A Closer Look at Bali, Asia, Indonesia, Travel

Disgusting Kuta

Just a quick note to say: don’t go to Kuta. Don’t even go near the place. Stay far away for your own safety and sense. I had been warned about Kuta before I came, but in no way was I prepared for what lay in store. As my flight was from Depensar airport (10 minutes from the centre of Kuta) I decided to spend my last two days of my 7 month trip, in Kuta. Boy what a mistake that was.

Kuta

When we arrived, I shuddered in disgust. This place was just one large street filled with everything every tourist or holiday maker would ever need in one place, well a certain type of holiday maker anyway. The people that holiday here, don’t want culture or originality, uniqueness or character, or even anything related to Indonesia. In fact they just want everything from home to be there, half price and walking distance from where they are staying.

The street is swarmed with mass produced expensive chained restaurants from America, large shopping malls and shops that are all expensive indulgent chains one can find anywhere in the world. Large resorts rub shoulders with more large resorts and for half a second I felt I was in Koh Samui, another dreadfully tourist place. But no, walking a bit further you walk into ‘the strip’. Garish strobe lights pound the night away, loud commercial music whines in your ears, drunk teenagers swing on poles in bars, and fight one another outside clubs. I have walked into Magaluf for Australians. At that moment I couldn’t think who or where was worse, British teenagers or Aussie teenagers, Magaluf or Kuta? Tenerife or Kuta? Koz or Kuta? Koh Pi Pi or Kuta? I kept firing these questions in my head whilst paralytic young people threw up around me. I quickly decided they were as bad as each other, and I needed to get out of there. Although being a young person myself, a party animal and having had a similar experience on the strip of Ibiza, I could not compare any of my wild nights to this horrendous display and behaviour of people.

 

I left immediately and went to the beach, hoping to find sanctuary in the sandy shores and quiet waves. I didn’t. What makes Kuta an unbelievably more ugly destination? The disgusting beach. At least with expensive and resort filled Koh Samui the beaches are nice, or messy and wild Koh Pi Pi the views are breathtaking, but in Kuta? I have been to nicer beaches in England, land of continuous rain then what Kuta had. I decided then and there, that Kuta is the ugliest place I have ever been to. And yes, I’d take Birmingham over Kuta any day.

Kuta

A Closer Look at Bali, Asia, Extreme Sports, Indonesia, Travel

Surfers Paradise in Ulu Watu

I met this Swiss guy travelling in Nepal who had recently been to Bali. Bali was the destination I longed to go to throughout my entire time at University. I saw it as a place to head onto for my next Asian Adventure, somewhere where I can surf continuously for a month and fall head over heals in love with a gorgeous Australian. I arranged a 7 month trip (including Indonesia and the long awaited stop of Bali) for after my time at university, a reward to myself. So meeting someone who had recently visited Bali, I pressed him for his opinions of the place. He responded: “it’s a white man’s paradise”.

Unsure to recognize if this was a good thing or not, I swallowed this information down. Finally, after 7 months of traipsing around some of the most poor countries in the world; India and Nepal, some with the most magnificent beaches: Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as natural beauty: Borneo, Java, Gili, Lombok and Komodo Island, I finally made it to Bali, to Ulu Watu and I recognized what this fellow traveller was getting at.

Ulu Watu Ulu Watu

A land where impossible becomes possible, where everywhere has WIFI and everyone speaks English. Where Rip Curl shops line the coast selling surf boards for half the price, luxurious resorts have infinity pools and buffet breakfasts are a plenty. South Bali is not real Indonesia. Although, yes it is incredibly beautiful. The dramatic coastline hugs the pounding savage ocean which endlessly tumbles and cascades over each colossal wave, breaking over one another, smashing anything that gets in it way and spitting out a foamy layer of washing powder suds. The waves churn out tiny figures that wait patiently on surf boards, trained to spring up gymnastically and balance, to catch a wave. The figures work all day, from early morning to when the sun begins to set. Tirelessly paddling to and fro, sitting and waiting, sitting and waiting.

Ulu Watu

The area of Ulu Watu is filled with different small coves, providing different types of beaches. All have weather beaten rocks that are carved by the ocean. Planted as if an obstacle course around the smooth white sand. And when the tide goes out, the algae green reef juts out of the ocean, resembling a picturesque scene of Ireland, rather than Indonesia. Each beach is entirely different. Ulu Watu is good for its massive surf where surfers dash out to endlessly catch waves. When the tide is out, the beach is small, yet mystical because of the various shaped rocks that create a cut away appeal, as if a beach from the movie: Cast Away.

Ulu Watu

Padang Padang is a beautiful beach, yet is small, so over populated when it’s busy and is filled with tiny painful jellyfish and cheeky thieving monkeys. Whilst Bingin beach has more coral than sand, creating more of a place for a photo shoot rather than a sunbathing session. Head to Dreamlands beach– the best beach in the Ula Watu area (excluding expensive and snooty Jimbaran), this beach is large with soft sand and it has the perfect surf for beginners or enthusiastic boogie boarders.

Ulu Watu Ulu Watu

Hiring a bike to get around is the easiest and most sensible option as distances can be quite long and walking seems to be a mad option. We stayed in the main area of Ulu Watu, walking distance from the Ulu Watu beach. Accommodation varies greatly here on how much your willing to spend. As we were travelling on a budget, we found only a select few in our price range of 150 thousand rupiah for a fan room. Finding only two home stays of that price but one with cleanliness, which was Ulu inn. Ulu Inn is a wondrous wooden cabin (think the movie Cabin In The Woods but without the violence or murder). There are 4 double rooms, all with balconies, lovely bathrooms and a main shared balcony that is at the end of the entrance hall. The place is furnished as if of a hunters cabin in the valleys of Wales, or the hills of America and the superb location means you get no mosquitoes or loud noises of traffic at night, only waking up to the sweet sound of bird song.

Ulu Watu

The cheapest restaurant we found which serves good quality local food is Padita– try the fried fish in sweet and sour sauce- its beautiful! The night life here is sporadic due to the many beaches of the area, but also sporadic in time because of the surfer’s desires to well, surf. Those who choose to party face a particularly shaky day surfing the next day. Drinks are popular at Single Fin bar in Ulu Watu where house music floats gently in the background and where the best view is to be had of the disappearing sun over the balmy shimmering waves, and where drinks are the same price as my dinner at Padita. Keep an ear out for what’s happening at night, we stumbled upon a reggae party at Thomas Home stay in Padang Padang Beach where we danced barefoot in the sand under the stars to the mellow sounds of Bob Marley.It is difficult to get to Ulu Watu as there are a limited number of buses that make it here, so arranging your own transport is recommended. I got an ojek here from Kuta for 100 thousand rupiah.

Although I enjoyed my time at Ulu Watu, one of the biggest havens for surfing in the world, I won’t return- neither to Bali, because it is not real Indonesia. Unfortunately the tourism industry has swamped over most of Bali, stamping on Indonesian Culture and minimizing it. Plots of land turn into fancy hotels and lavish apartments that capture right down to every detail: a white man’s paradise. Indonesia is filled with so many more islands and untouched beaches to explore, I’d rather climb through a jungle and down a cliff face to get to a beautiful beach rather than jump out of an air conditioned taxi and fight over a patch of sand with fellow tourists. But I guess that is how I like to travel in Asia, and not everyone follows this same style of suit. But please, if you are a family or a bunch of surfers heading to Ulu Watu, please visit somewhere else in Indonesia where you can explore and learn a bit more about their culture.

A Closer Look at Bali, Asia, Indonesia, Travel

Galungan in Ubud

Ubud has grown in popularity over the years due to the emotional and personal story told in “Eat, Pray, Love”. Just the title of this novel emphasizes the atmosphere of Ubud in 3 forms. Eat: gorge on healthy feel good nutritious food or dine in expensive tourist orientated restaurants. Pray: with your body and soul, mediate and reflect on thoughts and feelings through meditation and healing classes, flex muscles and stiff joints in yoga. And finally, Love: fall in love with the culture you have absent mindedly leapt into, the artisans products and the erratic dance shows of Kecang.

Ubud Ubud

Ubud is a sanctuary of peace and love for the soul and mind. Well, it once was. Areas of Ubud are still reminiscent of this attitude and beliefs, but recluses and practices with extortionate prices combined with the main streets swarming with expensive western shops and food that has been created to satisfy the large amount of tourists, means that Ubud has lost its authentic charm. Gone are the days of seeing local artisans at their work, hammering away at sculptures or wistfully painting in creative expression. Now ludicrously expensive and fashionable shops (Ralph Lauren anyone? No? How about Rip Curl?) line the streets selling items at European prices. The local artisans are pushed to the outskirts of the city, staring blankly into thin air, waiting and wishing for customers to seek them out. The art they now create isn’t of traditional Balinese style, but merely desires to fuel tourists dreams, items to place in lavish estates in the country.

Ubud

Although the produce that is created in Ubud is not original, there are still areas of Ubud that encapsulate the element and style of Balinese art such as Neka Art Museum. For 50 thousand rupiah step in to this mansion of art, each room solely narrating the gradual process of Balinese art and the depths of its style and how the western world has influenced this style. Not only this, but they have a great exhibition showcasing the work of Artie Smit, a Dutch painter who has been a Prisoner Of War and has lived for many years in Asia. His style of art merges European technique with Asian objective, a beautiful fusion.

Ubud

Another way to embrace the intrinsic Balinese culture is through watching one of the popular traditional dance shows. There are many types of Balinese dances held at various locations and ranging in different styles from fire and trance to Geckong, which is a traditional form of telling stories or fables of Hindu scriptures. Arrive early at a performance as seats are filled quickly and the best view to be had is closest to the stage. Tickets are 80 thousand rupiah and the show is roughly an hour and a half. The show feels long at times but the glittering gorgeous costumes of the dancers, jerky erratic body movements and large estranged eyes are entertaining enough.

Ubud Ubud

There is little to do in the city of Ubud except get lost in the maze of streets finding beautiful and ornate family temples, watching mothers give blessings chanting and humming, enriching your inner and outer being by partaking in a yoga class, or dining on some delicious and nutritious food. Head away from the jostling tourist based market to outside of Ubud, where quiet vibrant rice terraces join at the hip, all tiered on different levels. Each ridge of rice is sibling to one another, supporting and leaning on one another. The sight is magnificent at Tegalalang, the most popular area of rice terraces. But drive further outside of town to see isolated rice terraces that are equally as beautiful.

Ubud Ubud

Nice rice terraces can be found at the historical sight of Gunung Kawi, ancient temples cut out into the sides of crumbling white rock with an oasis of foliage and greenery centring the tranquil sight. Another destination on any tourists itinerary is Goa Gajah, otherwise known as ‘The Elephant Cave’. The sight is of some historical bathing pools where legend has it, the water restores health and vitality, essentially being the fountain of youth (so of course I washed my face with this water). Near to the pools is the cave where sculptured demons guard the exterior, terrifying any with a weak heart or creative imagination. Descend further past the cave to a quaint Buddhist temple surrounded by ponds with floating lilies balanced serenely on top of the surface. For only 15 thousand rupiah, you are allowed entry into this sight, tying a respectable blue piece of fabric to your side, and for those who aren’t wearing the correct attire, modest sarongs are given out.

Ubud Ubud

Ubud is in a great location to explore even more of Bali and its number of towering volcanoes, luminous rice terraces and cosy fishing villages. We drove around the village of Danau Batur lake, driving through the crater of Gunung Batur, which loomed menacingly in the distance as we sped past waving locals and garden growing crops, fields of hazy bush and flowering buds in another. The volcano of Gunung Batur is a popular destination for tourists to ascend for a sunrise tour, scrambling and shuffling in the wee hours to catch a glimpse of the inspiring view. An eruption in 2003 means that the surrounding areas of Gunung Batur is covered with blackened rock, broken and rough, deformed pieces of destruction ejected from the powerful volcano that has smothered land, a scene that resembles something similar to Mordor. The trip was stunning, so I do recommend renting a scooter and driving east to Ahmed or north to Lovina, ascending and descending volcanoes as you go.

Be careful though, it would be advisable to drive with an international driers license, as although European drivers license are widely accepted here, further validation is needed. Police will prey on tourists driving long distances for a cheeky pay off or bribe, so a tourist can continue to drive without a license, and so they have a bit of pocket money. Its frustrating that the scooter rentals do not say this when renting out, and the police do not stop tourists in busy areas or areas of rental, which further highlights the corruption. Oh Asia.

Volcanoes in Bali Volcanoes in Bali

When visiting Ubud, my travel buddy and I found ourselves crossing over with an important local Hindu festival, Galungan. This festival marks the time when deceased relatives return to their old homes in the form as spirits. It was beautiful to see families come together and create “Penjor”‘- bamboo poles with offerings at the end, all in the same design, pieced together carefully and with love. Each family had different offerings and differently designed small offering posts, all brightly colourful personal posts that symbolised the union of the family and their faith. All locals dressed in white, men donning themselves with Indonesian style turbans, all perfectly folded and worn with pride. Women dress as if the belle of the ball, or the bride in a wedding, adorning themselves with jewels on their foreheads and white lace all over their body. It was beautiful to see the presence of religion so strong in Ubud, a popular tourist destination, and families smiling on the streets, women balancing offerings on their heads whilst popping in and out of temples, and children laughing in excitement for the festival. I do recommend arranging your travels around local festivals, to catch a glimpse of the traditional culture of a certain country, and how it reflects on the people’s way of life.

Ubud Ubud

As I said before, dining options are of a vast amount here and are definitely part of the tourist market. Places I recommend were near I stayed, they are; Dayuns Warung, a beautiful vegetarian and vegan restaurant that uniquely creates dishes with flavour and taste, all ingredients tasting great and even better once put together. Gilitari BBQ and steak for its cheap and gorgeously roasted and smoked BBQ chicken and rice. But my favourite by far is: Little India, Sita’s Warung. My travel buddy and I were missing good quality Indian food and craving a good thali, we went there. Each dish took us back to India, rich in flavour and spice, tasting perfect. It was like we had returned to the streets of Delhi, meandering around corners and eating in dirty dives of street corners, given greasy plates and large portions. The food was at the same level of food in India, served in a glittering jewel of a restaurant, delicately furnished in the style of India. Meals here are priced similarly to the main strip of tourist restaurants, although the standard is much higher.

UbudAccommodation varies from hotel suites with perfumed flowers and welcome yoga classes, isolated thatched bungalows with rice terrace views, to affordable home stays built around a family temple. I stayed in Amel Homestay, where the room’s are basic with a fan, but breakfast plentiful and the surroundings pleasurable. A double room here is 150 thousand rupiah.