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!
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.
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.
This place had a real “clubby” feel about it, was expensively furnished with some nice touches and the staff were super friendly and helpful.
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.
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!)
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.
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:
Most of the following photos are taken in Monkey Forest Road and the immediate area.
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.
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………………….. 🙂
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.
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.
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:
Enough wandering the Isaan countryside – back to Ubud:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Follow the very narrow path and you will end up in the countryside filled with rice paddies.
Back in the traffic some more random photos on this theme:
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.