Days 215-216: A Bale of Our Own

A Balinese bale (pronounced ball-ay) is a raised, open-air pavilion with a roof. This is where Michael and I spent most of our last two days in Bali. The Conrad hotel on the Tanjong Benoa peninsula in south Bali is situated on one of the nicest stretches of beach in all of Bali. Their beachside bales are lined with royal blue cushions and pillows and are serviced by attentive waiters who bring water, cool hand towels, and a water mister as soon as you sit down. On both days we arrived shortly after breakfast and stayed until early afternoon, ordering lunch off of the poolside menu. It was the definition of relaxation. We lounged, armed with books and music with sunlight filtering in through the thatched roof and crashing waves as background noise.

Relaxing in our Bale

Bales along the Beach

Water Sports and Distant Storms

Since we had a late return flight, Michael and I were able to swing by Uluwatu on our way to the airport to watch the sunset. The sunset was amazing but this tourist site seemed to be more about the monkeys than the view. After my previous encounter with a sneaky monkey we were sure to secure our possessions prior to leaving the car. Others were not as lucky. In a matter of 60 seconds we witnessed three snatchings by three monkeys. First, a woman had her glasses torn from her face. Next, her male companion had his hat swiped off of his head. Finally, another female member of the same tour group had a pearl earring pulled from her ear. Nearby locals used fruit to negotiate with the monkeys and get the belongings back, but not before they had been thoroughly examined and chewed. We snapped some photos and sped back to the car to avoid becoming victims of the sneaky monkeys.

Stand too close to the railing and your stuff will get snatched!

Taking a break from thievery

It was a quick but full 4 days in Bali. The island has quickly become one of my favorite places to visit as it’s so full of culture, beauty, and incredibly kind and interesting people.

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Day 214: Enjoying Ubud

For our first two nights in Bali we stayed in Ubud at the Komaneka Rasa Sayang hotel… it was wonderful! The hotel was new, clean, modern, and the customer service was some of the best I’ve ever experienced. They gave us a welcome gift, a surprise birthday cake for me, and taught Michael how to use a motorbike (after getting us a one-day rental for just $7). And the best part was that this property is located right in the middle of Ubud town on Monkey Forest Road, walking distance to both the actual monkey forest and Ubud Palace.

They must have snooped my birthday from my passport at check-in. Surprise cake!

We spent one morning walking around the Sacred Monkey Forest taking photos. This place was chock full of monkeys! It’s home to more than 300 long-tailed macaques that belong to four distinct families. We were there for maybe 5 minutes when I felt 20 cool little monkey fingers climbing my bare leg and reaching into my purse. I shook the would-be thief off before he was able to find anything worth steeling, and got a hiss and a dirty look in exchange for my interrupting his search. This was an uneventful encounter compared to what we would see at Uluwatu two nights later.

Sleepy Momma in the trees

Baby monkey! Wishing he were riding backwards on a pig, no doubt.

The next morning was spent exploring the area around Ubud on our rented motorbike. We visited the rice terraces in Tegallalang and shopped on the street leading back to Ubud where wholesalers make their purchases. This was done mostly in the rain, but it didn’t lessen our enjoyment at all. In fact, it was pretty fun! We were soaked when we returned to the hotel so decided to take advantage of the spa facilities. After glorious couples massage we headed to south Bali for the last part of our trip.

Before our Motorbike Adventure

Bali’s beaches are nice, but its cultural heart resides in Ubud. It’s here where you’ll find the best handmade crafts, the best gamelan troupes, and the best traditional dancers. Ubud in central Bali is a part of the island not to be missed.

Rainy Rice Terraces

Day 213: Traditional Balinese Dance

When I visited Bali with my friend Megan in September we caught a quick performance of a traditional Balinese dance while eating dinner at our resort. I was so intrigued that I sought out another performance on my next trip. Michael went along to humor me (“Sure Cass, of course I’d like to see a dance performance. Sounds almost as cool as Muay Thai boxing.”), but even he was impressed.

There’s something about the gamelan music, elaborate dress, and the dancers’ movements that take you to another place. We went to see the evening performance at Ubud Palace and enjoyed a series of dances, each telling a different story. I had my camera ready this time and was able to capture some photographs that will always help me remember that enchanting night. Here are some of my favorites!

Day 213: Bali Eco Cycling, More Than a Bike Tour

Since Michael and I covered a lot of ground in our quick trip to Bali, I’m going to do a series of posts instead of just one. First up is a bike tour we took with Bali Eco Cycling. Surprisingly, this was just as much a cultural tour as it was a cycling trip and we learned a great deal about local Balinese customs. The tour started with breakfast at the top of Mt. Batur, an active volcano in northeast Bali overlooking a crater lake. We weren’t able to fully appreciate the view due to the fog, but were able to catch a glimpse of the lake and the perch fisheries that dotted its shores.

Mt. Batur: More Fog

Mt. Batur: Less Fog

After breakfast our group of 10 was carted to a Kopi Luwak (civet coffee) plantation, home to one of the most expensive coffees in the world. The coffee is made by feeding ripe coffee beans to the civet cat, collecting the beans from the cat’s excrement, thoroughly washing, drying, and then lightly roasting the beans. The enzymes in the cat’s stomach supposedly do something magical to the beans that make them irresistibly delicious. So delicious, in fact, that people shell out more than $160 for a pound of them. Our guide jokingly offered us a taste of the famed “Cat-Poo-Chino” and we kindly declined.

Civet

Cassie helping roast Kopi Luwak

After several members of our group sampled the cat crap coffee, we were finally off for the cycling part of our tour. We started near the summit of Mt. Batur and made our way down through several small villages and hillside rice terraces. At each village kids would come running from their family compound for high-fives, nearly throwing this clumsy rider off-balance. We stopped at one traditional family compound for a look around. Our guide, Frodo Jo, explained the layout. A short wall surrounds the entire compound, and there’s just one entrance to the main road. About 4 feet directly behind this entrance there is another short wall, just slightly larger than the entrance. Balinese believe that evil spirits cannot turn corners, and this wall requires all who enter to immediately turn a corner, thus keeping evil spirits at bay. Inside the compound there are sleeping quarters for each family and a kitchen for each family. Up to 4 families may live in the large family compound. A temple is located in the northeast corner facing the mountains and the sunrise and is used for religious ceremonies and ancestor worship.

A few kilometers later we rode through a village that was in the midst of celebrations for a royal cremation. There was a 25-foot funeral tower in the center of the village being prepared to transport the deceased’s body throughout the town for the funeral procession. We continued on and just outside the village we rode past a decorated bull sarcophagus. Once both the funeral tower and sarcophagus reach the village temple the body would be placed inside the bull and set alight, completing the cremation. Unlike the average westerner, Balinese believe the cremation is a joyful time when the deceased’s soul is released from the body to go to heaven and eventually to be reincarnated. The celebrations were certainly more festive than any funeral I’ve ever attended.

Funeral Tower

Bull Sarcophagus

We stopped one last time before the conclusion of our tour, this time to trek through the rice terraces to a small clearing where local villagers were harvesting a mature crop of rice. It was a muddy trek along the edges of the elaborately formed terraces and bamboo irrigation tracts, but was well worth it. The women let us take turns thrashing the rice stalks against a bamboo rail to release the grains. It was amazing how much rice came out with that first whack! Similar to Sapa, the rice terraces in Bali were the most vibrant shades of green.

Rice Terraces

Cassie at Work

Michael at Work

The tour ended with a traditional Balinese feast over which our group of Dutch, French Canadian, Australian, and Wisconsinite tourists shared stories of travel in Bali and beyond. The tour may not have been as much exercise as we had anticipated since it was mostly downhill riding, but it was so much more informative than we ever could have imagined. Our guide was incredibly patient with the group’s many questions about local culture and incredibly knowledgeable about all things Bali. It’s definitely a tour we would recommend.

Photos from this trip to Bali, including the bike tour, are HERE!

Days 100–104: Megan in SE Asia Part I, Bali and Singapore

At the end of September Michael and I welcomed our final visitor to Singapore, as we’ll (most likely) be moving to Europe soon after the holidays. Megan arrived from Chicago after a summer filled with long hours at the office and weddings spread throughout the Midwest. She needed a break from it all and requested a relaxing itinerary. I was more than happy to oblige. We spent two weeks doing little more than laying by the ocean, reading, eating, and getting massages. It was bliss!

Jetty into the Indian Ocean

One day of visiting tourist sights in Singapore was followed by five days at the Laguna Resort and Spa in Nusa Dua, Bali. We didn’t leave the resort on our first day, opting instead to sample the resort’s restaurants for lunch and dinner and explore the expansive pool and beach area. At dinner we were treated to Balinese traditional dance accompanied by a gamelan troupe. The music was haunting and the dancing was mesmerizing. Elaborate costumes accompanied the dance that was as much about the shifting movement of the dancers’ eyes as the jerky movement of their bodies.

Traditional Balinese dancers

Our second day on the island was more of the same (food & beach) with a couple of new elements added in for variety (shopping & massages). On our third day Meg and I broke from our relaxation routine to explore Ubud, Bali’s cultural center located an hour and a half inland from our hotel. Ubud is filled with charming cafes overlooking rice terraces and shops selling all manner of local handicrafts. Wooden carvings, mosaic glass plates, stone sculptures, and batik sarongs had the strongest presence in the shops lining Monkey Forest Road. We both ended up with some unique souvenirs to take home.

At a traditional Balinese home "compound" on the way to Ubud

The Balinese are incredibly friendly and many spoke excellent English. More than a few times we were asked where we were from and how long we were staying. Our answer of “just five days” elicited cries of disappointment and pleas to stay longer. The locals seemed proud of Bali’s reputation as an exceptional holiday destination.

An offering on the sidewalk - the locals are very spiritual!

Back in Singapore for just a day, I took Megan to The Chocolate Bar at the top of the Marina Bay Sands resort and casino. Our outdoor table gave us a great view of the Singapore skyline while we indulged in three trips each to the all-you-can-eat chocolate buffet. My favorite treat was the green tea and white chocolate tiramisu… heavenly! A close second was a raspberry cake topped with gold leaf. We then retired early to prepare for Part II of Megan’s trip: Thailand!

Chocolate Bar plate #1