So we found ourselves back in Bali and were resigned to spending a week to ten days here sorting out our visas. It rained almost the whole time – proper tropical downpours.
After travelling around more remote part of Indonesia it was a bit of a shock to the system arriving at Denpasar airport. It was taxi mayhem and we were pounced upon by drivers from all directions as soon as we exited the terminal.
We had booked in advance into a small guesthouse (Pondok Sutya) which was about 30-40 minute walk from Legian Street. It was far enough away to escape the carnage in Kuta central in a quiet neighbourhood but unfortunately that meant there was little in the way of shops and restaurants nearby apart from a couple of small family run warungs. Admittedly we had been consoling ourselves with the thought of western food (after a diet of almost exclusively rice and fish) so we ended up making the long trek to Legian Street each evening to find pizza or similar.
It’s as bad as you imagine. Probably worse in fact. January is busy with the worst type of Australian on their summer holidays drinking beer and watching sport. It’s like the Australian version of Torremolinos.
Yes, you get pizza and pasta, and cheap beer, and chips and all those other things you start to crave but it was a massive shock to the system after 2 months in Sulawesi.
In order to sort out our visas and attend the immigration office for photos and fingerprints when summoned we based ourselves in Kuta although with hindsight we could have opted to stay in a smaller town further out. We would have had to pay for taxis in and out when necessary but it would have been a small price to pay.
After a while we did acclimatise but it was noticeable that people in the tourist industry on Bali are (understandably) jaded and although English is widely spoken when we (or rather, the Wooky) insisted on continuing to speak Indonesian we were surprised at the affect this had on surly shop assistants whose faces invariably split into wide smiles that we had tried to learn a little of their language. It proves that old adage “a little goes a long way”.
What quickly became our favourite restaurant was a little Italian place on Legian Road nestled in between the hellholes showing Aussie Rules football, the cricket and the UK Premiership football games. It could have been Werribee on a Saturday night.
And it rained a lot (the rainy season started late and so it was finishing late) and the rain was proper torrential, tropical downpours. We didn’t really mind but as it was high season we couldn’t help but feel sorry for the local people in the tourist industry who were losing business, particularly on the beaches, although the bars obviously did very good business on rainy days.
We visited Kuta Beach but were harassed by touts every few metres and couldn’t spend long there. However it is easy to see why it became so popular with its seemingly neverending yellow sandy beach and wild surf – imagining what it must have been like 40 years ago when it was still a palm fringed stretch of coastline and it’s obvious why it became popular and why it remains so. These days the palm trees are few and far between replaced by restaurants and resorts but the beach remains breathtakingly beautiful.
Bali has its benefits apart from the easy visa extension options, the food and easy access to alcohol compared to some other parts of Indonesia. We also went to a dive shop to buy a GoPro, complete with red filter for underwater filming. Too late to capture Wakatobi but we still had plenty of diving to do.
We stayed at Pondok Sutya for five days, headed up to Ubud for a weekend, and on our return we stayed at the other end of Legian Street slightly nearer tourist central. But as soon as we got word that our first extension was official we booked our flights out of there to Ambon. Never have we been so relieved to get away from somewhere and although we have to go back to collect our passports we will steer clear of Kuta as much as possible.
We spent a weekend in Ubud to escape Kuta for a few days and to try to maintain our sanity. Now Ubud is also very touristy, there is no doubt about it, but it is in a completely different zone from Kuta and has a completely different vibe.
Ubud is away from the beach and up in the hills, it is surrounded by rice paddies, has lots of charming places to stay, lots of temples and a monkey sanctuary. It is also very arty if you like that sort of thing but we are a couple of philistines and the galleries didn’t really interest us that much.
There are also lots of yoga studios and places providing alternative therapy – it is easy to see why it is the antithesis of Kuta and people go there to chill out rather than party. However, it is no longer the charming little village it was and has expanded hugely over the years. It is an hour’s drive from Kuta and there is no discernible border any longer as both towns have expanded so much over the years.
Ubud’s streets are bustling with tourists and the roads are mayhem. The narrow streets are not equipped to deal with the sheer volume of traffic transporting a constant flood of tourists to the town nowadays so although it has a much nicer, chilled vibe than the hell that is Kuta it is still very much a tourist town. But the general atmosphere was less hectic with a slower more gentle pace. The people were also lovely and you are hassled much less.
Everyone had told us that the food was great here and we were not disappointed. We had some delicious meals and I even had a few cocktails (although I’m not convinced that was tequila in my drink!).
While we were there we met up with Paul’s Indonesian teacher who is based in Ubud. We took him out for a meal to our favourite restaurant and there was a live band performing that night. They were really talented, performing some classic covers, and as well as being great musicians they were very easy on the eye!
It was a great evening and it was really good to meet Daniel and we spent the evening chatting about life in Indonesia and what we had been up to so far.
And of course we visited the Monkey Sanctuary which is teeming with monkeys (as you would expect) but you had to watch them because they knew you had bananas (they were sold at the park entrance). As you walk around the sanctuary you are followed by monkeys who either try to snatch your bananas or if you no longer have any bananas they will try steal anything else they can lay their hands on which might be vaguely (water bottles in particular are not safe but you also need to keep a firm hold on your camera lens caps).
The Monkey Sanctuary is a lovely place to wander around with some interesting temples but you had to be on your guard the whole time because monkeys would randomly appear out of nowhere and jump on your head and try to unzip your bag to make sure you weren’t hiding any bananas, and some of them looked like you really didn’t want to mess with them.
There are signs dotted around the park explaining “monkey etiquette” and apparently, for example, if a monkey jumps on you (or sits on your lap as happened to the Wooky) you are advised to calmly walk away and said monkey will eventually jump off. Well that is definitely not what happens and you have to wallop them before they remove themselves from your person unless you want to take it home with you.
And don’t make eye contact. Ever. They are wild creatures and while it is good they are protected and cared for, I am surprised more tourists don’t come a cropper when you see them touching and petting them and even trying to pick them up. I suppose that’s where natural selection comes in but it never fails to amaze me how utterly stupid some people are.
Our hotel bordered the Monkey Sanctuary which meant that we had some early morning visitors on our balcony and in the ground (about 35 of them one morning). They are entertaining to watch, particularly the small ones.
We didn’t do any other sightseeing in Ubud. There are numerous galleries and temples but nothing particularly historical which is more of interest to us. Ubud feels to be more of a creation of its own making and while it is an oasis of culture away from Kuta nestled inland and surrounded by rice paddies, it feels (to us) a little contrived. But we are not the best judges given that we have had the privilege of visiting less touristy places and we were really just killing time before we could leave the island.
I would say that Ubud is worth a visit and also that there are plenty of interesting and less well-known areas on Bali that are worth seeking out. We don’t deny that Bali is a stunningly beautiful island, with an interesting culture and lovely people, made popular by tourists, that is people like us so we can hardly complain as we helped create it. And if you look further afield you can find some pretty unspoilt parts of the island so perhaps our view is indeed a bit harsh (apart from Kuta – Kuta is horrible).