We're first timers to Bali, just been for two weeks and arrived back Sunday morning, the 18th March.
Our initial research was done by reading the Lonely Planet’s excellent guidebook "Bali and Lombok" and talking to the many people we know that are frequent visitors. A major factor in our decision to holiday in Bali was the downwards slide of our poor old battered Ozzie dollar (thanks Johnny). Here was one place in the World where we apparently were going to get pretty good value for our buck. It did seem to have a lot going for it. We must admit that for the past 25 years it had been one of the last places on our list that we wanted to go. We always had the impression that it was a place that people went to simply lounge on the beach, and why would we want to go there when we already have the best beaches in the World right here in Oz?
We discover the Bali travel Forum!
Surfing the Internet for Bali info, we accidentally stumbled across the Forum during this last December and later on (also via the forum) some of its regulars’ home pages such as Filo, colb, sharkie and Koala. Thank you for all your good people’s help and advice! We had already booked our accommodation in early November, paid our deposit and that was locked in. Therefore, our accommodation choices were not influenced by any of the Forumites but were, in fact, based on advice from friends and our travel agent. It was, however, very interesting to read some of the comments on the Forum re: our hotels - some good, some bad.
Therefore, since our hotels were already booked, we then concentrated on the advice from Filo, sharkie, Mic and many others in regard to sightseeing, eating, transport, money changing and so on. We took with us pages of downloaded pages off the Forum including colb’s, sharkie’s and Filo’s sites. We cleared our expectations (good and bad) and off we went with reasonably open minds.
(flying Garuda - packaged by Creative Holidays)
8 nights Ramada Bintang, Tuban (originally we were booked into the Kartika Plaza, but that was changed by the agent in late December due to the troubles there)
2 nights Champlung Sari, Ubud and
4 nights Besakih Beach Resort, Sanur.
OK, so we’re already aware of their safety record! Both flights were on time and comfortable. The Airbus A330-300 looked very new to us. We flew with Qantas last year to Tasmania and we think their cabin staff should fly with Garuda to learn some tips in courtesy. That’s an interesting comment from Qantas share holders and frequent flyer members, isn’t it?
Amazing isn’t it? A flight time of 5hrs 45min for the 4,624kms from Sydney to Denpasar and for the first 4hrs 25min you’re still over Australia! The flight going was not too crowded, plenty of entertainment in the form of one full length movie and a couple of shorter features. Lunch in economy was a choice between spicy beef or lemon chicken and noodles. A full range of drinks including Ozzie wine was on offer as well.
The flight back home had a 10:25pm departure, to arrive at Sydney 7:00am the next morning. It was less than half full, so we were able to spread out and sleep for most of the trip. Lights on at 5:45am and they served brekkie. After 2 weeks of the best eggs ever every morning for breakfast it was . . . Oh no, not eggs again!
Airport & Porters
We didn’t think the delays through immigration or customs at either end were too bad. We had a minimum of luggage going into Bali, so we didn’t use the porters. But coming home, we gladly let two porters grab our bags at Denpasar (weight over-the-limit and we kept our fingers crossed - We reckon that our hand luggage alone would have challenged the scales!). You had to be ‘Speedy Gonzales’ to keep those bags in sight though. Within minutes they had us through the security checks and at the Garuda check-in counter.
Kartika Plaza Hotel at Tuban
For those fans of the Kartika Plaza Hotel, there are dozens of people working extended hours day and night trying to refurbish the place. We understand it will probably still be months before they can re-open. Apparently the damage done was far more extensive than ever reported. We walked by several times and noticed gaping holes in the roofing material of several of the resort’s buildings. Swimming pools had been emptied and undergoing major repair. We inquired from our guide and he said (of course?) . . . . it was all vandalised by Javanese!!
Shopping & Bargaining
Even though we’d been to other destinations in Asia such as Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore, there were times when the bargaining and hawkers got very tiring. The worst hawkers we’ve EVER experienced were at the volcano (Kintamani) and the rice terraces.
Prices & Exchange Rate
The prices mentioned often on the forum were pretty well what we found for the respective items. For most of the 2 weeks we consistently got over 5,000R/$Oz. Only the last couple of days, it fell below the 5,000R. but even then, it was still in the order of 4,950R/$Oz or so. This made it very easy to convert. We just rounded everything off to the 5,000R/$.
We changed one-only $50 bank note at the Denpasar airport for landing money. The exchange rate on the day was 5,020R/$Oz. While at Tuban, we dealt exclusively with the Kodak shops. Mainly using the one right outside the entry to the Ramada. At Sanur we used the lovely people at the Jaya CD shop, Sindhu Beach Market (Hi to Wayan and his lovely sister!). . . . No problems with any of them, but we always asked for big notes for ease of counting and so they would be less bulky to carry. For safety’s sake half of our money was cash, the rest American Express travelers cheques; all in Oz dollars. We didn’t see much sense in buying US dollars in Australia, paying bank charges for that conversion and then losing out a second time with commissions etc on the exchange to Indonesian rupiah. The advice on the Forum was right re: having nice new bills. At one place they knocked back one note because it had the slightest little tear the size of a finger nail in the corner.
The best rates were the ones in Jl Kartika Plaza close by the Ramada and the ‘Hello Internet’ on the top floor of the Ramayana, Denpasar. We usually got close to an hour for about 5,000R or so. We were not impressed with the rates in Sanur - about double that.
We laughed at the rates in the Ramada’s internet centre - from 1,000R/minute!
Once we had been to Denpasar, to the Ramayana, Mataharis, and Tiara Dewata, we preferred to shop there. On our last day in Bali, we went back and took advantage with those centres’ ‘sales tables’. Albeit, amusing to have to disturb the staff who were in a very relaxed state literally lounging over a pile of bras or a pile of jeans. There’s also a brand new huge Matahari shopping complex you may not be aware of that has now opened at Kuta next door to the duty free DFS.
We bought 25 CD-ROM’s altogether! These were both for ourselves and friends we work with. We went to the Platinum store at Kuta in Jl Legian and also their one on the top floor of the Ramayana and found they were charging 35,000/disc at both. If you bought six, you got another one free! So far, we have had some bad luck - trouble installing and running about 8 of them. We did e-mail ‘Diamond’ at Platinum and he e-mailed us back the very next day some suggestions. Our son has now tried them on his friend’s computer which is more up-to-date than ours and has found all but one has worked. We consider that’s not a bad return on the overall saving if they had been purchased in Australia!
A major disappointment, however, was the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica 2001’. When we got it home and opened the case, all 3 discs were ‘Encarta 2000’ ! We wouldn’t have minded so much if it had been the 2001 version! Not sure how that happened, we did a check on most of them in the stores as we were buying them. Just proves, next time we’ll thoroughly check all of them before we leave the store.
On the beach in front of the Ramada. We think Eddie may have ripped us off a bit. M bought two watches. Eddie started at 250,000R. We finally settled on 80,000R or 40,000R each. We saw the same watches later at Sanur (Jenny’s) for 30,000R each. The catch on one of them broke the very next day. We’re pleased to report, however, that Eddie changed it on the last day we were at Tuban without any hesitation.
We bought from the girls on the beach in front of the Ramada. After them starting at some ridiculously high amount, they were finally obtained at 5 for 100,000R.
Tootsies & Jenny’s
The Forum friends next door to each other at the Sindhu Beach Market, Sanur. Without a doubt, if you’re buying from the markets, both of these ladies' shops are the place to buy. Still fixed prices, no bartering. We told them we had heard all about them on the Forum and they proudly showed us their collection of photos including some of sharkie and Koala.
M had her nails done by Mandy on the beach in front of the Besakih. 35,000R.
M had a ‘traditional massage’ by hotel masseur at the Ramada - 80,000R. (45 min)
L had a massage on the beach by Amie in front of the Besakih - 35,000R. (30 min).
Can’t comment much more, except the Ramada’s was better.
Our daughter’s in a rock band in Sydney and has a favourite stage outfit she wears which is similar to something Madonna wears in one of her video clips. Black pants with zippers all over. We took them to Mudy at ‘Tidy Taylor’ in Tuban opposite the Dynasty. What can we say? He made four duplicates in two days, absolutely perfect!
Wow, what must be alcohol content in that stuff? We both quickly became fans of it. All types of variations, Arak Attack, Arak Sunrise and so on. Quite a few nights we staggered back to the Ramada Bintang; hot, full (food and drink), knew it was too dangerous for a swim in our condition, so we did the next best thing, lay down in the Ramada’s kid’s pool ! . . . in the moonlight, occasionally dousing our heads under the waterfall. Plenty of giggles, we were like kids. Thanks Ramada for your extended swimming pool hours, but please don’t turn off the waterfalls so early next time, OK? How’s that for romantic!!
Ramada’s Coconut Wharf - Very nice, with wandering musicians, but expensive for Bali and a limited pasta/pizza menu. We also enjoyed a few cocktails as the sun went down.
Pantai - This one quickly became our favourite, we ended up going there for either breakfast or dinner five times. American breakfasts were 13,000 ea. We couldn’t fault their service, location and food. The best sweet and sour pork we’ve ever tasted - the avocado shrimp; yum - the gado-gado; the best (and only 8,000R) - what more can we say?
SA Cafe - Jl Segara - Had brekkie here once - very nice, no problems.
Daddy’s cafe - Jl Kartika Plaza opposite the Dynasty - had one brekkie here - terrific, included vegemite for the Ozzies and peanut butter for the Yanks! A little disappointed with a dinner there though. Kakap a la Berse @ 25,000R and Chicken a la Daddys @ 28,000R.
Kartika - Upstairs above the supermarket just outside the entry to the Santika. One brekkie . Their ‘Easy Breakfast’ - very good. We also went to their dinner-show - their Wednesday night all-you-can-eat baked dinner with a cultural dance performance - all for 50,00R each - excellent value.
C-Line - Between the Ramada and the Santika - one lunch - great, good value.
Chi-Chi’s - upstairs near the Waterbom - fantastic Mexican and free Internet (up to 15 minutes) while you’re there.
Lo Lo’s - opposite the entry to the Ramada - beaut American breakfasts at 15,000R each.
Impala - in Jl Kartika Plaza just up from the Ramada. - A little disappointing and a shade expensive for Bali. Here we tried for the first (and only time) Bali’s own wine. A sort of a rose. They have still a long way to go to match a Kaiser Stuhl or a Mateus!
Metro77X - opposite the go-carts - you better take this off your list. It’s been demolished. The sign’s still standing though!
TJ’s - Poppies Lane - terrific Mexican lunch! Try their "tropical fruit soothies"!!
Poppies - one dinner, M was very happy with hers - combo satay served over hot coals at your table, L was a little disappointed with his - nasi corung very, very hot (as in spicy)! Probably also spoilt by two very drunk and rowdy Ozzie young couples at the next table. One of the young (early 20’s) women's (very loud) conversation had every second word F_ _ _!
We only had 2 nights here and our breakfasts were included at the hotel, so not much opportunity to experiment with the many restaurants; there were only 2 we tried:
Cafe Wayan - half way along on Monkey Forest Road - Excellent - we had dinner there on the first day and enjoyed it so much we went back for lunch the 2nd! Live music during dinner and very enjoyable! Their lemon chicken -wonderful; their sautéed chicken Indo style - yum! - pumpkin pie, wow! - pancakes with cinnamon, honey and ice cream; oh mah gawd!
Swasti’s Warung - upstairs opposite the Champlung Sari - really good, a gracious host who told us the problems they have with the monkeys during the day. Apparently if they don’t keep an eye on the place, the monkeys will hand-over-hand along the street electrical power distribution cables, down into the restaurant and scatter fruit everywhere! We had 1 coke, 1 pineapple juice, 2 x gado-gados, 1 black rice pudding & ice cream, 1 fruit salad crepe w ice cream - Total ? 53,900R - excellent.
Kalimantan - Jl Sindhu - one brekkie - the best pineapple juice yet! We had something a little different - cornbeef hash with a fried egg on top. Enjoyed watching the exotic birds in their cages and the chooks freely wandering around. No wonder their eggs are so good! Total for both of us including 2 pots of coffee - 26,400R.
Free range? For sure!
Bonsai - on the beach - One brekkie - fantastic and one dinner a little disappointing - M had a ravioli (can’t expect the Balinese to be experts on Italian, we guessed) which she rated only a 5/10. L had a chicken & cashews and rated only 7/10.
Kalpatharu - in Jl Tamblingan opposite the entry into the Besakih - The best value brekkie we had in the whole 2 weeks! - Fruit juice, plate of fruit, eggs any style on toast, pancake w coconut and palm sugar and a pot of tea or coffee (each pot had 3 cups) - Total for the 2 of us . . . 18,000R ! - fantastic!
Warung Nyoman - in Jl Tamblingan opposite the entry into the Santrian - great hamburgers & chips!
L didn’t tell M until we got back to Australia though - L watched a rat wandering along happily in the rafters between a hole in the roof and a nest above the kitchen - Oh well, an interesting story to tell everyone back home and we did survive!
Mades Homestay - also in Jl Tamblingan opposite the entry into the Besakih - One dinner fantastic!
We each had 2 sprites, 2 araks, shrimp cocktails and gado-gados. - Total 51,000R. Great.
Benno’s - on the beach - one brekkie only - very nice , food not as good a value as the Kalpatharu, but a much nicer setting.
Mango’s - also on the beach - had a leisurely dinner here on the last night before we were due to be picked up to go to the airport. It was just after their change of staff from the day shift to the evening shift. The day shift were in no hurry to go home, they just sat around, one had a guitar and they jammed and sung. We enjoyed it so much we applauded! That was much to their delight. The meal? Great food and good value as well. Super Bagus!
Both of us work at very stressful jobs, so it was always our intention to deliberately limit our sightseeing. We did consider using some of the Bemo drivers mentioned on the forum (not so sure of ‘Magnum’ though, after all his press). Our trip was packaged by Creative Holidays, and including all transfers plus late check-out (6:00 pm) on the last day. Creative use E.R. Tours, as do a lot of the Australian packagers such as Explorer, Escape, Traveland etc. When we arrived at the airport, their rep gave us a 28-page catalogue of tours, including their own and others they acted as agents. We liked the fact that their own tours were quoted in Australian dollars, while the other’s even though they were in US $ had substantial discounts if booked though E.R. So, in the end we settled on dealing with E.R. and only did 3 trips. They were:
Uluwatu & Nusa Dua
The sight of the temple over the cliffs was quite spectacular. Our guide, Ketut, warned us to remove all our jewelry, watches, glasses etc because of the klepto monkeys. Without L’s glasses, he’s as blind as a bat, so he decided to take the risk. And guess what? Yes, one of the little blighters, stole ‘em. He did well though and so did the peanut man. 5,000R to the peanut man, two bags of peanuts to the little thief and the glasses are returned. Very clever eh? And yet another silly foreign tourist gets caught! We’re sure we were not the first and won’t be the last . . . . Next . . . . Next, please!
Kintimani & Lake Batur
A really enjoyable day - We saw plenty of high class craft, silver, wood carvings, paintings on the way in little villages such as Mas. The view of the volcano was clear for us, with just a wisp of steam coming out of the side. The restaurant proved to be in a great location and had a good selection of Asian buffet at a good price (44,000R each). But, gawd, those bloody hawkers! - As mentioned above. They were just as annoying on the way back when we stopped off to see the rice terraces. As you tried to take a photo, they would be pushing junk in front of the camera’s lens - ‘only a dollar!’ - ‘You buy?’
White Water Rafting
A fantastic day - We went with Bali International Rafting and had the time of our lives. The river they use is the Telaga Waja River in eastern Bali. Bali Safari rafting also use the same river. Sobek use the Ayung River, near Ubud, are more expensive and don’t go as far. With the E.R. discount it was $37US including a beaut buffet lunch. Our guide, Kom, was a young student working part time and as strong as an ox. He had to be, only 500m along the river, L somersaulted straight in! Kom hauled him back in with a minimum of fuss, but had a genuine great concern if L had sustained any injuries. L’s comment: "that was great, let’s do it again!" Much relief and laughter all round. Our only gripe for an otherwise fantastic day - those 300+ steps back to the showers and restaurant. Then a further 100 back to the bus!
The best advice we ever took? . . . We took one of those ‘mini-lights’ with us. It was used on many an occasion wandering "home" late at night, to avoid tripping over the uneven (that’s too subtle a term) pavers or falling into one of those broken or misplaced storm water covers. It was especially helpful along the roller-coaster footpaths of Monkey Forest Road, Ubud.
As much as possible we used the blue taxis. All used their meters and got us there with a minimum of trauma. Only one, blue taxi no 222 from Sanur, was taking us on "Cook’s Tour" of Bali until L challenged him about going the right way. We were picked up from the Besakih Beach Hotel, wanted to go to the Tiara Dewata in Denpasar and the bugger got half way to the airport, before he finally turned towards Denpasar! We may only be Ozzie tourists, but we’re not that stupid! On a couple of occasions we had to take a white taxi, but bargained and came to an agreement BEFORE we got in. We had heard stories of horror in regard to the Bali traffic, but to be perfectly honest, they’ve got a long way to go to get as bad as Bangkok or even Rome for that matter!
Summary and Impressions
Overall we enjoyed our trip. We liked the Tuban location, weren’t that crazy about Kuta. We would stay again at the Ramada Bintang. The swimming pool with it’s three waterfalls would have to be the best one in the Tuban/Kuta area! Down near the pool, there was always a breeze off the ocean that seemed to make the heat more tolerable. We did initially have a lousy room for the first 2 nights, but after appealing to the lobby staff (thank you, Puspa!) managed to get it changed for the remaining six nights. But that’s another story! We’re now experts on the Ramada Bintang’s room numbering system if anyone’s interested. A golden rule anywhere you go: If you don’t like the room, refuse to accept it for even one night, stand your ground and insist on another room; after all you’re still paying top dollar for it in anybody’s currency. We went for a walk down to the Holiday Inn and noticed the beach there was better than that in front of the Ramada. Let’s face it, the beach outside the Ramada Bintang is CRAP! There was only one beach worse - that in front of the Patra Jasa. We felt sorry for the Ramada Bintang’s guests that had their breakfasts included (we only had our first day’s brekkie included) - no kidding, didn’t they miss out on a lot!!
We loved Ubud, all the shops, the art galleries and the ‘different’ types of people from all over the world that stay there. The Champlung Sari was very comfortable and the staff friendly. We loved the little nooks and crannies, the "Indiana Jones"- style walls and the moss growing every where. We also didn’t mind being woken up at 6:00am to the chattering (& sometimes screeching) of the monkeys resident across the road. However, as previously reported the swimming pool is consistently cold and walking up that hill in the mid -day sun ("mad dogs & Englishmen?") is somewhat an endurance test.
We’re sad to say, we didn’t like Sanur much. We’ll probably get a mixed reaction from everyone regarding that comment! The Besakih Beach Hotel was clean and comfortable, the gardens well manicured. The staff were always keen to make sure we were happy. Without a doubt they had the best pool (although like the Champlung Sari, a little cool) along that strip. We made some friends in the hotel, fellow travelers from Oz and a beautiful couple from Denmark. But, in general, we just felt that the tourists were not as friendly and as for the Sindhu beach market girls? They would strike up a conversation with you and walk with you but then try to con you into their shops - very annoying. For the entire stay, we were forever harassed by these people. There was also an abundance of midgies, insects and mossies which we didn’t have anywhere else. M is still suffering, she had an allergic reaction to some of those bites. Credit to the beach though, it was easily way ahead of Tuban’s.
We will be going back. To Tuban and the Ramada again (or maybe the Kartika Plaza when it re-opens?). For Ubud we’d like to try another Hotel such as the Tjampuhan. We would also like to try another area such as Nusa Dua or Jimbaran Bay, perhaps? We did find that there more to Bali than "lounging on a beach". In fact if you wanted to do just that, Bali would not be our choice. The appeal of Bali was to us the quality and variety of the restaurants, the shopping, the magnificent scenery and above all the friendliness of the people. As it has been quoted many times before: "The Bali smiles".
But, we will not be going back to Sanur, we’re quite sure about that. Sorry to all those Sanur fans! (Hi to Colb)
We trust we haven’t bored you too much with our traveler’s tales, but once again, thank you to all the Forumites for their help!
L&M from Oz