Sun, sea, sand, surfing, shopping and sundae's in Bali...
After a week of non stop sightseeing, we were looking forward to some sun, sea and sand in Bali.
Having convinced Rob and Louisa to amend their travelling itinery to incorporate Bali, we were fortunate in that they arrived there a few hours before us and had come up trumps in sorting us all out accomodation. For £7 each a night we stayed in a really nice hotel called Simpang Inn which was right in the heart of the action in the party town of Kuta.
We spent much of our time in Bali soaking up the sun on Kuta beach which is supposed to be the best beach in Bali. Given that it is a surfing beach, one afternoon we decided to give surfing a go and hired some surfboards from a local guy on the beach. James has surfed a couple of times before so he got on fine, I on the otherhand was hopeless! The waves were so powerful that each time I tried to get out to sea, they would catch my board and I'd end up getting clumped around the head! This was not fun and I came away covered in bruises and lucky to still have my full set of teeth!
When we went to hand our surfboards back, the guy who we rented them from tried to accuse James of damaging his board and insisted that he had to pay. This was complete rubbish as James had noticed the mark before he rented the board. It didn't take long before we were surrounded by the guys' friends all demanding that we pay for the damage. When we sensed that it was about to turn nasty, we told them that we were off to get the tourist police and made a dash for it! Luckily a taxi happened to be passing which we hailed and got the driver to take us to another hotel close to ours so that we couldn't be tracked down!
One day we headed to the next beach from Kuta called Seminyak. This is similar to Kuta although a little more chilled out. We actually didn't think that the beach was all that and we spent the day around a hotel swimming pool. Lou and I generally laid round the pool soaking up the sun whilst Rob and James played a lot of pool and had fun shooting into the basketball net in the swimming pool! Rob's playing cards also made an appearance whilst we had a few games of "big 2's".
A highlight of our time in Bali was definitely an organised bike tour that we did with a company called Banyan Bike Tours. This particular bike tour had been recommended as the number 1 thing to in Bali and it was definitely worthy of it's position. The bike tour commenced and finished in a town called Ubud which was a two hour drive from where we were staying in Kuta. Before commencing the bike ride the tour guides took us to a really scenic spot up in the mountains for a yummy breakfast.
The bike ride took us through local villages where all the local children were waving at us and shouting hello as we passed them, It was as though they knew we were coming and were waiting for us. We stopped off at a traditional Balinese "compound" which is were the Balinese live with their family members. As well as having living quarters for the whole family, the compound included an area where the family grew all sorts of fruit and vegetables. The family also owned some pigs and cows.
As well as taking us through several villages, the bike ride also took us through the heart of the countryside where there was rice paddies upon rice paddies. The area was so lush and green and so scenic.
After over 3 hours of cycling in the blistering heat we finished the bike ride with a Bintang beer (well coke for me actually!) and lunch at the house of the owner of the bike tour company. Lunch consisted of a typically Balinese buffet which included noodles, rice, fish, vegetables, tofu, chicken satay and prawn crackers. It was really tasty! We also got to sample some typically Balinese deserts which were all individually wrapped in banana leaves.
Before taking us back to our hotel, the tour guides took us to the number one tourist attraction in Ubud called Monkey Forest. This is exactly what it says on the tin - a forest full of monkeys! There are literally thousands of them and they are so funny. There were loads of babies which are the ugliest looking things I've ever seen, they look just like little aliens. When the monkeys weren't feeding there babies or hanging around the people who were feeding them bananas, they were picking the fees out of each other. It was so funny!
Another highlight was scuba diving on the Liberty Shipwreck. This is a shipwreck from USAT Liberty which sits submerged on Tulamben Beach in north east Bali. The wreck has been underwater since 1963, and is now home to a huge amount of fish and coral. This was our first wreck dive and it was pretty impressive. We did two dives at the site. on the first dive we just dived around the wreck whereas on the second dive we actually swam through the wreck. Also, unlike any dives we had done previously, we entered the sea via the beach rather than jumping off a boat.
Before we got to Bali, the main thing that we had planned to do whilst we were there was a night time treck up Mount Batur which is an active volcano. Just our luck, when we got there the volcano was on high alert meaning that an eruption was imminent. Although you couldn't treck up the volcano you could still visit nearby villages which gave a view of the volcano. We therefore hired a driver for the day and he took us to a village called Kintamani which overlooked the volcano and Lake Batur which sits to the side of the volcano. The views were absolutely beautiful however the look out spots were full of street hawkers harassing you to buy things. At one point I was completely surrounded by people trying to sell me bracelets, t-shirts, postcards etc. James kept getting harassed by a guy selling him the ugliest wood carvings I've ever seen, When James tried to give a reason not to buy one from him by saying that it was too big and that we were travelling, the guy came back with exactly the same carvings but in smaller sizes!
On the way back from Mount Batur we took the opportunity to return to Ubud as we hadn't had a chance to explore the town (or indeed the market!) when we we visited Ubud on our bike tour. Ubud is the cultural centre of Bali with numerous temples and museums. It also has a lovely market selling everything from clothes to jewlerry to local food produce. We spent some time exploring the market before having lunch in a lovely little restaurant which was the downstairs area of a house which had been converted. The kitchen was in the house next door so they had to keep running back and forth!
We also visited a temple for a bit of Balinese culture whilst in Ubud!
Aside from the cultural things, we did spend a lot of time partying in Bali. Kuta is a party resort full of young Australians and the nightlife is buzzing. Unfortunately, given its nature as a party resort, Kuta was a target for terrorism in 2001 when Islamic extremists from the nearby island of Java bombed the biggest nightclub killing dozens of tourists. There's a memorial called Ground Zero which sits it the place where the nightclub was. It's a really sad spot and each time we passed it hit it home what had happened there.
One thing that I haven't already mentioned which is defintiely worthy of mentioning is the shopping in Bali. Shops line the streets and you can pretty much name your price for anything and it will be accepted. Unlike any other coutry we've been to, there is no need to barter. Generally when you ask how much something is they'll tell you a ridiculosly high price. Once you've laughed this off of started to walk away they'll ask you to name your best price. No matter how ridiculous this is they'll generally accept it. I think the best bargins that we got were 50p dvds which are excellent quality, or James' "Dolce & Gabanna" sunglasses for £1!
We really enjoyed our time in Bali, we had the best weather since we'd started travelling and it was a mixture of relaxing, partying, seeing some beautiful scenery and taking in the Balinese culture. Oh and for anyone who has discovered the wonder that is the McDonalds hot fudge ice cream sundae, it is worth pointing out that they are only 30p in Bali. Needles to say, Rob, Louisa, James and I took a daily visit to McDonalds, mainly after a night out!
So until our next instalment it's goodbye for now!
Laura & James