Diary entry 7-Finding the real Bali
After a month or so of travelling, you know when it is time to move on to another place. So it was with Gili Air. The beautiful island had been home for around 14 days in total. Lucy had returned to work, and I was starting to feel that itch. Even paradise can become routine. In this article, I continue with my quick-start guide to some of the places you may wish to consider whilst travelling as a digital nomad. Last month, I was in the North of Bali.
What to expect in North Bali
The North of Bali could not have been any more different to the South. This side of the island is a mixture of lush jungle, panoramic views, acres of rice paddies and endless temples. Indonesian architecture is a beautiful sight to behold. The temples are straight out of a DMT trip; geometric, digital and awe-inspiring. Reminded of the Animatrix series of short films, I found it easy to imagine we were in some futuristic alien landscape. One of the impressive features of these incredible buildings is the gates. Each column is a mirror image of the other, creating a beautiful entrance which looks just like a portal. Indonesia is one of those countries where you feel a sense of something more significant than the reality in which we reside.
I had been hanging out with a young man from Munich, Fernando. We had met in Pai a month or so before. It was nice to get to know him properly on Gili Air. We discussed travelling together for a week or so. He was up for seeing North Bali, and I was keen to see the better side of the island. We went to see Hassan at Coco Loco Resto and purchased two fast boat tickets to Amed.
The sea crossing from Gili Air to Amed can be a bit choppy. If you decide to give it a go be prepared. We arrived safely if a little shaken. The ferry pulls right up onto the beach on Amed, and as we climbed onto the busy beach, taxi drivers swarmed around us. Booking any fast boat will get you a free taxi ride, so we were able to stride through with confidence. Sure enough, our private minibus was waiting in the car park for us. Within fifteen minutes, we were pulling up at our first stop.
Where to stay, and what to do in North Bali
The Anuragah Villas Hotel is a family run business. The staff are all very attentive, and Putu, the owner, will happily arrange to drive you to any places of interest, or your next stop, for very reasonable prices. The hotel itself sprawls over three levels. At the very top is a terrace cafe with fantastic views over the coast and the hills behind the hotel. I paid a little over £9.00GBP for a double room, with four-poster bed, private bathroom, terrace and air conditioning. The rate included a modest breakfast. Superb value for money, and if you are holidaying rather than travelling, then this would make a great base.
Amed has a busy little beach area, several bars and restaurants and it seems to be a hot spot for scuba diving. Immediately we landed, I could feel that this part of Bali is nothing like the South. It has stunning views, very few crowds of tourists, and lots of little Warungs. Bali, it would seem, is all about the North.
We stayed for two nights in Amed. Relaxed in the pool, walked to nearby restaurants and down to the beach. The North has a rugged coastline, so expect to put in some effort. The hills can be quite steep. Mopeds are available if you need to get further afield. Fernando hired a bike from Anugerah villas with no issues and had a ride up to the top of the range of hills behind the hotel. They are stunning by all accounts. I opted to chill out. Riding on Bali can be quite hair raising. Chiang Mai was less daunting!
Tirta Gangga and the water temple
Our next hop was to Tirta Gangga. Putu kindly drove us two hours to Puri Sawah villas for a modest fee. Tinta Gangga shows off Bali at its best. Liz and her husband own Puri Sawah Villas. The place is very rustic, having been owned by the family for around 30 years. Liz explained how her daughter, (an architect) was re-designing the restaurant, and they are looking forward to remodelling. I hope they retain the quirkiness and basic feel, as the bungalows are charming if a little dated. I stayed in the budget room, which has cold water only. I am entirely okay with that. If you need a bit of luxury, then go for the “superior” room. Now, I have to make a point here. These are budget rooms. Don’t expect five-star accommodation. Puri Sawah is a beautiful homestay, not a resort.
The beds are comfortable, the rooms are clean, and the view is astounding. Each of the bungalows looks over rice paddy fields which run up towards the foothills of Mount Agun which rises ominously in the distance. Agun is an active volcano, which was smoking during our stay. The prospect of an eruption added an exciting edge to an already inspiring place.
I have seen a bunch of negative reviews for Puri Sawah. I can only assume these people were expecting a five-star service from a budget cost homestay. A general tip for reviewing, don’t just slate a place and give it one star, explain what you expected, and why it failed to deliver that. At least the reader can see whether you have a genuine complaint, or if you just booked the wrong kind of accommodation. I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending this place. I want to go back and write a novel there. It is perfect.
Tirta Gangga changed my entire perception of Bali. It is magical. The people are lovely, and the surrounding countryside is some of the best I have seen throughout this journey. The local Warung is affordable and offers a laundry service. The infamous, soon to be Instagram famous Tirta Gangga water temple is a place of wonder. You can feed the giant carp, swim in the volcanic waters and stand in the sacred courtyard at the top of the gardens. There you will find some incredible statues. The feeling that this place is still alive with very spiritual energy is overwhelming. Look out over the jungle to the left, and the rice paddies to the right and breath it in deeply. Please go and see this place before the recent rush of Instagrammers sends the investors running to turn the village into another overpriced resort.
Thankfully a kind man with a genuine heart may have foreseen that issue. I won’t name him as I have not had permission to mention him. Suffice to say he bought all of the lands around the water temple many years ago. His sole aim was to stop development and protect the place. We need more people like him in this world.
After Tirta Gangga, it was time to move on again. Our timetable was set by Fernando’s needing to be in Jakarta by a particular day, to fly to Malaysia. I was fairly open at this point and had intended saying farewell to Fernando at the ferry port when he left for Java. I was then going to head back South to Denpasar and fly to my next country, most likely Southern Thailand. We decided to split the journey to the Gilimanuk ferry port in West Bali in two. We found a beautiful looking place on Agoda which sat on the beach, about halfway between Tirta Gangga and Gilimanuk ferry port. Liz arranged transport with her husband, who drove us two and a half hours to the next villa. The Indonesian people are so kind. We spent the time chatting with him about his life on Bali, his family and all of the places of interest we passed along the way. I am so looking forward to seeing them again.
Villa Aditya sits adjacent to the beach at Tejakula. Tejakula is a weirdly linear place, as all of the shops, businesses and hotels line the main coastal road which circumnavigates the island. The layout made for a couple of long walks as we explored the area. Agoda offered up Villa Aditya at just £14.00 a night. The rooms were very well appointed, with king-size beds, air conditioning, private terrace and open-air bathrooms. They even had a kitchenette and personal water fountain. You cannot beat this kind of deal. As testimony to how generous and thoughtful the local people are, Fernando and I went walking to find a warung but had left it a little late. One of the owners of the villas rode past on her moped and saw us a few kilometres from the villa. She stopped to say hello, and realise we were looking for food. She motioned us to walk back the other way towards where we were staying. Five hundred metres down the road, we met her and her husband. Each was on mopeds, and they had a bag of fruit, and snacks for us. They rode us back to the villa explaining that it was difficult to find food after ten pm. Genuine acts like this are commonplace in Indonesia.
The villas sat in dense coconut groves and offered a swimming pool and yoga terrace. Breakfast came included, but we chose to eat at the nearby Warung Seni for evening meals. Aditya is seriously chilled. I was able to get some writing done, meditate and recover from a nasty ear infection, so I was grateful for the rest. (If you go swimming in Tirta Gangga volcanic pools, wear earplugs)! Things were so relaxed; we opted to book an extra night.
Villa Aditya is relatively remote. This place is ideal if you want to crack on with a complex project, tear into some fiction writing, or any creative work that requires peace. If you don’t like roosters, then north Bali is not going to be fun for you. The north seems to have a high population of them, and they regularly let you know they are there. I liked having them as part of the audio backdrop, but fair warning, they are relentless.
Where to eat in North Bali
Another big reason for visiting the North was the Bali Asli Restaurant. Owned by Australian Chef Penny, and her business partner, the Bali Asli has to be the best restaurant I have ever visited. Around thirty minutes by vehicle from Tirta Gangga, the Bali Asli offers a lunchtime menu of Indonesian inspired food. If you are feeling brave, then you can walk across the paddy fields from Puri Sawah. Fernando and I did just that. It took two hours, but it was one of the highlights of this trip. The look on the faces of the locals as two western men dressed in hippy clothes, and with me wearing flip flops, was priceless. We found ourselves in a few tight spots and had to wade in the knee-deep drainage channels more than once. On the subject of footwear; don’t wear flip flops. Mine broke, and I had to walk for an hour barefooted. Expect to get a bit wet, and very hot. Don’t let this put you off, because it was a fantastic afternoon. Thankfully I had some Elastoplast tape in my bag, so once we were on normal roads again, I taped the sole of my flip flop to my foot. Ingenious, I know.
As for the restaurant, the food is incredible. If you have read my earlier blogs, then you will have read about Cempedak. Penny was the consultant chef for the menu on the luxury island, and her restaurant was the main reason for heading to the North of Bali. I am so glad we did. The building itself rests in the hills east of Agun, which dominates the view from the terrace. Penny offers a day-long Indonesian cooking workshop and a street food tour which is well worth doing too. Bali Asli is a bucket list experience in terms of food and location. Go.
Aside from Bali Asli, Warung Seni and the many street vendors are a must
Summary of my trip through North Bali
North Bali made an impact.
I look forward to returning. Next time I will make sure I get a tourist SIM card on arrival. I struggled with the internet throughout the whole of my Indonesian experience, and there was no need. A tourist SIM offers the best WiFi you can get. They are not expensive. £15 will buy you 15GB of internet.
I plan to spend a month in the north of Bali at some point. There is so much to see and do, especially if you like hiking, water sports or merely riding a scooter around. The people are beautiful, and the food is exquisite. Bali is a destination for the adventurous Digital Nomad. One who wants to balance work with activities. I will return to write a book. Puri Sawah will be my first stop.
Jumpa Lagi Bali North