As I mentioned, I’m going to write about our trip to Bali more in terms of highlights than according to the sequence of our itinerary. On that basis there is only one place I could start: the beautiful, tranquil banks of Lake Tamblingan. It was not a place we had known to list on our desired itinerary, but a suggestion from our driver/guide Putu Arnawa as a place he personally liked. We had sought Putu out in the first place because he is a photographer, and by now I had enough of a sense of his aesthetic to trust his suggestions. I am so glad we did.
Most Singapore-dwelling yuppies have probably taken several trips to Bali by their early 30s, but we only visited it for the first time in late February. It’s not that we’d never wanted to go, but since the overriding impression we had (based on what other Singapore-dwelling yuppies seemed to talk about doing there, and post photos of on Facebook) was that it was primarily a beach place with some pretty ricefields here and there, we’d felt less urgency to visit it before other places on our Southeast Asian travel priority list. But once we’d seen Siem Reap, Hanoi, the Mekong Delta, Luang Prabang, Sabah and Sarawak (and I realize I failed to write about ANY of them here!), we finally decided to give Bali a try.
Our trip was a revelation of sorts. Perhaps because we were travelling at low season and completely avoided the southern part of the island apart from visiting Tanah Lot and Uluwatu, it felt about a tenth as touristy as I had expected it to be. Our driver/guide would warn us about persistent and annoying vendors at certain spots, and then they would be nothing like what we had encountered in Thailand or Cambodia. At more than a few temples we were the only visitors, and when we snorkelled straight off the beach in Amed into coral reefs several times more gorgeous than the crowded ones we had explored in Sabah, we had those to ourselves for at least half an hour as well.
The most memorable aspect of the trip, however, was the glimpse we got into the vibrancy of Balinese culture and how strongly committed the Balinese are to their community life. The ridiculous ease of our unplanned encounters with temple festivals, local dance performances and even a cremation procession (!) felt like nothing we had experienced before in our previous travels. While we have chanced upon local cultural events several times before, it always felt like a lucky coincidence that our tendency for indiscriminate wandering had just happened to present us with. In Bali, such encounters became so routine for us that talk of coincidences was no longer relevant – it felt like there simply was so much going on that you would need to be a particularly uninterested visitor in order to avoid witnessing something fascinating.
History suggests that expecting myself to do a full travelogue here is foolish, so I’ll try a different strategy of (a) writing about the places that moved me most first, regardless of where they were in the itinerary and (b) summarizing said itinerary for anyone who might possibly find it a useful framework for planning their own trip. I would honestly recommend every single thing mentioned below because we enjoyed our trip so thoroughly, but feel free to ask if you have any specific questions.
Day 1: Arrived late in Ubud, immediately stumbled upon temple festival a stone’s throw from our awesome hotel (Junjungan Ubud Hotel and Spa). Found ourselves standing on road next to paddy fields at midnight, watching costumed beasts process past us.
Day 2: Easy day laughing at stupid tourists in the Monkey Forest and looking around Ubud town streets, then borrowed bikes from hotel and cycled to Petulu village to see the white herons come in to roost. Cheap and fantastic dinner in Warung Pulau Kelapa.
Day 3: Day tour to Tegallalang, Tirta Empul, Mount Batur, Pura Ulan Danau Batur, Besakih and the Sideman Valley with our driver/guide Putu Arnawa, who we would highly recommend. Chalongnayan dance performances by night in Ubud town.
Day 4: Day tour to Gunung Kawi, Taman Ayun, Tanah Lot and Uluwatu with Putu’s associate Wayan, who we would also highly recommend.
Day 5: Transferred to Munduk, again with Putu Arnawa. On the way, we watched a cremation and visited Jatiluwih, Lake Beratan and its temple, the twin-lake viewpoint for Lake Buyan and Lake Tamblingan, a village on the banks of Lake Tamblingan (a trip highlight), and finally arrived at Munduk to spend the night in a converted rice granary (Puri Lumbung).
Day 6: Easy day in Munduk, doing a simple hike to a waterfall, exploring Munduk village, and enjoying the incredible views from the balcony of our cottage. Cheap and fantastic lunch at Aditya Homestay.
Day 7: Transferred to Amed, again with Putu Arnawa. On the way, we visited one of the Gitgit waterfalls, Pura Beji, Lempuyang temple, and Tirta Gangga. In Amed, we stayed at Bayu Cottages.
Day 8: Easy day in Amed. Snorkelled first at Lipah Beach, then at the Japanese shipwreck at Banyuning, explored the village, enjoyable dinner at Sails.
Day 9: Drove through stunning views of the Karangasem Regency on the way to the airport, a perfect last glimpse of beauty before returning to Singapore.