Sunday, 17 November 2013

Ubud and around

So as mentioned in the last blog, one of the reasons we based ourselves in Ubud was due to its close proximity to various other areas of interest on the island. We organised with Koming, the owner of our guesthouse, to go on two full day tours.

The first was a trip to the north-west of Ubud, including a number of stop-offs on the way: the area of Bedugul including Lake Bratan; Mengwi with the Royal Temple, Tamun Ayun; and the Botanical Gardens. Before we set off on our long drive North, we were given sustenance in the form of one of Papa's homemade breakfasts including Jack Fruit which we hadn't previously tried. We started off our trip in Koming's brand new, family-sized Toyota along the busy roads heading outwards from Ubud. In order to reach Mengwi, we passed through loads of rice paddies and some very scenic countryside. 

When we arrived at the temple we passed through an archway over a moat to reach the temple perimeter. This was surrounded by a woodland garden which we walked around to see within the temple as we were not permitted entry due to a ceremony that day. After walking around and witnessing the beginnings of the ceremonial gathering with hundreds of people in white robes, we headed back to the car to seek refuge from the 30degree heat. Koming looked most alarmed at our red faces.

We drove a while further towards the botanical gardens briefly stopping at a roadside viewpoint of the rice paddies, strawberry fields and mountains surrounding the area. One of the less attractive features of the region became apparent when we noticed the two black monkeys chained to a railing with a local man standing guard. We found out that these were here as a tourist attraction for taking pictures with: who would want a photo with these? A huge contrast to the free-ranging monkeys we have encountered in other areas of Bali.

Strawberries are obviously big business in Bali and the salespeople have no boundaries literally trying to thrust their punnets inside car windows as a marketing strategy. We dodged them however and made our way to the Botanical Gardens, which Koming drove us through due to the vast size of it. This isn't really a tourist attraction and there weren't many fellow foreigners here as it mostly an area of relaxation for locals. 

Driving through, Koming didn't really seem to know where he was going and it was almost as if he were the tourist and we the guides as we were given a map in Balinese we couldn't read and had to direct him. He took us to a number of interesting places. Firstly a temple we weren't supposed to go into housing extremely wild and aggressive monkeys, a landfill site and a tree complete with bees nest (he then shrieked hysterically when they came near us). After being ushered back into the car we decided to take the lead although this little detour was enjoyable all the same. The main things we visited were the cactus garden, the orchid garden, greenhouses, fountains and sculptures depicting the story of Rama and Sita. It was really well-maintained and we wish we'd had the foresight to take a picnic! 

After a little snack and refreshments, we continued to Bedugul where we wanted to see another one of Balis diverse temples, Pura Ulun Danu. Set at the side of Lake Bratan, the temple again has a highly scenic backdrop. This perhaps explains why there was a wedding photo shoot going on whilst we were there. 

A few other points of interest around the temple were some very strange animal statues, an iguana, some very over-excited Chinese tourists who kept trying to sneakily take photos of us and a kid who kindly threw a rock at us. Walking around the grounds, we took in the beautiful view and took another countless amount of photos before heading back to the car as the rain started. A long drive back to Ubud and a chilled night of pizzas and fruit shakes and we called it a day. 

The following day, continuing with the relaxing theme, we didn't do much besides take advantage of the pool in a neighbouring guesthouse which we were allowed to use for free. We lounged about enjoying the good weather and the lovely gardens surrounding the pool. After some local indonesian specialities in the evening we prepared for a much busier time the following day. 

We had organised for Koming to take us for another full day trip, but as he had worked a night shift the previous night and was running on less than 3 hours sleep, he organised for a friend to drive and he came along for the ride. We drove first to a cave on the outskirts of Ubud called Goa Gajah or 'Elephant Cave' most notable for its demonic carvings at the entrance. Surrounding this area there is also a small waterfall and a forest which you can walk through. Walking towards to the car we were greeted by a crazy guy covered in tattoos brandishing a snake at us so we had to do a sprint back to Koming. 

Once back in the safety of the car, we drove further through some more rice paddies (a running theme in Bali). We had to take a brief stop off because the winding roads were inciting my travel sickness but after a quick vomit into the rice paddies (sorry if that's too much information), we continued onwards to Besakih, the Mother Temple of Bali. Upon arrival we paid for our tickets thinking that was the only expense. What actually transpired however was that we would have to also pay for the services of a guide as you aren't allowed to enter alone (complete unavoidable tourist racket). 

The guide did however give us a lift up the steep hill to the temple at its summit and approaching from this angle you could appreciate the vast size of the monument. When we walked in there was a huge grassy courtyard and the guide informed us that this had always been used as a sight for ritualistic animal sacrifices (tigers and lions among many others) with the most recent having occurred in the late 1970s. Something tells me the likelihood of this happening is very slim thankfully.

Within the huge complex there were a number of different temples which would be used by different classes of people- one for the educated scholars, one for the workers, one for the monks, one for the foreigners etc. There were hundreds and walking to the very top you could see them all clearly from a different vantage point. The guide pointed them all out to us along with grabbing my camera at every opportunity to take photos of us and showed us a cool plant which moved when you touched it, Mimosa.

We walked back down towards the car (the downhill walk being a lot easier than the uphill one). After this we headed to the Kintamani area which is most notable for its proximity to Mount Batur, one of the most active volcanoes on Bali, along with the volcanic lake at its base. We had to pay to get into the village (Bali really knows how to make money from tourists) and had a coffee in the restaurant to shelter from the rain. Thankfully this had an excellent view of the mountain and was a great place from which to take photos. The volcano is so active we could actually see plumes of volcanic steam above its crater. We could also see a higher yet less active neighbouring volcano- Mount Agung.

On the way back we stopped in another small village in order to view some more of the beautiful scenery of Bali. Yes, you guessed it, we also had to pay to get in this village to see yet more rice paddies but it was one of the nicest views so far and we're only talking about 20p each. A couple of things in this area made us laugh including this guy...

And these...

With this being our last full day in Bali, it meant that another flight was on the horizon, this time towards Thailand. Saying goodbye to Papa and Lucky, enjoying a pancake breakfast and after a quick farewell phonecall from Koming, we made our way to the airport. Shelling out the Indonesian departure tax (another way to make money from tourists) we embarked the plane bound for Bangkok...

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