We find it difficult not to love South East Asia. The food is perhaps the best in the world, the people are warm and welcoming and it is always striking how happy everyone seems to be in their communities. Indonesia was the next stop in our trip and we were greeted upon landing in Denpasar airport (which by the way, is pretty lush thanks to a recent upgrade) with some very pleasant Asian music, all sorts of flower arrangements and warm smiles. In the country itself, we got scammed left, right and centre, the drivers irritated us with offers of transport at every corner and the mosquitos would not bloody go away. But we loved it – here’s what we got up to.
I confess the time we spent here was no where near enough to truly appreciate the island and coming from Australia a bit knackered, we took full advantage of Balinese hospitality and chilled by the hotel pool for a day or two, taking a break every now and then to get a massage (for the princely sum of £5 for an hour?!). We regret nothing.
Once we decided to brave the outside, we were greeted by a familiar sight – Australians! Turns out that Bali is to the Aussies what the likes of Majorca and Benidorm is to the Brits. The restaurants proudly proclaim they have Australian steak on the menu and the bars all show Aussie sports on the TV’s. A true cultured Indonesian experience I’m sure you will agree!
Most of Bali’s tourists flock to the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak area which is where we stayed. We took a stroll down the beach which has a great vibe – kids playing football, loads of beach bars, fisherman going about their business and a great sunset. At the north end of the beach, Seminyak is home to some great restaurants and the one we tried – Tiger Palm – had a great atmosphere and food to match.
Admittedly this part of Bali was not our favourite – it felt like a rat race with so many working in the tourism industry competing for any rupee on offer. Naturally we were scammed by taxi drivers throughout the trip but can’t complain too much about that – all part of the SE Asia experience!
Our trip to Ubud about an hour and a half away from Kuta was by far the highlight in Bali. It is a fantastic place crammed with attractions that we wanted to visit. Here were the highlights:
– Sacred Monkey Forest – MONKEYS! Absolutely everywhere you look, the place was heaving with them climbing over the Hindu temples, the trees and even Amar at one point! We saw a serious monkey fight as well, apparently the forest is divided into territories with each run by a monkey tribe. One monkey tried to cross territory…BIG mistake. Screeching, scratching and all sorts of commotion. Reminded us of a Friday night in Watford – we felt right at home.
– Tegallalang Rice Terraces – You wouldn’t ordinarily associate rice fields with tourism but these are so well maintained that the views are absolutely stunning as you walk through them. We spent about an hour trekking through the terraces and tried some of the local produce from a friendly lady we met on the way. An absolute must do in Ubud.
– Uma Pakel – another popular spot in Ubud for two main reasons. The first is the coffee plantation and we were able to sample pretty much every one on the menu including the tasty Luwak coffee, allegedly the most expensive in the world. Turns out that the reason is it’s funky method of production – the beans are eaten by an Indonesian cat-like animal called the Luwak and subsequently pooped out with the fermentation process all done inside the Luwak’s digestive system. Yum. Uma Pakel is also popular for its huge swing which shows typical Indonesian disregard for health and safety. We’ll let the pictures do the talking here!
– Saraswati Temple – Ubud is home to loads of stunning temples and we didn’t have time to see them all. We did however get a chance to pop into Saraswati temple which is famous for its lovely lotus pond.
Unfortunately a delay in a ferry meant we weren’t able to make it to some of Bali’s other main attractions – in particular sunset at Uluwatu temple. We’ll be back again to this wonderful island and will hopefully get the chance to see everything we missed!
Flores to Lombok boat trip:
Outside of Bali, the one thing in Indonesia we were absolutely desperate to do was to visit the Komodo National Park – home to the remarkable Komodo Dragon and one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world.
The best way to visit the park is to take a boat trip and we opted for the 3 day tour offered by a company called Perama. Initially, it came as a bit of a surprise to find our boat was largely run by 19 year olds who loved a party (we very much enjoyed doing the Macarena with them!) but they were fantastic – looked after everything we needed, cooked some great food and their enthusiasm was infectious.
The tour started at Labuan Bajo, a small town in the island of Flores. There are more exciting places in the world but walking through the town centre did feel like an authentic taste of Indonesian life with kids on their bikes in the street and cafes full of locals enjoying a meal.
The first stop on the tour was Rinca Island in the Komodo National Park and it was here that we saw the showpiece. We managed to lay eyes on about half a dozen Komodo Dragons. They walk slowly and the tongues wag in a menacing manner as if they are constantly hungry (although they can go a couple of weeks without a meal). The park was littered with the skulls of animals that had fallen victim to this magnificent beast and after seeing that, we were promptly told that they could reach a top speed of 20 km/h. Certainly no slouch! Being so close to the dragons was a thrill that is difficult to put in words and Rinca Island had plenty more to offer. As we trekked around the island we came across some Komodo food – deer, monkeys and a huge Buffalo! Undoubtedly one of the highlights of our trip so far.
Rinca Island was certainly the main attraction of the tour but there was plenty more to see on route to the island of Lombok:
– Gili Laba – a small island also in the national park. We had a great snorkel here and saw plenty of marine life including a turtle! The beach was also full of adorable deer swimming with us in the sea and trying to sneak a bite of our food whenever they could.
– Mojo Island – A night sail took us to Mojo Island, just off the island of Sumbawa. The village was welcoming and we passed a school, some farms and plenty of cows on route to the waterfall. Here we had a great time, latching on to the good natured fun that all the guides were having. After much convincing (and some solid risk assessment), Amar took the plunge and jumped over the waterfall and into the pool at the bottom. Shalini, alas, could not be convinced – her risk assessment rendering this all a bit unnecessary.
– Keramat Island – a tiny Island inhabited by only two people! It was a lovely location to chill out and go for a snorkel.
Aside from all the nature, we have to acknowledge the flowing booze on the boat! We were never short of a Bintang or two and sailing at night under the full moon with a beer in hand was something that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
There are about 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago and while we were lucky to see 7 of them, it feels we have barely scratched the surface of what this country has to offer. I’m sure we will be back in time!