In search of culture on Bali

Our arrival into Ubud was fairly easy although we had a decent walk to our hostel. This meant we saw a fair amount of town on the way in. Compared to relaxed sleepy Tulamben, it was a bustle of yoga wear shops, overpriced cafes and art shops. Settled in to our alright place to stay we went off for an evening wander through the streets. The touristy market and fancy shop fronts were a little off putting, but in Ubud it isn’t hard to find a quieter alley with less tourists and more locals. In fact, as we wandered around we started to like the vibe of the city and even the taxi drivers were less annoying than in other towns, maybe they are banned from catcalling because they all have laminated signs instead. For dinner we found a little warung with a quiet courtyard and a good menu to try nasi campur.

The offerings on the street outside every home and business
The food was good, but we didn’t try the toilet aroma coffee

QThe next morning we woke up for breakfast and discovered that besides the other people in the dormitory, we had had some other visitors. One girl was complaining to the hotel staff about some bites and Zoë had a few too although we weren’t sure if they were mosquito bites at first. We left hoping that we were not going to be victims that night too. We found it hard to enjoy the day with the thought of bedbugs at the back of our minds. We did manage to clear our minds as we visited the palace and nearby lotus pond. Both were nice, but there was not much to see and neither took very long. Afterwards we walked towards the Camphuon ridge where we walked along above two river valleys admiring the open green spaces and forest along the valley banks. It was a very nice walk and the cafes on the way looked quite inviting. The only downside was that there was no way across the river and we had to walk the same way back. We managed to resist and made it back into town before taking another short walk through the rice fields. The start of the rice field walk was smelly was sandwiched between two concrete walls, but when it opened up the views across the vibrant green rice terraces were lovely. Our walk took us back into town along a quiet street before we made a stop for lunch. We had decided to try the Balinese speciality of Babi Guling (roasted suckilng pig) and one of the recommended restaurants is Warung Ibu Oka. For once we weren’t starving so we shared a portion with all the trimmings. The spit roasted suckling pork with crackling and vegetables was yummy but didn’t quite blow us away. It was also a little overpriced but that seems to be Bali’s curse.

The carvings in the palace
Rice fields in Ubud

Back at our hostel we enjoyed the free coffee and had a relaxing afternoon. There is a little more to do around Ubud, but we decided not to go out of town to see more rice terraces (which requires a taxi or scooter) and instead relax. The day before we had seen a cheapish pizzeria and both fancied a change from rice and noodles. We had two delicious pizzas and enjoyed our first beer and real cheese in a long time. When bedtime came around Zoë apprehensively checked her mattress for bed bugs but found nothing. It wasn’t until a few minutes later when she found a bed bug crawling along the wall that our fears were realised. As soon as she announced it the other people in the dorm began worrying too. It turned out the bed bugs were everywhere, living in the walls and ceiling. We moved all our stuff out and sat bonding with our dorm mates over the problem. Matthias discovered some insect spray which we used around all our beds. The hostel staff were nowhere to be seen and we could not decide what to do. We turned the new arrivals away to save them from bits and eventually a member of staff arrived. After a little negotiation we all got a refund for that night and went to find another hostel. The hostel around the corner only had 3 beds available so we ended up sleeping in a room on sofa cushions for a cheap rate of 40000 rupiah. Surprisingly, we didn’t have a bad nights sleep and we were ready to move on the next morning.

We caught a bus to the less than beautiful town of Kuta. We doubt Kuta has been beautiful for a long time since it is known as the sleazy part of Bali. The streets are crammed with bars, western restaurants, clubs, tattoo studios and souvenir shops. We were only staying to be close to the airport, but we made the most of the day by walking along the black beach. The beach was surprisingly empty but we guessed most of the people were staying inside their luxury resorts. Walking along we found a group of tents set up next to a shopping mall. They turned out to be an ice cream festival which was very welcome in the heat. We bought our 10000 rupiah coupons and queued up at the best sounding tents. Matthias had a fruity sundae and Zoë an oreo shake with ice cream on top. Then we walked back and spent sunset at the far end of the beach watching the locals arrive, take a sunset dip to cool off and then head home. We got hungry and left once the sun set to find some cheap local street food.

Stopping at the beach

If Ubud is the cultural heart of Bali then, in our opinion, it would be better to visit Java. We enjoyed the walking around but not the prices, health foods or bed bugs. Maybe it would be a good day trip from the beach, but it wouldn’t keep us longer than that. As for Kuta, we would stay far away from it unless you can book a luxury resort where you don’t need to leave the hotel.

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