My love for Bali began when I was around 16 years old. On a flight over to visit relatives in Australia, I had reached a low familiar with any long-haul traveller – resorting to the in-flight magazine (otherwise known as a sales catalogue in disguise) to beat my boredom.
Unusually, an extensive article about the mysterious and somewhat mythical land of Bali held my interest – and promises of majestic temples, white sand beaches and delicious foods all but made my decision: I would, one day, visit paradise.
Fast forward to almost ten years later, and an opportunity, in the form of the bargain vacation site, Holiday Pirate presented itself. £400 Emirates flights to the other side of the world? An executive suite at a luscious hotel for less than the monthly food shop? Surely, this was simply too good to be true.
However, my inner wanderlust could not be contained, and before I knew it, I had clicked book for myself, and my honorary butch, Chris.
Ever the sceptic, I was considerably concerned we’d been duped. Booking our flights through Bravofly, a quick Google of reviews had left the bad kind of butterflies in the stomach. Complaints of cancelled flights seemed to ring true, when a few months after booking, we received a notification that our own flight to Bali had been cancelled.
Tapping into a skill set unique to the Scottish, I immediately began the warpath to seek a reconciliation. After being passed between airlines and Bravofly, it had emerged our flight was still running, it had simply changed times, and with further correspondence, our tickets were reissued – and gradually my blood pressure began to reduce.
However, up until check in at the airport, I remained anxious, expecting upon delivery at the desk to be told: “£400 for return tickets to the other side of the world? You’ve been had.” However, all was well, and before we knew it, we were kicking back to relax with complimentary wine, curry and ice cream as we began our journey to Bali.
The flights were perfect, so surely there would be a hitch at the other end of the world, right? Wrong.
It was exactly as had been promised. A smooth transition from the airport to our hotel in the cultural capital of the island, Ubud, set us up nicely for a sleep after a 22 hour journey. Upon arrival at the Royal Villa Jepun, we were greeted graciously by staff and given fresh fruit juice to refresh our palette after such a long trip.
Once checked in, we were led to our room, passing stunning gardens, ponds and shrines as we passed. Despite being relatively extroverted as an individual, never in my life have I felt compelled to stream live to Facebook, but upon entering our room, I was ready to make the exception.
A luxurious four poster super king-size bed awaited our sleepy peepers. Rustic wooden furniture tastefully decorated the room. Our doors locked old-style with bars across the door – what a novelty!
Our bathroom, however, was the true piece-de-resistance – rainfall showers outdoors, a bath big enough to comfortably bathe two people at once. Who would have thought a poo in paradise could be so wonderful?
The following morning, we stepped out to see our accommodation in the daylight. Incense burned strong through the air, the sweet aroma a pleasant welcome into the day. A beautifully constructed package of rice and flowers had been left outside our door – a daily occurrence which we later learned was an offering made to appease the gods and demon spirits – only a small insight into the deeply spiritual culture of the Balinese people.
Ubud Royal Palace & The Monkey Forest
Basing ourselves for the entirety of our stay in Ubud meant heritage and culture was only a stone’s throw away. Our first port of call – a visit to Ubud town centre to get our lay of the land. Our initial exploration led us to the Ubud Royal Palace – a truly ornate and spectacular site to behold. Easily accessible from the main roads in Ubud, there was simply no reason not to visit this truly outstanding example of Balinese sculpture craftsmanship.
After a quick recce of the area, we proceeded down the road to visit the legendary Monkey Forest. Prior to travelling to Ubud, we had been warned to approach the monkeys of the forest with caution – thanks to tourists feeding the monkeys, they had developed quite aggressive personalities, but in all honesty, practising common sense (such as not deliberately antagonising them) meant exploring the Monkey Forest was a privilege to get up close with the critters without the confines of the mesh and cages of a zoo.
Being hardcore foodies, our pre-holiday research had suggested seeking out a local warung by the name of Naughy Nuri’s. Much like its namesake, the internationally famous eatery promised indulgences of barbecued Indonesian and western specialities – with Satay as well as Chicken with Chips on the menu, this was the perfect destination for two travellers seeking to adjust to the South Asian palette.
Naughty Nuri’s was established in 1992, and has since gone on to expand across Asia, placing eateries in Seminyak (Bali,) Kuala Lumper and Macau.
Imagine our delight to discover the very original Naughty Nuri’s was located a mere two buildings down from our hotel! Needless to say, we visited the warung almost daily – and by the time we left, had literally bought the t-shirts to commemorate our love of the place.
On our second night, jet lag won. Exhausted after our 22 hour trip, bedtime at 4pm seemed more than reasonable. However, what was a nap led to a wide-awake interlude at 10:30pm. I was busting boredom (as everything in Ubud shuts down around this time) by delving into the much acclaimed Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, when the entire room began to rattle, I irritably asked Chris, “What on Earth are you doing?” to which he replied “Nothing! I think it must be somebody in a cellar beneath us.”
Around 10 seconds later, everything was calm. We quickly drifted asleep.
In the morning, we found out it had actually been an earthquake off the south coast of Java!
Of course, we knew Bali sat upon the somewhat turbulent Ring of Fire, however, witnessing the natural phenomenon of shifting tectonic plates was quite the experience! Thankfully, our experience of an earthquake was completely harmless and had absolutely no negative effects on our holiday.
The locals were hardly fazed by the shake, as we later learned this is a fairly common occurrence, with earthquakes occurring around once a month.
A Taste of Bali – Paon Cooking
Never one for lazing around by the pool for long, our cultural quest led us to book Ubud’s sought after Paon Cooking class. Assured by rave reviews on TripAdvisor, we geared up for a day of delightful cookery (albeit somewhat anxiously – I am well known for setting fire to nachos.)
Our morning began with a pick-up from our hotel – our first stop the Ubud Traditional Markets. We were greeted by our guide for the morning, Wayan, who proceeded to navigate us through the markets, explaining bargaining, religious offerings and how the Balinese bought their produce day to day.
Exploring the fruits of Bali was an experience to behold – being a foodie, I thought I was pretty well-versed in all things fruit and veg – how wrong I was! Wayan took us through a sensational palette of fruit and shared all sorts of wonderful and weird produce with us, fresh off the stalls.
Once our encounter with the Ubud Traditional Markets was complete, we were picked up a gentleman, also by the name of Wayan and taken to the village of Laplapan (a name that incidentally translates to “Fried Chicken”) to explore the paddies and ways of rice farming in Bali.
Once our session at the paddies was complete, it was time to get cooking and we were dropped off at the expansive and impressive home of Paon Cooking. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the husband of our chef tutor (Puspa) who frankly was absolutely hilarious – it was a struggle not to snort out our welcome drink as he made us feel one of the family with the mantras of “Happy Wife, Happy Life” and “Would you like to see my CCTV?” – a pair of Chihuahua dogs.
The open-air kitchen beckoned, and Puspa began our session by running through the (eight!) dishes we would cook that afternoon, outlining impeccable hygiene procedures and taking down the dietary considerations of other students. On the cue of “start your engines” we were thrown into a hands-on experience of Indonesian crafting and cookery – a foodie’s dream. From using the “Bali Blender” to observing the Balinese barbecue in action, the whole experience was truly immersive.
Eight dishes were no mean feat – and by the end of our day, we sat down with the new friends we had made (Puspa and the other students) and dined until our hearts were utterly content.
It was an impressive beginning to our Balinese adventure – and left us wondering, what could possibly supersede setting the bar so high?
Ascending Mount Batur
The answer came in the form of a hike up an active volcano to see the sunrise – with the hike beginning in the middle of the night. As our pick-up arrived at the hotel from Bali Eco Tours at 2am, I did wonder what fresh hell I had brought upon myself and my partner. We hopped into the back of the van, introduced ourselves to a fellow Singaporean couple who were hiking with us and drifted off to sleep on possibly the bumpiest two hour ride ever.
After a refreshment stop on the way, we shortly found ourselves at the bottom of the mountain and were duly introduced to our guide, Bagas. Looking around at other hikers, decked out in North Face’s finest climber gear, we did worry that we had…underprepared for the ascent. I needn’t have worried – for later on, I would discover our guide had climbed half the mountain in flip flops.
Climbing Mount Batur is challenging for many, even more so for somebody who’s idea of exercise is a spritely walk to work in the morning. Around an hour into our hike, I was ready to surrender and be one of those people you see rescued from the side of a mountain. My chest felt as though it was going to burst. However, our guide Bagas rallied us and kept saying “You can do it, I believe in you! Just ten more minutes!” The truth is, he pretty much hauled me up the mountain, making sure our party slowed enough to allow me to take ample breaks. For that, my lungs and I are eternally grateful.
Eventually, we reached the halfway point. With half an hour to go before sunrise, we were preparing to make the final ascent to the top when disaster struck: a wall of thick cloud blew in from the east, obscuring our view of the incredible Mount Agung opposite.
We were in a pickle. Given my difficulties climbing the mountain, was it even worth continuing on? Our group debated for a few minutes, before we reached the consensus that we would continue to the top, if only to say we had conquered the mighty Batur.
As we approached the summit, something truly incredible happened. As if on cue, a gust of wind cleared the way, and in a literal minute, we caught the sunrise peaking over the east side of Mount Agung. We had made it, and in the nick of time too!
As a person, I’m not particularly spiritual, but to call the moment that gust of wind swept in anything else would be a lie. Our guide, Bagas, went wild as the sun rose in its glory and our group cheered with jubilation. Once we’d had our fill of photo moments (including a sneaky few wonderful ones taken in secret by our guide) we took the hike over to explore the crater – a walk in the park compared to the climbing ordeal up!
Three chocolate bars, an encounter with monkeys and the most authentic sulphur steam facial in the world later, we began our descent, the tendons and muscles in our legs screaming at every step. Thankfully, a hot spring awaited us after what felt like forever – but in reality was only 8am in the morning.
Needless to say, later that day we employed the help of the Balinese masseuses to help us walk again.
Karsa Spa & the Campuhan Ridge
I’d like to pretend I have great foresight, but the fact I booked a 2am hike and massage consecutively is down to nothing but lucky circumstances. Our next stop on our Balinese adventure was to the world renowned Karsa Spa.
Believing strongly in the health benefits of regular massage, I was no stranger to spas, but Karsa Spa’s panoramic views, massive baths, treatment beds located in ornate therapy rooms, ponds full of carp and selection of teas left us utterly speechless. Karma is by no means the cheapest spa in Ubud, but in my opinion, you’d be hard pressed to find a spa of such breathtaking levels in the world let alone Bali.
Once our four hour extreme pamper session was up, it was time to grab lunch at the conveniently located on-site cafe and head back into Ubud central via the Campuhan Ridge.
The Campuhan Ridge is a stretch of path winding through the wonderful and magnificent rice terraces surrounding Ubud. Typically a 20 minute walk into town, a leisurely stroll in the heat may take those not used to the climate double. The beauty of the Campuhan Ridge is unparalleled and offers views similar to something you’d see in a travel documentary. Travelling along the path allows visitors to gain an insight into the graft that rice farmers put into their daily labours. For us, it was the end to spectacular day.
A Temple Tour
Before flying out to Bali, we’d read up on our transport options. As the island attractions, even locally are fairly split out, and public transport very limited, tourists have three options: private car driver hire, private car hire (although this is not recommended) or hiring a scooter. Trust me when I say, Bali is not the place to learn how to ride a scooter. The roads are wild!
Taking the safest option, we opted to hire a driver from Ubud Friendly Driver for two days during our trip – with the first day focusing on the local area and soaking up the local culture.
We’d been promised great things by Ubud Friendly Driver, and our chauffeur for the day, Jun did not disappoint. Within eight hours, Jun took us on a rollercoaster adventure of: a Balinese performance, visiting the Tegenungan Waterfall, temple after local temple, a coffee plantation (more on this in a moment) before finally finishing at the world-famous Tegalalang Rice Terrace. Phew.
The Jobby Coffee
Travelling 22 hours to the other side of the world results in a nasty side effect called jet lag, however, flying to one of the most coffee-rich parts of the world meant an injection of caffeine was never far away. During our first day with Jun, upon discussing our love for coffee, a devilish smile took over his face and he asked, “Do you want to go to a coffee plantation?”
The answer of course, was yes, and we sped off to a coffee plantation, as I grew in excitement at the thought of trying the most expensive coffee in the world – Luwak.
Upon arriving at the plantation, we were given a tour through the farm and informed of how exactly the famed coffee was made: from poo. Civet poo to be precise.
Civets, creatures similar to a cross between a cat and a ferret, are allowed to roam free and eat berries from the plantation at night. The berries are then treated within the digestive system of the civet and then pooed out. Farmers the next day, trawl the grounds for the Civet poo, to later be washed and roasted into Luwak coffee beans.
During our trip to the plantation, we were treated to a number of coffees and teas on the house. Being avid coffee fans, we decided to take the plunge and try some Luwak for a nominal fee of 10,000 rupiah. We left with almost £60 worth of coffee in tow. It. Was. GOOD. So good in fact, our enthusiasm delighted our plantation guide, who as we left, threw in an extra pot of coffee – the cherry on top of an already amazing day.
A Tour with a Local
Our second day with Jun saw us take a trip to the south of Bali, to the tourist hot spot of Nusa Dua, Jimbaran Bay and Uluwatu, to enjoy a mix of watersports (including snorkelling for the first time), a lunch of legendary seafood (caught that day!), tours of Bali’s most scenic beaches and one of Bali’s most sacred and magnificent temples.
The sights to see were spectacular, no doubt, but what really made our tour was Jun – who quickly identified us as the culture hungry type and took us under his wing, showing us the best of the local culture, educating us on the deeply spiritual current that runs through Balinese communities. Our fears of being taken to all the usual tourist traps were assuaged instantly, the day flew in and by the time 5pm hit, we were ready for a serious nom at Nuri’s and to head straight to bed.
A New Calling? Perhaps Not: Silversmithing
Ever in search of new hobbies, our next stop was a silversmithing workshop at Chez Monique. Heading to our location for the day, we both had grand aspirations, however, Ernest Jones we were not.
Seeing our silversmith tutors in action gave us great respect for the talent – by the end of our session, we had crafted two (albeit messy) silver rings. Going through the entire process gave us insight into the skill involved in crafting truly ornate designs – there were no CAD machines to be had – everything was done by hand – from the initial design drawings, to the forgery and detailing.
What came as the biggest shock of all, however, was how unbelievably cheap silver sold for in Ubud, given the unreal talent and skills each silversmith at Chez Monique had.
An Afternoon with an Artist
Never far away from a sketchpad and pencil at home, booking in with Five Art Studio for a lesson in Keliki painting (a native, and incredibly detailed form of local art) was a must-do. We had booked originally for a three hour session, but our host Wayan, his family and colleagues welcomed us warmly into their studio (which was also their home) to talk, eat and drink for the whole day!
Our day was filled with laughter, and before we knew it, we had produced some souvenirs that were truly unique. Upon leaving, we had to stop and purchase some of the studio’s art – Wayan and his colleagues are truly talented individuals, and to walk away without at least one or two prized professionally painted Keliki pieces would be a sin.
During our session at Five Art Studio, we were showered with cake, water and more – and were never left to want. Our afternoon saw us touring around the inside of a Balinese home complex by our teacher. Taking a lesson at Five Art Studio went beyond a standard tuition session: it was a rare, sought-after glimpse into the life of a local – we were truly privileged to be allowed to experience first hand village life.
An Adventure in Bali – Notable Mentions
To share every aspect of our adventure in Bali would turn this blog into nothing short of a novella, however, there are some highlights that are just too good to not mention:
Ubud Traditional Spa
Our final day saw us head to one of Ubud’s most highly rated spa’s: the Ubud Traditional. Greeted with a fresh glass of water, our masseuses took time to consult us on our pressure preferences, areas of focus and type of massage. During our time in Bali, this was the first spa we came across with indoor air conditioning – it was a welcome cool down from the tropical, humid temperatures of the outdoors. Upon finishing our massage, our hosts welcomed us to stay and enjoy a refreshing plate of watermelon and pineapple, alongside a ginger tea. It was positively exquisite.
The streets of Ubud Central are lined with no shortage of shops, however many sell the tourist wares I typically avoid – wooden phalluses, harem pants, the usual. However, during my exploration of the town centre, I happened by a lovely little boutique by the name of Portobello, and being the typical fashion blogger, couldn’t pass up the chance to visit, and perhaps purchase a silk kimono or two. Keen to find out about the history of the brand, the shop assistant kindly obliged to my quick fire of questions and I found out all clothes were designed and made in Bali, making my purchases truly unique and supportive of local business.
What’s better than guilt free shopping, right?
When thinking of Bali, many picture white sand beaches, crystal clear seas and cocktails by the dozen. However, being located in the heart of the jungle made hitting the waves more than a little difficult. Enter Jungle Fish, the beach club of the jungle – located just a short distance away from Karsa Spa. Built into the sides of a rice terrace, Jungle Fish is a pool club that offers valley views, hanging canopy sun beds and an infinity pool.
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It’s the perfect afternoon of escape on a very busy holiday.
Ubud Raw Chocolate
Ubud is a clean-eater’s paradise. No matter where you go, there’s a vegan or paleo option on the menu. In fact, there are entire restaurants dedicated to a clean-lifestyle. Upon our jaunts around the town centre, in cafe after cafe, we came across the product of a young start-up: Ubud Raw Chocolate.
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Yes, that’s right. Healthy chocolate. Composed of palm sugar, cocoa beans and coconut oil, Ubud Raw Chocolate provided an alternative to the preservative ridden supermarket specials. I was desperate to take some home, but as the chocolate has to be kept refrigerated to stay at its best, there was simply no way a mammoth pack would have survived the flight home.
The Hugh Hefner Taxi
The last day of any holiday is always bittersweet. As we flagged down our last taxi in Ubud, I could feel the lump building in my throat – I knew our time was down to the hour in my new favourite place. However, fate occasionally likes to throw a curveball – and in my instance, that curveball was a taxi of Hugh Hefner proportions.
Needless to say, hailing a cab that had leopard print upholstery even on the gear stick quickly turned my melancholy into stifled laughter as I tried to covertly snap the interiors of possibly the greatest taxi in the world.
The Trip of a Lifetime – Bali
It’s very rare to visit a destination with high hopes, only to be exceeded consistently. Our adventure to Bali is one I will cherish for a lifetime, along with the friends like Puspa, Bagas and Jun that we made along the way. If you’re seeking something further than a fortnight in Spain, then take the chance on Bali. It’s food for your soul.