We spent four days at gorgeous INAYA Putri Bali entranced by the tidal pools that emerge each afternoon and are filled with all kinds of beautiful and unusual sealife. There were thousands of starfish, large sea hares, any number of little fish, sea slugs, eels and more.
On the second day, I was able to trail along behind a banded sea snake as he tried to make his way to deeper water. I knew it was a fatally venomous snake (50x more poisonous than a cobra per Bali Animal Welfare Association), but non-aggressive and I didn’t crowd him.
The next day, I was watching a small eel when a little octopus showed up. I trailed him with my camera. When I looked him up later, I found he’s a blue-ringed octopus and “recognized as one of the world’s most venomous marine animals,” having “enough poison to kill 26 adults within minutes.”
There’s no antivenin for either of these critters.
Quite a few people enjoyed the tidal pools and we saw lots of parents scooping up marine critters to put in pails for their children to see. We saw no warnings posted about the dangers posed by some of the local sealife, so be advised. Sea creatures are fascinating and often beautiful, but never try to touch or pick up what you aren’t familiar with.
[I’m way behind on blogging our 3-month, around-the-world adventure, so this is the beginning of a catch-up now that we’ve settled into our home-away-from-home in Antwerp for the last few weeks of our journey. Most of the upcoming blogs of this trip were written at or reasonably near the time of travel, but spotty or slow Internet made uploading photos difficult…and I wanted to focus on the trip a whole lot more than I wanted to post about it! – Tamara, May 25, 2018]
Nusa Dua, Bali, is lined with high-end resorts, some charging astronomical prices, especially for usually-cheap Bali. Then again, Nusa Dua is hardly usual Bali. It’s an exclusive beachfront enclave sheltered from those less-than-picture-perfect, third world aspects of the rest of the island…along with much of the authentic culture and charm. Still, I wanted to try a range of Bali lodgings and a big resort was in order.
Putu, our Munduk homestay host arranged a driver for us from Munduk to Nusa Dua. Although Google Maps put the trip at 2h30, it’s closer to 3h30 with the traffic snarl near Kuta and the ongoing construction of an underpass to the Depensar Airport. Hopefully, the underpass will alleviate some of the traffic when it’s finished next year. There’s a new toll causeway out to Nua Dusa and we happily sprang for the small price to shave some time off the trip. We sped along our way, but were surprised to see a long traffic back-up in the other direction as toll booths were apparently not working. We crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t see the same when it came time to leave Nusa Dua.
Passing the guarded gate into Nusa Dua was like entering another world. A wide, smoothly paved avenue led into a large circle with manicured flowerbeds and a central statue.
It was almost embarassing when our driver from rural Munduk pulled into the lavish entry to our hotel, the INAYA Putri Bali. Uniformed bellmen sprang into action to take charge of our luggage and direct us to the soaring open-air lobby for check-in.
I deliberately chose an Indonesian-owned hotel both in hopes of some local flavor and to try out something completely new to me. The value was excellent as well in comparison to other, more familiar brands I had explored online prior to booking. Check-in was quick and professional and soon we were being driven by golf cart to our room. En route, we passed an enormous series of tiered pools by a building housing the main restaurant used for the included breakfast. The sweeping, well-tended grounds of the hotel lead to a wide, beautiful beach.
I’d booked a standard room after deciding the swim-up rooms might be lacking in privacy and having no interest in springing for a suite since we planned to spend most of our time on the beach. Stepping inside our room for the first time, I couldn’t be happier with my choice. The room was spacious with a large balcony and a view of the ocean between buildings. Tasteful Balinese decor including carved wood closet doors and frames preserved a feel of local culture.
The bathroom was gorgeous and downright enormous with a big-enough-for-two stone tub and a over-sized rain shower. I had several long, wonderful soaks in the tub, using the stone bowl of bath salts provided. As in much of Bali, the bathroom wasn’t air conditioned, so we opened the door when not in use to cool and dry the bathroom.
Breakfast was served every day in the cavernous main dining room. We were led to a table most mornings, gave our order for coffee (cappuccino) and the morning’s juice or smoothie (a bright green frozen apple juice, fresh mint and ginger concoction becoming a favorite), then headed off to the many buffet tables available.
The scope of the breakfast offering was like nothing I’ve seen in a hotel: Western and Asian dishes, fresh fruit, yogurt and yogurt parfaits, made-to-order eggs and omelets, Balinese cooked dishes of fried chicken, fried bananas and more, French pastries and a wide selection of delicious and fresh-made breads, granola, savory dishes of all sorts and on and on.
Dining was a mixed bag at INAYA Putri Bali. Breakfasts, as mentioned, were awesome. We liked casual dinners down by the beach, too, at INAYA’s Ja’Jan By the Sea. There weren’t a lot of options there, but the casual vibe suited our beach-y selves, the food was good, the service friendly, and the prices were decent. We tried one dinner at the upscale Indonesian restaurant on-site, Homaya, but were disappointed. Although expensive (especially so by Bali standards), the food was just mediocre and the atmosphere only so-so. A disappointment that discouraged us from trying any of the other higher-end restaurants on the property. There are lots of other options in walking distance in Nusa Dua, though. All it takes is a stroll along the beachfront walkway that connects the many resorts. Our next door neighbor hotel (to the right as you look at the beach) offered particularly appealing picnic style dining and the Park Hyatt Resort (next to the INAYA Putri Bali to the left as you look at the beach) offered several high-end restaurants. We were in lazy mode, though, and just went back to INAYA’s Ja’Jan By the Sea.
The beach at INAYA Putri Bali is lovely, with tidal pools brimming with marine life appearing each afternoon as the tide goes out. I’ll post more on that next as I’ve got some words of caution about some of the deadly sealife we came across there. No reason to avoid the water, but something to be aware of and a reminder not to pick up or touch unfamiliar creatures.
A short walk down the beach (at the end of the resorts to the left as you’re facing the beach), there’s a market selling local goods and a bit further on is a park with a huge Balinese statue atop a small building. Beyond that are observation decks over black lava rock where pounding surf shoots spray high into the air.
One of our only complaints with our room was the sound of broadcast speech in the distance that we could never place. At first, we thought it was a loudspeaker at some event outside, but the sound disappeared when we stepped on the balcony. We stepped in the hall, pressed ears to walls but the intermittent noise was hard to pin down. It was weird, and annoying when my acute sense of hearing woke me to it at 4:50am. After a few days, we finally found the source in a maintenance closet off an employee-only space behind the elevator to our floor which backed to our room. For some reason, maintenance had left a wall-mounted radio turned on high volume even though no one was in this small room. It intermittently blasted static and intra-maintenance chatter. We hated to touch the controls in case there was more to it than we realized, so I videoed the room and sound to show to a lady at the front desk who apologized profusely and got the sound turned off. Shortly after, we found a nice note of apology and generous gift of spa items. Did I mention that I liked INAYA Putri Bali a lot?
Practical info: I booked our room at INAYA Putri Bali via Agoda which I’ve found to usually have the best prices in Asia. To get an extra savings, I log into my Topcashback account then search “Agoda” and click through to Agoda before booking my hotel. The current offer on Topcashback for Agoda is 6% cash back. You’ll get an additional savings, and so will I, if you use my referral link to create and use a Topcashback account.
Note re leaving for the airport: Even though the hotel is close to the airport, we were warned to leave 3 hours(!) before our flight to Yogjakarta, Java (short, domestic flight), due to road construction and bad traffic. Worried about the back-up we’d seen on the toll road, we took this advice…but found ourselves in the airport and through security a mere 30 minutes after we walked out of our hotel room. Once the road construction is finished, the ride to the airport should be reliably short. Also, although the hotel offers a paid shuttle to the airport, we opted to have a bellman call a taxi (on the advice of a lady at the front desk) and found it to be prompt, clean and much cheaper than the hotel ride.
Lovina, in the north of Bali, is famous for its black sand beaches and early morning boat rides among large schools of dolphins. Wanting to try something different from our other destinations, I booked us 4 nights at the Starlight Hotel, a cluster of small cottages on the beach owned by a Dutchman. We enjoyed our stay, but found the location to be lacking in much to do outside dolphins and diving. Our hotel restaurant (open-air like every single restaurant we found in Bali) was hotter than most and sadly lacking in ocean breeze or ceiling fans although the food was good, service very friendly (and their frozen “welcome drink” the best we had on the island).
Our cottage also sported an inadequate a/c, even after a repair attempt so we moved to one adjacent to the lobby area; not as secluded, but cooler. The cottages were identical inside; pretty if simple with mosquito netting draped over the bed and a high Balinese-style ceiling. We had a small flat-screen tv I only glanced at, a coffee/tea pot set up, a small fridge and a nice little porch.
The grounds are lovely and well-maintained with the many fruit and flowering trees labeled, a nice touch. The property, like most we saw in the area, is long and narrow with beach front on the narrow end, obviously a precious commodity. The beach was quaint with the black sand and dolphin boats looking like oversized water bugs with their thin pontoons, but it is narrow and not groomed so sea refuse makes it not overly appealing for spending any time there. The Starlight Hotel does offer a nice pool, though and we made good use of that.
Quite a few dolphin boats anchor along the narrow stretch of beach in front of the Starlight so it was easy to book a 6am trip for our first morning. The hotel offers to book these trips for 100,000 and our boat “captain” made us the same offer, but quickly came down to 75,000 rp each. The ride out to the dolphin-spotting area is short, and visible from shore. In no time, we counted right at 100 small, motorized pontoon boats milling around and darting after the numerous dolphins. It’s certainly not a tranquil moment with wildlife, but the whole event was fun in its own way. (While I sort of assumed the dolphins were always there, we met a Hungarian couple a few days later in Munduk who made the pre-dawn trip down to Lovina to see the dolphins and saw none.)
We had a great day scuba diving Menjangan Island, part of West Bali National Park, with Arrows Dive Centre. They picked us (and 4 snorkelers from different hotels) at 8am and drove us in an air-conditioned (seatbeltless) van the 1.5 hours to the park where we boarded a small, ratty dive boat–one of many identical boats docked there–for the island. We were back at our hotel around 5pm.
We saws lots and lots of dolphins on the way out to the island. (Sadly no pics due to a camera glitch.) Apparently, this is unusual as our guides were very excited about it, whistling to call the dolphins closer. Pairs and groups swam right up to and under our boat. With no other boats in sight, it was that tranquil moment with wildlife that the previous day was not. Wonderful!
The diving itself was good, but not great only because the visibility was just OK. The coral was lovely and the fish abundant. We didn’t see anything too unusual: a lone barracuda, a grouper in a small cave, lots of small lionfish which we’re sadly familiar with from the Caribbean where they are an invasive species. Still, we really enjoyed the 50+ minute dive and moderate depth. I get cold on long dives even in warm water and was happy with a long wetsuit, but David was content with his shortie. Both suits were in excellent condition and well-fitted as was the other equipment. Yay for Arrows!
Lunch was a nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) picnic affair (packed from a restaurant near where we boarded the dive boat) on a remote little dock on the island we shared with a few other boats.
I spotted one of the island’s sacred deer near a small cliff-top temple nearby. Unafraid, he followed me back to our little group at the lunch spot.
A few other boats docked near ours, but there was no crowd at all and no one already on the island itself in this area. Our second dive after lunch was much like the first and we enjoyed it thoroughly. We ran into a few other divers briefly down below, but there was no crowding. All in all, I highly recommend Arrows Dive Centre and our divemaster, Wayan (“Yani”) who David and I had to ourselves.
We used Arrows again for muck diving the following day. Muck diving is an unusual form of diving and some of the best spots in the world are in north Bali. I really wanted to try it while in Lovina. We chose Puri Jati as our dive spot, a mere 30 minutes from our hotel. Yani and a driver picked us up at 8:30am and we at the beach site in no time, a pretty spot with a Hindu temple and Hatten vineyards adjacent to the beach.
This was a beach dive, i.e., we waded into the water rather than take a boat out to a remote location. As opposed to the more usual coral reef or wall dive, a muck dive is a shallow dive over silt or “muck” where you search for often tiny and unusual bottom dwellers that live in this environment. It turned out to be spectacular. We saw a mimic octopus in action, ghost bone fish, thousands of a type of white sea urchin, thousands of live sand dollars and several oddities I can’t name. The few bits of flotsam we saw formed mini-reefs with colorful coral, tropical fish, an eel, and shrimp of various kinds.
I highly recommend Lovina for the dolphins and local diving opportunities (or snorkeling, if that’s more your speed) and I’m glad we went. As a place in and of itself, though, the city and adjoining little towns don’t offer a lot. Also, way too many roaming dogs lead to a lot of barking at night that mingles with the ubiquitous Bali noise of crowing roosters.
We paid Arrows Dive Centre 1,400,000 rupiah (about $102) each for the 2-tank day of diving at Menjangan Island and 750,000 rupiah (about $55) each for the 2-tank muck diving half-day. Both dives included all equipment and transportation to and from our hotel. The Menjangan day also included entrance to the national park and lunch. Yani was an excellent divemaster, respectful of the environment, and very good at spotting camouflaged sea life.
Just a quick post with a few of our favorite restaurant finds in Ubud. First off, we didn’t find any air conditioned restaurants, so prepare yourself for that and focus on the food, a breeze and great atmosphere and/or view. We also wanted Indonesian/Balinese food while in Bali so no pizza recommendations here.
I’ve already mentioned Café Lotus, but in my last post, but it bears repeating. Choose from regular or traditional low tables where you sit on cushions on a raised floor. The traditional tables have the best view of the spectacular lotus water garden in front of a beautiful Hindu temple, Pura Taman Kemuda Saraswati. The food was fresh and good and reasonably priced, if a touch more expensive than other, less-spectacular restaurants.
The restaurant at our hotel, Sri Ratih Cottages, got great reviews and we agreed…so much so that we ate every dinner there. The food is excellent, the service friendly and the upstairs location lovely with ceiling fans, couches, and a nice cross breeze. They offer western dishes as well, which we heard were good, but never tried. There’s a spa on site and special health drinks of various herbs and spices are a specialty. We breakfasted downstairs in front of a picturesque koi pond and waterfall. Gorgeous!
Just down the road from Sri Ratih Cottages, on the corner of Jalan Raya Ubud and Jalan Raya Penestanan we discovered a spectacular new vegan restaurant called Zest. We’re not vegetarian, much less vegan, but the food and the view were so good and so unique that we went back for a second go. I read that the chef used to be at a local spa, and the food definitely has that feel: healthy, creative, fresh and tasty. Zest is so new that it’s in pre-soft-open stage, i.e., no prices, only “donations.” So, for the time being pay what you want, but be fair. Zest should be fully open sometime in April. We used the menu prices as a guide and paid approximately that, not bothering with small change.
Zest sits atop a hill with great views from large, open windows down on the temple at the head of the Camphuan Ridge Trail, Pura Gunung Lebah, in one direction. Tables on the other side face a temple in front of the Wiswarani homestay and at the far end, you can look out on a rice paddy. The decor of Zest is chic and modern while maintaining a definite Bali vibe. There are universal plugs for those sitting around a central bar, a nice plus. Note: Alcohol is not on offer; a shame since this would be a fantastic place for a glass of wine at sunset.
In making plans for our 2+ weeks in Bali, I chose 4 very different locations and accommodations to try to give us a real sampling of the island. Our destinations included 2 interior locations: a boutique hotel in cultural-center Ubud and a homestay in rural Munduk for its waterfalls and rice terraces; and, 2 waterfront spots: a little beachfront hotel in backwater Lovina in the north for narrow black sand beaches, dolphins and scuba diving and a sprawling resort in gated-enclave Nusa Dua for wide white beaches and a little luxury.
I chose Ubud as our first destination because I wanted to start with the cultural heart of Bali. I also wanted to organize our trip so that we ended up in Nusa Dua, our closest stop to the airport. With traffic notoriously bad to Denpasar International Airport (DPS) especially during ongoing construction of an underpass intended to alleviate the problem, I wanted the shortest trip possible when it came time to leave Bali.
We arrived DPS from Singapore in the early afternoon and found a lovely airport and a horrendous line at customs despite the recently-enacted 30-day visa waiver. The line moved relatively quickly, though, and we were out the other side in about 25 minutes. (Note: There’s a shorter line for locals and those over 60 and those traveling with small children. Although shorter, it did not seem to move very quickly. There are also toilets just to the side of the line if you need to dart over there while someone holds your place in line.)
A driver from our boutique hotel in Ubud, Sri Ratih Cottages, was waiting for us when we landed at DPS. Although Ubud is only 38km (less than 24 miles), the drive takes about 1h30 due to traffic. (The main roads are actually in good shape; it’s just a matter of too many cars and motorcycles, especially near the airport where clubbing hotspots like Kuta add to the crush. Further into the central hills and mountains, the going is slowed by winding narrow roads.)
We found ourselves charmed by Ubud. Although brutally hot and humid, the town defines exotic. Every doorway seemed to open onto a gorgeous hidden courtyard replete with temples, tropical flowers, statuary and incense. The traditional dress of sarong (k), sash, 3/4 sleeve lace blouses for women and tied “udeng” head scarves for men are commonly worn.
Offerings are made throughout the day to the many Hindu gods and little banana leave trays with flowers, snacks and often with burning incense are left everywhere. You actually have to watch your step as they are left in doorways and in the middle of sidewalks. David twice stepped on incense sticks, one still burning, that lodged in his sandal. Ouch!
Our hotel offered free shuttles into town that dropped us off in front of “Ubud Palace.” (It was about a 15-minute walk.) The place is open free to the public and consists of several open courtyards with altars and raised roofed seating areas. Just across Jalan Raya Ubud (the main street) from the palace begins the byzantine Ubud Market, a combination of open-air stalls and a rabbit warren maze of covered stalls selling items of all kinds: sarongs, dresses and shirts, sandals, jewelry, spices, and other souvenirs.
Back on the main street, we wandered into the spectacularly beautiful Pura Taman Kemuda Saraswati, a large temple fronted by a massive lotus pond. Entrance is free to the garden and front area, but the temple itself is closed to the public. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at adjacent Café Lotus, sitting cross-legged under a thatched roof overlooking the lotuses. A tiny alligator made an appearance among the flowers as we ate.
Another day took us to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, a 15 minute walk down Monkey Forest Road from the Ubud Market. We weren’t expecting too much, probably something uber-touristy and kitschy. Instead, we found a large and breathtakingly beautiful jungle park filled with exotic statuary, free-roaming macaques and a river gorge. An active temple sits among all this beauty.
If you go to Ubud, don’t miss Monkey Forest! Entrance is 50,000 rp/adult. Also, beware the monkeys. They’re little thieves. I watched one jump on a girl and wrest the water bottle she had tucked into a side pocket out. He ran off with it, bit holes in the bottom and drank. Not far from him, another monkey was drinking from another pilfered water bottle. Before we entered the forest, I took the precaution of removing my jewelry, too. I had no desire to have a monkey rip the earrings out of my ears. For the most part, though, they were busy doing monkey things and not all that interested in the people among them. Vendors sell bananas and sweet potatoes to feed them, but I didn’t want to start that kind of attention. Signs also warn against making eye contact as that is seen as a sign of aggression. We saw many mothers with babies, some clearly newborns. The interaction among the troupes was fascinating and delightful to watch. We laughed as one older monkey kept grabbing a little would-be runaway by the tail.
We were surprised to see a small monkey swimming underwater in a little pond. A larger monkey with him was very defensive whenever the little one was under water and was the most aggressive with a human that we saw. She tugged on the leg of a man who got to close trying to take a picture, snarled, and literally chased him away.
One morning, we got up early for a sunrise hike along Camphuan Ridge, a paved trail through picturesque rice terraces to end in an area dotted with homes, some for tourist rent, artist studios, a few cafes and a little spa. A temple called Pura Gunung Lebah at the beginning of the ridge trail had caught our interest for some time. It’s large and beautiful and had been the focus of local activity.
A highlight of our trip came when some of the staff at our hotel invited us to join them for a Hindu ceremony at this temple when the saw how intrigued we were by small parades filing past our hotel entrance carrying musical instruments and things similar to Chinese dragons to the temple. A waitress we’d made special friends with, Ugune, told us there was a 4-day celebration going on and we were welcome to come, but that traditional Balinese dress was required to attend a ceremony. Sometimes, sarongs or long skirts are required to visit active temples, but this was something more. We needed sarongs, sashes, long-sleeved shirts and a udeng head scarf for David. We bought the sarongs, improvised sashes from my scarves, used our own long-sleeve shirts (my long-sleeved t-shirt decidedly less beautiful than the lace blouses of the other women) and borrowed an udeng.
When the time came, we met the others in the hotel parking lot where our fleet of motorcycles and scooters assembled. Our new friends ferried us on the backs of two bikes and we were off.
Lovely in their finery, women in the group also brought baskets full of offerings. After parking the motorcycles, they carried the baskets on their heads as we walked the final way down a steep hill to Pura Gunung Lebah, the temple which sits on the Oos River near the start of the Camphuan Ridge Trail.
Before entering the main gate, Ugune dipped a bundle of straw-like leaves in a container of water then flicked it on each of our group for cleansing before we entered the gate into the first courtyard of the temple.
The temple was beautifully decorated for the ceremonies, which seemed to be on a rolling hourly basis. Long bamboo pole decorations called “penjor” dipped gracefully overhead and flowers and bright cloth adorned the platforms and idols. We proceeded into the next courtyard where we joined others waiting for the preceding ceremony to finish.
David and I were the only Westerners present, but everyone was very welcoming. We felt comfortable taking photos and videos as the Balinese were doing the same thing, snapping photos of family and friends dressed in their holiday best. It was a cheerful, happy crowd.
We could hear the voice of the priest leading the ceremony in the main courtyard and glimpse some of the worshippers through the main gate. Eventually, things seemed to be winding up then we saw people filing past a side gate, evidently having left the main courtyard by a side exit. People in our courtyard began to line up by the main gate and our group joined them.
A guard/usher opened the gate and we entered the spacious main courtyard Women with offering baskets headed to the right and around the main area to mount the raised front area to leave offerings on the altar. They filed from right to left, descending again to find a seat, kneeling or sitting cross-legged on the ground with the others. They kept some flowers in their baskets to take back with them to be used in the ceremony. Men, women and children sat together on the ground. Agune told us we were welcome to stay for the ceremony which would go on for an hour, but we decided to excuse ourselves thinking we’d be more than a little out-of-place. And not wanting to intrude or treat their religious ceremony like some sort of tourist entertainment. We found a spot in a side courtyard, though, where we could watch the ceremony.
The priest, who sat in a small structure behind and to the side of the worshippers rather than in the front, led the congregants over a loudspeaker in a series of prayers while chimes tinkled all the while. Each time they prayed, a bell would ring along with the chimes, then increase in volume to indicate the approaching end of the prayer. Worshippers would lift a flower between their pressed palms which were held as Christians would in prayer but raised so that the thumbs pressed against their foreheads. Then, they would place the flower before them and put a petal behind an ear (men) or tuck one in their hair (women).
Agune later explained the priest would tell them to which god they would pray next and that the petals were to indicate a sort of blessing. It was a beautiful ceremony!