In the run-up to our backpacking adventure I’d spoken with a few friends about our plans to travel to these incredible Indonesian islands and they didn’t have one bad thing to say about it! Of course sometimes that can backfire with expectations being too high, but not in this case, my experience of Bali exceeded even the highest praise. I suppose I did however picture lots of couples on honeymoon and tourists around every corner but we were delighted to find that you can easily escape the tourist hotspots and delve into real Bali life.
In case you don’t know, Bali has amazing accommodation at ridiculously cheap prices and because it would be impossible to pay so little for something in the UK, it was a no-brainer for us to spend a bit more for such luxury. The places we stayed in were incredible and we found great deals through Agoda and Booking.com
So here’s the first part of our journey around Bali!
Albeit the rainy season my friend Ben and I decided to head to Bali for two weeks just before Christmas. Obviously you never know when the next tropical storm might roll in and we were lucky enough to have a window of perfect weather. Now I’m in England and Ben is in New Zealand and so we met at Ngurah Rai International Airport in the capital, Denpasar. One thing to note is that if any travel agencies tell you that you can’t fly from Gatwick, well it simply isn’t true and when I was searching, Emirates offered the best prices from there. Also, the prices often jump up and down, when they go up it doesn’t necessarily mean they will continue to rise so don’t believe everything you hear!
After a long-awaited and excitable hello at the airport and being immersed in the glorious holiday heat once stepping outside, we headed to our first hotel; Sun Island Hotel & Spa Legian located in Kuta district, where we’d booked two nights. If you are like us, and love nature and being active, then my advice would be to head straight out of Denpasar. However we wanted to have a night not far from the airport in order to recoup. We took one of the ‘Bluebird’ taxis which are meant to be the safest (always agree a fare before you jump in), which went well until we realised the taxi driver had dropped us off at the wrong sister hotel (always check you’re in the right place before you get out!) We paid an amount that should have been to the other one further away and because we didn’t want to get ripped-off again we decided to walk the half hour to the right one.
As we approached the centre of Kuta we were surrounded by a number of bars, clubs and restaurants and stepping into the hotel, we felt cocooned by the peace and quiet that contrasted with the bustling streets outside. We took it easy and headed out to grab food.
The next morning we expected a fairly average ‘included breakfast’ and instead walked into a choice of not only Balinese and European foods but to top it off, an ‘egg station’ where you could request your preferred style. Seriously, if you are a food lover – highly recommended!
After our amazing breakfast we decided to head out to the mangrove forests and beaches east of the city. After trying to barter with a few people for a scooter, we eventually agreed a fare of 50,000IDR (100,000 Indonesian Rupiah equals approximately 5.34 pound sterling) for the rest of the day and were given a Honda Scoopy. It’s always tricky working out the going rate when you’ve just arrived somewhere but you won’t get lower than 40,000 IDR usually. They are great for easy travelling but once out in the hills, you may need a Honda Vario or better to get up the hills! Jumping on we cruised along the streets towards the Mangrove Forest. Unfortunately as we turned down the lane towards the management centre it quickly became apparent that the mangrove forest was swamped by rubbish. We continued further to see if it improved but it was all covered in plastic waste. We had assumed with a management center, it would be kept relatively clean, but alas no. We parked up to explore but we couldn’t enter without paying an entrance fee of 200,000IDR!
Considering the condition of the place we decided to abandon our endeavour and instead headed south towards Peninsula Island on Nusa Dua where there looked to be sandy beaches judging google maps! We opted to travel along the Mandara Toll Road which cuts through the middle of the inlet, but be warned that you can’t pay for one trip, you have to buy a ‘Unik’ card that has a minimum set of six trips for 50,000IDR which can be topped up. So avoid the toll road if you don’t want to do this.
As we rode through Bualu, we noticed that it was a much more upmarket area with manicured gardens framing the roads. We found free parking and then took a short walk around Peninsula Island and to the ‘waterblow‘, making our way across jagged lava rocks so that we could look over the edge. We then walked along Nusa Dua Beach which was really lovely – no rubbish and beautifully warm and sandy. The beach was fronted by luxury hotels, hence why it was kept so clean and there were workers constantly collecting washed up seaweed and rubbish to maintain its pristine look.
We enjoyed meandering along and went up to the beach bar at Ayodya Resort. The atmosphere was great and the staff were so friendly and easy-going, we really enjoyed our time there sipping delicious smoothies and relaxing in the warm breeze. We were keen to get in the ocean, so we spent time splashing around, there was a remarkably strong current to swim against! It was lots of fun and we were really glad we’d made the decision to find a nice beach instead!
Waterblow, Nusa Dua
Nusa Dua Beach
View from Ayodya Resort beach bar
On our way back to the hotel, we were pulled over by the police and nearly got fined a huge amount for not having our international driving licence with us, luckily we ended up paying a smaller bribe of 200,000IDR but it was a bit annoying! In the cities they have check points, once out in the rural areas it’s unlikely to happen but it was unfortunate for us!
That evening we had the rooftop pool all to ourselves and spent the majority of the evening there. Afterwards we ate at a restaurant with live music which we’d spotted earlier in the day called Etnik.
The next morning we checked out and took a taxi to Toya Villa, a stunning location near Ubud, our journey there cost 300,000IDR, a little more than just to Ubud as we were further out. We initially agreed 250,000IDR but once at Ubud he refused to drive further until we paid more, even though we were initially quite clear that it was a bit further out from Ubud!
Our negotiating issues were soon forgotten as we walked into Toya Villa, our jaws just dropped, it was paradise. We were jumping around with excitement, it really is amazing what you can get for your money in Bali!
After exploring and generally being balled-over, we managed to hire a scooter for the two days we had there, paying 120,000IDR. More than usual but we were literally in the sticks and it was our only option! We jumped on the bike and even five minutes down the road we were following a little path with rice fields falling away either side, it was all so breath-taking. Everyone we passed smiled and waved and there was such a positive, friendly and easy-going atmosphere. Also, staying out from Ubud meant that there were no other travellers around and it was so much more rural. We headed off to find a waterfall and passed a sign saying ‘Tangkup Waterfall‘, different to the one we were searching for and as we pondered whether to investigate, the owner happened to turn in and said something along the lines of “follow me”. At least we hoped he’d said that and was going to lead us to the waterfall. He ended up riding on ahead and we made our own bouncy way along the dirt track, thinking we might have gone wrong and nearly turning around we eventually came to a little sign up ahead.
Road to Tangkup Waterfall
We saw the guy we’d met and looked around, he had spent years creating paths, terraces and streams, it was very pretty and had such a charm about it. He offered to show us to the waterfall, so we followed behind whilst he casually swung a scythe to and fro which was a little unnerving! With no-one else around and wondering if we were actually going to our deaths we eventually came to a little waterfall. To be fair, it wasn’t impressive but as we walked back along the river and enjoyed the landscape more, it was really just the place and the beauty of it all that was far more impressive. I felt I could have just sat there looking out across the valley and enjoying the sounds of nature for hours. We said goodbye, leaving a small donation and skidded our way back to the road.
Tangkup Waterfall Gardens
Whizzing along and enjoying being in such lush nature, we embraced the freedom on the bike and followed a road that turned into a track through stunning rice paddies. Jumping off for short walks here and there along the way we enjoyed the stunning surroundings and took turns riding the bike. There was no-one else around and only a few locals went by, curiously smiling at us.
Back on a paved road we passed a group of boys playing football and decided to stop for a while. Laughing, smiling and fooling around, we enjoyed their company and they were delighted we’d stopped to join in.
That evening we discovered the most incredible place for dinner, not even officially open yet but accepting passers-by, we were welcomed into Bebek Ceking Bali. From the road it looked nice and simple, and then we discovered that there were steps behind that lead into the most beautiful landscaped gardens and seating areas. The owners were so kind and friendly and the food was divine! They had been crafting the place for a couple of years, clearing piles of rubbish away and building everything by hand. I am sure that it will become a very popular spot. As it was not well-known yet, we were the only visitors but it didn’t matter at all, it had such a wonderful relaxing quietness with channels of water bubbling by.
On the way home, it was dark and a little cold. But our minds were taken off the chill for a while as we rounded one corner and were greeted by fireflies flashing just above the rice paddy fields. We slowed down watching them glide around, it was magical.
After enjoying our breakfast the next day, whilst chatting with an American lady at the table, we headed out to Tegallalang Rice Terraces. Paying a small entrance fee we entered into the famous valley and strolled along the various paths covering the hillsides. There were quite a number of tourists which at first, put me off the place but once we had walked for a while, we escaped all the people and found ourselves utterly alone, thank goodness! Walking further out gave a much better experience and feel for the place and there were also other small valleys over from the main one. Lots of people were doing the popular swings, of which there were various points you can do this. We almost did but it didn’t feel like the right place for it and we were glad we held-out as we had the best experience doing it later on Nusa Penida!
Biking around Gianyar near Ubud
Tegallalang Rice Terraces
Tegallalang Rice Terraces
For lunch we stopped at Bebek Ceking Bali again and had another delicious meal. We were also handed some fruits cut from their trees to try, one was durian fruit. I have never tried it before so was keen to see what it was like and I couldn’t work out if I liked it or not, it was so strange! The texture was like avocado but smoother but the taste was like no other. I didn’t mind the smell which the fruit is notorious for!
In the afternoon we headed towards the Campuhan Ridge Walk near Ubud. After a quick drink at Randji restuarant near the start of the trail, we followed the easy path. It’s not too long and not as enthralling as it’s made out to be, there are far more beautiful places to visit in my opinion! Heading back the way we’d gone, we then drove into Ubud centre which was nicer than I’d imagined with pretty streets and lots of shops with attractive items to buy.
After pondering whether to visit the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary due to it being another tourist place, we were not disappointed. The sanctuary is huge and laid out really well and we spent a good while making sure we’d explored the whole place. The monkeys can be quite inquisitive and cheeky and we had to keep an eye on our belongings! There is one ‘tomb raider’ style area with huge roots cascading down from towering trees which was also impressive.
The journey out of Ubud was heavy with traffic and we kept an eye out for a place to eat dinner. We found another wonderful restaurant called Layana Warung, again with hidden views with a waterfall beyond the road. Settling in, we enjoyed the scenery and as dusk came the fairy lights twinkled and the waterfall was lit up. Again, we were absolutely loving it. That evening, back at Toya Villa, we spent our last evening dozing by the pool and going for a dip, there was no-one else around which was nice. We had been so busy exploring and barely had time to enjoy the villa!
While in Ubud we had arranged for a taxi to pick us up the next morning and so we made our journey to Mount Batur, spending 300,000IDR for the taxi ride. We couldn’t book two consecutive nights at the same place so our first night was spent at Villa Jempana, a relatively new resort, with some construction work going on. But that didn’t deter from the place. With landscaped gardens, swimming pool and a wonderful view of the lake, we enjoyed relaxing in the villa which was big enough to swing an elephant, let alone a cat. We were kindly given a free scooter and that afternoon went out to explore.
The lake-side by Mount Batur was far less populated than we had imagined and there was no central hub, instead properties were scattered along the edge. We headed north from our villa, passing through a small village and soon after we were riding up quite a steep road – too steep for our scooter which was struggling up the hill. I had to jump off and walk up but as we neared the next corner we realised it was going to be a continuous incline. A young guy stopped and said I could hop on the back of his bike which was kind and after just a minute we came to a viewpoint where we pulled over to take some pictures. He then offered to take me further on his bike with Ben on the other but we were keen to be solo. However he then said that we should pay for taking us literally 30 seconds up the road. I said it was unfair and wrong to ask for that and if he was offering a service, he should have made that clear before offering to give me a ride out of what I thought was kindness. Of course he was trying his luck but being cornered like that is not right and not something I am keen to endorse. Otherwise it gets worse and makes travelling not much fun when you can’t trust whether someone is genuine or not.
Village near Mount Batur
After that we could only head back down and half an hour later we had made it to the southern end instead where we parked in a pretty spot overlooking the lake. We walked down to the waters edge where children were playing and a lady was washing clothes in the shallow water. Although sadly polluted with rubbish, there was a beautiful tranquility about it.
Mount Batur lake
A local guy approached us and invited us to have a drink at his shop. We were dubious at first after our earlier encounter, and sensing our hesitation he said he wished only to be friendly. After talking for a little while it became apparent that he was true to his word and we had a great chat with him whilst sipping free Balinese tea. He was keen to get to know us and gave us helpful tips on the area and suggested a great place for dinner that overlooked the lake and reassured us that the bike would make it up the mountain! So we said our goodbyes and headed to Lakeview restaurant. At the top it was considerably cooler but just about warm enough to sit outside admiring the view. It was also a welcome relief to not have flies buzzing around us, we were informed that it was due to the farming season but the flies were just everywhere down by the lake! Ordering some locally caught fish, we tucked into our meals and watched the mountains turn a hazy purple as twinkling lights appeared.
The next morning we were kindly dropped off to our booked accommodation down the road at Volcano Terrace Bali. The hosts were very welcoming and we checked into our villa with a fantastic view of the lake. Unfortunately we no longer had use of our free bike so went hunting for another which turned into a bit of a mission, asking various vendors for a good price which started at 200,000. We eventually agreed a price of 80,000IDR for the rest of the day from a not so cheerful lady just outside of Arlina’s Guesthouse! Keen to get going as the day was ticking on, we headed towards Mount Abang which we hoped to hike. Having looked briefly on alltrails for a starting point we hoped that the way would make itself clear. We had decided to follow a road that came to a dead end up the mountain and as we turned onto it, we were approached by a woman who came out of a ticket office saying that we needed to pay an entrance fee which turned out to be a ridiculous amount, something like 500,000IDR! Now a big problem and scam in the Mount Batur area is the mafia equivalent that operates in the area and has enforced illegal costs not only on tourists but locals as well through means such as this. Knowing this we backtracked and carried on further and worked out another route which worked out perfectly! Taking some country lanes we bypassed the so-called ticket office by turning off here and making our way to here! Even if you don’t hike, the roads and views in this area are so awesome to ride along and it was so lush and beautiful. We tucked the bike up a path and started walking up, avoiding a property incase we were checked for tickets. The path was pretty obvious and easy to follow and it soon became quite strenuous, our exercising before the holiday was paying off!
We were surrounded by moss and trees and at times the path opened out to reveal a steep drop down to the lake. We ascended into mist which drifted up and through the trees, it felt very mystical. We passed a couple of Hindu temples and after a few hours we made it to the top where a larger complex of shrines were gathered. We looked around and watched the mist drift up and over the ridge-line where the path seemed to continue and although tempting to carry on, it was late in the day and we had no more provisions. It would be great to walk along the whole ridge-line framing the lake though! Now and then we caught sight of the water below as the clouds shifted, it was a near shear drop straight down!
Top of Mount Abang
After our hike, and feeling ravenous, we went to a restaurant that we’d passed on our way to Lakeview restaurant, also with great views. We had the whole place to ourselves and sat out on the balcony, luckily with a roof over our heads as rain started to pour down. It was a rather wet ride later back to our villa and we were keen to warm up and feel refreshed once back!
It was our final day in Mount Batur and so we prayed for clear skies as we got ready at 4am to do the popular Mount Batur trek. With an aim to avoid doing a guided trek (although obligatory according to the mafia), we headed out in an attempt to find a track leading up the mountain. It didn’t take long until we were accosted by men on bikes who left after we ignored them but then a group of travellers on bikes pulled over seeking our help. They said they were being followed, threatened and filmed by men who would arrive shortly, and sure enough they came up on their bikes and started being extremely intimidating and saying no-one can hike without a guide. At this point we realised that the situation was a lot more intense than we’d imagined and all we could do was wish them luck and carry on. Of course, a moment later we had a few people tracking us and realised we’d have to agree a price. They were demanding a lot and it felt so horrible that we decided not to bother doing the trek and turn back, after-all it was supposed to be an enjoyable experience. Although we’d walked away, a few minutes later they came to us saying “ok, ok, how much?” And so in a last attempt to do the hike we agreed to a guide for 100,000IDR for the two of us. We insisted that there be no more costs and they said there wouldn’t be, not really believing them we handed over the money, were handed torches and followed our guide into the darkness. Not wanting any animosity from that point on, I made small talk with him and focussed on the walk without dwelling on what had previously occurred. We soon had a good pace and he was certainly pleased we were fit saying “you very fast!” which made him happy, after-all it would be a shorter work day for him! We passed some “security” on the way and carried on through a couple of rest points, we were keen to get going and didn’t want to miss the sunrise! Some people had been given lifts on motorbikes and flew past us.
There had been drizzle when we started and so we weren’t sure what we would see from the top but as we climbed and the sky lightened, the clouds began to disperse and we couldn’t believe it when we caught a glimpse of Mount Rinjani on Lombok island! In our excitement we plowed on, eager not to miss the sunrise and ran the last section. By the time we were at the top, all the high cloud had disappeared and there were many people excitedly waiting for the sun to appear. Our guide was quite controlling telling us exactly where to go and what to do and I had to firmly say to him “Don’t worry, you stay here and we will look around!” We were so glad that after all the palaver, we had made it and could’t believe how fortunate we were with the weather! The views were fantastic and it was great to look across to Mount Agung which we’d hiked the day before!
View from Mount Batur overlooking Mount Batur lake and Mount Abang
View from Mount Batur overlooking countryside to the West
Walking the ridge-line on top of Mount Batur
Our guide said he would take us around the crater for a price and we said we would do it alone and not pay a price. He gave in and said he would take us for no price – he was just trying his luck! So we walked along the ridge and had fun sliding down scree the other side. We could have stayed there longer, relaxing and enjoying the view but our guide was pressurising us to go back down which was a shame. Luckily we just about had our fill and pretty much flew back down and by 8am we were back at our villa enjoying breakfast in our room whilst gazing over the lake.
After relaxing we packed up and got in touch with the owner of Villa Jempana who had offered us a ride to our next stop, Sideman, for 350,000IDR. His niece arrived and we had a really lovely ride with her, she was very kind and chatty. As we approached Sideman the countryside completely changed and it was for me, the most stunning area of all! The landscape was very open with hills covered in tropical palm trees! I could not have imagined it – it was really stunning. We arrived at Griya Valud, and straight away were completely wowed, it was so much more impressive than the pictures and out of all the villas we had stayed in, was by far the most beautiful. There were beautifully landscaped gardens and the owners were so sweet and welcoming. The villa was furnished with exquisitely crafted pieces and the en-suite was amazing! We spent quite a while relaxing and taking it all in and then as usual, hired a bike from the owner for 120,000IDR for that day and the next.
Enjoying the gardens in our village at Griya Valud near Sideman
Glancing at the map we made a rough route and hit the road, firstly searching for a nearby temple. We found the entrance on the edge of a small hamlet and after giving a donation to a lady living opposite, we followed a path which came to many steps leading to the temple. There was no-one else around until we got to the top where some people were building a new section of the temple. It was a fairly quick stop and then we were off again seeing where the road would take us.
Biking around Sangkan Gunung
Path to temple
Steps to the temple
We followed a road which turned into a track and decided to walk rather than ride so that we could take in the surroundings. The rice fields were at their fullest and just starting to be harvested, we passed people gathering it from the fields and came to a river where a family was playing in the water as their Mother washed clothes. It was great to be in an area that felt so untouched by tourism. Every direction we looked we were faced with such beauty, it was heaven.
Countryside in Sangkan Gunung
Countryside in Sangkan Gunung
Later in the day, once back at our villa we took an evening stroll to the nearby river, hoping to go for a dip, however all the women were bathing one side of the bridge, and all the men the other, so instead we walked down another path towards a resort and were greeted by a young guy who said we were welcome to go to the river in the resort and showed us the way. Once there we saw that it was too strong to swim in that section but we relaxed on the rocks for a while.
The next day Ben took it easy at the villa (let’s just say that the food hadn’t agreed with him!) and I took myself off on the bike and explored the roads around the area, it was so much fun to whizz along without a passenger and the scenery was epic.
Countryside in Sangkan Gunung
Tukad yeh unda river near Griya Valud
Later that day, with the help of someone at the villa, we organised how best to get to Nusa Lembongan where we would also travel the other Nusa islands. After looking at prices and time, the best option was to take the fast boat from Kusamba port to the island. The taxi ride and the ferry cost 350,000IDR. We had had an incredible time on Bali and now it was time to head to the neighbouring islands of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida!