Bali: Discovering the Island

Bali – there’s more to it than just lounging on beautiful beaches.   As I mentioned, in my Terima Kasih, Bali post, my trip was a bit more relaxed.  But that doesn’t mean my husband and I didn’t do our share of Grid Walking.  Below are a few suggestions for when you need a break from all that R&R.

Ride a Scooter

We rented a scooter for a day (7 hours total) and it cost Rp 50,000 – under $5 US… seriously!!  From Amed we drove south along the coast and ended up at a white sand beach, Pantai Putih.  There’s a Rp 3,000/each entry fee – take the dirt road all the way down to the beach (there will be another Rp 2,000 fee for parking when you leave).  We were cheap wanted to take in the sites and walked all the way to the end of the beach, past the paid lounge chairs, and set-up camp.  But not too cheap to eat – come hungry as little warungs line the shore.   There are plenty of other attractions in the Karangasem district of East Bali (temples, water palaces, rice terraces) and you can easily fill up a day visiting these sites – check out my Google Map for a few ideas.

To be serious for a moment, there are some things to consider before hoping on that scooter.  You should have an international license but it’s not necessarily required.  This is a point of contention for some; many people take advantage of the lax vehicle regulation (myself included).  If you’re going to ride without the appropriate documentation the most important issue is safety.  These aren’t full throttle motorcycles but you still need to be comfortable – if you haven’t ridden one before maybe now isn’t the time.  Be prepared to be stopped by the police.  If this happens they will ask for your international license – they aren’t expecting to arrest you but they are expecting an exchange of money.  Corrupt? Yes, but true.  If you’re riding illegally, have some small Rupiahs (10,000, 20,000, 50,000) in your pocket.  Don’t offer your cash flat out, be smart and work the situation.  If you’re presented with a fee ask if there’s something that can be worked out.  Brad and I rode and didn’t encounter any problems at all but we were observant and safe and comfortable with the situation.

Visit a Temple

The island of Bali has the largest Hindu population in all of Indonesia.  There are literally temples (Pura) everywhere; from the modest, possibly unrecognizable, to the grandiose.  A Balinese pura differs from a ‘traditional’ Indian Hindu temple as these are open-air worship areas enclosed within tall walls and no roofs.  During our trip we visited 3 temples (really 4 but the last was so small it was barely distinguishable from the 3rd) and could have hit more had we planned our days better.  If visiting Pura Luhur Lempuyang outside of Amed, get there early.  There are a series of temples to visit but the walk between them takes at least a few hours round trip.

When entering a temple, be considerate of those who may be practicing worship and observe the following rules.  First – you need to have proper attire.  Sarongs must be worn – that means you, too, boys.  I picked up a couple from a local vendor and brought them with us – if in Ubud you can definitely get a good price at the Pasar (Market) Ubud – but you can rent them at the temples if needed.  Some places may also require a sash or scarf, although we didn’t find this to be necessary.  Second – it’s usually customary to give a small donation, some more than others depending on the size of the temple.  At the largest temple, we left Rp 20,000 and this was fine.  I have read some blogs regarding more popular temples (Pura Besakih) where there’s some ‘pressure’ for larger donations and the use of a guide.  We had no problems but we choose to visit temples that were less frequented.  Third – anyone who is openly bleeding should not enter a temple, specifically menstruating women.  Not having an in-depth knowledge of Balinese/Hindu religious traditions I did some quick research to better understand.  Most sites tell me that open wounds/bleeding are in some way ‘impure’ without much explanation.  I did find one blog which I found to be thoughtful and comprehensive in addressing this issue (menstruating woman).  In brief, these rules are in place to protect rather than distance due to the transfer of energy during menstruation.  If you want to learn more you can check out this blog.

Swim with the Fish

Try to see some of the varied marine life in Bali.  Either by snorkeling or, if you’re more adventurous than me, diving.  Many areas have calm, clear turquoise waters offering great visibility for biodiversity underwater.  In East Bali, visit Tulamben, home of the United States Army Transport Liberty shipwreck.  As this site is only a few meters from the shore line, it’s easily accessible and offers entertainment not only for divers, but snorkelers, as well.  While in the area, take a short trip up the coast to Amed.  It’s less traveled and will offer similar aquatic sightings.  Check out Jemeluk Bay or pretty much anywhere off the coast as a small reef runs parallel to the shore.

We also did some snorkeling in Pemuteran, a small resort town in North West Bali.  Here there is an impressive project underway to restore rapidly deteriorating reefs.  Damage from unsustainable fishing practices, increased water temperatures and a growing tourism footprint have created the need for Bio-Rock’ coral nurseries.  More than 60 structures have been installed since 2000 and make up the largest reef restoration project worldwide.  Again, all this is going on just off the shore and it couldn’t be easier to take a look.

Menjangan Island is where we found the most exciting diversity.  Not far from Pemuteran, this uninhabited island is surrounded by shallow coral gardens, caves and more fish then I could handle.  Throw in a moray eel sighting and I was officially out of my element.  Menjangan Island is a protected marine area inside West Bali National Park (Taman Nasional Bali Barat) and, as far as I know, accessible only by chartered boat or tour.  We booked our trip with Bali Diving Academy for a total of Rp 550,000 per person – this price includes a Rp 35,000 entrance fee to the national park and also reflects ‘slow-season’ prices.  I was really pleased with just about every aspect of the trip – our guide was extremely helpful, we got to ride on an olde tyme fishing boat (a jukung), the snorkeling was impressive and our lunch was great.  If you’re a diver, I hear the caves are worth exploring and Pemuteran offers some cool night dives as well.

Go on a Trek (although we did not)

We thought we would do some backpacking in West Bali National Park, 190 kilometers of protected land in North West Bali.  However, we learned overnight camping isn’t allowed; there’s only one lodging accommodation inside the park – The Menjangan – and with rooms starting around $245 US this was a little too lush for us.  After reading a few reviews and talking to some friends about the ‘nature walk’, we also opted out of visiting the park for a day visit.  But for those planning on visiting West Bali National Park the entrance fee is Rp 200,000 per person and tourist fees for guides (mandatory) inside the park will be around Rp 200,000/person.

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We also thought we would be hiking one of Bali’s volcanoes for some spectacular sunrise views.  Mount Agung, or Gunung Agung, is the highest point on the island in the Karangasem district of East Bali.  We heard when we arrived that the trail to the summit was closed due to religious ceremony, which was confirmed when we asked our B&B host in Amed to look into getting a guide.  If you’re thinking about the hike be prepared for a long, strenuous work-out.  I wish I could attest to this personally, but alas, I need to refer you to some blogs we had read prior to our trip (HERE & HERE).  There are 2 possible routes; to reach the true summit you need to depart from Pura Besaki but there’s also a shorter hike to the volcano rim from Pura Pasar Agung.  The need for a guide is up for debate, some sites swear you need one; other hikers appear to be more adventurous.

No matter what you end up doing you’re sure to enjoy the beautiful people and culture.  The Bahasa lifestyle is definitely good!

Let me know what you think!