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Bali road trip
South - north - east
South Bali/Ubud - Jatiluwih - Bedugul - Munduk - Lovina - Kubutambahan - Mt. Batur - Bangli - Pura Besakih - Rengan - Amlapura.
With this semi-loop, you will see a lot of great temples, get incredible views of rice terraces, pass rumbling volcanoes and just drive some darn nice winding roads from the hot lowland in the south to the wet and misty mountainous inland back down to humid north coast just to return to the chilled mountains. The first leg to Jatiluwih can even be done on potholed back roads if you really want to experience the calm and tranquil life of the ordinary Balinese people in the countryside. Rent a scooter and off you go, but keep in mind that accommodation outside the tourist areas can be scarce.
On the 26th of December 2004, a devastating earth quake of magnitude 9.3 hit Banda Aceh. What wasn't toppled by the quake itself was quickly demolished afterwards by the gigantic tsunami, which continued its apocalyptic ravage to coastal areas all over South Asia. 61,000 people lost their lives in Banda Aceh alone, roughly a third of the city's population. Today, Banda Aceh has been rebuilt and there is not much left of the tsunami aftermath anymore, but every person has a heartbreaking story to tell. To add to Banda Aceh's tragical past, it has also been the centre of armed conflict between government forces and Aceh separatists, but the region of Aceh is on the rebound and on to something good.
Besakih Hindu temple
Pura Besakih is the most important and mind-blowing Hindu temple of all temples on Bali. It is actually a temple complex consisting of 22 different temples and is the one that is pictured in travel brochures and postcards, so it doesn't become more Balinese-iconic than this. The main temple, Pura Penataran Agung, has the usual row of shrines, but many with multi-roofs making the main square look really imposing. Pura Besakih sits on the slope of the highest mountain on Bali, Mt. Agung (3140 m) which is an active volcano, and was close to be destroyed during the 1963 eruption when lava flows missed the temples by literally a few meters.
As with any other temples in Bali, try to visit if there is a ceremony going on when it all comes alive â€“ and it doesn't get more grand than at Besakih. At quiet times, it can turn into a bit of a tourist trap with persistent local guides and imaginary fees. To escape the hassle, try to park as high up as possible next to the temples.
Borobudur is a massive temple on the outskirts of Jogyakarta. The temple is a 9th century Buddhist temple that was abandoned at some point during the 14th century during the decline of Buddhism in Indonesia. It is an enormous complex and an amazing site to see. The walls are covered with over 1,400 narrative panels that have been methodically carved into the stones. 504 buddhas sit atop the Borobudur complex. But many of the heads have been taken by robbers throughout the years. Wake up early to catch sunrise from atop the temple. It is an amazing view, as the sun comes up over the active volcano.
Gunung Leuser National Park, Sumatra
Bukit Lawang is a small tourist village setup inside the Gunung Leuser National Park. It is famous due to the proximity to the orangutan rehabilitation centre just across the river. There are lots of alternative "backpacker" accommodations on the river bank and banana pancake can be found on the menus. Though seeing orangutans at the feeding platform is the main thing for most visitors, jungle treks and wildlife watching can be done inside Gunung Leuser NP and you can go tubing on the river on those lazy afternoons (but check the water level first - in 2003, the whole place was washed away by a huge flash flood).
If you take an hour motorbike ride east of Borobudur, you will find the small village of Selogroyo, nestled into the foothills of Mt. Merapi. The village is a very basic small farming community that has created a masterpiece of art out of the terraced valley that sits below the village. There are footpaths that wind through this beautiful valley. The villagers are friendly and will take you up through the valley. A temple lies in the back of the valley, after a very long set of stairs. It is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
A 7 km side tour off the coastal road, on a bumpy dirt road, will bring you to the triple waterfall of Gangga. The size of the waterfalls are not as exciting as getting to them. The first fall is straight forward. The second one is reached by crossing in front of the plunging water of the first and then balancing on some slippery bamboo poles. The last one is the cave waterfall, below the two others. You have to walk upstream in the riverbed, before you can see the water be pressed out of the cliff face. If the water pressure is low, you can even climb up and explore the crack where the water emerges from.
Giant flower, Rafflesia
Batang Palupuh, Sumatra
There are a few things in this world you have to see before believing them and the Rafflesia (Rafflesia arnoldii) is one of them. It is the biggest flower on the planet. It is huge, plastic-like and smelly. More than a meter in diameter, it can weigh more than 10 kg, and its perfume resembles the smell of rotten meat. This rare flower only blooms for a few weeks and then it is gone. The season is between August and November and the locals know where to find the blooming ones.
Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan
The Gilis, as they are called, are three small palm fringed islands with long sandy beaches. They are surrounded by warm turquoise water with descent corals and excellent marine life, making it a world class dive spot, with equally good snorkeling with chances to see turtles right from the shore. The three islands all have a different vibe; Gili Air is the local island with more traditional life than the others, Gili Meno is the smallest and for those who want to chill, while Gili Trawangan is the party island with something for everybody. There are no cops nor traffic on any of the islands, beside horse carts and bicycles, and very little Bob Marley. Sounds like paradise on earth? Well, it is pretty darn close.
Gili Islands diving
The diving around Indonesiaâ€™s Gili Islands is nothing short of spectacular, with enough variety to keep even the fussiest divers busy for more than just a few days. Accessible also from north-western Lombok, dive sites abound around the three Gili islands. It is a great place to see Green Sea and Loggerhead Turtles, some of which grow to one and a half metres in diameter. Reef sharks are common along the reefs, which abound with tropical fish species of all kinds, ranging from moray eels and Napoleon fish to lionfish and clownfish. The corals are diverse and splendid in colour, and for those looking for something extra, there are several excellent wreck dives. If thatâ€™s not enough, the Gili after-dive scene might just win you over.