For a 3-day trip, my visit to Bali last February was quite possibly one of the most exhausting trips abroad I have ever had. I think it even beats that time I went to the US and had to battle some jet lag plus sleep deprivation thanks to a delayed flight and a tight touring schedule. Our itinerary had us jetting from one side of Bali to the other on a mission to maximize our stay. Then there is of course the inevitable sleeplessness that comes with travel adrenaline (amounting to approximately less than 12 hours of sleep in 4 days), and the fact that I had to lug around my camera gear that weighed a ton in sweltering Balinese heat. By the end of our trip I was so tired I was dreaming about my bed as I slept in the plane on our flight back. I think all three of us were, for that matter.
So I suppose your question now would be: Was it worth it?
I remember arriving in Bali half-groggy from my airplane nap and a little drunk on the excitement of what was to come. Since our flight was at 4AM it was early in the morning when we arrived, which meant we had a full day ahead of us to frolick under the hot Indonesian sun. But first, we were in need of a little freshening up. A little facial cleanser and mouthwash never hurt anyone, agreed?
Our driver Mr. Karyu of Bali Agung Tours was already waiting to drive us to our hotel when we exited the airport. Since this was the first time ever I traveled without family and with friends only, I was pretty darn psyched. And what’s even better is that I got to travel with my two besties in the world, Gilbert and Marga! I don’t have any words to describe how happy I was that this trip turned into a reality. All those times we spent talking about going on a trip together were just daydreams until we finally buckled down and booked our flight! Now we must make it a yearly thing hehe!
Where we stayed in at Denpasar wasn’t technically a hotel. Called Nakula Familiar Inn, the place was more akin to a bed and breakfast than anything else. It felt like an oversized residential lot where the owners decided to build additional smaller living quarters to rent out to tourist right beside their own. You are literally living in the owner’s backyard. And of course that also means it’s a rather cozy location to live in.
Ibu Adi (roughly translated that’s something like Madame Adi) is the owner of Nakula Familiar Inn, and she was such a nice and accommodating lady who personally made sure we got settled into our room well. What I love about this place, aside from the fact that it is super affordable it was a little unbelievable, is that it’s clean and very basic. It has all that you need in a room you will use for sleeping and bathing in (yes there is air-conditioning), and it is spacious! The bedroom is big, the sheets are clean, the bed is comfy and I slept like a baby the three nights we stayed here, plus the bathroom is decent. (Though it is not the best-looking bathroom, I must say.) There’s even a vanity table which was mostly used as a food and water table by us.
I forgot to mention there’s wifi, which works excellently when you sit out on the porch.
Once we washed our faces, brushed our teeth, and got a little food into our systems, we were good and ready to go. I got lots of pictures you guys, so you best settle into your seats.
Now before we proceed to part one of my travel diaries, I would just like to say that if you’re looking for beach locations you won’t find it here. I enjoy a good beach trip to, but this one was more of a cultural discovery sort of trip, filled with interesting monuments and a few jaw-dropping temples. If you’re interested in that sort of thing then I invite you to read on.
The Bajra Sandhi Monument was where we headed first. It’s a monument that stores all of the memories of the Balinese struggles throughout history, mostly under the Dutch. It’s call the bajra sandhi because of its shape, which is like the bell (bajra) used by Hindu priests during religious ceremonies.
What’s fascinating about this place is really when you go up the spiral staircase to the floor with the dioramas. The dioramas depict several important parts of Bali’s history up to the present day. We spent quite a bit of time walking around and reading up on some background about Bali. Just like most other Asian countries, they were colonialized by Europeans for some time before they managed to proclaim independence.
The top floor of the monument is the Utamaning Utama Mandala— a place for quiet contemplation and appreciation for the lush view. The windows are large and lend light into the room quite beautifully. On the ceiling are intricate wooden carvings that look kind of like a constellation of zodiac signs.
Seeing all that green down below, we decided to descend the tower and take a little walk around the gardens in the compound. I think Gilbert was feeling a little tragic about having to leave.
The garden is absolutely lovely in its contrast of leaves and stone. The gray makes the greens of the plants stand out even more, creating that feeling of being in a place that’s both old and historic but still dancing with life.
The garden is a great place for photo ops as you can see. Gilbert couldn’t resist trolling around as he likes to pretend on a regular basis that he and Marga are a couple hahaha!
We stopped by for lunch at a restaurant called Bali Warung Bendega. It’s a nice garden-type restaurant which I was hoping would be as good as the reviews deemed it to be. I was the one in charge of finding possible places to eat and since we had no idea how far each location was from the tourist spots we were going to, I drafted a list and we showed it to the driver so he can gauge which restaurants we could stop by.
Obviously our mission was to be able to eat some authentic and awesome Balinese fare. All three of us are not particularly picky about food, but then being able to eat at a relatively fancy restaurant for our first meal was also a good idea. It at least gives us a good gauge of what kind of food to expect during our stay here. And to be quite honest, being dropped off here at Warung Bendega felt like hitting the first-meal jackpot.
I have absolutely no idea as to the authenticity of the dishes as some might argue that some of the dishes have been adapted to better suite foreign tastebuds, but we did thoroughly enjoy everything we ate and drank here. (Though I did have to add some water to dilute my overly sweet avocado shake with chocolate.)
One of my favourites is the Gado Gado, essentially a plate of fresh blanched vegetables you dip in peanut sauce. I love peanut sauce and vegetables so I was responsible for cleaning that plate up real good! And of course Nasi Goreng had to be present on the table just because we’re in Indonesia and you are supposed to eat their “national food”.
I also loved this grilled fish dish just because I’m partial to fish in the first place, plus the different spicy dips really make the flavours leap out!
The Fried Bebek (fried duck) on the right was a runaway hit, especially for Gilbert. Again, being a sucker for salsas and dips, I thought they completed the dish rather nicely in terms of adding more punchy flavour.
With stomachs filled to the brim it was time to resume our exploration of Bali. Our next destination was Tanah Lot, which I first heard about after visiting Legoland in Malaysia. It was the location they had chosen to showcase Indonesia with in the theme park, so I was quite curious about whether I would see real-life versions of those tiny Lego surfers on the beach.
The entrance to Tanah Lot was filled as usual with colourful wares, plus the usual welcoming archway that stands in all the important locations in Bali.
The sky was gray all day long so it wasn’t a surprise when big fat droplets of rain began to fall as we made our way up to the cliffs to see the rock formation that was the Tanah Lot. During the low tide, you could actually walk across to the pura or temple that sits atop that tiny island some ways from the shore. According to mythology, there are poisonous snakes at the rocky base of the temple that serve as guardians against evil spirits and intruders.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t being all too cooperative that day, as the winds were so strong that the waves kind of battered the shoreline and the rocks on the cliffs. It was pretty darn cold and wet up where we were taking photos, but we still needed a groupie of course!
Absolutely no surfers were seen that day. 🙁
Our next and final stop took us to the highlight of the day. The Uluwatu Temple is a sea temple located atop the cliff at the south of Bali. The location of the temple is crucial as it is said to be one of nine temples that guard Bali from evil spirits.
It’s actually really called the Pura Luhur Uluwatu because it’s more meaningful that way. “Luhur” means “something of divine origin” while “ulu” means “land’s end” and “watu” means “rock”, but for none Indonesian-speaking people calling it the Uluwatu Temple is just much easier. And just like with any other temple in Bali, when you enter the compound you must wear a sarong, or at the very least tie a length of cloth like a belt around your waist as a sign of respect for Hinduism whether or not you practice the religion.
I’m terrified of monkeys (thus the no-visit to the Monkey Forest) but this scene softened me up quite a bit! (Thank goodness I had my long lens on hehe!) 🙂
To be perfectly honest, I wish we had more time to explore this compound and the temple itself, but we arrived here at a late hour and we didn’t have any more time for that. We were here to catch a show called the Kecak and Fire Dance. Gilbert had researched about it beforehand, but when our driver recommended it to us too we knew we could not miss it.
The show is done in an open arena overlooking the sea and the Uluwatu Temple. It makes for a magnificent backdrop to a rather fun show. It starts with a group of men chanting around lighted candles. Cak! Cak! They go in perfect harmony, until it almost seems as if they’ve fallen into a trance. And then the dancers playing their respective roles enter and tell the story with their eyes and their movements. It’s quite enchanting.
The story performed in the Kecak Dance is take from the Ramayana and is about the time Hanoman (the monkey god) helps Rama rescue his wife Sita from the clutches of the evil Rawana.
I made a video of the performance just in case anybody is interested in seeing how the Kecak Dance is performed. I hope it also serves to help in understanding the excerpt from Ramayana better. They manage to inject quite a lot of laughs in there too!
And now here is a special moment where I am thankful for the rain that had come while we were in Tanah Lot, otherwise we wouldn’t have been gifted with a gorgeous rainbow just opposite an equally gorgeous sunset view!
After the show we went down to get a bunch of pictures with the performers. Since Gilbert was “in costume” already (haha!) he took a group photo with his hommies who must have been tired from hours of chanting but still manage to light up with smiles. And then we took an awesome groupie with Hanoman! 😀
It was by all accounts a pretty brilliant way to end our first day. It was already dark by the time we exited the temple, and all I could think of during that time was what we had in store for tomorrow!
Before I end this post, I just thought I would give a shout-out to the one who did all the heavy lifting to make this trip possible. Gilbert was the one who did all the research for this whole trip. I’m talking about all the must-see places, plus all the transportation and lodging preparations. He did a great job with picking the company that gave us our extremely patient driver, plus booking us into a mind-blowingly cheap inn. In short, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about this if it weren’t for him. And I wouldn’t be telling you to watch out for Day 2 of my travel diaries as well!
Thanks, Gibby! <3
Here’s a little travel video I made of all the places we visited in Bali!
To see the other places we visited in the video, check out the other posts in this travel series: