Bali is an island covered in the lush greenery of rice paddies, mountains and forests; while stunningly beautiful, this does make getting from A to B a little more challenging than you would expect. The plethora of winding, narrow country roads along with the ridiculous number of motorcycles almost completely rules out large modes of transport, and you won’t find many tourist coaches like you do in other parts of Asia. Instead expect your main modes of transport around this relatively small land mass to include motorcycle, taxi or car; all at a very reasonable price.
Looking at the online forums, private car seems to be the most popular way to get across the island, especially if you are going coast to coast. We hired a driver three times during our stay in Bali and found it to be a hugely comfortable means of transport, as well as a great way to support the local community. While drivers are very happy to take you straight to your destination, they are also extremely willing to show you some sights along the way. Whether you’ve researched where you want to go in advance, or decide to put your trust in local knowledge, it’s always worth doing as it allows you to see things that normally wouldn’t be on your radar.
During our trip from Ubud to Amed we did just this, asking our driver to pick a couple of places that he thought were worth seeing, in order to break up our 4 hour journey. Our first stop was Goa Gajah, more popularly known as the ‘Elephant Cave’. Only 2km from Ubud it is an attraction that can easily be visited as part of a day trip and is a surprisingly large complex of temples, gardens and sacred bathing pools. When entering any temple, make sure you are wearing appropriate clothing. Sarongs are a requirement for both men and women and most places do give these out for free at the entrance; though if you are in Bali for a while you may choose to purchase your own – they make for a great souvenir!
Built during the 9th Century the ‘elephant cave’ is the main point of interest within the site, standing alone in a forecourt and covered in ornate carvings. Inside is small and dark, accentuated by the fog of incense that clouds your vision and fills your nostrils. Not unpleasant, the cave has a rather mysterious feel to it, with shrines at either end of the main chamber. Please do be aware that with most temples in Bali, menstruating women are not permitted to enter. While this may not be something you yourself agree with, I personally believe that you should respect the culture and religion of a country that you visit.
Beyond the cave, you will find a complex of bathing pools, where you can watch local people pray and wash in the sacred waters. You may even join in yourself, although it is always best to check with your driver or guide! Further on, you will find a set of stone steps, leading down to what I can only describe as a secret garden. Paths leading through beautifully wild landscaping with overhanging trees and vines make you feel that you are in a remote paradise; if it weren’t for my fellow tourists it would have been magical.
Our second stop was in the highlands of east Bali, nearer to Amed. Tirta Gangga is a royal water garden that was first built in 1946, and then restored in 1963. It is beautifully ornate and detailed; a truly peaceful retreat. The first thing that catches your eye on entry is the stepping stone pool, which you can walking across to admire the stone guardians and the huge carp that swim below. As well as this there are bathing pools, palm trees and fountains galore; it is extremely pleasing to the eye and in my opinion a must see if you are ever in the east.
When you’re next in Bali, hire a driver and get out of your comfort zone. Go and explore the lesser known parts of this beautiful island and put your trust in those who know best; the people who call Bali their home.