One of the temples around Uluwatu
Cycling in Ubud
Seafood in Jimbaran
Shops by the roadside along Legian, Seminyak and Kuta
South Bali was hot, humid, noisy and crowded. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely. Will I go there again? Probably not.
South Bali felt to me like a tourist’s place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a tourist myself. But I’ve always loved traveling because I like discovering culture, and the best feeling in the world is when you find yourself wandering in a place where locals are going about their daily business and you’re just observing in amazement. Here in South Bali, it seemed like everything was catered for tourists. The beach was filled with tourists, the shops sold imported things, and the restaurants served hamburgers. Most of the shops sold overpriced souvenirs and it felt like a tropical Westernized city, in a way. Which is fine if that’s what you were hoping for, but I was personally looking forward to see the real authentic Bali. The traffic was horrendous too.
I wanted to discover this part of Bali on foot, so I made a point to walk along the stretch of Seminyak, Legian and Kuta, ending my walk at Kuta beach. The shops were interesting, and there were plenty of art galleries displaying works from local Balinese artists to some more established European ones. There were nice cafes open all day, and I spent a good day going in and out of shops with a bottled ice tea in hand. For every six shops I passed I was bound to find a massage parlor, and for as cheap as USD20 you can get an hour’s worth of good, Balinese massage. Which I did. A couple of times.
A common misconception of Bali is that it is famous for its beaches. It is not. The beaches are average, and truth be told you can get better ones in Malaysia. But the appeal was definitely there. We had dinner at Jimbaran, a famous place to have seafood right by the shore of the beach, and the energy was quite good. We went to see the Kecak dance at Uluwatu, which was a pretty good show, and later visited the many temples around Nusa Dua. If you put aside the fact that there were herds of people visiting that place all day everyday, you could imagine that once upon a time, Bali was a mystical place with high cliffs and temples in a faraway land.
A good way to explore the more local side of Bali would be on bicycle around Ubud. The route takes you through local villages, paddy fields and temples. It was good fun, and the weather was sunny with a chilly wind, which makes the perfect condition for a bike ride. Most of the routes were downhill, so I wasn’t all sweaty and disgusting by the end of it.
Overall, I could see why Bali would appeal to a lot of people. It has the wonderment of an exotic place with the convenience for all kinds of tourists. Aside from the nightlife, which was a bit too wild and noisy for my liking, I quite enjoyed discovering it, while hotel-hopping every single night. It certainly brings a lot to the table in terms of what you can do on vacation at a single island.
Where to Eat: There are plenty of restaurants offering both local and Western delicacies. Try Flapjacks if you’re looking for really good pancakes, both sweet and savory. If you walk into a local diner, try the fish satays which are really amazing. Food prices can range from as cheap as USD4 (local places) to pretty steep (Hard Rock Café, Kuta Beach). If you’re having seafood at Jimbaran, do NOT overlook those small hawker stalls selling grilled corn. They are out of this world!
Sunset Snorkeling on the small dodgy wooden boat.
Sunrise around Lovina. Local fisherman.
Pak Madu grilling some fish.
Parrot fish with chili and Balinese onion relish.
The small pool at the resort.
Here’s the thing about Bali. It is no doubt an island of its own. It will be like nothing you’ve ever seen anywhere else. It has its own thing going on, its own vibe, its own culture, but only if you know how to find it. Personally I felt that all that was hazed by the growing Westernized culture brought over by foreigners, especially in the Southern part of the island.
We arrived at the Ngurah Rai International airport pretty late, as we spent the whole day discovering Surabaya in the Javanese island. That particular night, we stayed at Tunes hotel (for the love of God, don’t ever do this! There are so many other nice hotels with the same price range around the city), too tired to do much.
Now, I would gladly split my travels in Bali into two – the South of Bali, and the North of Bali. The former is a modern, hip, Westernized side of the island, and the latter is the tranquil journey one would hope to get from an island escape. It takes anywhere between two to four hours to get to the Lovina, North of Bali, from the Southern central. It’s great if you’ve got a great Pak Supir (driver), which we luckily did, as the long trip would then be filled with stories on Bali history, hidden hot spots and an extensive introduction to Bali Hinduism.
Lovina was so quiet that I couldn’t believe it belonged on the same island as the heavier, noisier cities of South Bali. We stayed at a small resort owned by a German man, with a small empty pool and a narrow beach. At late evening, our Pak Supir introduced us to a local guy named Pak Madu. He was a local fisherman, very well over his forties, but fit as a horse. He owned a small wooden boat and agreed to take us sunset snorkeling (about RM50).
Sunset snorkeling was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been to many, many snorkeling trips before, but there was something about that particular snorkeling experience that I would always remember. It could be the fact that we travelled to the middle of the sea on a small wooden boat that could only fit four people and looked like it was going to collapse anytime soon. It could also be the fact that the current was so strong that the boat didn’t seem like it was moving. It could very well be the fact that as I went in and out of the water, the orange sun was setting, and the water became eerie and dark, but exciting at the same time. There was absolutely nobody else around for miles, just the three of us and Pak Madu, who sat at the edge of the boat, daydreaming with a cigarette. By the time I was done I was panting, because the current was so strong it was challenge to keep up.
Another must-do action item in this part of the island is to go dolphin watching. Pak Madu was nice enough to come knocking at our door as early as 5.30 a.m., to make sure that we wouldn’t miss a thing. On that foggy morning we climbed into that same small wooden boat, and it slowly chugged into the now-calm sea. As we moved peacefully across the water, the sun rose above the fogs and it really was a nice wake-up jolt of excitement. But it gets better! Soon we saw what we were there for. Dolphins! Hundreds and hundreds of them, swimming in schools, in and out of the water, against the rising sun. I couldn’t contain my excitement I think I shrieked so loud Pak Madu was startled.
The dolphins were on their regular morning migrates to get some breakfast near the shore. There were other small boats with us too, and as we move with the dolphins, we saw them swimming gracefully near the surface of the water, doing occasional summersaults that received applause from all of us, in the early morning air that was cool and crisp. It was a sight to behold. I hope the Balinese government would do their best to protect the dolphins’ wellbeing.
North Bali is the perfect place if you’re looking to stay at a place where tranquility is priority, with a lot of things to see and do. I was glad to be there with good companion, as the nights can be a bit dull, so it’s best to have companion and you can spend endless hours hanging out by the pool doing nothing.
Where to Eat: This side of Bali wouldn’t have too many modern eating places, so you’ll have to settle for local shops and there are plenty of grocery stores to get whatever you need. Pak Madu, aside from being a local fisherman, also owns a small eating place. The style was very original – you choose the fish you want (which were personally fished by Pak Madu), and he will prepare them with only one style (grilled), and it’ll be served with condiments, stir fried vegetables and rice. We ate in a small hut while being bitten by mosquitoes, but it was alright. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, try the parrot fish. They look to brightly colored to be edible, but they’re pretty delicious.
View of Mount Bromo at sunrise.
At the base of the hills
Mariah on her horse. Too tired to walk back to the car?
Locals packing up their green products.
Based on the dodgy experience getting on 15-hour train in Vietnam, we were prepared for anything, but were surprised by the fact that the train was well maintained and clean. They even had a massaging service throughout the ride at a very reasonable price, for you to kill the hours on the train. The ride itself was quite scenic – you’ll pass endless paddy fields and villages, set around beautiful green hills.
We got to Surabaya quite late, and had to take a drive for about 3 hours to the base of Mount Bromo, a small village called . A little note that when Travelpedia says it’s chilly, for the love of God please believe it. I didn’t take this warning seriously, and was only prepared with a thin pashmina. As I woke up from that long drive, after being awakened occasionally by the dying cough of the van’s engine, I found myself shivering so bad that my teeth were clattering. We were greeted by the homestay’s staff wrapped up in thick jackets, and that when I knew I was screwed. Thankfully they provided jackets for guests, and although their version of stylish was a bit 1980s Beijing, with sparkly furry white parkas, I was glad I was no longer freezing.
We had to wake up as early as 3 am to catch the sunrise, and as I woke up groggily, froze my butt on the toilet seat and climbed onto the back of a four-wheel drive, we drove up to the view point of Mount Bromo. We stood there in the dark, shivering and waiting for the sun to rise, and when it finally did, it really was a sight to behold. The initially dark horizon emerged to be a vast horizon of volcanic hills, some with craters that was vivid and spewing with sulphuric smoke. Behind the lonely deserted mountains was a fine long horizon of orange sunrise, emerging and enlightening the panorama. A thin layer of clouds covered the floor of the base of the mountains, and I swear to you it reminded me of one of the places you see in fantasy movies, the volcanoes being a place where the dragons and mystical creatures reside.
As the morning got brighter, we drove down to the base of the mountains. It is a large volcanic ash desert, with locals parading around dragging their horses for tourists to use in case they were too tired to walk. You can choose to either walk around and enjoy the scenic volcanic mountain ranges or take the challenge and climb up the mountains to see the crater. We chose the latter, and thus started my climb, wearing skinny jeans and feeling like my hip bone was getting detached. The view on top was worthwhile though. You get to see the crater up close, a large hole that seemed to not end beneath the earth.
We drove about to get a better look around, and this is highly recommended as the place was huge, and you’d better explore as much as you can away from the center of tourists and horses. If I were alone, I would take off my shoes and run like a crazy person across the fields, but I was not. The open, beautiful scene was liberating. Although I was nowhere close to ending my travel in this region, I could easily tell that this was going to be one of the highlights of it.
More photos here.
Where to Eat: There’s not much to choose from, really. The locals seemed to not have many eateries open for outsiders, so we stuck to the food at the homestay, which was not too bad. The village is a center for agriculture, with a vast amount of broccolis, spring onions and oranges being harvested. If you have more time, which we sadly didn’t, you should try venturing out and finding local places to try out these fresh veggies.
Trishaw ride around town. Easiest and cheapest mode of accomodation
Malboro Street, the main street of Yogyakarta
'Lesehan', a famous lunch option around town.
A gleeful friend with the cast of the Ramayana dance after the show
In the future, whenever I recall Yogyakarta, I’ll always remember these two things – trishaws and horse carriages. It seemed like Yogyakarta is a bustling town stuck between two time zones, a modern Indonesia with fast food chains and fancy Western cafes, and a traditional Indonesia, with man-fueled transports (the trishaws and horse carriages) hogging the main streets.
Yogyakarta is a city that doesn’t seem to have city-like folks. Everybody seemed so relaxed and going at the own paces, not rushing to get anywhere at all. It was mainly warm and sunny when we visited this city. I highly recommend wearing comfortable footwear and breezy clothes, because God knows how much sweat has the ability to ruin your adventure streak.We walked around the city by food, exploring the shops, cafes and the old Kraton (the old castle square). We took a trip to Prambanan, where the Prambanan temple is located, and on that particular night there was a ballet performance depicting the famous story of Ramayana. It is a good way to get acquainted to the Hinduism belief that is quite prominent in these parts of Indonesia.
The main tourism street in the city would be Jalan Malboro (Malboro Street). It’s a stretch of long road, a mixture of cars, trishaws and horse carriages passing by, and along the street you’ll fine people selling all sorts of things – souvenirs, leatherwear, food, cultural items and batik. It’s a good idea to take a nice walk from end to end of the street, and there’s a tourist information office in the middle of the street, with very helpful staff. Yogyakarta is a mellow place, and one should expect to be just that here. You walk by the street, stare at people who are staring at you, hang out at cafes, buy strange items and randomly talk to people by the street. When it gets too hot you should get yourself a bottle of ‘teh botol’, which is basically iced tea in a glass coke-like bottle, and carry on walking around.
More photos here.
Where to Eat : In Yogyakarta, you might want to try the fried chicken restaurant chain, Ayam Goreng Suharti. Championed by a botox-clad looking Mama Suharti, the friend chicken is both crispy and moist, and you’ll love it.
The spooky bathroom with holes on the roof. I keep looking at the ceiling while showering in case someone was looking through
View on top of the temple at sunrise
The carvings on the volcanic rocks of the temple
From Yogyakarta, we took a train to Borobudur. Based on the dodgy experience getting on 15-hour train in Vietnam, we were prepared for anything, but were surprised by the fact that the train was well maintained and clean. They even had a massaging service throughout the ride at a very reasonable price, for you to kill the hours on the train. The ride itself was quite scenic – you’ll pass endless paddy fields and villages, set around beautiful green hills.
If you think Yogyakarta was mellow, Borobudur brings it to a whole new level. It is a small town, centered around what else, the famous Borobudur temple. We checked in at small homestay called Lotus 2, which was at a walking distance to the temple. The homestay looked like the perfect setting to a murder mystery movie. There were only a few rooms, with wooden walls and a standing fan to keep you cool. The bathroom was huge, with a bath that looked like somebody died in it. The bed was surrounded by mosquito nets, a subtle warning that at night, the place would be swarmed by those bloodsucking bugs. But whatever the place lacked in, it made up through its character. It made you feel like a local, staying at a local’s house. The boys who ran the place were absolutely friendly, chatting you up like you were old friends. The balcony was open and overlooked paddy fields, and there was a bookrack with things to read as you hang out on the wooden benches.
As early as 3.30 am, we got up and walked by the dark streets to get to the temple. Note here that as a precaution, you should find out how to get to the temple during the day, so that you wouldn’t be lost walking at night. This is exactly what happened to us and believe me, nothing is more annoying then trying to find directions to a temple in the wee hours of the morning while you’re sleepy and cranky.
But when we got up to the temple, the view was… well there’s no other word for it but magnificent. It really was. It was quite enchanting, standing on top of a big, historic temple as the sun emerged, and you’re surrounded by beautiful volcanic hills hiding behind misty fogs. Everybody was quiet as we sat there, enjoying the mystical air. The carvings of ancient people on every inch of the temple walls, the bell-shaped stupas with statues cleverly hidden inside them, they made me feel like Indiana Jones stumbling upon a 9th Century discovery.
When you’re up at the temple, you should take your time with it. Don’t be one of those travelers who are rushing through things and are too busy taking hundreds of pictures. Walk around the compound and marvel at the intricate carvings that tell a story of princes, kings and goddesses. Check out the worn statues of lions and meditators. Sit and watch the sun go up. It’s an experience you’ll definitely remember.
Where to Eat: There are local shops everywhere, but for dinner we decided to blow off some cash at a fancy restaurant at a nearby hotel. If you walk towards the entrance of the temple, you’ll find a nice café owned by a lady, right by the street. The place has about twenty different types of coffee, so you should definitely get some caffeine shots here. The banana fritters are also really good.
I try to make it a point to go for a backpacking trip at least once a year. It isn’t the same as taking trips to a single place at a time. That would be a called a vacation. A backpacking trip for me requires three things – careful planning, energy and minimal luggage. A vacation is when I go to a certain place to relax, unwind and not think of anything. A backpacking trip, on the other hand, requires a go-go-go attitude. When I come home from a vacation I am usually refreshed, slightly tanned and energetic. When I come home from a backpacking trip I am usually sunburnt, bruised and have had very little sleep.
This time around we decided to explore East Java and Bali. I had been to Jakarta and Bandung earlier this year, and so this wraps up my ‘Visit Indonesia Year’ plan. We wanted to cover as many places possible, while also having enough time to explore them. Here’s the map of our route throughout the trip.
Lots of dutch-influenced buildings around Bandung
I wouldn't recommend this place, but geeky dinosour-loving kids will love it. Oh wait that's me.
Tangkuban Perahu Crater, about 2 hours from Bandung
Most of the sceneries of Jakarta like this can be seen from the car.
Travelling with your family is not at all like traveling with your friends, not that one is better than the other. With friends, it’s a lot more laid back, but with your family, especially if the age ranges from middle-aged to children, it becomes a production to come up with the plans and itineraries. That being said, nothing is quite like seeing the world with your family. After all, these are the people who’ve seen you at your worst and best, so there is no pretense whatsoever.
I took my family for a trip to Bandung and Jakarta last month. It required a lot of planning, a lot of last minute ticket changes (My sister had an exam! My Dad couldn’t get more off days from work! And all that) and a lot of arguments (as we all do). But finally we all got it together and arrived at Bandara Husein Sasteranegara Airport that very late evening.
Bandung quickly reminded me of a Dutch street. Almost all of the houses by the road (and large mansions, if I may add) had Dutch influences in them, most notably the rooftops. The city had a bearable traffic flow, a nice mild weather that got slightly chilly as night approaches, and throngs and throngs of factory outlet stores. Now I am not much of a travel shopper. I don’t like to waste my traveling budget by shopping my way out of a country, but apparently my parents didn’t agree. We spent a whole day browsing lazily through the factory outlets, and tried various different restaurants that served local food. Dining is cheap in Bandung, even if you eat at a proper restaurant as opposed to the hawker stalls by the street. At night we would order room service (much cheaper than the ones in Malaysian hotels!) and watch dodgy HBO movies in bed, with my Dad trying to be as cool as the young ones and stayed up watching movies, but finally snoring off after the first fifteen minutes.
A couple of days later we decided to do some sightseeing. We asked our supir (that’s ‘driver’ in Indonesian speak. Hiring one is much cheaper than hailing a cab all day) to take us to Tangkuban Perahu, one of the still active volcanoes near the city. It was a nice two-hour drive, and the place was quite a sight, but holy cow the street vendors are awful! They kept shoving stuff in my face and forcing me to buy stuff, even going as far as getting in the picture frame as we were taking photos. That sort of ruined the mood for that whole visit. The road to and from the crater was quite pleasant, with local houses and shops selling interesting things, as well as nice small boutique hotels. I saw a lot of rabbits being sold by the streets though. I hope they are sold as pets (but to be honest, I don’t really think so).
We spent the remaining days of our trip in Jakarta. I wish I could say a lot about the city, but between getting stuck for hours in the traffic, spending our remaining cash in Tanah Abang (another fabric and clothing outlet), there really isn’t much to compliment besides the fact that art seemed to take center stage – there were monuments and statues at almost every roundabout. I’m sure if I had more time, Jakarta would be more appealing, but for me the two days are filled with memories of sitting in the car for hours watching the world pass by.
Places to Eat : There is a chain restaurant called ‘Ayam Pop’, if I’m not mistake, which serves Nasi Padang. It’s awesome, cheap and the place looks clean and decent enough. If you’re adventurous then there’s a wide variety of hawker stalls to try.