I have been to Bali already three times and everytime this island surprises me.
There are indeed so many things to do, you just name them.
In my last visit I was there for only 2 nights and I had organised a VW Safari Tour, a rafting in the Ayung river, an high tea in Ubud and finally a traditional Balinese dance for the night
Indeed, so many activities in a bit more than 1 day.
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The movie “Eat, Pray, Love” with Julia Roberts was filmed partially in Ubud for a good reason, the amazing countryside around this village.
Unfortunately, most of the Ubud visitors tend to stay….well, in town, which is a pity because they miss out the best part, the verdant vegetation, the rice fields, the green valleys, the amazing temples, the beautiful rivers and so much more
Because to go around you need either a scooter or a car, with a driver that knows the area.
And besides this VW Safari Tour, you can also check out these unusual things to do in Bali.
And this leads me to one of the best experiences I ever had in crazy Bali…..and don’t tell me that this island is not mad LOL….in a good sense obviously
The Bali VW Safari Tour
Someone may already have mentioned you that a trip to Bali is like a step back in time, life suddenly slows down (at least when you leave Kuta Beach), the need of yoga kicks in and the brain takes some time off, time to reflect and see things in a different way.
That is why when I saw “The Thing” I was partially surprised.
What is “The Thing”
It is a VW 181 convertible. A car that you may have seen in a few movies of the 70s. A car of another time which I did not even know there were still existing models, especially in Indonesia.
It’s a beauty to see.
It’s a convertible car that, with its slow and smooth running, gives you the feeling to belong to Bali.
Nowadays, when we use a car we tend to close the doors, run the aircon and that’s it till we arrive at the destination.
The trip is about arriving at the destination and not experiencing the places we drive through
And, most important, we miss out one important thing, the sense of smell.
With the Bali VW Safari Tour the trip is not about the destination, it is about experiencing the local life, it is about smelling particular scents and hearing something without being able to understand where it all comes from.
And this is all done using a car designed in the hippy days, in the revolutions days, just after the Rolling Stones released the mythical song Satisfaction.
I did this trip with a group of lovely people and I was in the car with another 3 travellers and the awesome driver, that was so entertaining that we could not stop laughing.
We started our trip in Kuta Beach. It took a little while to leave behind us the busy town however as soon as we stepped into the first side road we were suddenly smelling the odours of the small temples, the frying garlic, and the countryside around us.
Not only that. It was interesting to hear the “busy” life of the locals. I am not sure how many km was the trip however the pace was quite slow, which was great because it gave us the possibility to lose ourselves in this beautiful island.
We had a few stops to admire some of the greenest rice fields in South East Asia.
It was in one of these stops that I met a local farmer. He was coming back from his rice fields with his old sickle.
The wooden handle had a grip created by the age, more than by an intentional curving. The metal blade was consumed by the many years of sharpening.
I love to take portraits of interesting people however I find even more fascinating a close up of their hands.
Hands say a lot of a person. My hands clearly haven’t done much work, besides using a keyboard and some cameras.
This man had the story of his life in his hands, many years of work, love and sufferance.
And this is what I liked the most of the Bali VW Safari trip, the easy pace, the contact with the locals, the stops along the drive, sometimes on demand.
“The Thing” had also a stop at the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (Monkey Forest in Ubud).
Another impressing Hindu temple set in a forest with centenary trees and a big population of, guess what, monkeys.
I was very lucky because the temple was busy with a big celebration and obviously I was there with my camera, however always with an eye on monkeys around me, famous to still anything glittering.
I ended up in the big kitchen area. How fascinating! I am always surprised that most of the Indonesian can actually communicate in English.
I feel guilty my Bahasa Indonesia is limited to the 5-10 typical words.
I was offered food to taste. I would never say no obviously.
It was looking indeed quite red, you know that typical hot red chilly?
My suggestion, in this case, is to eat it, but always ask first if they have rice too (it will help to dilute) and if they have warm tea (a hot beverage helps a lot with hot food).
How was the food?
Very hot but extremely good.
And these are the things that I will have always in my memory. A 10 minutes chat in the kitchen of the temple and some hot food to spice up my life.
If interested in Balinese food then I suggest to read this ultimate guide, I have learnt so much from it.
Our VW Safari tour ended at the Ayung River where a new adventure was waiting for me.
The Ayung river white water rafting
Are you wondering how easy, or difficult, is the Ayung river white water rafting?
It all depends on the season.
Usually, in the “dry” season, between June and September, it is an easy adventure. I was there in August and I have seen even kids on the boats (not sure it is a smart idea though).
During this season the white water is not that wild. It’s more of a fun adventure than an adrenaline one.
I had a talk with the guide on our boat and he told me to go back in the rain season, between December and April, to have some “real” excitement. I am not sure why he remarked twice the word “real” LOL
He actually told me that on some days they cannot do rafting in the Ayung River because it becomes too dangerous.
I personally had lots of fun. It was more of an easy whitewater rafting and the Ayung river is quite wide which made it easy for our guide to have some “unexpected” crash into big stones along the route. I am sure he did it on purpose 😉
I would do this rafting just to experience the nature around the Ayung river. Magnificent.
We went through some amazing green scenery, jaw-dropping gorges and small valleys of rice fields.
It was most definitely an interesting 2 hours white water rafting that let me know Bali even better, another window to this beautiful island.
It was definitely time for a snack……in style
You can read more info about the Ayung river white water rafting directly on the operator website. The price is around $35-40 which is absolutely a bargain
High tea in Ubud
I have never been to high tea. I am probably not the person after this kind of experiences….till I tried the one at the Kupu Kupu Resort.
I was indeed expecting amazing food, not based on quantity but on quality, and it was indeed fully delivered. Even the quantity to be honest. More than I could cope with.
What it amazed me the most, however, was the view from this resort, straight into an amazing valley of the Ayung River, the same experience with the white water rafting.
I had the possibility also to check one of the villas of the resort. What a view!!
Ubud is a great spot for a honeymoon in Bali as well as other locations.
If you have the budget, consider spending at least a night at the Kupu Kupu Resort. It’s now in my Bali bucket list 😀
Traditional Balinese Dance in Ubud
My first time in Bali was over 15 years ago. I stopped in Ubud for one night during a 5 days self-drive tour.
At that time Ubud was really a tiny village. On that night I also remember going to a traditional Balinese dance.
Believe it or not, without knowing it, of course, I ended up exactly at the same place, the Laka Leke restaurant.
I know, unbelievable!
And I enjoyed as much as I did 15 years ago.
It was actually good to see a business in Ubud running for so long, which is a good sign, it tells a lot about the quality of the food they serve and also how entertaining is their traditional Balinese dance in Ubud, a reference for many visitors.
When visiting the island spare few days for Ubud.
For a few hotel tips, you can read my guide to the best places to stay in Bali (updated this year) or have a check to this other guide on where to stay in Bali.
The Sea Turtle Project in Kuta Beach
This is an interesting experience if staying at least one night in Kuta Beach.
The Sea Turtle Project aims to protect sea turtle eggs and increase hatching rates. This project helps to grow the turtle population around Bali, which is great.
I experienced a similar project in another Indonesian island, Gili Trawangan, and the result has been just amazing. I could not believe how many turtles I could spot during my snorkelling.
I really hope it will work as well in Kuta Beach.
If you want to participate in the release of the turtles, plan your visit around 4:30pm
Travel Photography in Bali
In this trip I had my old friend Nikon D600. It was a bit on the heavy side and I have promised myself to come back with a much lighter mirrorless camera. There are a few great ones out in the market at the moment. You may want to look at the monthly updated review of the Best Travel Cameras.
I used a 24-120mm f/4 lens which worked just great. This is the focal length you will need for a similar trip. It will cover the wide-angle needs, for the visits of the temple and some landscapes too. You will be happy with some portrait photography and finally, you may use the zoom capability in the rice fields and countryside.
A few suggestions on the visited sites:
- in the Sacred Monkey Forest, you will experience some very tall centenary trees. To emphasise even more the size of these trees starts shooting almost lying down on the floor focusing up, straight on your subject (people, monkeys, temple).
- in the Sanctuary go around the temple. You will see the kitchen and other areas with locals concentrated in different activities
- the best way to shoot at the Ayung river white water rafting is through an action camera, which I did not have. I did not use my D600 either, it would have been too dangerous. I used instead my Samsung mobile inside a waterproof bag I bought in Jakarta for $2. It worked great!
- to shoot the traditional Balinese dance don’t be afraid to increase your ISO value to a high number. I set my camera up to ISO6400. A lower value will not allow you to freeze the dance action and your images will not be sharp. As I always say in my workshops, it’s better to have a sharp photo with noise than a photo not sharp, or no photo at all.
Where to stay in Bali
Bali is such a touristic island that there is an accommodation for any budget, likes and need.
My guide to the best places to stay in Bali is updated every year, if not twice a year.
If you are after a villa, I suggest the Uluwatu area, south of the airport. There are a few with a pool under $150, which is awesome
In my last trip, I stayed at the Mercure Kuta Beach, really a beautiful hotel with a jaw-dropping infinity pool with the best sunset view to the beach I reckon.
The breakfast served on the top floor is really good and for all tastes, you either want to start the day in Bali style food or continental.
Check availability at the Mercure
Rooms are really well looked after and I was quite amazed to not hear any noise from the street (it may well happen in Kuta Beach) and also from the Hard Rock Cafe, almost next door. Very well insulated.
Because of the importance to have the first-hand experience, I accepted on this trip the assistance of Tourism Indonesia, however, I never promised a positive coverage, just my honest experience.