Sidemen, the hidden gem of Bali

What about starting by saying that Sidemen was my favorite place in Bali. This picturesque village took my breath away and become my number one place on the island. Despite the overdevelopment elsewhere this unique region in east Bali still has the feeling as if not much has changed.

IMG_9831Just try to picture hills and valleys covered in lush jungle as far as the eye can see, morning mist, blooming flowers, and a place that emanates tranquility and beauty and puts you in close contact with nature at its best, this is Sidemen.

Here you can relax, contemplate the views and do some hiking trails and paths through some delicious green scenery.

In opposition to most of  Bali island, that have too many backpackers, too much traffic and way to much noise and pollution Sidemen is just a piece of heaven. The small villages are surrounded by rice fields and agricultural land, small traditional Hindu temples, and rivers.

Here they grow rice, corn, tapioca, coffee, salak (snake fruit), chilies, and flowers that are used in the canang sari offerings.

Sideman is found about 90 minutes’ drive northeast of Ubud and is a fairly easy ride by motorbike.

Sideman is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of other tourist areas in Bali. The perfect place to relax, hear and feel the sounds of nature.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Mount Bromo, for Free & Without a Tour

Mount Bromo

Mount Bromo stands at 2329-meter-high and is an active volcano from east Java, Indonesia.

On Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, you can find 2 active vulcanos the Mount Bromo and Mount Semeru surrounded with a sea of sand.

For me, Indonesia was never about the beaches but about the luxurious greenery, mountains, traditions, culture, food, and the volcanos.

Going close to a volcano was for a long time on my bucket list, and I finally had the opportunity to visit one in Indonesia. My favourite one was by far the Mount Bromo.

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If you are planning to visit Mount Bromo, remember that you can do it for free, and without joining a tour. Here is how to do it.

How to get to Cemoro Lawang

Wherever you are in Java you need to head to Probolinggo. That can be done by bus, taxi or train.

In Proboling they are quite good at scamming tourists, so be careful and go to the bus station. Don’t believe if they say that there are no buses and that the only way to go is by joining a tour.

Outside the bus station, you have the minivans (called Bemos) that will take you to Cemoro Lawang (a village right next to the crater of Mount Bromo).

Unfortunately, there is only one option here. These minivans don’t have a schedule neither depart regularly so you need to wait for sufficient passengers to arrive. They charge Rp.35.000 ($2.50) if the bemo is full with 15 people, but they are happy to leave early without waiting to have 15 people as long as you pay the difference.

The ride from Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang takes approximately 1 hour and a half always up the hill. Sometimes felt like the minivan wasn’t going to be able to go further up, but in the end, we arrived safely.

To go back to Probolinggo it’s the same route you came,  find a bemo in the centre of the village, and wait for more people to arrive.

At Cemoro Lawang

Once at Cemoro Lawang its easy to find a place to spend the night, it felt that everyone in town had a room to rent. Just make sure you have hot water because it’s really cold there, and you will not want to take a cold shower when is 5ºC outside. Cemoro Lawang is a village high up in the mountains, 2217m above sea level, so you can imagine how chilly it is.

Cemoro Lawang doesn’t have great food at all neither accommodation options, and because of the lack of offer, the prices are a bit higher than in other places in Java.  We paid Rp.200,000 ($14) per night for a basic mouldy room. We didn’t struggled to find plant-based options.

How to Hike Mount Bromo for Free, Without Using a Tour or a Guide

It can’t be easier to visit the Bromo for free. Just find the passage next to hotel Cemara Indah. Walk through a narrow passage near the hotel, and this way you don’t pay any entrance fee (Rp.350,000~$25). The path is quite straightforward, you go down the path, cross the sea of sand and then go up the volcano. It took me around 1hour and a half to get to the crater.

I recommend using the free offline map app – maps.me so you don’t get lost.

Both crossing the sea of sand and peeking inside the crater was definitely an experience of a lifetime.

How to avoid the crowds

Mount Bromo isn’t the highest peak of Indonesia, but it is very popular among tourist and locals. If you don’t plan your visit carefully, you might end having your experience ruined.

Avoiding the tours is the key and the only way to have a nice time exploring the area. So keep in mind that all tours go to see the sunrise first and then visit the volcano, so from late morning and afternoon the place is empty, there will be close to no people around it, and you can thoroughly enjoy your walk on the moon like landscape in the company of the wind and some clowns.

Be kind to all kinds

You will get a lot off offers for a horse ride up to the volcano, please don’t use the poor horses to transport you, they look sick, malnourished and tired. These horses are severely mistreated, and they are too small for riding up slopes with people on their backs… Please don’t support animal abuse 🙏 be kind 💚

Must have
  • Warm clothes
  • Decent shoes
  • A scarf or a buff,
  • app – Maps.Me
  • snacks and water

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Yeh Pulu temple _ Bali

Yeh Pulu is a small archaeological heritage site from the 14th century located in the middle of beautiful rice fields and freshwater springs. This archaeological site is located in the central Bali highland village of Bedulu.

The site is located close to Ubud so you can get there with your own wheels (~10 to 15 minutes) and it’s also possible to walk through the rice fields from Goa Gajah to Yeh Pulu (~45-55 minutes walk).

The temple is quite small but displays an impressive 25m-long array of carvings. The name Yeh Pulu means ‘water of the stone vessel’ in archaic Balinese.

How to get there: the best way is to rent a scooter (~Rp.60,000 $4 day) the traffic between Ubud and Bedulo is quite heavy but is a short distance.

Entrance Fee: Rp15,000/ adult ($1)

Dress Code: Sarong is required to enter the temple, and can be borrowed from the temple’s entrance for free.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Traditional farming village of Pejeng _ Bali

The Pejeng village is located in the Petanu River valley in the island of Bali, 5 km outside the buzzing town of Ubud. Is rural area with extensive, and ancient, irrigated rice cultivation.

The village is surrounded by beautiful rice fields and has 44 temples and a museum called Arca. The temples didn’t really impress me as much as others on the island. Although it was nice to explore this untouristed traditional farming village and take part in the daily Balinese life.

One of the most famous things they have in Pejeng is the Moon of Pejeng a bronze kettledrum believed to be the largest bronze-age antiquity in the world. The bronze kettledrum is in the Pura Penataran Sasih (to the right off the main road from Bedulu).

This town has a lively morning market and a night market and plenty of Warungs to taste vegan Balinese and Indonesian food.

Pejeng is also a Wildlife Sanctuary and a great place for birdwatchers.

How to get there: you can easily bike from Ubud to Pejeng, or rent a scooter (~Rp.60,000 $4 day).

Entrance Fee: temples and museum have admission by donation

Dress Code: Sarong is required to enter the temples.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Pura Besakih, The mother temple _ East Bali

The Besakih Temple is known as the “Mother Temple of Bali“, located 1000 metres high on the slopes of Mount Agung. It is the most important, the largest and holiest temple of Hindu religion in Bali, and unfortunately, it’s also a place where tourists are scammed and ripped off.

 

About Pura Besakih

Pura Besakih is a complex of 23 separate temples, the largest and central is the Pura Penataran Agung. The complex is located in the village of Besakih in eastern Bali, Indonesia.

The Pura Besakih complex hosts countless rituals and ceremonies every year, so it’s quite easy to step into one. Each temple has its own odalan (temple festival), based on the 210-day Pawukon calendar. They also celebrate the full moon each month as well as major holidays.

 

If you visit the complex during a ceremony expect large crowds dressed in traditional clothing.

 

What to expect

It’s possible to visit Pura Besakih on a day trip from Ubud, without being part of a tour, but be extra careful at this place since there are numerous stories of scams here. Because of this many people had a disappointing experience and wished they didn’t have visited the Pura Besakih complex.

I knew about this before, so I was aware of the scams beforehand. I didn’t have any problems but I saw many tourists being hassled. Visiting Pura Besakih can be definitely frustrating but for me was still worth the visit. Although its difficult for me to say, that you should visit the temples after all I read and saw.

Entrance fee: RP.60,000 ($3.95) (the most expensive temple I came across in Bali)

What you need to know before you go:
  • You do not need a guide, kindly say no and ignore them. You can visit the complex on your own even during ceremonies. Don’t believe if they say that there is a special prayer and it’s closed to tourists but the guide can help you visit the temple.
  • Don’t believe when they say the temple is closed for ceremonies, you can always walk among the temples and there’s no guide that can get you into a closed temple.
  • You can go anywhere you like, since you paid the ticket but not to the shrines.
  • Donations are not mandatory (you give money if you want to) that’s why they are called donations and not entrance fee.
  • If you want to give a donation do not believe the donation amounts that are in the guestbook. They are known to add a zero or two to entries, so you feel bad if you don’t give the same.
  • Bring your own sarong to avoid having to rent or buy one. The Sarong is not included in the ticket price.
  • At the parking lot, sellers will try to sell all sorts of stuff saying that you need it to enter the temple or ceremony you do not need anything except a ticket and a sarong.
  • Don’t accept the offer “come and pray with me” if you enter in a forbidden temple you can be fined.
  • Don’t allow anyone to keep your ticket, or you will need to buy another one.

Keep all the above in mind and you will be fine 🙂

Have you been to Pura Besakih or have you heard about other scams?

 

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Tirta Empul, the temple of purification _ Bali

Tirta Empul is a temple complex and a holy mountain spring, located in the village of Manukaya in central Bali. It’s perfect to visit as a day out from Ubud. The village is a 30-minute drive from Ubud (approximately 15 Km~9 miles).

The temple was founded around a naturally occurring spring (Tirta Empul meaning Holy Spring) and is over a thousand years old. This temple is dedicated to Vishnu, who is the Hindu god of water.

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Tirta Empul was discovered in AD 962 and believed to have magical powers, the holy springs here bubble up into a large, crystal-clear pool. The spring feeds various purification baths, pools and fish ponds, which all flow to the Tukad Pakerisan River.

 

Hindu worshippers stand in the pools waiting to dip their heads under the water spouts in a purification ritual known as ‘melukat’. The water in the pools is believed to have magical powers and local Balinese come here to purify themselves.

 

Visitors are welcome to take part in this self-cleaning process. Just bring a towel and a change of clothes if you want to take part in the purification ceremony.

Behind the purification pools, is the ‘inner courtyard’ the place where people go to pray.

 

How to get there: the best way is the rent a scooter (~Rp.60,000 $4 day) the journey is very pleasant and beautiful through lush green rice fields and coconut trees.

Entrance Fee: Rp15,000/ adult ($1) and Rp.2,000 ($0.13) to park your scooter

Dress Code: Sarong is required to enter the temple as parts of the site are considered holy. Sarongs are available at the temple’s entrance to be and can be rented for a small donation.

Other information: 

There are lockers and a changing area available, and women should wear a shirt, preferably one that covers the shoulders.

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photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Gunung kawi Temple _ Bali

Pura Gunung Kawi is a beautiful archeological site, and a sacred place for Hindus located in the island of Bali, in the heart of the village of Tampak Siring, roughly 15KM from Ubud.

Is a gorgeous place full of art history, stunning views, and the environment in Gunung Kawi still is very natural and untouched, this temple is also known as the ‘Valley of The Kings’.

The temple is built into a steep valley overlooking the Pakserian River, a river that also snakes its way past the sacred Pura Tirta Empul.

It’s best to visit the temple early in the morning if you want to have a relaxing and peaceful experience, although you will not miss all the vendors.

There are more than 100 stairs to the temple, with great views over rice fields, the river and, jungle. Once you reach the temple you will find 10 candi (shrines) that are memorials cut out of the rock face in imitation of actual statues and alters dating back to the 11th century. The shrines are carved into some eight-meter high sheer cliff faces.

This temple is quite a unique archaeological sites in Bali due to its impressive carved rock structures.

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How to get there: the best way is the rent a scooter (~Rp.60,000 $4 day) the journey is very pleasant and beautiful through lush green rice fields and coconut trees.

Entrance Fee: Rp15,000/ adult ($1) and Rp.2,000 ($0.13) to park your scooter

Dress Code: Sarong is required to enter the temple as parts of the site are considered holy.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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The Central Mountains _ Gunung Batur area _ Bali

Bali it’s not only beaches and temples it’s also mountains and volcanoes. The Gunung Batur area is located in the center of the island of Bali, and since 2012 was added to the Unesco list of geologic wonders. Central Bali is the most mountainous area of Bali, and also the more isolated and thus more traditional.

Mount Batur has a height of 1717m above sea level the higher elevation also means that the temperatures are much cooler than in other parts of Bali. This region is perfect for trekkers and nature lovers.

Mount Batur is an active volcano, that has erupted several times over the time and has produced ‘black lava‘ which you can still see today. The most recent was eruption was in 2000. 

The crater has stunning views and there are a couple of villages around to explore. Kintamani is the main one.

Kintamani has a network of traditional mountain villages resting along the rim of the Mount Batur caldera. Kintamani is also home to Pura Ulun Danu Batur, one of the holiest of the nine directional temples of Bali.

To the west of Kintamani lies Bedugul, situated at the shores of mountain lake Beratan.

To get the best views, get up before the sun rises to climb Mount Batur, its a relatively easy 2-hour trek. The hike is mostly off-road trails and rocky terrain.

If you are looking for something more challenging the Mount Agung is the right one for you located in the east side of Bali. You can do a trekking to watch a breathtaking sunrise at Mount Agung, the highest mountain in Bali. This climbing is rather a challenge and requires physical fitness, so for serious mountain climbers

Central Mountains Highlights

Munduk area (mountain and waterfall)

Besakih Temple (the largest and holiest Hindu in Bali)

Pura Luhur Batukua (Temple)

Ulun Danu Bratan (Temple in Bedugul)

Danau Tamblingan (volcanic lake) 

Gunung Batur (active volcano)

villages around Danau Batur (scenic views up the surrounding peaks)

Antosari Road (rural drives through rice terraces)

Jatiluwih (Unesco recognized rice terraces)

Botanical gardens (close to Candi Kuning)

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photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Cambridge, where to go?

You have many reasons to visit this extraordinary university town. Cambridge has a unique vibe and will amaze you with its history, architecture, and natural beauty.

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When visiting Cambridge you can’t miss the colleges and it’s gardens, the riverside, all the green meadows surrounding the city and the Backs (gardens and parks line up beside the river behind the colleges).

Walking and cycling are the best ways to visit the city.

The town is full of cyclists, students and tourists, but still has a nice vibe and it’s far from being a big chaotic city.

The Colleges are truly amazing even if you only contemplate them from the outside.

Before your arrival, you should check on the internet if the King’s College Chapel or the Trinity College are hosting a concert during your visit. This is excellent way to visit both of this emblematic places (sometimes for free).

Most of the museums are free in Cambridge, if you have time you should visit them all, if not I recommend the fabulous Fitzwilliam Museum, the Kettle’s Yard and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

If you are a fan of Sir Isaac Newton, stop at Trinity College to see the famed apple tree where it was said to be the inspiration for his theory of gravity after being bopped on the head by one of the fallen fruits. 2015-01-09 23.58.30.jpg

If the weather invites for a picnic the Botanic Gardens are a must or a punting session through the river Cam.

It is always something happening in Cambridge, so make sure you do your research and don’t miss what this city has to offer.

If you visit cambridge be prepared to fall in love with this town.

Cambridge is very accessible by bus or train from London.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha 

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Ubud a great hub to explore Bali

As I said in a previous post, you shouldn’t visit Bali thinking about the beaches, if you want great beaches, look at other Indonesian islands or even other countries in southern Asia. Said that what a better place to be than a city that doesn’t have a coastline, and is really well located to visit the best places around the island of Bali.

I’ve found that Ubud offers the best location, great and affordable accommodation and abundant vegan food options. Out of all the cities in Bali, Ubud is the best, not because is the most authentic one (far from that) but because it has good quality affordable touristic infrastructures in a perfect location to do days out to other places in the island. Within relatively short driving distances you have temples, museums, mountains, waterfalls, rice terraces, and many other natural sights.

The downside of Ubud is that feels a bit like the city is entirely set up to tourists, unfortunately, most places in Bali that offers good/affordable accommodation nowadays are like that. Although I still found that Ubud offered a good middle ground between touristic and local.

About Ubud

Ubud is located in the Gianyar region of Bali and is surrounded by lush rice paddies, and is one of the cultural centers of Bali. Ubud is extremely popular among tourists and a hub of yoga, spas and, vegan food.

Ubud like the rest of the island of Bali is a multi-religious place, but the predominant religion is Hinduism, called Agama Hindu Dharma, a blend of Shivaism and Buddhism. Their religion is a world apart from the Hindu religion in India. Ubud, like the rest of Bali, is home to countless temples, and their everyday life is inextricably intertwined with colorful and fascinating religious practices.

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Bahasa is the language spoken and the currency used is the Rupiah ($1=Rp.14.800)

I have spent 10 days exploring the island of Bali, always based in Ubud, I had a motorbike to go to different places every day. Please be aware that I don’t advise in any way that you rent a motorbike there if you don’t have experience, Bali, its not the place to learn how to ride one. I never ever seen so many people with motorbike injuries during my travels like I saw in Bali. Road conditions are rough and traffic a nightmare, on top of that there are no rules…

Out of the 10 days only two were actually spent in Ubud, what I think is more than enough if you are not planning to do anything special like a yoga retreat or a course. So here are the top things to do in Ubud

At the end of the post check also what to avoid 🙂

What to do in Ubud
  • Campuhan Ridge Walk (8.5km, ~3h/4h)

This place is a serene and beautiful green path for an easy hike early morning, the path starts at the Campuhan Bridge and has an amazing view of the jungle, rice paddy fields, small villages, communities, temples, and passes over the lush river valley of Sungai Wos.

This is worth waking up early for, you can go any time during the day but it does get hot and crowded, at least the first part of the path.

 

  • The Puri Saren Agungis – Ubud Royal Palace 

It’s far for being a spectacular place but is the hub of all of Ubud’s cultural events. The entrance is free.

  • Saraswati Temple (Water Palace)

Its one of the most beautiful temple in central Ubud with a great little walkway in between lotus ponds leading up to the temple. The Saraswati Temple is a Hindu temple built in the 19th century to adore the Goddess Saraswati (The Goddess of Knowledge).

  • Jalan Goutama 

It’s a road packed with organic everything, from restaurants, bars, cafes, ice-cream shops, etc. and has lots of local warungs serving cheap and delicious food. Here you will find restaurants for all tastes, budgets and, diets.

  • Jl. Kajeng

A road with messages written into the street paving. It’s really nice to stroll up here and read the message of peace, love and ‘vegan propaganda’.

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  • Ubud Market

The market is a great place to stroll around. If you go very early in the morning (what I recommend) you can visit the produce market in the far south-east corner, and this is as authentic as it gets (7h-10h). Later on, you only have souvenir stalls, with clothes, homewares, jewelry, and other miscellaneous bits and pieces. Prices are always fully negotiable.

  • Watch a movie at Paradiso Ubud 

Paradiso Ubud is the world’s first organic vegan cinema and definitely worth a try! There are daily movie screenings and the food is delicious.

  • Food

Balinese food is delicious, and anywhere you go in Ubud there will be delicious vegan options on the menu.

Ubud is blessed with an abundance of great eateries, although menus are a little pricey compared to the rest of Indonesia if you don’t scuffle around backstreets. Local warungs or Padang rumah makan (eating house) are great options.

  • Massage

There is a tonne of little spas lining the roads in the center of Ubud with very reasonable prices. Why not treat yourself with a full body Balinese massage? You can find prices as lower as RP70.000 to 100.00 ($4.70 – $6.80) for one hour massage.

  • Wander around 

This is true for any place you visit, stroll around without a plan or a schedule, and lose yourself through narrow streets.. Because Bali is a predominantly Hindu island, there is always something to see, experience and smell.. for example, each morning you will find hundreds of little boxes called Canang Sari filled with flowers, offerings and burning incense.

Unfortunately, there is also a downside here, Ubud has Jammed traffic from vehicles and pedestrians, severely uneven, damaged and broken sidewalks, broken drainage holes with jagged metal bars, sidewalk vendors, shop displays and sometimes even motorbikes. So you are guessing correctly, walking can be a challenge that requires energy and art.

  • Motorbike around the Ubud countryside

Bali is a small island, so renting a motorbike gives you the freedom and access to explore the Balinese countryside. On your way to places is easy to stumble upon local festivals, cremation ceremonies,  pass by beautiful structures of intricately-carved stone, people flying kites in the fields, beautiful rice paddies, waterfalls, mountains, markets, temples…

⛔️ what to Avoid in Ubud
  • Sacred Monkey Forest

This is considered a must-do for many, for me is a must not. You do not need to pay to go to a jungle and to see macaques in Southeast Asia, literally you can do it everywhere, for free and without the crowds.

Plus these monkeys are not as cute as they look in the pictures they can be scary aggressive. If you are still planning a visit don’t take anything with you that you aren’t prepared to lose, monkeys can open bags with ease and are professional thieves. They are well trained at efficiently robbing tourists.

I know I’m just telling you to avoid one of the most popular Ubud attractions, but trust me on this one.

  • Shopping

Well maybe I’m a bit suspect on this one because to be fair I don’t shop, I’m already carrying my small bag around with me, and the last thing I need is extra weight 🙂 plus Ubud is extremely expensive (for Indonesian standards) you will find the same things much much cheaper somewhere else.

If you are into shopping go to the market but be prepared to haggle. Even if you don’t want to do any shopping I still think that you should give the market a visit but early in the morning, because by afternoon it gets seriously crowded.

Don’t buy spices or coffee on the market, most of it is fake.

  • Sungai Ayung Valley (6.5km ~4h) 

This was sposed to be a great trekking through the lush, tropical river valley but sadly has become an extortion scheme.

When you arrive at the Sayan Terrace hotel, you take the path downhill, there you will find some locals that are blocking the passage with a gate and you can only pass through if you pay RP.150.000 ($10) per person. We refused to pay and they didn’t allow us to pass. So we headed up the hill and we did a different trekking around the same area but instead of the 6.5km took us 15km 🙂

Be aware that the locals carry large sickles or machetes (that they are not using as farming tools) but for the threatening effect.

how to get to Ubud

If you arrive by air, the best option is unfortunately to take a taxi. As you know is always hard to negotiate taxi fares so it’s probably best to have that arrangement done in advance. Most places in Ubud will offer that service, negotiate with them and skip the hassle at the airport in Denpasar.

In August 2018 the taxi fares from Denpasar to Ubud were around RP. 250.000 to RP. 350.000 ($17-$23)

Just get ready for a very slow ride from Denpasar to Ubud, the traffic is just unbelievable. Ubud is about the same distance and time from the nearest port, where boats go to Gili Islands and Lombok.

Where to Stay

My suggestion is to stay close to the center, in a place that includes breakfast, offers transfer and that rents motorbike, this will prevent that you get in one of those motorbikes scams. Ubud has plenty of options with a great relation between quality and price. Make some research and look at the reviews.

I stayed in a great central place, and still in a quiet street. The family was really nice and welcoming, the room was clean and comfortable, and the price excellent, $8 per night with breakfast (I’m happy to pass the name of the place if you want).

Extra notes  
  • To visit temples, you must be dressed appropriately which includes wearing a sarong, that is basically a long piece of cloth that you wear wrapped around the body and tucked at the waist. Just bring one from home so you don’t need to buy or rent one.
  • Small temples are all around the city and each temple is unique in its own way.
  • Don’t buy water bottles, Bali has a project for water refills. Download the app and find the closest location. Ubud has several places offering this service for free or for a small fee (https://www.refillmybottle.com).
  • Indonesia is an affordable place to travel but especially in Bali, you need to be extra careful to not spend more than you budgeted.  Prices offered to tourists are always inflated and haggling is the only option to bring it within reason.
  • ATMs can be found easily throughout Ubud.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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