Ubud & Sideman
It’s only an hour from Sanur to Ubud by car, so we got a taxi to take us up there the following day. Our hotel for the next few days was Nyoman Karsa Bungalows; It only has a handful of rooms set in a beautiful landscaped garden with swimming pool and it’s pretty much opposite monkey forest at the south end of the town. This means you do get monkeys stealing objects left out on your balcony.
The main town hub is set out on a rectangle with a steady flow of one-way traffic – this doesn’t apply to scooters obviously as they can go where they like! Ubud has quite a backpacker / hippy rep so I was surprised to see so many shops selling various beige and white clothes that would have been at home in any M&S/ John Lewis, amazing statement jewellery pieces, hipster funky light bulbs and arty sculptures. I guess these would have been on sale for a fraction of the cost of back home but as I wasn’t buying I didn’t check. The market at the north of town is a rabbit warren of stalls and it’s mainly here you will find the tie dye tops, fishermans trousers and local crafts.
The next day we explored the little inner car free streets and found a little quiet haven of shops, yoga and spa resorts, cafes, small warung restaurants and pricey cocktail bars. You can find some very reasonably priced places around these inner streets and we found a good measuring reference was the Nasi Gorang and a large bottle of Bintang beer – in general the rice will be around 35-50k rph (£2-£3) and the beer 35-40k rph. Smaller places are unlikely to add on service or tax but the big fancy places can add on an additional 21%, although 15.5% is more common. Worth noting that Nasi Gorang away from the tourist towns can be as low as 15k rph!
Aside from relaxing by the pool, reading, writing in my journal and eating amazing food we also visited the Royal palace and Saraswati temple. The temple was actually closed whilst we were there, which was a shame but the lotus flower pond in front of it was beautiful and the stone carvings at both locations were stunning. I’ve nick-named Bali the island of a thousand doors, as loads of doorways are decorated in the most exquisite engraved and etched wood and stonework, no matter if it’s just your house front door, a guesthouse or temple. I have so many pictures of doorways!
We took a sunset walk along the ridgeway to the north of town, which compared to other sunsets we have seen was disappointing but still very pretty to see the forests and fields around the town. We didn’t go to monkey forest, although this is one of the top draws in Ubud. We felt we saw enough of the cheeky buggers around town and the resort without subjecting ourselves to getting items stolen or bitten in the forest. Although I’m pretty sure if you just use some common sense they would leave you alone. The hotel staff are all armed with catapults to discourage them from hanging about the gardens and rooms for very long.
The local taxi firms run all trips out of Ubud and there are signs everywhere saying no pickups from other taxi firms allowed. This means they can charge the earth for small trips and looking around the various taxi price lists the short trip to our next port of call, Sideman, was going to cost 350k (£20). We knew from our day out in Sanur that a driver for the day was 600k and as there were a few things we wanted to see further afield, we decided to combine the two and save money. This also meant we had more time to kill just pottering around town, which I was enjoying.
The morning of our departure arrived and we were packed and ready by 8:30am. We had a very chatty young driver this time as our other one was busy and he babbled away asking questions and telling us all about his life and Bali. I learnt more from him about normal Bali life than anyone else I’ve chatted to and it was nice; although a bit sad when he told us about his family selling everything to pay off cock fighting debts. This tradition seems to be the norm on Bali with cock fights even happening at temples before ceremonies.
Our first stop on the tour was at the Tegallalang rice terraces, which is exactly what it says on the tin. Beautifully green curved rice paddies sculpted into the hillside, with little huts and pathways dotted around. We clambered around the giant steps they had cut into the hill, which was quite a morning workout and took hundreds of photos.
Next stop was a Hindu water temple - Pura Tirta Empul. The correct way for everyone to dress when visiting a temple is to wear a sarong and sash, fortunately they provide this and it’s included in the price, so you don’t need to buy one from the aggressive stalls lining the walkways in. This water temple is used for Hindus to complete a bathing ritual to cleanse away bad luck or ill fortune. Anyone could take part providing you were wearing the correct attire but having stood and watched all the tourists taking selfies and generally getting in the way of the Hindus trying to do a serious ritual, I was glad we didn’t. The grounds are full of intricate carvings and statues and a spring fed ‘Holy Pond’ that was crystal clear and no-one could enter.
Site 3 was another temple, but this time cut into the side of the hills – Pura Gunung Kawi. A long path of steps led down into the valley lined with more stalls selling crafts and sarongs, which eventually leads through a stone archway and into a courtyard with carvings hewn into the mountainside. They have some ‘holy’ springs and pools dotted around the complex but signs asking you not to collect / drink it and no-one was bathing.
A brief stop for lunch at a massively overpriced restaurant (60k for Nasi Goreng + 21%) and we set off in search of waterfalls. Our driver knew of 2 close to each other that were also on the way to Sideman, so we stopped at both. Both waterfalls require you to pay at the top by the carpark before you walk down hundreds of steps to the waterfall at the bottom - I think the price was about 15k each for each waterfall. The waterfalls were stunning and although you could bath in both we didn’t fancy getting changed and being damp for the rest of the day so just went to look. By the time we’d done the two waterfalls and the accompanying steps our knees were complaining so asked to be taken to our guesthouse.
Sideman is a small village up in the mountains near the volcano Mt Agung. We’d heard that the volcano had erupted a small amount of ash and smoke only a few days before but it was back sleeping by the time we got there. Our lodging was the small but cosy Maha Neka Villas. They only have 2 villas, set in the garden and farm land of Ari and his family but have a prime view of Mt Agung – if she decides to peak out from the clouds.
From the moment we arrived in the cool mountain temperatures we were warmly received by Ari and he showed us to our standalone bungalow with traditional carved doors and windows, a huge bed with mosquito net and outside seating area. Can’t believe this was £19 a night inc breakfast.
Ari also runs a restaurant which we ate at most nights as the food was great. That night we drifted off to sleep with nothing but the sound of Gecko’s, Chickens and Crickets – Bliss.
We woke up for sunrise every morning to see if the elusive Agung would show herself but it rained pretty much nonstop from that first day til the last. It didn’t ruin the views as the mountains still looked stunning in the torrential rain but it did spoil our planned 3 days of hiring scooters which Ari can get for only 50k rph for the day, which is a really good price.
The weather wasn’t too bad on the first day so after heavy rain all morning we went out in the afternoon, stupidly not taking any waterproofs with us as we didn’t plan on going far. The roads and bikes were easy though and with the sun out the views drew you on just round the next corner. We were over half way to Pura Besakih, a temple on the lower slopes of Agung, when the heavens opened and after 5 mins we looked like we’d been swimming in our clothes. We took shelter in a small hut at the side of the road and wrung our clothes out as best we could and when it eased up we continued up the mountain, although we knew the views were going to be non-existent.
The road does go all the way up to the temple but the carpark and ticket office are quite a way down the hill – only scooters are allowed to drive up and obviously they offer to give you a lift for a cost if you don’t want to walk. As we had our own bikes we got our tickets, sarongs and our guide - which is included in the price and drove up past the stalls. It was busier than expected and lots of others were braving the rain to visit and our guide cheekily told us we must be unlucky as it had been sunny every other day.
The temple complex is beautiful and the guide explained all about the different number of tiers on the spires, the different colours and directions they all faced. It all was very confusing but was quite interesting, although sadly I can’t remember any of it now.
The sun came out briefly on the way home but by this time we were cold and wanted to get back so saved anymore sightseeing for another day.
Day 2 was nonstop torrential rain and as our clothes from the previous outing were struggling to dry without the sun and we couldn’t afford to get any more wet, we called an admin stay in-day. Ari and family were around so we got free coffee and ginger tea when required and the porch was a great place to hole up watching the rain sweep by. We also discovered a huge Tokay Gecko in the roof with her smaller mate, which was great until you realised that when they go to the toilet it just comes straight down! The mosquito net over the bed makes more sense now because we hadn’t seen many mosquitos about.
The following morning, we got a tiny glimpse of the top of Mt Agung and it looked like it was going to stay dry so we hired the bikes again and went off on a circular route that Paul had planned. First stop was the town of Semarapura, which is south from Sidemen. It’s a fairly large town and isn’t that pretty but we stopped to see the Klungkung Palace. We didn’t end up going in as the only ticket option was a combined city tour and we didn’t fancy that, so we got back on the bikes and headed east.
Pura Goa Lawah, or the Bat Cave temple as it’s often referred to, is set on the coast road opposite a black sand beach. As we approached the traffic slowed to a crawl and hundreds of people seemed to be milling about carrying baskets of offerings all heading for the temple. We guessed that there must be a special ceremony but hoped we’d still be allowed to enter. Sadly, we weren’t as it was closed for the day but they said we could go and watch the music and dancing in the first courtyard so provided us with Sarongs and sash and ‘special gift’ necklaces. The music started just as we got through the first garden and we watched as about 30 ladies in identical white tops and yellow skirts danced a slow but and beautiful synchronised dance, accompanied by the temple percussion instruments. It was so beautiful, I’ll not forget that temple experience in a hurry even though we didn’t get to go in.
After watching the dancing, we decided to check out the black beach. You must walk through the stalls and general waste of the market to get to it, but once there it’s a long pretty stretch of matt grey sand and as the weather was cloudy it lent a slightly dark moody vibe to the visit.
Getting around on the bikes was perfect and meant we could stop whenever we saw a great view or wanted a picture, which was quite often as the farmlands and forests were gorgeous. Next on the list was Taman Ujung water palace, which was further up the coast line and is a beautifully maintained complex of gardens, water features and buildings. We also stopped for an overpriced soft drink and sandwich here, which was very tasty just expensive because it overlooked the gardens.
Finally, the last place on the list was another water palace called Tirta Gangga. This is the sister water palace of the previous one and equally if not more beautiful. Most of the ponds in these gardens have huge carp that come gasping for food at the surface and one pond has small stepping stones all though it, so you can surround yourself with fish for that perfect photo shot. I think that has to be the most annoying thing we have come across on our travels, couples or groups that take FOREVER to stage and get that perfect photo.
As the sky was beginning to look threateningly dark we decided to head back home before we got soaked. We didn’t quite make it all the way home but we sheltered for the worst of it and got away with only being a bit damp this time.
Another gorgeous meal at Ari’s and then it was time to pack and say goodbye to my mountain retreat.
To start our final day, we had asked Ari for the Balinese breakfast, which was black rice pudding in coconut milk, fresh fruit and little rice cakes. The rice cakes are similar to Japanese Mochi and made with pounded / ground rice and came with various toppings/ fillings - one of which we were sure was Durian as it tasted revolting! The star of this breakfast was the black rice pudding, which was really tasty.
As we had an early flight to Flores booked for the following day we were going to stay in Denpassar for one night next to the airport so got Ari’s friend to drop us down for 350k rph. Denpassar is also relatively close to the busy Kuta district that we thought we should experience for 1 night before leaving Bali.
The hotel was quite old and half of it seemed to be closed for maintenance but it would do for one cheap night although it wouldn’t be on our 'to stay at again' list.
We did make it out to Legian, which is one district up from Kuta but still crazy busy with bars and restaurants and tourists. It seemed to have a more of a party vibe about it with clubs blasting out music and lots of happy hours. We stayed for a few beers and some German meat products but then walked back to the hotel. A vast contrast to the quietness we’d left in the mountains.