Right at the start of the year end school holiday, we jumped on a plane and flew to Bali for our family vacation. This is also due to my wife’s new job which started on Dec 1. We had to do it before her first day as she would not be able to immediately take leave with her new job.
We had this vacation planned a few months ago and got the main stuff ready (flight and accommodation). We hired a private driver out of a recommendation from a friend who went to Bali last year. We’d got the transport covered before our trip and he was also responsible for airport pickup.
Our Bali trip lasted 5 days 4 nights. And we stayed throughout the trip at the same resort which was located in Ubud – the art centre of Bali.
Bali is just a 3-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur. And we are in the same time zone. So it’s pretty simple and straight forward for Malaysians to go to the Island of Love. In contrast, compared to a couple I met at the airport who hailed from Czech Republic, they needed to make transits.
Day 1 – Arrival
We were supposed to reach Denpasar Airport (now known as Ngurah Rai International Airport) at 6:20 pm. Our flight was delayed and we only touched down at 7 pm. It was already 8 when we got our luggages and out of the airport. Our driver was already there waiting for us.
Since we were hungry, we asked the driver to stop at one of the drive-throughs to get our dinner on the way to Ubud. I was told Ubud has no fast food outlets to preserve its identity and we settled at McD Sanur.
We reached our resort at 10pm and the resort is not accessible by car. A 5-minute short walk is required. But lucky for us, the resort has buggy facility to ferry customers around.
We were tired and after taking shower and chomping down the burgers and fries, we headed to bed to rest.
Day 2 – Hanging around the resort and exploring Ubud on foot
When we planned this trip, we wanted to have a more relaxed vacation this time as compared with our previous ones which were packed with activities and always on the run.
We didn’t see much our resort when we checked in the evening before as it was dark. We took a good look at it the next morning and we were instantly impressed by the Balinese themed garden of the resort. It is really well-maintained and well-manicured. And as what Bali is famous for, the resort staff are very friendly and helpful.
Speaking of helpfulness, we had problems with our villa (clogged toilet, low water pressure) and requested for another villa. They didn’t give us what we wanted immediately as other villas with 2 rooms were booked and they needed time to arrange. The real reason we wanted to change as the villa assigned to us looked run down and aged. Later, we were assigned to another villa but unfortunately the air-conditioning in the bedrooms were not working properly. In the end, they offered us a 3-bedroom villa even though they had fixed them just in case the air-conditioners didn’t work again. This time the villa was so much better than the first. We didn’t complain.
We were impressed with their dedication and efforts of trying to resolve problems faced by us despite the inconvenience of moving around the resort. There’s more. To compensate for the inconvenience, the management offered my wife and me a 30-minute complimentary massage each. We jumped at the offer without hesitation.
That’s how helpful and dedicated they were.
After having complimentary breakfast at the modest cafe of the resort, we dipped in the pool on the first morning in Bali. J and K loved it even though the noon sun glaringly shone on us. They didn’t mind that despite our best efforts to coax them not to swim.
Once they were done, we had room service for lunch at the villa. The food was above average and we enjoyed it very much. After enquiring about having a (private) taxi to Ubud town (that cost Rp. 50,000 one way), we planned to have a walkabout in the cultural heart of Bali which is famous for its handicrafts, cultural events, food and galleries.
We asked the driver to drop us at Ubud Art Market (Pasar Seni Ubud). I was told the market sells fresh fruits and vegetables in the morning until 10 am. From then on, the wet market magically turns into handicraft centre. When we were there, it’s already an art market and it takes up a few streets. Things they sell are more or less the same but you need to bargain to get the best price. We didn’t buy anything except one sarong that we successfully reduced from Rp. 120,000 to Rp. 30,000. You only bargain what you are interested to buy unless you want to be roughed by the trader.
When you shop in Bali, the most profitable skill is to negotiate the price. You can slash the price like no other. One way to gauge the price is walk away. Most traders will automatically drop the price in stages while you walk away. I will take note of the lowest price and bargain with the next trader if I am interested in a particular product. Don’t take the first offer they give.
We went to Royal Palace Ubud just opposite the art market. On the street, a guy approached us to sell tickets to Barong Dance and Kecak Dance. My wife and I had seen both in our last trip to Bali so we let J and K choose. Intrigued by the brochure depicting fire, they finally picked Kecak Fire and Trance Dance. It cost Rp. 75,000 for adults and half price for children.
The show was 2 hours away and we still had time to kill. While we made our way to the venue of the performance, we stopped at Ibu Oka 3 which is famous for babi guling (roast pork). Having dinner (they close at 6pm) at Ibu Oka is not a good idea because when we reached they ran out of pork skin which to me is the best part of the dish.
The best time, as we figure out later, is lunch time when they still have everything on the menu. After trying, as one of my friends told me, our roast pork is better than their babi guling. Perhaps we are not used to the taste of the spices used in the cooking.
We walked quite a bit as the temple used as the venue for Kecak Dance was further than we thought. To make sure we were on the right track, I kept asking the locals about Pura Puseh. We finally arrived at the venue one hour ahead of the performance time. We picked the best seats in the house. As we waited, more and more people came and filled up the place. And we noticed, J and K were the only children there that night.
J and K were mesmerised and entertained by the melodious chant made by voices of 100-odd topless male dancers. They found it entertaining and couldn’t help laughing at some parts of the dance.
The second part was the Trance Dance that involved a “horseman” who kicked the fire set up using a pile of coconut husk.
After the dance, we walked back to Ubud town and hailed a taxi (once again, we bargained from Rp. 70,000 to 50,000) back to resort.
Day 3 – Goa Gajah, Penglipuran, Kintamani, Pura Tirtha Empul, Tegallalang Rice Terrace
We met our driver at 9 am after breakfast. This marked the start of our first full day tour by him. We roughly planned our itinerary and the driver had proposed some which were not on our list. We agreed to some and one of them was our first destination of the day.
The first stop of the morning was at a wood carving centre. The were a few carvers at work showing off their well-trained skills on the wood. A guide was taking us around and explained to us various types of woods used in the carving.
They created excellent pieces of works that were so vividly resembled the real stuff. Really good stuff. We enquired about the prices of some of the carvings and they cost over a million Rupiah.
We proceeded to Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) in Bedulu, a Unesco heritage site and archaeological attraction. A combination of Hindu and Buddhist temple. As usual, entrance fees (Rp. 15,000 adults, Rp. 7,500 children) required but the sarongs (that needed to cover your legs) were free.
It’s quite a challenge to walk around the ancient temple under hot sun which was exactly what we did. We reached there at 11 am and at the end of the tiring walk we took a break and enjoyed coconut water that we got from one of the street vendors. Over there, It’s optional but if you need a tour guide you can hire one at the entrance.
Next stop was Pura Kehen. We wanted to go to Besakih Temple (some say it’s the mother of all temples) and the driver advised us against it. He said if you go to Besakih, you will be “forced” to hire a guide to help you go around. This practice has created many complaints from tourists as well as locals.
I didn’t regret going to Pura Kehen as it’s one of the finest temples I had seen in Bali and there. Also, it is a miniature version of Pura Besakih. To top it off, it’s not as touristy as other places. Entrance Rp. 30,000 for adults, kids free. Parking Rp. 5,000.
We wanted to go to a Balinese traditional village in Tenganan Village near Candidasa. But it was out of our way and to save time the driver took us to another similar village called Penglipuran.
Over there in the countryside, some of the traditional Balinese houses are still standing and well preserved. And tourists are allowed to enter and visit the houses first hand. I didn’t know before this that old Balinese houses have separate units in the same compound: the altar for praying, kitchen, hangout/meeting place, bedrooms. Many entrepreneurial residents have turned their homes into makeshift stalls selling various types of souvenirs, food and drinks. The traditional village is clean and well-maintained.
Right at one end of the village, located another temple. Behind the temple, one can find a serene and peaceful bamboo forest which we took a quick visit to.
We were starving by then and the driver took us to Kintamani (Penelokan to be exact) for lunch overlooking the majestic Mt Batur and Lake Batur. By the time we reached Sari Restaurant it was already 2:30 pm. The buffet lunch there was no cheap and the spread was nothing to shout about. Adults Rp. 120,000, children half price. Plus tax 21%. We had no choice and I was too hungry to look for another place. Furthermore, I guess the restaurants there with scenic view are more or less the same.
The prices are not too bad when you consider the uninterrupted view of Mt. Batur right before your eyes.
Another destination which was suggested by the driver was coffee plantation. For some unknown reason to me, Bali seems to be obsessed with luwak coffee (civet coffee). Wherever you go, there’s one. The coffee is expensive and the beans used to make luwak coffee were eaten by an animal called luwak and digested in the stomach and defecated before they were processed further into coffee powder.
This plantation was well organised and it led visitors through a path which on both sides were planted with trees, herbs, and more. There were a few civets in the cage to display to visitors. How coffee was roasted and made into powder were also demonstrated.
At the end of the tour, one will have the opportunity to try many types of tea and coffee that were on sale. For luwak coffee, you have to fork out Rp. 50,000 a cup. We did and it tasted the same to me as any other coffee except that it was more sourish.
Onto the main holy springs temple of Bali, we continued our tour with Pura Tirtha Empul in Tampaksiring. Founded in 962, it is a water temple (dedicated to Hindu god of water Vishnu) and it has water fountains for believers to purify themselves.
I understand that everyone must use every fountain sequentially for the ritual. Entrance fees: Rp. 15,000 for adults, children half price.
Not very far from Tirtha Empul, it is where Tegallalang Rice Terraces located. Though paddy is just a humble plant, it can be a view to be reckoned with, especially the paddy fields are terraced. My driver told me that you have to pay the local (about Rp. 5,000) to gain access and trek the paddy fields. Otherwise, it’s one of the few things in Bali that are free. We didn’t go for trekking but we wandered around the same area just to take pictures of the far-reaching terraces.
We have Naught Nuri’s in Malaysia and we came to know that it is originated from Bali and more specifically Ubud. Since we were in Ubud, how could we miss it. We asked the driver to drop us at Ubud’s Naught Nuri’s Warung to try first hand its famous spare ribs. There are 2 outlets in Ubud (just about 100m from each other) and we went to the first outlet. The restaurant is plain and simple without the frills of a 5-star restaurant.
Before you enter, you can see the grill fronting the shop. We ordered the signature ribs plus pork loin. On the first try, I found the ribs were just average and the texture was a bit too hard. It was not up to my expectations, unfortunately. Pork ribs cost Rp. 120,000.
Lucky for me, we went to Naughty Nuri’s again for the second time on our last day in Bali because of its close proximity to Neka Gallery (in fact, right opposite) and we wanted to save time to make it to the airport. For this second trip, it changed my mind about its pork ribs as they were more succulent, juicier, tenderer than the first time. It didn’t disappoint me as we also tried out its sei babi (smoked pork). I found sei babi hard and J and K said they tasted like sausages. I was happy to give it a second try and it altered my views on its ribs. Naughty Nuri’s has my seal of recommendation.
Day 4 – Uluwatu and Tanah Lot
We planned to head Denpsasar/Nusa Dua area from Ubud. On the way one can’t help but notice many stone carvings on both sides of the street. The place is aptly called Batubulan (literally means “moon stone”). We made an unplanned stop after wife suggested us checking out one of them.
The salesperson took us to his warehouse 2 or 3 km away after we showed interest in the statue of the Buddha. He told us there were more selections. The place was full of carvings of various types.
From animals to human figures, from kitchen tools to fountains. They were made of different types of stones and concrete. As unbelievably as it sounded, though we didn’t expect to get something out of this shop, we left the shop with a Buddha head made of green stone – a type of volcanic stone as we were told. I was tight on cash and the lady owner was kind enough to let me use credit card without the 3% surcharge. The carving was wrapped nicely with a handle for me to carry on board a plane (which we later found out stones are categorised as dangerous goods and needed to be checked in).
We stopped by at a Polo Premium Outlet and were welcomed by a Mandarin-speaking promoter introducing the brand to us and how to spot a fake Polo. Looking at this, only did we realise the influence of mainland Chinese in Bali had taken shape and it was getting wider and wider. With exception of that, nothing impressed us and we left in a jiffy.
We moved on to a batik shop which was not too far. The batik sold here was of premium quality and hence more expensive than what you can find at Ubud Art Market.
I requested to go to Nusa Dua as I had good impression of it. Fantastic beaches with powderish, white sand. To my shock, Nusa Dua no longer the beach I used to think as it was. It is not as pretty as it used to be and I was slightly disappointed with it. Perhaps the driver took me to the wrong part of Nusa Dua.
We stopped Be Ja Na Restaurant right before Uluwatu Temple entrance. The outlet served Balinese cuisines and we invited the driver to have lunch with us.
The food was okay and everyone seemed to enjoy the food very much. This restaurant is better decorated than Naughty Nuri’s and it has a small but well maintained garden in front of it.
Next stop Pura Luhur Uluwatu (Uluwatu Temple). I was warned the monkeys here like to grab glasses of visitors. After getting the tickets (Rp. 30,000 for adults, Rp. 20,000 for children), we were very cautious about the furry animals with long tails. Our concern was overstated as we only saw 2/3 monkeys on the way to the temple. Our driver picked us some sticks/twigs as a way to warn monkeys not to come near us. In the end, we were safe from the attack.
It took some walking to reach the top where overlooking ocean and a cliff. The view was breath-taking. On the left end of the horizon, one can see the stage for the famous Kecak Dance. It was very hot then, we made a sweaty, quick tour of the place before going back to the car to continue our journey.
From Uluwatu, we had to go to Tanah Lot for sunset. We almost didn’t make it as the traffic was heavy and it took us two and a half hours to get there. It was just after rain when we arrived Tanah Lot and we managed to take a glimpse of the sunset. Visitors are forced to walk through long rows of souvenir stalls before reaching the site of the temple.
The view was spectacular but I find the entrance fees are exorbitant. What the tickets (Rp. 60,000 for visitors above 10 years old, Rp. 30,000 for 10 and below, car park Rp. 5,000) entitle you to is only the view of the sea, temple, and sunset. Nothing else. It might sound ridiculous but why we should pay for something natural like seaside and sunset? Why should you make something natural (created and made possible by Mother Nature) exclusive to those who can pay? It’s like you have to pay for air in order to breathe. Tanah Lot has the highest priced entrance tickets of all the places we had been in Bali. I don’t mind paying as long as it’s reasonable, but frankly, I felt like being cheated after visiting Tanah Lot.
Last Day – Neka Gallery and Naughty Nuri’s
As I said before, we tried to inject relaxation into this trip. So the first half of our last day in Bali was a slow paced one. We had room service for breakfast. My wife and I were having massage while J and K went splashing in the pool. J and K requested to take picture with the resort staff and this showed that they were happy with their service.
There’s one last thing that we needed to do before we called our Bali trip complete. It was paying a visit to Ubud’s famous art gallery: Neka Gallery. Entrance is Rp. 75,000 and it’s free for children.
Neka Gallery has a huge collection of Indonesian artworks plus a few works of foreign artists. The gallery has a few pavillions divided by era and artists.
There’s a pavilion dedicated to Dutch turned Indonesian artist who just passed away in 2016, Arie Smit, aged 100. Second floor near the ticket counter located the keris hall where the traditional daggers were on display.
Out of convenience, since Naughty Nuri’s is exactly opposite Neka Gallery, we had our lunch at the eatery for the second time during our trip. You can’t have enough pork ribs when you’re in Bali. This time we found the spare ribs were better than the first time we tried. It totally changed my view about the famous ribs from average to excellent.
After lunch, with heavy hearts, we then went to airport to take a flight home.