Taking the Tourist Track Less Traveled in Northern Bali

View from forest around Munduk Bali

Bali is not all about the beach. Already in my last post we’d headed inland to Ubud. Next we were adventuring north, an expedition that would involve getting lost in rice fields, staying in a one-horse town… and waking up at 4:30 am. Northern Bali, here we come!

Journeying to Jatiluwih’s beautiful Rice Terraces

While we’d seen some lovely rice fields around Ubud, we’d both read that the truly amazing were at Jatiluwih, so beautiful that these terraced fields have made their way onto the UNESCO world heritage list, as we’d find out, with good reason. We called up our driver from Jimbaran, Made, created the itinerary ourselves this time, and off we went. Without a driver, this area is a little tricky to reach, but since we were splitting the costs and having a full day of sightseeing ending at our next destination, it was well worth the reasonable expense of around 25 dollars each. Our route was indeed tricky even with the driver as it was a small two lane road, at times difficult to navigate or traffic clogged like when we were trying to traverse a town, crowded with temple-goers heading to some big festivities. The hold-up gave us the chance to marvel at the beautiful Balinese fancy outfits.

When the road began to climb and wind, we knew that we must be getting close. Rounding another bend, the trees opened up revealing a vast valley, its hillsides hugged by the vibrant, green steps of the rice terraces. We were dropped off at the main “lookout” point and set off on a little stroll. Instead of taken the path more trodden, we headed right, along what seemed to be the rice farmers’ road.

We passed a few other curious travelers, but we mostly had the peaceful surroundings to ourselves. At first there wasn’t much to see with the sea of tall rice stalks. We were on the backroad after all, not the official scenic one, but soon the fields began to slope and we had impressive views of the verdant valley. After about 45 minutes we realized the road wasn’t curving around to join up with any others and if we kept going we’d end up in the next town so were about to turn back, but then something caught our attention. Down the hill, beyond some trees popped a temple complex, hidden in what seemed to be the middle of the forest edging the fields, It was dressed up with banners and flags like we’d seen in the paintings of the artist we’d met the previous day, a fun sighting missed by most of the other visitors who only came here for a few photos from the lookout.

Heading back in the direction we’d came from, Rose’s daring side materialized: “There must be a way to get to that other road down there…” Her ponderings turned into an off-roading escapade of us zigzagging along the terraces, slicing our legs on the sharp rice, encountering a few cows, a goat and eventually having to climb across a log to the other side of the river. Our slightly treacherous trek did get us to where we were aiming for, just one more muddy slippery path and we reached the “official” road, located in the middle of the terraces that if any tourists do take an amble, it’s along this lane. It was nice to see this side too, though fonder memories will stick from the wild one.

The Temple of the Lake

I was equally excited about our second destination, the Pura Ulun Danu Beratan temple. Now, this was a little more on the tourist track and we ran into some mobs of Chinese tourists, but we still loved this lovely temple complex sitting on the banks of the Lake Bratan. Constructed in 1663, it’s best known for its graceful pagoda floating in the water. Its setting on the lake with the mountains in the distance evokes a spiritual serenity, amplified on the day we visited with the misty and brooding clouds. We enjoyed a little wander outside the temple complex, along the lake, finding some fisherman casting their rods and something of a neighborhood party we contemplated crashing. We’d have our local experiences in our next destination…

The Mountain Oasis of Munduk

Rose with her trusty Lonely Planet had dug up a really offbeat place to stop at: Munduk. Our car climbed higher and higher up the mountain, passing more lakes, leading us to this quiet hamlet perched on the north side of the mountain. Munduk was definitely far off the regular tourist circuit, but tourism had been gradually rising, proof with the increase in guesthouses, we stayed at one of the oldest, the simple but friendly Guru Ratna Homestay. We dropped our bags off, bid our driver Made farewell and struck out to explore town.

Well, that took about five minutes, or rather could have taken as the “town” was really just one main street, despite its size limitations, we managed to find diverse entertainment. Stopping to look at some instruments hanging from a shop awning, we were beckoned into by its owner and given a mini lesson in Balinese xylophones and bamboo flutes. I was more hopeless than Rose, our limited musical didn’t merit actually buying one of his lovely creations, but we were amused by his efforts in addition to his eclectic collection of photos and nicknacks sent from his previous international “students.”

Next we eyed up some other curiosities at the two local shops filled with produce, plentiful cup-a-soups, baskets and even some faux-Chanel purses, a classer town than we’d thought! Arriving at the end of the street we stopped for a snack of Martabak, a crepe-like sandwich filled with cheese and vegetables which Rose had discovered just after getting her butt smacked back in Jimbaran and had been seeking out ever since.

After we’d thoroughly visited the remaining nooks and crannies on our way back up the street we decided to amble down an alleyway thinking we’d find a nice view of the valley from the other side. That we did, in addition to a nice little cafe. It was the slow season, even more obvious in sleepy Munduk, so feeling a little sorry for the convivial restaurateur with his virtually empty dining terrace with only two other customers and tempted enough by its menu, we decided to stay for dinner, besides, there weren’t all that many dining options in town save the guesthouses. I order what was described as a local potato speciality that turned out to be homemade wedge fries, however, his cuisine was improved upon the next day there by a vegetable (with a lot of potatoes) curry. What brought us back for lunch?

Hiking through the Jungle and under Waterfalls

Our host, another Made (it turned out to be a very popular name here), struck up a conversation with us as he was clearing our plates: “What are you doing tomorrow?” Rose had read that there was good hiking in the area, a reason for coming, so we’d planned on booking a trekking guide through the guest house. On learning this, he went on to say that he was also a guide and that he could take us on a great hike, name our price. Rose loves her deals, and since we’d seen the price at the hotel, we knew our bargaining power allowing her to talk him down to a very reasonable, fair deal for a five hour hike (about 8 dollars each). At the end of the slow season, tourism professionals were keen to earn some extra money however they could, as we’d developed a rapport with him it made sense to give him the work over someone we didn’t know, plus he spoke very good English and was a real local.

Made did not disappoint, he took us through all the back trails that he knew like the back of his hand. Through the dense semi-tropical forest he showed us spice trees, coffee plantations (in the middle of the jungle) and various exotic fruit trees. He knew the secret path to the two waterfalls of the area and we were all alone at the first, the second wasn’t mobbed with visitors but with zillions of tiny yellow butterflies which danced around our feet. We passed through some of the “suburbs” of the village, meeting some neighbors, a woodworker making tops and even his parents.


Pushing on to visit the area’s rice fields, we were working up quite the appetite. We finished up conveniently at his restaurant which we felt obliged to eat at, part of his marketing tactics, but we really didn’t mind, my curry was tasty and the strawberry juice made with the famous local berries delicious. However, when he tried to push arranging our departure transfer and boat ferry to our next destination, we felt like we were being a little taken advantage of. Sure enough for the latter we did find a better price on our own and spent the afternoon trying to avoid walking in front of his place to not have him ask again. A trip to the one local massage parlor for a reflexology foot massage helped this and our tired feet from our morning exertion.

Munduk’s beauty was certainly unique and the views breath-taking, our little day and a half was enough time, besides, our next destination beckoned. Our adventures to be continued … on other islands, it was just a shame that we had to leave at 4:30 am to get there, torture in itself, we also missed one last look at the gorgeous mountains. The amazing sunset we caught nearing the ferry was an excellent omen of good things to come: we were off to the Gilis.

Sunset near Amed


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