Here it is, y’all: My Big Trip. The one that I’ve been planning for 4 months and thinking about for 5. The one that made me nearly faint at work in January, and convinced me I had developed clinical anxiety (definitely haven’t.) The one that was supposed to change my life.
On Monday, April 27, I took a bus from Takamatsu to Osaka for a 11:35 pm flight. I landed in Kuala Lumpur at 5 am on Tuesday (look at me mister world traveler wow), and waited in the airport for five hours, unsure of whether I was meant to go through customs again in Malaysia, and bone tired before breakfast. At 10 am, we took off for our Final Destination: Bali, Indonesia.
It was a warm, clear day in Denpasar when I landed at Ngurah Rai Airport. I had transportation arranged for me already, but nevertheless I was immediately overwhelmed by hordes of private taxi drivers following me around the airport saying “sir…sir…taxi? taxi? excuse me sir…taxi?” Gotta give it up for Eric from Mawa House, my driver for the afternoon, for saving me from the onslaught, and escorting me to his car like a celebrity’s bodyguard. I’ve been abroad a few times before this trip, but walking into the Wall of Drivers was a first for me, and it wasn’t the last time it would happen on this trip.
getting there budget,
highway bus to Namba Station, Osaka, from YouMe Town, Takamatsu, round trip: ￥6,900 ($57.09)
train to Kansai Airport, Osaka, round trip: ￥2,120 ($17.54)
baggage fee for AirAsia: ￥17,500 ($144.78, it’s ￥12,000 if you don’t pay in advance: ￥5,500 if you pay online before your flight)
round trip flight from Kansai, Osaka, to Denpasar, Bali: ￥48,198 ($408)
Indonesian visa on arrival, thirty days max: ￥4,231 ($35)
A small town of around 30,000 people, Ubud is in the Gianyar Regency, in the middle of the island, and surrounded by rice paddies and smaller villages. It’s an arts and cultural center of Bali, while the other major cities are known for parties. The name comes from the Balinese word for medicine, ubad, and the town was once known for exports of herbs and medicine. The town is centered around Jalan Raya Ubud, the main road that runs east-west, and divided up by the north-south roads, Jalan Hanoman and Jalan Monkey Forest. Ubud is full of ancient temples, where you can watch evening dances, and it’s also known for the Tegallalang Rice Fields.
I don’t remember much of the drive except staring out the window the whole way from Denpasar (south Bali) to Ubud (central Bali.) We got to Ubud just before dinner, and I immediately exploded all over my private suite (right next to the pool, in the heart of Monkey Forest heyyy.) Once I had acquainted myself with the room, I went out for food. First stop: a nameless food cart in a small parking lot somewhere in the forest for “soy heaven,” fried tofu with sweet peanut sauce and what I assume was also kecap manis, sweet soy sauce (I never asked…I was too busy inhaling my hand. It was good.) Street food: check. And no diarrhea yet.
Next, restaurant food. Soy heaven (I may never find out what it was actually called) was only the appetizer. Now, the main course: fried noodles (mie goreng) and Indonesian beer (Bintang), for under $5 (including the appetizer and a second beer that I bought after dinner.) I’m already in love with you, Bali. Fried tofu, peanut sauce, and beer every night and we’re set for life, dear.
Ubud is a remote, nature-y tourist city in the middle of the island (Bali), about an hour away from the southern coast (Kuta, Denpasar, and the other major areas.) It’s known for the Monkey Forest [[name]] and Tegallalang rice fields. The streets surrounding the forest are literally teeming with private villas, hostels, homestays and guesthouses, and the shopping area, reminiscent of downtown Carrboro or Asheville, surrounds the forest like a hungry person. In fact, it vaguely resembles my own face. Traffic is unbelievable, and most of it is scooters, there aren’t any traffic lights, roads are tiny, and sidewalks are…hard to describe.
But the stores…the stores are amazing. You can find anything and everything in Ubud, including wooden penis-shaped bottle openers! The perfect souvenir for all of your friends who have never been to Indonesia themselves and have absolutely no say in what type of gift you give them. I tried budgeting with my shopping money but failed completely on the first day. I stumbled upon a Balinese wooden cat carving and it all fell apart after that: bunnies. bracelets, sarongs made of batik cloth, bamboo shirts, penis bottle openers, painted penis keychains, and buddhas buddhas buddhas. I bought fourteen souvenirs within an hour, then a few more later in the afternoon.
I spent Wednesday and Friday walking around, attempting a yoga class, and eating the street. I mean…eating on the street. I mean I ate everything. Apologies.
Like Japan, small shrines and temples are everywhere in the city area, tucked into every empty space. The Ubud branch of Starbucks (avoid it, by the way. Worse even than American Starbucks), is on the grounds of a temple, surrounded by lily ponds and sculptures. I’m not religious but there’s something about Hindu, Buddhist, and Shinto art and architecture that really gets to me.
monkey forest: mandala suci wenara wana in Balinese.
yoga barn: an open yoga studio buried in the woods in central Ubud.
bali spirit kafe: Indonesian coffee, western food, Indonesian food, and raw and vegan options galore.
caramel bakery: a huge selection of French macarons and health drinks.
casa luna cooking school: a restaurant and cooking school in the heart of the shopping district.
best bali cooking class and anika volcanic spa treatment,
I was in Ubud from Tuesday until Saturday. My one big goal was a cooking class, which I went to on Thursday morning. I hadn’t realized there was a cooking school in Ubud, so I booked a class in Kuta…over an hour away. I got up at an illegal hour of the morning, got a ride to Kuta, and we started in the Kuta morning market. It stank…and I loved it. I wanted to buy everything except the newly-skinned chicken corpses. Our guide explained every single piece of food in the large, crowded market, and how to use them. Clearly, I don’t remember any of it, but they gave us a book.
Right when I was ready to faint from the heat, we emerged back into the morning sunlight, piled into an air-conditioned car, and drove to the hotel for the cooking demonstration. The class is called Best Bali Cooking Class, but the location is Anika Spa and Hotel. A beautifully-crafted hotel building with an open-air kitchen and dining patio, equipped for around 30 cooking students. We started with tea, pastries, and fruit (“snakeskin fruit,” mangosteen, and rambutan.) After trying and failing to remove the skin from the spiny thing, and finishing my pandan-flavored coconut pastries (give me more), I joined in the cooking demonstration. We each got a plate of things to chop, such as shallots, garlic, red peppers, and lemongrass, to be used in each of the different recipes we would prepare.
Balinese beef satay (grilled, skewered beef)
pepes ikan, grilled and steamed curried fish in banana leaves
kare ayam, yellow coconut curry with chicken
sambal chili sauce
gado-gado peanut sauce
boiled spinach with tomato sambal
nasi goreng, stir-fried rice
mie goreng, stir-fried egg noodles
carrot and cucumber salad
green pandan pancakes with coconut sugar filling
sticky black rice pudding with coconut milk
I shamefully did not finish all the food on my plate (and I had trouble eating the chicken around the bone), but my dessert stomach was more than prepared for the pandan coconut sugar crepes and sticky black rice with coconut milk. I’m buying a truckload coconut palm sugar and pandan extract as soon as I get my next paycheck. I’ll be practicing a few of these throughout the summer and once I move back to the U.S. and have access to food processors, I’ll be filling up the kitchen with homemade sauces.
After departing from the class, we went to the spa to pay and to decide on our spa treatments. I’ve never had a professional massage or spa treatment before this. I guess it was supposed to be relaxing, but it wasn’t the thing for me. Being naked for someone to give me a full-body massage isn’t my idea of relaxing. After the massage, they scrubbed me down and left the scrub to dry on me, which made me cold and uncomfortable. At least they gave me tea at the end. I can’t compare it to other spa treatments, but maybe I should take one more shot at professional treatments some day.
Mawa House lodging, 3 nights: ￥16,163 ($133.72)
In Da Lodge, 1 nights: ￥812 ($6.72)
Souvenirs: ￥21,738 ($179.84)
Food, 4 days: ￥15,167 ($125.48)
Transportation: ￥3,668 ($30.35)
It being my first time here, I wasn’t quite aware of how much I should be spending and I’m sure I got duped once or twice. I was able to live like a king, though, on the above budget and I think it’s doable for less (if I don’t book a cooking class on the other side of Bali and if I eat more street food.) I ended up eating at a lot of restaurants and, though they’re still cheap by American and Japanese standards, they’re far more expensive than street food, which is just as good and just as safe.
When I was researching for this trip, I couldn’t decide where in Bali to stay, but my friends who had been before all recommended Ubud as the place I would like the best. I did end up liking Ubud the best, and I would go again in a heart beat. I would stay in the same private villa, go to the same coffee place, find a different yoga place (it was very difficult and too many people), and do all the cultural things again. And I would not go all the way to Kuta for a cooking class.
I never really accepted the fact that I was in INDONESIA and I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that I’ve been to Bali.
Pinch me, please,