Travelling from one location to another in a foreign country brings with it both challenges and opportunities. There is the packing and schlepping of suitcases, organizing accommodations, the worry that you have left something behind and the stress of not being sure of exactly where you are going or what you will do when you get there. On the positive side, however, there is the wonder of the open road, the unlimited possibilities for adventure, and the excitement of never knowing who you will meet or what you will see. On a recent month long trip to Bali, we traversed the island from North to South in one day, and opted for the longer scenic route, stopping at a remarkable water palace and two craft villages.
From Les to Seminyak
After deciding that driving in Bali was an adventure sport and best left to the locals, we arranged for a car hire through our host at Segara Lestari, which cost 50 USD per day or 650,000 IDR all inclusive, and said a sad goodbye. Gede and Made, our wonderful hosts, had provided us a welcoming home at the beautiful northern coast for three weeks that while spartan, was very comfortable, and a stone’s throw from the water. Our new destination, while only 100 kilometers (60 miles) away, was worlds apart from the rural backwater of Les. The popular tourist mecca of Seminyak, home to world famous surfer’s paradise with beaches as far as the eye can see and a plethora of hotels, villas, restaurants and storefront spas was waiting for us. The trip from Les to Seminyak takes three hours if you cut right across the center of the island, but we decided to take the meandering route along the eastern coast, leading us to adventure and unexpected places.
Tirta Gangga Water Palace
Our first stop was Tirta Gangga, known as the Water Palace built in 1946 by the local king. We hired a guide, one of several waiting at the entrance for visiting tourists, and he led us on a one hour tour around the grounds that are breathtakingly beautiful and consist of a series of pools with statues and stone paths. Entrance to Tirta Gangga costs approx 1.50 USD, or 20,000 IDR, and the guide was an additional 4 USD or 50,000 IDR.
On the lush, verdant grounds with the tinkling of water as background music, there are walkways across the large pool, with stone pillars laid out in a fashion that allows one to precariously cross from one end to the other and experience the feeling of walking on water. This slow walk provides time for reflection allowing one to absorb the beauty and peace of this unique setting. A Hindu temple graces the grounds and as if by special order, we were treated to a local Hindu ceremony for the Full Moon Festival replete with offerings, haunting gamelan music and stylized dance, all performed by colorfully dressed Balinese men, women and children.
Double ikat weaving at Tenganan
Our next stop, about an hour down the road, was an out of the way weaving village named Tenganan. This is the only place in the world you can find double ikat weaving. This special form of weaving is a secret that locals hold close to their hearts, but they are willing to share an explanation about the weaving, show us their looms, and proudly display their wares.
Tenganan, built in the traditional Balinese manner with a common long house in the middle and private houses on each side of the main street, allow a peek into traditional Balinese living. Local artisans were standing in their doorways eager to show us their looms, and woven goods hoping to make a sale. Of course haggling here is expected, so prepare yourself, and never ever pay full price for the textiles on offer.
While double ikat is what this village is famous for, there are also textiles that are woven in the single ikat method, and since this is easier and less labor intensive, it is reflected in the cost. There are tablecloths, bed coverings and wall hangings of various sizes, colors and design on offer.
This is definitely the place to buy genuine Balinese textiles if you are in the market for such items. Additional souvenirs are available along the main road where we found men carving on palm leaves traditional pictures, and bookmarks that were quite lovely and inexpensive and can be personalized as well.
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All things wood at Mas
Continuing along the road, in the direction of Seminyak, our final destination, we arrived at the wood carving center called Mas. This is the home of all things wooden in Bali, ranging from gorgeous teak tabletops, to woodcarvings, wooden furniture of all sorts, and even wooden masks. Stores line the main streets and the side streets, and it is worthwhile to stop in to watch some of the craftsmen at work. With competition intense because of the number of stores, a good price can be had here and all stores are willing to ship worldwide.
Seminyak at last
If you still have time and energy, a stop at the Balinese center of spirituality and the arts, Ubud, is on your way. We opted to skip over this lovely yet touristy town, preferring to dedicate a full day of touring to Ubud. Instead, we continued our leisurely drive arriving on the southern shores of Bali, and the beach of Seminyak just as the sun was setting. Seven hours after setting out on our adventure we arrived tired yet satisfied, having discovered some unusual corners in the fascinating island that is Bali.
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