Pierre-Brice Lebrun - 2011-02-07
When you take a ride around the island of Bali it’s difficult not to come across a temple worth visiting. It’s also difficult to not take an interest in the local handicrafts and the delicious food in the restaurants - Indonesian cuisine has some wonderful surprises in store...
The island of Bali is roughly the same size as Corsica (one day is enough to make a complete tour by car), making it easy to travel around, although it has to be said the roads are not great. To get around you can hire a scooter or a small Japanese motorbike (from 150000 to 200000 Rp/day not including fuel or 350000 to 600000 Rp with a driver*.) If you prefer pushbikes they are available (from 20000 to 30000 Rp) or you can take public transport: both the bemo minibuses, which are systematically jam-packed, and the buses cost just a few thousand rupiahs. You can use them to travel everywhere; at times hopping from one to the other.
Bali is situated between Java and the Sunda Islands which include the easily accessible Gili and Lombok and Timor and Komodo (further west), home of the famous Komodo dragon. In total the Indonesian archipelago consists of 13,677 islands. In these perfect conditions it would be a shame not to take the boat, at least to visit Gili - a timeless island free of cars and motorbikes (just bicycles and horse drawn carts called cidomo.) “A few hours” on the ferry or boat are sufficient to reach it (departure times and length of journeys are extremely variable and the crossing is a hair-raising experience!)
The beaches on the Gili islands are something straight out of a picture postcard, with turquoise seas, and white sand lined with palm trees. Scuba diving enthusiasts have a feast for their eyes here with multicoloured fish, sea turtles, manta rays … There is also plenty to see, not far from the shore for surface snorkellers, while others will simply want to do nothing: a good choice which is also very agreeable!
Bali: a brief outline
The island, a former Dutch colony, consists of three distinct elements which can be discovered in as many stages: the Indian Ocean beaches, the eastern and central rice paddies, overhung by volcanoes (Gunung Agung rises to a height of 3142 m) and the seaside resorts of the north, often left unnoticed by tourists, such as Lovina (its Kalibukbuk beach is not to be missed), Pemuteran (ideal for scuba diving) and Singaraja (Bali’s second city after the capital Denpasar.) Don’t hesitate to take the coastal road to find them!
The Temples of Bali
Everywhere there are temples (pura) and shrines dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, or offerings to Sanghyang Widi, the supreme deity of the Balinese. At least three temples are found in each village, each with its own function and location positioned in an intelligent alignment with the mountains, sea or rising sun. On top of this one finds temples belonging to families and clans.
It would be a shame not to visit the temple of Ulawatu (on the Bukit Peninsula), the Pura Tirta Empul (in Tampaksiring, north-east of Ubud), Pura Batukau (on the slopes of Gunung Batukau, Bali’s second highest peak), Pura Kehen (in Bangla) and Pura Karang Maduwe (north of Kubutambahan): these are considered amongst the most beautiful on the island.
The road from Ubud
Ubud is an ideal base for exploring the island: you can take a stroll along the Jalan Raya Ubud, the Main Road, or visit the Monkey Forest (www.monkeyforestubud.com) and the artists' village of Penestanan. We took the Jalan Raya Penestanan to the west of the Campan bridge where it winds through the Sungai Blangsuh canyon. The Sungai Ayung (sungai means "river") is the best known one for rafting.
Ubud has remained relatively authentic, unlike Kuta, which receives an uninterrupted flow of loud Australian tourists in Bermuda shorts. In Ubud you can visit the excellent artists’ village and daily music and dance shows. You can also take introductory courses in dance, painting, Balinese cuisine, kite and batik making etc, in a dozen genuine and inexpensive schools. Also don’t be afraid to get away from Ubud to visit isolated villages, such as Celuk, which specializes in silver work. One can also hike through the rice paddies in the area surrounding Ubud (a guide is recommended whilst flip-flops are not!) In the sun the colour of these fields is close to fluorescent green! They are inhabited by snakes and frogs and their terraced formations create a truly sublime landscape.
Besides the succulent nasi goreng, an authentic national dish, you’re also likely to appreciate the bakmi goreng (the fried rice is replaced with fried noodles) and Satay (small skewers of meat grilled over a wood fire) drizzled with a spicy peanut sauce. We enjoyed babi guglin (a suckling roast pig) and tutuh bebek (duck with honey, which has a false air of Peking duck). The fish and shellfish are also delightful (lobster and crab is absolutely affordable here), as is the fruit: mangoes, pineapples, papayas, guavas and lychees, that quench your thirst as you amble along the markets. Take the opportunity to chat with the inquisitive and friendly Balinese, who are never shy in calling out to the tourists to start a conversation: Dari man? Mau kemana? jalan-jalan!
*14,300 Rp = 1 pound
Where to stay
A superb Hotel with a high level of comfort, reputed for its spa and swimming pool in the middle of a forest.
Where to Eat
Café des artistes
A Belgo-Balinese Cultural Bar
Jl Bisma (perpendicular to Jl Raya, to the west of Monkey Forest Road)
Griya Restaurant (barbecues)
The best European and Asian food in Ubud, according to the Francophone ‘Gazette de Bali.’ Jl Campuha (a prolongment of Jl Raya, opposite Bisma)