Traversing Bali’s coastal backbone

The hotel said they’d give us a free transfer to the train station. We’d double confirmed with them it would be there at 5am. The station was a good 10 minutes away and we had to swap our booking confirmation for a ticket. The train was at 5:25am.

There was us and a security guard who couldn’t speak English in a dark lobby as the clock ticked and it became apparently our ride wasn’t showing. We hadn’t waited until much past 5am to start trying to engage him. We had not got up at that time in the morning to miss a comfortable train ride, to spend double the time on an uncomfortable bus. It became clear that he didn’t know what to do and was just hoping it was going to show. By ten past we knew we had to convey a sense of urgency to get him to do something. So Marie put on a suitable dramatic performance. It worked. 5 minutes later a landrover was driving at high speed straight across the hotel grass. We thanked the guard, piled in and the driver wasted no time in putting his foot down. We arrived in 5 minutes. We thanked him profusely (we suspect the guard had called a friend) and tipped him and got out.

There was only a woman on the counter and a security guard but no one in the waiting room. We printed our tickets and the guard let us onto the platform. It was just getting light. The train was 10 minutes late.

To get from the train station to the port tuk tuk drivers only wanted 10,000 Rupiah. That confirmed to us that it was close and google was right in that we could walk it. We confidently walked out of the station and asked a local which way it was. It was less than a 5 minute walk.

The ferry was easy they run every 30 minutes so you pay for your ticket (an interesting process as you fill out a form and then buy a ticket that you then had over to a guard on a turnstile) and walk on the next one. The crossing took around 45 minutes. The train journey had only been an hour so by 9am we were on Bali.

Bali doesn’t have much by way of public transport. We wanted to get all the way out to the east of the island by following the coast but we also didn’t want to pay a lot for a driver. We knew there must be something and it must be possible to hop our way across.

A short walk to the bus station and it was pretty dead. We wanted to get to Singaraja which was about halfway as we’d read it was something of a hub so we figured we should be able to. A bus driver tried to tout us but it was clear we’d be somewhere close to chartering the whole thing. We declined and was then approached by a big old minivan driver offering us a special deal for a slightly lower price. We didn’t want to commit until we’d explored if there was any other options. We had a quiet chat to another guy. He seemed really sincere and he told us the minivan was the public transport, so we agreed a deal with the driver and hit the road.

We realised that the young guy in the front seat was his son when on leaving the city they switched seats. He was clearly teaching him how to drive. In all our travels this was the first time we’d ever experienced this. He could drive. His driving was just very slow and his gear changes still needed a lot of work so we lost momentum on every small rise we attempted. This wasn’t an ideal situation when you have a good way you want to travel but there was nothing to do but relax and enjoy it. The roads were quiet, we saw few tourists and the scenery was beautiful. Most tourism on Bali is based in the south and center of the island and it really had the feeling of being natural and untainted.

We enjoyed seeing the Hindu temples that Bali is renowned for and we loved going through troops of monkeys. If we’d had more time we would have ditched the journey and checked it out properly. We picked up a maybe 2 other passengers for short hops but it was slim pickings and we could see why public transport barely exists.

A few hours later on rolling into Singaraja the driver found us another driver that we grasped would take us across town to where transport east goes from. It was one of those tiny vans with a little bench seat in the back and a spare wheel on the floor. 15 minutes later on the other side of town we were doing a deal with another big old minivan driver to take us to Amed, our final destination. We had no choice but to charter it on a ‘special’ deal, but after such a slow first leg we were keen to just get there so not driving slow to tout for business or stopping to pick up others suited us.

He first called into a little stall which we’re guessing was his wife’s and he was telling her he’d be a while. Then we were off. He was a really nice guy and he knew where the accelerator was which pleased us immensely. Marie sat up front and Emma had the entire back to herself .

Just 2 hours later we were there. He dropped us near to where we thought our hostel was and we waved him goodbye. We had a lovely big room with a big glass wall and sliding doors. It had a 4 post bed. What we didn’t have was aircon but it wasn’t unbearably hot. We were pretty tired so grouched at each other for a while before deciding to see if we could fit in a temple visit before it went dark.

We debated hiring one of their scooters but directly outside the hostel it was a big main road so nowhere for Marie to practice. We’d also worked out that we needed to top up our phone data as neither of us had working maps anymore. After some debate and some grumpiness we settled on agreeing with the hostel to find us 2 scooter drivers.

It was a good decision, Lempuyang temple sits 1,775m up a hill and it is a steep windy road. Our drivers were young and one spoke good English. We absolutely loved whizzing along with them. It was a fair way, it would have been difficult for us to drive and navigate on our own. We also got them to stop at an ATM and a phone shop so we could get a data top up, so we maximised our value for money.

Lempuyang temple is one of the oldest and most sacred temples on the Bali. It is said to have one of the most breathtaking views from a Bali temple, and is most famous for its picturesque Gate of Heaven. A typical split gate but built in lighter stone, what makes it spectacular is on a clear day Mount Agung provides the backdrop. We didn’t get so lucky it was cloudy (though that didnt’ stop the line of people waiting to have their photo taken in the gate) but it was still a lovely temple and it was really nice introduction to Balinese temples.

The scooter ride back was just as much fun as the way out and they stopped so we could photograph some of the local rice terraces. The late afternoon sun bathed everything in a soft light. When we got back we decided to head down to the beach to catch sunset. It didn’t disappoint with the majesty of Mount Agung dominating the landscape (3031m). With not even a hint a smoke it was hard to believe that this was the volcano that blew in November 2017 disrupting international flights and forcing 100,000 people from the area. So far in 2019 it has erupted every month (January to June) but thankfully it behaved itself while we were there!

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