Friday, September 14, 2007


Inspiring view from a fancy resort about 20 minutes from Ubud. Lodgings range from USD175-400 a night. I paid 50,000 rupiah (about RM18) at Dewi Antara Homestay (no great views but it had a hot and cold shower and I slept extremely well).

THE BALINESE are apparently governed by a strong sense of cosmic order, devolving from the adoration of monarchs who were once worshiped as deities in human form. Their belief in the Law of Karma seems to fortify them against hubristic notions of upward mobility; in Bali you can be a rich tourist without paranoid expectations that the poor folk catering to your whims are just waiting for their chance to rip you off, pick your pocket or mug you in a dark alley.

70% of the craftsmen and business operators in Bali originate from Java.
This young man spends his days patiently pointillizing wooden turtles.
I was never, for an instant, nervous about anyone pinching my bag or making off with my rented bike. Even the few beggars I encountered in Ubud weren’t at all pushy, and were happy to accept a 500-rupiah (less than 20 sen) donation.

My second visit to Bali confirmed beyond any doubt that Ubud – and its verdant environs of well-tended paddies – is where I could easily establish a home away from home. One can “kontrak” or rent a cozy house set amidst the most inspiring landscapes for between RM300-500 a month; count on paying at least RM750 (that’s about 2 million rupiah!) for a luxury villa. Indeed, my Bali vacation has been a powerful incentive for me to become grotesquely rich (as I fully deserve to be).

Understandably - considering Bali’s immense popularity as a tourist destination (it has successfully retained its reputation as “the world’s most beautiful island” for decades) - I was initially anxious that I might find the place overrun by busloads of budget airline tour groups (Malaysians and Taiwanese are notorious for traveling in large, noisy platoons). As it turned out, the only horribly congested areas were the Kuta-Legian “drunken surfer” strip – and two or three shopping streets in Ubud. Everywhere else I ventured, Bali looked its remarkable, unflappable self.

I stayed only one night in Kuta, in a quiet guesthouse just off the busy commercial hub, and did a wee bit of shopping (nylon hammock, music DVDs, a cool shirt). Bumped into a lovelorn Irish gypsy named Eva and dispensed a bit of free advice. Rented a motorbike the next morning - cheap at 40,000 rupiah (about RM15) a day - and off I rode, feeling freer and easier than I have in years. Getting in and out Kuta, though, is quite a feat as the streets are a veritable maze, dusty and dense with traffic. You can’t rely on maps in Bali. Just stop and ask every 10 minutes. You’ll find that everybody is happy to point you in the right direction with a genuine smile.

One of the greatest joys in life is to ride a motorbike through open country without the impediment of a ridiculous crash helmet. True, Bali has been coerced by the diabolical forces of globalization into making crash helmets compulsory - but the rule is rarely enforced, especially outside the crowded urban areas, and this is one sure gauge of a nation that hasn't signed a contract with Dr Mephistopheles!

In Ubud I was surprised to hear somebody call my name. I turned around and caught sight of Andrew Sia’s beaming face. Did a quick U-turn and caught up with him down the road. Andrew (from The Star) was chauffeuring his mum around. He suggested I check out the sacred spring at Tirta Empul, Tampaksiring.

At Gunung Kawi, the royal pura (temple) and amphitheatre  carved out of granite are worth a visit.
11th century meditation cave at Gunung Kawi.
Met another Malaysian, oddly enough also from The Star, at Gunung Kawi. Zafarul was honeymooning with his new bride, Nazmi. He promised to pop me an email. Still waiting, Zafarul!

Private shower at Gunung Kawi - for me the most mystical moment of my brief sojourn there!

[To be continued...]
Text & photos © Antares