Bali, Indonesia: Ubud & Gili Trawangan

After an amazing 10 days in Thailand with my new bride and my parents, it was time for the next leg of our travel. Normally Bali can be expensive to get to, especially from where I live in Shanghai. However, since we were already in Bangkok, I checked and sure enough, $150 for a direct flight Bangkok to Bali Denpasar airport…..even though it was Air Asia, I couldn’t say no. Granted the flight time was not ideal and we rose well before the sun came up, but after sleeping a few winks on the 3.5 hour flight, we were safely in paradise #2.

In case you didn’t know, Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. What I didn’t know is that the island of Bali itself, is primarily Hindu. Needless to say this is apparent the moment you step outside the airport. Speaking of which you’ll be greeted with a swarm of taxi drivers touting themselves as official “Blue Car” drivers. As an outsider, that meant absolutely nothing to me, so we kept bargaining until we found a driver (not blue car certified I guess) to take us 1.5 hours north to Ubud where we’d spend a few days. Expect to pay about 250,000IDR ($20USD) for a one-way ride from Denpasar airport to Ubud. You may recognize the name ‘Ubud’ from the 2010 movie Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts. I never watched it, as my philosophy is it’s better to go see the place instead of just watch it in a movie, but it might give you a bit of context about Bali, specifically Ubud.

It’s a scenic drive, no highways as we’re used to in the USA, and lots of craziness thanks to an overwhelming scooter population. We finally arrived at our guest house “Masna House” in Ubud. By the way, Ubud is completely loaded with guest houses, so finding accommodation should seldom be an inconvenience here. I can’t say enough about Masna House and the hospitality they greeted us with. Highly recommended, $20/night with a great breakfast and afternoon tea included. Only 3 rooms here, all very clean, and the Masna family will help you with anything you need during your stay. They also perform in a local Tek Tok Dance just down the road, also highly recommended!

Tek Tok Dance

Tek Tok Dance

Ubud is very quaint, a little touristy, but still very affordable. I’d recommend 3-4 days, there. We did 3 and wished we’d had another. There are lots of shopping opportunities for cheap souvenirs or for batik fabrics, and as always, prices are highly negotiable. Be strong!!! The Monkey Forest is certainly worth a visit, but the highlight of our trip was the rice terrace fields just in the northwest part of the city. Just west of the Lotus Cafe you will see a small sign pointing you down a narrow alley. Keep walking north and it will open up into the fields. Note of caution, we tried to bike it, but it could just as easily be walked. Just minutes from the bustling streets and you are surrounded by the brightest green colors your eyes can imagine. On top of that, if you walk the whole loop you’re sure to run into the “Coconut Man,” an overly friendly local who can cut you up the freshest coconut in all of Bali for only 10,000IDR ($.75)

Ubud's Local Rice Terrace

Ubud’s Local Rice Terrace

Coconut Man

Coconut Man

Ubud's Local Rice Terrace

Ubud’s Local Rice Terrace

Monkey Forest

Monkey Forest

 

Another highlight was a day trip (or maybe night trip is a better description) to Mt. Batur to catch the mountain top sunrise. These sunrise trekking trips are easy to book, but come with a few caveats: The hike is moderately intense not to mention it’s pitch black out when you set off, probably due to the fact you have to leave your guest house at 2am. The total cost is $30USD per person, which includes transport to and from your hotel, a guide, and breakfast with tea/coffee. For booking you can check out the service we used: Pineh Bali Tours. Bring your hiking shoes for this one, the path up is rough, but easy to follow. We were rewarded with stunning sunrise views, which made the hike and waking up early more than worthwhile. After an hour up top, it was down the mountain and back to our guest house by about 1pm for a nap, but not before a quick stop at the crater, where steam still rises from the depths of this active volcano.

Mt Batur Sunrise

Mt Batur Sunrise

Mt Batur Sunrise

Mt Batur Sunrise

Mt Batur Sunrise

Mt Batur Sunrise

Mt Batur in the Clouds

Mt Batur in the Clouds

Steam from Mt Batur's Crater

Steam from Mt Batur’s Crater

 

After Ubud, we made our way to Gili Trawangan, or Gili T as it’s affectionately known as. To reach the Gili Islands from Ubud, you can book the trip from one of the many vendors in Ubud, round trip if you like, and they will pick you up at your guest house with a van full of people and bring you to Padang Bai. Padang Bai is nothing more than a transfer point to the Gilis and Lombok. There are countless boat and ferry services running with various departure times, but most in the morning. These boat companies often have exclusive connections with certain guest houses, so it’s best to check a few options before booking. The whole system made my head hurt, and many promises were made about the time and speed of the boat we chose…..which only lead to disappointment. If you go, just try your best to research the ferry companies available at the time of you are travel. We paid 300,000IDR ($23) each way, and coming back from Gili T went much more smoothly then going there did, but prices and availability likely vary from high to low seasons.

I regret not doing a bit more research about Gili T as it’s best known as a party island. Nearby Gili Meno and Gili Air are more relaxed and probably would have suited us better. Regardless, it’s a nice little island, and by little I mean you could circumnavigate the island by bike in under and hour. However, having just come from Thailand, I was a bit spoiled and didn’t think there was anything special about the beaches on Gili T. Lot’s of coral and a bit of trash, they just looked dirty and you had to really look hard to find nice sugar sand swimming areas.

The other draw on the Gilis are the sea turtles. We rented snorkel gear for the day (30,000IDR or $2.50) and saw one hanging out right off the beach on the east side. There’s literally world class snorkeling right off the shore, and a popular DIY route is starting from the northeast part of the island and going south along the eastern coast via a southward flowing current. Most people just drift several hundred yards, others up to 1 kilometer, then just walk back to their accommodation. Be careful though! The current is actually quite strong, and it is highly advised that you wear a lifejacket if you’re not a strong swimmer. Plenty of stories abound of people who thought they could swim from Gili T’s east coast over to Gili Air’s west coast, only to be swept away by the current. We also decided to take one of the long boat snorkel trips (100,000IDR or $8USD) the following day and were rewarded with some amazing marine life views and yes, more turtles. I only wished I had bought a GoPro to capture some of the fish we saw…. 🙁

Besides the turtles, the best part of the Gilis is the sunset. Ride a bike around to the southwest side of the island and sit on one of the many beach bars as you watch the sun fade into the distant mountains.

Gili T Sunset

Gili T Sunset

 

Accommodation on Gili T is plentiful, but we decided to stay in a quieter place off the beach on the north part of the island called Pantai Karang. It was an immaculate little gem, great breakfast included, and a completely “under the stars” bathroom and shower. Each bungalow has AC and it’s a perfect little place if you want peace and quiet. The downside is if you want to go to the restaurant areas on the beach, it’s about a 10-15 minute walk, or bumpy 5 minute bike ride (bikes can be rented for about $3 UDS/day). Be sure to bring a flashlight! There’s not much for street lights here, and you could get a little lost if you don’t know your way. I say only a little lost because if you walk 20 minutes in any direction from the middle of Gili T, you’ll eventually run into the coastline. The only other alternative is to hop on the donkey cart taxi aka “Cidomo” to the locals, to get around, but they are not cruising ‘that part of town,’ so you’ll have to get your hotel call for a pick-up. There are literally no gas powered vehicles on Gili T itself, unless you count the boats. No cars, no scooters, no motorcycles, etc., its just bike, donkey, or walking.

Want to get your PADI SCUBA certification? The Gilis are a great place to do it! Whether you want your beginner or advanced certificate, or just a refresher course, there are loads of outfits there to get you suited up. We didn’t take advantage of the bountiful SCUBA opportunities (we were happy with the great snorkeling), but all of the businesses there have a good reputation for professionalism and safety, as well as offer courses in many languages via international instructors. A popular one seemed to be Trawangan Dive.

Overall, Gili T was nice, but since my wife and I have more of a “chillax” personality, I wished I’d gone to Gili Air instead. On top of that, if we hadn’t gone to Bali during the rainy season (January to March), we would have loved to do a 3 day hike up Mt. Rinjani. Unfortunately, Rinjani closes as the rain makes for unsafe and slippery conditions check here for Mt. Rinjani openings and closures. I guess we will have to wait for next time…. but next time we come prepared to conquer you Rinjani.

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