Buckets of Bintang in Bonkers but Beautiful Bali

Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 16, 2008

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Where I stayed
Melasti Beach Resort Spa

Flag of Indonesia  , Bali,
Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The first thing we noticed on leaving the plane was the incredible humidity, even at night, and the distinct lack of fans or air conditioning in the airport. Once we eventually got our visas and cleared customs we were greeted by our hotel representative and tour guide, Wayan, or 'Hot Curry' to his friends and driven through the absolute madness that is the streets of Bali.

The relatively small island of Bali has a large population of roughly 3.5million, so space is scarce, and it seems that everyone over the age of 14 has a motorbike or scooter as there are millions of them too. Somewhere the maths has gone wrong, because most of the bikes seem to have at least two people on them and rather scarily it's not uncommon to see whole families on one bike, babies being held by the mother riding side saddle on the back while the father drives, a toddler sits between him and the handle bars and not one of them has a crash helmet. It was quite a shock to the system.

The second shock to our system was arriving at the hotel and being treated like VIPs. Our bags were whisked away from us before we could blink, Hot Curry checked us in and generally made us redundant and then we were shown to our room... well we say room, but after a year of frankly inadequate space in often pretty shabby hostels it felt more like a luxury apartment - the bathroom alone is bigger than most of the bedrooms we've had! But then at 2,856,000 Rupiahs for the week it should be! (That's just under 200 quid to you guys).

We were, by this point, a little overwhelmed so we had ourselves some Australian therapy -made a bee-line for the restaurant and washed down a good feed with a cold Bintang (or 3) and a few fancy cocktails.

Next morning, after the best night's sleep either of us can remember and after the biggest breakfast we've ever had too, we ventured onto the streets of Legian in search of some bottled water and maybe a souvenir or two. Five seconds after leaving the hotel gate we began to think we'd be safer chancing the dodgy tap water as every local within shouting distance had something to sell, be it transport, T-shirts, jewellery, souvenirs or suspicious sounding time-shares. And not to mention the small children scurrying around trying to sell beads and bracelets - it's heart wrenching!

There is no window shopping or 'just looking' in the shop keepers' vocabulary - you look, even a furtive sideways glance, and he is on a mission to sell you that item, plus a spare and one for everyone you know, and you're not even in the shop yet! It starts off being vaguely amusing but after a while it's exhausting saying 'No thank you' all the time.

Later on, having managed not to get mown down by the thousands of passing motorbikes and having finished our shopping we found ourselves sprawled in the sun next to one of the hotel's three gorgeous swimming pools. This was to become a favourite position over the next few days but first we wanted to see some of what beautiful Bali had to offer so we rejoined Hot Curry and set off for what we hoped would be an interesting look at Bali life.

First we visited four traditional craft villages, each one having a different speciality. The weaving and Batik centre was amazing - such intricate a complicated designs being produced by hand and at the silver village we saw some stunning examples of jewellery and pictures hand made from silver wire and beads. The wood carving and painting galleries were equally fascinating and we spent quite some time looking around and watching the artists at work.

Next up, a visit to a typical Balinese home, open to the public and totally different to any house we'v ever seen. The home is made up of several different buildings, mostly open sided,and an open air temple. Each small building has a different function be it kitchen, bedroom ar whatever and the temple is used by the family every day for prayer and simple offerings to the Gods.

Around 95% of the population is Hindu, and while they embrace modernisation and a large number of tourists their beliefs and traditions remain strong. Every home and business places small woven baskets containing flowers, fruit and rice outside their door or gate each morning to bring good luck and ward off the evil spirits. Similar offerings are placed in shrines in almost every property for the same reason.

After lunch in a restaurant overlooking Gunung Batukau (Bali's second highest mountain) and its picturesque neighbouring lake, we moved on to a springwater Temple, taking a look at a traditional rice terrace along the way. At the Temple it is very disrespectful to have uncovered legs so men and women alike have to wear a sarong over their shorts. The Temple, open to visitors in between six-monthly ceremonies is a beautiful place with detailed and delicate stone and wood carving decorations, ornate statues and water features, fish ponds, shrines and a calm, spiritual ambiance.

Final stop of the day was at one of Bali's five Monkey Forests in Ubud, where naturally occuring wild monkeys have become used to human visitors and go about their business with no fences or restrictions and only take notice of you if you have food to offer. The river and cool forest setting make this a very pleasant place for a quiet stroll and the monkeys, especially the young ones, with their amusing antics make it even more so.

As the day drew to an end it was time to head back to the hotel and try to absorb everything we'd seen and been told. Although most of the places we visited were aimed at tourists the day was still an eye opener. Driving through the small streets we noticed that every home has something for sale, be it paintings, wood carvings, stone work, clothes, jewellery, even in what feels like the middle of nowhere and every time we left the vehicle there was someone trying to sell us their wares and they don't easily take no for an answer.

As we continued our new found adrenaline sport - being driven around the chaotic Bali roads - we were continuously amazed by how much stuff can be carried on an ordinary motorbike - from six bags of rubbish to a head high pile of bananas (plus two adults and a toddler) to a wheelbarrow of all things. Amazingly, given the apparent lack of road sense or any sort of highway code, we witnessed the aftermath of only two accidents, but the potential for so many more.

One night at the hotel we attended a traditional dinner and Legong dance, where the graceful dancers demonsrated amazing strength and flexibility. The live music was performed entirely from memory and was very complex. Apparently the dancers and musicians are taught from a very young age so by the time they're performing in public the moves and rhythms come completely naturally and half the time the musicians don't even seem to be concentrating at all.

Our remaining few days were spent in well earned luxury, being waited on hand and foot and even finding time for the occasional cooling dip in the pool. Even Scruffy donned his trunks and persuaded his new found Aussie girlfriend, Matilda, to join him in a spot of sun worshipping. We're hoping they'll get married one day to make it easier for us to get residency!
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