We spent 4 nights in Ubud, having travelled over from Lombok via air. We had arranged a pickup from Denpasar, a useful move because the price is set at 25,000Rp by the Ubud tourism group anyway and it means we didn’t have to deal with the taxi touts out the front. It took about an hour to Ubud and we were pleased to see that Bali has progressed somewhat since our last visit (which was probably 20 years ago).
We checked into the Sri Bungalows, happy with the standard of the rooms and delighted with the gardens and surrounds. The rooms are arranged in blocks of 4, 2 up 2 down and are well appointed, although the absence of a TV is rather strange. We had enough time in the afternoon for a walk up and down Monkey Forest St, one of the main shopping and eating areas.
On our return after dinner, we found the room hot and stuffy because the AC was off, indicating that the power had failed. We restarted it, but 15 minutes later, the power failed again. It was only off for a minute, just enough to be a nuisance and to turn the AC off. On checking, we found it was only our block of 4 rooms effected. The staff suggested that we had too many things on charge (eg more than 1 laptop). However, it still happened when we had nothing at all plugged in. The prospect of waking up every 15 minutes to turn the AC back on didn’t appeal so we insisted on moving rooms.
The new room was bigger and better laid out so we were happy at first. However, once in bed, the appalling softness of the bed became apparent. We both thought we were going to roll out. I moved to the single bed and that helped a bit but we had a very bad night’s sleep and I woke with a sore back.
After breakfast at Sri Bungalows (basic but good), we set off to find a new hotel. The Internet suggested the Komenka but it was too pricey for us. In the end, chose the Cinta Grill and Inn, swayed by the magnificent room right on the pool deck and the friendliness of the staff. This became our home for the next three nights and we loved every minute, but most especially the amazing breakfasts.
A rather than the usual breakfast buffet included with hotel stays, Cinta allows a choice off the Al-a-carte menu. Each offering is a culinary creation. Eggs benedict are presented on a choice of home baked muffins or toasted sough-dough bread and the choice is always very difficult. Juices are freshly squeezed and such delicacies as black rice pudding or special granola and yoghurt tempt. A lot of the local tours start off with an early pick-up and breakfast at Kintamani overlooking the volcano but that just means you have to have two breakfasts because nothing would enduce us to skip the one at Cinta.
One day, we took a cycling tour with Jegeg Bali Bike Tours (www.jegegbalicycling.com)
owner, Nyoman, for the day and having so many details of Balinese culture and life explained. We were picked up early for a trip up to a breakfast at Kintamani. Along the way, we stopped at a coffee plantation for an explanation of the coffee growing and making process and a tour of the gardens, growing all the local foods and spices. We found it really informative and we got to taste some truly wonderful coffees. Among them was the famous Coffee Lumak, made by recovering coffee beans from the dung of a civet (a mongoose-like forest animal). Understandably, this coffee is rather expensive, so much so that many Balinese say they have never tasted it. However, we did not feel that the taste warranted the expense.
The breakfast at Kintamani was of average quality but the wonderful view of the volcanic craters and lake of Mount Batur. Besides the grandeur of the view, there is always something special about looking at an active volcano.
Our bikes were of very good quality, being almost new. Nyoman used to work for a much larger company but has now started his own, employing his family. It is a very smooth operation. Nyoman led us along the way, indicating clearly where we had to go, stopping occasionally to describe sights or features and to give some insight into local lifestyles.
We passed through villages and rice terraces, learning about the temples we passed and the cycle of the rice growing. As we entered or left a busy road, one of Nyoman’s brothers always appeared to direct us and hold back traffic to ensure our safety. We felt like royalty.
We stopped off at a village elementary school for a while. The children were friendly and some spoke a few phrases of English with us. It was the end of the day and the school bus soon appeared to sprit them all away. The classrooms were very basic, with around 40 students and few signs of any equipment to support learning.
The final destination was Nyoman’s family Kampong for lunch. A sumptuous meal had been prepared by his sister-in-law. It was absolutely delicious food, especially with our hunger stimulated by the bike ride. Nyoman joined us for the meal and we continued to learn much about family life and values in Bali. This was a really great day and a tour to be recommended, both for the activity and the knowledge gained. Thanks Nyoman for a wonderful day.
Another wonderful tour was taken with Paon Bali Cooking Class (paon-bali.com). We have taken other cooking classes in Vietnam and these have always been just us and a cook. This was different, being a group of around 14 but it was still a really fun experience. As with all cooking tours, the morning started with a trip to the local market to explain all the local ingredients. For us, it was a confirmation of what we already knew but it was also an insight into just what the fertile soils and climate of Bali will actually grow. The range is amazing.
The cooking was done at the family house and we were again treated to further insight into Balinese life. Each house has a temple, a meeting area, living areas and special accommodation for the senior couple. Each compound may have more than 15 people living in it, all with obligations and duties to the family. The obligation is taken very seriously.
We were all organised into cooking teams and worked together to prepare an 8 course meal. The main “basic curry sauce” underpinned much cooking, as did the peanut sauce. The result was truly delicious.
Ubud itself is a most relaxing place. The laid back approach and lack of hard selling is a real bonus. One gets quite tired of working with hard selling market types. You still need to be prepared to bargain down a price but it is all done in a wonderful spirit of mutual fun and the result is never too hard on the pocket. As a culinary experience, Ubud doesn’t quite rate with Vietnam or Singapore but some well priced eats can be found easily. The climate is better too, with the temperature a little cooler than down on the coast. A good place for a rest.