We could have easily spent a month in each location, but we settled for 14 days. For a 2 week itinerary, we covered a decent bit of ground though we never felt rushed. That’s the beauty of Bali. There is so much to take in within a fairly concentrated area, that you get bang for your buck. Our journey started in Jimbaran and ended in Seminyak, following the general path as below:
Jimbaran & the Southern Bulkit Peninsula
In addition to the Ulutwatu temple with our monkey friends, we enjoyed our first couple days in the Bulkit Peninsula just kicking back and catching up with old friends. So exciting to have Cassie and Gabe as travel companions! We beach hopped all day from Uluwatu to Padang Padang to Jimbaran, a beach famous their daily fish market. We slept in a 2 story bungalow with princess-like bug nets and and open-air showers. In our excitement and newness to the Bali sun, everyone was looking a bit rosy by the end of our first 2 days on the beachs… oops!
Before arriving in Bali, Cassie connected us with a local (who was recommended to her through a friend) who became our personal driver around the island. Ketut exemplified the spirit of the Balinese people; gracious, welcoming, and most importantly, genuinely happy. On our way to Ubud, the cultural center of Bali, Ketut brought us through a few cute towns to give us a behind the scenes look at their textile and silver-making industry. In addition our Balinese Cooking course, we took a biking tour through the mountainous outskirts of Ubud, traveling to the top of Mt. Batur. For $10 US a person we had a full day of activities, including a private tour of a coffee plantation with free samples of 8 coffees and teas, a breakfast from a mountaintop restaurant overlooking an active volcano, 3 hour bike ride down the volcano through rice fields and several local villages, and an authentic Balinese lunch from a local residence. So, so, so incredibly cool. Our accommodation here was also pretty authentic, staying at Sania’s Guesthouse, an old temple-like structure with a maze of staircases leading to individual rooms. The stonework of Balinese architecture is definitely a labour of love. Being in the cultural center, it was also the appropriate place to catch a local Balinese dance performance. This intense expression is articulated purposefully from eye to toe, in practiced movement. A unique way to tell a story of mythical legends.
For a bit of serenity and island life we headed next to the Gili Islands, located just off the coast of Lombok – Bali’s neighboring island. These three islands are a bit of a step back in time. With no roads, the beep of the motorbike is replaced with the sound of horse hoofs pulling rickety carts and bicycle bells. You are never more than two minutes from a beach, even in the center of the island. We spent 4 nights in our quaint bungalow and our days on the beach, trolling above the corals with our snorkeling gear, drinking Bintang on lounge chairs, and enjoying fresh fruit juices along turquoise coasts. We took a boat out for some top notch snorkeling, which brought us to all three islands and lunch on Gili Air. The highlight was swimming with sea turtles, maybe 3-4 feet across, each with a unique pattern and color. We watched these majestic creatures gliding effortlessly through the water and carefully munching on coral below. A true island paradise.
We arranged for our boat back from the Gili to bring us North to one of the best scuba dive spots in Bali. What sets Amed apart from other areas is that they have a couple ship wreck dives found right off the beach. This was never of great appeal to me until we started talking with other backpackers who had done the dive. The intention was to book a day trip out to Tulamben Bay where the USAT Liberty Ship Wreck is found. This massive cargo ship was torpedoed by the Japanese off the coast of Lombok and after attempts to tow the ship to North Bali, it took on too much water and was semi-beached at Tulamben. The area is super popular because the ship is encrusted with anemones and corals… Not to mention heaps of fish. You can actually enter inside the ship and look into old rooms and passageways… Amazing, right?? Well hate to break it to ya, but we didn’t end up going. Wha-whomp. By the time we reached Amed, everyone was running for the toilet with what is often referred to as ‘Bali Belly’. I was the sole survivor not occupying the toilet, however, I had unfortunately developed a major head cold and congested sinuses = bad for ears underwater. It just wasn’t going to happen for us on this trip. Instead, we escaped for a motorbike tramp along the mountainous coastline roads and treated ourselves to a little TLC at the spa. Our home-stay also had a pretty epic view for the sick ones who couldn’t leave bed (sorry Cass). I guess we will need to come back for another round… fine by me!
Tirta Gangga – Water Palace
The Tirta Gangga, meaning ‘Water Palace’ in Balinese, is a beautiful maze of pools and fountains surrounded by gardens, stone carvings and statues. What made this place even more memorable and spectacular was our hilarious and well-informed guide. A bachelor for life hindu elder, he cracked jokes about our American-isms, smoked like a chimney, and sarcastically declared everything to be ‘bloody awesome’. And it was. The complex was built in 1946 by the king, for the king, but was destroyed almost entirely by an eruption from a nearby volcano. It has been restored since, but keeps an air of authentic royal magnitude. Like Uluwatu Temple, Tirta Gangga is one of the 9 key directional temples on Bali.
Our final stop and last hoorah of Bali was the popular beach town of Seminyak. This is a common vacation spot for Aussies, as well as American & European expats, because it’s well developed and about 10kms from the airport. Although we were trying to avoid this place at first, I’m glad we decided to squeeze in this stop. In our time here we found many beach bars with excellent local musicians, surfed the mellow beginner waves and squeezed in one last sea temple to Tanah Lot. With the exception of finding worms in Gabe’s food one night, it was a great end to our 2 week Bali experience. This is a country we are definitely planning a return to…. Beautiful people, culture and nature. Peace and love.