I thought I would try to take a different angle on reporting back on our recent trip to Ubud in Bali. Rather than just publish a set of photos with comments I am going to include some of my impressions on the variations between Thailand and Bali and also a few sidetracks into my observations about modern tourism. A mix bag, which I hope will be interesting and more than just a travel post. I suspect it will be a long addition to the blog, but I haven’t written anything recently so this is payback. UPDATE : It ended up being such a long post I have split it into two parts. You can find Part 2 HERE.

Firstly although this is my sixth visit to Bali I in no way set myself up to be an expert on the place. Isn’t it wonderful how quickly people become an authority on the subject they write about these days? I guess the electronic media lets anyone go public with concepts or recommendations based on who knows what. At least in the “old” days of print media there was a chance that the person who wrote the travel section for example had actually done some verified travel.

Our escape from Isaan was as a result of an invitation from two of our best friends who were getting married there. Gaz and Saskia had joined us for our wedding in Isaan on Valentine’s Day 2014, which you can read about wedding HERE,  so it was a given that we’d be part of their day when it happened – if we were invited of course!

Gaz ans Saskia on the left, my brother Richard and his wife Sam on the right.

Gaz and Saskia on the left, my brother Richard and his wife Sam on the right.

Well it ended up that we were invited and the celebration had been organised to take place in Ubud, which is a favourite part of Bali for me set in the hills about an hour and a half drive from the airport.

We are lucky in Thailand in that most major cities have airports with a strong domestic carrier network, Nok Air, AirAsia, Lion Air and Bangkok Air plus a few minor ones. For us living in Si Bun Ruang it is an easy one hour’s drive to Udon Thani international airport 80 km away and a flight to Bangkok’s Don Muang airport is another one hour. This airport is the centre for all the cut-price airlines while those of you with deeper wallets will most likely fly in/out of the huge Suvarnabhumi airport.

For example if flying to Thailand internationally from Australia you will arrive in Don Muang with AirAsia and Suvarnabhumi with Qantas or Thai Air.

Nok Air's local route map.

Nok Air’s local route map.

Internally a one hour flight will cost around 3,500 baht for a couple return, about A$140.00, except to Phuket, which for some reason tends to be more expensive. AirAsia are great at providing a starting price and then by the time you add luggage, select a seat and pay tax you end up 50% more than the original quote. Nok are better at just giving you a fixed price with 15kg of luggage included.

Our flight to Bali left Bangkok at noon and the only connecting flight out of Udon was 7:30 am, which would have meant a very early start, something I am allergic to, so we decided to fly down the previous day and stay overnight close to the airport. A search on Booking.com came up with a place that looked decent and highly recommended called Asia’s Boutique Club HERE.

This ended up being a slightly quirky place but in a nice way and I would happily add my support to the positive ratings online. If following in our footsteps please note that the hotel is more like thirty minutes from the airport not the fifteen they advertise.  The only way you’d do it in fifteen is minus traffic post-Zombie apocalypse, which seems to be the subject of 90% of movies coming out of Hollywood these days.

Very comfortable beds and the best pillows in Thailand. I wish I knew their supplier.

Very comfortable beds and the best pillows in Thailand. I wish I knew their supplier.

Well I am on holiday and it had to be done.

Well I am on holiday and it had to be done.

Again - good standard and even an enclosed shower with almost hot water.

Again – good standard and even an enclosed shower, which is on the right out of the photo, with almost hot water. There is no way that any hot water system in Thailand will ever fill a bath!

This place had a real “clubby” feel about it, was expensively furnished with some nice touches and the staff were super friendly and helpful.

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The hallway leading to the pool on the left and the dining room on the right.

Dining room. The food was OK but not outstanding.

Dining room. The food was OK but not outstanding.

Reception lounge.

The lounge area in reception.

The next day – Isn’t international travel wonderful? You step into this sort of twilight zone outside of normal living where you are neither here nor there. Although the flying time to Bali is only four and a half hours from Bangkok, we started our trip in a taxi at 9:30 am and finished the day in a taxi at 9:30 pm.

A sort of planepark.

A sort of plane-park at Don Muang, reflecting the growth in short hop travel in the region. New terminals have recently been built and it is now quite a modern place to spend hours waiting to actually start flying.

And Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport also known as Denpasar airport. We may not be the first to discover Bali!

And Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport also known as Denpasar airport. We may not be the first to discover Bali!

The last time I had been to Bali was a while ago and the airport at that time was a small, crowded, hot and rundown place. How times have changed. The new airport is massive and very impressive. One of the nicer ones I have been through (refer back to my comments about being an expert!)

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The new terminal building. Able to handle 9.4 million travellers a year. Bali like so many holiday destinations has become BIG business.

The airport has a Bali theme, which evidently is a requirement under planning laws here for new development.

The airport has a Bali theme, which evidently is a requirement under planning laws here for new development. I wish Thailand did the same.

I had arranged for a private car to meet us at the airport online through Suntransfers.com and take us to our resort in Ubud. I also booked them to bring us back from a different resort. I can recommend this company too. Although we hung around for an hour for our luggage to arrive on the belt they were patiently waiting outside the terminal with one of those reassuring signs with your name on. Because the details of the trip had already been provided the driver actually knew where to take us in Ubud.

Finally (you say) we get to the Ubud travel bit of the post.

Ubud isn't far distance-wise from the airport but allow 1 1/2 hours to get through the traffic.

Ubud isn’t far distance-wise from the airport but allow 1 1/2 hours to get through the traffic.

I have to say that I was very impressed with Ubud especially when compared to Thailand.

Here I need to get back to that “expert” comment for the third time. I have lived in Thailand for three years now and have covered some of it in our travels but there is a lot I haven’t yet seen. I may have missed some gem that rates with my favourable impressions of Ubud but somehow I doubt it. Development in Thailand is pretty scrappy, even that aimed at the tourist market. Stating the obvious but Ubud in not Bali so this is a comment about a sub-section of the places available to visit on the island.

The centre of Ubud is a fairly small area running from Monkey Forest (hold onto your bags, sunglasses and anything else portable) to the Ubud Palace at the other end. The main streets are filled with well presented restaurants and bars plus a mix of shops ranging from tourist junk up to some excellent high quality places selling clothes, jewellery, cosmetics and other items. The footpaths that I seem to remember from my last visit were a bit of a disaster for the unwary but are are now much improved although still requiring a careful eye when walking.

I have broken the following into sections as some of the photos seemed to fall into general categories. It was all too confusing otherwise:

The streets and shopping:

To help you get your bearings.

To help you get your bearings.

Most of the following photos are taken in Monkey Forest Road and the immediate area.

Monkey Forest Road. At peak hour morning and evening this road is wall to wall cars and it can take 20 minutes to get from one end to the other. Just as quick to walk.

Monkey Forest Road. At peak hour morning and evening this road is wall to wall cars and it can take 20 minutes to get from one end to the other. Just as quick to walk.

Just to give you an idea of the sort of streetscape you will see here.

Just to give you an idea of the sort of streetscape you will see here. This is the street to the right of Monkey Forest Road in the map above. Lots of small shops and a couple of nice looking restaurants.

Lots of alleys leading off to other places hidden away behind the frontline buildings.

Lots of alleys leading off to other places hidden away behind the frontline buildings.

Small shops fill every corner.

Small shops fill every corner.

Ice cream?

Ice cream?

Civilisation has arrived or maybe it's a sign that a culture is about to be destroyed.

Civilisation has arrived or maybe it’s a sign that a culture is in the process of being destroyed – you choose.

Mass produced for tourist. The same the world over.

Mass produced for tourists I am sure. The same the world over.

I loved the colours and shapes of this collection.

I loved the colours and shapes of this collection.

One of Guan's photos. Doesn't the guy match the shop!

This is one of Guan’s photos so she wouldn’t notice but doesn’t the guy match the shop? A funny coincidence of timing.

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Again just classy inviting presentation reflecting the local culture.

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I have to say I find photos like this easy on the eye. I really enjoyed that aspect of Ubud.

Just a path leading to the next street but tastefully done.

Just a path leading to the next street but tastefully done.

Another bar on the main street.

A decent looking bar on the main street.

And another.

And another.

A clothes shop.

A clothes shop.

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A variety of newer and more traditional shops on one of Ubud’s sidestreets.

The markets at the top of Monkey Forest Road.

The markets at the top of Monkey Forest Road.

I had a funny experience here. Gaun and I were walking through the markets and a guy came up to me and said “Hi Tony I am pleased to meet you”. I thought he was someone from the wedding party but it ended up that he was a reader of the blog who recognised us from the photos. He is an Aussie managing a hotel in Rockhampton married to a Thai. What are the chances? Cameron (my apologies if I have your name wrong but I was in a state of shock) I hope the rest of your Bali holiday was a great experience for you both.

The local markets.

The local markets.

As well as the more upmarket and expensive shops you can find heaps of the market stall type items here as well. It gives you a false sense of touching the local craftwork scene because I could take you to the evening markets in Chiang Mai or any other similar markets in Thailand and you would be hard put to pick the difference. It is the same mass produced “stuff” that must come out of some factory in China and distributed across Asia.

The prices are around double what you will pay in Thailand so if you see an item here and you are heading this way hang onto your money. You will most likely find the same thing for less here 🙂 Do bargain. There is a lot of wiggle room in the first price given in Bali. I have found that there is far less negotiation available in Thai markets. The price given is either the final or is pretty close to what you will pay for it.

I wanted to buy some clothes to take back to my Thai family but found it frustrating to pay double the cost for basically the same thing I could get back home just because I wanted something that came from Bali! Tightass I know but us pensioners………………….. 🙂

The markets at the top of Monkey Forest Road.

The markets at the top of Monkey Forest Road.

That sign works for me.

That sign works for me. For Aussies converting rupiah to dollars is pretty easy at the exchange rate when I was there. Just divide by 10,000 and you have dollars e.g. Grill chicken = $2.50 and the fish = $5.00 in the sign above. For any non-financial people out there the “K” = 1,000.

Differences in Presentation

When we were first invited to the wedding I was happy that we were going but a bit ho hum about the location. After all I was going from one tropical, rice growing area to another. However the variations were greater than I had expected and I found myself observing the difference in attitudes to presentation and culture between Ubud and my chosen home country. I have tried to capture a taste of that in this section.

Ubud has retained its Balinese feel with many building like this. Here dancers are preparing for the nighttime show.

Ubud has retained its Balinese feel with many building like this. Here dancers are preparing for the nighttime show of which there are many around Ubud. More about that later.

An unfair comparison and selected maybe but this is the most likely type of architectural scene you will find here. This is the local council building in Si Bun Ruang.

An unfair comparison but this is the most likely type of architectural scene you will find in Thailand. This is the local council building in Si Bun Ruang.

The Ubud photo above and others that run through this post are illustrations of where Ubud and maybe Bali as a whole has it all over Thailand. In Thailand there is very little original architecture in existence or even any attempt to replicate what once was. Who knows – that Ubud building shown above may have only been constructed this year but at least it has a Balinese character that you could clearly identify wherever in the world it was built. I couldn’t quickly go to a photograph in my collection of thousands from Thailand and do the same thing (excluding temples).

Speaking of temples there are plenty of them in Ubud and I have to say that for me personally I prefer these more mellow use of carving and stone than the general white, red and gold of the Thai wats.

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Having said that variety is the spice of life and I have covered some spectacular temples in Thailand that for a wow factor leave the ones in Ubud for dead:

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Wat Pha Sorn Kaew that I covered recently HERE.

Or Wat Pha Nam Yoi that I wrote about HERE.

Or Wat Pha Nam Yoi that I wrote about HERE.

Enough wandering the Isaan countryside – back to Ubud:

Better quality streetscapes.

Better quality streetscapes.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know of Gaun’s enthusiasm for gardening and plants and flowers in general no matter where they appear. Scenes like this one in Ubud had her quite upset that the Thai people and local authorities didn’t take more care with their presentation especially in regard to planting up streets with trees and vegetation. If Gaun was elected major of our village she would transform the place during her term. I have to say that the Thais love of concrete and not much else does the country no favours. Gardening for beauty and show is largely a mystery in the general population.

This photo taken on Jl. Hanoman Road - see map. Very restful after Thailand. I doubt anyone could send me a similar photo from Chiang Mai - see below.

This photo taken on Jl. Hanoman Road – see map. Very restful after Thailand. I doubt anyone could send me a similar photo from Chiang Mai – see below.

This Thapae Road one of the main tourist orientated streets running between the River Ping and the Old City of Chiang Mai. This photo could come from just about any street in any Thai city.

This is Thapae Road one of the main tourist orientated streets running between the River Ping and the Old City of Chiang Mai. This photo could be from just about any street in any Thai city.

See what I mean? This one taken in Udon Thani our nearest larger city from home.

See what I mean? This one taken in Udon Thani the closest larger city from our home in Isaan.

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A lot of Ubud has homes and businesses are enclosed by stone walls. Gateways give you glimpses inside to internal courtyards this one selling artwork.

Thailand too has walled homes but these are generally plain badly painted concrete often leaning one way or another due to poor foundations when they were built! Ubud has a much more creative approach to their home compounds. This photo below was taken in a small rural village close to where we were staying for the wedding. That house wall on the right is just a village home and nothing special but it has a touch of character that you will rarely see in a similar Thai moo ban house. And yes similar to Thailand things are sold from the back of a motorbike.

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Another of those carved temple entranceways.

And another. Beautiful colours and early evening light.

And another. Beautiful colours in the early evening light. This is not a special tourist destination but “just” a view taken while walking down a Ubud street.

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A temple building to the left of the T junction at the top of Monkey Forest Road. Well maintained and used at night for a dance presentation. Worth a visit.

Thailand is great for good quality street food and leaves Bali well behind in that criteria. I think the Balinese have missed out on the gene that requires Thais to eat 90% of their waking time! In Thailand it is rare to be out of sight of somewhere selling food. The only downside is that this is mainly street type food, whether served on the street or in a shop, and pretty limited in its venue presentation and menu choice. Once you have moved beyond the tourist two week novelty it is occasionally nice to have the option of a well presented restaurant with a view like this one below to enjoy a more varied meal. Thailand is more limited in its ability to provide this in my equality limited experience.

Overlooked by a good quality restaurant a combination also missing in Thailand.

The temple exterior area is overlooked by a good quality restaurant, a combination also missing in Thailand.

Lunch is served.

Lunch is served.

Most things are more expensive in Bali except for Bintang, the local beer, which is much the same price. A simple Indonesian main course in Ubud will cost about A$8.00 or 200 baht. The equivalent in Thailand would be half of that or less but not for the quality of presentation as shown in the photo above, which as I have said is harder to find in Thailand.

Gaun in true style was as interested in taking photos of the flowers as anything cultural or architectural!

Gaun in true style was as interested in taking photos of the flowers as anything cultural or architectural! In this case the photo even took priority over food, which is unheard of for a Thai person. Maybe it hadn’t arrived yet.

And this is the the photo from her

And this is the photo she was taking!

Ubud is deceptively developed like Thailand can be. In both places the road can be lined with strip development but then immediately behind the commercial you can be into lovely rural landscapes that seem a million miles from what you have just left. These rice paddies sit behind shops and wall to wall traffic in Udud CBD. You would never know it was there. Turn left at the Palace T junction and shortly after you will see this sign.

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Follow the very narrow path and you will end up in the countryside filled with rice paddies.

Almost immediately behind one of the main streets in the centre of Ubud.

Almost immediately behind one of the main streets in the centre of Ubud.

Rice here is in the process of being cut or has already been harvested. In Thailand it is only now being planted.

Rice here is in the process of being cut or has already been harvested. In Thailand it is only now being planted. This photo could have been taken in either country.

Back in the traffic some more random photos on this theme:

Another attractive courtyard.

Another attractive courtyard.

A laneway like this invites you to explore.

A laneway like this invites you to explore.

And another.

And another.

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The entrance to a small hotel.

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Closer to Monkey Forest. I wonder why they call it that?

Oh....I get it.

Oh….I get it.

I will leave it here and continue in Part 2, which will explore other aspects of Ubud, the wedding (remember that?) and some more comparisons. It may seem that I am being unduly harsh in the comments about my adopted country of Thailand but you will need to read Part 2 HERE and my conclusion to get the full story.

Thanks for reading.