After a shaky start to our time in Bali we were determined to see and do more in Ubud.
A popular option from Ubud, is to hire a driver for a day and do a tour around Bali’s popular sites depending on your interests. We were keen to see volcanoes but it was a long way and with recent volcanic activity we though it was a bit risky with the kids.
We decided on a day trip focused on the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, a world heritage site, with other stops added on as time allowed, hopefully including a waterfall. Well, best laid plans and all that, we learnt a few lessons about hiring a driver in Bali. We used the driver that had transferred us to Ubud from Legian as we’d started to build a repore with him and his prices were reasonable.
Lesson number 1: Be clear and upfront about your priorities for the day. The driver had his own ideas, and with the best of intentions he wanted to take us to a place he thought the kids would enjoy. A monkey forest. Not the one in Ubud, it was about 40mins out of town. I was tempted to just say ‘No, keep driving’, but I didn’t want to be rude and figured it wasn’t a big deal to have a quick look.
At first it was quite cute… but…
Anyone who has been to a monkey forest knows that the monkeys can be extremely aggressive and so can the touts. They follow you around, giving the children peanuts to hand feed the monkeys, and then expecting tips. L can be a bit over cautious about things and was quite convinced that every monkey had rabies and his little sister who had touched a monkey was now going to, “GET RABIES AND DIE!”
We were rapidly walking the paths hoping the find the sacred temple and the exit when a monkey leapt onto Paul’s back. I was trying to chase it off when he said to me “well it is on now, you might as well take a picture”. So while I was doing that and L was screaming and S was swatting at the monkey on her Dad, a monkey leapt over S’s head and landed on L. And that really was the final straw. Everyone was screaming, monkeys were everywhere, someone came to help us get the monkeys away, and L ran back to the entrance yelling, convinced we were all going to “GET RABIES AND DIE!!!!”
The poor driver could not understand what had happened, we just had to tell him that L was afraid of monkeys and we would like to leave now please. (After we’ve washed our hands and L has used a whole bottle of sanitiser). So we’re about an hour into our trip and it isn’t going too well.
Except I did get this gorgeous picture of a monkey so I thought it was worthwhile!
The next stop was to a coffee Luwak shop / tasting, known in Indonesia as Kopi Luwak. We were interested to try this very expensive coffee that comes from partly digested coffee beans, eaten and then pooed! by the Asia Palm Civet. The coffee cherries / beans ferment in the Civet’s intestines giving the coffee a prized, smooth flavour. Originally the faeces was collected from wild Civets, hence it’s extraordinary price.
Since our tasting I have read there is now a lot of intensive farming which is raising ethical concerns about the treatment of Civets. There are a lot of places to try Kopi Luwak, many of which claim their Civets are wild, but it seems hard to tell which are legitimate. Well we thought it was a nice tasting cup of coffee, but not so nice that I would pay the high prices for it, and now I would be cautious tasting again being unsure of the origins of the beans and the treatment of the Civet.
Back in the car, I’m thinking, ‘ok, next stop the rice terraces’, my priority for the trip. But no, next stop according to the driver is the Bedugal area, a lake resort area. Here the most famous site is the Hindu Water Temple, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, on the shores of Lake Bratan. This was a pleasant surprise actually, the temple was very pretty and we enjoyed our walk through the park and gardens.
Back in the car again! It was getting close to lunch time and we wanted to fit in a waterfall trip, not too much further North, before heading South via the rice terraces back to Ubud. The sensible thing seemed to be to seek out lunch before leaving Bedugal. The driver knew a place, (of course he did).
Lesson number 2: Have your own place picked out for lunch. He dropped us off at a tourist buffet restaurant. Walking in we were swiftly seated at a table and then I asked the cost. I don’t remember what it was now, but it was an outrageous amount for what looked like crappy tourist food in Bali. I almost never do this, but we walked out. I told the driver we just wanted something simple and local and we went across the road to some small lakeside food stalls. Everything was in Indonesian and we totally stunned the cook when we turned up, but I recognised the names of fried rice and noodles so we ordered a couple of hot dishes to share. It was very simple food, but hot, fresh and tasty. We added some soft drinks, a packet of biscuits for later and fresh strawberries that were for sale and the whole thing came to less than the cost of one person at the buffet restaurant.
Things changed a bit after this and I think we’d earned a bit of respect from our driver. We took a bit more control and insisted that we wanted to visit the lesser known Munduk Waterfall rather than the twin waterfalls he wanted to take us to.
Lesson 3 Set the price beforehand and ensure it includes everything you want to do
Our driver wanted more money to take us to Munduk Waterfall because it was further away than the twin waterfalls. Even though we would get back to Ubud within the 8 hours we’d paid for. We agreed to it because we were happy with the original price we’d negotiated and took it off the tip we’d planed to give him. It would have been better if we’d had all our plans clear before we started, but we were winging it a bit.
Lesson 4 Do your own research about popular or lesser known sites and day trips, your driver doesn’t know everything!
It turned out our driver had never been to these falls before despite driving past the entrance many times. Rather than just waiting in the car he walked down with us and took some photographs. We all had a fun walk down to the falls and quite a hot and strenuous walk back up the hill. It is about 10 mins walk, some parts quite steep and unfortunately not suitable for those with limited mobility, push chairs etc. For those who can do it, the walk is very worthwhile to see the impressive waterfall. The kids were awed by the power, the noise and the spray of the falls. We had it to ourselves for awhile until one other person arrived.
We took some pictures of her because sometimes a selfie stick just doesn’t cut it. We don’t own a selfie stick, I like the social and cultural interaction that happens when you ask someone to take a picture for you. We’ve met and talked to people from all over the world while taking pictures for each other. We have very few, whole family pictures, from the trip so the ones we do have are precious. Our driver took this one below.
Lesson 5: Some things are worth a few extra dollars. Keep it in perspective and remember that you might never come back to this part of the world. It isn’t worth making a fuss and spoiling your day, or missing something, when you’ve come so close. Munduk Waterfall was great and worth every extra dollar and the long drive. All that money saved on a crappy tourist lunch easily covered the extra cost.
Back in the car, AGAIN, and yes, we are definitely on the way to the rice terraces now!
The Jatiluwih Rice Terraces are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The terraces are maintained by a centuries old water management cooperative called ‘Subak’. The cooperative is recognised as an important part of Bali’s cultural landscape.
You can see rice terraces all over Bali and indeed all over South East Asia if you look in the right place. You can visit the more touristy Tegallalang Rice Terraces about half an hours drive from Ubud, but many tour buses go there and it can get very busy. Jatiluwih are a bit more out of the way, about 1.5 hours from Ubud, so when you get there you can find a bit more space and tranquillity. There are a number of walking trails through the fields, we did one that took about an hour, I think it is about 1.5km. It takes awhile because there is so much to stop and see.
We could have gone a bit further but it was getting quite late in the day by this point!! The trail is easy walking but you probably couldn’t manage with a pushchair or wheelchair. You can still get lovely views from the roadside area though or sit in one of the Warungs (local restaurant) and enjoy a meal with a view.
We enjoyed a great walk in the fields until right at the end, we veered off track to see a buffalo, slipped on some mud and S hurt her ankle. We made it back to the road and thankfully were able to call the driver to pick us up. She was fine, but it was no surprise she was very tired by this point. We were all ready to head back to Ubud.
Lesson 6: Know when to call it a day!
We all had a great day with different highlights for everyone, but the Waterfall something we all loved. We also saw a Balinese funeral procession and lots of daily life happening, with the added benefit of a local to talk us through it. For around $70 NZD for the driver including tip it really was good value for 4 people.
Visit Get Your Guide to book a driver or a tour in Bali. We’ve used Get Your Guide several times and always had a great experience. Their app is fantastic too.
While we had our moments of frustration with our driver, he really did his best to see that we had a great day. Any issues were just misunderstandings or cultural differences and we have definitely learnt by now to just let it go! We’ve had times during our travels when we’ve felt like we are being ripped off or taken advantage of, but it wasn’t the case on this day, which is why I say we learnt some lessons. We recognised that we could have communicated better and he had the best of intentions. Most kids love monkeys! He is a Dad himself and was great with the kids. We hired him again a couple of days later to take us to our next hotel via Tanah Lot temple and had another excellent trip.
When you’ve spent several months trying to avoid all the typical traveler scams, you can become quite wary of ‘friendly locals’. It is a fine balance to protect yourself and your family, while at the same time opening yourself up to meet locals who are keen to share their home and culture with you, without ulterior motive.
If you go to Bali, take one day to book a driver and just go exploring, with a plan or not much plan, either way you will learn something and see Bali in a whole new way. Our next post, hopefully soon: Worldschool in Bali, Tanah Lot Temple, eating for a good cause and lots more.
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