Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Monkeys and meditation: Ubud

After our short journey from Seminyak, we arrived in Ubud. After looking online, we had difficulty locating any hostels so opted to stay in a bungalow instead. Luka and Katie found Jati 3 on Monkey Forest Road, the main tourist area. For 5 pounds per night we were greeted with a stunning and very impressive bungalow with balcony, two double beds and a pool (to be shared with three or four other bungalows. The place was located amongst the trees so gave a real jungle feel to the place. 

That evening we went to Lotus Lane for dinner, a restaurant on Monkey Forest Road, just round the corner from Jati 3. I'd been craving two things during the past few days - salmon, because you can't seem to get it a lot in Asia, and pumpkin soup, because I was slightly sad to be missing autumn back home and my mum's amazing pumpkin soup. So you can imagine how much my face lit up when I saw a starter of pumpkin soup and a main on the specials board for salmon and zucchini crostini. The food came to 80,000 IDR (it's roughly 18,000 to the pound). The food was delicious and I would definitely eat there again, even if it was purely to get my pumpkin soup fix.

Jati 3 has a lovely pool area, so we got up early to make the most of morning sunshine and breakfast, which is included in the price of a nights stay (amazing, I know). That day we planned to go the Sacred Monkey Forest and the Botanical Gardens, something Luka had read about on Trip Advisor). The Sacred Monkey Forest was just down the road so we had a little walk down there, paid our entrance fees (hardly anything at all) and ventured in, map in hand. The place is pretty big but a bit same-y - monkeys, temples and trees. Can you sense my enthusiasm? My fear of monkeys was at a high at this point but the place was pretty and worth a visit if you're into your temples and religious grounds.

After SMF, we grabbed a taxi and headed over to the Botanical Gardens. The place was deserted, apart from a man at the main desk. We paid our 50,000 entrance fee and headed in. Now I want to warn you, the place is ridiculously disappointing. I imagine at some point it will have been beautiful but, right now, it's completely run down, everything is unkempt, overgrown and some of the benches and holy areas of completely broken. It has so much potential to be pretty and a real tourist attraction, which is what it was said to have in all of the Trip Advisor reviews but unfortunately, that is not what we witnessed that day. It may say it is one of the top 10 recommended places in Ubud but don't be fooled, it really isn't anything special at all.

Disappointed, we got back in our taxi and drove back down to Monkey Forest Road. That evening, we headed to The Three Monkeys for dinner, a restaurant we had been advised to try, The place was fancy and it had a fridge on show of spectacular looking desserts - sold! We grabbed a menu and loved the sound of what was on offer. I opted for a vegetarian pizza and side salad, the girls had pasta. The food arrived - my pizza and salad looked great; the girls pasta arrived, the portions consisted of a few mouthfuls and, for the price, it was very disappointing. Asian dishes are notoriously smaller portions but, for the cost, this was smaller than average. The food itself was lovely and my pizza was delicious but it seemed very overpriced in comparison to the cost and quality of food we had eaten elsewhere. I had baklava for dessert, which wasn't actually traditional baklava - more of a filo pastry, coated in sugar - while Vicky had a gorgeous, melt in the mouth chocolate mud pie. So, despite the tasty food, we felt overcharged and still hungry as we left. We headed over the road to nice reggae bar for a glass of wine and some nice music before calling it a night and catching up on some recently downloaded American Horror (something I've really got into since being away).

The next day we arranged to hire a jeep to drive ourselves to Bali Safari and Marine Park, near Padangbai and only a hour and a half drive from Ubud. BIG TIP: Make sure you plan your route properly or hire a car with GPS. We got VERY lost and it took us over three and a half hours to finally get to Bali Safari - which was TERRIBLY sign posted, hence why it took us so long. The roads are confusing (unless you stick to the bypass) and never have street names on them. When we finally arrived, we were very impressed. Now, I've been to Florida and experienced the Disney Parks, Animal Kingdom, Busch Gardens - those of you that have been will know just how incredible and how much fun they are - so I was a little skeptical at how good Bali Safari and Marine Park would be but I have to admit it was actually pretty good. We had to pay around $40 entrance fee, which included access to the educational shows, the fun park, a safari trip, the waterpark and the rest of the site. As it took us so long to get there, we decided against the waterpark but took full advantage of the rest of the park - we saw white tigers, fed the elephants, watched the educational shows, saw the cheetahs, giraffees and zebras, went on the log flume and saw the cute orangutans. It was fun and I'm really glad we went, even if just to fed and see the elephants. It also confirmed in my own mind that I was to volunteer with orangutans; I got the offer to do it in Borneo a few years ago and stupidly declined but it will definitely be something I will be looking into again.

After spending around 5 hours there, which ended up being plenty of time, we made our way back to Ubud - which only took an hour and a half now we knew where we were going. On the way home we came across an italian restaurant, Mamma Mia. The place smelt amazing and the menu looked equally as good. We had a mixture of bruschetta starters and garlic bread, all very nice before ordering our mains. I decided on one of the specials, bolognaise stuffed aubergine with mozzarella and sauteed vegetables - something I make at home and was excited to eat here. It arrived and was as delicious as expected - bolognaise jam packed with flavour and the aubergines perfectly cooked. Very, very impressed and I would without a doubt go for a meal here again. I'd even contemplate a trip to Ubud purely for a meal there. - the prices were great, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly and good food. What more could you want?

The next day we had a 7am start to start our journey to Lombok. I'd been told by several people to visit Lombok as it's great for diving. I'm no diver, but would love to have a PADI license one day, but good diving had to mean great beaches, right? And it was near Gili (our next stop) anyway. We made our way from Ubud to Padangbai, which was close to Bali Safari, to catch our boat.The journey was lovely and as we cruised by Gili on the boat I could not wait to get there - it looked like absolute paradise as everybody had already told us.

But, first stop...Lombok.


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