Bali Aug/Sep 1998
Palm Beach









This page is based on postings to the Bali Travel Forum and to a lesser degree, "The thorn tree" at Lonely Planet. It represents our view of a recent holiday in Bali.

Contents

I      Arrival - first impressions.
II    Jimbaran Bay - Hotels and warungs.
III   Volcano trekking - Mt. Batur, Bali.
IV   Volcano trekking - Mt. Bromo, Java.
V    Massages.
VI   Hotels and Cafes.
VII  What not to forget, trivia and thanks.

I Arrival - first impressions.

The Immigration people at Denpasar Airport are so laid back it is unbelievable. Couples and family groups are waved up to the counters with little or no concern for past rules on one person at a time at the desk. The word has obviously gone out to the staff to be as welcoming as possible.

Previous postings tend to over emphasise the transport touts and the hawkers. We found them to be rather subdued on this visit (BUT perhaps we're just getting used to them!). The gangs of kids that tended to hang around Matahari and on the backstreets have gone and one local said that the stall holders had run them out of town.

Moneychangers are everything that others have described. Although we found that comparable exchange rates (to Kuta) could be obtained in Ubud. The first time a moneychanger handed over the correct amount first time up in 50,000rp notes, we kept rechecking trying to find the fiddle! The banks set the rates in the morning with all the small changers hanging around the PT Kuta branch (just before the Subway sandwich shop on Jl Legian), later in the afternoon the prices generally rise with the smaller traders offering better rates than the banks.

Internet access is available at numerous locations around Kuta and Legian with rates varying widely. We used yahoo mail and generally found that the best access times were in the early evening (7-8 pm), other times we found the server or ISP was overloading and a lot of time is wasted trying to log into the site. Sorry don't know if this was true for hotmail or netscape webmail. We also managed to get access to email in Lovina, Ubud and Candidasa. I think the best price was in Lovina at 5,000rp for 15 mins.

Just back today so will post more tomorrow

II Jimbaran Bay - Hotels and warungs

Still awake and sifting through all the postings I missed whilst enjoying the real thing. Noticed a previous large listing for cafes at JB, so here's our view.

We had to return to Kuta partway through our stay to catch a shuttle and decided to make it a dinner and a stay at JB instead. So we duly hired a blue cab to take us to the bird market in Denpasar by way of some hotels in JB. We first tried to get a good rate at Puri Kosala Cottages as previously recommended on the Forum but they wouldn't negotiate on price. The driver then took us to a hotel right on the beach that looked great (can't recall the name but will post when I find their card) but was fully booked except for a family villa (2b/r). They offered that room to us at 305,000 rp/night, we passed on that and negotiated a room at Puri-Bamboo for 250,000 rp/night incl. tax (started at $65 US + tax). This was an excellent Hotel and we highly recommend it. The price you pay will obviously depend on their bookings and your ability to negotiate. Our experience with all negotiating for rooms was - the earlier in the day the better price.

We negotiated this stay for a night 3 days in advance and on the night we stayed we talked to another couple from Melbourne (thanks Bill) and told him all about the Forum. In exchange they introduced us to Wayan of the Georgia Cafe on the beach at JB. We paid 120,000 rp/kg  for  1kg of king prawns (3!) and 25,000 rp/kg for 1.2 kg  of red snapper, Wayan then threw in an extra king prawn and a free beer. These along with rice and a delicious chili sauce fed Jill and I, although I must admit we got the torches out to ensure we hadn't missed any fish. Altogether 7 of us dined at the Georgia Cafe that night on worldclass seafood. This Cafe is at the Airport end of JB and the Cafe immediately before this one is just as good, yet they starve for custom because tourists believe that the best food will only be near the best hotels!

The most important criteria in eating seafood is the quality of fish on the day, not what was good yesterday. Unfortunately a problem that has arisen through publicity on this Forum and also through Lonely Planet guides is that many places raise their prices as a result of all the good publicity. Remember also that if you only eat or stay where others recommend then you will have little to add to the Forum when you return nor will you experience the real Bali (be it good, bad or out of this world).

III Volcano trekking - Mt. Batur, Bali.

First up I should explain that Jill and I are around 50 with a reasonable level of fitness and these treks (III Mt. Batur and IV Mt. Bromo) whilst obviously not cakewalks are within the range of most people. Both treks also offer various options depending on the ability and/or interests of the walker.

Tours to Mt Batur to see the sunrise are available from Kuta and Ubud at an advertised cost of approx $50 - $60 US. Travellers notices posted at Ubud warn of climbing from Segara (?) owing to the presence of "Mafiosi" who will not let tourists onto the mountain unless they hire a local guide at an extra cost of $50 US on top of what you have already paid to your own driver/guide. Warnings apparently also appear in the Lonely Planet guide about this village. Happily we had no such problems when climbing from Toyabunkah on the shores of Lake Batur.

We followed the advice given on the LP website for climbing Batur, at Penelokan we met an English woman who recommended a losman in Toyabunkah at 20,000 rp pp (incl. Breakfast) with cold water only and a flush toilet. The name of the losman was "Arlina's" and a young chap by the name of Yon Ariono is employed there. Yon speaks good english and is by all accounts a good guide. I should mention that a protocol occurs in the village and once booked in to a losman then you can only deal with their guides, better to hire your guide THEN book into a losman. Prices start at $50 US for the long tour (~6 hours) and less for the shorter ones. We got the long tour with the Arlina's guide at 75,000 rp pp after a looong bargaining session. Yon may be a better and more reasonable guide. You need not take a guide as you can just follow the line of lights up the mountain but we didn't mind the cost, preferring to have company. Other travellers suggest that 50,000 rp for the guide is the going rate but we never met anyone who paid this little.

Arlina's was good accom with good food although we were disappointed with the local delicacy - lake fish. The losman is near the original village hot springs and the whole village still goes down there to bathe. Tourists are allowed to use the springs but I wouldn't recommend immersing your head. Nearby a large hotel development has been completed but has suffered from the downturn in trade. In conjunction with this hotel a hot spring fed pool and spa attraction has been built on the site of the old tourist springs. Entry is $5 US although you can negotiate up to 3 entries for this price.

The long tour to Mt Batur consists of a 4 am start climbing up the mountain from the rear of the village. It is steep in places but relatively easy going, in one section it's a case of 2 steps forward one step back in the ash and fine scoria. For much of the climb it is through light vegetation and it's nice to look back and see the trail of torches coming up the mountain after you. We left the losman at 4.10 and got to the top at 5.40 without any great problems (climb of ~700 metres). We climbed with a French couple in their thirties who do a lot of trekking and the guide set a pace ideal for all of us. Torches are provided but better to take your own as the batteries in the loaners are usually quite flat. A Coca-Cola seller who offered drinks at every rest stop also accompanied us. He helped to steady Jill on some of the steeper stretches and we felt sorry that we didn't buy any drinks, so we gave him a couple of thousand rp at the top (I think that the cokes were 15,000 - 20,000 rp but didn't like to ask).

At the top are shelters where villagers have fires going and will brew tea for you - BE AWARE ask the price before having tea, they were trying to charge 10,000 rp for a small glass of tea. The guide then cooks you a hot banana sandwich over a steam vent as well as hard boiling eggs for you in the hot ground. This food is included in your tour price. From this point you may see Mt Rinjani in Lombok and on a really good day you can see Java.

After the sun has risen people on the short tour return to the village and the rest walk around the crater rim and over to the area of new activity. Along the route you can get good views of the lava flows and later ashfalls. Towards the end of this section is a scree slope run down an ash and rock covered slope - good fun but not a patch on the run at Mt Tarawera in NZ but perhaps I'm biased! After emptying your shoes of ash you continue around to an area of steaming ground overlooked by a ridge that has an open vent containing lava. As you descend down from the rim you will hear gas explosions from the lava some of which are very loud. In the immediate vicinity of the vent there is constant noise from the lava and it is possible to get very near to the vent (e.g. metres away). Great care should be taken here as the vent is merely an open hole in a thin crust and the crust can sag or break at any time. We saw several people risking their lives to get a photo of the lava, it isn't worth it as the heat given off by the lava prevents you from seeing much when you get too close. I should point out here that I'm a trained geologist experienced in working in acid thermal areas.

Steam eruptions occur frequently from other areas and we saw 2 good ones the day before we climbed and several small ones occurred whilst we were up there. By midday of the day of the climb steam activity had virtually ceased and from the outer crater wall you could only see the heat haze from the vent.

From the vent you then stroll back down to the road at Lake Batur where transport will collect you and take you back to the village (we arrived back at the hotel at 9.20). The long tour is advertised as ending at 10 00- 10.30 but we didn't feel rushed in any way.

You can also do a short tour directly from the road up to the vent. This involves little climbing and one couple reported that the vent was spectacular in the dark with flames shooting metres up into the air with each gas explosion. I don't know how much they charge for this tour.

Trips from Penelokan to Toyabunkah by local transport are 10,000 rp but they rise to 15,000 rp to return (it's uphill!) but if you book a shuttle trip then you don't have to pay for the transfer uphill.

Clothing needs for the trek are pretty basic. We wore joggers, T-shirts and shorts (the guides wear jandals - flipflops etc) and anoraks or warm jackets are needed until the sun comes up. A good idea is to throw another T-shirt in your bag to change into at the top as you can work up a good sweat climbing.

There are many other treks available within the greater crater area and guides are available for these.

IV Volcano trekking - Mt. Bromo, Java.

See part III for background info. All parts are archived at: -

http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~pincha/balitrip.htm

We checked out many tours to Mt Bromo (prices $175 US pp, $428 NZ pp, 1,900,000 rp pp, $200 US pp etc.) and eventually booked a tour with Riasta Tourist Services through 20 Tours and Travel in Jl Benesari opposite the Brasil Bali Café.

The cost of the tour was 180,000 rp pp. Which included return travel by shuttle (from Kuta), return ferry tickets, one nights accom. with breakfast at Bromo Homestay (equiv. to 10,000 rp) and transport to and from trek start point. Extras were "voluntary" donation (2,100 rp), 4wd (20,000 rp each way) or horse transport (15,000 rp each way) to and from the start point to the crater stairway.

We thoroughly enjoyed the trip, but there were drawbacks. Travel is by non-a/c buses in less than tiptop condition. The legroom is minimal on a crowded bus and comfort depends on the right seat selection. The bus leaves from Kuta but then travels to Ubud before returning halfway to Kuta and heading off to Gilimanuk (ferry port). This section of the trip takes approx. 4 hours. You leave the bus here and transfer with your luggage to the ferry. Best to use the toilets in the terminal, as the ferry toilets are a less than pleasant experience (this from one who has travelled extensively in Asia in the past!) The ferry leaves when it is full then sits in the stream waiting for the ferry at Ketapang to fill and leave, consequently a short ride stretches to over an hour.

At Ketapang you board another bus similar to the one in Bali and this gives you a chance to upgrade your seat - IF you're fast enough! You then travel for approx. 5 hours before stopping for 30 mins for dinner at a café. The food is much better here than expected and is very cheap. After dinner you continue on to Probolinngo and thence to Ngadisari giving a total travel time of 6.5 hours plus the dinner stop. Your arrival at Ngadisari will be around 10 - 11 pm depending on traffic. Bromo Homestay is no great shakes, sleepsheets are required as only a mattress, pillow and blanket is provided and there was no running water when we were there. Breakfast (after the trek) consisted of 2 slabs of toasted bread thickly smeared with jam along with a cup of tea or coffee. Another warning here DON'T pick the coffee, the tea at least is drinkable - extra jam toasted sandwiches are available at 4,500 rp each. For those on the tour an option is available to upgrade your accommodation but after 11-12 hours of travel and only 6 hours sleep available the incentive to look elsewhere is not great.

You are woken for the trek at 4 am and taken by bus up to the start point, but along the way the bus will be stopped and you will be required to pay the "voluntary contribution" of 2,100 rp. Another warning here, all change is given by "the other lady" whom you will never sight, so give the exact amount or accept the inevitable. At the start point you can negotiate the hire of 4wd transport, a horse or, as we did, walk (2-3 km). We didn't keep track of the time but we arrived at the top in plenty of time for the sunrise. You climb down the crater rim and then travel across the "sea of sand" (ash) to the base of the present cone. You then climb 200+ steps up to the crater rim to watch the sunrise. Hidden by the far wall of the crater is another, more active, volcano (Mt Semeru) that is in more or less constant eruption (approx. every 20 mins). We were fortunate to catch a large eruption from this right on dawn with an ashfall occurring away to the west. The walk is quite pleasant and requires only shorts and shirt, joggers may be worn but good walking sandals are OK. When you get to the top of the stairs it can be chilly so take a jacket or something warm to wrap up in (e.g. the blanket from the hotel). The trek is very popular with Indonesians, getting very crowded at times especially on festival days when locals climb down into the crater to catch money thrown by tourists.

A good series of photos of Mt Bromo (including the stairway) are archived here: -

http://www-gpi.physik.uni-karlsruhe.de/pub/ego/bromo.html

You can walk for quite a distance around the crater rim and the views are spectacular. You then walk or ride back to the start point where there are some shops. Prices here are reasonable compared to Bali (I think we paid 15,000 rp each for good Bromo T-shirts). Back at the hotel (?) breakfast is served and there is a little time available for looking around the village. Ngadisari, which is a cool climate market gardening area, has crops planted on all but the steepest slopes (~>75??). The trip back to the ferry port is much faster ~6 hours including a meal break.

If we did the trip again we would not purchase a tour but would pay as we go. A/C buses run from Denpasar to Probolinngo and food and water are included in the price. At Probolinngo you can hire transport up to Ngadisari and there you can select from a wide range of accom.

Having said all that, the trip was great as was the company we had although we are a generation older than most of the other travellers.

V Massages.

We started on our first morning with a visit to Milano's Salon in Kuta where we booked a Mandi Rempah at 60,000 rp each. This was everything it was said to be although a drawback was that we lost our "instant overnight tan" during the bodyscrub. We had to wait ~3 hours to have the massage because they were short of staff.

We moved on to Ubud after this and on a walk on our first day we came across a salon approx. one block past the Ubud market on Jl Raya. Massages here were 25,000 rp and whilst OK they were not up to the Milano standard. Later that afternoon we found another salon offering massages just down the road from our hotel (Pertiwi Bungalows). Massages here were 35,000 rp and were every bit as good as Milanos but there was no waiting. We ended up having several massages here and the name of the Salon was Maria's.

In Candidasa we had several massages at the hotel (Resort Prima) at a cost of 25,000 rp. The usual masseuses were a mother and daughter team with the mother being the better of the two.

Back at Kuta we had a massage each with mixed results in a salon in Jl Benesari near the intersection with Jl Legian. Jill thought hers was extremely good whereas mine was akin to rubbing on suntan lotion. I think these cost 25,000 rp, but drawbacks were the lack of privacy and also that the tables were jammed into corners which made it hard for the masseuses to do their job.

All in all I think that Milanos wins for consistency but if in Ubud I'd go to Maria's. Comparative prices are
                          Milano                        Maria
Facial                50,000 (1hr)                40,000 (1.5hr)
Pedicure            30-40,000                   20,000
Manicure            30-40,000                   20,000
Massage            50,000                        35,000
Mandi lulur         60,000                        45,000
Mandi susu         60,000                        50,000

I just remembered that we also had a couple of massages at Ahdi Dharma at 25,000 rp, OK but nothing memorable. On our last trip we had many massages on the beach but it's worth paying the extra to go to a salon.

VI  Hotels and Cafes.

Prices are per room unless otherwise stated.

Adhi Dharma Hotel, Kuta.
Pre-booked this hotel from NZ for the start and end of our stay. Our second time there and whilst a comfortable, reasonably priced hotel with good staff it has suffered recently with the economic downturn. When we arrived it was obvious that spending on maintenance and replacement of fittings had been put on hold. Bath towels, pool towels and pool furniture had all seen better days but happily on our return at the end of our trip we found that crews were at work sprucing up the grounds and replacing some of the furniture.
The hotel is popular with Aus and NZ family groups without being overrun by kids. Although on this trip we didn't use the hotel dining room it was popular with the other guests. The pool suffers by losing the sun early in the afternoon but you are allowed to use the pool at the Adhi Dharma Cottages. Although only a few minutes from Jl Legian the hotel is quiet in the evenings. The beach is about 10 mins or so away but a shuttle runs on request if needed.

We ate breakfast each morning at Brasil - Bali cafe in Jl Benesari for 4,500 rp pp, the staff there are excellent and lunch and dinner are good there as well although there is only a limited choice. A wider choice was found in the other direction (towards the beach) on Poppies II in cafes such as Cafe 69 and the others nearby. Cafe 69 is very popular and can be hard to find seats, gains points also for being one of the few places you can still buy Anchor and San Miguel beer. I think that the highest price we paid for a main meal in that area was 10,000 rp for chilli prawns. Most cafes here do not add tax on the bill and large beers are not usually more than 10,000 rp.

Across the road from the Adhi Dharma Hotel an Australian steakhouse has just opened (14/9/98) and they seemed to be getting good custom on the nights we passed. Next to them is Adrenalin Park which has reinstated its happy hours (L. beers 6,500 rp 4-8 pm) and cut the cost of bungie jumps to $29 US IIRC and they now seem to be getting customers again. Not sure of the cost of using the climbing wall - 15m high with overhang, apparently there is no other climbing in Bali although some of the rockfaces between Gilimanuk and Lovina looked interesting.

Pertiwi Bungalows, Ubud
Again we pre-booked this accommodation in NZ and they were very busy with mainly European customers. Only fan cooled rooms but A/C not really needed up there. Excellent hotel breakfasts and a good range of mains for other meals. We mainly tended to eat at cafes in Monkey Forrest Rd and were frequently the only customers such is the lack of tourists up there. Many people come for day visits and then head back down south. Others have mentioned the better cafes such as Cafe Luna etc. but good meals can also be had for reasonable prices at Gayatri Cafe and Cafe Dian. Whilst at Ubud we went the Bali Bird Park (65,000 rp pp), great place and also has 2 Komodo dragons. Two walk through aviaries and lots of other exhibits. One item of note was the work they were doing to save the endangered Bali Starling (~40 left in the wild) yet the next day we found one in a cage not far from our hotel! We were also fortunate to see several Bali Squirrels (supposedly rare) whilst having a drink at the Suspension Bridge Cafe.

Puri Bambu Hotel, Jimbaran Bay.
Fortunate to negotiate a good rate here for one night (250,000 rp), see earlier post on Jimbaran Bay. By far the cheapest accommodation at Jimbaran Bay is Nelayan Jimbaran Restaurant and Accommodation (the ISP hosting their website has folded so only tel and fax now 0361 702253), this place is very popular but still gives a good deal eg family villa 2b/r at 305,000 rp per night.

Bromo Homestay, Java
10,000 rp pp bed and breakfast enough said, arrive early and look for better place, see part IV.

Taman Lily's, Lovina
A lovely spot not far from the beach. 80,000 rp for b and b although felt that if we'd arrived earlier we could have got a better price.

Arlina's, Toyabungkah
Covered in part III, 40,000 rp for b and b.

Resort Prima, Candidasa
Undergoing restoration at present but negotiated a rate of 100,000 rp per night for A/C, pool, minibar, sat. TV and breakfast. Advertised std room rate was $30 US. Situated at the northern end of the beach with good snorkelling right in front of the hotel. Candidasa like Lovina is suffering badly with few tourists in evidence. Cafes are offering beer at 5,500 rp to try and attract what little custom there is. We virtually ate every meal in a different cafe to stop from feeling guilty. For anyone who wants solitude and no hassles this has got to be the place. The hotels are spread out along the beach and probably the best bet is to talk to one of the touts about what standard of accom you want. They seem to know what the going rates are and can save you a lot of walking.
 

VII  What not to forget, trivia and thanks.

1 The indispensable tool of all travellers the Swiss Army knife - if for nothing else you'll need one when the tear tab on
    your bottled water breaks. You'll also need it to trim the laces on your Nike ripoffs (they give you rugby bootlaces), and
    to fix the watch you bought the night before.
 2 Sense of humour and also a sense of proportion. Sometimes easy to forget these when you're asked for the umpteenth
    time if you want a bemo, T-shirt etc.
 3 A good torch, the wattage of the bulbs in your room is proportional to the stars your hotel has! Street lighting is also
    not good outside the main areas and we experienced several short power cuts in the north and east. You may also want
    to ensure that you've eaten every scrap of your candlelit meal at Jimbaran Bay.
  4 Either Lonely Planet guide or Moon Publications Guide to Indonesia if you intend getting off the beaten track.
  5 Less important but a small pair of binoculars can be handy for bird and wildlife watching in the mountains.

  Trivia
    Never had any problems with police when travelling although there seems to be more around than previously. Saw
    several tourists pulled over for road checks but never met anyone who'd suffered "instant fines".
    Observed large A/C tourist buses full of Japanese(?) escorted by police around the island, they're held in contempt by
    locals as they stop only briefly for photos and then move on back to their A/C hotels in the south contributing little to the
     local economy.
    No medical problems (bali belly etc) and we ate anywhere that looked good, at times we would be their only customers .

    We'll miss REAL tomatoes, the people and the warmth.

    Finally a big thank you to Bali Villas for hosting the Bali Travel Forum and for all the posters out there who helped us to
    plan and enjoy a tremendous holiday. We're already planning what we intend to do next time - hopefully a trip to Kawah
    Iijen and Yogyakarta in Java and maybe R and R on the Gili Is.
 
 



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