Bali Holiday Week: Volcanoes, Diving, Temples, Cooking

For a relatively small island, Bali can pack in a lot of activities in just a week: volcano-climbing at dawn, diving in coral reefs, cooking traditional Balinese cuisine, visiting Balinese Hindu temples, taking in a traditional Kecak performance, hanging with monkeys, and enjoying a few Balinese massages.

Tanah Lot - Bali, Indonesia
Tanah Lot, Bali

Remember when you’d return to school from summer break and write an essay entitled: What I Did on My Summer Vacation? Well, here’s our modern-day approach to that question: What did we do on our week-long G Adventures tour of Bali?

Volcano Sunrise: Climbing Mt. Batur

To be perfectly honest, waking up at 3:30 AM was hellish, particularly since we went to sleep after midnight. But as we climbed in perfect darkness and the silhouettes of the surrounding cloud-swaddled volcanoes appeared, it was clear this was all worth it. Only 90 minutes later, we were enjoying a volcano sunrise.

Sunrise at Mt. Batur - Bali, Indonesia
Sunrise atop Bali’s Mt. Batur.

After we’d admired the view, our local trekking guide took us to the edge of one of the craters, buried a bunch of eggs in the ground, and allowed the hot steam of the volcano to cook them. Volcano breakfast, no stove necessary.

Steam Rising from Mt. Batur Volcano - Bali, Indonesia
Breakfast view: Mt. Batur’s smoldering craters.

Watch out for the hungry monkeys. They may look cute, but they snatched Audrey’s breakfast right from her hands.

Cost: 250,000 IDR ($30) for transport, local trekking guides and breakfast. If you have low blood sugar, you may want to bring some snacks or Gatorade to help you get through the climb before breakfast.

Menjangan Island: Scuba Diving the Coral Reefs

Of our two days of diving in Bali, this was our favorite. Because Menjangan Island is a nature reserve, its coral reefs are relatively well-preserved. Visual artists can find inspiration in the shapes, patterns and colors of Mother Nature’s underwater designs. The visibility is fantastic and you don’t need to go very deep for a visually satisfying experience. Because this area is less susceptible to strong currents than other Bali dive sites, it makes for a relaxing dive experience where you can conserve a bit of your air and can stay down longer to enjoy the underwater journey.

Holding Hands While Diving around Menjangan Island - Bali, Indonesia
Yes we hold hands. Even underwater.

Puffer Fish - Menjangan Island, Indonesia
A puffer fish obliges the camera.

Cost: With Sunrise Dive shop, 500,000 IDR ($60)/person includes transport from Lovina, two dives, all equipment and lunch. If you don’t dive, you can opt to snorkel for 300,000 IDR ($35).

Special thanks goes to our friends Daniel and Juliet Jones for the underwater photos above.

Balinese Cooking Course

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of mediocre “Balinese” food served up in restaurants across the island, so much so that were almost about to give up on Balinese food. Then we took a cooking class in Ubud. We are so glad we did. Our understanding of and opinion of Balinese cuisine changed drastically.

Making Sate Lilit - Bali, Indonesia
Sticky fingers. Dan tries his hand at sate lilit, spiced minced meat on lemongrass skewers.

Our cooking class began appropriately with a tour of the Ubud market. Deep in the fruit and vegetable stands (if you can make your way past the souvenir stalls, you’ll find local produce in the back), our instructor explained the various ingredients used in Balinese cuisine.

Then the real fun began. Together, we prepared seven dishes, including: Bumbu Bali (Balinese spice paste), Sayur Urab (mixed vegetables), Tuna Sambal Matah (shrimp with raw sambal), Sate Lilit, Opor Ayam (chicken curry), Tempe Manis (temple in sweet-spicy sauce), and Sambal Udang (shrimp with spicy sambal).

Tuna Sambal Matah - Bali, Indonesia
Tuna Sambal Matah: seared tuna topped with uncooked sambal (sauce).

Cost: A Balinese cooking course with Bumi Bali restaurant in Ubud costs 250,000 IDR ($30/person) and includes a market visit, instructions on how to prepare seven dishes, a cookbook, an apron, transport from your hotel, and a lot of eating. Initially, we were concerned when we discovered the teaching facilities included only one cooking station. However, everyone in the class had the opportunity to participate in preparing multiple dishes and overall, the course provided an enjoyable, tasty and enlightening overview to Balinese cuisine. Recommended.

Note: We will write later in detail about Balinese cuisine and how it incorporates different roots, spices and chilies to create unique flavors and delicious sambals (sauces).

Kecak Performance and Fire Dance

We have to admit that our expectations for this tourist staple were rather low. Everyone and his brother (and sister) seemed to be selling “Kecak Show” tickets across Ubud. While we can’t vouch for the quality of the other shows, we thoroughly enjoyed the performance at Pura Dalem (Mondays and Fridays, 7:30 PM).

Kecak Performers - Ubud, Bali
Kecak Performance – Ubud, Bali

Even if you read the show’s plot description beforehand, you’ll likely be confused throughout the show. But that’s OK – the point is more to enjoy the chanting, dancing, and various beautifully-costumed characters that appear throughout the show.

Kecak Dance Princess - Ubud, Bali
More Kecak performance in Bali.

The show concludes with a man who runs through and dances on piles of burning coconut husks. Talk about intense. After experiencing the pain of stepping on burning embers in Koh Samui, Thailand earlier this year, we have a real appreciation of this art.

Fire Trance Dance - Ubud, Bali
Fire dance at the end of the Kecak performance.

Balinese Hindu Temples

Balinese Hinduism differs considerably from Hinduism practiced in India, and it plays an integral role in much of day-to-day life in Bali, including daily offerings and rather frequent festivals.

Funeral Procession at Besakih Temple - Bali
Funeral Procession at Besakih Temple

Our visit to the 8th century Besakih Temple at the foot of Mount Agung featured a long walk with a local guide to the top of the complex. Along the way, we asked all the questions about Balinese life and belief that we’d collected — about its various gods, ceremonies, pagodas, and caste system — and a beginner’s course in Balinese Hinduism had emerged.

Besakih Temple - Bali, Indonesia
Besakih Temple landscape.

Lunch at Senang Hati Foundation

Balinese Hindus believe in karma and rebirth, making it challenging for those born with disabilities. The prevailing perception is that if a person is born disabled, they must have done something in a previous life to deserve it. Families of disabled children will even go so far as to hide them from society.

The Senang Hati Foundation attempts to break down this cultural discrimination by providing a supportive community environment and skills and empowerment training to people with disabilities.

Visit to Sanang Hati - Bali, Indonesia
Meeting the leaders of Senang Hati Foundation

When we asked about whether companies on Bali were open to hiring disabled people, the women at the center told us, “Now companies hire disabled people because our people are better trained in English and professional skills. We may be physically disabled, but we have an advantage in our skills.”

G Adventures supports this organization by bringing its tour groups by for lunch to meet the people behind the organization and learn more about its activities.

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Did we see all of Bali in a week? Absolutely not. But in this week, our aim was to get an introduction to the island and have some fun. And in that, we succeeded.

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The experiences above were from the G Adventures’ Classic Bali Tour. If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price stays the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!

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Disclosure: Our Classic Bali Tour was provided by G Adventures in connection with its Wanderers in Residence program. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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Comments

  1. says

    I love the idea of taking a cooking class while on the road. I’ve never done it, but it sounds like a lot of fun and you probably learn quite a bit about the food and culture all at once. Hopefully I can work something like this in one of my next trips. Unfortunatly, I probably won’t stay long enough in one place to actually do it anytime soon. Nice pics!!

  2. Sutapa Chattopadhyay says

    Love, love, love your photos! I am always blown away by them!! Bali is spectacular!

  3. says

    @Sabrina: Fortunately, taking a cooking class really only takes 1/2 a day so hopefully you can fit it into one of your trips soon. We love them as they help us break down the cuisine of the country and usually provides some insight into the culture as well. We’ve taken courses in Thailand (Chiang Mai), Cambodia (Battambang), Vietnam (Hoi An), and some impromptu classes along the way.

    @Stutapa: Thank you for your kind words about our photos! If you’re interested in seeing more pictures from Bali, you can find them here: http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/photos/set/72157626784488500/page1/

  4. Agne says

    That is a great article! Loved the picture of you two under water! I hope I will have a chance to go to Bali as well :)

  5. says

    @Agne: One of the wonderful things about being in Southeast Asia is that stuff is relatively close and flights can be cheap. There are Air Asia flights from Phuket to Bali directly – go to the website now as they are having a big sale this week. Or, you can go to Kuala Lumpur and fly from there (our last flight was $45 one way!!). I think you’d enjoy Bali :)

    @Alex: The day before we climbed Mt. Batur, it was raining all day and you couldn’t see a thing. Now that’s foggy! When we climbed Mt. Batur, we climbed through the clouds to get above them at the top – this gave us nice views to Mt. Agung along the way.

    @Sutapa: Glad you enjoyed the other Bali photos! Not in Italy at the moment. We like to mix things up with our Panorama of the Week sometimes and show panoramas from different places around the world instead of where we are at that moment.

  6. Alfee says

    Naughty monkey! I enjoyed the volcano breakfast too when I was there a couple of years ago.

    The kecak dance was, yeah, confusing, even after reading up on the story beforehand. I tried to follow the storyline but I think got lost with all the movements and chanting, haha.

    Cooking class eh? How interesting. Never thought of that. Noted for my next holiday. Thanks!

  7. says

    @Alfee: We’ve done cooking classes in several countries during our travels and have really loved them. There’s no better way to learn about a cuisine than to cook it yourself!

    Yes, the storyline of the Kecak dance was confusing but it almost didn’t matter with the chanting and different characters.

  8. says

    Love that GAP Adventures actively works with orgs like Senang Hati Foundation. When I travelled with them to Peru, we stopped in a small village called Ccaccaccollo where they support the local weavers.

    That Tuna Sambal Matah looks delish! Sounds like you guys recuperated during the Bali break?

    We recently watched a foodie show based in Turkey and now the hubby and I are stoked on culinary trips. Will add cooking classes to the itinerary now when we travel.

  9. says

    @Lola: We just completed another GAP tour in Tanzania and I was happy to see that it also included two NGO/community tourism activities. It’s really important for tourism money to go back to the local community and help organizations like this grow.

    Definitely recommend adding cooking classes to as many trips as possible! At the end of our walking tour with an NGO in a town near Lake Manyara, we were treated to a wonderful Tanzanian feast. We were trying to convince the NGO that what would be an even better end to the tour would be to go into the kitchen and learn how to cook some of these dishes. Really makes you appreciate the local cuisine.

  10. Tania says

    This is our first time to bali and we have booked a villa for 5 nights in seminyak and then planning to go over “the other side”to volcanoes. Not sure where to stay or how to get there. Would it be Mt. Batur or is there another more special place we should visit.
    Thanks
    Tania

  11. says

    @Tania: For your first visit, we would recommend Mt. Batur. It’s plenty beautiful and also accessible in terms of approach and hiking. For a relatively short hike, you get a pretty vast sunrise view. Be sure to spend some time in and around the volcanic fumaroles. I’m not sure of your accommodation budget, but we stayed at Lakeview Hotel in Kintamani. Nice view, pretty nice breakfast (a lot of thin, crepe-like pancakes). Regarding how to get there, you can probably get a van/bus transfer from Seminyak (or wherever you happen to be). I hope that helps. Let us know if you have any more questions about Bali!

  12. says

    It sounds like you really had a great time in Bali. I have lived in Indonesia, (Sumatra), but never made out there to Bali. All of those food names sound unfamiliar, but they sure do look good.

    I have been to the Borobadur, but Besakih Temple complex also looks very inviting.

  13. says

    @Jim: I think the food across Indonesia probably knows endless variation. If you are interested in more detail regarding Balinese Food, check out our Bali Food post. When you visit Bali, one recommendation that I’m sure resonates with where you are: go deep and away from the trail, as parts of Bali are heavily developed for tourism.

  14. says

    I’m heading to Bali on Sunday from Kuala Lumpur and I’m really looking forward to a slower pace of life. But after reading this, maybe it won’t be a slow pace at all! So much to do in so little time…

  15. says

    @Simon: That’s the great thing about Bali – you can do as little or as much as you’d like. Lots of options out there, but it’s also possible to just chill at the beach or in Ubud by the rice fields. Enjoy your trip!

  16. says

    Bali will always have a place in my heart. I can recommend to rent a house out in the rice fields outside Ubud if you like to have it a bit more quiet. That is the only disadvantage, that it is very noisy with all the motorbikes.
    To discover in more depth I absolutely recommend to visit and learn from organisations like Senang Hati, I visited them some years ago as a friend of mine worked there, and it was great! They had a wonderful art exhibition on the coast that year, excellent artists!
    I also recommend to support an organisation like BAWA – Bali Animal Welfare Association – who do a terrific work for all the street dogs that not have an easy life. I support them myself with my newly launched eBook “The Dogs in Bali” – have a look if you like at http://www.dog-stories-from-bali.com
    I hope you enjoy your time in lovely Bali!

  17. says

    @Anna: Thanks for all the terrific Bali travel suggestions and perspective. Your comment about staying in the rice fields seems spot on — a beautiful space, but motorbikes are the choice transportation to get around everywhere.

    Glad to hear that you know of and can recommend Senang Hati. As for stray dogs, their plight is a universal one. Glad to hear there’s an organization on Bali helping to manage the situation.

  18. says

    Tanah lot first around 1999 looks nothing like that, you can fine road connecting it to the edge of the temple land, all might have been destroyed because of the big waves are always a hit

  19. says

    Heading to Bali in a few days and cannot wait :) From your post and photos it looks like a place where is worth to stop and recharge! Enjoy Africa, guys :)

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