Bali - New Year 2017/18

27th December 2017 - To Bali

We left it to the last minute to book this trip and I'm glad we did. We were considering the Philippines or Vietnam but with Typhoon Tembin blasting it's way through the area we were glad we didn't book anything. So in the end we chose Bali. The forecast was for cloudy and the odd thunder storm, but generally very pleasant and going to Indonesia means I can tick off another country as I slowly close in on 100 countries.

I chose a small garden hotel in Sanur (or Snore as some call it). The last thing I wanted was to be surrounded by thousands of Aussie Schoolies, the quieter more middle-aged area sounded much more my thing. Above is the view off our room's balcony. As you can see the weather whilst warm is quite cloudy as forecast.

I seem to be including the word 'we' in almost every sentence and Som has come away on holiday with me. Som's my lovely over worked friend from Bangkok who was much in need of a holiday after all the work deadlines she's had to meet recently.

When in Bali ... I decided to immerse myself in the local culture and what could be more cultural than a beer on the beach.

28th December 2017 - Sanur

Yesterday I got up at 3:30am to get to the airport for the flight so today was a very lazy day. A lie in and breakfast on the balcony, then a bit of a walk around Sanur and back along the beach.

We left the hotel just in time for lunch and time for the two most popular Indonesian dishes Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and Chicken Satah. The menus here are looking quite familiar from my three years in Amsterdam many, many years ago. Indonesia was the Dutch East Indies and Indonesian restaurants were to Holland what Chinese are in the UK.

The beach at Sanur is pretty average, it's not the glorious golden sands you see on the postcards from Bali but it's more than 5km long and still rather pleasant and equally importantly even in the holiday season quite quiet.

Our hotel is on the road parallel to but one block back from the beach. If I came here again I'd have booked one of the 'resorts' along the beach. Some of them look quite nice. Swimming pools with a bar next to them and sun loungers looking out over the sea.

We headed back to our hotel and jumped in the pool to cool down. It's a perfect temperature in the late afternoon maybe 27 or 28. I'm glad we haven't seen much of the sun, it would be scorching.

In the evening we waited out the thunder storm and then headed down to the night market. The market is quite small but has a good range of local food stalls. Gado gado, pepes, nasi goreng, murtabak ... I decided to take the easy way out and order a Nasi Campur (mixed rice). Basically a portion of rice a a bit of everything, we added to this some chicken sate and krupuk (giant prawn crackers) and we were sorted. I love Indonesian food, it's so tasty. Flavours that hit you in the face, spicy, fragrant and in many case quite sweet too.

29th December 2017 - Nusa Penida

Booked a day trip for today across to a neighbouring island, Nusa Perida. So up early to go to the 'pier' to catch the big speedboat. I say 'pier' as actually it is just boats tied up by the beach and we had to wade out to about waist deep to climb on. I had read this was possible so we were prepared already changed into our swimming stuff. Others were less prepared. This was a good intro to a day which was good but I had expected it to be better.

Nusa Perida is much less developed than Bali and that is it's big selling point but the roads around the island are much less developed as well. They are narrow and windy and heavily pot-holed so progress was slow. We probably spent as much time being driven around as we did at the stops. But the scenery was great as we drove, such lush green vegetation; bananas, coconut palms, corn and lots of other stuff I didn't recognise. After quite a while we arrived at our first stop, Broken Beach. A scenic area with an archway to a small cove and beach. A definitely a kodak moment.

The coastline in general is very scenic, high cliffs and lush green colours everywhere. The weather today is much clearer so good for photos but very hot if you spend much time in the direct sunlight. Next up was Kelingking Beach although again we didn't have time to go down to the actual beach. We walked the cliffs above for a great view of the ''dinosaur head' rock going out into the sea and the secluded beach (apart from everyone looking down on you taking photos).

The last stop was crystal bay and nice little beach where we planned to have a swim and a snorkel. But unfortunately the weather was starting to turn. It was still nice and the clouds that were forming gave welcome relief from the sun, but it did mean there was a bit more surf than I'd have liked. We went in for a swim and Som was buffeted about in her life jacket but after one lung full of sea water I decided to skip the snorkeling.

From there it was a bumpy ride back to the port and by the time we arrived it was bucketing down. We were still in our swimming gear so we casually walked out to the boat enjoying the warm shower which washed off some of the sand and salt. Others were huddled under umbrellas and coats. Thankfully despite the heavy rain the sea was still flat so the ride back wasn't too bumpy.

In the evening we had a lovely (if a little extravagent for me) meal at La Playa over-looking the sea. We had cocktails and ordered another nasi campur, some gado gado (vegatables in peanut sauce and a grill fish plattter with lobster, prawns, fish and calamari in 'spicy Baninese sauce'. A great tasty and varied meal in a lovely spot down by the water. Despite the extravagance it all came to 520,000 IDR, less than £30!

30th December 2017 - Tanah Lot

This afternoon we took a taxi to Tanah Lot on the west coast of the island. It's a journey which should take about an hour but with the holiday traffic it actually took two hours each way. Tanah Lot is one of the important Hindu temples in Bali. The temple is located on a rock just offshore. It is said to have been built in the 15th century.

As well as the main temple below there are other small temples on the cliffs. The main temple can be reached by a causeway at low tide but tonight the waves were crashing in and it was all the better for it.

Tanah Lot is one of the places to be in Bali for the sunset. When we arrived the sun was out and it was lovely. But after I took the picture below (which doesn't show off how nice the sun was reflecting off the sea) the sun dropped below clouds on the horizon so we headed off before sunset to beat the rush.

On the way back we stopped off at Bali Luwak coffee which produces coffee and teas from produce on the island. It's specialty is Luwak Coffee made from the beans taken from Luwak (sort a cat like fox) poo. The luwak eats the coffee cherries and its stomach enzymes work on the beans and adds to the coffee's prized aroma and flavor. The place had some animals in cages which wasn't nice but it was set in a lovely spot surrounded by paddy fields and we got to taste all their products.

The free tasting tray contained 6 teas and 6 coffees. You can probably pick out the varieties. Red Rice Tea, Rosela Tea and of course my favorite ginger tea. There was vanilla coffee and coconut coffee which I quite liked and sweet potato coffee which I didn't.

Som loves her coffee so she had to try the luwak coffee which you had to pay extra for, around £3. I'm not a coffee drinker but I was told it was good. Soon we headed off for the long drive back in the by now pouring rain.

31st December 2017 - Inland Bali Tour

Driver and guide booked and we headed off inland. First up Ubud and the Monkey Forest. The Ubud Monkey Forest covers about 27 and is heavily forested and hilly. Trails run through the park and a rocky stream in a deep revine runs through the middle.

About 600 Balinese long-tailed monkeys live in the area and have free run although I think they don't go far from the plentiful food provided to them. The staff feed them sweet potato three times a day and vendors sell bananas for tourists to feed them. There were monkeys of all ages and sizes; elder statesmen, mothers and babies and young monkeys playing in the trees. The park staff would encourage the monkeys to jump on the shoulders of any tourist who wanted them to and would threaten to fire an elastic band at them to encourge them to get off again.

I could spend hours sitting and watching monkeys. They are so human in the way the behave. The park felt like a good habitat for them, plenty of forest, plenty of food and three ancient Hindu temples for them to explore. What a life.

Next up the Tirta Empul temple famous for its holy spring.

The main attraction is the sacred spring water which is channeled through 13 spouts for people to ritually cleanse themselves. I had heard that often there are more tourists than pilgrims but I guess as it is New Year's Eve and locals want to wash away the previous year the locals were in the vast majority.

Below is the actually hot spring where water bubbles up before being channeled into the bathing pools. The temple itself is quite impressive built in about 950AD. It has a 'lived in' feel and feels more spiritual and holy for the lack of 'bling' you get in many religious places around the world.

In the main temple Hindus were praying and the temple officials sprinkled the holy water on their heads. I really enjoyed our stop here.

Our next stop was a washout literally. We headed up to the garden area in the hills where much of Bali's fresh produce is grown. The idea was we'd have lunch on a cliff top restaurant over looking Lake Batur across to the Batur volcano. But the fog rolled in and it persisted down with rain so it was lunch without a view.

Our last stop was at the Tegenungan Waterfall. The rain stopped by the time we arrived so we spent an hour or so walking down to the bottom of the waterfall, across some wooden planks which cross the rushing water and then climbed up the other side to the top of the waterfall.

I don't think health and safety would be very happy with this bridge. It is wet season so the river is running full and fast one slip and you'd be washed away down stream. In summer this is a swimming spot but we didn't need the many signs that were up pointing out that today it wouldn't be a good idea.

We climbed up the other side and took a few photos. The waterfall is much like many others but the setting in the jungle is lovely and it wasn't crowded so a lovely spot to spend some time.

After the rain it was very humid and so after climbing back up the other side we had definitely earned a gelato. Not that we really needed an excuse.

For New Year's Eve we headed down to the beach for cocktails. There were various parties at the bars along the beach, but we lay down on some sun loungers by the water. From the beach we could see right around the bay and at times it looked like a war zone. All night people were setting off fireworks. Nothing organised but just bars and individuals setting them off ad-hoc. Of course come midnight all hell broke loose, fireworks going off everywhere.

1st January 2018 - Kuta

Happy New Year. Today is Som's last day in Bali so the first thing today was a trip to the airport to say our goodbyes. She has to get back to work but as I'm off until February I'm staying on for 5 more nights.

As I was over on the west coast at the airport I decided to check out Kuta. This is the party town where young Aussies get off their heads every night. The taxi ride of just a few miles took nearly 45 minutes. Bali really has a traffic problem. On first sight the beach looks amazing. The beach is quite wide, the sand a good colour and it goes on for miles and miles. But on a closer look as you can see below it is very dirty. At many points along the beach plastic bottles and crisp packets and other stuff was washing forwards and back in the water. The tide was going out and was leaving a trai of plastic in its wake. It was really sad to see what could've been a beautiful beach being treated so badly.

I walked along the beach for over an hour then turned around and took another hour walking back. The waves were 3 or 4 feet and sounded great. Many people were surfing or in most cases trying to learn very slowly. As long as I didn't focus on the plastic it was lovely. But that's not something I could say about the 8 miles taxi ride back. The roads were snarled right up and the 8 miles took an hour and a half!

2nd January 2018 - To Ubud

A bit of a lie in then a taxi up to Ubud in time for lunch and what a great lunch. Balinese Tapas at Biah Biah. Babi Kecap (pork in sweet soy sauce), Kare Ayam (chicken in coconut curry), Bregedel Tempe Kemangi (tempe and kemangi leaf), Ayam Sambal Matah (stir-fry chicken with onion and chili), Tempe Manis (deep fried tempe in garlic and chili sauce), Sayur Plecing Santan (beans in peanut sauce). Washed it down with a lemon juice all for less than £4.

I wandered around town for a while. This is a back-packer town but feels very relaxed. I'm not expecting huge parties and booming music. There are lots of cafes and restaurants, lots of people offering tours and taxi drivers everywhere touting for business. The town is interspersed by Hindu temples but they seemed to be closed but this picture of the outside of one gives and idea of their style and their age.

3rd January 2018 - Ubud Cycling Tour

Today I took a trip with Greenbike Tour. From their website "This trip starts from the top of the Kintamani Area and make your way down, through forest, Asphalt Roads, Traditional Villages, and Traditional Balinese Rice Fields. Stopping along the way to learn about local food, Traditional Village life, and Balinese Home Industry (stone making and wood working).

We left Ubud around 8am and drove north. The first stop was at the Tegalalang Rice Terrace. This where Julia Roberts enjoyed a leisurely bike ride through rice paddies in Eat, Pray, Love. Never seen the film and I never intend to from what I've heard about it but it's hard to avoid when you're here.

Today, as most mornings, the weather was good and so this time I got to see Mt. Batur (volcano) and Lake Batur. It was quite a sight looking across the valley.

Soon it was time to jump on the bikes for our gentle downhill ride through the beautiful countryside. There were 5 of us and 2 guides one riding in front and one behind. For the whole ride the scenery was great. Rice fields, fruit trees, banana plants, a village now and again with people going about their everyday lives. Every village had an ancient looking temple, I love that the temples all look old but well kept and still in active use.

We past lots of work shops producing concrete alters for homes, it seems to be a big industry in the area. We stopped off a a family home. Greenbike chose one of the poor families in the area. In fact it wasn't a single house but they have three or four one room buildings which is typical. I guess they get built over time and when the family grows. Running around were chickens, some dogs and a couple of cats. Throughout Bali there are lots of dogs just wandering around without a care in the world. It was explained that Hindus especially respect dogs and so are treated really well. In return for letting us look around their home they provide them with some food and money. We were told that with the money they've received over the last year they have built a new outside toilet.

We cycled and stopped for photos for about three hours of which we peddled for maybe five minutes. The weather stayed fine the roads were quiet and it was a lovely way to spend a morning. We ended up at a restaurant with great views out over the rice paddies and some lily ponds and had a delicious Balinese buffet. I can see why Greenbike are so highly rated on TripAdvisor.

After a few lazy hours it was time for dinner. Found a nice cafe/restaurant on a quiet street (not many of those in Ubud) with some great art on the walls and hanging from the ceiling. The food was very good, somosas for starter and a delicious beef rendang (below) for main. A good end to a good day.

4th January 2018 - Elephant Cave and Monkeys

Today I had a fairly lazy day in and around Ubud. First up I jumped on the back of a motorbike to go to the Elephant Cave (Goa Gajah). It's about 10 minutes outside of Ubud but in terms of peace and quiet it is a million miles away.

The cave Goa Gajah is thought to date back to the 11th century and was rediscovered in 1922. The entrance to the cave is a relief of fierce creatures and demons with wide open mouth as a door. They thought it looked like an elephants mouth, hence the name Elephant Cave. Others say it's the gaping mouth of the Hindu god of the earth Bhoma and others of the child-eating witch Rangda in Balinese mythology. So as you can see opinions vary.

The inside is quite small. A 40ft corridor that leads to a T-junction and maybe 20ft corridors off each side and that's it. At the ends are some statues like the one above. I'm sure it has meaning to some people but left me underwhelmed.

But everything else about the temple area was great. First up the bathing pools which were excavated in 1954. They feature statues depicting Hindu angels holding vases that act as waterspouts. Unlike the one a few days ago no one was cleansing themselves but the water was flowing and the pools maybe a foot deep. There were other buildings around, all old, all beautiful in their own way but the highlight was the gardens.

Goa Gajah was built on a hillside where two small streams meet and form a ‘river junction’. From the bathing pool stone steps lead down to the gardens with the streams running through them falling down waterfalls and filling small lily ponds. It was a lovely place to sit for a while listening to the crickets buzzing and watching the butterflies and colourful dragon flies. A really nice spot.

In the afternoon I headed to the Monkey forest again. I wandered around searching out the most photogenic monkeys. People were buying bananas and holding them up so the monkeys would climb onto their shoulders to take them. There were so many bananas around that if the flesh feel on the floor most would ignore them and wait for another clean one. The old and the young lived on those scraps.

The guy below was having too much fun with the statue to worry about bananas. He really, really liked this statue. No wonder the statue had its hands over its eyes.

It's great just sitting and watching them. They all have different personalities, some brash, some shy. They all have their little groups and little rivalries. But most things stop when there's food around.

Of course the tiniest ones were the most fun. They haven't quite worked out what's food yet. They try leaves, banana skins. They try to climb but now and again need a helping hand from their Mum.

I sat for a while near some statues and three different monkeys came over and jumped onto me. This one sat on my shoulder for a while and even started grooming my hair. Either I was accepted into group or it thought I had flees.

5th January 2018 - Back to Kuta

I decided I'd seen all I wanted to see in Ubud so I decided to go down to Kuta for my final night so that I'm close to the airport for tomorrow morning. The first 20 odd miles took an hour the last mile another 30 minutes. The traffic in Kuta is awful. Anyway I finally arrived, dropped off my bags and wandered through town down to the beach.

As with most mornings on this holiday the sun was out and all looked great, but for the rubbish of course. I came across the sigh below. Very Asia. Instead of fixing the problem by cleaning up the beach each day they just put up a sign to blame someone else. I'm sure the plastic does come from elsewhere but if they want keep tourists coming in their thousands they should use some of the money generated to make the place better.

Below is the Ground Zero Monument remembering those who died in the 2002 Bali Bombings.

The 2002 Bali bombings occurred on 12 October 2002 in Kuta. The attack killed 202 people (including 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians, and people from more than 20 other countries). Obviously this affected many lives and really hurt Bali. This is one of the many ways in which people came to terms with what happened.

Tonight is my last night in Bali so I headed down to the beach to photograph whatever sunset there was. As on previous days there was cloud sitting on the horizon but it still made for a nice photo to round off my blog.