Despite being asked to get to Kayun for 6:45, when I roll in at 7, there’s no sign of either Jo or Ollie. They eventually emerge a few minutes later a bit worse for wear. Apparently I was the only one who thought a good night’s sleep would be a good idea before this, and they had a very good night’s drinking instead.
We’d all agreed to hire a car and go to Ubud, and while we waited for its arrival, we finalised our list of things to see. Ubud is big, and there’s a lot on the lists, so we had to finalise the main points. We eventually decided upon Tegenungan Waterfall, Goa Gajah/The Elephant Cave, Tengalun Rice Terraces, Saraswati Temple, and finishing off at Tanah Lot for sunset.
This was the first time I’d been around people for extended periods when I couldn’t wander off for whatever reason, and discovered that being stuck with Ollie in an enclosed space for an extended period of time can be something of an endurance. Whether it was the night before or just his basic personality (or indeed a bit of both), he was an absolute brat during the drive up to Ubud. Both he and Jo had chosen the back while I was in the front, and I often felt like a mother having to corral an unruly 5 year old.
Our first stop had been the suggestion of the receptionist, Tegenungan Waterfall – an impressive water feature whose water and image are heavily dependent on the season and weather. It costs 10,000rph to visit, and although you can get a spectacular view from the top of the cliff, there’s a rather steep staircase leading down to the waterfall itself. We were warned it could take 30 minutes to get down, but took us less than 10.
Unfortunately, despite tearing out our hair and trying to figure it out, we couldn’t get to the actual waterfall itself. There’s a small dirt road that leads halfway there, and then we can hobble over rocks, but despite seeing people getting sprayed by the water we just couldn’t find another road over that didn’t involve stepping into some rather severe currents. There must be another way down, but we couldn’t find it, and eventually accepted defeat and made the hike back up (which is a lot harder than down in this heat).
Our second stop was my first choice for the day, Goa Gajah – also known as the Elephant Cave. Unfortunately, here is where our driver revealed he was only going to be a driver and not a guide as he left us to our own devices (Jo had been on a similar car hire trip to Ubud before, and had explained that the driver usually guides you through the temples explaining everything) so we had no one to help us with the area, and had to just enjoy it on a physical level.
As with many temples in Bali, you must have your shoulders covered and a sarong around your waist to enter. I’d bought one on the beach last week so was covered, while the others bought some in the car park. If you don’t actually want to spend money though, you can get one from the entrance of the temple instead after paying the entry fee (another 10,000rph).
Built sometime in the 11th century and rediscovered in the 1920’s, Goa Gajah was a temple for meditation, with both Buddhist and Hindu influences. Outside the iconic cave are 2 manmade pools of holy water, while the cave entrance has been carved to resemble a human face. Inside are ledges carved into the rock where monks once meditated, along with relics of old shrines. Despite the name, no elephants were ever involved in this area – the name either comes from the Petanu River (which was once known as the Gajah River) or from the Hindu Lord Ganesh, who was on display in the cave and is depicted with an elephant head.
Further into the grounds is a beautiful garden area with additional temples. We also spotted a small wooden sign leading into the forest stating that another temple was along the path. We decided to explore…and 20 minutes later were strongly regretting the decision. The path hadn’t been regularly used in some time, consisted of many overturned trees and thick muddy patches – all of which on a path that was often on the edge of a steep hill overlooking the river. I wasn’t wearing the right footwear for this, and although we would occasionally run into a carving or old building, I eventually had to give up when I came across a hill that was wet and steep. Even if I could get up in my current footwear, there’s no way I’d get down. As it was, this entire event has caused some irreversible damage to my ‘good’ sandals.
It’s a beautiful area, but I did have to do most of my research after I’d visited, as there’s no real information on site for what you’re seeing. To be fair, this can be said of most temples in Bali as they’re still very much in use.
Our next stop was Tegalalang Rice Terraces. I’d wanted to do a morning walk through rice paddies but hadn’t been able to organise it, so this was my consolation prize. This is a collection of coffee shops and restaurants on a cliff that overlooks an incredible collection of rice terraces inside a ravine. You can wander around the area for 50,000rph, but frankly we were happy to just stand where we were and take in the incredible sight.
There are many places in Bali (and throughout Indonesia) that you can see rice terraces, but this is a great spot if you just want a chance to stop and appreciate the ingenuity of the design. We ended up having lunch in one of the restaurants on the cliff just so we could continue overlooking the rice before heading on to the next spot.
You’re not allowed to enter the temples if the doors are shut, but we were stuck in a limbo when we discovered one of the side doors open and people sleeping inside. Honestly, we had no idea if we were allowed in or not, but I decided to take the risk as what I saw when I peeked inside was worth the risk.
The grounds are beautiful, and the sheer amount of detail on every feature inside took my breath away. I could have spent hours just photographing small sections of the temple’s and pagoda’s quite happily. Jo and Ollie eventually found someone and achieved some kind of semi-permission before wandering in themselves. A few minutes later, we were shooed out and the doors shut, but going in was definitely worth it. Especially when our next temple on the list ended up being closed (curse not checking ahead) and we had to settle on checking it out from the outside and looking at it from over the river bridge (a stunning view sadly ruined by the thick electric cables hanging directly in front of us).
We still had several hours before sunset, but it was decided we’d head to Tanah Lot and explore, possibly having an early dinner, before sitting down and trying to get a good seat for sunset.
Tanah Lot is possibly the most famous temple in Bali, and certainly the one featured on most postcards. Built on sea cliffs, it consists of 3 temples – 2 small ones on the cliffs themselves, and another perched on an isolated island that can only be reached at low tide.
Jo had been here before so held back while Ollie and I navigated towards the main temple. Due to the time of year it was closed to the public, but you could get blessed and go up the steps (for a 10,000 donation in addition to the 30,000 entrance fee) which consists of washing in the water pouring from the rocks and having a small amount of rice pressed to your forehead along with a small plumeria flower being tucked in your ear.
We spent the rest of our afternoon lying on the grass and arguing over the music on our phones (both Ollie and Jo insist the only musical of merit is Moulin Rouge – I strongly disagree and personally think that musical is average at best) and getting something to eat at the many, many stands on the outskirts of the temple walls (Ollie went to a completely local restaurant and had the fried chicken, while Jo and I enjoyed grilled corn) before sitting down in the best position we could find…and watched 2 different bridges navigate the beach below us in order to get photos of their wedding dresses in view of the temple.
Sadly, our great day was going to end on a sour note. Despite having beautiful weather all day, as the sun began to set, a huge cloud settled on the horizon, blocking the sun and its beautiful colours from us at the pivotal moment! Instead of beautiful red skies, we got a little pink and a whole lot of white fluff. Angkor Wat all over again.