Merge & Al's Excellent Adventures

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9 min read

Bali – as beautiful as you’ve heard ….

Last December 2023, I got to spend two full days on the Indonesian “Island of the GodsBali.  Everything you’ve ever heard about its blend of beauty and spiritual tradition is true.  Its picturesque rice terraces, stunning beaches, underwater vistas, and volcanic mountains provide a backdrop for a rich artistic community and the deeply spiritual Hindu culture.  Intricate temple architecture and lush landscapes abound.

As I disembarked the MS Westerdam the first morning, we were welcomed by four lovely young ladies clad in traditional costumes.  I was also very pleasantly surprised at how attractive the actual port is.  Many ports I visit while on a cruise are actually commercial ports that are doing double-duty as a cruise ship ports.  Not so in Bali.  The Benoa cruise ship port, which just opened last year, was built to showcase traditional Balinese architecture, and it is stunning.  

Benoa’s welcoming committee!
The incredible architecture at the cruise ship terminal
Look at the beautiful intricately-carved door

Bali is known for its spectacular diving and snorkeling, so that was first on my agenda.  I had made a reservation for a snorkeling tour well in advance, and there was a car and driver waiting to take me to the village of Padangbai, on the east coast of the island.  My first destination was the Topi Inn, a small family-run hotel right on the coast, which was to be my base for the day. 

The blue dot is the village of Padangbai
The blue dot is Topi Inn, the Blue Lagoon is on the east side of the small peninsula
The view from the front door of the family-run Topi Inn. You can’t get any closer to the ocean without being on it!

Upon arriving, I changed into my swimsuit, gathered up my snorkeling gear, and was off in my own private traditional boat to the Blue Lagoon

The short walk from the Topi Inn to my snorkeling boat

I had been told that the Blue Lagoon is a popular spot known for its beautiful sandy beach, vibrant marine life, and calm and clear waters, and it was true.  On my first snorkeling stop, I saw wonderful coral and lots of colourful fish, truly a stunning display of Bali’s underwater biodiversity.  But … this is also when I discovered that I had left my underwater camera in my bedside drawer on board the ship!!!  Aaargh!!! Oh well, I now have another reason to return here. 

After about 45 minutes at Blue Lagoon, I climbed back in the boat with a little help from my captain/tour guide, and we made our way to our second snorkeling spot – Tanjung Jepun.  This site is also famous for its vibrant coral reefs and diverse marine life. I was able to spot a variety of fish including clownfish, angelfish, lionfish, and even an eel!  Unfortunately though, you’ll have to take my word for it, as once again, I sorely felt the absence of my underwater camera.

We returned to the Topi Inn for lunch.  Before I set out in the morning, they had asked me to make my lunch selection from their menu, so I was eagerly looking forward to my nasi goreng (essentially Indonesian fried rice with spices and accompaniments).  But first, the hotel had outdoor showers available for me to wash up.  Clean and dry, I sat down to my lunch.  Delicious!

Nasi goreng …. yum!

After lunch, my car and driver were waiting to take me back to the ship.  But since it was only early afternoon, I asked my driver if we could make a stop at Pura Goa Lawah, which translated from Balinese means “Bat Cave Temple”. I had read about this temple, and I was keen to visit.  It wasn’t very far out of our way, and my very amenable driver agreed, so off we went. 

Pura Goa Lawah is one of Bali’s most unique and intriguing temples, located on the southeast coast of the island near the village of Klungkung.  It is of course famous for its distinctive feature: a cave that is home to thousands and thousands of bats.  Local lore suggests that the cave may extend through Mount Agung all the way to the other side to Besakih temple, though this has never been confirmed.  

Pura Goa Lawah is believed to have been established in the 11th century by Mpu Kuturan, one of the early priests who laid the foundations of Hinduism on the island, and is one of Bali’s key nine directional temples, which protect the island from evil spirits.  The nine directional temples are strategically positioned to guard against dark forces entering the island, and both Pura Goa Lawah and Pura Besakih are in this number. 

The entrance to the bat cave
I ventured a little further in to get a closer view

Goa Lawah temple features traditional Balinese architecture with intricate carvings and gates, and the backdrop of the ocean just added to its beauty.  A local guide told me that this temple is included in funeral rites, as it is customary to stop here with the deceased for a blessing on their way to the cremation site.

After a very full day, I returned to the ship in the evening, but eagerly looking forward to the next day as a group of fellow travelers had invited me to join them on a guided tour.  But as I walked into the terminal, there was a young lady offering foot massages for $20.  I couldn’t turn that down!  So one last treat before I made by way back on board.  And no, despite what the photo looks like, I am not in pain, I actually really enjoyed the foot massage!

A great way to end the day!

Day 2 in Bali dawned bright and sunny, and I was up and ready to join several of my fellow travelers on a tour around the island.  The destination I was most looking forward to was the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud. On the way to Ubud is the village of Celuk, which is a key destination for those interested in Balinese arts, particularly because of its artisans who specialize in creating detailed and sophisticated designs using silver.  Bali is renowned for its exquisite craftsmanship in silver jewelry, and the silverwork in Celuk is characterized by intricate patterns, often inspired by nature or traditional motifs, and is widely celebrated for its quality and creativity.  So we stopped there first. 

We stopped at UC Silver Gold, one of the largest and most prominent silver manufacturers in Bali.  Besides having a huge showroom with an extensive collection of silver and gold jewelry for sale, it also lets you tour their facility to observe the artisans at work.  It really is amazing to see firsthand the skill and immense precision required to craft silver jewellery.   We got the usual tour of the process, from melting the raw silver to the final polishing of a piece, and an explanation of the traditional techniques that are still used today.  The unexpected surprise was the building and the grounds.  Unique artwork and whimsical statues were everywhere, and I couldn’t resist taking some fun photographs.

Just one of the talented silversmiths at work
Inside the UC Silver Gold showroom!
The UC Silver Gold property
Welcome to Ubud Sanctuary!

Next stop was the Ubud Monkey Forest, a nature reserve and Hindu temple complex that spans about 30 acres of forested land and is home to over 700 grey long-tailed macaques.  It contains three Hindu temples that date back to around the 14th century: Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal (the main temple), Pura Beji (a bathing temple), and Pura Prajapati (a cemetery temple). These temples play a key role in the spiritual life of the local community and are used for various local ceremonies and community events. 

Another welcome!

I went into the complex with the best intentions of visiting and photographing all three temples, but those of you who know me have probably figured out that I never made it that far.  The monkeys completely captivated me, and I spent the next hour watching, feeding and just generally hanging out with them.  This property is also a conservation and sanctuary for the macaques, and educational programs and research activities focus on studying their health, diet, and breeding habits to ensure a sustainable coexistence with the local community. The forest itself is a dense swath of lush jungle, with towering trees and moss-covered statues and bridges, and everywhere I turned, there were more monkeys. 

Grey long-tailed macaques everywhere!
Friendly and fun!

Before I knew it, an hour fled by, and we had to return to the van to go to lunch.  I would happily have stayed, but my traveling companions took me by the hand and back to the parking lot!  Lunch was at a beautiful restaurant overlooking rice terraces, and my spring roll appetizer and satay main course were absolutely scrumptious.

Terrace overlooking the rice paddies
Spring roll appetizer …
Satay and nasi goreng for lunch
This was the infinity pool on the restaurant’s property
And for something different, a giant swing out over the fields and forest

Lunch over, next on the agenda was a visit to the Ceking Rice Terraces.  Also known as the Tegalalang Rice Terraces, these fields use the traditional Balinese irrigation system known as subak, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed method that has been passed down through generations.  Subak is not just about irrigation; it’s a communal system managed by groups of farmers who work together to ensure all community members receive fair access to water. Each Subak is led by a farmer elected by its members, and decisions are made collectively during community meetings held at the local temple, which is central to the Subak system.  The paddies here step down along the slopes, offering stunning views and a serene atmosphere where you can sit back and enjoy the breathtaking scenery.

Vistas at Tegalalang Rice Terraces

A day spent well, I returned to ship with one promise to myself – I will return, soon, to this beautiful “Island of the Gods”. Bali, I’ll be back!!

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