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Bali: Return to Paradise

“Why did I ever leave Bali?” I was asking myself looking out of the window at London’s grey sky after returning from almost a 2-week holiday. This is probably a question many people ask themselves after visiting the Island of Gods. The more I spend time in Bali, the more I am falling in love with it and everything it has to offer to my wandering soul. From lazy sun lounging on a beach, swimming under the waterfalls and kayaking in fast rivers to rejuvenating at a yoga retreat and hiking mountains – Bali has it all!

Having been to Bali once before (read my previous blog here), my husband and I decided to spend a bit more time this trip. Plus, we had a good excuse – both of us are celebrating our 40th birthdays this year. We settled on Seminyak, a resort area in southern part of the island. It’s both relaxed and hip and was perfect for chilling during the day either by the pool or on the beach and going out at night to various restaurants and bars.

It was such a great experience and below are some of the highlights of our trip and my recommendations for what to see and do in Bali.

 

Dalam Temple

As we left Seminyak and headed to the Elephant Cave, our guide and driver Wayan from Bali Hidden Paradise Tours wanted to show us Bali as locals see it. He took us to an ordinary village to visit a Dalam Temple that was in the middle of 3-day religious celebrations. As only tourists in the Hindu temple complex, we watched local villagers dressed for the occasion bringing their offerings and worshiping to the gods.

The temple was beautifully decorated and Wayan explained to us the meaning of various attributes.

For example, the checked fabric used for draping some of the columns and trees signifies the balance between good and evil, while swastika represents universe’s energy and prosperity. It was lovely to stop by and see this community and the place religious holidays play in its daily life.

 

Elephant Cave

Next on our itinerary was Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave. Close to Ubud, the Elephant Cave is a historical complex dating back to 11th century and now a UNESCO heritage site.

The cave features a giant face with a wide open mouth serving as entrance and adorned with various carved creatures and demons. It is quite small and dark inside with three statues of gods where priests used to meditate.

Right across from the cave are two pools with six waterspouts shaped as women that one can see upclose by walking down the pools’ steps.

But what is really beautiful about the complex is the lushness of the nature around it. As we took the stairs down the hill, we discovered small streams, various rock formations covered in moss, giant Banyan trees and jungle vines.

Since two streams leading to Petanu River and forming a river junction was considered sacred, this place became a perfect location for prayer and meditation site.

Entrance is 15,000 IDR (about $1) and sarong (can be rented at the gate) is required for both male and female visitors.

 

Tirta Empul

I’ve seen photos of Tirta Empul before and this time I was determined to see it with my own eyes. A temple with holy spring waters that attracts millions of visitors each year dates back to 960AD.

According to the legend, the spring in the temple has healing powers. After changing into sarongs, worshipers enter rectangular purification pool and move in west-east direction, while praying and bowing under 11 of the 13 streams (the last two are reserved for those who passed away). Each of the streams serves its own purpose and heals different conditions.

This is another beautiful pool inside the temple complex. Can you see the spring bubbling? It literally looked like a green geiser!

Some of the temple grounds were open to worshipers only so we observed from afar. It felt so quiet and peaceful with only pacifying sound of priest’s bell interrupting silence.

Entrance is 15,000 IDR (about $1) and sarong (can be rented at the gate) is required for both male and female visitors.

 

Monkey Forest

It was our second time to the Monkey Forest and monkeys were as fun to watch as before.

However, Wayan has warned us that monkeys in this particular sanctuary are becoming more aggressive. This doesn’t surprise me because of the level of human traffic each day and the way people tease monkeys, often pretending to be offering something. Once our primate brothers discover there is nothing in the closed fist, they get upset.

For those who do want to feed them, they can buy bananas from onsite vendors. Fortunately, keepers can be seen throughout sanctuary’s grounds and use their slings should a monkey misbehave. Apart from a temple complex, Monkey Forest is a lovely nature reserve with beautiful pathways, bridges and hiking trails.

It felt like an animal kingdom as though Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli would appear from nowhere swinging on a vine.

Entrance fee is 50,000 IDR (about $4). Make sure to take off and put away any loose pieces of clothing and jewellery so that monkeys don’t snatch them!

 

Don Antonio Blanco Museum

If you visit Ubud, Bali’s cultural and artistic epicenter, you have to visit Don Antonio Blanco Museum. I came across it in one of the travel guides by chance and I am glad I found it. It’s such a kooky place, a small refuge of art and craziness away from the tourist crowds. Blanco, a Philippines-born Spanish artist, settled down in Bali after marrying a traditional Balinese dancer.

His flamboyant theatrical style and similarity to Dali’s work can be seen in his art work and throughout museum’s design. As you walk from room to room and eventually end up in his studio, you explore over 300 of his works and witness evolution of his artistic style. Most of his paintings feature beautiful naked Balinese women (is that a surprise?!) but there were some 3-D works with crazy social and political messages.

Source: AsiaWebDirect

Rich and famous around the world were fans of his work, including Michael Jackson! You can’t take photos inside, but trust me, it’s a really cool place.

How sweet are these parrots? The museum houses a collection of parrots and exotic birds that live in museum’s lush garden.

Entrance is 50,000 IDR (about $4) and includes a welcome drink, and admission to museum and its grounds.

In between the sightseeing we also had a great lunch at the Nomad Restaurant in Ubud (I ordered traditional nasi goreng – my favorite!), followed by artisan gelato at Gelato Secrets across the street.

We have seen the next three sights last time, but I wanted to include them here as I highly recommend checking them out.

 

Tegallalang Rice Terraces

When in Bali, wherever you go, you will see rice fields and terraces. Bali without rice fields is like London without red buses! Rice is harvested throughout the year so traveling around the island you will see the process in its different stages. But one of the prettiest and popular terraces are Tegallalang rice terraces, close to Ubud, on the slopes of the hill.

Here you will see the rice planting process and a unique and ancient irrigation system. As you climb over the terraces, you may meet some of the local villagers who maintain these rice fields with much love and dedication. Also, make sure to have a refreshing drink and traditional lunch in one of the cafes overlooking fields and providing stunning panoramic view.

To visit rice terraces, a donation of 5,000-10,000 IDR (less than $1) is requested.

 

Tegenungan Waterfall

Last time we also went to the Tegenungan Waterfall located at the sacred Petanu River, Tegenungan Village. Hidden in the lush greenery of the rainforest, the waterfall was a welcoming discovery after many steps walking down.

Just don’t forget a bathing suit as refreshing waterfall waters on a hot and humid day will be hard to resist!

Entrance is 10,000 IDR (less than a $1).

 

Tanah Lot Temple

This sea temple sits on the rock formation, most of the time cut off from the mainland by the ocean tide. Although the temple itself is closed to visitors (but is open to the local worshipers during religious holidays), the base of the rock can be visited during the low tide. Built in 16th century, the temple is not just a significant pilgrimage site, but a very popular tourist destination.

Under the rock you will find a natural spout, a source of holy water for this and other temples in the area. Priests for a small donation bless visitors by sprinkling holy water and sticking rice to forehead. I felt refreshed and rejuvenated after this lovely ceremony.

The area around Tanah Lot is now very touristy with plenty of cafes, restaurants and both street and designer shops. The restaurants at the cliff offer best sunset views, something not to be missed for Instagram addicts. The entrance to the territory around Tanah Lot is 60,000 IDR (about $4.5).

In the coming weeks, I will be talking about cool places to eat in Seminyak and my trip to Nusa Lembongan. Stay tuned!

 

Happy travels xx

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