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On the Island of the Gods
Rating : ( 4.5 ) ( 28 votes )

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Aug 26, 2003 17:00

Pros: interesting, exciting, beautiful
Cons: none

I have left Indochina now. From Luang Prabang I flew to Bangkok and stayed a couple of nights there before flying to Denpasar airport on Bali. I did not really do much in Bangkok - I went to 'Jim Thompson's house', built by an American silk merchant in traditional Thai style and furnished without sparing any expense, but otherwise gave tourist sites a miss.

My time in Bali did not start well. After I opened my backpack in my hotel I realized that someone in Singapore Airlines baggage handling department had managed to squeeze their hand between two zips padlocked together and extract my digital camera. Fortunately, I had saved all the photos onto a CDrom in Luang Prabang and I have insurance, but it's a pain in the backside. I had to go to report the loss to the local police who, being from the third world, expected a 'donation' in return for supplying me with the necessary bit of paperwork.

My friend Paul, from Leeds, had arrived on Bali just before me. We stayed initially in Seminyak, which adjoins the very busy resort of Kuta, but is (in general) a little quieter. Our hotel, Puri Cendana, was close to the beach which has very high surf, but was very busy with vendors. However, the sunsets were spectacular. I was later told that Seminyak has become the 'in' nightlife area of the island because of the reluctance of tourists and expats to go to Kuta, the site of the Bali bomb last October. We certainly saw quite a lot of new bars not far from our hotel, one of which served us lots of free drinks at its grand opening party.

However, Paul hankered after a different holiday experience. We therefore decamped to the Ritz Carlton Bali Resort and Spa, about an hour's drive round the coast. They are not fully used to dealing with backpackers who turn up demanding upgrades, but they coped well and, yes, I secured an ocean view room! The place was so large and the facilities so extensive that we didn't go off the premises at all in the time we stayed there. As I no longer have a camera you will have to look at their website for pics! (http://www.ritzcarlton.com/resorts/bali/)

It was difficult to tear myself away from the infinity edge swimming pool overlooking the Indian Ocean, but somehow we found time to use the gym, have a yoga session, try scuba diving and play golf and table-tennis. The major stress factor was deciding which of the eight restaurants to eat in (although Paul has a very restricted diet which helps to narrow things down considerably...).

It took a couple of days to get used to Ritz Carlton prices. Coming so recently from Laos (price of large, bright guesthouse room with bathroom in Vang Vieng: $2.50 per night) I suffered from the financial equivalent of altitude sickness. For example, one scoop of ice cream by the infinity-edge pool cost almost US$5, whereas I have been used to rather large good quality dinners costing under $4 in tourist restaurants in SE Asia. Perhaps next time (!) I should acclimatize by first experiencing Thai prices and then Sinagpore prices before heading for such a resort. Needless to say my budget for my round the world trip has been shot to pieces and am in danger of being expelled as a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants for my financial recklessness.

Anyhow, guilt about that quickly vanished and the resort was a difficult place to leave. However, we wanted to see the 'real' Bali and that meant travelling to Ubud, the cultural centre of the island located inland. I have never seen a place so full of galleries and craft shops. Different villages in the surrounding area specialze in producing different crafts - painting, wood carving, sculpture, metalwork etc. The local people are also known for their singing and dancing - there are usually several Balinese arts performances on in Ubud or nearby each night.

Visitors also go to Ubud for the stunning landscape of rice terraces. Our hotel, the Waka di Ume, is 2km north of town overlooking rice terraces and coconut palm trees. Fortunately, it is not part of the Ritz Carlton group so I am avoiding bankruptcy. However, it's billed as a boutique hotel and has an infinity edge swimming pool, so this keeps Paul happy.

We have hired a couple of mountain bikes to get around the area. Yesterday we went to the Neka Art Museum, housing the most comprehensive collection of traditional and modern paintings on Bali. I had looked at about my third painting in the first room when Paul announced that he was already bored. I therefore, put my plans to visit 2 other art museums nearby on hold and we cycled off to the monkey forest sanctuary to look at the monkeys scampering around and being fed. It was more his level, really.

Today, we cycled to Tegalalang village, 13km north of Ubud, which is noted for its views of rice terraces on the side of a valley. It really was stunning. The village also produces a lot of woodwork - I noticed African tribal masks and giraffe carvings, heads of Egyptian pharoes and red indians holding tomahawks. Does this mean that all handicrafts sold in other parts of the world as tourist souvenirs are actually made in Ubud? I think the anti-globalization protesters at the next G7 summit should be told...