Bali might be all about the beach for some but, if you want to escape the predictable and have a healthy holiday with a bit of adventure, head to the hill town of Ubud. Rather than flopping on the sands, pedal your way through a holiday feeling fit and fantastic, taking in village life, stunning landscapes and a bit of culture along the way.
The interior of the island is the place for cycling. Freewheel through villages where roosters cackle and you hear xylophones sounding: bong, bong. Pedal past giggling women walking to market in brightly coloured sarongs.
Hedges of pink hydrangea and green rice terraces flash by under the lee of show-off volcanoes. Soon you’ll be stopping to admire an ox ploughing a field or a pot-bellied stone deity guarding the entrance to a local temple, where old men pay chess in the shade of a banyan tree.
Admittedly, there are some challenges to cycling in Bali, not least heat and humidity – aim to cycle early in the morning or late afternoon. Traffic on the main road out of Ubud towards the coast can be crowded with shoals of zipping motorbikes and trucks.
Stick to rural roads, however, and you should be fine; most are sealed and generally in good condition. Mind you, signs are often eccentric or non-existent, so a good map and some basic Indonesian phrases would be useful.
You’ll have to battle the many ups and downs that conspire to make such magnificent landscape, yet throw down a challenge to the legs. You’ll certainly find yourself getting off the bike and pushing it uphill from time to time.
Still, eventually you come across a little village store selling bottles of water and packages of sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves: just the thing to keep you going. If you get too tired, abandon your ride. Local minibuses serve even the smallest village and will happily toss your bike on their roof among bundles of plantains and protesting chickens.
Take a Tour
There’s a simple way to avoid uphills: head out from Ubud on a day trip with a local adventure company. You can do various tours with companies such as Bali Sobek, Bali Eco Cycling and Bali Bintang Tours.
A van will pick you up at your hotel and cart you to one of the high points on the island, before supplying you with bicycle, helmet and water bottle and allowing you a gentle ride all the way back down again.
An accompanying guide shows you the way, takes you to local sights of interest and may even introduce you to a Balinese family at one of the villages. Guides can also be quite informative about local customs and farming life.
Escorted rides vary in length, but expect around 15 or 20 kilometres. That may sound like a lot, but it’s actually a relatively easy day punctuated by periods of freewheeling downhills, stops at local temples and a lunch break.
One of the best routes brings you initially to Kinamani to see spectacular views of Mt Batur’s crater, before you head off to the hilltop at Seri Batu. Here, you take off by bicycle downhill nearly all the way back to Ubud.
Do It Yourself
Day trips with tour companies should cost you between A$40 and A$70 a day but, if you would rather do your own thing, you can rent bicycle in Ubud for around A$25 and set off to see the sights around town.
The ancient Hindu site at Elephant Cave is just three kilometres away at Goa Gajah. A bit further away, Yeh Pulu has rock carvings depicting Hindu gods and fourteenth-century hunting scenes. Then there’s Moon Temple, one of the most sacred in the area, which gets its name from a 2,000-year-old bronze kettledrum in the shape of a moon.
Whether you head out on your own or as part of a guided group, you’ll be amply rewarded. The scenery is stunning: cascades of rice terraces pour down hillsides, ending in a spill of foaming palm trees. The verges of the road are haunted by fluttering butterflies.
Every now and then a village appears, usually a single street of old wooden houses fronted by rows of potted plants. Often local farmers’ wives are out in the road raking rice and leaving it to dry on woven mats in the sun. Local life comes marvellously to life from the saddle of a bike.
Sunset is an especially spectacular time to be on the road. Temples turn to gold and the sky to pink. Palm trees darken with the sky until they’re black as splashed paint against an indigo horizon and, as you pedal back to your hotel, a sliver of moon might just be rising above the horizon.