Ubud

Ubud was the beginning of our adventure in Bali and after 33+ hours of traveling we finally arrived at 1 pm at night. We had reservations at an AirBnB called Sayan Terrace Resort. (Sayan is a quieter neighborhood west of central Ubud.) The owner of the AirBnB set up a driver to pick us up from the airport. Our driver, Malin, was amazing and we wound up hiring him to drive us for 2 of the 3 days we were there. We arrived to the resort late at night and when we got there Malin showed us to our beautiful room with a large living room, king size bed, and a huge bathroom.

(Pictures of our accommodation provided by our AirBnB)

When we woke up the next day our jaws dropped at the view from our terrace that we missed in the darkness.

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Green. Everywhere. Palm Trees. Mountains and Volcanoes. There was a river down in the ridge. HELLO BEAUTIFUL!! Also this is interesting but our resort was right next to the Four Seasons.

Price of Four Season: starts at $497 USD per night

Price of Sayan Terrace Resort: $84 USD per night

You get the same view that the Four Seasons has for a very small fraction of the price. Yes the Four Seasons offers you ridiculous luxuries like your OWN LILY PAD, culinary chefs that come to your villa and cook for you, and complimentary overnight shoe shining but c’mon your mom can do two of those three things for you anyway if you ask nicely.

Okay back on topic.. Ubud was easily my favorite out of the three places we stayed in Bali. It’s the cultural center of the island or the heart of the jungle as I like to say.

Day One:

We woke up at 7 am, grabbed a box breakfast the resort provided us (hard boiled eggs, banana, and a piece of bread), and met Malin at the front desk. Our first destination was the Tegallang Rice Terraces – about a 40 minute drive from our place. There’s a bunch of small cafes and shops on the side. We got there so early that we were the only ones there so GO early!! There are a few smaller swings and they will probably ask for a small fee to get pictures on them (5,000-10,000 IDR which is less than a dollar in USD). Also if a worker asks for a donation just give them a small amount as well. You can just walk around and along the terrace edges and enjoy the lush green and beautiful few. We only spent 30 minutes there at most but you could easily wander around for an hour or two depending how crowded it gets.

After appreciating the Rice Terraces, we drove two minutes down the road to the Ubud Swing. These swings are a lot different than the smaller swings at the Rice Terraces because… well… they’re three times the size. There are two different companies that run these more extreme swings. The more popular and slightly more expensive one is ran by an English company and the not as popular but just as cool and slightly cheaper swing is run by the Balinese so we went with supporting the local people and I don’t regret it at all.

You know you’re at the Balinese run swing if there is a big Luwak Coffee sign outside. When you arrive, someone will take you through and show you how they make their signature Luwak Coffee. Pretty much they feed the coffee beans to the Luwak’s who eat it and poop them out, then they take the coffee beans, clean them a lot and then they roast them. That probably grosses some people out but apparently its the best coffee in Bali. Malin liked to call it cat-poo-ccino. They show you all of the spices, how they crush the beans, and then they even give you a free sampling of tea and coffee.  After this you can make your way down to the swings. There are three different swing options: couple swing, extreme swing, super extreme swing. Of course we decided to do the super extreme because go hard or go home. It was about $15 which is over priced in my opinion but SO worth it and its also a few bucks cheaper than the English run swing apparently. Overall: 9/10

Next stop was the Campuhan Ridge Walk. Now by this point it was about 10 am and it was hot and humid. Meg and I walked the ridge for about 20 minutes before dying of heat exhaustion and heading back to the car. If it happens to be somewhat cooler weather, it’s a nice relaxing place to head for a stroll but there’s nothing to exciting to see besides a few chances for some ~artsy~ pics for the gram.

(Campuhan Ridge Walk)

Next stop was Tegenungan Waterfall. You have to pay 10,000 IDR to enter which is about a dollar. There were a handful of stores on your way down to the waterfall. Be warned: there are steps.. lots of steps.. I think 160 steps to be exact. Bring plenty of water and make sure your glutes are prepared to put in some serious work when you’re heading back up from the ‘fall. There is a small waterfall to your left and when you get to the very bottom, there is also a temple you can stop at. At Tegenugan, you can usually swim in the water (so bring a bathing suit) but when we went the water was very rough and no swimming was allowed.

You can also get pretty close to the waterfall but you have to cross to the other side which of course means you have to cross the rough water I just told you about. And guess how you cross rough water like that in underdeveloped countries? Bridges. Bridges made out of sketchy wood. Bridges made out of bamboo limb tied together. Really really sketchy bridges that are guaranteed to get your heart racing while rough water is rushing through underneath you. BUUTTT its worth it. You also have to pay a small extra fee to climb more stairs to the top but hey your bum is going to look glorious.

Next, we headed to Batuan Temple. There is a small donation and they will lend you a free sarong if you don’t have one (Malin brought two for us cause hes the best). It’s a quiet and well kept temple that you’re free to roam around to take pictures of. It could be considered small compared to other temples in Bali and there are no tour guides. I enjoyed the architecture of the temple but if you don’t appreciate art or you’re not appreciative of Hindu culture, this might be slightly boring for you.

After Batuan, we were exhausted so we headed home, cleaned up, ate at our resort and spent the rest of our day enjoying our super relaxing infinity pool and pretended that we were models. Don’t judge us.

Day Two: 

We got to start off our day by waking up at 1!!! AM!!!! ok I’m being overdramatic because our jet lag was so bad we fell asleep at like 6 pm and waking up at 1 am would be noon in Eastern Standard Time. Why would we wake up this early you ask? To hike a volcano in the dark to see the sunrise over another volcano.

(Sunrise over Mt Agung from Mt Batur)

We booked our Mt Batur hike through Bali Trekking and we were super happy with them! Our driver picked us up on time and we arrive to the base of the Volcano around 3:30 am. We met up with our tour guide who was AWESOME. This hike is no joke and he made sure we had water and hiking sticks – you need them. The climb is more than 5,000 ft and there are breakpoints along the hike every about every 20 minutes. When we got to the top is was so worth it. Our tour guide made breakfast for us (egg sandwich, banana sandwich, snake fruit, and a candy bar) over the volcanic steam rising from Mt Batur. We got there just in time as we watched the sunrise slowly rise over Mt Agung which is the largest volcano in Bali and also very active.

We relaxed and ate our breakfast before our descent back down the volcano only to be surprised by monkeys. It was a hilarious first interaction with the wild animals as they bothered countless people looking for food, especially bananas.

After getting a few laughs in at the ridiculousness of the situation – we just climbed a 5,633 ft volcano on the other side of the world at 3 am to watch the sunrise over another ACTIVE volcano that was only a mere 11 miles away and now we had to fight a band of monkeys trying to steal our beloved breakfast – we started out trek back down to our driver. Solid.

You would think after dealing with the monkeys we’d try to stay away from them, right? NOPE. We went to the Sacred Monkey Forrest Sanctuary back in Ubud. This was simultaneously one of the coolest and scariest experiences of our life. There’s multiple entrances and exits but you pay a small fee to get in and then you can stay in the sanctuary for as long as you want – its a lot bigger than it looks so make sure you explore it all. You should beware though that some of the monkeys can be very very aggressive and will attack if you have food or something it wants. A monkey almost stole Megan’s camera and while it was a terrifying experience for her, I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. Just be very weary and follow the two main rules: Don’t look the monkeys in the eye and don’t run. 

At the Forrest there are ladies selling over priced bananas but buying the bananas are the best and pretty much only way to get a picture with a monkey without them biting you or stealing your belongings (at least they didn’t do those things to us PRAISE THE LAWD). We didn’t buy the bananas at first but we did before we left because we adopted the “oh well f**k it, we might get rabies but hey at least we’ll have a cool pic” mindset. And here’s how that turned out:

The monkey on my head liked me so much it literally wouldn’t get off AND it got banana stuck in my hair. Very nice monkey. Would highly recommend. 10/10.

The Sanctuary is right near the village so we walked around until we were exhausted and hiked a taxi back to our resort to end another great day in Ubud by our pool.

Day Three:

This was our last day in our beloved Ubud so we had to get done whatever we could in the small amount of time we had left. Our first stop was the Ubud market to get souvenirs. I didn’t take pictures of the market but it is very large and there are hundreds of vendors. If you want to get a good deal, you need to be able to barter prices. They will notice you are foreign and will try to rip you off with right away. Whatever their first price is, divide it by two and start from there. They want 250,000 IDR? Start at 125,000. If they don’t give you the price you are looking for, don’t be afraid to walk away. There is bound to be someone else who will give you the price you want and possibly even cheaper.

Master hack: download a currency converter app before you go so you can quickly see how much you’re paying in USD. You will also need cash for the market.

After the market, we were a short drive away from Saraswati Temple. Now you probably wouldn’t even notice this temple if you were just walking down the street but it honestly was my favorite looking back at it. Its small and quiet compared to the noise and hustle of Ubud outside its walls. The walkway to the temple is lined with lotus flowers and lily pads which make the whole landscape look peaceful. I’ve never seen a lotus flower in real life so to see a flower that has been sacred to so many cultures and religions for thousands of years was moving.

Our last and final stop in Ubud was Tirta Empul or better known to westerners as the Water Temple. This temple is famous for its holy spring water where Hindus go to bathe for ritual purification. It was constructed in 942 A.D. and is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, God of Water. It is 15,000 IDR to enter (~$1 USD). Its a very large temple and it could take you anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to embrace it all.

In the main section of the Temple there are two large purification pools with sprouts flowing with the holy water. You’ll notice them do a ritual under a spring and when they’re done they will move to the next sprout to their right. Malin told us that each spring has a different meaning so they might not wash under each one. For example, if you bought a new home, or you’re expecting a child, or you’re starting a new job there are different sprouts for that.

In the back of the Temple, you can see the Hindus pray and where the natural spring is. I thought it was fascinating and the red and orange colors of the temple are spectacular. If you enter the back part of the temple and you have long hair, it has to be pulled up in a ponytail or bun. You can also acknowledge the Presidential estate that is built on the hill next to the temple – reserved only for when the President is in town or prestigious guest. Before you leave, make sure you check out the Koi Pond and buy the food to feed them! They are colossal fish but super friendly and it was a totally unique experience.

 

We could have honestly stayed five days to a whole week in Ubud because the central to northern part of the island is bustling with places to go and things to do. So I made a small list of things I wish we could have done that we missed out on because of either time or money:

  • Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave)
  • Gitgit Waterfall
  • White Water Rafting ($$$)
  • Sekumpul Waterfall
  • Nungnung Waterfall

There is also an Elephant Park near Ubud that Megan and I chose not to go to for our own reasons. First, it was very expensive. Two, it is not a sanctuary. Three, they allow elephant rides there which is torture for the animals and isn’t what either of us believe in so we chose against it. If its something you’re interested in, it might be a cool experience but you should do some research before you go on how it effects the animals!

Ubud will always have a place in my heart. The landscape, culture, and people were beautiful beyond words and I would try to convince anyone interested to go there and experience it all first hand. You can thank me when you return.

What You Need to Know Before Traveling to Bali

Now let me start off by saying this… when I told people I was going to Bali, the majority of responses I got were along the lines of: “Where?” “What’s Bali?” “Is that a country?“. So if you’re one of those people, I’ll give you some background so you’re not completely lost. Bali is a 2,200 square mile island in Indonesia. It is composed of the main island and three smaller islands off of its eastern coast – Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan, and Nusa Penida. It’s geography is quite diverse, consisting of volcanoes, jungles, and beaches with turquoise waters. It. Is. Beautiful.

(Kelingking Beach, Nusa Penida)

Before you leave for Bali there are some things you should know…

For all of my international flights, I always book to fly out of New York. Whether it’s JFK or Newark, you’re going to save hundreds to even a thousand dollars on airfare. The two hour drive and dealing with New York traffic is worth it. We found an ridiculous deal with China Eastern and got a round trip ticket to Bali from JFK for $450. Yes you read that right FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS to fly to the other side of the world and back.

Now if you have anxiety with flights this might be an issue with you.. our flight from JFK to Shanghai was 15 hours. Then we had a 12 hour layover in Shanghai. Then 6 hour flight from Shanghai to Despensar (the capital of Bali). The flights are long but China Eastern airlines was actually a lot nicer than we were expecting for such a cheap flight. We had two free checked bags, a personal item, and a carry on. We also got two free meals, a snack, and the in flight entertainment was surprisingly really good. We had a side aisle seat for two and with some niiiiice sleep meds we got a decent amount of sleep.

Bali is in Southeast Asia and if you know a thing or two about that area, it’s that its not the most developed part of the world which can increase the risk of disease. Make sure you make an appointment with an infectious disease/travel doctor. You should have a rough itinerary of what you’re going to do and where you are going to stay. When I went, I just got a new tetanus shot since my old one expired and my doctor prescribed me pills to take to keep me immune to typhoid. If you do get anxiety or have trouble sleeping, I would also talk to your primary care doctor about anxiety or sleeping medicine for your flight.

Bali is known as the land of a thousand temples. Hindu is the major religion in Bali despite Muslim being the predominate religion in Indonesia. Due to their religion, every house has a temple for worship. And families have family temples. And there are public temples. And sometimes restaurants have temples. And there are temples dedicated to rice fields. And monkeys. And there are temples that have been there for hundreds of years that are now mostly just tourist attractions. There are just A LOT of temples. Bali’s culture is spiritually rooted in their religious beliefs and it was humbling to watch how dedicated they are to those beliefs. If you ever visit Bali, you’ll notice small boxes made out of palms containing flowers, rice, and sometimes even eggs or incense that they put out every morning. These are their “offerings” so try your best not to step on them or knock them over.

(Batuan Temple)

In addition to a thousand temples, there are also thousands of stray dogs – I’m not over exaggerating. So if you have a faint heart for strays and plan on traveling to Bali, I’m warning you now that you’re going to have a dying urge to bring a dog home. Especially if you see a puppy appear out of no where on the side of the road. They are EVERYWHERE AND THEY WILL BREAK YOUR HEART CAUSE THEY’RE ALL SUCH GOOD BOYS.

(I was tempted to take this stray good boy home)

Bali’s main economy is dedicated to tourism. The majority of tourist come from China and Australia but we met some people from all over the world including Bahrain, India, and South Africa. Many of the Balinese speak basic English but if they don’t they will usually give you a heads up and tell you.

Bali is also called the land of a million smiles because these people are some of the happiest people you will ever meet. It is amazing to see how happy they are with how little they have. Which brings me to my next point – Indonesia is not a wealthy country and the U.S. dollar can go a long way in Bali. We spent around $250 each on rooms there for a week that would cost 3 times as much back in the U.S. I’m talking breathtaking views, infinity pools, complimentary breakfasts all for an average of about $35 a night. When we were there I only spent $300 total (this includes a private driver each day, all our food/drinks, excursions, souvenirs, and transportation between the 3 places we stayed) and I could have spent WAY less.

Motor scooters are the main way of transportation there and they can be rented for about $5-$7 a day. Private Drivers can cost anywhere from $20-$40 total a day depending on your location and how long you’re going to use them for (You can get a whole driver for a day for the same price as your drunk Uber ride home from the bar). If you plan on seeing a bunch of sights and have a small group I would recommend a driver! If you’re only going to one or two places you’re better off saving money and just renting a taxi. In Bali, they drive on the left side of the road and there’s practically NO rules. We tried to to rent a motor  scooter and we almost crashed into a wall and off a bridge within 2 minutes so we sided with a taxi for the day. So if you’re going to rent a motorbike you should have a solid idea how to ride one because the roads are narrow, hilly, busy, and there are little to no lights or stop signs.

But the people are SO nice? Our one driver cut a motorbike off and when the motorbike went around us he gave a polite honk and a thumbs up??? I thought what world is this?? That’s another thing, when people honk in Bali its usually for a heads up. Like “hey I’m just honking to let you know I’m passing you” or “hey this is a sharp turn I’m just honking to make sure you know I’m coming from the opposite direction” or “hey this is a really narrow bridge, you should come across first”. THEY’RE SOOOOO NICE. Also, if you rent a motorbike there’s no gas stations unless you’re around the city, Despensar. Instead, you’re going to have to get petrol from little shops on the side of the road. They sell them in bottles but we saw a lot of shops with them so the odds of you running out of gas and being stranded are low.

Now here’s an important topic: Money. You’re going to need cash in Bali. Some places will take card but their might be a minimum but everywhere takes cash and its always safe to have for taxis, markets, restaurants, and local shops. If I could do it over again I would order a small amount of Indonesian Rupiah ($50 USD) at least a month before you leave so that you get it in time. This is good to have for when you get there for a taxi from the airport, a quick meal, or anything else you might need upon your arrival. You can check your banks currency exchange rate but I found the lowest rates by ordering currency online through Travelex. When you get there, just take out money from an ATMand save yourself the currency exchange service charge. I would also recommend bringing at least $100 USD just in case your debit card doesn’t work with the ATM. They have a lot of money exchanges there with NO COMMISSION so you can once again save yourself from that exchange service charge.

(Enjoy this pic of the beautiful Tegallang Rice Terraces)

Now to the last topic of discussion – your phone. This got a little complicated so you’ll have to bear with me here. I have AT&T and when I travel international I usually just use their International Day Pass which allows you to use your phone as if you were home and it only cost $10 a day – I did this for our 12 hour layover in Shanghai. The only problem is that AT&T doesn’t offer the Day Pass feature for Indonesia so we decided that we were just going to buy SIM cards when we got there because they’re extremely cheap and they were the next best option. AT&T also has a Passport option which is a one time fee of $60 but you only get 1 GB of data so you can get a lot more for a lot less with the SIM card. The only problem was…. it worked for Megans phone but not mine. We figured out that because Meg bought her phone from Apple she could use different SIM cards but because I bought mine from AT&T it was “locked”. Sure, I could have “unlocked” my phone so I could buy a SIM card but I’m stubborn and I kinda liked the idea of not having my phone when we were out. I could still use iMessage and Facetime when I was on WiFi and I would use Meg’s hotspot if I really needed service. I would highly recommend looking into whats the best option for your phone before you leave!

(Dream Beach, Nusa Lembongan)

If you made it this far through this post I’m guessing you’re at least THINKING of traveling to Bali and my recommendation is this: GO. It has something for everybody and is SO worth the flight. You could spend less money going to Bali for 10-14 days than you could booking that all inclusive vacation at a mediocre resort in Cancun. Take chances, immerse yourself in different cultures, and try something new.