Learning about Balance: Pura Besakih

Pura Besakih, the mother temple of Bali, over 2000 years old and 1000m above sea level, has sat high on my Balinese bucket list since long before I arrived. So finally it was time to make the trip into the mountains and visit the temple complex. It’s not the easiest place to get to as it is not situated too close to any of the major tourist towns, and I missed the opportunity to visit from Ubud, so needed to be sure to make my way there before I went too much further South.

Padang Bai seemed like an ideal launch pad for the (half) day trip, as there was not so much I wanted to see and do in the town anyways, and the temple lay just 1 hour away. I set out early and although the weather wasn’t perfect, it was nice to get into the mountains and watch the beautiful countryside fall away into the distance.

The temple was a little smaller than I was expecting, but then I suppose I didn’t have too many expectations, but it was beautiful all the same. What made my day however was my guide, Wayan (the name given to any first-born in Bali, male or female), who not only took me through the complex to show me the different temples but also taught me about Hinduism along the way. Lacking in knowledge prior to arriving in Bali, I felt that this was really important to help me understand my future Balinese adventures.

I learned about the central importance of balance, good and bad, light and dark, symbolised with a black and white checkered cloth which adorned the protective statues outside the temples’ many entrances. I learned about the different gods, at Besakih there is Brahma, the creator, Shiva, the destroyer, and Vishnu, the protector. At each entrance there were little baskets of offerings for the spirits, just like I had seen on the streets of Ubud and Amed. Wayan explained that the offerings are for the evil spirits, to keep them away.

I learned a lot from my visit and would highly recommend making the journey if not only to better understand this element of the local culture. After the 30-40 minutes spent walking around I made my way back to Padang Bai for an afternoon at the beach. There are two main beaches to either side of town, White Sand and Blue Lagoon, both easily reached with a 10 minute walk. Having stopped by White Sand the day before to check it out I ventured to Blue Lagoon and was blown away by possibly the most turquoise water I have ever seen, the perfect spot to while away the afternoon.

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Amed: I could stay here forever

I left Ubud at the perfect time, before I overdid it and let the crowds and touts begin to irritate me, but not before my initial honeymoon-style infatuation wore thin. As much as I loved the classic Bali backpacker town, I needed to see more, and it was certainly time for some salt water. So I headed to Amed, in fact, I had been intending to go straight to the Gili’s but stories of boats engines blowing up only a week ago and the understanding that the journey would make me sea-sick, was enough to encourage me to try a Balinese beach first, and so I chose Amed, simply for it’s north-eastern location which would then let me continue South.

I planned to stay just two nights and owing to their being few hostels in the area, took the plunge and booked a homestay, then spent much of the bus ride over wondering if I had made a colossal mistake. In fact, I made the best decision I could have – I stayed with the loveliest family, Mum, Dad and their 5 children. They took me in and provided me with a beautiful double room, en suite and breakfast every morning. Anything I needed, they were there to advise upon and completely enhanced my stay in this quaint fishing village.

So naturally I extended my stay, to four days, spending them trawling the coast with a friend I had fortunately made on the shuttle bus (without her, staying alone in the homestay, I do not think I would have stuck around as long). We snorkelled on the beautiful reefs that lay only metres from shore and a Japanese shipwreck in a similar position. I made a morning trip to the Tirta Gangga water palace and simply fell in love with this laid-back corner of the island.

As with everything though, all good things must come to an end and I had to drag myself away eventually, but I am so pleased I changed my plans to visit this idyllic and less-travelled corner of the island, I’ll be back one day I am sure.

Arriving in Bali: Ubud

So this year I made the bold (even if I do say so myself), and what others might deem insane decision to quit my job and book some flights around South-East Asia. I had a job that many would dream of, managing volunteer projects in an under-developed corner of Cambodia (yes, I was already here), and loved it, to a point, but I was exhausted, five years of living and working overseas was wrapping up and I was ready to head back to the UK, just not before I had seen a few more places first.

So I booked flights to Bali and Vietnam. I must admit, Bali tends to conjure up romanticised imagery of beaches, meditation and complete contentment (thank you Eat, Pray, Love). Deep down I understood it wouldn’t all be as expected, but I like the unexpected most of the time anyways and I went ahead and took myself to paradise. I dove straight into it, making Ubud, the yoga-meditation-zen capital of the island, surrounded by stunning rice paddies and mountainous scenery and bustling with opportunity, my first stop, fresh from the airport.

Ubud was everything I had hoped it would be and more. A peaceful town, it is by no means quiet, bustling with locals and tourists and flooded with souvenir stores and restaurants offering almost any cuisine you like. The city maintains a traditional vibe however, and I was simply mesmerised by the offerings of flowers and incense beautifully laid-out on the roadside each morning (this is an amazing Bali-wide ritual).

My time here did not disappoint either, it’s popularity making it a perfect place to meet fellow-travellers and central location making it easy to see lots of near by attractions. From jungle-fringed waterfalls to watching the sunrise from the top of a volcano, it was an incredible way to start this adventure and set a high standard for my subsequent destinations.