Paradise at Canggu Bali
Bali

Bali: The first 2 months of our sabbatical

We really wanted Bali to work. We had envisioned ourselves in Bali for the long-term. Semi-retirement seemed like a wonderful idea in Bali. With family on both the Australian east and west coasts, Bali was easy, quick and inexpensive to get to.

By the time we arrived in Ubud, we were tired. Very tired. I had finished teaching and we had packed up a house ready to be rented out. The previous 4 months had been busy; the last month beyond hectic.

Within 12 hours (midday to midnight) we had gone from our suburban house in a small town on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, Australia to Ubud, Bali.

Our garden in Australia
The garden had been influenced by our visit to Bali 10 years earlier.

Ubud: First 4 weeks

Together we’d visited Ubud 10 years ago. My first visit had been 25 years ago. Now it was a lot busier. Rampant development and street-clogging traffic had changed the face of Ubud. Also, this was the beginning of the high season for tourists. Perfect timing.

Accommodation

The first week was at Sama’s Cottages and Villas on Jalan Bisma. Up-market for us but super the comfortable. Free-standing cottage, massages, pool and beautiful garden. A holiday; a week to settle in.

The next 3 weeks were at Nick’s Homestay on Jalan Hanoman. This was more central, close to cheaper eating places and Coco supermarket, Hubud coworking space was nearby, and it was walking distance to The Yoga Barn. Internet was good too. Comfortable, but the limited space in the room, the absence of privacy and a kitchen, meant it was not viable for a long-term stay.

We researched villas on various Facebook groups and Airbnb, explored the area around Jalan Bisma and Dragonfly Village, and more. The realisation: It was going to be more expensive than we first thought and the further away from the centre transport would be an issue.

Upside:

  • Daily yoga at The Yoga Barn – the program is very extensive (yoga, meditation, kirtan, mantra, chakra, and more) and moderately expensive (in the context of the cost of living in Bali) unless you buy a 25 class pass or an unlimited one month pass. Excellent cafe providing great food though a bit expensive.
The yoga Barn Ubud Bali
Extensive yoga classes at The Yoga Barn
  • Starting my passion project: this bigdharmalife.com blog with some help from Goats On The Road
  • Exploring photography through the Shaw Academy’s Ultimate Photography Program and The Ganesha Project (@mitchscottphoto on Instagram) involving the capturing of Ganesha around Ubud (and now Malaysia).

Transport:

It became obvious very quickly that transport would become an ongoing issue in Ubud and, as it turned out, almost everywhere we visited in Bali. Most towns were spread out and roads chaotic.

Taxis were good as a standby but would turn out expensive with regular use. While there were car-sharing services these were met with animosity form the taxi drivers.

Many westerners hire motorbikes. I can see why. However, with limited experience (it had been 30 years since I had ridden a motorbike) Ubud did not seem like the place to reacquaint myself with riding one. Also, I did not want to double my wife.

Bicycles were an option but the roads and distances rule this out. In the end, we restricted our area of experience and walked a lot.

Visa Extension:

See the visa extension post.

Bali Reconnaissance: 3 weeks

Our month in Ubud left us confused. Was Ubud going to be the place to settle long term? Where else could we base ourselves?

We decided to explore our options: Sanur, Candidasa, Amed, Lovina and Canggu.

Our transport involved local drivers (taxis) rather than the Perama buses (we had packed with the intention of basing ourselves in a place rather than travelling).

Private Driver/Taxi fares:

  • Airport-Ubud: 440* IR (A$44)
  • Ubud-Sanur: 250 IR (A$25)
  • Sanur-Candidasa: 350 IR (A$35)
  • Candidasa-Amed: 500 IR (A$50)
  • Amed-Lovina: 450 IR (A$40)
  • Lovina-Canggu: 570 IR (A$57)
  • Canggu-Ubud: 350 IR (A$35)
  • Ubud-Airport: 350 IR (A$30)

Prices in Indonesian Rupiah (in ‘000) and Australian Dollar (July/August 2018: A$1=10,000 IR)

1. Sanur: This was the clear best option for us. Flat, walkable,  Power of Now Oasis Yoga Studio and Genius Cafe (coworking space) close together. A week in Pandok Narita Guesthouse (fairly central and close to the beach enabled us to explore the area). Many retirees and middle-aged European holiday-makers come to Sanur.

Sanur does not have the traditional culture as Ubud does, but there are redeeming features. Although it is not a party town, it is more lively than the epithet `Snore’ implies. Music, restaurants, eating places on the `promenade’, and it’s fairly relaxed.

2. Candidasa: Another spread out town. Our accommodation, Dewa Bharata Bungalows, was on the main road. Busy and dangerous to cross the majority of the time. A good place to chill but not a lot going on, unless you are interested in diving, in order to stay long term. The lotus pond was beautiful in the morning.

3. Amed: I liked Amed even if it was at the foot of a coughing and spluttering Mount Agung.

Amed and Mount Agung
Mount Agung smoking as the sun sets

Why we went to Amed with Mount Agung creating havoc is beyond me. Earlier in the month, the flight of friends had been delayed due to ash from Mount Agung. Our accommodation was the Amed Sari Beach Guesthouse on the beach away from the main town.

I said to my wife, “I could stay here for a month or more.” Reality: there’s not a lot going on in Amed. Eat, drink, sleep, work on a new blog and photography. Still, it reminded me of an Indonesia 25 years ago.

4. Lovina: We stayed at the Lovina Palace. The shaded promenade away from the main road provided a relaxed feel to this town. Again mainly retirees and European holiday-makers in Lovina (Love Indonesia). Bars and restaurants lined the footpath opposite the beach. Although I liked it there, the vibe was not quite right for a long term stay.

5. Canggu: I had heard a lot about Canggu. As a surfer, a yoga student and teacher, and coastal dweller I was very optimistic and hopeful. Yoga studios, surf, healthy food, chilled people…That lasted about 5 minutes. The development shocked me.

Canggu rice field and development
Rampant development along side fast disappearing rice fields

Also, Canggu is spread out; it is split into different `districts’. Motorbike transport is almost essential unless you want to walk, ride a bicycle or limit your experience. There were many villas for rent but transport was definitely necessary to live there long term. Although I warmed to Canggu (our accommodation, Wijaya Guesthouse, had a lot to do with this) over the week, it was not for me. One plus, the beach at sunset was stunning.

Return to Ubud

So we returned to Ubud for 10 days. We had a flight was booked for a visa run – we had every intention of returning to Bali.

But…We were on edge for these 10 days. An earthquake had struck Lombok and we had felt the tremors in Canggu. Disconcerting. 

We stayed at Maple House. On our second night in Ubud, another earthquake hit Lombok and the tremors shook our upstairs guest house room, loosening light fittings and cracking the wall. This was very scary. For the next week, we felt the earth moving all the time. There were other tremors too. We had to sit tight as getting an earlier flight out proved difficult.  We spent a lot of time at The Yoga Barn.

Yoga Barn cafe
The cafe at The Yoga Barn

Takeaways:

Natural disasters: The earthquakes ultimately led to the decision not to return to Bali, Indonesia. This meant the cancellation (loss of A$320.00) of 2 return tickets from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but our wellbeing was paramount.

Visas: This is a difficult one. There are many options that are suitable for staying medium to longer term: a 60-day visa (get a 60-day visa before arriving or pay for a 30 day Visa on Arrival which is extendable to 60 days or a Social Visa which is valid for 6 months but requires extensions). I wrote about the Visa on Arrival and extension here.

The visa situation of staying in Bali really has to be taken into account. The cost of the visa, the cost of extending the visa and then a visa run to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur need to be budgeted for in one’s expenses. This is not a complaint: countries are entitled to have the visa/ immigration rules they want. I know Australia does.

The Balinese people were amazing. Gracious, accepting, helpful, kind, and more. How they retain their calm and culture amidst the onslaught of tourism and development is beyond me.

Accommodation: The guest houses and homestays were very good. We averaged about 320 IR (A$32.00) per night. Unlike the past (turning up at the accommodation without a booking), all the accommodation was booked online through booking.com.

We met travellers who paid more when they turned up at the accommodation in person without a booking. At one place we wanted to extend our stay. It was going to cost more (25%) to book directly with the guest house rather than through booking.com. It took some negotiation to get the reduced price. I was confused by that.

Transport: A motorcycle is pretty much essential to be independent, mobile and keep costs down. Nevertheless, I am bemused that so many westerners, with limited experience, hire and ride motorcycles in a place like Bali. It is fraught with many concerns and dangers.

While we chose private drivers to transport us around Bali, the bus is a cheaper option. However, due to many Balinese towns being spread out, if one travelled by bus they would probably need to get a taxi at each end anyway. For us, the extra cost of going door to door was worth it. Also, we were able to include stop-offs en route to our destinations.

Recovery

It has taken me almost a month since leaving Bali to write this post. There was a huge disappointment that our plan did not come off. In hindsight, we were not really in the headspace to look for long-term accommodation so soon after packing up our house and setting off on our sabbatical.

Now after 3 weeks in Penang, Malaysia (Malaysia grants 3-month visas) we have settled. We have found our place to unpack our bags, chill out and work on our projects.

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