We arrive in Bali, also known as the “Island of the Gods”, due to the 20,000 Hindu temples that are scattered around the island. The island is small in comparison to Sumatra and Java, a mere 95 miles wide and 69 miles north to south, which allows us to visit its many sights at a leisurely pace. Bali’s population is around 4million, of which 92% are Hindu. This is in stark contrast to the rest of Indonesia which is predominantly Muslim. Given that over 80% of Bali’s income is through tourism it is well placed on Australian and other countries “package holiday” destinations.
24th – 25th May Lovina
Arriving a few days before we are due to meet Martin’s Mum and sister we decide to have a few days relaxing on the coast before we hit the hustle and bustle of Kuta, Bali’s main tourist area.
As soon as we set foot on Bali, the roads are fast and virtually clear. We drive along the northern coast road past the mountainous western region of the country and onto Lovina, a low key beachside town, with numerous beachside cottages, located on the north coast. We carry on driving into the main town where after an hour searching we find a good huge room with an equally huge balcony for a bargain price.
Walking down the road for dinner, we immediately notice a change in the number of tourists here, although the LP suggests it is a quiet town. Driving through Sumatra and Java, on many occasions we have been the only foreign tourists around, and have become accustomed to little or no tourism.
We head to the beach to grab a couple of drinks and dinner, walking down the street lined with restaurants. There are offerings outside nearly every door, a sign of homage to the good spirits. We notice that most of the people here are either couples, or older groups of people, and it has the feel of a small island Mediterranean town. All in all, it’s pleasant enough.
The next day is spent relaxing, updating blog and general admin, before a tasty dinner of grilled fresh red snapper!
May 26th Tulamben
We drive to Tulamben, where the USS Liberty, a cargo ship, was torpedoed in 1942; the site is now one of the most popular snorkel and dive sites in Bali. The beach is covered with small to large stones, which makes entering the water barefoot quite difficult. With strong waves pounding us at the same time, Nicole bails out, so I head out alone.
The wreck is 120m long; at its shallowest, the stern is just below the surface at 3-4m, and descends as far as 30m.
We thought we had escaped the crowds arriving mid-morning, however the wreck is crowded not only with snorkelers but also many novice divers just below the surface. The ships broken hull is encrusted with new corals, which stretch into the deep. It’s a fantastic site and one which we hope to come back to another day. The sea life around the wreck is awesome, spotting angelfish, batfish, sweetlips, parrotfish, ghost pipe fish and many others.
Following our snorkel, we carry on round the coast until we reach Padangbai, a small, pretty, compact and scenic town along the water’s edge, within a small bay. We opt for a cheap room with no air-con or hot water for a couple of nights.
27th May Pandangbai
In the morning we head out on a boat for a snorkelling trip, the site is only twenty minutes away, just a couple of bays to the north.
On arriving at the site, we jump into the crystal clear waters, a large coral garden below us, teaming with fish. The boat captain gives us a small bottle of bread each to feed the fish with. Unfortunately the fish are smarter than they look; hundreds of them school together following us through the water, trying to nibble our bare arms and legs. In the end we decide to empty the bottle entirely hoping they will stop following us. Another 30 or 40 metres out, they finally give in and we are able to swim in peace.
We find the snorkel site a little too shallow for us and start swimming towards the dive boats, where we hope to find some deeper coral and larger fish. The boat captain is not too happy with this and shouts for us to come back. On reaching the shallow coral reef Nicole notices a small but menacing fish following her. She tries swimming back and forth, trying to lose the fish but it just does not leave her alone. I swim over to have a look, and I’m shocked to see the fish speeding towards her, trying to ram or bite her, over and over again. I begin to wonder what she had done to the fish! The fish does not seem to let up, in her panic she drops her snorkel which I use to whack the fish, and it finally gives up its attack! Never seen a fish do that before!
Arriving back to shore, we walk up the hill over to Blue Lagoon beach, a beautiful little bay, with good coral on either side which is also teaming with fish. Martin continues snorkelling before we head back to town.
In the evening we head out to a local restaurant overlooking the harbour, with free internet, a family of ducks waddling by as we sit down!
28th July Kuta
In the morning we move on to Kuta, Bali’s notorious tourist town. We find a cheap room in the back streets for the night, manoeuvring the narrow alleyway known as Poppies One.
Surf shops line the main tourist strip along with dozens of hotels, restaurants, warungs and salons. In the evening, we head out to the main street where there are endless bars and night clubs all trying to entice you in. We find it virtually impossible to walk the streets in peace as they are lined with people selling drugs, everything from Viagra to Marijuana to Magic Mushrooms and Crystal meth, which are literally waved in front of our face.
29th -12th July
After picking Clare up from the airport, we head to Ulu Watu on Bali’s southern peninsula. It is famed for the surf breaks, attracting hundreds of surfers to its shores. We walk down to a cafe, where we watch the surfers and enjoy the sunset over a cold drink.
The next day we all go over to Nusa Dua, Bali’s gated 5 star hotel and resort area, expecting a nice beach and good swimming. But we find that the water is really shallow, having to swim quite a long way out through barely knee deep water over long sea grass, before we get to deeper water. There is just one rock with a lion fish on it, and a couple of others swimming around it. We also have a tiny fish barely the size of a thumbnail following us all back to shore! It seems much friendlier than the last one!
The beach seems deserted, people from the luxury resorts preferring to sit within their hotel grounds than on the sands.
We pick up Martin’s mum from the airport and drive through the chaotic and jammed one-way system to her hotel in Kuta. She’s not too tired so we have a few drinks and then go out for some dinner.
The next day, Martin takes the car back to Toyota to have the axle oil leak fixed and the brake master cylinder changed, whilst we go out to the beach, explore a bit of Kuta and do a little bit of shopping.
Bingin is next on the itinerary, a nice, and today deserted, beach reached by some steep steps down a cliff face. There is a surf break here, however with over 40 people out in line up, not many are actually able to get a wave. Dreamlands beach in the distance looks like paradise; a few years back you were able to drive all the way down, however a large hotel complex now engulfs the whole area.
In the evening we take a detour to the famous Jimbaran bay, eager to try out some fresh seafood. The beach is filled with tables and people for as far as we can see. There is a good chilled out atmosphere which gets even better when the freshly grilled tiger prawns, and whole red snapper arrives! Our dishes are chosen from the iced displays and priced according to weight.
We then head to Amed on the far east coast, a few hours drive away. It is a world away from Kuta, with hardly a tourist around. Eventually finding a place to stay, we go for a dip just as the sun is about to set. Leaving our belongings on the black sands, we head for the cool waters and have a swim. We are taken aback by the magnificent views over Gunung Agung, Bali’s highest mountain.
The following day we spend snorkelling from the beach in front of our room. We have lunch in a tiny warung with stunning views over the bay, later driving down the coast where we chance upon a signpost to a Japanese wreck site from WW11. It is surrounded with coral and fish.
We drive to Ubud, visiting the Sacred Monkey Sanctuary. It was a dense jungle area, however is now home to hundreds of long-tailed Balinese macaques with many rice paddies in the surrounding area. An American guy has a huge bunch of bananas in his hand. As he goes to give the monkey one of them, the greedy thing grabs them all, looking quite happy at the fact he won’t have to share them!
Martin puts a clenched hand out, letting the monkey unwrap it, and then does it again, but the third time the monkey clambers on top of him, only getting off after some enticement with a banana or two!
Ubud has changed a lot since Martin was last here, once a humble town with only a few cafe’s and restaurants, it’s now one of Bali’s most expensive and touristy areas, which has lost some of its charms with the influx of tourists and widespread development.
Next we head to Goa Gajah (elephant cave), the fountains and bathing pool with six female figures within the grounds only unearthed in 1954. The cave itself is tiny, we enter through the mouth of a demon which has been carved into the rock face, and completed with stone carvings. Inside there is a statue of the elephant headed god Ganesh.
We spend a couple of days in Padangbai. Martin and Clare go diving whilst Marg and I head to Blue Lagoon for some swimming and relaxation!
They had hoped to dive a couple of sites of Nusa Penida, where they would have the opportunity to dive with Manta rays and Mola Mola, an ocean sunfish and the heaviest known bony fish in the world, with an average weight of 1000kg. However despite rumours, the Mola Mola season does not start until July, and until then it was very unlikely to see any.
Instead they dive a couple of islands off the coast called Gili Mimpang and Gili Teekong.
Returning just after lunch they join us on the Blue Lagoon where we snorkel, swimming through the small channel past the reef and into deeper waters. We find it to be one of the nicest places for snorkelling so far, despite being a relatively small bay, there is an abundance of sea life here.
We head to Gunung Batur (1717m) formed from a 1917 eruption. Three hours later, we stop in Penelokan where we take in the views of the volcano and lake Danau Batur. Travelling a bit further, we arrive in Toya Bungkah, parking up and walking around the lake’s ridge. Arriving at the hot spring, we find it has been engulfed by a huge complex. The complex that surrounds the hot spring now siphon off water to fill the pools, and charge an extortionate amount to use them. Although there is still a small pool where the spring enters the lake, this is off bounds for tourists.
Martins mum is quite eager for dip, so we visit the cheaper of the two complexes and grab some lunch; we find two pools once inside, a hot pool at 38C and a cooler lake-fed pool. Marg goes for a dip whilst we enjoy the views of the lake and volcano at the top.
In the early morning we go to Bali Safari; on entering we seem to be the only ones here, the place is deserted. The park is split in to various zones, which include an aquarium, safari park, and a fun zone.
Coming first to the aquarium, we pass open tanks with various tropical fish, motionless and glistening piranhas with teeth exposed, reef sharks and massive pre-historic looking large gar fish.
We are then treated to a thirty minute jeep ride through the safari park, past lions, tigers, zebras, rhinos and hippos.
This is followed by a close encounter with a baby orang-utan! Both Martin’s mum and I are handed a gorgeous baby orang-utan to hold in our arms, it’s tiny and seems quite content to sit there, munching on a banana!
Next is a staged animal show, later followed by a dramatic performance, a group of elephants with the starring roles. The park is also home to a couple of Komodo dragons and some rare white tigers. Plus the ticket included a ride on a log flume, which we couldn’t turn down!
We return to Ubud for a chance to take in some of the culture and dance shows, buying tickets from a vendor we spot in the main tourist centre. Marg and I go out to Ubud palace to watch the show, leaving Martin behind. I’m surprised that at the door they return the money for his ticket without any problem. Arriving early, we luckily manage to get front row seats, as by the time it kicks off, all the seats are filled.
It is a Legong and Barong dance tonight. A large group of male instrumentalists play loud traditional Balinese gamelan music, followed by a legong presentation. This consists of three dancers, identically dressed in tightly bound ornate outfits. They have full make-up on, perfect hair and a stiff facial expression. They move in unison using mainly head and face movements. Next is the barong dance; a creature reminiscent of a Chinese dancing dragon with two people dancing in it represents good, even though it is quite scary looking! It snaps its jaws at the audience and then duels with the rangda (the witch).
We head back to Ulu Watu temple to watch a traditional dance performance. It is in an amphitheatre type of setting, although on a much smaller scale. However, they manage to pack at least 300 people in! We have views of the ocean and the sun setting behind the dancers. A group of about twenty men chant and move in rhythm with one another, followed by dancing girls.
15th -16th June Singapore
Our plan was to head to Kalimantan, Borneo and drive both sides of the island. However with more and more reports of the difficult road conditions on the Indonesian side and a steep fare of 2,400,000Rp each way, we decide instead to move on to Lombok, and visit Borneo sometime in the future.
Toyota call us and let us know the car is not ready yet as they are having trouble taking the steering rack apart.
We fly to Singapore to renew our visas, deciding to stay for just one night as the accommodation is so expensive. The visa agent tells us that we could have got a six month visa signed off with the documents we already had, if they were addressed to the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore, rather than a two month visa.
The Great Singapore sale is on and the shops are packed with hundreds of women (and a few men) all looking for a fashion fix! There are malls everywhere, on virtually every street in the centre. If you can’t beat them, join them, so I decide to join them and scope out a couple of bargains. The next day we head to Raffles Hotel where the original Singapore Sling was created in 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boon a Chinese bar tender. They taste really good but at £14 a go (plus tax, both here and in Indonesia, most transactions have a 10 to 20% government tax added on) are not cheap!
Back in Bali the next day, we stay a few more days in Kuta whilst we wait for the car and leave for Pandangbai.
We wake up early to queue for the ferry; the process is quite simple, there is no booking required, just turn up, pay, and board the next ferry to Lombok which costs 660,00Rp for a four hour crossing.
We decide to try and sleep during the journey in our car, but find that the heat down below is quite unbearable, and are relieved to finally arrive in Lembar.
Let us know you’re reading and leave us a comment,
Martin & Nicole