Singapore and Bali: Beer, Bugs and a Taste of Real Asia

With the first few days of jet lag under my belt, I didn’t have long to adjust before I was back on a plane ready to head to Bali! Indonesia was my first experience of a country that wouldn’t be considered developed and my first trip into the Southern hemisphere! While Bali is a very tourist-driven island, we made sure to delve deeper and get away from the clubbing and surf scene while we were there. Prepare for an extremely long post!

Day Four – A Taste of Real Asia

Woke up ready to shut my case for Bali! We spent the morning before our flight in Orchard, the very centre of Singapore. It’s home to all the sickeningly expensive shops like Louis Vuitton and Prada. Instead of breaking our nose cartilage up against the windows (because I absolutely went to Asia to shop, right?) we opted for the far more reasonably priced bubble tea then sandwiches in a little cafe round the corner.
I’d never had bubble tea before. The pearls are a peculiar taste, and it helped to have a chocolate flavoured drink with them to get used to them because their texture ended up reminding me a lot of marshmallows. We wandered into a supermarket soon after which was both familiar and very foreign. The layout was exactly what you’d expect in a standard shop but everything was decked out for Chinese New Year and it was selling things like beehive egg rolls and bird’s nest soup. Chinese music played from the speakers and I can say with authority I saw a lot more fish heads than I’ve ever seen in a Tesco back home.
Before I knew it, I was on a Qatar Airways flight to Indonesia. We flew straight over the volcanoes and mountains before swinging around to land at Ngurah Rai. If I didn’t think I’d have been tackled by a flight attendant, I would have risked getting snaps of the view from above because I’ve never seen and island quite that lush, green and (generally) unspoilt. This was my first time in an impoverished country and it showed even at the airport. Our landing was substantially bumpier than our take off and the airport infrastructure felt neglected.
The concept of paying for a visa was very alien to me but I dutifully handed over my $25USD and got the sticker to authenticate my entry. I can’t even begin to fathom how much the government makes even per day. Couple that with the 150,000IDR you pay to leave the country and you’ve got a very steady cash flow!

We met with our airport transfer and off we went to Ubud. Kate and Carolyn were out like lights but I spent a long time soaking up the culture along the road. At every street corner there seemed to be a statue. At every threshold, an ornate gate. From time to time, I saw little stalls selling poor quality petrol and small slums set up against billboards or the sides of buildings, but there wasn’t long to focus on them as mopeds would slip glaringly close to the taxi and weave in and out of cars. Honestly, I have never seen worse driving in my entire life. I wouldn’t dream of renting a car on that island!
As we left Denpasar, the quickly thrown together concrete structures gave way to wide, open rice paddies. The sun had fallen far below the horizon and I will confess to drifting off myself, if only for a short while. I had done my level best to avoid it because I wanted to soak up as much of this new culture as possible but I couldn’t manage it once we’d left the urban area and were plunged into darkness.
Ani’s Villas had a sign outside that said “we are renovation” but the staff were very hospitable and helped us with our cases up and down many flights of stairs. They took a lot of pride in their accommodation and I loved that they had lain hand picked hibiscus flowers from the garden on the beds. We were struck to find that while the villa had a flat screen TV and WiFi, it also had an open roof which would let any bugs who wished to visit us during the night so I was glad to see the bed had mosquito nets!

Before we got too settled, we found the nearest ATM to get money out and grabbed large bottles of water and snacks from a big supermarket. While there is running water, it isn’t safe to drink. The 2Ls each would stay in the villa and be used to keep us hydrated and to brush our teeth. No substantial air conditioning in our villa though, so we were left to sweat it out in the extremely humid jungle.

Day Five – Get Up, We’re Climbing A Volcano

The one benefit of the lingering effects of jet lag is that when you’re informed you’ll have to wake at 2am to be driven to the base of an active volcano, it isn’t in the slightest bit daunting (sort of). We sat outside the entrance to Ani’s Villas and watched a little bat circle in the air while we waited to be picked up by the minibus that would take us to Mount Batur, north-east of Ubud. As some of the last people to be picked up in the group, we didn’t have to wait long before we were on our way.

The further from Ubud we travelled, the worse the roads became. Between the potholes and bright flashes from a thunderstorm we were thankfully leaving behind, not a lot of shut eye was had. At 4am, we reached the car park and provisions were handed out – water and torches. I visited possibly the most horrendously kept toilet I’ve ever experienced. As with most Asian toilets, there’s a distinct absence of toilet paper, but this toilet was also open air and had a flush mechanism that involved pouring water into the bowl from a big tub that sat beside it until something happened. The only saving grace was the nail in the back of the door to keep my camera bag from touching the damp, mud-stained (I hope) floor.

The climb began on a sandy earth which I cleverly managed to kick into my shoes within five minutes. Gradually the ground became rockier with red scoria and tougher to climb. There were loose rocks and you could easily have twisted your ankle if you weren’t watching your footing. In certain areas, the rocks acted as steep steps, and the climb was made all the more tough by the lack of light.

Our guides were kind and allowed us to stop as often as we needed. They handed out almond chocolate bars called Silver Queen halfway to the top. I struggled towards the end, bringing all my camera equipment with me as well as a splitting headache which was likely due to a bit of dehydration. When I attempted to stop for water, a local grabbed my hand and pulled me along with him. It turned out he was a popup salesman and tried to get me agree to buy a coke from him at the top. When I tried to explain that it just wasn’t going to happen – “I have water, I don’t drink coke, seriously, I have an ample supply water. I’m good.” – he abandoned me to help a struggling Australian instead. I spent the rest of the hike wearing a wry smug.

Bali remained shrouded in darkness until we reached the summit. Light gave way to a concrete hut selling teas, coffees and snacks. We walked on a little way further to a smaller, more secluded hut which was far supirior due to the two puppies that roamed around it. Benches were propped inside by a table for breakfast and outside by the edge of the crater for the view. We happened to be surrounded by fog (which is what we get for coming to Bali in the wet season!) so the view wasn’t quite what we had expected but at least we can say we climbed an active volcano!
Did you know puppies are endemic to Indonesian volcano craters?
We were given a choice of tea, coffee or hot chocolate and asked to come into the hut where it was more protected from the elements. My tea (and most drinks in Bali) was served in a sturdy glass stein. We got to know our group while breakfast was being prepared – a few of Australians, a couple from Hong Kong, an American and more. Our guide seemed very humble when presenting our breakfast – hard boiled eggs and banana and nutella sandwiches – but honestly, I was just severely impressed that they had managed to carry what must have been two dozen eggs up a volcano without breaking them!
After we had tucked in, our guide took us to the crater and explained the history of the volcano, its original height and past eruptions. We were taken a little way down into the crater to feel the warmth coming from fumaroles. An incense stick had been planted in the ground beside an offering so a sweet smell floated around us as we warmed our hands using the Earth’s heat. Further along we were shown a bat cave which also contained a very small, modest temple somewhere deep inside.
Visibility was much improved by the time we began our descent. As usual, I found going down far easier – to date I have never slipped while hiking. Kate and I befriended a local around our age who was permanently smiling and sang Pink the entire way down. I don’t think I’ll be able to hear ‘Just Give Me A Reason’ ever again without thinking of her. Pink’s English was good, but she mistook sick for hurt a lot, which was cute.
As we cleared the mist above us, Bali in the daylight was finally revealed. Wetlands spread for miles, with Lake Batur gleaming in the distance. Only black streak marred the landscape – lava from a previous eruption. I imagine the view from the crater must be incredible, but we really did just turn up at the wrong time of year!
We passed through rice paddies and farm land on our way back down, where local Balinese people, wearing conical straw hats, were harvesting rice. It was beautiful first experience of Bali in the daytime.
Back at basecamp, we hopped back into the minibus and drove on to Bayung Bagus, a coffee plantation and cafe that specialises in kopi luwak or civet coffee. Asian palm civets love to eat coffee berries, and they end up excreting the leftover coffee beans. Some poor person then washes the beans and grinds them into what has become the most expensive coffee on the planet.
We saw a civet in a spacious (though it has to be said rather uncomfortable looking) cage which the plantation had on display for tourists. The plantation used wild civets for its coffee, but there is a horrible battery cage trade going on in Southeast Asia which is little known. We sat at the outdoor cafe, where you could try kopi luwak for a pound, and were also given free samples of the other teas and coffees they made.
Left to right: Ginseng Tea, Ginger Tea, Lemongrass Tea
Candle, Chocolate Coffee, Cocoa (not sweet!), Bali Coffee
We were hounded by flies on the drive back that were wholly more adventurous than their European cousins and quite unafraid of a hand trying to waft them away. We seemed to pass a million and one woodwork shops with the most ornate and frankly excessively large figurines and statues. I can only assume they’re made for the rest of the island and to be imported to shops elsewhere. Each shop showed massive talent though, and from time to time you would see woodcarvers at work on the side of the road.
It began to pour buckets upon buckets as we got closer to Ubud, and it was then I realised the true importance of successful drainage in a place like Bali. All water flowed off shop entrances down into open guttering which drained further down into built up fields behind the road. The fields acted like steps which the water travelled down stage by stage. It was quite beautiful and ingenious to see. I wish I could have got it on camera!
We were dropped back at Ani’s Villas at 12pm and paid just £22 pounds for our adventure that morning. Incredible considering we were transported to the north of the island, climbed a volcano with local guides, were supplied with free water, chocolate bars and torches, had breakfast which included teas and coffees, were given a guided tour of the crater, went to a coffee plantation, received free samples of their drinks and were then transported back to our villa. Anywhere else and we’d be paying a small fortune, but Bali continued to amaze me with its low prices.
Covered in ash, sand and germs at this point, we each took turns to have quick showers and have well-earned naps. We took a ‘taksi’ to a restaurant in Ubud that was recommended to us. I watched the Balinese world go by (which included a lot of mopeds and stray dogs) while eating the most succulent tuna steak I’ve ever had in my life. We moved on to a bar on a green and watched the sunset turn the clouds pink.
With a bottle of beer picked up from a local supermarket, we sat back at Ani’s villa overlooking the pool and spotted geckos and jumped when a frog decided to pay us a visit, before jumping off the two foot high veranda and landing with a suspicious splat on the ground.
I’ll let you in on a secret. I don’t really like moths. They make me feel squicky and I’m sort of okay when they’re resting but freak out when they fly near me. When I found one quietly resting inside the top of my mosquito net (how did it even get in?!), I quietly and calmly backed away and made Kate deal with it. She shook the net and it wouldn’t let go so she shook harder and thEN A MAGGOT BURST FROM ITS BACK SO IT FELL ON MY BED. Kate knocked it onto the floor and scooped it up and away while I had noped away. I think it must have been one of those ones that get infected and controlled by parasites. Urrrrgh. It did however make a reappearance the following morning where I got this shot. Thank you very much, open roof.

Blergh.

Day Six – An Elephant Never Forgets

Despite not seeing a single guest the day before, Ani’s Villas had clearly filled up overnight. We were unable to be seated in the regular dining area for our breakfast and instead we placed our orders and headed back up to the table in our villa where we’d be eating. Our view was of the river gorge and on the other side of the brown water was a temple that was undergoing renovation. We watched a man and a woman in peak physical condition shovel sand off trucks, only taking a break when they swapped arms. We watched a man climb straight up onto a roof. We watched another man throw roof tiles up to this guy who caught them perfectly.
Typically workers go from 6 til 6, 7 days a week, resting only in the hottest part of the day and all for very little money. All three of us had a moment of recognising how lucky we were to be sitting on the side of the river we were on, waiting to be served breakfast. My breakfast was an incredible plate of scrambled eggs with peppers and onions while Kate and Carolyn had green pancakes – a specialty of Bali. We also got fresh fruit salad as well and a choice of tea or coffee. Delicious.
We checked out after breakfast, sad to leave our little villa (but glad to be rid of the bugs), having paid what worked out to be £11/night. We bartered with a cabby we met the day before last to take us to Goa Gajah and wait until we were done so we wouldn’t be stranded. He also agreed to take us to Seminyak later that day.
Goa Gajah or the Elephant Cave (named for Ganesh) is an 11th century temple that was excavated back in the early 1900s. It’s somewhat of a tourist trap and as you buy your ticket to enter the grounds, you’re hounded by salespeople trying to tell sarongs, which are required to be worn as a sign of respect. Bare legs are seen to be disrespectful and I imagine that catches a fair few visitors out. Carolyn was wise to this and made sure we had a sarong each before we left Singapore.
It was pretty hot when we got down into the grounds. A woman sold us salak or snake-skin fruit. The skin is peeled and the fruit’s texture reminded me of garlic but it had a crunchy and sharp taste that reminded me of apples. We walked round to see the front of the temple and look at the bathing pools and were almost immediately pounced on by a man offering to do tours who guilt tripped us into one by explaining that he slept on the grounds and sent money back to his children. Whether that was true is another matter…
However, he gave a very informative tour! Inside the modest temple, we learnt that the hugely colourful offerings we had been seeing were for the start of the new lunar calendar and the alcoves within the entrance were used for meditation outside of tourism hours. We passed holy men performing rituals beside the temple, which was one of the things I loved about Bali. It didn’t matter where you were – it could be a temple like Goa Gajah or just a cafe – but someone will still light incense and conduct a prayer.
We saw the pool of holy water behind huts near the temple, which was protected and wasn’t to be touched. Further on, we came to a rice paddy and walked across a concrete divider to look at the traditional wood carving stalls. From there we went exploring down by the river where an earthquake had unceremoniously thrown an old temple off the top of a waterfall. The ruins were still there but we would never have known (or gone wading) to see that the great slabs of stone in the river were in fact that, if it wasn’t for this friendly man who pointed it out to us.
Many people were sat beside the waterfall meditating which looked extremely peaceful too, though I’d imagine it would be far preferable to find a less populated location. Carolyn bought half a dozen salak to take to Seminyak and back in the main area we made sure to be blessed by running our hands under the water flowing from the statues before we left.
We wended our way back up to meet our taxi driver and had a spot of lunch in Ubud overlooking a forest. I picked up a little elephant figurine from the shop that was attached to our restaurant and before we knew it, we were on our way to Seminyak. It was nice to see the transition from rice paddies to settlements in the daylight this time, and in the grand scheme of things, Ubud really isn’t that far from Seminyak (though I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of how to navigate my way there!)
Lo and behold, our hostel had both a closed roof and working air conditioning! To top it off, we had a three bedroom ensuite all to ourselves! After getting our bearings and locking our suitcases away under our bed, we saw a sign in the hostel lobby for a place called Sky Garden which offered an all-you-can eat buffet as well as free flow beer for an hour. It was a no brainer where we were going that evening!
Sky Garden was on top of a large club and you could definitely feel the Kuta vibe there (which was affectionately christened by Carolyn as the Benidorm of Asia). We still had a great view from the top of the distant mountains and the rooftops of the surrounding urban area which made for a nice vista as we ate our weight in burgers, BBQ chicken wings and corn on the cob. I fell into a food coma shortly afterwards.
As the sun set, Sky Garden got noticeably more clubby. Red lights came on and astonishingly, fire throwers appeared. The establishment also began projecting 21 Jump Street and Spiderman 3 simultaneously at double speed with English subtitles. When we decided to call it a night (at the incredibly late hour of 10pm…) we found the greatest cabby I think I’ve ever encountered. Of course he was surprised we were heading back to our hostel at the time we were because most people in Kuta and Seminyak turn up for the clubs and head out at that time. He then went on to complain about drunk Australians (while impersonating them, and let me tell you there is nothing quite like an Indonesian man trying to do the Aussie twang), insist that Bali is the happiest island in Indonesia (a statement I’d agree with) and confessing that he thought the UK went to the dogs when Princess Diana died (where did that even come from?). He left us with some choice Russian and Japanese phrases as we got to the hostel and then drove off. What a guy.

Singapore and Bali
Day One: All The Pretty Lights Day Eight: The Perils of Bali Belly
Day Two: Dinosaurs, Chickens and Hawkers Day Nine: So How About That Airline Food?
Day Three: Monkeys and Cocktails Day Ten: Recovery
Day Four: A Taste of Real Asia Day Eleven: A Cleaner Beach
Day Five: Get Up, We’re Climbing A Volcano Day Twelve: Goin’ to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo
Day Six: An Elephant Never Forgets Day Thirteen: SEAside
Day Seven: To The Beach Day Fourteen: Marina Bay

P.S. I can really only apologise about how slow I am when it comes to writing these posts! The excuses I’m clinging to are travelling back up to Stirling, being hit with a pretty gruesome cold/cough combination and classes starting again. Forgive me!

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