140 days travelling and we quickly settled into the laid back cafe culture of Ubud.
6th – 11th February 2019 (Ubud, Bali)
Bali was a very last minute decision for us as far as our travel plans went. Originally, we had planned to spend two weeks relaxing on the beaches of Cambodia after our time in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. As we started to research that part of our trip during our marathon planning session in Langkawi, we slowly realised that the cost of staying on the Cambodian beaches was far higher than we were anticipating. The range of accommodation seemed to be either incredibly cheap, open air huts on the beach front (we have learnt from experience that air conditioning is a must for us in the humid climates of Asia, so those were swiftly ruled that out) or very expensive resorts which were completely out of our price range. I wonder whether Chinese New Year has inflated prices or that all the good budget accommodation had been snapped up.
After a couple of days of looking at different alternatives, we ended up landing on Bali. It was somewhere we had said we wanted to go to on our travels should the opportunity arise, as we hadn’t planned it into our final route. Our only concern was that February was right in the middle of their rainy season. After reading several blog posts and many conflicting arguments on forums about visiting Bali at that time of year, we decided to go for it. We figured that even if it did rain, we would choose places where there were nice cafes we could sit in and spend some time relaxing, rather than relying on having a ‘beach holiday’. The benefit of going in the rainy season also meant prices were slightly lower and that there should (technically) be less tourists.
We left Phnom Penh eager to see what Bali had in store for us. I had visited Bali years before as a child, but it was my wife’s first visit and we had heard good things from our friends who had recently visited there. We had a short layover in Kuala Lumpur (my wife had no one sitting next to her yet again!), which gave us time to grab a quick bite to eat before boarding our final plane to Bali. What should have been a rather uneventful flight, ended up being rather tense.
A woman two rows ahead of us was using a dodgy power bank to charge her phone, when it decided to start billowing out smoke about halfway through our flight. Imagine three hipsters happily vaping away and it will give you a good idea of just how much smoke this thing was spewing out. My wife was casually watching something on Netflix completely oblivious as I simply stared in disbelief, my life flashing before my eyes. A woman one row behind jumped up and ran to the back of the plane – a lot of use that will do you. Most of the flight were unaware of what was actually happening and I have to praise the AirAsia staff for handling the situation as calmly and efficiently as they did. My wife was none the wiser, that was until the cabin filled with smoke which reeked of burnt plastic. It stayed that way for a fairly long time before it cleared out, with the air stewards handing out wet paper towels for people to breathe through. The take home here was not to use your power bank on flights, who’d have thought your nagging parents could be right?
After landing in Bali at around 11pm, we were greeted by the longest visa line we had seen so far during our travels. Scanning the different lines quickly and joining the nearest queue, we quickly realised we’d made the wrong decision (as a Brit you’d think we’d have this queuing thing down to a fine art). While the queue in the middle of the room had 6 boarder staff attending to them, we only had 2. This meant we moved at a snails pace and it was an hour before we made it through to l baggage reclaim. You’d have thought by that time our bags would be ready and waiting for us, but this wasn’t the case. The bags seemed to be appearing on any conveyor belt that took its fancy, and it was at least another 30 minutes before we were finally reunited with both our bags (on the wrong conveyor belt). We were concerned our driver wouldn’t be waiting for us as we were an hour and a half later than we’d told him, but we were pleased to see him waiting doggedly by the exit with around 100 other drivers (Bali was the busiest airport we’d seen so far in terms of number of passengers all arriving at once). From the airport, it was about an hour and a half drive to our first stop, Ubud.
Ubud is a gorgeous little town situated close to the middle of the island and a popular destination with tourists – almost 3 million visit Ubud every year. It was very easy to see why it’s such a popular place. It’s filled to the brim with cosy cafes, stylish boutique shops and beautiful ornate doorways and temples scattered throughout the town. We had a total of 6 nights there, but we could easily been there for much longer. We were treating Bali as an opportunity to try and save as much money as possible, what with two weeks in Japan looming ever closer. This meant we spent a lot of time exploring on foot, chilling out in cafes and relaxing by the pool of our hotel. Hotels in Bali were remarkably affordable – not only did we have a spacious double room and a lovely pool but we also had breakfast included every day, which helped to keep our costs down. Our guest house in Ubud was located just a couple of streets away from all the main cafes and shops and was in easy walking distance to some of the nearby attractions – perfect.
Considering its the rainy season in February, we were incredibly lucky with the weather while we were in Ubud. The days mostly started out bright and clear with plenty of blue skies, before a few clouds would start to roll in around mid afternoon. We had a couple of afternoons with a bit of rain, but not for any longer than about 15 minutes and the sun would always come out afterwards. Most of the rain seemed to fall at nighttime, which meant it was nice and cool for sleeping.
Ubud turned out to be an absolute food haven for us. A lot of the cafes have a big focus on dietary requirements and many menus are completely gluten free, which meant I was in my element. It was such a change to be able to have a wide choice of dishes, rather than being limited to one or two as usual. Some of our favourite places to eat included Seeds of Life, which was a completely raw vegan restaurant. We have been trying to be a bit more aware of the food we are eating while travelling (eating out so regularly can wreck havoc on your waistline, so my wife says) so we decided to give it a shot on our first full day in Ubud – we tried the raw vegan lasagne and raw vegan pizza (which were both gluten free as well) and they were absolutely delicious. We were very impressed and ending up going back at least 3 more times during our stay in Ubud – their peppermint bliss balls were a favourite of my wife.
We also visited a couple of traditional Warungs and sampled some local curries, with varying results. Our favourite was Melting Wok Warung, which served up a mean beef curry full of fresh herbs and spices with a huge helping of rice. Another worth mentioning is the Clear Cafe with its Tolkien-esque entrance door and stunning interior. The food was a little pricier here and that was before they’d whacked on 10% service charge and 10% in additional taxes – but it was really delicious and their dragon bowl was to die for. After all the healthy eating, we did treat ourselves to some amazing home made coconut ice cream from Tukies, served with fresh coconut, baked coconut shavings and palm sugar. Totally worth it.
One of our best finds in Ubud was a sprawling rice terrace that was hidden away around the back of some houses. There was a small signpost directing us to the ‘Magical rice fields’ and we decided to explore, following the overgrown path for about 5 minutes until we popped out into completely deserted rice fields. It was lovely to be able to walk among them and it felt like we were a million miles away from the town centre – we couldn’t quite believe this was so close to Ubud, and that no one else was here. As a result, we decided against visiting the more famous rice terraces out of town due to the £15 price tag to get a taxi there and back. We had gone back and forth over our decision to visit them, but decided that we had seen stunning rice fields already for free and although the famous rice terraces would be more dramatic, we couldn’t quite justify the cost. Travelling long term on a budget means you can’t always do absolutely every activity you want to and you sometimes have to weigh things up and consider if the price you’re going to pay is really going to be worth it. Now we have left Ubud, we don’t regret not going to the bigger rice terraces, but definitely want to come back one day and see them.
We also did the Campuhan ridge walk just outside town which not only gave us stunning views over the valley, but a bit of a workout as well. The road was paved the whole way, so very easy to find your way and the scenery was breathtaking. We also managed to visit a couple of local temples, the architecture around Ubud was unlike anywhere else we had seen and we were surprised to learn that although Indonesia is a majority Muslim country, Bali is mostly Hindu. We could definitely see this influence coming through strongly in the temples around the town. We decided to skip visiting the famous monkey forest, as neither of us are particularly fond of monkeys and have seen far too many incidents while we have been travelling where monkeys have aggressively snatched things out of people’s hands – not something we particularly want to experience first hand! We also decided against doing a yoga class (so many of them in Ubud) but we did end up buying our own yoga mat to encourage us to exercise more while we are travelling. We’ll see how that pans out…
For us, Ubud was a little slice of heaven. The whole town has a very relaxed feel to it and you could dine out for a month without going to the same cafe twice – the amount of variety was on another level compared to anywhere else we had been. It was the perfect place for us to start our adventure in Bali, and although we could have stayed for another week, we were excited for the next part of our journey on Nusa Lembongnan.
Until next time.
P.S. This is the first country we managed to come in under budget. You know what they say, 10th time lucky.