This post explains our first tour around the island of Bali, Indonesia which included the bustling shopping-centric town of Seminyak, the central highlands region of Bengal, our night stay in the small village of Munduk, and finally the cultural mecca of Ubud. Read on to hear about our adventures and highlights of our journey through the island of Bali. In a different post we will share our second trip to southern Bali where surfing dominates.
Welcome to Bali for the First Time
- Spa day! Getting a hair cut (it had been 6 months…yikes), waxing, nails and massages (Will joined me for the massage). The Body Works spa was great and I highly recommend it to anyone just arriving to Bali.
Seminyak Beach: We dragged each other to the beach on our first full day since we were going through a bit of the usual ‘culture shock’ emotions. Best decision! We rented some loungers under an umbrella and a longboard for cheap then relaxed for a few hours. The surf was weak (waves were short close-outs), but it helped our moods to get onto the water. We liked the beach so much that the next day we did the same thing: two chairs, one umbrella, a board and sunshine put smiles on our faces.
- Cocoon Beach Club: Happy Hour pool side at a trendy beach club with over priced drinks and loud music. More like a low-light since we aren’t young 20-somethings (are we getting old?!) but fun to check out.
- Partner Beach Workout: With running off the table for a month or two (my self proclaimed “rest season”) I was keen to try a beach circuit workout that involved pushups, planks, lunges, squats, etc. Will joined me a bit (willingly :)) and we enjoyed a short beach workout together ending with a light jog and swim in the fairly warm ocean. It has been great to have a workout partner and continue keeping up our fitness together.
- Motel Mexicola: delicious, authentic Mexican food with a fun atmosphere. We love our Mexican food but have trouble finding really good original Mex. We were shocked at the fun atmosphere, authentic dishes and great tasting tacos at Mexicola. The atmosphere is young & trendy with music pumping, waiters clapping and the big space buzzing with people cheersing fresh margaritas! The best Mexican we found in Indonesia, but don’t visit if you can’t clap along when “Sweet Caroline” comes on.
- Mona Cafe: Mello vibe where sitting in a bean bag chair sipping some wine overlooking the sunset beach scene was perfect. Unless mosquitos show up. We enjoyed some wine and toasted to a good time in Bali, but headed to bed after a stop for fro-yo along the walk home.
- Grocery & Grind: All around great cafe and breakfast place where we bought our usual long black (Americano) with a little soy milk a few times. The breakfast of scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and house made rye bread hit the spot before we hit the beach. Went back for lunch the next day and tried the veggie burger which was a flavorful combo of grilled veggies, mozzarella cheese and onion chutney[pic below top left] .
- Sisterfields Cafe: Stopped for lunch, but the breakfast menu looked great. We enjoyed a delicious pumpkin lentil salad [pic below top right] that reminded us of the fall back home. Busy, trendy place so our recommendation is to go for a late lunch.
- Bali Bakery: House-made chocolate chip pie dessert with a side of vanilla ice cream put our craving for a tasty warm cookie to rest. We had been craving a traditional (American) home baked choco chip cookie [pic below left corner] and this takes the cake in Bali! We ate it quickly so the heat didn’t melt all the ice cream. A great place for non-traditional/westerner style baked goods and coffee.
- Mio & Guy: local wholesaler for cute dresses! Bargaining became way too fun and a great way to find all Christmas gifts. I purchased one blue dress that, you can tell from the pictures, I wore almost a week straight.
- Seminyak Square Market: In the middle of the town square were 15 to 20 booths with colorful dresses and goods. We Christmas shopped a bit and again found bargaining the way to go.
Road Trip inland to Munduk, waterfalls and volcanos
For the true Bali island experience we ventured inland where rice field terraces dominate, monkeys wander around without care, and the non-touristy Bali is found. Our driver, Dewa, picked us up for a two day tour of the northern mountainous region where we stayed the night in Munduk, a central mountain village.
Our Highlights Included:
- Bedugul Tanah Lot tour, a Hindu temple built on the sea. We observed some surfers in the bay below and couldn’t wait to get on the water in the next weeks.
- Central mountain Ulun Bratan Temple built in the water, although their was no water in the lake due to dry season! Pretty temple but unfortunate it was not surrounded by water, it would have been even more beautiful.
- Twin Lakes viewpoint where we stopped for coffee. Tried the traditional drink of ginger coffee (raw ginger bits placed in *Bali coffee) for the first time and actually liked it!
- Munduk overnighter at Aditya’s Homestay in the mountains where we found ourselves to be some of the only “westerners” in the village due to off-season. We took a walk along a dirt road to over look rice fields, although it was just a walk without the view. Along the way we observed the small, simple local homes and greenery of the jungle.
- Woke at Aditya’s to a beautiful sunrise over the lower valley of rice fields, banana trees, palm trees and lush greenery with rolling mountains behind. The sound of roosters sounded to wake the village. We observed the locals; some headed to work on scooters, some minding the fields, others putting tarps out for drying coffee beans, kids rushing to school in uniforms and women cooking breakfast. We enjoyed a breakfast of banana pancakes and an omelette (similar to Nepal!) in the open-air dining room.
- Munduk *warung for a home-cooked meal from a local. We were her only customer for the night, other than her family. We sat outside on the patio and read over the English/Indo menu. We ordered in broken Indonesian (she replied in the little English she knew) and after about 45 mins of her cooking in the back kitchen she appeared with three plates of piled with Urap Campur, corn croquette and chicken curry. She explained that we ordered well since these foods were often paired together among friends. It was one of the best meals of our Indonesian trip!
- *Warungs are restaurants that serve traditional Indonesian food and beverages.
- Waterfall(s) hike in Munduk was a great way to get some fresh mountain air and experience the jungle before the heat of the day. The two falls were beautiful and we managed to follow the sometimes rugged trail back to the center of town. We had to hike past a few farms where the dogs were skeptical and down a few flights of stairs which reminded our legs all too much of Nepal.
- On day number two, Dewa suggested we stop at one of the many coffee plantations to try traditional *Bali coffee and the famous (aka. touristy) Luwak coffee (aka. poop coffee) which is coffee brewed from a bean extracted from the Luwak animal’s droppings. We were in! Found out plantation workers pick the coffee beans from the Luwak droppings, boil/sterilize the beans, roast them over open wood fire and package or grind them. Will tried it and didn’t notice any sort of special taste, but due to the process it’s expensive. We enjoyed learning about the coffee plantation and found it similar to those in Peru and Costa Rica. It was fascinating and fun to taste the coffee. Along with a few varieties of coffee we tasted locally produced teas: turmeric, mangosteen, lemongrass, ginger, rosella and black. Ginger and lemongrass were my favorite, but the Nepal ginger tea w/ a little honey is still my favorite.
- *Bali coffee, also referred to as Lombok coffee or Indonesian coffee, is a bit like instant coffee but without the freeze drying. It uses very finely ground coffee beans (powder-like) and placed into a cup then piping hot water is poured in. We quickly learned you have to wait a few minutes before enjoying to let the powdery grounds settle and let the water cool. No filtering allowed!
- Our long 3 hour car ride to Ubud. Stop number one was at a view point of the active volcano, Mount Batur. We stopped for lunch and soaked in the view of the volcano and its surrounding lake, Lake Batur.
- Stop number two was at the manicured terraced rice fields of Tegalalang. The lush fields may have been for show as tourists were walking around them, but they still represented the other fields all over the island that yielded rice. It was a good break from the car.
Ubud – The cultural heart of Bali
We completed the three hour road trip with Dewa in Ubud, the growing cultural center of Bali and a place featured in the book Eat, Pray, Love (one of my favorites). It seems like one mid-sized town but is actually 14 small villages in one, which surprised me. It is full of artists, craftsmen, markets, and good warungs. The collection of villages is lined with rice field terraces and a Monkey Forest. All of which we experienced a bit of. It was nice to see less of the western culture’s shops, restaurants and cafes like in Seminyak; but rather authentic Indonesian ones.
- We ended the long drive to Ubud by ring shopping at local craftsmen’s shops. Along our worldly ventures I’ve been collecting rings so I was excited to see the area known for silver jewelry making near Ubud called Celuk Village. Dewa explained the silver craftsmen shops were mostly exports and showy for tourists/visitors, but they were still authentic and produced onsite. Can’t get more local then that! Thankfully he knew the best ones to visit and, after some usual indecision/decision making, I found a beautiful handmade Bali rose band. Thanks to the boys for shopping with me!
- Arriving in Ubud homeless. We didn’t book a place for the night since showing up and asking for a lower price was the cheapest way to go in off-season. It also helps to see a room before you book it to ensure the place is safe and comfortable. We went to a good looking homestay that I had previously found on TripAdvisor, asked for a nice room with a low price, negotiated, and booked a few nights. So glad to kick our feet up in an air-conditioned room for the night! Perks of the stay were: a/c, large pool, free breakfast, cheap scooter rentals on-site ($5/day), and warm/cold water showers.
- Campuhan Ridge Walk jog through the rice fields. We ended up running two mornings because the path was short, built for stable footing and the scenery was beautiful.
- Visiting Tegenungan Waterfall. Giant falls that seemed to be visited by locals and tourists alike. We enjoyed taking a dip with everyone else to cool off.
- Monkey Forest: A must for anyone visiting Ubud! There were indeed monkeys everywhere! We enjoyed watching them lounge, play in the pool, climb on people coaxing them with banana pieces, sleep, and relax. Every once and a while they would screech and chase after one another reminding everyone around that they’re still wild animals. Very entertaining to observe the creatures that we don’t get to interact with back home.
- Celebrating Halloween by carving a watermelon since pumpkins aren’t grown in Indonesia. We improvised, poured ourselves some cocktails and co-carved our green watermelon. Need I say more about how we keep our holidays fun?! Later that night after dinner at a Mexican restaurant and we ended the day by watching the Simpsons Halloween episode.
- Renting a scooter for two days. It was pretty entertaining to drive, an easy/cheap way to get around and a good way to cool off!
- Surfers outlet store for bargain swim suits. We walked into a shop to check out the sale for suits not hopeful with our low budget in mind. Suits aren’t a clothing item I enjoy shopping for, but we needed an extra for the islands next week. We weren’t thrilled with the price so I asked if they’d take another 30% off… after negotiating with a few sales reps (teenagers) for a good 30 mins they gave in and we scored a deal. Two (Roxy and America) suits for under $50!
- Glass art gallery where glass bowls, pitchers, vases were molded to fit driftwood bases. It only cost 250,000rp ($15) for medium piece, but it was $245 to ship! Bummer, these would have been fun to purchase.
- Neka Art Gallery: we had to visit at least one gallery in this cultural mecca. Neka Gallery was built in 1966 by Mr. Suteja Neka, an art connoisseur. The gallery contained his personal collection which has selected paintings from all art works by Balinese artists, Indonesian artists, Asian artists as well as European born artists. Their paintings was inspired by natural beauty, people and culture of Bali. It was neat to see and learn about the Hindu religion along with seeing many depictions of traditional Balinese life and culture. The ‘keris,’ or daggers, in the last room were Will’s favorite.
- Massages from the talkative twins. We opted for cheap massages at our homestay and probably shouldn’t have, but for $6.22 each we can’t complain. The two girls giving us massages were likely not skilled professionals and talked throughout the entire hour. Afterwards we were less then enthused, but considered it a good, cheap nap.
- Ending with a happy hour and travel planning at a local bar. We took one last spin on the scooter and clinked our glasses to a great visit in Ubud while gearing up for the Gili Islands!
What an amazing time in northern Bali. We will later post about our
adventures on the Lombok islands and our surfing adventure in Uluwatu, Bali. Stay tuned and keep adventuring!