Indonesia Part I

General Things to Know

Transportation

If you are island hopping, you’ll find that most of your time is spent on transport. Transportation across the islands is not difficult, but rather annoying because it is either unreliable or never on time. Ferries rarely leave on time, and even flights are often delayed by half an hour.

The easiest way to explore an island is to hire a driver or rent a motorbike. I went with the latter. If you decide to rent a motorbike, be confident enough in your skills as a driver to navigate the rugged roads and crazy drivers. Most of the roads are paved in Bali and Lombok, so it’s the local drivers that you have to worry about. Rule of thumb is to “do as the locals do”. Just focus mainly on your front wheel and peripherals, and you should be fine. They really don’t drive according to any rules, but rather a culture of driving that is almost like organized chaos. Remember, in Indonesia, they drive on the left side of the road. It is best to go with a private car hire if you are traveling in a group. Splitting the cost will be well worth it versus renting multiple motorbikes. The driver can be hired for the day for an approximate total of 300,000-600,000 IDR depending on where you are. This option is highly recommended because you’ll have a driver that takes you wherever you want to go, and knows the area, while you are relieved from the stresses of getting around yourself (i.e., getting lost, driving through traffic, decreased chance of getting into an accident).

If you decide to take the ferry from one island to another, the price will vary based on distance and the speed of the boat (time). I got two tickets: Bali to Nusa Lembongan (30 min ride) and Nusa Lembongan to Lombok (1.5 hour ride). The total for both tickets was Rp750,000 approximately $56.

Uber and Grab is available for most parts of Bali and some parts of Lombok. Take caution when getting an Uber in Bali. The taxi drivers are somewhat a form of a mafia on Bali. Like most places in the world, the taxi drivers are unhappy with Uber taking their business, but unlike most places, Bali taxi drivers will stalk and threaten Uber drivers, often destroying their property, and possibly endangering riders. When calling for an Uber, don’t constantly look down at your phone. When the Uber is near, put away your phone and just jump into the vehicle swiftly. Discretion is key!

Food and Drink

The water is not drinkable from tap. ONLY DRINK BOTTLED WATER. I can’t emphasize this enough. A 1.5 liter bottle of water costs no more than 5000-10000 IDR (about 35-75 cents). Be careful when ordering drinks with ice. Make sure the ice is made from mineral or filtered water.

Street food is always an adventurous choice, but best to avoid that in Indonesia. Hygiene and sanitation are way below standards that it’s not worth the risk. I would also avoid raw foods, such as sushi or sashimi. I had sushi on the second day of my trip and ended up suffering 5 days from food poisoning. I was miserable. I was fortunate enough to make a friend that looked after me and brought me medicine and ginger tea.

Be very cautious when ordering cocktail drinks. There have been many recent cases of methanol poisoning. If the price of the cocktail is too good to be true, it is probably is. You’re better off ordering a Bintang, their local beer.

Watch over your drink, especially on Gili T. Don’t set it down and leave it. A guy I met on my trip told me his experience with getting drugged. Billy* went out for drinks with a couple girls he met at the hostel. He set his whiskey coke down on the table, and when he returned, he saw a small group of locals hovering around his drink talking quietly amongst themselves. They watched him as he took sips and nursed his drink for a little over an hour before he began feeling high—Molly-high. At this point Billy realized that the locals had slipped something into his drink. Rather than finishing the drink, he and his friend decided to go back to their villa and wait for the euphoria to wear off. I can’t say that many others are this fortunate though. The locals from other parts of Indonesia, namely Lombok where there’s a huge drug problem, go to Gili T.—well known for their party culture—and slip drugs into tourists’ drinks. They drug both men and women, wait for the effects to kick in, follow the victim back to their hostel, and when the victim passes out, they steal their belongings.
*Name changed for my friend’s privacy.

Health

As mentioned, food poisoning crippled me for a good 2 days. Had my condition been worse, I would have gone to a local clinic. Indonesian hospitals are extraordinarily expensive, so unless you actually have an emergency, stick to the local clinics where they can provide a variety of basic care. In situations such as mine, I could have even gone to the pharmacy where they would provide medicine for the nausea and stomach ache. I met a girl who fell off her motorbike and had huge scratches from head to toe. She went to the pharmacy where they cleaned her up, bandaged her, and gave her medicine/ointment for her injuries. The pharmacy charged only $5 for the total treatment. They didn’t charge for the cleaning or bandaging, only the medicine and ointment. 

Bali

After 20 hours of flying, I finally arrived in Denpasar at 12 am the next day. By the time I went through customs and picked up my backpack from baggage claim, it was about 1 am, and my host, Koko, from Gusti’s Homestay stood outside the baggage claim at the exit to pick me up. I had set up pick-up with him beforehand knowing that finding an Uber would be difficult that time of day, and the taxis would have a hard time finding the homestay. Also, the last thing I wanted to do was negotiate prices at 1 am after 2 days of flying and commuting. The pre-arranged ride to the homestay proved to be a great decision. Koko drove for about 1.5 hours, taking more turns than I can remember, until we arrived somewhere in the mountains where the sky was uncontaminated with light pollution.

 Starfruit
Starfruit
 Breakfast consisted of fresh seasonal fruit and sticky rice wraps with Balinese coffee
Breakfast consisted of fresh seasonal fruit and sticky rice wraps with Balinese coffee

In the morning, Koko’s mother prepared a refreshing breakfast with typical Balinese coffee. As I sat under a tree to enjoy breakfast, I looked up and saw starfruit hanging over my head. I excitedly pointed up and Koko motioned for me to pick the fruit. I picked one, he washed it, and brought a knife from the kitchen for me to use. I sliced it up and shared it with two other guests who have never seen such a fruit. It was delightful!

 Nasi Goreng
Nasi Goreng

I set out on my adventure by foot. As I walked down the main road from my homestay, I passed by picturesque rice paddies, which eventually led me to the popular Campuhan Ridge Walk. It’s a lovely short 2 km stroll down a paved path. I would highly recommend doing this in the morning as there is very little shade and the sun can be less than pleasant midday/afternoon. The mix of rolling hills and jungle is a wonderful contrast to the typical rice fields. Don’t forget to bring water with you!

 Gusti's Homestay
Gusti’s Homestay
 Rice paddies
Rice paddies

 Campuhan Ridge Walk
Campuhan Ridge Walk

In Bali, marigolds are called gumitir, and are often used for offerings, temples, and home or storefront decorations. They are transported daily in truckloads from the mountains to be sold in markets.The golden yellow color is associated with Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, the supreme God in Balinese culture so the Balinese Hindu use them as daily offerings. In many villages, the fronts of stores, driveways, rice paddies and doorways receive a canang. The canang is a daily offering of rice, marigold flowers and incense, but it could include other flowers such as bougainvillea and other things such as money, candy, crackers or a even a cigarette!

 Shop fronts would be adorned in fresh marigolds every day.
Shop fronts would be adorned in fresh marigolds every day.
 Carving intricate designs
Carving intricate designs

I followed the path out to a busy shopping street. I walked around aimlessly just admiring the cute boutique shops and temples. There were several men chipping away at stone and I stopped to admire their intricate work. They were repairing and adding on to Puri Saren Agung (Ubud Palace). The front section of the palace is open to the public. Walkthroughs for viewing and photos during the day are complimentary as well. I walked in and saw people gathered under the temple foyer preparing food for a ceremony.

 Preparing food for a ceremony
Preparing food for a ceremony

 I can't even balance stuff in my hands, much less, my head!
I can’t even balance stuff in my hands, much less, my head!
 Popular shopping street in Ubud
Popular shopping street in Ubud

Nearby, there was also a long and narrow shopping street with kiosks and all sorts of touristy gimmicks. Kids ran around putting on a show to get the attention of tourists, and when they captured the awe of tourists, they would take pictures with them and ask for money in return.

Clear Café

The jet lag hit me around mid-afternoon. I walked around until I found a cute café tucked away behind foliage. Clear Café is an oasis hidden behind a big rotating round door. Leave your shoes at the door and a staff member will give you a number so you can retrieve them upon exit. Behind the large round door, there’s a long koi fish pond running along a wall draped with fern; tables with chairs and cushions dotted along the long open corridor. At the end of the corridor, there’s a small lounge area with sofas and more cushions; and to the right, a wooden spiral staircase that opens up to more dining space upstairs, as well as a spa with a plethora of services.

The menu offered so many organic and healthy options! I got scrambled tofu with potatoes and a green smoothie. You really can’t go wrong with any of the items on the menu. After lunch, I walked upstairs to the spa and made a reservation for a traditional Balinese massage and facial. The massage was incredible, especially after a long flight. The facial consisted of 4 parts—cleansing, avocado rub, cucumber cooling mask, and a moisturizing serum—using all-natural ingredients! After that, I was offered the option to take a shower and freshen up. I was given a towel and the shampoo and conditioner was provided in the shower stall. The shower was also clean and had warm water! (Warm water is a rarity!) The highlight of this experience was the facility itself, to be honest. The massage and facial took place upstairs on the deck area where there was a constant breeze flowing through and natural sunlight gleaming in from all sides. It was the perfect setting for a relaxing afternoon.

 Clear Cafe
Clear Cafe
 Cute set up in Clear Cafe
Cute set up in Clear Cafe

Tegalalang Rice Terraces are one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ubud. If you decide to go, I highly recommend going in the morning when there are few tourists and street parking is still relatively easy to find.  The rice terraces sit atop a hill dotted by small coffee shops and local residences. I wasn’t able to find an official entrance, so I just pulled over to the side and parked in front of a small eatery for a quick cup of coffee. As far as I know, there is no fee to enter and hike among the terraces, however if you venture far enough you will cross areas where the locals who maintain the paths will ask for a small donation for the upkeep of the trails and bridges. Remember to carry small bills on you for these donations. The rice terraces are pretty expansive so you can spend easily up to an hour walking around. Many great photo ops!

 Tegalalang Rice Terrace
Tegalalang Rice Terrace

 Danu Beratan
Danu Beratan

We took the scenic route from Ubud to Lovina, passing by lakes and dense forest on the way up. The rising elevation consequently brought cooler temperatures, which made the afternoon heat almost unnoticeable. Risk of sun burn? You betcha! Don’t forget to put on sunscreen!

 

On the way, we stopped by Shanti Restaurant, which is adjacent to the hotel. The restaurant sits atop the Sambangan Hill and offers sweeping views of the rice fields as your enjoy your meal.

 Shanti Restaurant on the way up
Shanti Restaurant on the way up
 View from the restaurant
View from the restaurant
 Grilled spicy fish with vegetables and rice
Grilled spicy fish with vegetables and rice

After lunch, we drove towards the Sambangan Village to check out some waterfalls. To our surprise, you cannot freely visit the Aling Aling Waterfall and its neighboring waterfalls without a guide. The price for a guide is around Rp 100,000. This includes the entrance fee and tour around four waterfalls—Aling Aling, Kroya, Kembar Waterfall (Twin Waterfall), and Pucuk Waterfall. The guide led us through a rugged path lined with overgrown plants and colorful flowers that opened to the mouth of a dense forest with a winding staircase which led to the first waterfall, Aling Aling. We couldn’t get into the water because apparently the current created by the waterfall was dangerous. Next, we walked about 200 meters to Kroya Waterfall—one that you can slide down! (This is one of the reasons a guide is needed). The guide handed us life jackets, strapped us in tightly, then led us to the top of the waterfall where we were briefed on the proper way to slide down. Arms crossed, legs straight, a hard shove…and down we went! After going down the waterfall a couple times, we jumped from a 5 meter high platform that was in front of the waterfall. From there, we walked a couple meters to the next waterfall, Kembar Waterfall. The name is derived from the local word “Kembar” which means ‘twin’, alluding to the two waterfalls at this site. There is also a 10-meter high jump at this waterfall. I decided to skip this one because I wanted to jump from the higher spot at the next waterfall, which can be seen from Kembar Waterfall. The adjacent waterfall, Pucuk Waterfall, was also the last waterfall at Sambangan Village. From here, there was a big crowd, but short line to the jumping spot. This 16-meter jump is suited for the thrill-seeking adventurers. Although it wasn’t the highest I’ve jumped, it was still a nice adrenaline rush. Be sure to leap out to avoid bumping into rocks on the way down. Overall, this experience was fun and worth stopping by for an afternoon adventure.

 The stairs down to the waterfall
The stairs down to the waterfall
 Offering from our guide on the way to the waterfall
Offering from our guide on the way to the waterfall
 Aling Aling Waterfall
Aling Aling Waterfall
 A guide sitting atop the Kroya waterfall where you can slide down
A guide sitting atop the Kroya waterfall where you can slide down

We stayed the night at Kelapa Lovina Beach Villas before returning to Ubud the next day. As the name implies, the villas are on the beach, facing the ocean. We were really fortunate to secure a room without making prior reservations. We were greeted with fresh cocktails as our host led us to our villa. We had a pretty sizeable villa close to the bar and pool. It had large glass doors and windows letting in plenty of natural light, a king bed, a waterfall shower and bathtub, TV, and A/C. At Rp 1,500,000 per night, the nightly rate matched such accommodations accordingly. The infinity pool ran the length of the front portion of the property, facing out towards the ocean. After throwing down our stuff, we lounged out by the pool with a couple drinks and watched as the sun set over the horizon. The bar doubles as a restaurant which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had dinner and breakfast which weren’t spectacular by any means, but it was rather convenient.

 Kelapa Lovina Beach Villas
Kelapa Lovina Beach Villas
 Bar and Reception
Bar and Reception

Ubud Monkey Forest

You know those Instagram and Snapchat photos of tourists with monkeys sitting on their shoulders? Those pictures are most likely taken at the Ubud Monkey Forest. Yes, this is another popular tourist attraction. It doesn’t matter the time of day, it will be crowded with tourists. Despite the popularity, we went anyway. The reserve sprawled with trails and large stone statues. There are a couple small kiosks that sold bananas for feeding the monkeys. I bought a bunch and was immediately a glowing target for all the monkeys in my 10-ft radius. The monkeys normally jump on your shoulder and sit there long enough for you to snap a couple Insta-worthy pictures. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me. They would jump on my shoulder, grab the banana, and jump off. Not only was I unable to get a monkey to sit on my shoulder, I was bit by one! Be careful when feeding them or standing/sitting close to them, especially around baby monkeys since the mothers are really protective of their young. I was feeding a monkey when it decided to bite my arm. Luckily, it didn’t penetrate the skin. However, if it did, a rabies shot would have been warranted.

 Baby monkey in Ubud Monkey Forest
Baby monkey in Ubud Monkey Forest
 Two monkeys just chillin' on the bench
Two monkeys just chillin’ on the bench


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