Skip to main content

Featured

Big Sur - Hiking Andrew Molera State Park

One of the great delights of living in the Bay Area is the proximity to the natural beauty of California and it's hard to beat the stunning drive down Highway One to Big Sur. This is certainly one of the iconic American road trips, but for me the joy of being in the area is getting out of your car and hitting a trail, so you can be "in" the landscape rather than just looking at it from the asphalt. 

Jaunt to Borobodur and Bali, 2006


This Trip Report was originally written for the Fodor's Travel Forum.

My birthday was loaming when United announced some cheap flights to Asia. With the March triple miles promotion how could I resist? One trip to Asia would net me enough for another free trip! The Favorite Person made the mistake of saying he had seven days he could wrestle away from his clients and before he knew it I had booked eleven nights in South East Asia!




We visited Bali about six years ago and I had always wanted to return. I have been constantly trying (unfruitfully) to add Bali onto otherwise reasonable itineraries. "Thailand and Bali?" or "India and Bali?" I suggested hopefully. These trips materialized without the Balinese add on, but here was my moment to get back to Indonesia!

 We had cheap flights through Singapore which meant an overnight on the way there and back, three nights in Jogyakarta and six nights in Ubud.



On the way through Singapore we stayed at the Mandarin Oriental which I enjoyed. The rooms are much smaller than the Four Seasons but I preferred the location, the pool, the view and the more modern style of the d├ęcor. Our room overlooked the downtown with the marina, the new arts center and the river in the foreground. It’s a spectacular view when you arrive late at night. The next day we woke early and took a walk around the park at Fort Canning and made our way to the Museum of Asian Civilization. We had missed this on previous trip and enjoyed the exhibits including a fascinating exhibit on Muslim Art in Asia as well as some spectacular Chinese Imperial robes. We’ll definitely leave time for this on another trip through Singapore. It’s a modern museum with excellent interactive exhibit and we enjoyed the collection.



I opted for a Silk Air flight into Solo rather than the Garuda flight into Jogyakarta via Jakarta. I always prefer a more direct flight because there is less chance of delay and I thought we would enjoy the taxi ride through the lush landscapes of Central Java. The flight was straightforward. We needed a one way ticket and it was cheapest to buy it from Silk Air under their pass which astonishingly can be purchased for only one segment! For return trips do check out the hot fares on the Silk Air website which are often very reasonable. 

We hadn’t arranged a transfer from the hotel because I’d read that it was easy to sort out yourself. The Favorite Person was directed to a line where he prepaid for a taxi to Yogyakarta (a little less than $20) and within a short time we were shown to a taxi and on our way to the hotel. 

Solo is a small airport and we had no trouble getting our visas on arrival. There were no touts and everyone was very pleasant. 

The drive took a little less than two hours on a fairly easy road, passing through small towns with lots of traffic and whole families on the back of the ubiquitous small motorbikes and scooters that honked and wove aggressively through the cars, buses and trucks. The landscape was lush and green with field after field of rice with large volcanoes rising in the distance.


Because this was a last minute “extra” trip the Aman wasn’t an option and we opted to stay at the Hyatt Regency, Yogyakarta. The Hyatt is reminiscent of the Hyatt resorts on Hawaii. The hotel was big but luxurious, well laid out with a huge meandering pool with various slides, and lots of lush vegetation. The hotel has lovely grounds and some attractive water features including a large lotus pond at the entrance. There was a medical conference going on and it was extremely inexpensive, less than $80 per night through a local agent. The security check as you entered was the only reminder that there are social and cultural tensions in Indonesia. 



Yogjakarta is a last rather dusty town with lots of people and shops. The only thing it currently seems to be missing are foreign tourists. The guide book mentioned places filled with backpackers and every variety of tourist but this was no longer the case. Everyone in the tourism industry remarked on the dwindling number of foreigners. Our guide explain she used to take multiple trips a week to Borobodur and now these were reduces to only a few a month. The only other place it reminded us of was our visit to Iran.

 We took the hotel shuttle into town and enjoyed seeing the Sultan’s Palace, the bird market, an underground mosque and the remains of the water palace. It was easy to walk around and to find taxis which were cheap. We most enjoyed meeting the roaming groups of children visiting Yogya on tours with their English teachers in tow and we stopped and chatted to several.



LOGISTICS I still had some logistics to work out. Flights within Indonesia are difficult and expensive to ticket from abroad. But the admonition “wait till you get” there doesn’t sit well with someone like me. I had a bit of a fiasco being passed from one agent to another and was finally told that to buy a one way ticket from YOG-Bali I would need to ticket it through an agent in Yogya. Of course there was no longer time to wire money so it was something I would have to sort out on arrival. 



Luckily I had contacted a local agent Electratour (located in the Garuda Hotel) who I had called before leaving California. Indri gave me her cell, office and home numbers and told me to call when I arrived. I felt greatly reassured and called her on arrival and she came into the office on a Sunday which I thought was extremely nice. The office number is (0274) 551517 the fax is (0274) 551 518

. She booked our flights to Bali for Monday evening on a promotional fare that cost less than $35 each! She also arrange our trip to Prambanan (a Hindu site) which was $40 and took several hours and guided us on our trip to Borobodur which took most of the day was $50 each including car, driver, guide and all entrance tickets for two! As you can see traveling in Java is very inexpensive.

 We really like Indri who was friendly and warm. We found her discussion of the life of Buddha and the Mahabharata, the monuments and their history helped us appreciate the sites. Prambanan is certainly worth visiting and it’s fascinating to see the remaining Hindu temples scattered through this region. The complex was busy because we were there on a weekend and it’s definitely worth trying to arrange your visit for a weekday.




Borobodur was the reason we had come to central Java and it didn’t disappoint. We’re not early risers and we knew we weren’t going to make it for the sunrise. We left the hotel at 7:30 am took the smaller roads on the way there driving through villages and saw a brief glimpse of Mt Merapi rising clearly in the morning light before disappearing back below the clouds an hour later.  

Borobodur is magnificent and photos do not do it justice. The structure feels like a religious place and one can easily imagine this as a site of pilgrimage. The monument reflects the different stages of enlightenment, those still hampered by bodily and material desire, those who have rejected the material world and finally Nirvana the realm of the spirit where bodily and material restraints have been released entirely. The early tiers that are the realm of those who remain tied to desire are decorated with the story of the Buddha and at these levels you can’t see out across the landscape. But as you rise up the pyramidic structure the landscape opens up to view and the world is left behind echoing the spiritual meaning. It is one of the most impressive sites we have seen and the uppermost area with the large stupas is wonderfully abstract, quiet and moving.



We visited the onsite Museum enjoying several picture including one of Dutch colonists having tea on a small platform added to the top of the monument. One hates to think what the British could have added! Fortum and Masons anyone!?!

  Moving back to embrace the material world we headed to the Aman for lunch! The hotel appeared empty, apparently there were two rooms occupied. Indri explained that often the hotel closes for a week at a time because there are no guests which makes it difficult for the people who work there. The hotel has a magnificent situation, built on a hill over looking Borobodur it is gorgeous. It’s built from a wonderful stone and the place has a golden shimmering quality. We enjoyed our lunch and had a gratuitous look at the rooms. They are large, luxurious and tasteful and built in two semi circles one above the other facing out to the view. Although each freestanding room was private I was somewhat surprised by how close to each other they were and felt for the price I would like a little more seclusion. 

We flew with Garuda on to Bali and were picked up at the airport by the hotel.




BALI HOTELS


Before I go on to a brief description of our time in Bali I thought I’d add something on the various hotels in Ubud. On our last trip to Bali we stayed in several places but loved Ubud. We’d stayed previously in the pool villa at Ibah and loved the hotel but this time we decided to try somewhere new.



Like lots of other people we were debating between Kupu Kupu Barong, Royal Pita Maha, Uma Ubud and the Hanging Gardens. I decided on Kupu Kupu because the offered us a fabulous package for a VERY reasonable price that included six nights in a pool villa, breakfast, tax and lots of extras including daily spa treatments and meals. 

We enjoyed the hotel and they we unendingly flexible letting me use D's spa treatments on different days and allowing us to have a credit for our room service lunches instead of some of the included dinners.

 With less than 25 rooms it’s an intimate place and our room (villa 17) was fabulously private with a gorgeous modern pool. There were chaises and an additional outdoor seating area complete with mosquito netting and a lovely tuberose arrangement! The only thing it lacked was an outdoor shower but with the spectacular view of the Agung river valley and rive terraces I wasn’t complaining.

Though I'm not I travel agent I must confess to being 
 a bit of a “hotel person” - so I had to go and see some of the alternatives. I didn’t make it out to the Hanging Gardens because it was further from town but I heard it was lovely. However I visited Uma Ubud and Royal Pita Maha and here are my thoughts. Both (like KKB) are on the Agung River about 10 minutes out of Ubud proper. When we went to Ubud six years ago this was a less developed area but now things are filling in. It seems there are more hotels and shops but since the bombings there are fewer tourists.



UMA UBUD is the much publicized property from Christina Ong the Singaporean hotelier and owner of the Metropolitan hotels in London and Bangkok. The property exhibits her signature sense of style and is both Asian and modern with lots of water, angular lines and clean white spaces. The Spa is modern and tasteful but quite small with a series of rooms in a row. 

I found the entire property rather small. The bathrooms of the garden rooms with their freestanding black marble baths are spectacular but I kept thinking they looked better to look at than to stay in. The suites are very much like the standard rooms but larger and I didn’t like the fact that there weren’t places to lounge. To me the wicker settee didn’t look like a place I’d spend hours reading a book. Something I like to do when on holiday.



The pool, restaurant and bar were all stylish and lovely but my overall sense was that while the rooms were really immaculate and the bathrooms fabulously modern the whole place had a somewhat generic, cramped feel. It wasn’t large enough for the number of rooms, many of which were one after another giving a somewhat crowded feel.



THE ROYAL PITA MAHA 
wins the prize for worst website ever, I dismissed this place on the overwrought but very Balinese Hindu statuary displayed there. I was worried I’d find this throughout the property but crazily what the website doesn’t show is the stunning entry way and the gorgeous bar overlooking what must be the very best location in the Agung valley. 

The rooms are huge and each has a true swimming pool. No small plunge pools here. While the furniture is simple and locally produced (it doesn’t have the style of the Uma) the Royal Pita Maha  has a great Balinese feel and is very luxurious. It’s hard to explain the hotel which is vast with several different levels and various elevators going up the hillside. There are several pools and restaurants and the hotel spa is complimented by the Kirana spa run by Shisedo. 

The over all feel is exotic, tropical and very Balinese. It’s on the larger side but it’s definitely somewhere I would consider and recommend.


Note we returned to Bali in 2014 and stayed at the Royal Pita Maha, you can see the full review here.

OVERALL BALINESE EXPERIENCE
  I don’t know how much to say about our trips around Bali, as this was our second visit we were fairly relaxed. It’s easy and inexpensive to organize a car and driver when you get there and FAR cheaper than arranging things through the hotel. 

We spent one day visiting the small spice farm run by a friend of a friend and enjoyed meeting his wife and family. We visited a number of small local temples and went out a night to see a full moon celebration at one temple and a temple dedication ceremony elsewhere. We were fascinated by the ornate temple offerings and the wonderful gamelan orchestra. Everyone was friendly and welcoming at each temple we visited. 

We went for a hike one day down along the river and back up stopping at the Aman for a drink. I can tell you it’s very hot! 

Bali is one of the most magical truly engaging places I have visited. The material culture is so evident and so active. 

You can see religious ritual everyday. Sitting in Ary’s Warung in downtown Ubud chomping down a quick lunch we saw a huge procession with everyone dressed up, gongs, children women carry offering on their heads, all part of everyday life.

  The six days were wonderfully relaxing, I had a spa treatment every day, massages, scrubs, facials all included and I even persuaded D. to try a couple of massages too.

  

We flew back via Singapore and stayed at the Changi Village Hotel near the airport. As usual we didn’t bother to book in advance and booked the hotel at the airport desk when we arrived. I’d recommend this place because it is right next to a hawker center so even if you’re only in Singapore for an overnight visit you can enjoy some of the wonderful food. There’s nothing like eating outside with a local crowd under fluoresant lighting in the warm heat of a Singaporean evening. 





Comments

EXPLORE POPULAR POSTS BELOW...