Bali Ha’i is Calling: Ubud, Monkey Forest, Jimbaran and the Dream of Bali
One of my all time favorite childhood memories was watching South Pacific with my grandmother. Every summer when we would go visit she and I would make time to watch it, no matter how many times everyone else moaned and groaned about us watching it again. I figure that’s where my love of musicals first started, well that and Disney. But ever since I was little, Bali Ha’i had wrapped its fingers around me and never let go. I wanted to find the special island of paradise and see it with my own eyes. So you can understand my excitement when the opportunity to go to Bali came up that I more than jumped at it. I prepared! Digital version of the movie? check. Sound track download on to my IPod? check. No matter how I arrived to Bali I would be welcomed by Bloody Mary singing “Bali Ha’i” to the sexy Lt. Cable. My plan was set; my family was actually game for it as well. As we sailed from Gili Air across the brilliant blue waters, off in the distance an outline appeared and the island of Bali formed into view. The sounds of Bali Ha’i serenaded us as we grew ever closer until finally I stepped foot on to Bali herself.
I was so excited to be on Bali that I didn’t mind that the one hour boat ride actually took almost three hours, or that the one hour drive to Ubud, our first stop on the island, was actually an hour and a half winding ride shoved in the back of a hot and crowded mini bus. I would mind later when the sea and road sickness finally caught up to me, but that’s another story.
Ubud is the art and cultural center of Bali. It is home to the royal place, temples, the Monkey Forest and major shopping.
Entrance to our bungalow hotel.
The island of Bali, is where the majority of Indonesia’s Hindu population lives and it is evident everywhere. Small offerings are scattered throughout the city streets so watch where you step. Statues of Hindu gods and deities can appear anywhere and are often decorated with a black and white checkered cloth and either real or fake flowers.
Monkey Forest…what can you say about a jungle full of monkeys that will jump on you at any moment? Did a monkey jump on me you ask? Yes, and I may have screamed and flung him off. In my defense he came at me from behind and all the sudden this heavy thing was on my back with its creepy human like hands holding on to my arm. This slight trauma may have tainted my view on these cute when they’re small but look like old men when they’re older creatures. But they are really cute when they’re babies! Basically Monkey Forest is an area with nice wondering paths that allow you to venture through the jungle where monkeys have free reign. There are men stationed throughout that have cages full of food that you can feed the monkeys, along with a bunch of tourists trying to get pictures of their loved ones with a monkey on their shoulder. I was not one of those. I don’t mind them from a far but I won’t be volunteering to have one crawl all over me, thanks.
These sneaky guys have been known to steal pretty much anything they can grab, including cameras, watches, sunglasses and handbags. Bali is currently battling a rabies outbreak so it’s very important to limit your interactions with these guys as much as possible.
Ubud is also the place to go for traditional Balinese dance. The elaborate costumes and hand movements define this style of dance, and creates quite the show. Most hotels will help you get tickets or you could simply walk to any sidewalk corner and by tickets from one of the many people pushing fliers under your nose.
Shopping in Ubud is an experience. First you have to figure out what kind of shopping you want to do, do you want to barter and see how low you can get something for? Or do you prefer a set price in a little boutique show where no one is hounding you? Both have their merits. There are tons of both kinds of shopping in Ubud, large indoor markets allow you to barter to your heart’s content while the main streets host endless shops to pop into for a quick AC blast.
The Art of Bartering: I have learned how to barter; the trick is to not show any signs that you actually like the item. Go in with the attitude that you will simply walk away, because yes it’s nice but it’s not exactly what you want. Find some reason as to why you shouldn’t get it and tell the seller that you’ll think about it. They don’t want you to think about it because you’ll talk yourself out of it or buy it somewhere else. The more you try to walk away the lower the price they’ll offer. Usually they pull the “what do you want to pay?” card, this can be tricky. How much you offer is usually dependent on what country and city you’re in. Usually you cut what they’re offering in half, never offer what you actually want to pay for it. Going lower allows you to negotiate. Know what you are willing to pay and get as close to it as possible. Again try walking away, it never hurts. I recommend practicing on something you actually don’t care about; you’ll be surprised at how low you can get them to go. You will most likely also be surprised at how much they’ll go through to sell something. Follow you down the street? Yes. Offer it at a ridiculously low price? Yes!
No trip to Bali is complete without a visit to Kuta, the world famous beach. This is where it all started for tourists. Miles of white coral beach meet blue waters that are warmed by the kiss of an always gold sun. Surfers gather to show what they’ve got, newbie’s take a first step on the board and hawkers will sell you anything from beer to sarongs. The waters not deep so if surfing is not your cup of tea you can walk for miles cooling your feet in the crashing warm waves.
After you’ve had your fill of the beach simply cross the street to find a shoppers dream. Kutas shopping district is huge, almost as big as the beach. Any kind of shop you can think of is here, from brand names to small hole in the walls. Kuta has it all. Rows of restaurants line the streets; this is a place where Starbucks and The Coffee Bean live side by side (True story).
South of the famous Kuta beach is Jimbaran, a slower paced beach town full of hidden resorts and endless beaches. A taxi can drive you to the southern drop of Bali for a different kind of Bali experience. This area is home to the stunning Rock Bar, one of the most breathtaking outdoor bars I've ever seen. Situated on the cliff side this posh bar comes with a posh dress code and drink prices to match. The dress code is strictly enforced, they turned away one of the members in our group as he was wearing swim trunks and flip flops, so check the site before you make the journey over. If the walk down the 100 something stairs tires you out there is a cable tram that will take you back up, as long as the line doesn't scare you away.
I don't think you can really ever get enough Bali in your life. I have been several times (it was a cheap and fast flight from where I was living on Java) and still there is so much I haven't seen. Also if you haven’t seen South Pacific and have a couple hours to kill go watch it. The dramatic sky colors may take a bit to get used to but it has some very important themes that are still true today.
If you're interested in renting a motorbike while in Bali check out this blog by Mariella over at Set Me Free Financially. She has a great post about the do's and don'ts of driving in Bali. From personal experience I can tell you driving in Indonesia and South East Asia in general can be dangerous for foreigners if you don't know the rules.
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This was originally written for my old blog but has been updated.