With the decision to go started also the plane ticket hunting process, oh boy, that can be rather exhausting... I think I read dozens of articles "how to find cheap flight tickets" - not sure if this info really helped but thanks to the articles I discovered such sites as www.hipmunk.com and refreshed my knowledge about www.momondo.com. In the end we got our tickets with Emirates.
Now all time was measured in "x days to Bali" and it went pretty quickly. Soon enough we found ourselves in Brussels airport waiting to get on the 25 h journey. The adventures started already there. We were approached by an Emirates employee who asked if we wanted a free flight to Bali... Hm... I'm already going to Bali and noting is really for free in this life... Turned out that the plane to Dubai was overbooked and some VIPs needed a seat and we looked like students who were ready to give up everything for a free trip wherever you want. :-) I wish the Emirates employee was a bit more professional and had explained all the terms and conditions, I would not have said no to a trip to New Zealand, for example, but with so little info - Bali for free - we decided to stay where we were. However, while embarking the plane the employee demonstratively told us - I found some other people, they will go to Bali for free... Ha ha... Lucky you! I don't even know if I like Bali at this stage...
The flight to Dubai was great, we had great seats at the back - just the two of us and the crew was wonderful and yes, they served a cocktail to us already in Brussels saying - we like you, we do it time to time... Oh, holidays have started!
Dubai airport was a complete mess... huge, kind of organised but really unpleasant. We had an idea to go out and see Burj Kalifa at night but seeing the crowds everywhere we opted for a night in a sleeping bag. The airport is 24/7 and the flow of people is impressive, everybody just comes and goes or sleeps... no privacy, no empty space, have to walk for 15 minutes to get some air... finally we managed to find some empty chairs to settle for a short sleep but oh what a mistake, just next to the prayer room, so ding dong at 5 am a beautiful voice is calling for the prayer... The flight to Denpasar is even longer - 11 h or so. And time becomes an interesting concept... But somehow it flies and we arrive in Bali at 10pm - the heat and our driver welcomes us.
Ubud and North
Our objective is simple - stay away from super touristic places but still be strategically well located. We have thought of Ubud as our first stop, not necessarily of its qualities but more because of the location. We are staying at a very simple but lovely hotel with a perfect location on the Monkey Road - Ubud City Hotel. Rustic rooms, great pool and good breakfast, nice owner (an American lady) and nice staff.
In the morning after finally having tasted the famous Bali banana pancakes, we head off to explore the city and have a walk in the rice fields - we take the Campuhan ridge pass. It's super hot already at 9 am but we are really happy about it - hot weather- that's what I came for!
We make a stop at the Karsa cafe, a perfect spot to relax and do nothing, we meet only a few people on out way and we can observe how the local life goes buy, people are working in the fields, they are just preparing the soil for rice, ducks are splashing water and somewhere not very far a new hotel is being built...
Ubud is very busy and feels full of tourists, if this is so during the low season, what about months of July and August? But still it's not overwhelming and everybody can find a place of serenity.
In the afternoon we visit the famous monkey forest, it's rather busy but we can observe how crazy monkeys can jump on people, grab their hair, trying to steal something, a true show... There are around 500 of them and they hang out in small groups. Some play in a small fountain, some just do their daily flee business... I wish we had come in early morning when it's a bit more fresh... it's hot hot hot...
The next day we have arranged a private driver Kadek to go and explore the North as it's supposed to be more authentic. I had booked Kadek over email and he had lots of positive recommendations on tripadvisor. I confirm that he is good at driving, has good English and is very friendly but no way I felt that there was an extra mile or anything... even opposite, he seemed to have forgotten whas was agreed over email.
Before visiting Pura Ulun Danu Beratan temple, we stopped at the spice market. But as it was super early, we were the only tourists there and we thought we would be eaten there... they all just jumped on us... come my friend, come... I really wanted to buy some black pepper and cloves there but it was impossible... as their rupiahs are in millions, it took some time to get used to their cash... so it's not easy to haggle on the second day, so I just ran away... And the lady was shouting behind me - you sexy, you come back, I give a good price... No thank you... Unfortunately there were no other occasions to buy any spices in any other markets (apart from supermarkets where packages are very small) where we went, so it was a bad decision to run away from "you sexy"...
But after couple of minutes we were rewarded with a wonderful view of the Pura Ulun temple. This was on our "must see" list and we were so lucky with the weather - it was a sunny and bright morning while often it's cloudy and misty in the mountains.
It was a peaceful place with amazing vibes and we had it for ourselves.
The next step was Munduk waterfall. There are many waterfalls in the area and it was difficult to choose the right one. Munduk waterfall is not the most impressive one ever seen but still it was a nice walk in the jungle, a bit of sports for the day. Funny enough Kadek was always going with us everywhere. I had told him already in the email exchange that I wanted to see the Eco cafe - a bio coffee farm not far from the falls. But I noticed that Kadek drove pass it without even mentioning it... hm... that was weird to me so I had to ask to go back. And he did. So we had another walk in the jungle, this time without Kadek but it was even more hot, the pass was slippery, full of spider webs and we were not even sure were were on the right pass... in the end we found it! Usually people try their luwak coffee but as we are no coffee fans, we opted for warm coconut milk with honey and cinnamon... mmmh... yak yak yak disgusting! :) But the view was nice ;-)
After we went in the direction of Lovina to discover on of the few Buddhist temple there - Brahma Vihara Arama - another beautiful discovery... It's pretty amazing how in Bali hinduism and buddhism co-habit.
After all the driving we finally get to our hotel - a wonderful place run by local people - Puri Tugu Belanda. The owners welcome us so kindly and immediately we felt that it was a mistake to book only one night there... (so said all the evaluations on booking, then I could see why).
At the hotel we met a really nice Australian lesbian couple who invited us for a drink and we ended up the evening together discussing everything and nothing! We also had an opportunity to see how owners cooked the famous chicken saté and peanut sauce. We wished we had stayed there longer. The area felt very true and authentic, the owners also offered small visits to local markets and even participate in ceremonies. North is definitely a must in Bali, skip Upud ;-)
The next day we had booked a trip in the rice fields to understand how they are cultivated and to see the terraces. We walked with Putu - a local guide who always has a story to tell. We also had a chance to see local farms (and they are different in terms of what a farm is in Europe - much smaller and in the middle of jungle and with lots of trash around... this is very sad!); try locally made alcohol from a palm tree, also have a fresh coconut and hear everything about rooster fights, reincarnation and different spices. A very rich and amazing experience. The process of rice planting and cultivating is impressive.
North of Bali is known to be a perfect place to grow huge clove trees. While we were not there at the season, the trees smelled amazingly. Impressive how these small flower buds can turn into one of my favourite spices. So even in heat of +35 we did think of xmas and hot wine ;-)
Although Bali is very beautiful, people have not understood the value of their own country. Trash is everywhere, even in their own home; here an example from a farmer's porch :-(
To complete the day, we had a quick visit to Taman Ayun Temple and then back to Ubud.
You can find part 2 of the trip here.