We are now staying in the tiny village of Pejang Kangin, which is a 20 minute drive east of Ubud. Our host/house manager Wayan picked us up from our hotel in Nusa Dua yesterday and drove us up here. Traffic up through Sanur was terrible, and even when we got out of the gravitational pull of Denpassar, we still ran into slow traffic and some backups. The car ride lasted almost two hours to travel 50 kilometers. Wayan is very gregarious and immediately was asking us about our stay in Bali. When we told him we had been in Seminyak, he called it ‘Baliwood’; Nusa Dua he called ‘Balihawaii’. The place he was taking us to was ‘RealBali’. So here are my impressions of the three faces of Bali we have seen so far: Baliwood, Balihawaii, RealBali.
Baliwood: Seminyak was our first stop in Bali. It is not too far from the airport and is known for its beach, shopping boutiques and nightlife. The drive from the airport was along a two lane road choked with motorcycles and taxis. Shops lined the road. At first in Kuta they were pretty ramshackle, but by the time we got into Seminyak they had become quite modern and stylish. Many of these shops could have been transplanted to our main shopping street Laurel Ave in San Carlos and fit right in. The road itself was a narrow two lanes and the sidewalks also narrow and uneven, the quality of which really contrasted with the colorful and immaculate interiors of these shops.
On our second day, we walked 20 minutes down DoubleSix road to the beach. First impression was YUK! There was a small creek that emptied onto the sand, and it stank. I really could not believe that people were eating in the nicer warungs (small restaurants) right next to this stench. A very trendy restaurant/nightclub called Coco Beach was also right there. On the far side of Coco Beach loomed the concrete skeleton of a new resort hotel, complete with all the accompanying noise pollution of hammers and pounding and whatnot. The beach itself was a dense, dark sand that due to its shallow pitch had a wide intertidal zone. Half the beach disappeared at high tide. Unfortunately, what was left at the high tide mark was washed up trash. Aussies fly up to vacation here? Gigi and I were feeling let down. The boys, however, were excited because they focused solely on the waves, waves that you could boogie board on. We walked westward on the beach, away from Kuta and the stinky creek, and with every 100 meters the beach got visibly cleaner. We stopped after about half a kilometer and settled in for a day at the beach. One good thing about Seminyak beach are the services available. Every day we rented a pair of beach loungers with an umbrella and two boogie boards for $15.00. Small beach warungs are numerous for food and drink. There are lifeguards, which is a good thing because the rip current was strong on this beach. As long as the boys were tethered to their boogie boards, however, they were safe. Our other two days on the beach were spent in front of Ku De Ta beach club. The beach there was quite clean and the taxi ride to get there was only $1.50. We quickly learned that taxi rides here were dirt cheap and taxis were everywhere looking for fares.
The nightlife was something we did not partake in. The Lonely Planet guide said that many of the clubs don’t get going until after midnight. We did see the beachside clubs Coco Beach, Ku De Ta, and Potato Head during daylight hours. We spent a late afternoon post-beach at Potato Head. The boys loved the infinity pool overlooking the beach. Jordan was especially excited that there was a swim up pool bar where he could order a vanilla milkshake and sit on a stool in the pool at the bar and enjoy his drink. We ordered some appetizers and listened to the live DJ mixing tunes we had never heard before and watched the place slowly fill up for sunset viewing.
Overall, we decided that the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak strip of Bali was not worth a return visit. We did not partake in two of the three major attractions – shopping and nightlife – and the beach just did not meet our expectations.
Balihawaii: Nusa Dua was our next sojourn. This area is a planned mega resort complex with hotel chain names like Westin and Grand Hyatt and a large open air shopping mall called Bali Connection. The road into the resort was gated with guards who checked every car coming in. Once inside, there were wide avenues with sidewalks and landscaped greenery. Traffic was minimal. We were staying at the Melia Bali, and like all large resort hotels, it had a grand entry and lobby. The buildings were arranged in a horseshoe around lush tropical gardens, the pool, and open to the beach. The architecture had a balinese flair, the staff were friendly balinese who greeted you with hands in the prayer position. Other than these two things, this hotel could have been in Hawaii. The trees were the same, including the frangipani/plumeria and coconut palms. The restaurants were japanese, italian, asian fusion, and beach burger fare. The hotel guests were predominantly a mixture of Aussies, Japanese and Russians. The beach was completely different from Seminyak, which was most welcome. The sand was coarse and golden, a fringing reef turned the swimming area into a bathtub, and the tidal change left the beach bereft of water for half the day. Surprisingly, we spent time at the beach only for beach volleyball. We never went into the water.
We had booked this hotel hoping to find kids on vacation who our boys could play with. In this hope, we hit pay dirt. Jordan and Justin spent all four days playing in the pool with a posse of boys who’s ages ranged from 5 to 14, Jordan being the oldest of the group. There were two boys from London, a trio of italians, two swedes and a russian in the group. All boys. They played tag, hide and go seek, water polo and pool basketball. Because everyone seemed to be spending a week at the resort, the same group was present until Sunday morning when it was time for them to go back home.
Our time at the Melia Bali was quite comfy. Our room was clean and spacious. The resort was not crowded at all. It may have felt like being in a Hawaiian resort, but it was cheaper than Hawaii. We ate very well at dinner for $75 and had massages for $30/hour. The best of all was the time the boys had playing with other boys. That has been a real rarity on this trip.
Overall a good rating, but we can get the same vibe and environment after only a five hour flight. Bali is some 20 hours flight from San Francisco.
Day 10 in Bali and it was finally time to leave the tourist fueled madness of the south of Bali. We are not so far from the main roads leading into Ubud that are lined with artisan shops, but from our present vantage point, they don’t exist. We are staying just outside the rice paddy village of Pejang Kana. Our house is a tiny island in a sea of rice paddies fenced in by jungle. The view in all 4 directions from the second story windows are verdant, mature rice, a checkerboard of deep greens and yellow-greens, then a belt of 60 foot or more high palm trees and tropical hardwoods, capped with a dome of blue sky and fluffy grey-white clouds that portend afternoon showers. The rice is around 70 days old with grain heads already full. There is a fairly strong breeze blowing, which keeps the air comfortable and our skin dry. The humidity and heat is not bad, which is a good thing as this house has no air con and only two floor fans. Mother Nature is keeping things comfortable. The house is 1000 meters from the paved road. The approach to the house is along a 3 foot wide brick paved path that runs along an irrigation ditch. The house’s front porch is directly on this path, and we regularly greet the farmers walking along the path, some with huge loads of cut weeds balanced on their heads. They are delivering the weeds as fodder to the 20 or so brown cows at the farm located between us and the road. The little town is a 5 minute walk, hidden in the jungle overgrowth just beyond the border of the rice paddies. Everyone says ‘Hi’ to us and ‘Where are you from?’. Some ask, ‘Where are you staying?’. We are the only tourists in this village, the closest hotel, Hotel Ubud, is a few kilometers away.
The house itself is quite comfortable. We have the two story, two bedroom part of the house. We have a patio with a small water lily pond. One large pink flower bud was waiting to greet us. On our first morning it had opened fully and we could not keep our eyes off of it as we ate a breakfast of cut fruit and black rice pudding with coconut milk and brown sugar sauce. We have a cook available to us, and she has already proven that the glowing write ups on the Air BnB site were justified. The kitchen is a small shack in the front yard. There is also another studio apartment in the building which is currently occupied by a german woman from….Gottingen! Another small world story. Gottingen University in Germany is where I studied my junior year abroad in college. Gigi is the one who is finding so much in common with this lady, however, and they are already enjoying long conversations together.
During our first full day in the RealBali, we really waded into it. Our host Wayan (means son #1 or #5 in Bali – this Wayan was #5) took us on an hour walk through the rice paddies to his family’s compound. We walked only on dirt paths along irrigation ditches or on paddy dikes, passing farmers working the fields or being passed by men on motorbikes. We had some fun with coconuts and a bamboo carrying stick, the boys testing the weight of 5 coconuts balanced on their shoulders. Wayan’s family compound was immaculate. There were 4 cocks in wicker baskets at the entry, which were destined for bloodletting at the temple. Each family member had their own small house with mosaic pathways linking them all together. Parents and Auntie also lived here. He showed us the family shrine inside the compound walls. We ate another delicious, multi-course meal cooked by his wife Putri. Afterwards, we were driven home on mopeds. Jordan and Justin rode with Putri. Three people on a moped, no helmets. Now that is RealBali!
This day was also a religious festival at the local temple. If I understood correctly it was the celebration of the temple’s founding (very uncertain here, we are finding lots of temple celebrations during our travels in Bali), which happens every 210 days. The temple would have a gamelan orchestra playing in the evening. Putri and her daughter came by at 6:30 PM with Sarongs for all and blouses for the women and head dresses for the men. Jordan, Justin and I have white shirts with us, which is a temple attire must. Bring a white shirt if you come to Bali! We got dressed and off to Balinese temple we went. The gamelan orchestra was enchanting, the deep vibrations are really felt inside your body. We watched this festive atmosphere camouflaged as locals, but not fooling anyone, but no one really minded us. Outside the temple walls a few warungs were selling food, there was a stand for buying toy junk stuff, and a man had a bouquet of helium balloons. It is odd to see a red Angry Bird floating by in the midst of such ancient, non-western tradition. Jordan actually entered the temple with Putri for prayer, and came out with grains of rice stuck to his forehead. As we said goodnight to Putri, she offered us some of the blessed food that she was bringing home from the temple. The next morning, Jordan and Justin said the blessed apple tasted especially good. And the day was good, too, the siblings did not once quibble. Our family needs more blessed apples.
For me, RealBali wins the Best of the Three Faces award.