Friday, December 31, 2010

The Holy Spring temple and the Cliff temple, Bali, Indonesia

Day 3 in Bali was reserves for visiting the must-see sites in Bali. We were still yet to see the Holy Spring temple ( Tirta Empul) and the Cliff temple ( In Uluwatu).

As we spoke to the driver, he told us that the places we wanted to visit were at opposite ends of the island and that would hence have a long travel time. He renegotiated the price to 350000 ( around 35 USD).

The holy spring temple was nice and resembled one of our Indian temples with holy water. The difference here was that you are allowed to dive into the water. And it was super clean! Other than the spring, the temple once again resembled the other temples.

On the other hand, the Cliff Temple was fabulous. As in mind- blowing. The temple is at the edge of a cliff with a view dripping down into the ocean at about 100 feet. Really amazing. Watch te pics. Really awesome.

They also had a Fire and Dance show showing a few scenes from the Ramayana. This was much better than the Barong dance that we saw earlier. Costs around USD 7 per person of I remember right. A little overpriced I thought. However, the temple is a MUST SEE destination. Don't miss it for anything. Be careful of the monkeys though. So many of them arous and they're out to grab your stuff. So secure everything.

We got caught in a lot of traffic heading to the temple and back. Each journey took us close to 2 hours. We were so tired by the time we got back!

The shops around the temples sell some amazing souvenirs. Bargain heavily to get a good deal.

We leave tomorrow for Jakarta to get to Bandung. I really don't have any regrets for leaving Bali. I think it is highly over rated and filled with too many tourists. However, it's worth traveling to Bali during the off peak season to immerse in the culture filled with Hinduism and Buddhism. And for people traveling to Bali for the beaches, I would advise you to think again. You may as well make a trip to the Philippines for that - Boracay or Palawan. For starters, most Filipinos speak English and they're also a polite bunch.

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia - Eat, Pray, Love

Right as I start punching in this information, you must know that Ubud is an absolutely MUST VISIT city in Bali. Not only because the movie Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts was shot here but for the fact that there's something about this town/city that makes you feel warm and comfortable. Ubud was voted the number 1 city in Asia and the number 5 city in the world by readers of the travelers magazine.

We visited the temple here which was nice. However as I mentioned earlier, each temple was beginning to increasingly look like the other now!

We then took some time to walk into the Ubud market which instantly transports you into a novel with cobblestone roads and prim and proper stores. The whole area felt like you were out in some European tiny village street with small cafes and book stores.

We wanted to go back there again but we never did get the time to manage it. Put aside a minimum of 2 hours for
Ubud and I would recommend half a day to walk around the place.

Definitely worth your time. If you're really not interested in hitting the parties and clubs at Kuta and Legian, you may consider staying in Ubud.

Annoying things in Bali, Indonesia

Here are some of the things I find very annoying in Bali. Some are unique to Bali while many of them are common to Indonesia.

1. You need to bargain for everything - trust me when I say that anything and everything can be bargained for ( hotel rooms included). If a person asks you for 100,000 IDR ( around 10 USD) for a product, remember that you can buy it for even 15,000 to 20,000 IDR ( around 2 USD).

2. Taxis never use their meters. They ask for absurd prices. Try to find bluebird cabs and you may be lucky to find a nice cabbie!

3. The traffic is horrendous. And all the time. If you enter Legian street or Kuta it would probably take you an hour to get out! There are just too many cars and bikes on the road. To add to these woes, you have all these Australian and American tourists who rent bikes and create mayhem on the roads!
( I am currently in the middle of a traffic jam too! )

4. There really ain't that great a beach! Or maybe I feel that way Coz I'm so used to the white sand blue water beaches of the Philippines.

5. The craziness of Legian street. Crazy parties are fun but then you need to feel safe. That feeling doesn't come at the crazy party places in Legian. Drugs are sold freely and people don't stop bothering you either to sell something to you or offer their various services. We chose to stay away from this area except when we wanted to shop.

6. You have this continuous feeling that you've been cheated or you may be cheated. Most of the locals and vendors are out to milk tourists for all they are worth. Even after you've finished bargaining you are still left with that feeling that you've paid too much!

7. The rental car guys can really becoming super annoying. You pay them to take you to where you want to go, but in reality they are taking money from you to take you to where they want you to go! You give them a list of places you want to see, they give you a fresh one and sell the idea to you saying its the best thing to do. You realize later that they want to take you to Batik stores, Silver/Gold stores, Spice gardens, Wood carving places etc ( All of whom are giving the driver money for bringing you there). Even the restaurant they took us was crappy and super expensive. By afternoon, you've realized that the drivers just taking you where he wants and you're wasting most of the day doing useless stuff!

Note: Put your foot down in the beginning. Say no to batik, spices and everything they say. Insist on eating where you want. Trust me, you will land up saving a lot of money and time. You can always buy batik or spices from the hundreds of stores in the evenings when you have more time.

8. They don't really allow you into tue actual temples. It's like they've set up tourist areas at all temples! I'm a Hindu and I wasn't allowed in too.

Well this doesn't mean that Bali's a bad place to be in! It's just that the place is so dependent on tourists that they try to suck the last penny out of you. So be on guard all the time.

Happy New Year from Bandung Indonesia

To all the folks out there reading my updates - here's wishing you a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

Have arrived in Bandung and we're staying at Le Provence. We booked the room over the phone. Will update with pics once I get there!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kintamani, Batur active volcano - Bali, Indonesia - "Worth the view"

Well, yet another active volcano in Indonesia, only this time in Bali. When we first saw the itinerary presented to us by the folks at our hotel, we wanted to cancel the volcano from our list. Felt like we've seen and had enough of volcanoes!

However since the driver insisted, we went along. We just prayed that there would be no rain or fog to play spoilsport to ruin our view.

The drive to the volcano was a wonderful experience. So much of greenery to be found in Bali. Also, the architecture as we passes the country side was amazing. So many temples all along the way.

You have a view of the Batur active volcano and a huge lake from the view point that we were taken to. Reminded me of Tagaytay in Philippines a wee bit. Worth the drive and the view.

We also got to see the famous rice terraces on our way back. This driver also took is to a spice garden. Basically, it's like an estate where they give you sample coffee and otter drinks to taste and try to get you to buy coffee. I'm pretty sure the drivers make a commission from them here also. We got to taste the famous (for the poop reasons) Kopi Luwak - the cat poop coffee. Basically there are these wild cats livid in the coffee plantation and they feed on the coffee Cherries. This goes through the digestive system and comes out in the poop. They clean it and make it into coffee. It's now an exotic variety. We bought some too. Was pretty expensive though.

Barong & Kris Dance - Bali, Indonesia

Batu Bulan which is the Barong & Kris dance will probably fall into any tour operator or any travel itinerary that anyone plans for you. All the day tours start with this show. It starts at 9 30 am and is a one hour performance. This is a traditional Balinese dance and the entrance fee costs around USD 8 per person.

Well, I expected a lot from this show and I was terribly disappointed. This dance like most other Hindu dance forms focusses on expression on the dancers eyes and hand movements. The small portion that they showed us circled around the battle between good and evil with references from the Mahabharata. I think the show was no way worth the money spent and it was so boring. I'm guessing that this is because that this is something that is just prepared for tourists and is no where close to the original. The drama was not scened and choreographed well, the handouts they gave the audience wasn't scripted well and it came out very Clearly as a money making endeavor. The saving grace was the fabulous costumes.

And speaking about moneymaking, the entire tourism industry seems to be working in perfect unison. Any of the drivers or tour guides who take you into this Barong dance actually get a commission. And a pretty good one at that. So they really push you into going for this one.

Have posted pics of the same. The costumes were great as I said but there was nothing more to speak about this show. Total waste of money.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bali, Indonesia - Day Two Itinerary

We planned to start our day by 7 30 but landed up waking up a little later due to the time difference between Java and Bali. Bali follows Manila & Singapore time whereas Java is one hour behind. Our alarm was set with Java time!

Anyhow here's our plan for the day. Will update after each item with pics and a small review.

1. Batu Bulan - Barong & Kris Dance
2. Batuaan temple
3. Ubud area
4. Tegalalang - rice terrace views
5. Kintamali - Batur volcano and lake
6. Sribatu village - spice garden
7. Tirta Empul - holiest water temple
8. Elephant cave

Not bad for a full day's itinerary right?

We're of on the road and the rain is all out to spoil our plans. Let's just hope that the rain stops in a bit. I was told that the view from the mountain wouldn't be good with it raining like this.

Bali, Indonesia - Hinduism with a difference

Our arrival at Dempasar, Bali was far from spectacular. The train reached this small station of Banyunwangi at around 5am. This is the train we took from Surabaya. A bus owned and run by the railways was waiting for us outside the station. The bus went to the ferry station. t this point I thought we would have to get down - but no, the bus just got onto the ferry with all of us on it. The ferry ride is just about 20 minutes to half an hour. You can get of the bus in the ferry and sit upstairs and sip on a coffee. The bus gets of the ferry in Bali and it took us a good 5 hours to get to Dempasar. By this time, we were so exhausted!

We tried to figure out which hotel we could get to or which area. Options are wide and plenty in Bali. Called my friend whose already here and he said the beaches here are nothing great. They're all mostly dirty and filthy! Anyhow we were deciding whether to stay in Kuta or any other place nearby. We got into a cab and kept calling different hotels on the way. Most were full or had a room available for only one night.

We decided to go to Sanur as we read that te beach in this area was better than the one at Kuta. Wr got stuck in a huge traffic jam and I'm sure the cabbie conned us even more. We went from hotel to hotel looking for a room. We finally found one with rooms available at our price range! We found a room for all of is to stay for 40USD. The hotel's name is Puri Mango and most people know about it. Very strongly recommended value for money hotel! Has a very cosy atmosphere and friendly service.

Later in the evening, we rented cycles to rude around the area. We got cycles for around 1.5 dollars per cycle for around 5 hours. It was a whole lot of fun since we got to roam around the entire Sanur beach area.

We also met a guy to finalize our day trip for the next day. A car with driver in Bali costs around 30- 40 USD for about 10 to 12 hours. Worth it so that you can plan your own program.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Passed close to Bromo volcano - Indonesia

The train just passed close to The Bromo
Crater. The entire area seems to be filled with dust. Thank god we didn't travel To
Bromo. In a matter of 5 minutes, the entire compartment was filled with ash and smoke. People were coughing. We ran to close all the windows ( business class) remember!

So right now the place is even warmer! We are boiling in this compartment with all the windows being closed. What a trip this is turning out to be.

I have dust all over my face. Need to go wash my face.

Malang, East Java, Indonesia - Discrete, Nonchalant and full of surprises

Originally our trip to Malang was intended more as a stopover to getting to Bromo. Lonely planet doesn't give too much information on this city. So we thought we would spend just a couple of hours in this city before we head on to Surabaya to catch another train to get to Bali.

We arrived at Malang and just walked out of the station to get to the reservation counter and Neha was like "the sleepy town of Malang". Well this town did throw up a lot of surprises for us.

The first one was at the railway station. We frantically were as usual eying to get someone to understand what we wanted to do when we went to the customer care office at the station (wow, they have these in all stations in Indonesia and it looks good).

Anyhow we walked in and we started talking to this girl at the office. We were surprised with her amazing command over English. And she spoke with a very negligible accent! All through our Indonesia experience until now, this girl had the vest command over the language. Her name is Natalia.

We spent time with her explaining our plans to leave to Surabhaya by the next available train. In fact, we also booked tickets on some open train to get there. Natalia kept telling us that there would be nothing to do at Surabaya and that it's a huge city that's very warn and filled with rude people! She seemed to really hate the place and at the end of our discussion we actually agreed to stay on in Malang instead of going to Surabaya immediately. In fact Natalia also offered to come along with us after her shift was over to show us around the place. This was really kind and generous of her to take time of to be with us. This was truly a very touching experience.

We then went to have breakfast at a restaurant called "Toko OEN". This one is opposite to KFC and Mcdonalds at Malang. This place is filled with expats since they have an extensive menu and a decent ambience.

What we saw at Malang?

1. Bird Market
2. Coban rondo waterfall

Bird Market - I think this place is not given it's due credit and attention in lonely planet. This was another lovely surprise. Imagine walking through streets of what looks straight out of a Harry potter movie? Just as the name mentions they had all kinds of birds for sale. And when I mean all, I mean a really large variety. There were sparrows, parrots, owls, ravens ( looked cool) and what not. They even were selling live feed for these birds - worms and some other bugs that looked disgusting. Apart from birds they also had other animals like rabbits, lizards, mice and monkeys. The biggest surprise of them all was a shop that was selling SNAKES! Yep, that's right - a shop filled with snakes, bats and lizards. Never seen anything like this in my life. The guy was actually playing with a snake in his hand. Check out the pictures attached.

Coban rondo waterfall - this place was amazing too! Another good surprise. It's about a good one and a half hours away from the city proper but it's a ride well worth it. We rented a car once again. Cost us around 40 dollars for ten hours. The journey to the waterfall was similar to our Indian hill stations. We went through some beautiful hill vegetation and the climate got cooler and cooler as we moved higher. The actual waterfall area was beautiful with the water falling from a large height hence cooling the entire area with the water droplets splashing of. Check out the pics. We later thought that it would have made sense to stay overnight at this place ( there are rooms available). Check out my pics.

We got back and boarded a bus to take is to Surabaya so that we can catch our next train to Denpasar, Bali.

Truly, this nonchalant town of Malang warned it's way into our hearts for the kindness of it's people through Natalie, for the crazy bird market and the beautiful water fall/hill.