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Published: October 28th 2014
The famous Tegallalang Rice Terraces.
The 6th October was a public holiday in Singapore, so I decided to extend this long weekend by another two days and spend five days on Bali. That’s easy because from Singapore it is only a 2.5 hour flight. I decided to spend two nights in Ubud, inland and the cultural heart of Bali, and two nights on Nongsa Lembongan, a small island just 30 minutes off the coast from Sanur.
I left early on a Friday morning and arrived in Denpasar, Bali, around noon. A driver picked me up and took me to my hotel in Ubud. It was on Monkey Forest Road pretty much in the city centre. The road is a one-way road and most of the time it is just one big traffic jam. On both sides of the road there are shops, bars, and restaurants and the whole place is just really busy and noisy. However, once I had checked into my hotel and passed the reception for the garden in which the bungalows were located, I could barely hear the traffic and noise any more. On the contrary, everything felt quiet and peaceful. My room had a terrace with the view of a rice
Another view of Tegallalang Rice Terraces.
I went to explore the city. Just a few minutes up the road was the Ubud Palace. As I already mentioned, Ubud is the historic and cultural centre of Bali. It dates back to the 8th century, when a holy man from India, Rsi Markaneya, arrived there to spread the teachings of Hinduism. Apparently he was successful because 95 percent of the Balinese are Hindu. Rsi Markaneya was also the person who built several temples and the irrigation system for the terraced rice paddies that dominate the landscape in the area today. It is said that he was attracted to the area by light and energy. When I walked past the temple and out into the rice paddies, where it was absolutely peaceful and quiet, I could feel this – as my friend Melissa would put it – good energy. I started to relax and unwind, which was just perfect after packed weeks.
I had dinner in a quiet yard and was impressed by the locals’ calmness and their warm and friendly manner. Then I walked back to the hotel and had a traditional massage in the spa. It was wonderful and besides very cheap. About $10
Rice paddies close to Ubud - what a peaceful atmosphere and what good energy!
for an hour!
The next morning I went for a quick swim in the pool and after breakfast I was picked up by a guide that showed me around Ubud and its surroundings and explained a little bit about the island’s culture and history. I learned that religion does play a big part in people’s everyday life. You can see it everywhere because they put up little offerings, consisting of flowers, food, and incense sticks, in different spots in and around the house. There is a ceremony around it. Religion is also part of the design of Balinese houses. The houses do not consist of one building, but rather of several smaller buildings. Often there is one building in each cardinal direction, save for one in which there is the shrine. There is usually a wall around it with a gate (or several gates).
Afterwards we went for a walk through the rice paddies. There is a very smart irrigation system that runs through the paddies. I learned that in the old days there were two harvests of rice per year, but now with the hybrid rice there are three. After rice has been grown in a paddy
Rice paddies not far from Ubud.
three times, there will be something else like for example sweet potatoes in the paddy, and afterwards there will be rice again. I also learned that there are three types of rice, white, red, and black. The white rice is the one we typically eat. Of course it is not only humans who like rice. Birds love it too. Therefore the owners put up straw men or span ropes with pieces of coloured plastic across the paddies. Work in the paddies is extremely hard and when people get old they often have bent and sore backs because they have been working in a bent over position throughout their entire lives. So many younger people do not want to be rice farmers anymore and go to the cities instead to find work there.
The next part of the tour was a visit to the Gunung Kawi, one of the most famous temples in the area and grave to the first king of Bali, Anak Wungsu. The temple is located on two sides of the Pakerisan river and dates from the 11th century. On one side of the river there his grave and the ones of his wife and three sons,
Gunung Kawi I
A temple on both sides of the Pakerisan river.
on the other side of the river there are the graves of his favourite concubines. The temple is surrounded by rice paddies and is still in use today. The day I was there was a holiday dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, thus there were quite a few people who came to the temple to make offerings and pray.
The last part of the tour was a visit to a plantation where the guide showed me various agricultural crops that are grown on Bali, including coffee, but also various spices like for example cinnamon. There were also three Asian palm civets in a cage. These are the cats that produce the Kopi Luwak, the “cat poo coffee”, seeds of coffee berries once they have been eaten and defecated. It is expensive, but it is controversial whether it is really the better coffee. To me the taste is okay, but I would not say that after having tried it I would not drink normal coffee any more. The fact that everyone seems to agree on is that it is less acidic. But that’s about it. At the end of the tour I tasted some different types of Balinese coffee and
Gunung Kawi II
The tombs of the Balinese King Anak Wungsu and his family.
tea (and OF COURSE I bought some tea). In the afternoon I took a little nap, had some late lunch / early dinner : Gado-Gado, a traditional Balinese dish that consists of rice, veggies, and peanut sauce. Afterwards I gave myself one more treat: a one hour foot and leg massage. Awesome! Then I simply enjoyed the quiet evening, read my book, and had an early night.
The next morning a driver took me to Sanur on the Southeast coast of Bali, from where I caught a boat to the small island of Nongsa Lembongan. I had some time to explore the Sanur beach and have to confess that I was glad I had not decided to stay there. The beach is crowded, but what is even worse is the fact that it is simply dirty. People just throw their rubbish into the sea and of course this rubbish is washed upon the beach. Very ugly. Fortunately my boat departed soon. There was no jetty to access it, but rather the boat waited for us on the beach and we had to walk into the knee-deep water in order to climb onto it.
I think as a captain
Gunung Kawi III
The bridge across the river.
you have to know your way around the area because there are some shoals just off the coast. I saw the wreck of a sailing boat. But we made it past the dangerous area. Then we were having some issues with the engine, but finally the captain and his assistant (who was apparently managing the petrol supply of the engine) got the boat going and after half an hour we arrived in Nongsa Lembongan. Getting off the boat was the same thing as getting onto it: through the water. Transport to my hotel was included in the boat ticket, but I had to wait forever, but finally I arrived at my hotel. It was located on one of the cliffs with the view of the main beach. One of the two pools and the restaurant offered a particularly nice view.
I had a little rest, then walked along the beach into town. One part of the path along the sea was quite nice, with cafés, bars, and restaurants overlooking the beach. However, once you got to the main beach things were less nice. There was nothing like a boardwalk that went along the entire beach. Rather, there were some
View of the main beach from one of the cafés close to my hotel.
parts of some boardwalk-like road that went along the front of the restaurants and hotels. However, at times it was interrupted, and then you had to walk on the beach or along the backs of the houses, where there were declining houses and lots of litter. Not the prettiest sight. I walked along the beach for quite a while, but there was nothing really to see, so I turned round and walked back. Originally my plan had been to do some light hiking or rent a bike while being on the island. However, it was screaming hot. The next morning when I went for a morning swim I found out that it was already this hot at 7 am. So I changed my mind. What do you do when temperatures are too hot? Correct. You spend time in the water. So what can you do but go snorkelling? That’s what I did. I booked a snorkelling tour for the next morning. And because I had not had enough massages yet, I enjoyed another 60 minute full body massage before having dinner in the restaurant with the beautiful view of the beach.
The next morning after my morning swim and
Nongsa Lembongan II
View from my terrace in front of my room.
breakfast with a view I went on my snorkelling tour. There were only two of us, a French lady and myself, and the captain, of course. He took us to several different places. The sea around Nongsa Lembongan is wonderful, bright and clear, and there are lost of colourful fishes and corals. They are not shy and you can get really close. Our first stop was a reef just off the northeast coast of the island, not far from a mangrove forest. The water was shallow and there were lots of fishes to see. The next stop was close to a neighbouring island and there were quite big fish. Maybe a metre long or so. I swam and dove happily between them. Eventually someone from another boat started feeding them. After a while I realised that what he was feeding them was pieces of fish. Then I realised that the big fish had teeth. And then I started becoming a bit uneasy and decided that I need not be all that close to the fish and that watching them from afar was just as interesting. In the next spot where the captain stopped the boat I was able to relax
again. We snorkelled along a cliff where there were only small and very colourful fish and corals. The last spot was a bay on a neighbouring island of Nongsa Lembongan with one steep rock in its centre. The captain told us to stay away from the rock because the surf was pretty strong in and around the bay and we would certainly have been smashed on the rock had we gotten close enough to the rock. On our way back to the starting point of the tour we surrounded the rest of Nongsa Lembongan so that we had gone all the way around the island.
After having a shower I went for a walk towards the other side of the island, but then decided that it was not nice and way too hot. So I went to one of the restaurants I had passed the previous day and had a late lunch / early dinner. Bianca from the Netherlands who had been on the same ferry with me the previous day joined me. She had just spent a few days on a yoga retreat in Ubud and had another week on Bali. It turned out that she had worked
Nongsa Lembongan IV
Behind the scenes...
for Malaysia Airlines and knew some of the crew of MH 17. However, she had changed jobs some two years ago. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening sitting on a couch in the restaurant, enjoying the warmth and the view and the conversation. The next morning, after my morning swim in the pool with the view of the beach, we had breakfast together and then I was picked up to catch my boat back to Sanur.
The rest of the day I spent travelling. Back in Sanur there was a driver waiting for me. He took me to the airport, where I had another five hours until my plane departed. I spent them writing postcards (hopefully they will be delivered!), shopping, and reading, and arrived back in Singapore in the evening. In summary I would say: Nongsa Lembongan is okay, but not spectacular and no “must see” place. Ubud, however, was just magic with its good, peaceful, and quiet energy. The Balinese I found great. They are super friendly, have this sense of calm, and give you the feeling that they are looking after you. I would go again!
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