Bali Part 1 – Finding Our Feet, Thieving Monkeys and Canyoning

Bali, the land of rice paddies, instagrammable swing moments and stunning temples. I had previously dismissed Bali on the South East Asia trip as being too touristy, and though this may still be true, I’ve had so many recommendations to go I couldn’t wait to see it for myself. It also seemed like the perfect respite between quitting our jobs and heading over to work in Australia and only a week into our Bali trip so far, that is exactly what it has been.

Day 1 – We arrived in the evening to Denpasar and had a transfer booked through our Air BnB, though I’ve heard much advise on being careful with the taxis ripping you off and being careful to get metered taxis or even walk a way outside the airport to find a decent rate. Our first two nights were in Canggu, which I had heard was less touristy than Kuta and Seminyak but still close enough to the airport to not be too long of a drive after we had just arrived – though I never accounted for the traffic, which meant we arrived late and crashed out almost immediately.

Day 2 – I was keen to experience surfing in Canggu as the waves are often perfect for beginners but between jet lag and a general feeling of finding our feet in a new place we actually opted to give it a miss for now but hope to return later in the trip.

Instead we explored the local area and enjoyed the food – Oh my gosh the food! We ate mostly Western fare and struggled to find local Balinese places (although we didn’t stray too far from the beaten track either) but every meal was deliscious from the much-needed breakfast burger to the healthy chicken wraps to the spicy noodles for dinner. As much as I always try to sample the local dishes and encourage others to do so I’m a big believer in eating what you want when you travel. If all you are craving is a burger, go for it. If you’ve fallen in love with a local dish and you want to eat it everyday, no one is here to stop you. I think sometimes there can be strange preconceptions on the way we should and shouldn’t do things, including the way we eat, while traveling but at the end of the day variety and balance is usually best and ultimately, do what you enjoy.

That being said, Canggu does seem very set up for Westerners with cool cafes, sleek restaurants and a myriad of clothes shops. There are times when it feels difficult to see the real Bali beneath these tourist constructs, and sometimes it is all taken too far, but for the most part I can’t seem to help but find it all very likeable. Canggu was an easy place to just chill, wandering from shop to shop, more dining options than we could ever hope to try and some great surfing and yoga options too. It is the perfect introductory place to ease yourself into Bali or even as a base to explore from if you fancy hiring a bike and finding more obscure places to visit.

Day 3 – Moving day. Check out was late from our Air BnB. We had been staying in a simple but lovely room attached to four others of the same with a small communal kitchen (though the food is so cheap I’m sure it is rarely used) and a tiny pool to cool off in. If you want some privacy and a quirky or chic place to stay Air BnB’s are a great choice in Bali. Hostels are of course available if you are looking or a more social way of traveling but with such affordable luxury hotels and Air BnB’s you may as well treat yourself and they are often the more popular choice. So after a leisurely breakfast at Monseiur Spoon, at which we had eaten the day before and equally savoured every bite again today, we experienced the joy of doing nothing while waiting for our transfer.

We were heading to Ubud to stay in the gorgeous Hotel Tjamuhan. It’s a place I recommended often through work and I was excited to experience it for myself. It did not disappoint. The hotel looks out over the jungle and winding pathways take you to traditionally decorated rooms overlooking the river. I will admit parts of the hotel are looking a bit tired and shabby, maybe in need of a spruce up but for the sake of the wonderful service and stunning setting this was easily overlooked.

Day 4 – After a few days of settling in, getting over jet lag and generally relaxing I was eager to get out and explore. The Monkey Forest Sanctuary was only a short walk away from our hotel and cost just 80,000 IDR, approximately £4.40 per person. Word of advise, keep everything in your bag and a lock on your bag too, those cheeky monkeys will grab anything not bolted down, cameras and phones in hand being the exception perhaps, and they know how to undo zips. We discovered this to our peril only a few steps into the sanctuary. Although we had put away sunglasses and hats, Joey had stopped to get something out of the bag for his camera. We were near two monkeys grooming and all of a sudden Joey’s rustling caught one of the monkeys attention. “Joey…” I tried to call to him but it was too late and the monkey was on him! With deft fingers it managed to get into the front pocket and luckily grabbed nothing more valuable than a pack of tissues. After ripping the packet open with his teeth he seemed disapointed to pull out tissue after tissue instead of the yummy snack he was surely hoping for. They never seemed to go for cameras and phones, it was always things in plastic packaging (we wistnessed a few packets of wet wipes being stolen and one couple’s plastic money bag, which luckily the attendants chased down the monkey and retrieved it for them) so they have obviously learnt what is most likely to have food in.

After that we were more cautious but even so I must have caught the eye of a monkey, something you are not suppposed to do, while crouching down to take a photo and next thing I knew he was clinging to my skirt. I tried to calmly back away and the photo Joey snapped may seem like I’m thinking nothing more than ‘oh my gosh, a monkey!’ But I was definitely more nervous than I let on!

For the most part though the monkeys will leave you alone and as long as you follow the advise at the entrance on how to behave they wont be aggressive. It’s a great way to get up close to these semi-wild animals and get great photos. There are also temples there, which seem overshadowed by the wildlife, which is a shame and not what I expected from the complex (I imagined something like Angkor Wat but smaller and with monkeys) but they were still beautiful to see. One area was shrouded in vines and a bridge nearby goes straight through a tree whose roots stand tall and vine- like as well. There are many statues scattered around and Balinese carving is really a sight to see, as our driver the following day joked, “We have so much time on our hands we just carve everything”, and he was right! It is all so intricate and detailed you could stare at it for hours and keep finding new points of interest.

In the afternoon we took advantage of the spa facilities at our hotel. Similarly to Thailand but perhaps not quite as cheap and popular, are the masssages and treatments. We went for a package that included an hour massage, body scrub, yoghurt rub, flower bath and use of spa facilities for half the day for only 1,188,000 IDR approx £70 for two people. Ill admit it was a slightly odd experience at times, having two lovely Balinese women rub us down in what turned out to be literally yoghurt and not some fancy way of describing body lotion, while wearing very ill fitting and very transparent disposable underwear but we walked away feeling relaxed and serene none-the-less. It helps that the massages and flower bath take place looking out over the river with the gentle sounds of the running water, bird life and rhythmic chirping of crickets to further relax you. Would highly recommend.

Day 5 – Our busiest day yet. A good friend recommended us Bali Bro Tours as she had met it’s owner, Dedy, on a previous trip to Bali, before he set up his own business of Bali Bro Tours. We had a blast with him! His sense of humour will have you chuckling all day and although he left most of the decisions as to what we wanted to see for the day up to us, at times he had some suggestions to take us away from the more touristy areas.

Our first stop was Beji Guwang Hidden Canyon to go Canyoning. I had read that morning that the water wasn’t too deep and at points we may go up to our waist but if the water was low it could also be likely we got in no deeper than our knees. Dedy also reassured us the water was likely to be low but we had brought our swimming gear and towels anyway and boy were we glad! As soon as we got the front desk we were told it was full submersion today! The price was 300,000 IDR or £17 approx. This was a little more than what i had read online which suggested the entrance was 15,000 IDR per person plus 100,000 IDR for a guide but possibly my research was out of date or there are multiple entrances that charge different prices, so do your research ahead of time. The currents were also strong in places so if you don’t feel confident in the water it might be best to call in the morning and find out what the water level is like. The guides are great though as they are locals who have been playing in the canyon since they were children and despite being lean they were strong enough to help me up rocks and pull me through stronger currents.

The canyon was so pretty though and there were not many others going through it so it never felt like one long queue of people. We scrambled over rocks, clinging to small ledges at points, waded through water and hopped from boulder to boulder. Round every corner seemed to be smooth rocks with the sun shining down from the crack cross the sky or a peaceful area with small waterfalls running between huge round rocks, or a sunspot between a junction in the river that I could have stayed at for hours. Well worth it.

I was keen to see the natural beauty of Bali and Joey had looked into some waterfall spots we could stop at, including Tegenungan waterfall. This was the only part of our day which was a disappointment. The waterfall was surrounded by restaurants and hotels, which were blasting music, and swarming with people. We had pictured a natural beauty spot but to be honest it all seemed very unnatural and there was a charge, albeit a small one, for going down to the waterfall at 20,000 IDR per person. I think if you want to see waterfalls you will be better off doing research, hiring a scooter and heading off to more secluded areas.

The rice fields were next on the day’s agenda and they were everything I imagined them to be. Even though we had come just after harvest so the rice wasn’t as tall and lush as it would normall be, it made for a spectacular view for a lunch spot and it was nice to go further down for some photo opportunities in the fields themselves.

Though we had two stops left on the list we only made it to one as it was already late afternoon. Dedy had suggested a Luwak coffee place he knew of that also had swings there that would be cheaper than going to some of the more official Bali swings, though almost everywhere we went had either swings or those woven nest type perches for photo opportunities. Luwak coffee is known as one of the most expense coffees in the world, it is made from coffee cherries that have been fed to and passed through the digestive tract of civet cats. I am skeptical of the ethics of Luwak coffee and have to admit the cats were in fairly small cages. We were reassured that they are fed other foods as well as the coffeee cherries and that they would naturally eat these cherries as well but with different countries having different standards of animal care sometimes, it’s hard to tell.

I did feel guilty for enjoying my time here but couldnt help feeling it was a lovely end to the day. Attentive guides talked us through the coffee making process and gave us a free sample of the different flavour coffees they make. It was only 50,000 IDR for a cup of Luwak coffee, which at around £2.80 is cheaper than most standard coffee in the UK and a hell of a lot cheaper than the £30-40 you can buy the Luwak coffee for in some places. Not being a coffee drinker myself I stuck to the locally grown cocoa and treated myself to a chocolate ice cream.

Last to tick off the list was a Bali swing. At 200,000 IDR (approx £11) for around 5 minutes on the swing is probably a rip off but was also cheaper than entry to the swing parks, which we were less interested in. I spent a ridiculous amount of time worrying about getting the perfect photo on the swing. Before coming to Bali I had filled my head with instagram pictures of beautiful women in flowing dresses posing on swings and felt like it was almost a requirement to get that perfect shot. Silly I know. I had even brought a dress to change into to fully look my best and I was worrying about this to Joey who said, “Why dont you do it just for the fun of it and not for the photo”. At that moment behind us a little girl was just being strapped into a swing and when they let her go she whooped with joy. Seeing her giggling and smiling as she flew out over the rainforest made me feel like even more of a fool. She was having the time of her life, the swing was something fun to do, not a modelling opportunity. So I did it, and of course I still wanted some nice photos of the experience, but I also tried to let go and just enjoy it. I whooped too at that rush when they let you go and you feel like you’re flying over this incredible view below. It didn’t matter how I looked; it was fun.

Day 6 – After a couple of busy days we decided to balance it out with a more relaxed one and simply hung out at the hotel most of the day. It was also a chance to forward plan for the next few days and we got our transfer to Gili T booked in. We managed to get a deal for 500,000 IDR (around £28 for two people) one way. We might have been able to get cheaper for a return or haggling a bit more but from comparing places nearby this seemed a fair price for a one hour transfer and over an hour ferry journey. We wanted to leave things open as the planned part of our trip was coming to an end. Once we arrived in Gili T we had three nights at Vila Ombak booked in and then the rest was yet to be decided.

So far though I am loving Bali life. Australia will be all go, lots of planning, driving, adventuring and working too so even if we may be doing things at a slow pace, it is pure joy to sit in a cafe chatting or writing or going through photos and knowing the only thing we have to do with our day is decided whether to go for a swim or where to go for dinner. Two thoughts that are always the forefront of my mind.

I have had some technical issues uploading photos and formatting so apologies for any issues.