Monday, January 27, 2014

Bali: from the sea to the mountains

Shockingly blue sky with puffy, cotton candy clouds.

Tree covered mountains reaching into the sky.

Terraced rice fields as far as the eye can see.

White sandy beaches and a lazy, lapping tide.

Spices and flavors that ignite your taste buds.

... and god damn greedy monkeys.

We stayed in Ubud, which is in central Bali, for 10 days and really enjoyed our time there.

Our mornings were spent drinking banana smoothies and lazing around the pool.
Our afternoons were spent exploring the island and eating delicious local food.
Our evenings were spent listening to the frogs croak and playing euchre on the porch.

Our Bali exploration included:

Rogue monkeys encounters
We were accosted by monkeys on a near daily basis as we walked through the sacred monkey forest to get into town. This area is truly spectacular; it is an ancient Hindu temple built in the forest and moss and nature have grown all around the stone carvings and temples. Unfortunately, a huge monkey population has grown there too. And let me tell you: these monkeys are bastards! They are used to tourists coming into the forest to feed them and allow the monkeys to jump all over them. What did that meant for us, people who had to brave the jungle to walk into town? Bad things, I tell you! In the end, only Sean required rabies shots although we lost a bottle of wine and some soap to thieving monkeys. On at least one occasion, a bullying monkey had Jamie and I near tears as we plucked up the courage to walk past it, all aggressive and alpha, clearly eyeballing our purses. Luckily, our husbands were superheroes and scared away all the forest bullies for us!

Temple hopping
We hired our hotel's owner to drive us to two of Bali's most famous temples, one on a lake and one in the sea. Honestly, both were incredibly disappointing. I don't quite know exactly what I was expecting but what I experienced sure wasn't it. Both were major tourists traps, honestly some of the worst I have ever encountered in all my travels through Asia (and that's saying something). Tacky booths selling all kinds of cheap souvenirs lined the walkways to the temples and everywhere you looked there were tour busses and people with cameras. We couldn't even explore these temples or get close to them; tourists were kept at a distance both times by water. After getting to experience hands on the temples of Thailand and Cambodia, it was a major let down.

On the other hand, Bali is dotted with minor Hindu temples. Drive down any street for five minutes and you are bound to come across one. Unfortunately, the only really cool temple we could literally climb all over and explore was also teeming with bastard monkeys so we spent as little time as possible there.

Coffee, coffee, coffee...and poop
We wandered through the forest with a guide who stopped to show us all of Bali's many spices and herbs like ginger, lemongrass, coffee, etc. We even got to taste the island's specialty: mongoose poop coffee. Apparently, some weirdo discovered that after digging out coffee beans from mongoose poop and cleaning/drying/roasting them for one month, really great coffee can be made. I wondered who would look at coffee beans in poop and think, hey, I have a great idea but in the end, whoever that person was clearly was a genius because the mongoose coffee poop is delicious.

We spent two days driving all over Bali, seeing everything from the ocean, rice plantations, jungles, and mountains. The traffic in Bali is definitely out of control, a result of booming tourism and lagging infrastructure. However, the roads were windy, twisty, mountainous and brimming over with so many interesting things to look at from waterfalls and rivers and ocean vistas and volcanoes to temples and ceremonies and family gatherings and jungle and flowers and so much more.

Wielding cleavers
We took a half-day cooking class and learned to make Balinese fried rice, peanut sauce, a pork dish and much more. They even let me use a meat clever and a grinder. I thought that was very foolish. However, no one was injured over the course of the morning and I had a lot of fun learning to make dishes I had tried and loved at local restaurants.

Beach bumming
Ubud is in central Bali and a good hour drive from the coast. That said, we felt like we had to go to the beach because we were in Bali, you know? So, we talked to our hotel's owner and told him we wanted to go to a beach but definitely not Kuta, which is Bali's best known beach area. Why? Well, let's just say it has a reputation for a Spring Break vibe due to the huge number of Aussies who go to Bali, and Kuta in particular, as part of their gap years. We are kinda over that scene and have been for a while. We wanted something more secluded and mellow. Well, we had a two hour drive that included some off-roading to get to this beach and still there were touts there trying to give us massages and sell us trinkets. It too was also not what I was expecting but Sean and I had a lot of fun playing around in the water and the drive to the beach was through small towns that are on no map so the trip to the beach was still a win in my book.

In the end, Bali was not what I was expecting but still utterly enjoyable and a great place to spend 10 days with good friends relaxing, exploring, and eating. As for next Chinese New Year, that was decided on a hot day in the swimming pool: watch out New Zealand, we will be visiting you next year!!


  1. They stole a bottle of wine? Haha! I hope they figured out how to open it. Must be funny to see a drunk monkey :D But I understand how annoying they are. I wouldn't like to visit the temple because of them and they can really hurt you, don't they? If they just attack you to steal your things.....

    1. We didn't see them drink the wine but we did see them eat the soap :) They were very naughty monkeys!

  2. I'm going to Bali this summer and I can't wait! :) But by now, I have heard so many crazy stories about monkeys that I definitely will have to be careful - they're using their cuteness to give people a false sense of security! ;) What were your favorite things to see in Bali?

    1. I really enjoyed Ubud! My favorite activity we did was a cooking class. It was delicious and a lot of fun!

  3. Bali looks so beautiful! The temples, the scenery, the beach, the good, the people! Recently I've been thinking I'd really love to visit Bali! It's so close to Australia (home) so it's the perfect spot for even a short holiday. I'm not sure I'd be too fond of those monkeys though! Great post :) Carly x

    1. Bali was great! The Hindu culture was so colorful and fun and beautiful!