I’ve been in Bali now for over seven weeks writing the travel guide for travelfish.org. The information is now online which is really quite quick for destination information that has been solidly researched! Many paperback travel guides can be 6-12 months out of date by the time you purchase the latest version, so this really is impressive stuff.
I’ve been wanting to write about my experience as the researcher of a travel guide…but I just can’t figure out what angle to take…and what would be interesting to a reader. So for now, I’ll leave that story until another time but I’d like to know what you want to know about — if anything!
Bali really is an interesting place. Most people know that the Kuta/Legian area is mass-tourism-central and for that reason, most people talk about avoiding it like the plague. But that story isn’t backed up by the facts. The fact is that there are a lot of budget travellers in town. A LOT. I mean, OVER RUN. So I’m sort of getting the impression that while it’s cool to say that Kuta is a terrible place, most people stay here for a few days or a week anyway and take in the sun, sand and surf as well as cheap beer and food. It’s a winning combination despite the throngs that partake in it!
Outside of Kuta/Legian, things have been decidely quiet. The entire North feels comparitively deserted and it is absolute bliss. Places like Amed and Pemuteran have been amazing places to hang around and relax. Yeh Gangga on the south coast felt like a million miles from civilisation. Tirta Gangga felt special because no other tourists were staying around there. Kuta/Legian feels like a different planet. It really does. And I don’t hate it. It’s just different.
There has been a bit of debate on the interwebs in recent times about internet access in Bali and how awful it is. Quite frankly, it’s all rubbish. I have had very cheap 3G internet the whole time here except for a black spot in Yeh Gangga. The rest of the time I’ve been getting better coverage than in many parts of Australia and the cost has been $11 for 300mb. That’s a bargain for mobile data on a phone. It gets even cheaper if you go into the Simpati shop and get a proper 3G broadband deal. Free WiFi has been rare outside of Kuta/Legian, but the guesthouses and cafes are generally so cheap that to get free WiFi would be a fantastic bonus. When I have gotten free WiFi, the connection has usually been 1mbit, but has sometimes been 4mbit. That’s pretty good, I reckon.
Costs have been like this so far. Average accommodation price for me has been 150,000 rupiah ($16.50) inclusive of tax and breakfast. This has usually gotten me a good quality room and occasionally with hot water and very rarely with air-con. I hired a car for 40 days earlier and that cost $9 per day. Petrol is dirt cheap and not even worth explaining in detail, but just say it’s 50c/L and you don’t use much here. I’ve tried to eat one local meal per day and those have cost me $1.50 with a drink. Occasionally $3 if I go overboard and load up on meat. Tourist meals have been around the $6 mark which will normally gets me a pizza or burger or some other Western rubbish that I can’t do without. A big bottle of beer is $2.50.
I honestly thought loneliness was going to be a problem, but it hasn’t been. I have been so well-connected to the internet via my iPhone that it really doesn’t feel that different to being at home. Twitter, facebook and the web have been great companions, no matter how nerdy and socially isolationist that sounds!
All in all, it’s been a great time, relatively cheap and I have not been slumming it. I’ll try and get some inspiration up to write about my travel writing gig. In the meantime, ask as many questions as you like!
A little while back I started writing some Bali travel posts documenting my love for Bali and some of the things that I’ve enjoyed doing there. Since I started that process, I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to actually formalise some of my knowledge of Bali by conducting research and writing reviews on behalf of the fabulous company, Travelfish. Travelfish specialise in South East Asia travel guides, primarily in the online world via their website and iphone apps. They have recently expanded their coverage into Indonesia and I will be the writer for the Bali portion.
So I thought this would be a good opportunity to document my experiences travelling around majestic Bali and I’ll therefore be posting some articles about this.
The plan is to spend between 8 and 10 weeks completing this task. I intend to rent a car for most of the time in order to make transport between destinations speedy, but still affordable. I’ve already been through East Bali and I intend to complete a loop of the island before heading inland.
People have constantly been telling me how this is a dream job – and in many ways it is. But I have to keep reminding people that it’s not like some kind of paid holiday. I’ll actually be working the entire time, earning travel writer’s wages and living a fairly isolated existence! But yes, I do feel fortunate to have been given this opportunity, I am passionate about travel and therefore this fits into my general philosophy of pursuing my passions – I plan to make the most of it.
I’ve generally encountered two types of people that enjoy Bali. The beach types and the culture types. The beach types predominantly hang out in the South (Kuta, Legian Seminyak and the Bukit) and the culture junkies in the centre – the centre being Ubud. So what does “culture” exactly mean? Well, it’s a catchall for seeing dancing, galleries, doing yoga, eating great food, staying in plush accommodation and wandering through the ricefields. If you like this stuff, you’ll love Ubud because it has it in spades.
On the cultural front, just about everyone visits a traditional dance in one of the main styles: Legong, Barong, Kecak etc. Although in the centre of Ubud these are put on purely for tourists, they still honour the traditional methods and in some cases offer a better experience than what you find in local villages. The main reason being that it costs a lot of money to have a hire a gamelan and train a bunch of dancers to the level that are on display in the centre of town. The other main cultural activity that people partake in is visiting local artists’ galleries and the woodcarving village of Mas or the stonemasons’ village of Batubulan.
Another favourite of visitors to Ubud is visiting a spa. Now for the blokes, this might seem a little girly, but it’s actually a pleasure to roll up and have a massage for an hour or two. Some places charge western prices and some are as cheap as USD$5 for an hour massage. You generally get what you pay for, but at the cheaper end competition is so fierce that with a little shopping around you can get a top massage in clean surrounds for a fraction of the price you’d pay at home.
Accommodation in Ubud ranges from a bare room with cold shower to hotels that rank among the best in the world. Most of the best accommodation options are located so far out of town that you have to use the hotel shuttle to get anywhere and are really only practical for those wanting seclusion. In the centre of town there are any number of cheaper options with common prices being around the USD$15/night and USD$40/night marks. Cheaper than this and you’re likely to get something not very nice.
For foodies, Ubud has all that you could ask for. World-class dining, great coffee, locally run eateries (rumah makan/warung) and even an organic food market. Most of the top-quality dining is found at the many top-end hotels around town such as Uma Ubud and the Viceroy. But there are also restaurants such as Lamak and Mozaic that are independently run and offer world-class food. The cafe scene in Ubud is also quite developed with Tutmak and Kakiang Bakery serving the best coffee and some good food too! On the local front, everyone visits Ibu Oka for a plate of pig ($3). But there are a bunch of other places that do good local food too like Warung Mendez (mainly for the goat) and Warung Mina. For the health nuts, you cannot go past Kafe or Bali Buddha for a vast menu featuring fresh local produce.
The one thing that I find most people don’t do when visiting Ubud is walk. Yeah, people might walk around the big loop that is Monkey Forest Road and Jalan Hanoman, but people rarely get beyond that. But beyond that loop are the endless surrounding ricefields. The Lonely Planet guide has a bunch of walks around the local area and they are generally very good and not too difficult to accomplish despite the oppressive heat. Just take a hat and some water and all is OK. The tranquillity just a 10 minute walk in any direction around Ubud is phenomenal and should not be missed!
Visted Ubud? How was your experience? Want to visit Ubud? What do you look forward to most?
As a bit of a Bali tragic, I do my best to tell anyone and everyone about this fantastic island set amongst 17,000 others in the Indonesian Archipelago. The main reason being that here in Australia, Bali has a very poor image – one of boozy tourists with no shirts on, making fools of themselves whilst destroying the local culture. There is no denying that this is the case in very small parts of Bali. And for those that enjoy this sort of relaxation, good for them. For most others, it’s unappealing and also very avoidable on a trip to Bali. There is so much to say about Bali that I’ve never attempted a blog post before – it’s too big. This time, I think I’ve got the perserverence to make it happen. So over the coming weeks, I’ll write a number of posts about the different areas of Bali, the food, the accommodation, the things to do. This should be fun.
Kuta, Legian & Seminyak
The main boozy shenanigans happens in Kuta and Legian. Move further up the beach to Seminyak and the booziness turns more expensive, hedonistic and snobby. If you’re into boozy nights, these are the places to head and there is fun to be had! But for me, it’s in small doses only.
When people from around the world (aside from Australia) think of Bali, they think of an exotic island with phenomenal people, volcanoes, verdant rice fields and a unique and mysterious culture. Ubud is the place that has all of these elements come together in a tourist-friendly environment. Yes, Ubud is tourist-central, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It does the tourist “thing” so well that whilst you get all the tourist creature comforts like hot water, western toilets, clean rooms and unbelievable food, you get a sense that behind the tourist veneer there is a fully functioning Balinese village(s) in operation. And this is true. You will often see ceremonies in full swing with processions, dancing and an assortment of cultural things going on at all times of the year.
A short walk in any direction from the centre of Ubud lands you in the middle of seemingly endless ricefields. Sometimes green, sometimes flooded, sometimes mid-harvest.
The East of Bali is visited predominantly by Europeans and hence is very seasonal in terms of visitor numbers. That is, outside of the European Summer, East Bali can seem dead. The main towns are Candi Dasa and Padang Bai although you could probably class Sidemen as part of this as well. Most people visit East Bali to be near the ocean and for a more authentic Balinese experience. The culture here is said to be more traditional than in other parts of the island, but that said, I only notice more poverty and perhaps this is what forces people to rely more heavily on their religion. Needless to say, the entire Eastern landscape is dominated by the 3000m+ (10,000ft) Gunung Agung. It is truly an awe inspiring site.
The North generally stretches from Amed to Lovina (and further West for some) and is a much drier part of the island than the South. Rice is much harder to grow here and you’ll therefore see other crops on the landscape such as corn (jagung) making for a totally different feel to the rest of the island. It can also be brutally hot in these parts adding to the more barren feel of the landscape.
The rest of the island, and I’m talking about a vast area, is relatively untouristed (Sanur excluded). It’s great to cruise around the empty roads on a motorbike (US$4/day) or car (US$10/day) and just explore. There are accommodation options in some of these areas catering to tourists and they generally offer a more relaxed and “authentic” experience, but this may be too much for a first time visitor that hasn’t seen the activity-dense hotspots of Kuta, Legian, Seminyak and Ubud.
So that’s a little taster of Bali for now. I cannot emphasise the extent to which most people are captured by this place. Words such as “magic”, “heaven” and “paradise” are thrown about with such regularity that we must ignore them – nothing could be this good. But it is. The way I like to describe Bali is that I have a small pain in my stomach when I think back on all the fantastic experiences I have had there. A yearning to return again and again.