The first time we had so much fun, we decided to do it AGAIN, the following year… (this time round it was also more of a family vacay, so a rather central place needed to be considered, a middle ground between Korea and Australia). Bali and some other (new to us) surrounding islands were on the list. The itinerary looked like this: Kuta, Ubud (Bali), Ceningan, Lembongan, Gili Air, and finally Lombok.
Bali (Kuta & Ubud)
This time around, we didn’t spend too much time and effort in Kuta, seeing as though we did all the ‘main stuff’ the previous year (Uluwatu, Tanah Lot…) – we just chilled. This is also an area I’d gladly skip the next time around, if ever there be such a time again… We had a nice stay at Adi Dharma cottages though. They are very centrally located, and easy walking distance to everything (although the music from clubs can be a bit of a bother to some folks).
We hired a van with private driver to take us to Ubud (5 people makes this a viable option!). On the way we also stopped by the Tegenungan Waterfall, which is only about 30min drive from Denpasar. It was a really nice site in the lush green jungle, with the dramatic waterfall as the main attraction.
We arrived at Wenara Bungalows in Ubud, situated right next to the monkey forest. We had an awesome stay there, with a nice swimming pool, and very accommodating staff always ready to help and always friendly! You just have to be vigilant of the pesky monkeys – apparently they sometimes invite themselves into the rooms, and can leave quite a mess…
We walked to the resident rice paddies, took some pictures, and explored the Central Market. If there is one thing I’ve seen again on this trip, is that you should bargain hard! We knew more or less the going rates for certain items, as we were there a year past, so we could guide the other family members and see when someone is trying their luck with us. We have personally been quoted on a few occasions, at least 4 or 5 times the amount (the starting price) we settled on eventually. My advice, bring the price down a quarter from the original, and bargain from there (do be fair though, if you can see the artwork took time and is
unique – I have no problem paying a bit for a good piece); the agreed amount should be good for you and the seller. If you get the feeling you’re totally getting ripped, walk away, but also don’t be a cheapskate and try to get it for peanuts (it should be a fun experience, not something serious or emotionally draining).
Ubud has seriously, from all the places we’ve been, some of the best restaurants and quaint little shops we have ever seen. Mostly all of our meals were spectacular, and the drink options also varied a lot with some interesting, healthier options too. If you just look a little harder, and check down some of the smaller streets, you can find some gems.
We hired a car for a day from the same guy we booked fast boat tickets the previous year to the Gili Islands – Three Brothers (close to monkey forest). We paid IDR 200,000 ($20) for the whole day – the best bargain of the entire trip! We filled up the tank, and set off on our roadtrip (first stopping at the big mart to stock up on snacks and drinks for the road of course).
The first stop on the trip was the breathtaking Jatiluwih Rice Terraces. What an amazing sight to behold: hills as far as you can see, with the terraces carved out of them. This was quite a mission to get to, seeing as though we had a rough idea of how to get there, and we were driving ourselves, which was a challenge in
itself sometimes… It was all worth it though when we arrived – we’d recommend it to everyone to put in that little effort to get out there, it is spectacular.
After Jatiluwih we drove northwards, passing two crater lakes (Bratan and Buyan), all along the winding roads, until we eventually got down at the other end at the city Singaraja (close to Lovina beach, which we didn’t have time to explore) on the northern coast. The next stop was Amed, so we had a quick lunch next to the sea with a shimmering black beach. We were running out of daylight, so we had to move to get to Amed in time for a swim and time to relax. The road all along the north coast (from Singaraja eastwards) was quite scenic, with some nice palm fringed black beaches. One very distinctive difference you realise immediately, is how much drier it is up north, compared to the central and south parts of Bali. We got to Amed, took a nice refreshing swim at a black pebble beach, and soon after had to return back home, driving southwards via Candidasa and Padangbai. We eventually made it back to Ubud in the dark, thanks to my co-pilot bro-in-law and the other ‘backseat-drivers’.
Our next excursion required much more of a physical effort – a cycling tour down a mountain, through
villages and rice paddies, sometimes at blistering speeds! We started of the day with a hearty breakfast overlooking the crater lake of the active volcano, Mt. Batur. On the way there, you also stop for a quick photo-op at the Tagalalang rice terraces.
After breakfast, you get to a place where you can see the civet’s that are actually responsible for that expensive, you know, poop coffee (Kopi Luwak). Go google it if you don’t know about it… You get a little spice tour, where they tell you about the native spices and trees and plants that produce them. They show you how the coffee is made and prepared. You then get to taste various teas and coffees (some good, some great, others not worth mentioning). You also have the opportunity to buy a cup of Kopi Luwak, prepared right next to you – which seems like a high school experiment when it’s going!
After the tasting, we proceeded to the starting point of the cycling tour. You get your bike and gear and you’re off. You stop at a local family compound where you learn about their way of life, and the dynamics of the family and the role of all the members. You fly through some rice paddies, check out the farmers tending to their fields and we also stopped to see how they
manually plant the rice plants – not a job for the lazy I assure you! The whole trip is downhill, so very easy and fun for all ages (you’re surely gonna reach high speeds, be cautious). You end the trip with a delicious buffet lunch next to, yeah you guessed it, some more
Our previous experience with fast boats to the Gili Islands wasn’t really a good one. You often read and hear horror stories, let me confirm this to everyone, we have done it both ways: the cheap ‘horror story’ route and the (bit more expensive) reliable, professional route. Want to be on time, feel safe and in general have a smooth experience? Choose the latter! This time round we chose Scoot to take us to our next destination – Nusa Lembongan/Ceningan. They have a great reputation with good reviews. We departed from Sanur (after a minivan transfer from our hotel in Ubud), and arrived without any hassles at the drop off point on Lembongan (aka the port, but it’s just a beach…).
To put things into perspective: we stayed on Ceningan (which is a separate island, but connected to Lembongan by a wooden suspension bridge stretching over the waterway between the two islands) for 3 nights and 1 night on Lembongan before departing for Gili Air.
A thing to note when planning to stay on Ceningan – you need a scooter to get around. It is possible to walk, if you’re up to it, or even bike. The hills, crappy roads, lengthy distance back to Lembongan, and heat… guess which option we took… Hire a scooter for your entire stay, you can get a discount when hiring for an extended period. We paid IDR 200,000 for 3 full days, which is kind off the going rate around the island (IDR 70/80,000 per day).
We stayed at Le Pirate Beach Club on Ceningan. They have quaint little ‘wendy-house like’ bungalows, with an outdoor bathroom (rooms are very small, but clean and beds really comfy). Only cold water available though… I quite enjoyed the out of the way location with its awesome views of the seaweed farms. When it is low tide, you can watch the farmers going about their business. Le Pirate also guarantee some stunning sunsets! The little infinity pool is a welcome reprieve during hot days, and lounging around the pool under the umbrellas or on the big beanbags really helps you settle into chill mode (wifi also available poolside). Don’t forget about the poolside bamboo bar (pitty it was a bit expensive). What I enjoyed about our stay there: it’s not your typical beach side bungalow, it was something different with its own unique character.
Everyday we were off exploring on our scooters.
There are many bays and beaches to visit, some cliffs you can jump off of, some nice sunset spots, spots where waves crash dramatically into the cliffs (Devil’s Tear), mangroves, and a few nice surf spots. Various activities can be organised from the main beach, Jungut Batu. Surfing is very popular here, and people also like to try their hand at SUPing. Like most islands, one of the main attractions resides below the surface of the emerald waters…
Scuba diving and snorkeling is very popular here, with a wide selection of operators around to choose from. The whole family went for a snorkeling trip one
morning, where we had an experience of a lifetime – to swim with manta ray’s! We dropped in, and there were about 3 of them coming in and out of the bay, just gliding along as if they didn’t mind all the poeple about trying to get a better look at them. The next day the wife and I scheduled our first scuba dive for the trip, and coincidentally we went back to the same spot, where we just hanged and waited for the manta’s to grace us (around 9 of them!) with their presence. This was an awesome experience to see these majestic creatures graciously gliding through the waters, which was made all the better by sharing it with my best friend…
The last night was spent on Lembongan itself, in the Bukit area, with exceptional views of the Jungut Batu beachstrip. We had an awesome room (you had to climb quite a few stairs to get here though, right Ma?) with a nice balcony – perfect to kick back on with a few cold one’s…
The next morning we left, again with Scoot for the 2 hour journey to Gili Air (the route went via Lombok). We had calm seas on the day, so the journey was uneventful and felt rather fast, which is a good thing!
Three glorious nights we got to spend at this jewel of a place. This was too short, we needed to stay longer! That’s always the feeling after a good stay somewhere,
right? We now have somewhere to compare it with – last year we stopped over at Gili Trawangan. Gili Air is much more to my liking. It is quieter, more chilled out, not as developed (but getting there…), the beaches are nicer, and you just felt so relaxed the whole time.
We did our Advanced Open Water scuba dive course over at 7 Seas International dive center. Because we did our course with them, we got a nice 10% discount on our accommodation. The dive shop runs really smoothly, with the instructors being very safety conscious and responsible, which was a great feeling and helped us to feel comfortable diving with them. We
did some awesome dives, and the course was a lot of fun, again seeing some amazing marine life and us bettering our skills at that… We passed the 3 day course, and are now certified to go down to 30m below! Again I’m so blessed to have my brave little wifey sharing in this whole experience, she’s awesome.
The dive course kept us quite occupied (had to study a bit too), but at least we had time to circumnavigate the island on the last morning which was a nice, beautiful walk. Also, who doesn’t love an island sunset (accompanied with an ice cold Bintang of course…). Another thing that was strange to see was the thick wheeled bikes going around, first time seeing those. At the southern end of the island, the surfers seemed to enjoy the moderate swells coming through, snorkeling
happens mostly on the eastern side of the island, and you also have the option of kite surfing on the east.
The morning we had to leave, I told M I am not ready to go yet. It is such an amazing island and I wanted more time to chill out there. We had our last breakfast next to the beach again, with the ocean stretched out in front of us and Lombok in the distance. We bought our tickets for the public boat that leaves to the port at Bangsal on Lombok, and waited with the rest of the people for all the seats to be taken on the boat (they only go when all tickets are sold).
We got to Bangsal port, where firstly you’re accosted by porters, and then shortly after taxi drivers that want to extort you… They quote outrages prices, but still many people are willing to pay just to get away and get to their place. We were fooled by this one slick young guy who said that the Blue Bird taxis need to be called in order to pick you up. We bargained hard and got a good price still for our drop off in Senggigi at Sunset House Hotel.
TAKE NOTE: if you walk along the road a bit, you will find the Blue Bird taxi rank. It is basically just out of plain sight from where all the swindlers operate in the port area (it’s like they have a monopoly in that specific area, and the official Blue Bird taxis isn’t allowed there at the port). I think the metered taxi would work out much cheaper.
What to say of Senggigi? Not much. At least our boutique hotel was nice – great rooms, good restaurant and refreshing pool with sundeck beach-side. Something that quickly becomes and annoyance is the vendors trying to sell you their wares – no isn’t always a good enough answer, you have to be firm. They operate everywhere in the Senggigi area.
One thing Senggigi is good for though, is as a jump off point. Many people organize day trips from here. You can easily rent a car or scooter to explore the rest of the island (us = car option). It’s also (I think) the main place where you can organize your Mt. Rinjani hike. Many tourist information and tour agencies line the main road.
On the way to Senggigi from the port at Bangsal, we saw many raw, quiet and beautiful beaches (some black, some white). I made a mental note – have to go back and explore.
We hired a car for the last 2 days on Lombok. The plan was to explore down south, the Kuta area, and the next day the beaches to the north, and maybe even a waterfall or two. We drove down to Kuta, navigating from sign to sign, with just an island map as a broad reference to get us from point to point. Although a bit windy on the day, there was no denying the area its raw beauty. There’s a distinct difference again from the south most areas of Lombok and the central parts – it is much drier, with sparse vegetation down south. It’s also rather hilly. Getting to the ocean, we were greeted by
wide expanses of turquoise waters – what a sight.
We drove along the coastal road, trying to locate the beaches we planned to visit. We went to secluded Seger beach, Tanjung Aan, Kuta beach, and lastly the awesome crescent shaped Mawun beach (after navigating numerous hills and driving through villages, dodging chickens and water buffaloes). We spent some time at Mawun, just chilling out with a beer and some snacks, taking in the views and checking out the local fishermen doing their thing. Want to get your zen on? Stay in Kuta for a few days. Be aware though, there is a lot of NOTHING to do – surfing, swimming and chilling are your choices. Sounds great to me though…
The last day we drove north, trying to reach at least one more waterfall on the way. The waterfall was disappointing, its name eludes me now. But we drove on, with no specific destination in mind, just our wills to explore. Up until some people got tired of just driving, and not a lot of DOING, we decided to turn around. We found a nice and quiet black beach to take a break on, BEER me.
That afternoon, we spent our time lazing on the long Nipah beach. We took in the last of the sunshine, did some snorkeling and caught up on our reading. We were back at our hotel before sunset, to take in the last one together. It was a spectacular one, and a good send off on our last day there, after an awesome vacation. A lot of sunshine, laughs (also beers) and lasting memories later, it was time to say farewell, hopefully not for the last time…