Flying directly from Bangkok to Bali was the most cost effective method of getting the four of us to the area of Indonesia we wanted to explore on this trip. Air Asia took us to Denpasar for $370 USD after a couple of days in the Thai capital to break up the long rail journey from south Thailand. After what can only be described as a clusterf**k at 4.30am with 8 thousand feckless Chinese tourists in Don Muang we touched down 3 hours later in a serenely empty and wonderfully efficient Denpasar airport where Indonesia has relaxed visa requirements and now offers 30 days on arrival.
Bali was not and has never been a place I’ve yearned to travel to; visions of a Phuket-like tourist hell-hole overrun by drunken Aussies have been conjured when thinking of this island. I was pleasantly surprised to find that only the Kuta area of Bali resembles this metaphorical Gomorrah of travel destinations and the rest of the island was quite an eye opener. We booked a taxi online to avoid the usual airport scams and dodgy drivers, ours was punctual and professional, and with the best price at the time I have no issues with a shameless recommendation (http://candidasataxi.blogspot.co.id).
The first things that deceive one about Bali are the travel distances and times; what appears to be a short 50km drive can easily take well over an hour, maybe two. The roads are clogged with trucks, busses and bikes and are mostly single lane; going is slow to say the least. Our spot was Candidasa on the northeast coast and our hotel, The Natia, didn’t disappoint with two large adjoining rooms a few steps away from an infinity pool overlooking Lembongan Island. The first day was spent unwinding from the journey and exploring the area which essentially was a busy road lined with pricey tourist restaurants all offering the same menus, and a bunch of souvenir shops. Everything sold in a bar, restaurant or hotel in Bali is subject to 10% government tax and 10% service charge so it can get quite expensive and obviously there is no need to tip! Candidasa has no beach but we knew that before arrival, we live on a beach so it wasn’t a priority.
It was time to do what we do best; grab a couple of motorbikes and hit the road, our first spot was a little bay called “Virgin Beach” just up the coast from Candidasa. One thing you need to get used to in Bali is parking, whenever and wherever you do it a guy will instantly appear from nowhere with a little ticket book and charge you a nominal fee, usually around 3,000 rupiah ($0.25), so if your wheels have stopped rolling he’ll be there! Virgin beach was far from untouched; hawkers, restaurants and a whole lot of trash awaited the beach goer, negatives aside it was still a pleasant spot for a swim and a few shots.
It was then onwards to Ahmed via some hillside villages, rice terraces and seriously twisty roads. We dined on the black sand beach which served as a parking lot for the local fishing fleet of outriggers. Ahmed is a laid back little town with a cluster of dive shops and a few swanky resorts, there is not much else to note. This was supposed to be our halfway point to Batur crater lake but considering it had taken the whole morning to cover 60 kilometers we decided to take the coastal road back … which took the entire afternoon!
Nearly three hours later, after some seriously perilous east coast hugging roads we arrived at the Ujung water palace and stopped for a little look around the lakes and tropical gardens.
Balinese religion is predominantly Hindu incorporating local animism and this is evident in daily life with regular offerings to deities and outside homes and shops. We found the body of a dead puppy lying where it died in the middle of the road surrounded by flowers, leaves and other offerings to aid the release of the soul. My son wanted to buy some fishing tackle but we were told that it is not sold after 6pm on the island so as not to offend the spirits of the ocean or something similar that could not be translated!
The kids had been bending ear for a fishing trip so the following day we chartered a local outrigger for a few hours fishing at a cost of 400k (approx $30). We headed for a couple of tiny islands off the coast of Candidasa, the fishing was pretty basic and most of the small reef fish we caught were released, though the boat boys wanted to keep the larger blue triggerfish as apparently you can eat them.
I wanted to get up at least one volcano on Bali so we rented a car (Toyota Avanza @ 220k) and drove west in the direction of Mount Batur. A couple of hours later, after some 20kph slogs behind trucks that could not be overtaken as the road was barely the width of one vehicle, we arrived at Bali’s largest lake and a magnificent view of the volcano that created it. You could still see the lava flow that devastated these villages during the big eruption of 1968. Climbing was not possible without a permit, govt appointed guide, and a hefty fee so we took some shots and tried our hardest to avoid the most persistent souvenir hawkers I have ever come across by simply not stopping for longer than 3 seconds.
Back on the road we headed down the mountain towards Ubud, stopping for a few photos and an ice cream at Bali’s famous rice terraces, which of course was uber touristy. Ubud is the arts and culture heart of Bali, streets of shops selling wood carvings, art, textiles and a cluster of hippy-type yoga and massage places make up most of the town. We stopped at a local warung for some food before heading west towards Tanah Lot. Houses on Bali are quite simple constructions but the ornate walls that surround them give the impression that everyone lives in an elaborate temple compound.
The Tanah Lot Hindu temple is one of Bali’s major tourist attractions but it is well organized and relatively inexpensive (35,000 rupiah) to enter. It is on a small island which is only accessible when the tide is out, which it fortunately was at the time of our visit. Nowhere have we seen the narcissistic obsession with selfies more prominent than here, why people venture to new and exotic places to take photos of themselves is beyond me.
The return drive back to Candidasa via north Kuta was like being in a depraved racing video game; they drive like utter lunatics here but can never get out of third gear due to the narrow roads and heavy traffic so we didn’t see any accidents over the three days, unlike in Thailand where they are a daily spectacle.