Bali-an island for all ages
Bali is a dream honeymoon destination for many newly-wed Indian couples. This has been a trend at least for the last five years. May be that’s why India is one of the countries that has been exempted from Indonesian visa! Despite being the “honeymoon” and “party” destination, my short vacation to this place unexpectedly turned out to be the most memorable one.
One of my biggest challenges was to see and do things that would entertain my seven-year-old son. We did two important things right in the beginning — booked our hotel away from the “young noise”, in a village called Ubud and second, we booked our surfing lessons. Thereafter, we just went by the flow.
Being the most popular tourist island of Indonesia, there is no dearth of travel companies and tour packages in Bali. So for unplanned trip like ours, these options came very handy.
Here’s a quick list of places we explored in Bali, which you can consider if you are planning a trip with your family and especially with children.
Day 1: One day guided tour
We booked a one day guided tour that included snorkeling, parasailing, turtle island, Uluwatu temple and ending with dinner on the beach. Usually, the tour package includes pick up and drop at the hotel, which is an added advantage especially with children. Parasailing was great fun, because all three of us could sail together, unlike in the past, where it was restricted to one person only. It was of course the first time for my son – his joyful exclamations while overlooking the serenity of the aqua blue waters of Nusadua Beach completed the whole picture.
Our next activity was snorkeling – it was the first time for all of us. Bali is known for its corals — the colourful life that you see under the ocean while snorkeling cannot be described, but can only be experienced, as you slowly become a part of this massive fish tank. Snorkeling is a challenge if you do not get the technique of breathing through the mouth correct. My son unfortunately couldn’t manage it.
We definitely were excited about Turtle Island but it is nothing but a turtle farm — a conservatory of Olive Ridley, Hawksbill and Green Sea turtles. Our first stop was a sand pit where about 200 eggs of these three species were buried for hatching. The babies were to be released in the sea water thereafter. These eggs otherwise would have been stolen for consumption or trade. From baby turtles to adults – you can touch them all at this conservatory and if you are adventurous, you can pick them too.
After exhilarating water sport activities, we were heading towards Uluwatu temple, with absolutely no expectations. In fact, I was wondering if it would really excite my son. Uluwatu Temple is a 10th century Balinese Hindu sea temple located in Uluwatu (South Kuta). The temple is built at the edge (ulu) of a 70 meter high cliff or rock (watu) projecting into the sea. Before stepping inside the premises, visitors wearing above knee attire are requested to wear a purple satin sarong – purely out of respect to the culture. The splash of purple beautifully spread across the temple premises and was distinct against the black stone path.
Have you ever witnessed how an ocean looks like from 70 meter above sea level? I have never seen such a jaw dropping panorama and the location of Uluwatu temple is one such. A walking path with high railings at the edge of the cliff gives you an opportunity to gaze at the Indian Ocean – golden sun setting on sea green water expanse, with large waves banging against the cliff, is a perfect tranquil evening view.
You keep walking along this walkway till you reach the temple; however you need to be extremely careful of some aggressive monkeys trying to snatch things, especially caps, sunglasses and food. The walk heading back from the temple continues to mesmerize — you are surrounded by frangipani trees covered with hues of pink, yellow and white flowers. The massive statues depicting stories of mythology compels you to stop and decipher the story behind them.
Uluwatu – an unexpected visit etched forever in our memory.
It was time for our last destination, that is, dinner on the beach. But, our driver mentioned that we still have time and if we were interested to see the prep and also taste Luwak Coffee. Of course, who wouldn’t like to see how the world’s expensive coffee is prepared? We halted at Bukit Sari Agro Tourism Café, where we had a quick tour of different types of plants from which this agro company produces organic tea and coffee. Finally, the moment arrived to see how Luwak coffee is made. It started with saying hello to the luwaks – Indonesian cat-like animals, then seeing their poop — the uneaten coffee beans that are later dried, roasted and ground in a fine powder, which is nothing but Luwak coffee. We tasted 13 different types of tea and coffee here – from vanilla, lemongrass, rose to turmeric – all complimentary. We also tasted Luwak coffee for a nominal cost. How did it taste? Pretty good…strong with a very distinct flavor.
The day spent well, ended well with dinner on the beach. The scrumptious Indonesian sea food, cool breeze in the air and dark sea in front of us was definitely not what we anticipated. The large waves thudding on the beach was the soothing natural background score for a candle lit family dinner.
Day 2: Just about animals
We dedicated our second day to animals. We were staying a kilometer away from the most famous Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Our day began by a visit to this place. As the name suggests, it is a forest well taken care of by the Ubud forest officials and is home to ~750 Balinese long tailed monkeys. It is a lovely one hour walk through the forest, where you can get acquainted with our “ancestors” and also appreciate some old temples and massive stone statues of komodo dragon, dragons, bears and monkeys, of course.
There is a beautiful steep stairway that takes you to a valley surrounded by dense trees, especially Banyan trees – the sight of baby monkeys swinging and jumping over these branches is fun to watch. Some of the monkeys are over friendly – they would sit on your shoulder or head or even try to snatch your belongings. Some of them are aggressive; but they do not hurt you. Nevertheless, the forest department employees are spread over the forest and are always on the vigil to avoid any accidents.
Monkey forest is at the center of the Ubud village and the whole village has developed around it. As tranquil the forest is, equally busy and noisy is the surrounding part of the village, because of the buzz of the souvenir shops, handicraft and garment shops, restaurants…just to entertain the tourists.
Our next destination was Bali zoo, but we had a pit stop at Tegallalang Rice Terraces (photograph at the beginning), to view the beautiful rice paddy fields of Ubud. The natural landscape of layered mountains projecting in a valley is a dramatic view. Overlooking the ledge of a high road is one of the options to enjoy the sight or many road side cafés have set their tables for tourists to watch over the view, while sipping over coffee or coconut water. We did visit a similar café and a nice person working with the café took us around these paddy fields. As the land is narrow, manual labour is the only option of farming. Natural spring water, patches of harvest and fully grown crops, small houses of the farmers, plenty of coconut trees is quite an exploration while trekking this terrace fields. We also took a small break at this café before we headed to Bali zoo and further enjoyed the green hues while sipping fresh coconut water.
We reached Bali zoo around noon time where we were welcomed by a herd of deers, white peafowls and guinea fowls, wandering around and greeting the guests by posing for pictures. This unexpected welcome cheered the kids as well as the adults. Indonesia is home to different species of monkeys and Bali zoo has displayed them with great pride. Silver gibbon and orangutans are a joy to watch, while pythons, colourful iguanas, meerkats and ringed-tailed lemurs…make you feel that you are in Madagascar.
I do not highly recommend the zoo, if you have seen some world-class zoos in Singapore, London, New York or Sydney, but with kids around, it is definitely a good option. Moreover, the zoo is very well designed and has maintained the heritage Balinese architecture at key locations. Bali zoo’s trademark is the elephant rides – honestly it’s an eye wash and not worth the money. However, the bird show is truly entertaining – kids are awestruck when the huge birds with their wide wing span fly over their heads and slightly brush off their hair! There are pretty good restaurants and snack bars spread across the zoo as well and its “zoovenir” (as they call it for a souvenir shop) is inviting and I am sure you will end up shopping here.
Day 3: Surfing and getting pampered
This was one of our best decisions. We enrolled ourselves with UP2U Surf School in Kuta for a two-hour session and the team did a fabulous job to create an everlasting impression. My son had a personal trainer and he enjoyed surfing every bit. Children are the finest learners and my son proved it. He managed to park the surf board a couple of times on the beach.
Surfing is indeed tiring, so we spent the rest of our afternoon with some lazy lunch and Balinese massage – do not miss on massage and I realized that pampering your child with a foot massage is not a bad idea.
Being the only Hindu island of Indonesia, major crossroads displayed massive sculptures depicting stories from Hindu mythologies. It is also very notable to see the steady impressions of Balinese architecture, especially the stone split gates – every major establishment (temple, hotel, shop…) will have a split gate entrance.
Our choice of staying in Ubud gave us an opportunity to explore the village life in a different country. Ubud is touristy, but thankfully has not lost the charm of a beautiful, clean, green and quite village. We kept our evenings free to see the sights of century old temples, Ubud palace, the market place and plenty of restaurants.
We were fortunate to see the celebrations of one of the biggest festivals called Kuningan – derived from the word kuning, which means yellow. Women and children dressed in yellow traditional Balinese attire visited nearby temples with offerings of yellow flowers and rice. The entire streets of ubud village were adorned with decorations of dried pandan leaves. Surprisingly, being festive is not about firecrackers, loud music and street lights in Ubud – it is rather spiritual and worshipping nature.
Waking up to the alarm of chirping birds and sleeping to the lullaby of cicada sound – what else would you expect in nature smitten Ubud.
We definitely are going back to Bali, because there is a lot to explore on this island, which is tourist friendly for all age groups.
- Wherever you go, people are full of warmth and smile.
- We didn’t really notice a garbage bin in Ubud!
- Handicraft is still alive and also a livelihood for many – silverwork, wood work and stone work is the core. I recommend buying some souvenirs.
- Every artifact shop sells beautiful dreamcatchers in every size – nobody knows what is the connection of this native American décor with Bali culture
- Lord Ganesha stone statues decorated with frangipani flowers at the entrance of every establishment – very spiritual and calming.
- English is spoken by many, so communication is easy.
- Bali is expensive compared to other islands in Indonesia and not every place accepts credit cards. So ample of cash is recommended.
- Staying options are plenty in Ubud from homestay to villas. For families, I recommend villa, which are very cosy and comfortable. However, check online reviews, before you book.
- Ubud does not have app-based cab services like the Uber and Grab. So you have to book a cab – your hotel can help you to get a reasonable one, otherwise the local ones will overcharge you. Another option is renting a two wheeler. That’s what we did – cheapest and the fastest and it is fun to ride on Bali roads.
- Avoid shopping at the airport, it is expensive. If you are shopping in a road side shop, do bargain.