16.09.2011 - 29.09.2011 32 °C
Bangkok – Kuta – Ubud
So I had a few more days in Bangkok – mostly dossing around by the pool catching up on the sun and boozing with Rick, Joe and Beth. It was a complete stop gap my time in Bangkok; I feel like I’ve exhausted most avenues, so I didn’t do anything touristy.
I managed to get a cheap flight down to Bali, however it did mean that I had to be at the airport for 4am. The Air Asia flight was mostly spent asleep, before I spotted the beaches of Bali – the run way is just off the coast. I had decided to head to Kuta; the closest town to the airport, it has a reputation for being the Aussie equivalent of Magaluf, but with great beginners surfing – which is what I wanted.
I fetched a taxi to the guesthouse I had picked, but Kuta is made up of lots of little streets and lanes (called “Gangs”) which can only just fit one car down. So my taxi driver chucked me out at a random spot and told me to walk – I still didn’t have a map (the ones in Lonely Planet guide just aren’t worth looking at; always wrong), so wondered around before finding the place. It was full so I continued to hunt around until I found a cheap place – even has a pool!
Kuta has loads of surf schools dotted around, similar to how Ko Tao has Dive schools; so I spent the afternoon trying to find the best price to hire a board and get some lessons. It turned out I could get the best deal from a tout on the beach Mr.Long (“It’s not just my hair which is Long”) could get me an hour lesson with a deal on then hiring the board for a fraction of the price of a school in town. So I booked up to head there early the next morning and passed out early for the night.
9am my lesson started, which was good because there was hardly anyone on the beach. The waves were breaking quite nicely and I was ready to learn – My teacher, Arthur geared me up with a surf top and a board. We did some exercises on the beach first – practicing how to “Pop up”; basically how to go from lying down to standing up, and then we headed into the water.
We started on small waves, and on my second wave I was able to stand up. It’s a pretty wicked sensation, there’s all this build up, then when you stand up you’re not quite sure what to do – just look cool. The first hour breezed by, and I was very confident when Arthur left me on my own out there as I had been able to stand up on the board with ease.
However it’s a hell of a lot different when you’re not too sure which waves to catch and you don’t have someone shouting “Pedal!” and “Stand Up!” at you. I spent another 2 hours in the water trying to get it right, with little success. I turned in for a break and some lunch, I asked Mr.Long what I was doing wrong “You go for blue wave, but you want white wave” – OK :s
Mr. Long and I
I found the food market and pigged out on a local delicacy for half the price of the restaurants in town. I continued to read my book (Slash – from Guns N’ Roses – ‘s autobiography) and chill out for an hour or so before getting back into the sea with the board. Pure determination to “get” surfing set in and I was in the water for 4 hours, which went quite well. I then stopped at one of the little bars on the beach – I say bar’s, it’s more a group of Balinese sitting on a few plastic chairs with an ice box – for the sunset.
Sunset at the "Beach Bar"
The Giant Fire Ball Drops
I didn’t fully understand how determined I was with the surfing until the next day when I woke up with a sunburnt face, blistered hands (from holding the board) and my arm muscles (the guns) were killing me. So I went for a walk (with plenty of sun cream on) and found a surf school which had a nice bar where I could sit and finish my book. It was hilarious to be at a proper surf school – they had a large pool where they were teaching pupils how to pedal on the board; this went on for an hour! This was all for about 8x the cost I got – but really – this was clearly a school for people who were scared of sea water or something.
All the pupils in the pool practicing surf techniques
That evening, three Indonesian girls from Jakarta moved in next door to me in my hotel so the four of us went and got some dinner at one of the many western restaurants in town. The three girls were in Bali for their holiday and their English was fantastic – was nice to be with some “locals”, and surprisingly enough they probably knew more about Western culture than I did. After dinner we went over to Sky Garden a bar/club split over 6 floors – Apart from the fact that the girls didn’t get in. Because they’re classed as “locals” they had to pay a fee to get in, their ploy of being Pilipino didn’t work – I was already in and mesmerised by the place (and the beer I had just bought), so ditched them for a random night.
Fire twirling inside Sky Garden
The following day I got into trouble with the girls (they’ll get over it) and then headed back out on to the surf for the day. Mr.Long was happy to see me back and I advanced to a board which instead of having a rubber grip used wax for grip. I was certainly getting better and had a good few hours out – however I made sure I was coming back in every hour or so for a new layer of sun cream.
The shaded area at the back of the beach - lined with surfing touts and "Beach Bars"
It was one of the girls Birthday’s so a few of us (including an Aussie and a French guy) got a taxi up to Seminyak (just north from Kuta – much more civilised) for dinner. We headed to a beautiful bustling restaurant called Ultimo, which seemed to have a never ending array of tables and a band playing covers like “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston. I went for the Calzone which was the worst Calzone I have ever had – massive disappointment as everyone else had really good looking pasta. My Calzone was supposed to be filled with Bolognese sauce – it was huge but when I pierced through the dough saw a couple of spoons of the sauce smack bang in the middle; none spread out to the sides so I was pretty much just eating cooked dough. I didn’t last long that evening so when the others went to a club I shot into bed instead.
I spent my last day in Kuta doing more surfing and loads more reading, I swapped Slash’s Autobiography in for A History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka – which as you can imagine got me some pretty interesting looks in cafés. It’s not actually anything to do with Tractors, it’s about two sisters whose widower father is going to marry a Ukrainian lady half his age so that she can get an English Visa. Really good book which goes through all aspects about helping family members/friends and discusses the balance between forcing someone into taking your advice or letting them learn from their actions. I’d recommend it.
On Saturday morning I got in a tourist bus (standard 12 seater styled “VIP” bus) and headed North to Ubud. Ubud had been recommended to me by some of the guys I was with in Ko Tao and I’m so glad I took their advice. It’s described as the Cultural heart of Bali, full of artists and yoga classes – oh and the Monkey Sanctuary. Sarah (a Canadian girl who has been teaching English in Seoul for a couple of years, who I met on the bus) and I grabbed a cab to the first hotel advertised in Lonely Planet “Frog Pond Inn”. A very basic narrow garden with bungalows down the right side of the garden – the bungalow was huge, the sink dirty and no bed sheets; but it was cheap “like the budgie”. We dropped our stuff and went for a walk and to hunt out somewhere for lunch – we spent the afternoon aimlessly getting lost and topping up on fruit smoothies.
Ubud is pretty much one main road leading up from the Monkey Sanctuary north lined with cafes, spa’s, restaurants and guesthouses all the way up to Ubud Palace (suitably named Monkey Sanctuary Road). It is surrounded with Rice fields, perfect for walking or cycling – beautiful landscapes which inspire the local artists.
In the evening Sarah and I hit the Lonely Planets “Top Choice” for dinner – called Three Monkeys. The restaurant looks quite small from the front, but it just keeps extending backwards right into a rice field. Tables line the side of the rice field which is illuminated by the restaurant. Sarah is very much into cooking, like me, so we talked about what food we enjoyed cooking while eating some of the most delicious pasta I have ever had.
After dinner we shot to the XL Shisha Lounge which is just on the other side of the football field (in the centre of Ubud) – this was a complete random choice but we were both dead chuffed we’d found it. It was stylised like an Indian tent (not that I have any idea what an Indian tent is themed like, but it’s what I imagine one would look like), very much like a VIP lounge in a club in central London. People were flopped down on sofas and giant pillows which circled a water fountain (waitresses constantly had to warn people not to fall in it) while inhaling on different flavoured shisha. We pretty much spent the whole evening there; time went out the window while we got through a number of beers and Shisha.
Chilling out at Shisha Lounge
The roosters in the garden back at Frog Pond Inn managed to keep Sarah up all night – while I was happy sleeping away. I was woken at around 3am, by Sarah sarcastically laughing at how ridiculously loud the roosters were. Needless to say the next day we hunted around and found an awesome guesthouse, infinitely better – stunning room (with bed sheets), balcony, wifi and even a swimming pool (not in the room, but down in the garden).
The morning after - Sarah not happy with this guy
We moved our stuff over and then commandeered a taxi driver to take us to Gunung Kawi an ancient monument consisting of 10 rock-cut shrines; it’s in the process of becoming a Unesco World Heritage site. As we rocked up into the car park we were surrounded by Balinese ladies selling sarongs, which we were told had to be bought to wear while walking around Gunung Kawi. We got the deal for two of them and then walked down past the stalls selling local crafts (Sarah buying far too much stuff which she’d never be able to fit in her suitcase) to the entrance. At the entrance there was a big box full of sarongs which you could borrow to wear inside (cheers!) and also a little restaurant where we grabbed some lunch and a coffee (Sarah was passing out from her sleepless night).
Before we realised we could borrow sarongs
Gunung Kawi is set down in a small valley, which you walk down steep steps and across a small bridge to get to. It’s surrounded by rice fields (like everything in Ubud) and the noise of trickling water from both the rice fields and the temple complements the atmosphere. It’s a day dreamers kind of ancient monument, so we both got some good photos.
In front of one set of the 10 shrines
The bridge we had walked over
Chilling out, looking over the rice fields
We headed back over the bridge and up the steep steps back to our taxi driver who then took us to a small farm which mostly caters for tourists hunting out “Kopi Luwak”. Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world, it is named after a cat-like civet (a Luwak) which is fed ripe coffee cherries. The intact beans are collected up amongst the Luwaks poo and then filtered and cleaned and sold for a ridiculous amount. It also allows tourist guides to make up different names for it such as “Cat Poo Coffee” or (as our guide called it) “Cat Poo-Cino”. After a tour around the garden farms (everything labelled) we got to sample the Poo Coffee and lots of different samplings they were promoting. We stirred our coffees with fresh cinnamon sticks, which smelt so strong!
The Coffee Cherries
The Luwak poo below their cages
Sarah and I with the different stages of the beans being cleaned - me at the sh*t end
Roasting the beans
Tasting our Cat Poo-Cino's with a rice field back drop
Rice field tiers
Believe it or not, the Cat Poo Coffee made us both tired so we got the taxi driver to take us back to our hotel and we jumped in the pool to relax. We had another good meal on Monkey Sanctuary road and then went for a massage at a small spa we had found in the afternoon. The massage was good, however was interrupted by another customer in the next room who constantly demanded “More, Harder”, he obviously liked his massages to be deep – either that or he was getting something I wasn’t. Sarah went back to the room after the massage, still shattered from her sleepless night, and I headed back to the Shisha Lounge.
I sat down on some of the pillows in front of a big projector and watched the Singapore Grand Prix. Fantastic race in which Vettel dominated (as per normal), however Button came close in the last 5 laps before getting stuck in traffic. It was good to see the Scottish (or as us English say whenever a Scot is doing well, the British) racer Paul di Resta do so well in his debut season – he drives for Force India Mercedes and is definitely worth looking out for the future.
Once the race was over I moved across the bar to where a band had set up – possibly the happiest band I have ever seen, singing covers ranging from Muse to Paolo Nutini. It was here that I bumped into Becky, Susan and Russ; I say “Bumped” literally because Becky and Susan were dancing around as happy as the band – Russ was sat at the bar with a beer taking photos on his SLR. Russ had worked at Lastminute.com with Becky, Becky was a writer and had just moved to Ubud to write her latest book. Susan was also living in Ubud in the last stages of writing her book. We shared some Shisha, beers and arranged to meet the next day at 7 at “Laughing Buddha” a bar Becky recommended.
The band playing in Shisha Lounge with Becky and Susan dancing on the right
Night meeting drunk strangers
The next morning, Sarah was up early to catch her flight up to Bangkok (to do a 1 week tour of Thailand – seeing as I did close to 3 months I told her “Good Luck”). I looked around for another place to stay (I couldn’t afford the luxury pad on my own), found a small one which was uber cheap and a mix between Frog Pond Inn and the nice hotel we’d stayed in the one night. It also had the advantage of being right opposite the hotel so I didn’t have to lug my backpack down the road.
I had already finished my book so I traded it in for Bravo Two Zero, Andy McNab’s bestselling book on an SAS mission – I also traded in my Lonely Planet “South East Asia on a Shoe String” for their book on Bali & Lombok. The first guide had been good as a vague guide to all the different cheap places to go, but it was just that – vague, the Bali & Lombok guide is pretty in depth. Although I don’t like running my travels by a guide book, they are brilliant for reading up about a place before going there and excellent to find a place to stay for the first night. I don’t mind staying in random guesthouses, but whenever you arrive in a new town by a tourist bus you are bombarded with taxi drivers telling you where to stay – it makes life easier to say “No I’ve already got so and so guesthouse booked up” (even though I haven’t).
Wise words in the book shop
In the afternoon, I did run my travels by the guide book and followed one of the walking tours north of Ubud centre. I ignored the advice to start in the morning because of the heat (mainly because it was already the afternoon) and set off at breaking the estimated time of 3 and a half hours. The walk climbs up and across the “Campuan Ridge” and up into a small village – again surrounded by rice fields. The walk over the ridge was really good and I was picking up a little sweat as I marched on through the heat. After the small village the walk unfortunately turned on to one of the main roads and then I had to walk up and down a winding road without any view for a good hour or so. An Aussie family I had bumped into in the village stopped their car to pick me up (they had clearly taken pity on my sweat patches), but I told them that it was kind of cheating seeing as I was on a walking tour.
Knew that Sarong would come in handy
Cafe huts look out over the rice fields
The Rice fields
“At the restaurant Mozaic, veer to the west onto trails …a fantasyland of coursing waterways and good views.” Sounded good, instead I was met by a handwritten sign next to Mozaic “No access to Rice Fields, Guide Book Wrong ”! Didn’t stop me though, and I ended up walking through rice fields, gate crashing a Yoga class (whoops!), trespassing through private villas (“Hello” – to an unsuspecting sun bather by her swimming pool). It was awesome and I felt a little bit like Alex Garlands character Richard in The Beach walking through fields armed by foreign guards with guns. Yes my mind had wandered. Total time – 2 hours 12 minutes.
One of the rice fields I walked through
Ducks quak around through the fields
Finally finding a path which takes you round the villas, rather than through them
That evening I shot down to the Laughing Buddha to meet Becky and co. 7pm came and went, 7.30 followed, and shortly after by 7:45 until I realised I’d been stood up. I went back to my room, grabbed Bravo Two Zero and had a meal on my own while imagining all the people being shot were Becky, Susan and Russ. I then went down to the Shisha Lounge and who was walking out with a bottle of wine? Susan “Hey, we’re next door having dinner, come and join us!” – “Well if you guys are coming into Shisha Lounge later I’ll just see you in there”. I wasn’t going to join them for dinner seeing as they’d already ditched me back at 7pm.
I got some Shisha in and a few beers and then Becky and Susan came and joined me “Where were you, I waited for you for an hour in here on my own” announced Becky. “Well I was waiting in the bar that YOU recommended” …”Ohhhh…”. Turns out Becky thought we were meeting up in Shisha bar, Russ was back at Becky’s villa sulking because he’d broken a camera lens and Susan had forgotten we were meeting up at all. They were a lot more drunk the night before than I had first thought. So Susan had gone to see Becky in the restaurant next door and said “Nah he didn’t have a clue about meeting up, he didn’t say anything” – turns out we all hated each other; what did we do before mobile phones.
I was up early the next day to go on a cycle tour which Becky had recommended. It had set me back a few bob so I had high expectations – it didn’t disappoint. A group of 15 or so of us were transported up to a wicked restaurant for breakfast which over looked Gunung Batur (the most active volcano on Bali) and Danan Batur (the largest lake which supplies all the rice fields with fresh water). We had some fantastic breakfast while our guide “Ring” talked to us casually about absolutely anything – very informative guide.
The view over Gunung Batur and Danan Batur
Our Table overlooking the fantastic view
From here the bus took us to another coffee farm (not so interesting, because I had already been to one a few days before) and from here down to get our bikes. The bikes were in fairly good nick, no complaints apart from having the brake levers on the wrong sides of the handlebars – I was certain I’d fly over the handlebars at some point. It was a 25km downhill ride, stopping all the time along the route. It is possibly the most lazy cycling I have ever done; I probably pedalled about 2% of the ride – this was the kind of cycling my mum would enjoy.
This guy has the most boring job ever - separating the beans depending on sex
On the bike
We stopped off at a local bamboo farm (where Ring showed us the local ATM – pigs), a random field where Ring jumped in and grabbed a huge spider for everyone to have photos with (not me thanks), a walk through a rice field (number of the others falling in – pretty funny) and at a local village to play football with some little kids. The ride ended at the company’s own restaurant for a huge buffet of local food, we were literally harassed the whole time “Eat more, go up again, otherwise we charge you” – so we did as we were told and pigged out.
The local ATM
High Fiving kids on route
Ring shows off a "Baby" spider - "When they grow up they eat birds"
Walking through yet another rice field
Looking up inside a large tree ("Say What You See")
The tour finished at 3pm and dropped us back off at our own hotels – I was shattered, not from the ride but from having late nights and being up at 7am every morning since arriving in Ubud. So when I got back to the room I passed out for 3 and half hours, thankfully I woke up before 7pm to meet up with the others again (definitely Laughing Buddha this time). I met with Russ and Becky – Russ wearing a fantastically ugly shirt, had a couple of drinks and a small dinner before turning in for the night.
Russ and his awful shirt
I was supposed to leave to head to north shores yesterday, but decided that as Ubud is a leisurely place to be I couldn’t just shoot off. So I met with the others in an awesome little café for brunch, organic smoothies and wrote this blog. It is quite clearly a writers paradise, as at the back of the café where we sat (all on our laptops writing), we were shortly joined by 4 others on their Macs typing away. Much to our amusement a hippy guy walked in with his son, both playing around on their own iPads. When the waitress came over the Dad said nice and loudly “What do you want; Chocolate milkshake? Strawberry milkshake? Vanilla milkshake? Or …a Sacred Spice?” – the kid replies straight away “Sacred Spice!” – “OK, and for lunch ….Miso Soup?” – “Yes”. Think that pretty much sums up Ubud.
In Clear Cafe, everyone working away
So yes, today I was meant to make my way to Tulamben – however last night we all went out and in the local bar managed to kick off a Yoga competition. It was quite an event – our new mate Evan is a Yoga teacher back in the States so he was pulling off some crazy moves while Becky stood at the side chanting “YOG-OFF YOG-OFF!”
Yog-Off, Evan working his magic
Few drinks with Susan and Russ
I woke up late today and just being lazy again. Hopefully I’ll be on the move tomorrow making my way to north to Tulamben, where there’s a US cargo wreck to explore on a dive. Then thinking of shooting over to the Gili Islands to check a turtle sanctuary out and do more diving. Big smiles.