What an amazing holiday. What an extraordinary place. We got back on Sunday, and my head is still full of all the impressions and experiences of 11 days in Bali.
As I've already reported, the airport experience couldn't have been better: ten minutes from airbridge to outside. Off to Ubud, through villages that sometimes seemed like giant outdoor shopping malls: sculptures in one, garden furniture the next.
The Royal Pita Maha was astonishing; even better than I'd hoped. Insanely luxurious villa, with a "plunge pool" fully ten metres long! The grounds of the hotel are spectacular, and we loved wandering along by the Ayung River (good birdwatching, including the flashy Javan Kingfisher). The food is very good, too, and the staff great.
In Ubud, we liked Pura Tamun Saraswati and its lotus pond; the Palace buildings; the Monkey Forest; the rosewater lassi at Kafe; and the kites flying everywhere. I loved watching women making offerings, and the sense that their faith is so integrated into every aspect of life. Thanks to the person who mentioned Banana dress shop on Monkey Forest Road - I went in there and bought a top, and the proprietor is just lovely. I told her hers was the only shop I'd gone into, and she hugged me!
The Bali Bird Walk is highly recommended: they take you through the rice paddies (starting on the path that leads to Sari Organik restaurant) for a 3-hour walk, finishing up with lunch at Murni's Warung. Just a lovely way to see some of Ubud's surroundings; Sumadi, the guide, was a mine of information about every aspect of Balinese life, not just birds.
Unfortunately, my husband got a nasty case of recurring Bali belly, so we didn't eat out as much as we'd have liked to. This continued to trouble him for a week, at which point he saw a doctor who said it must have a bacterial cause and prescribed antibiotics, which fixed it at last.
We had a day tour with Wayan Sueta, one of the drivers on the TA list (booked via Travel About Bali in WA). Wayan is excellent: a good driver and a superb guide. We visited the schoolgirl whom we sponsor, and it was fascinating to meet her extended family and see her house. Then we went to Jatiluwih and on to the highlands. Rain meant we didn't see the fine views over the lakes, but Pura Ulun Danu Bratan was lovely even in the rain. The Botanical Gardens were very impressive, and I'd like to stay at the guest house in the middle of the gardens next time I go!
When we left Ubud, Wayan took us on another touring drive to Amed. We took the scenic road through Sidemen - gorgeous - and then down to Klungkung, where the market was fascinating. Lots of photos here. A good time to be there, as it was the run-up to the Galungan festival, so everyone was buying flowers and palm-leaves to make their penjors.
Then we went to the Bali Aga village at Tenganan, which was an extraordinary experience; an insight into a very different way of life. Then on to Amed, taking the beautiful but scary coast road (not for the first time, I was glad I wasn't driving). We stayed in some cute cottages (I think Jegeg Cottages?); nice enough, but the pillows were stuffed with rocks, so we didn't sleep well.
On again in the morning, stopping at Pura Meduwe Karang and Pura Beji before exploring Singaraja. Wayan pointed out all the barns and upper storeys built to accommodate edible-nest swiftlets - "swallow-farming", he called it. The sort of thing you'd never notice without a guide. Then we saw the hot springs at Banjar, very busy because people were bathing prior to the festival; and pressed on to Banyuwedang.
Novus Gawana was wonderful; a good base for visiting the National Park, and a great hotel in its own right. The staff were so helpful and friendly; they really wanted everyone to have a good time. Very good food, and reasonably priced given that they pretty much have a captive market. The room was lovely, especially the jacuzzi/plunge pool fed from a hot spring, and the outside shower.
Snorkelling at Menjangan Island was awesome; among my best ever snorkelling experiences. Birdwatching was great, too; for these walks Gawana uses the facilities of Menjangan Jungle Resort, just on the other side of the inlet. To our complete astonishment, we saw the Bali Starling. This is one of the world's rarest birds, only found in this national park, and with only 25 left in the wild - of which we saw three! Truly extraordinary; anyone who is interested in birding should deffo go there.
The Gawana spa was wonderful; I spent two hours being massaged and then scrubbed with coffee and ginger, after which I sat in a herbal hot spring bath looking at a stunning view towards the mountains of East Java. Very invigorating.
Picked up by Wayan's colleague Gusti for the last journey; we took the beautiful road south via Busungbiu and Pupuan. Near Pupuan we went on a short walk that took us into the most stunning rice terrace landscape of all; the green was almost painful after poor, dry WA.
Then Pura Taman Ayun in Mengwi, where we had a very funny experience. Three small kids came and asked if they could have their photo taken with us. No worries, we said ("sing ken ken", in one of my few Balinese phrases!). All of a sudden we were surrounded by the entire family group, totalling 25 people, all taking turns to take a photo of us all. Their guide told us they were from East Java, so I guess they don't see many white-skinned people there - we seemed more of a tourist attraction to them than the temple was! Weird to think of them showing these photos to their friends back home.
And so to Sanur, where we stayed one night at Villa Puri Ayu, which was as friendly and pleasant as its TA reviews suggest. We had hoped to stop at the Mangrove Information Centre for some more birding, but the rain put paid to that. One of the few times when the rain got in the way of our plans, even though it was way wetter than we'd expected for this time of year. We ate at Ming Le Resto, which was excellent - and the free pick-up and drop-off was perfect when the rain was so heavy.
Next morning, off to the airport and back to Perth. Many, many thanks to all the forum posters and reviewers who helped my planning for this trip; it wouldn't have been as good without the advice available via TA. Now to start planning the next Bali visit; I'm so conscious that there's so much more to see and do. Sorry to bang on at such length!