bali you should actually do a little planning ahead for. Arriving there in the evening as the sun sets, and the monkeys grow tired is best; they sit on the walls watching the people go by and the sea roll in. The people you see at that time are also not half as annoying since they’re there specifically to see the kacha dance and there is a more expectant and somewhat more serious atmosphere. Uluwatu is also (in my opinion) the best place to see the kacha dance – as the sun sets over the ocean, a bonfire is lit and tattooed men form a circle around it to begin the dance. The dance itself is quite mesmerizing and interesting to watch as the participants enter a trance-like state. As the ceremony progresses costume-clad dancers portraying different folklore characters act out stories around (through and over) the fire – they sometimes come into the audience, making one feel more like a participant than an observer. By the time the dance ends the sun has set and you’re left sitting around the fire listening to the waves.
    I was not dissapointed.

  2. Thanks for the tip, T. Next time maybe I will give it another try and see the katcha dance!

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