The Beat of Bali
Bali, the images the island conjures are that of almost naked bodies clad in the skimpiest bikinis; tanning lotion; surfboards; and temples. Bali, the island of the gods has so much to offer us mere mortals.
If the gods are to be pleased with Bali, mere mortals like us will be in a state of euphoria with its verdant greens; perfectly timed drum beats; smells of incense floating in the air; landscaped rice fields; and temples erected in some of the most beautiful and unusual places that you will think somehow divine powers were at the helm of their creation. Bali is a cornucopia of all your desires, ever giving, ever flowing and ever so gorgeous.
I have put off Bali for quite some time because I have been to Indonesia’s other islands and I thought that Bali would be an exact copy of them. Boy, was I so wrong!
The island transports you and transforms you. It will bring you closer to the divine; to nature; and to real beauty.
My Bali Day 1 Itinerary
- Batik factory
- Batuan Temple
- Gora Gajah
- Ubud Monkey Forest
- Padang Padang Beach
Having lived in Singapore for the past 3 years, where you can conveniently go from one location to another, I did not expect Bali to be so big and the tourist spots to be so far away from one another that at one time we spent two hours in the van, traveling. Blame it on hectic days in the office, I didn’t even have time to look at a map.
Batik making in Bali is a relatively new industry compared to other parts of the country and the globe, but it is quickly catching up. Most patterns seen in Balinese batik are objects from nature such as flowers and animals. Having come from the Philippines, I really was not that impressed with the batik. Call me haughty but honestly I have seen better patterns in my home country, and even Yogyakarta.
The next stop after the batik factory, where I bought absolutely nothing, was the Batuan Temple. It is one of the minor temples in the island. It was relatively quiet as it is not sought by foreigners. We were able to take a few decent pictures and even a few funny pictures. Fortunately, the gods did not strike us with lighting for having offended the holy site.
After Batuan Temple, it was back in the car for us for the drive to Goa Gajah. The reviews for Goa Gajah were quite ok so I added it to our list of must-see places. However, it turned out to be unimpressive. Goa Gajah or the Elephant Cave is located in Ubud. It was built in the 9th century and served as a sanctuary. Added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1995, the main attraction is the cave with a façade full of reliefs of numerous frightening creatures and demons. There is also an extensive bathing site near the temple. Other than that, there was nothing else worth mentioning.
Ubud Monkey Forest
Ubud Monkey Forest is a vast expanse of greens and playful monkeys. It is a nature reserve which hosts more than 10,000 tourists a month. It has more than a hundred species of trees and more than 600 crab-eating and mischievous macaques. Dogs are not allowed in the nature reserve as they might frighten the monkeys. Although the day was uneventful, save for that little monkey that was always bullied by the bigger monkeys, we were warned before entering the grounds to be careful with our phones and jewelry as the macaques might try to steal them.
Padang Padang Beach
Next stop was Padang Padang Beach, a haven for surfers. Having come from a country made up of more than 7000 islands; a country with the most beautiful beach in the world and the world’s top island, I have quite high expectations when it comes to beaches. Padang Padang was unimpressive for me. However, Caucasian tourists, a huge fraction of them Australians, would surely disagree with me as they just seem to looooove Padang Padang. They littered the shore with their tiny bikinis and surfboards. They seemed to have the time of their lives riding the waves and seemed to throw caution to the wind chasing adrenaline and adventure.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu
The last spot for the day, and in my opinion the highlight, was Pura Luhur Uluwatu. Also known as the Balinese sea temple, it was built in the 11th century and is one of the nine directional temples in Bali which protect the island from evil spirits. The cliff is just impressive; it looks like one of the fjords of Norway. (No, I have not been to Norway. I just saw pictures on a travel book but I plan to go there in this lifetime.) Overlooking the Indian Ocean, it is precipitously placed on the edge of the cliff and it makes for the perfect dramatic background to the epic Ramayana which is a stunning spectacle to watch at sunset.
I have to say that Bali awakened my senses on our first day and we ended the night with tired feet, ready to take more steps in discovering the island.
I was a bit disappointed though because Ketut was nowhere in sight.
My Bali Day 2 Itinerary
- Taman Ayun
- Pura Ulun Danu
- Pura Tanah Lot
After much needed respite for walking more than 10,000 steps on day 1, we were very much looking forward to day 2 and exploring more of Bali. We had a sumptuous breakfast enjoyed at the hotel’s Nebula Café. We started the day right with a full English breakfast. However, for someone like me who needs rice in every meal, it was not filling enough so it was not a surprise for me that before 10am I found myself searching for food.
Our driver, Oka, was pretty much on the dot. At 9.30am we left the hotel and started our journey to Taman Ayun, Purah Ulan Danu and Pura Tanah Lot. Oka suggested going to the rice paddies in Ubud but we come from the Philippines and the Banaue Rice Terraces is the queen of all rice terraces in Asia so it was a no-brainer, we said no. We were looking for quality over quantity on day 2. We did not want to hurry from one place to another like what we pretty much did on day 1. We wanted time to pause, admire the temples, and maybe even reflect.
As the vehicle started down the sinewy roads, we came face to face with the everyday life of locals, if only for a fleeting moment. We saw women wearing their traditional garbs while balancing baskets on their heads, happily chatting with each other while walking. Life in Bali is laid-back and carefree and one very surprising thing that I noticed is that there isn’t a single beggar in Bali.
Traveling to three different places from Kuta basically took almost half of the day but it was well worth it as we stepped out of the vehicle and marveled at the beauty before us. No wonder Bali is one of the most visited places in Southeast Asia, it is incredible. The sights alone explain rightfully so why it is called the island of the gods.
Taman Ayun looks nondescript from the road, however, once you go deep in the heart of the temple grounds, you will be pleasantly surprised by the treasure it holds. This royal temple, which was built during the Mengwi Empire is surrounded by a pond. Balinese architecture is simply one of the finest in Asia. After jostling for space with tourists doing their nth attempt at the perfect jump shot, we were able to take decent pictures, as well as pictures which we would rather forget. Walking in the temple grounds made me realize just how lucky I am to have the opportunity to visit Bali during my birthday.
Pura Ulun Danu
Bali in March is very hot and humid. We were sweating profusely every time we were out of the air-conditioned van so going to the highlands and being greeted by cold air on our faces was a welcome respite. Located at the edge of Lake Bratan, tourists are likely to see people on their motorbikes going to the lake when heading to the temple. We even saw some Balinese men fishing.
Guidebooks say that the temple is used for offering ceremonies to Dewi Danu, a Balinese river, lake and water goddess. The temple ground was just surreal and I can perfectly understand why the visitors happily snapped away with their cameras and smart phones. I have seen so many pictures of Pura Ulun Danu but the real thing before my eyes is still incredible!
After Taman Ayun and Pura Ulun Danu, our tummies were practically grumbling and all we wanted to do was eat. We wanted to sample Balinese cuisine and our driver brought us to this al fresco roadside restaurant cum garden. It looked great from the outside however the smell was not that pleasant. We thought that there must be animals being raised nearby as their odour wafted through the air every time the wind blew in our direction.
You can just imagine the impression it left us when were supposed to be enjoying our lunch. Suffice it to say that I didn’t enjoy my lunch, not only because of the smell but I discovered that I really didn’t like Balinese cuisine that much. The only high point of my lunch was the avocado shake with a few drops of chocolate syrup! After our not so satisfying lunch, we continued our temple hopping.
Pura Tanah Lot
Pura Tanah Lot is one of the icons of Bali and along with Pura Ulun Danu, one of the most recognizable landmarks. The temple is built on a rock formation and it is believed that there are venomous snakes at the base of the rocky island. Fortunately, no one was bitten when we went there but a lot of people did not escape the wrath of the waves. The waves can be gentle and turn fierce in just a matter of minutes and this is something we found out the hard way.
We were standing on this rock while taking pictures and the waves gently touched our feet then in a matter of minutes the waves grew big that they reached my waist! I quickly went to higher ground for fear that my camera would get wet. However, there was one unfortunate Korean tourist who got knocked down by the waves and she had to be helped by others.
Suffice it to say that the waves cannot be trusted and tourists should take heed of the warning signs placed near the cliff and should not cross points which they are not supposed to, least they get carried by the waves out to sea.
After a good day spent sweating under the sun, admiring temples and taking pictures for posterity, I did not want to return to my hectic life in Singapore.