Bali, Indonesia March 11-15, 2009

We are glad we took a traveler's insurance at the last moment before leaving to the airport and did bring our own toilet paper with us. The nightly taxi ride from Denpasar to Ubud on curvy and narrow roads with a lot of dogs and teenagers on mopeds, and without working safety belts is plain scary. It takes us some time to find our destination, but we can tell, even in the dark, that some of the landscape we drive through is amazing. And toilets, quite another standard than in Singapore, or Finland ...
We arrive at our Villa at the Sunset Hill before midnight and have a moment to relax before going to bed. We are excited and looking forward to seeing the place in daylight. To sum up our three-day experience at Sunset Hill, this place is really cool, location convenient, the scenery gorgeous, and the service superb.
A few words about the trip first. Garuda Indonesia is not the most comfortable airliner, quite the contrary: space-wise it is terrible --- there is not enough room between the seats to hold up a magazine or book to read --- and the food is terrible. The terminal 1 of the Changi airport is not much better either. We have a quick meal at a vegetarian Indian place before boarding. The food is overly spicy but not very tasty. Not a very good start to our vacation.

Wednesday, March 11

We wake up without alarm going off. The morning is kind of cool, the air being not humid at all. A long-time guest Thomas, a German, welcomes us to the breakfast on the patio. We have some fruits, papaya and watermelon, toast with tea and coffee, which is served in a French press. Awesome.
Getting to the Villa by car is difficult because of its location on the top of a hill between two steep river gorges, but there is a very convenient paved foot path that takes us to the town in 15 minutes. The walk on the path is serene and the scenery beautiful. We meet few other tourists.
The Ubud town itself is noisy and crowded by cars and motorcycles ridden by adults and kids alike. Taxi touters get to our nerves. The breakfast was rather light so we get hungry soon. We stop at a book cafe for crepes and sandwich.
We also find a simple map of the town which helps the navigation some. We take a street lined by boutiques to the Monkey Forest, a sanctuary of temples and wild monkeys.

The final plan for today's walk is to take a tour on the rice fields on a trail that should return to Ubud. However, we get lost and found ourselves at a small shack located amidst the fields that sells beer.

We take a short break before continuing. Then we come up an art gallery, also in the middle of rice fields, and meet its owner, who insists on showing us a shortcut to our Villa. Huge mistake. He takes us onto an almost non-existent trail that drops down to the river, crosses the river over a shaky makeshift bridge, and then continues the other slope up to the rice fields. Terrain is rocky, and we are muddy all over. Luckily, when we appear from the gorge to the rice field again we are just meters away from the Villa and the shower.
It is 3pm., and at 5pm. we are on our way back to the town again. We look for promising looking restaurants we think we saw earlier today on Monkey Forest Road. We visit one for Mediterranean meze plate and Gado gado. The treat with drinks costs us about 11USD.

Our next stop is at Bali Pesto Cafe, where we just have some local beer from Storm Brewing, Red Dawn bronze ale and Black Moon iron stout. The deal is "buy 2, get 1 free", so we enjoy an additional tropical ale (3.7% ABV!) All beers very good.

Our last stop is at Laughing Buddha Bar (on Facebook), where we are acquainted with Balinese wines: Singaraja Hill red, 2007 (Alfonso grape) and Aga white from Hatten Wines, Sanur, Bali. All wines enjoyed with great blues music.

Thursday, March 12

We sleep late and go out for a run. The sun is barely up, but it is starting to get hot. We carry the water but find multiple opportunities to buy drinks on our route.
Before hitting the road again we have a relaxing breakfast on the patio, so that our easy-going vacation will not totally turn into physical workout. Once back in the city, we get Tomi a Columbia's brimmed hat which is an excellent purchase for the region where the sun mostly shines directly from above.
Sooner or later it is lunch time, and we find ourselves at Warung Igelanca for Opor Ayam and Nasi Campur. Simple, and quite flavorful, but by no means light. We continue to the Botanic garden through some local neighborhoods. The garden itself has seen better days. It is a bit ramshackle, and hopefully, the outrageous entrance fee of five U.S. dollars per person goes to the maintenance and improvement of the place. By the way, we are the only guests in the gardens, but there are some workers taking care of the plants and the structures, and a lonely goat making terrible noise.
We take taxi back to the Villa, but soon we are back on our feet and on the way to the town. We stop at Ary's Warung (contemporary Balinese and Asian cuisine) for appetizers: Tei has steamed zucchini flowers filled with seafood and pomelo salad, Tomi has grilled scallops and asparagus. Yummy! And very nicely displayed.
Next stop, after shopping some organic soap and yoga tops, is at KAFE, where we enjoy a meze plate with local Storm beer. The place is an American style hippie coffee house, which can be found in some college towns, such as Bloomington, Eugene, Boulder, or Urbana-Champaign. Although, I guess that in those places no one would ever move their empty dishes onto the neighbor's table after finishing the meal, especially if the table is occupied, but here they do. And in Finland!
We briefly visit Laughing Buddha again, but it is full of people and cigarette smoke. We have spring rolls, sashimi tuna, and vegetarian samosas on the balcony.

We return to Ary's for glasses of wine, before negotiating a deal with a taxi driver to take us back to the Villa. It does not go smoothly, as the guy is totally upset when we pay him the 50,000 rupiahs we mutually agreed on before the trip.

Friday, March 13

We start our last day in Ubud with a run. We take the same route as yesterday, but this time we stop for some jelly drinks at a small stall. Someone riding a scooter past us asks if we want a taxi. Haha!
After a quiet breakfast we are back on the trail to Ubud. A guy stops us and forcibly sells us a coconut for 10,000 rupiahs. He also cuts another one for us to drink, but we refuse it. Should be more careful with these people. But he is the one with the knife ...

Once on the busy main street of Ubud we take another direction, and head away from downtown.

After walking past a number of galleries we stop at Warung Simple for drinks but end up having lunch. This is a newly opened place run by very young people. And the idea is SIMPLE. We have Soto Ayam (traditional chicken soup with glass noodles, bean sprouts, and cabbage) for 20,000 rupiahs, and Bubur Ayam (rice porridge with gravy, chicken, and crackers) for 15,000 rupiahs. Our dear reader may have already guessed that ayam is chicken in Bahasa Indonesia. The food is good, but again, not very healthy.
We take a long detour back to the Villa and have pints of beer at Club Cocos, a bar at the hotel next door. Then we spend the relaxation part of our vacation --- two hours at the infinity pool.

We return to town for the last dinner in Ubud. This time we choose Cafe Lotus next to a Hindu temple, and therefore it is not allowed to serve beef.

Bali is predominantly Hindu by religion, and it shows. We mainly pay attention to the offerings that are prepared several times a day and are everywhere, but a colleague of mine who visits Bali a couple of months later, and is more knowledgeable or sensitive to regional cultures, also notices the caste system in operation.

At Lotus, we start with avocado-prosciutto salad and seafood melange (Thai salad with shrimp), and continue with pork and tuna. Food is ok, but not phenomenal.

We move to another table to finish our meal --- the dining side is becoming way too smoky. We enjoy local sparkling wine from Hatten (Tunjung and Jepun) with the desserts. We briefly visit the Ary's and Terazo for some more wine. The night is nice and much cooler, almost chilly. We take a taxi to the Villa, with the same guy as last night. This time he is a bit more cooperative.

Next two days are going to be something totally different!

Saturday, March 14

The luxury part of our vacation is over and now we will rough it. Not quite ... Rachel and her husband from C.Bali are here to pick us up at 11:15am, and take us to the village Kedisan, Kintamani, in the North-Eastern part of the island.
We quickly settle at our hotel Segara, which is quite basic compared to the Sunset Hill in Ubud. We have lunch and then off we are on our bikes. The frame sizes are not quite optimal for us. There are several steep, not too long hills on our route, which are rather tough rides because of the low seat.

First we take narrow paved trails to the next village, which, we are told, is traditional. There are kids everywhere greeting us "Halo!" We get a brief lecture on temple building in this village. Although most of the temples look like hundred years old, some of them are just shy of five. The building material, local volcanic rock, obviously is not very durable.

We continue to the next village, which is not so traditional, meaning they have televisions, western clothes, cars, and are not that strict on what kind of information to deliver at schools. We continue even farther along the coastline of Lake Batour to the village that was wiped out by a landslide in 1960's.

The suspension in bikes is superb, otherwise the ride would be really rough. On hour way back, we visit a school and the community center in the traditional village. Some small, very curious footballers are playing on the school yard, and are quite taken when a white man kicks a loose ball back to them.

Once back at the hotel, we grab our clothes and are on our way to the hot springs to relax. Typical to the organized trips, one is in a constant hurry to somewhere. At the springs, we have a total of an hour and fifteen minutes to relax and have dinner before the chauffeur comes to take us back to the hotel.
The dinner takes a long time, even if we are the only diners in the place. Our ride is early, so we have to rush through the meal. Soon, we are back in the hotel, and then suddenly there is nothing to do. The village is very quiet and dark --- there are no street lights, so we have a great opportunity to view the starry sky.

We return to the hotel restaurant and have some beers, together with conversation with the restaurant staff. Actually, the guy we are mostly talking to is not staff, but an artist selling fake paintings as his own (the C.Bali people warn us). It is getting chilly, the air is not humid at all, so it is quite comfortable: +22 degrees Celsius! It is the coldest outside temperature we have experienced in last seven months. We warm ourselves with Balinese Ara-k before going to bed.

Sunday, March 15

The last day starts at 7am. It is another gorgeous, sunny morning. The breakfast is served at the hotel restaurant, arranged by C.Bali. We wait way too long for orange juices and sandwiches topped with eggs, and never get the coffee.

When finished with the sandwiches we and our guides are ready for a brief canooeing trip on Lake Batour. We carry the inflatable canoes to the lake and float around for an hour or so.

Then we have to rush back to the hotel, take a quick shower, pack our luggage, and off we go to the airport!

We have a nice overview of East side of Bali when driving to the airport, for instance some bamboo forests.

At the airport, after thanking our dear and very informative guides, we have to decide what to do for the next five hours before our flight leaves.

We visit Kuta. It makes a horrendous end to our otherwise very enjoyable vacation.

The touters and vendors are extremely aggressive and do not give up even if we try to ignore them. And once one touter gives up, the next one is right there to harass us even if it is quite obvious we are not interested in plastic miniature surf boards or tasteless t-shirts. The taxi drivers are extremely annoying since they drive next to us walking on the sidewalk, and honk repeatedly, until they give up and the next one shows up.

We don't do nothing much but walk on the beach, and then stroll the narrow streets window shopping, have a beer, buy some great Balinese coffee and wine, and then have an early dinner before returning to the airport.

End of the story! Some things we really liked about Bali is the coffee (only Tei drinks coffee, though), and the taste of fresh fruits and veggies in every meal that are locally produced nearby and picked ripe, and have not travelled a long way (unlike in Singapore). We had a chance to taste some innovative cuisine, too, and enjoyed good and enthusiastic service in some places, and last but not least, tons of warm sunshine and dry air! Things we didn't like: agressive touting, and the fact that we were supposed to bargain over each purchase. Squat toilets in some places were quite nasty: the locals do not bother to keep clean something that is supposed to hold something dirty anyway. Finally, practically all men smoke.