Day three in Tulamben and with only one full day left here we’ve decided that we will let our dive kit dry out and instead go to see some of the local sights on land. It’s a hot day and instantly we realise how glad we are to have hired a driver for the day. OK, I know what you’re thinking – not the most authentic travel experience but, the roads here are busy and ruthless, the drivers have a tooting language of their own and neither of us are blessed with any directional skill whatsoever…. So after taking one look at a map of the local area we both opted that this would be the more productive (life prolonging) course of action – don’t’ judge us! #tofftravellers
8am pick-up means another early morning, but not without breakfast to set us up for the day; we’ve got five sites to see and a long day ahead. Big bottle of water packed, breakfast devoured we’re out on the road and feeling comfortable in a rather large, rather bright yellow interiored white car with tinted windows. Looking around at the other local cars, all I can think is that ‘Pimp My Ride’ must’ve made it to Bali. Our driver, NiangNiag is full of chat and has us pulling up alongside the main road on the edge of the winding cliff that we took on the way here in the dark – it’s now a clear view of the rice terraces in the valley, with farmers cutting and whipping the grass against boards, rows of perfectly planted seedlings and as Niang Niang informs us, some sweet potato fields too. It’s stunning and with the early morning mist still rising up it’s a moment of realisation of just how far from home we are and how beautiful this place is.
The next stop takes us to the famous temple site, Pura Lempuyang. It’s more likely you would recognise the photos of this temple than the name, as it draws a frenzy of visitors to pose between the gates for a perfectly framed photo with the volcano in the distance. We pay a donation fee and a small amount each to hire a sarong and make our way to see just one of the many temples in this one area. Our tour guide has informed us that due to the schedule for the day we only have an hour to spare. I mentioned we have no sense of direction, right?
Just a little note here: if you plan on visiting temples you can save yourself a small charge by ensuring you cover yourself from the waist to below the knee and ladies, be sure that you have your shoulders and chest covered too.
Back to it then, where are we? Well, we’re standing in front of some locked gated wondering how on earth we make it to where all the people are on the other side – nothing too unusual for a couple with less directional sense than, say… a zebra on ice. Thankfully there’s a group of tourists behind these zebras slip-sliding everywhere and they seem to know better than us, so we take to following them around the corner and thankfully we find ourselves entering the huge stone gates of the temple. Well, actually it’s more like we find ourselves photo-bombing one of the many who have come here to stand between said gates and have their ‘instagram gold’ photo taken. Whilst people politely queue for their turn at looking regal and in awe in front of the volcano we take a little look around. In front of us is a courtyard and at the opposite end stand three ornate stairways up to the second temple. It is here I will admit we don’t get beyond the first temple, and why? Because we spent a good portion of the time trying to get ‘that’ Instagram post – guilty as charged, it’s beautiful to stand there and look out on it all.
The second stop takes us to Tirta Ganga, the lily and coi carp water garden, another unexpected entry fee here – be wary of day tours with this little detail; they may tell you what they’ll take you to see for a cost, but they won’t necessarily pay for you to see it. The tour cost is for driving only and slightly confusing; it seems cheeky but it’s best to clarify what you’re paying for before handing over the cash and to be sure it’s worth it before you presume it’s all included. We had gone in there blind, asked no real questions and allowed them to mostly dictate the best sites to see – do the research, don’t make the mistakes we did! As much as we went on to see a few more things we saw more man made attractions than we wanted, paid more than we’d have like to for them and somehow our tour which was supposed to be from 8am to 5 or 6pm ended at 2pm with a forty minute drive back to our hotel.
Now, had we known we had to pay the entry fees it might have been less begrudging on arrival and we may have also considered more fully exactly where we wanted our driver to take us for the IDR 700,000 we paid rather than IDR 60,000 we could have spent renting a bike for the day and taking our own route and time schedule (but I did mention the directional issues, didn’t I?). The driver and car was definitely a good idea for us but be sure you know what you want to see, have an idea of the time scale between each location and don’t be rushed out of a place before you’re ready, but do agree a time schedule with your driver before you go in and stick to it.
So Tirta Ganga and the Ujung Water Palace (another man-made attraction with culturally interesting structures, somewhat blemished by the big plastic animal pedalos floating around in the shape of a giant seahorse and a pink swan…) were nice enough, and it seemed plenty of people were enjoying the photo opportunities on the stepping stones between the fountains in Tirta Ganga. Others were using a speedboat around the floating platform for food and shade in the Ujung water palace, but it felt a bit too man made and for us a little uninspiring. Nevertheless, we spent our time finding the little beautiful sparks of nature inside and enjoying a little time sat in the shade – occasionally joined by a few locals who wanted to join us for a photo.
Now, let’s just have a think about what we mean when we say ‘man made’, there’s the temples and palaces and water gardens category and then there’s ‘The Tree House’ category, in this category we include a multi-storey network of tree houses joined by bamboo and rope bridges and crow’s nests… Once again we find ourselves in the situation, having paid the money without quite knowing what we were walking into or in this case, on to, there wasn’t any chance we could walk straight out of this bizarre local attraction.
Stepping in it seemed we were the only foreign tourists there, something that came to my attention instantly as I find myself surrounded with camera phones flashing and children being pushed towards me for a photo. A good five cheek aching minutes later and I may have become a small Instagram celeb in the Tulamben, Bali realms. Aaron has missed the whole thing whilst I’m left slightly bewildered wandering amongst bamboo swings, birds cages and wondering which of the stairs upwards looks less rickety. Safe to say we only had one photo opportunity here, the rest was spent clinging on for dear life whilst kids happily strolled along the rope bridges and adults took no notice of the number of person restrictions per platform… Yes, I was saying my final goodbyes whilst wishing I felt more like Indiana Jones and little less like Donkey in the volcano scene.
Next stop was for lunch, we headed to Virgin Beach, another must see and what with it being a beach we weren’t adverse to the idea. You wouldn’t anticipate a beach would involve an entrance fee, well my friends, surprise – this ones does! So, once again, hands in pockets and we’ve been given a one and a half hour time slot to see the place and grab a bite to eat. We spent the time in the second beach-side restaurant we came across and watched as two local girls spent the hour (and a half) swinging their hair around and perfecting poses for Instagram… running in fear as soon as the water touched their toes mind you. The food here was the worst we’d had since arriving and it wasn’t the most affordable either. Beware that tourist traps will have a guaranteed influx of new customers so there’s no real drive for them to improve beyond the basics, the general rule of thumb is to keep it simple or head elsewhere, funnily enough the western food looked much more appealing than our rice and curry tasted.
After making our way back to the car for 2pm we were stunned to hear our driver ask us what to do now, because he didn’t want to drive 40 minutes to the coffee plantation as we didn’t want to buy any – instead he asked if we wanted to buy silver or just go back to the hotel. It’s a shame to think that he was keen to take us places to potentially engineer a profit and a cut for himself but it felt like that was the situation. We would have happily seen the plantation and taken some photos and learnt how it was farmed and planted as initially offered and no doubt been back before 5pm, but once again as we were not interested in spending money he didn’t really care. Beware of this too, we were wrongly informed of how long we could spend in places and how long the day would last, a day trip from 8am – 2pm is long enough if you expect that but to be cut short by at least three hours with no alternative is a bit frustrating.
Ultimately, we live to tell the tale and though perhaps with a few more hours to spare and few IDR less to spare than expected, we put it all down to experience and all in all it was a culturally exciting and different day out! Never be afraid to try something new and out of your comfort zone (even if it’s from an AC car).