There they were. Lined up outside the Mercure Kuta Beach Bali were 15 vintage VW 181 safari jeeps in what seemed to be every colour they were sold in – red, blue, green, orange and yellow. Our drivers leaned against the cars talking, some smoking, while we snapped photos, readying themselves for the start of our half day Bali Safari Tour.
I rushed over to a red one – my favourite colour – but some of my friends had called dibs. Drat. My friend Juno was already at the door of a cream VW jeep, beckoning me over. A classic colour; I hopped in the front seat.
The tour I was taking with Bali Safari Adventure was to see a different side of Bali. Away from the beaches and the bars that most associate the island with, to a more natural, adventurous, and ‘real’ side of Bali.
Bali Safari Adventure through Ubud
The engine purred to life suddenly, a cassette tape was inserted into the VW’s console, and then we were off onto the streets of Kuta.
The wind whipped at my hair as we raced down the road, keeping up with and overtaking other cars in our group. We urged our driver to go ‘cepat’, fast.
As we hit traffic the cars slowed to a stop, the gentle vibrations of the machine rattling through me. With their open-topped roofs, as we rolled out the city, dust and petrol fumes made my eyes well up, but within seconds we were racing down the street again and those moments were all but forgotten until the next set of lights. As soon as we reached the city limits, lust rice paddies surrounded us and the memory of city smells were forgotten.
The VW seemed like they were made for Bali. In most cars you simply get in and turn the air conditioner on; but with the roof down on the VW keeping me cool as we drove in the rapidly warming weather, it felt like every trip could take you on a holiday.
Maybe we weren’t briefed, maybe our drivers somewhat limited English stopped him from telling us off, or maybe he just wanted us to have a good time, but selfie sticks and seat belts seemed optional. We grinned and posed for selfies. Lakshmi’s selfie stick got a work out as Juno stuck it out the open-top roof of the bar to get the best angle.
I stood up in the front seat and leaned against the roll bar, trying to get the perfect shot of the parade of vintage VW’s. I didn’t get the shot, but it was freeing. I wanted to spread my arms like I was Rose on the stern of the Titanic; only with the stop-start nature of the driving, I figured it safer to hold on tight or sit down.
Around halfway through our journey, the VW’s pulled to the side of the road and came to a stop. We roamed the rice paddy where people were finishing up work for the morning. A wild dog rested on the raised walkway amidst the field while a fisherman cast his line in the river running alongside the fields.
Fresh frangipani flowered on a tree under the Balinesenese sun. Some of the Indonesian girls I travelled with picked them, decorating their hair and passing them out to each girl in the group. Juno slipped one behind her ear like a barrette and, grinning at me, asked, “how do I look?“
Ubud Monkey Forest
Our legs stretched, we hopped back in the VW’s for the short ride to the Ubud Monkey Forest.
Known officially as the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, the nature reserve is home to a Hindu temple complex and around 700 monkeys!
Built sometime in the middle of the 14th century, the temple is set deep within the lush rainforest and guarded by some of the intricate statues Bali is known for.
The Hindu temple complex is popular with locals and visitors as it strives to show that humans and nature can harmoniously co-exist. In fact, they believe that the temple walls and forest area surrounding are sacred and care for both of these are essential for renewing contact with the spiritual world.
It’s pretty cool exploring the three temples that make up the complex. With the monkeys relaxing and walking around, and the heavy foliage blocking the sun in parts surrounding the complex, you feel like you are in an Indiana Jones movie!
With 700 monkeys calling the Ubud Monkey Forest home, it’s hard to miss them!
The small Balinese Long-Tail Macaques roam free in the 16 hectares of protected forest and are cared for by the temple. Each day, the long-tailed monkeys are fed sweet potato, bananas, papaya leaf and other local fruit and vegetables. Vendors around the park also sell bananas for visitors to feed to the monkeys. They see the humans as a way to be fed, and because of this they’re pretty friendly and will come up to you.
Some of the guards around the forest actively encourage the monkeys to climb on them and the tourists, handing people food to tempt them.
I didn’t have any food, but a monkey jumped on my back and perched on my shoulder. While I quietly tried not to freak out while it cleaned my fur/hair (sorry monkey, I showered that morning so there are no bugs in there).
I won’t lie: they can be a little intimidating having a monkey jump on you, or a group surround you hoping for a feed, and there are strict rules you should follow to avoid any monkey business (Geddit?!).
My top tips for the Ubud Monkey Forest are;
- Don’t bring any food – they will smell it, will try to steal your bag, and will take it. Even water bottles need to be watched.
- I would recommend not buying any bananas there either as the monkeys can be aggressive. Read about Nerd Nomads experience here.
- Keep all your belongings in a zippered bag – including your sunglasses – and on your person. Do not leave any items unattended.
- Do not show your teeth, especially around males. They take this as a sign of aggression and could attack.
- If a monkey jumps on you, don’t be scared and stand still. It will get off you after it has checked you out. If you are scared, let your guide or friends know so they can monitor the situation.
- If you are scratched, don’t panic. I would recommend you use Betadine/an antiseptic to disinfect the wound. You can get some antiseptic in the emergency house in the forest, or ask your guide as they are usually carrying a First Aid kit. If there is any swelling, pain, or a deep gash, please see a Doctor as monkey bites can lead to rabies or other diseases.
- If you do choose to bring food or drink with you, please put it in the bins or trash cans. The forest is unfortunately quite littered, especially around the temple. Do your part to keep it clean for the locals, other visitors, and the monkeys.
I was visiting on a weekend and spotted a local couple having their wedding pictures taken. Gazing at the couple, it seemed as though I had happened across a King and Queen in their traditional clothing lavishly decorated with beading and trimmed with gold.
They were happy to talk with my friends and me, even posing for photos with us between their own photo shoot!
The Bali Safari Tour continued on to Ayung River for a white water rafting adventure.
While the best time to visit is during December – April during the rainy season, the river was high enough for us to ride. With the guide leading the way, my friends all headed down for a while ride.
I found myself feeling a little under the weather so chose instead to go for a walk through the local town, practising my broken Indonesian with a local family who runs the corner store, and enjoying a meal by the side of the road.
My friends all came back with gleaming eyes and rather wet hair after the wild ride they had rocketing along the river. Next time I’m back in Bali, I’m excited to try the white water rafting myself, and I’ll definitely be taking another VW Bali Safari Tour around Kuta and Ubud!
Let me know in the comments below:
What colour VW 181 would you pick?
Have you been up close to monkeys before?
What’s on your Bali bucket list?
Bali Safari Tour
There are a number of tours sure to suit every type of traveller. Don’t see something you like? Give them a call. They’re sure to help modify a tour for you!
Ubud Monkey Forest
Open daily from 8:30am – 6pm
Adult – IDR 50,000 (about AU$4.50)
Child – IDR 40,000 (about AU$3.50)
(Ticket is included in your Bali Safari Tour price)
How to get to Bali:
Garuda Indonesia and Jetstar Australia operate daily direct flights from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Darwin, and Perth.
Qantas, Virgin Australia, Indonesia AirAsia, Batik Air and Malindo Air offer services out of some capital cities..
As I was flying from Malaysia, I chose to fly with Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta and then connect with Garuda Indonesia.
Where to stay in Bali, Indonesia:
While in Bali, I stayed at the Mercure Kuta Beach Bali.
Located just 15 minutes from Ngurah Rai International Airport and directly across the road from the famed beach, the 4-star property is sure to please travellers seeking a luxurious Balinese getaway without breaking their budget.
Located next door to the Hard Rock Hotel and within walking distance of plenty of restaurants, cafes, and shops, including the new Beachwalk shopping mall which includes a cinema, means you’ll never run out of things to do no matter the weather.
One of the best things about this hotel is the incredible view from the infinity pool and Sunset Pool Bar! They have a surf school – which means easy board rental – on site.
A tip: ask for a room not overlooking the main lobby. While it’s nice, you can hear some noise in the evening you don’t get a lot of light during the day.
Check the best rates for the Mercure Kuta Beach Bali here.
If you are flying in and out of Bali’s Denpasar Airport, transiting, or seeking something closer to the airport, consider the Novotel Bali Ngurah Rai Airport.
I stayed here for one night while in-transit to Flores, the gateway to Komodo.
Located with direct access to the airport terminals, the Novotel Bali Ngurah Rai Airport is designed to suit both families and business travellers. Rooms are modern and spacious, fitted with King or Twin beds overlooking the courtyard garden. Executive and Suite rooms come with access to the Premier Lounge.
With free WiFi, an outdoor pool and pool bars, as well as 24/7 dining at the foyers Le Square restaurant; or local food and big-name takeaway shops open in the concourse between the hotel and the airport, you’ll be able to relax any way you choose on your layover or last night in Bali.
Check the best rates here.
I visited Indonesia as a guest of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism.
All thoughts, opinions, and scratches experienced from having the monkeys jump on me were, as always, my own.