Ubud Essentials

The promised Ubud post is finally here! I will get straight to it.

Where to stay:
Ubud is a lovely town about an hour (+30mins) from Denpasar. Aptly named the cultural hub of Bali, Ubud has plenty to offer from indie art shops to white water rafting. That said, the main attraction is the Monkey Forest and I recommend staying close to it for the simple reason that it opens into the Ubud Market. There are two entrances to the Monkey Forest – essentially you can go in from one side of Ubud and get out from the exit in the local market. We stayed on the quieter side but the walk to the market (a narrow lane around the forest perimeter) took just 7 minutes. You can check out the property here. It’s a big house with a lovely garden, an open shower in the upstairs bedroom, a quaint balcony and a beautiful view of the rice fields.

Food:
Though I am a vegetarian and on my way to becoming vegan, I recommend a nice long walk in the Ubud Market if you are looking for cafés with a good music scene. I recommend drinking local – I did enjoy their local beer (Bintang) despite harbouring a strong preference for pale ales. There’s a cute corner restaurant at the entrance (non-market) of the Monkey Forest that has a total hippie music scene. Check their board for announcements. Other than that, here are my recommended restaurants for vegetarian food near Rumah Buda.

  1. Sage Cuisine
    Address: 
    Jl. Nyuh Bulan No. 1, Banjar Nyuh Kuning, Ubud, MAS, Gianyar, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
    Phone: +62 361 976528
    I recommend: Pancakes, Coconut coffee, and Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl
  2. Trattoria
    Address: Jalan Nyuh Bojog, Desa Nyuh Kuning, Ubud, MAS, Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
    Open: 8AM–11PM
    Phone: +62 811-399-241
    I recommend: Farm Pizza, Tomato Basil sandwich (it’s a double panini, very filling, and totes-delish). The omelette is served with toast and blue-berry jam (LOVED IT!) Oh and the coffee is good too. Trattoria is a chain and you can find it in Kuta as well. The staff is pleasant and accommodating.

Definitely try the gelato parlours in the Ubud market. I recommend the local mangosteen (I liked the tea) but I am not a big fan of the local coconut flavour in ice-cream.

Shopping

  1. Dream Catchers: I don’t even know where to begin. You will find massive ones in almost every shop. For the big ones (with three rings), your upper limit is IDR200,000. If you are making a single purchase, I doubt you will be able to command this price. So try to club it with something else. They generally quote IDR350,000 for these.
  2. Earrings: The tiny ones just bigger than studs in sterling silver are quoted at IDR100-150000. Pay no more than IDR50,000.
  3. Kimonos: I have wanted them since I took up Japanese at age 15. When I saw how much they cost in an Asian Shop in Amsterdam, I gave up on the dream. There are two types – satin and silk (or so they say). Satin comes with a lining and is slightly coarse. They quote IDR180,000 in Kuta/Legian so if you can’t get a good price in Ubud, wait till you get to Kuta. The silk ones are soft and dreamy – quoted at IDR350,000, can be brought down to IDR230,000 after a LOT of haggling.
  4. Carved wooden idols: We have a mini elephant collection now. In different sizes. Negotiate up to IDR 100,000 for a decently sized elephant. You can also find lovely Ganesha idols along with the Buddha ones. Club your purchases for a good deal

Shopping Tip: Go when the market opens. The fewer the people, the better the negotiations. The sellers will bring the rates down if you aren’t surrounded by a crowd because they don’t want others to ask for the same price!

What to do in and around Ubud:

  1. Kintamani Tour – Covers Mt. Batur, the rice fields, a coffee plantation, and Tampaksiring. If you choose to do the hike, you will have to find a tour operator in the market. I believe you have to leave ~2am for the sunrise trek. Parking and toll cost IDR95,000 and entry is IDR80,000. You can buy lava paintings from local artists in the temple grounds. They are actually made from crushing the rocks of Mt. Batur.
  2. Mt. Agung – This is the other trek. If you choose not to do the trek, you can drive to see Pura Besakih (the biggest temple). Sarongs and offerings are compulsory if you wish to enter the temple. If you don’t bring either, you’ll be restricted to the outer area of the temple which is a total bummer after the climb. Tip! Scooters will take you up for free but will charge IDR10,000 for the ride down to the parking lot. You can pay to use the loos (or buy something from the local shops in which case they don’t charge to use the loo) but I recommend you avoid them and save yourself from a UTI.
  3. Tampaksiring – The Holy Water Temple. Sarongs are included in the ticket cost but you are not allowed to get them wet. So, if you are planning to take a dip in the holy water fountain, bring your own sarong and en extra set of clothes. Tie your hair! You won’t be permitted inside the inner temple if you don’t.
  4. Monkey Forest – Honestly, I am not a big fan of monkeys. I definitely do not like the idea of being outnumbered by animals that like to jump on you and grab things out of your hand. But if you are up for a nice long walk in a wonderfully preserved reserve, head out early when it isn’t too crowded.
  5. Puri Saren Royal Palace – It isn’t really a palace tbh. Just a small courtyard with some photo-ops. I liked the one-hour long Legong Dance. It starts at 7:30 but I advise getting there early and taking up the pseudo-balcony seats in the back. Ticket costs IDR100,000
  6. Goa Gajah Caves – Lovely landscaped gardens. Ticket costs IDR20,000. You can easily spend an hour here. Don’t shop in the market. The rates are higher than the Ubud Market.
  7. Setia Dharma House of Masks – Understated. That’s all I can say about the buzz for this place. Our driver didn’t even know about it but I insisted that he take us there. I loved it. There is no entrance ticket but a donation box is placed outside the last display hall. Beautiful gardens ♥ We didn’t sit down in the café but it looked nice. There are plenty of toilets here and they are CLEAN.
  8. ARMA – Agung Rai Museum of Art. Ticket costs IDR80,000 and includes a welcome drink. You will find artists and students creating stone sculptures and paintings in the gardens. Set aside an hour or more for this museum.
  9. Gili Islands –  I wasn’t looking to party so I didn’t go. But you can check for rates in the market. They will undoubtedly be high. Check with your hotel / hostel / AirBnB if they can score you a good deal.
  10. Massages – Plenty of options in the market. Foot massages and reflexology start at 15 mins and go up to an hour. Fully body massage is offered in 30m – 1h – 2hr schedules. Rates vary depending on establishment. I suggest taking a walk in the market while you enjoy your gelato. Ask around for rates and check hygiene before you select one.

IMHO:

  • BUY a sarong instead of renting one. Even though all travel guides (incl. Lonely Planet) and the boards outside the temples state that sarongs AND/OR decent clothes are permitted, they will insist on sarongs. I ditched my pants after Day 2 coz it was annoying to wrap a sarong around full length pants. So, wear your shorts and carry a sarong along.
  • Halve every quote like I said in my last post. Check everything you buy for tears and/or breaks.
  • Ditch the Blanco Renaissance Museum. The ticket was way too overpriced for the sparsely covered mansion. I would rather have spent more time in ARMA.
  • If you wish to trek, see the temples, and go to Gili Island budget a week in Ubud. There’s no way you can get everything done in less than 7 days. It will be way too exhausting.

Up Next: I will post the promised itinerary next. I thought it would be better to get this detailed post out first. Stay tuned, my peeps! ♥

Bali: Arrival – Stay – Money – and more!

I am moving soon and I wanted a short holiday that required minimum planning. Air Asia answered my prayers by announcing discounted tickets! Bali is gaining traction as a popular holiday destination from India and after spending a week there, I can see why! So here’s everything you need to know about booking your holiday. Trust me, you don’t need a travel agent 🙂

Getting There: Keep an eye out for promotions. Air Asia announces discounted fares multiple times a year. For example: Late May through early June, return air fares were going at approx. INR 15,000. Soon after they shut this promotion, they opened another for travel dates starting from January 2018. So, book your tickets early.

Visa: VoA (for 30 days) for almost all nationalities. There was a USD35 charge for VoA until a few years ago. VoA is now FREE! All you need is a return ticket to show the immigration officers and you are good to go. Oh, the Bali officers won’t even bother to ask. It is only the officers in India who might question you about your return date.

Stay: Are you a first timer? Do you care about arts and crafts? How fit are you? Do you like adventure sports? Are you just looking for a spa holiday? Is this a bachelorette plan? Well, where you should stay depends on your answers to the above questions. I split my stay between Ubud and North Kuta (~Canggu). I picked Ubud first because I wanted to be closer to the airport towards the end of my stay – just in case of emergencies. If you are all about hiking, the local arts, and some quiet time – head to Ubud without a second thought. The drive from Denpasar airport to Ubud takes roughly 1-1.5 hours and costs IDR300,000. If you decide to stay on the beaches of Kuta/Legian/Seminyak, be prepared for crowds and constant partying. The drive should cost approx. IDR100,000 and will take 30-40 mins. depending on traffic.
For backpackers, there are plenty of good hostels around. I picked two beautiful AirBnBs and was far from disappointed. More about that in my detailed posts for Ubud and Kuta coming up soon.

Money: The easiest currency to convert is USD. There are ATMs in Bali but I do not recommend using them due to widespread news of cards being compromised later. Go hard cash! Sadly, HDFC/Axis/etc. do not supply Indonesia Rupiah either on card or cash. And the exchange rates are terrible anyway. I decided to go with BookMyForex this time and was happy with the service. All you need to do is fill out the online form – you can see the exchange rate and decide the amount you wish to convert. You will soon receive a confirmation email along with an intimation to send over the required documents: copy of passport data page, flight tickets, copy of visa (not required for Bali), and your PAN card. On approval of these documents, they will connect you to your nearest forex provider – in my case it was Orient Forex in town. The forex provider will send you the bank details for transfer [for amounts > INR 50,000 NEFT/IMPS is mandatory. For lower amounts, cash is accepted]. Their TAT is 4 hours but since NEFT takes longer, they recommend IMPS if you wish to receive the currency the same day.
In Bali, you will find “Money Changers” on every street. We converted within the range of IDR12,900 to IDR 13,270 per USD. I do not recommend converting at the airport. Step out into the city and find a money changer. You are bound to get a better rate. Heads up! Be wary of money changers in Kuta/Legian/Nusa Dua/Benoa. They will display ridiculous rates and cheat you. We saw offers going up to IDR13,899 when the actual rate was IDR13,200 per USD.

Getting Around: Hire a scooter. It is the most economical mode of transport in Bali. Rentals are approx. IDR 11,000 per hour which translates to ~INR 55. Can’t get cheaper than that! Tours in Ubud (with pick up and drop) for 8 hours cost IDR 600,000 if you negotiate well with your AirBnB affiliated driver. They tend to cost higher in the market. Tours in North Kuta for 10 hours cost IDR 550,000 but I believe you can negotiate further. If you are travelling in a moderately large group, the car (with driver) is a great option considering the cars seat 5 – 6 adult passengers.

Food: Total paradise for meat eaters. Not so great for vegetarians and vegans. It is difficult to explain the concept of vegetarian because they tend to include eggs and sometimes even fish in vegetarian diets! That said, we did find some great restaurants and cafés that customised their menu for us. If you don’t find one that is willing to accommodate your requests, stick to Fries, Onion Rings, Nasi Goreng, and Nasi Campurr.

Shopping: Halve every quote you receive! Repeat that after me. Bali is all about bargaining skills. And they don’t resent you for shooting down their offer price. So, don’t be ashamed to quote a ridiculously lower price. Be prepared to be overwhelmed by huge dreamcatchers, carved wooden elephants, stone Buddha statues, and silk kimonos. Check out my upcoming posts for where to shop and how much to pay ♥♥


Up Next: Ubud in 3 days

Bombay : being a tourist in my home city

A lot of people ask me why I’d want to move back to Europe and my answer is very clear: for the museums, art, and the beer. I moved back to Bombay a year ago and have barely hit the social scene so far. My sister tried to get me to go out before she moved to London, but something just didn’t click until last weekend. I decided to do something different and it was a pretty cool experience! I went around Bombay like I did back in Europe – yes, like a cheesy, excited tourist 🙂

I didn’t wake up on time and was super hungry by the time I got ready to step out. The original plan was to set out early and watch the sun rise over the sea. Well, I headed straight to breakfast. Since this was a local transport only outing, I took the bus –

Nothing screams Bombay like breakfast at a good old Irani café. Since Yazdani is closed on Sundays, I decided to head over to Kyani & Co. which in the street next to Furtados, opposite Metro cinema.

A vegetarian has no business in a Parsi / Irani restaurant but I decided to try my luck. I got offered vegetarian dhansak but I decided to opt for a veg cutlet, irani chai, and the good old bun-maska. Oh, they also have a bakery in case you want to take some goodies home 🙂

Next up, I took a cab ride to the Jehangir Art Gallery opposite Regal Cinema. The original plan was to go to the Prince of Wales Museum (now known as CSM Vastu Sangrahalaya) next door. I didn’t have enough time, but I did check out the photo exhibition at the gallery.

Last week, I ran the BSE Bull Run and crossed the Asiatic Library (the Townhall) on the way. I remembered going up there when I was in school and decided that I needed a picture. Also, one of my favorite scenes from Jaane Tu.. involves Imran Khan riding a horse on this road ♥

Bookstores became more commercial and less about the books when Crossword opened up in India. I always thought that the staff had no idea what they were selling. Though I don’t like the movie You’ve Got Mail, I agree with Meg Ryan that discount stores are killing the idea of raising good readers. Well, Wayword & Wise is my Indian Shakespeare & Co. Stop by and talk to the owner – he really knows his books!

I spent way too much time at Wayword & Wise to make it to the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla. I did go there but changed my mind when I saw that it was a really long walk to the entrance and area didn’t look too safe / good. I decided to come back another day and headed straight to Bandra, coz well I was starving!

My first solo trip to Lille in December 2014 needed an anniversary celebration and Doollaly was the perfect tribute. Farmhouse Ale made the Flanders way was sheer heaven and the fries were typisch (as we Germans call it) Belgian! Ooh-la-la ♣ ♣ ♣

I found out about street art in Bombay about 6 months ago. I wanted to do a photo shoot with my sister but we never got around to it. Turns out, Chapel Road is a 5 minute walk from Doollaly and definitely worth taking a detour for 🙂

Tired after a long day, I headed home after this for a regional movie and some well deserved sleep.


I am going to do this again because it was such great fun. I will come up with a better, organized plan and actually step inside a museum! 🙂 🙂

Benaras: Sunset and Sunrise on the Ghats

When my sister had to convince me to join them on this trip, all she said to me was – Laaga Chunari Mein Daag. I wasn’t sure why she said that cause it remains the worst movie we’ve watched together. “The Ghats, Di!” she squealed in delight. “Don’t you want to see them?” To be honest, I didn’t because of the overly zealous religious rites that happen to be their main attraction. But a few hours later I was holding an electronic ticket to Varanasi.

In my last post, I talked about my first impressions of Benaras. The ghats are a whole different deal. A ‘ghat’ is a set of steps leading to the banks of a river; in the case of Varanasi, it is the holy river Ganga. There are a total of 87 ghats in Benaras – most of them are for bathing and worship, and a few exclusively for cremation rites. While some are privately owned, there are others owned by Marathas, Holkars, Scindias, and the likes. If you take a boat ride, you can see all their names painted on the walls at the top of the steps.

Dashashwamedh Ghat which is next to Meer Ghat (where we stayed) is closest to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Every evening at about 6:30, the pandits offer a prayer to Lord Shiva, the river Ganga, and the Universe. It is a spectacular sight to behold. Manikarnika Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat are the two cremation sites. Many Hindus believe that the soul will obtain salvation if they are cremated here. As many as 80 bodies are cremated here every day. As per Hindu code, sadhus (holy men) are neither buried nor cremated. Their bodies are usually let into the river. This is why you may occasionally see floating corpses in the river Ganga.

Don’t be alarmed by all this information. I was bit overwhelmed too. But once you get there, you’ll see that it is not all bad. It is totally worthwhile to take a boat ride at sunrise or sunset for beautiful photo opportunities. It costs about Rs.150 per person. There were five of us and the hotel arranged an exclusive motorboat for us at Rs. 600. The boatman will give you sparse information about the ghats. It doesn’t take very long to cover them all. An hour should be plenty of time for a round and a half. Be sure to catch the evening Ganga Arati from the boats to avoid the crowd on the ghat. In the morning, the ghats are empty and you can most definitely take a walk (if not a boat ride). The chai (tea) at Dashashwamedh ghat is quite delicious.

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