Cycling Indonesia: The Bali Countryside

An extended weekend trip to Bali started with Nadiah asking, "Would you like to try a race in Bali?" I was intrigued by the idea of joining a race in the island of the gods, especially since I've never actually taken part in a race, so this would also be my first!

Bali is an internationally well known island in the Indonesian archipelago, and it is just a short flight away for us from Kuala Lumpur. We have had a few visits to Bali in the past, but this was our very first cycling trip on the island, and my first entry into GFNY Bali which was held for the very first time in February 2018. For those of us who weren't joining the race, we wanted to experience what it would be like to explore the island on two wheels instead of hiring a daily driver.

On previous trips, we focused on visiting the many beautiful temples around the island and experiencing the cultural performances such as the Kecak dance in Uluwatu and the Jegog musical orchestra in Ubud. This time around, we had a much more open itinerary as we have already done all of the major touristy things – it was time to explore something new!

Nadiah and I packed our Change folding bikes in our sponsored Thule bike bags, and we met up with Maya upon reaching Bali.

 Pandawa Beach – A lesser known and less busy beach on the southern side of the island.

Pandawa Beach – A lesser known and less busy beach on the southern side of the island.

Starting from Denpasar

This time around, we stayed in Denpasar as it was close to the starting point of the race on Sunday. We stayed at the cyclist friendly bed and breakfast accommodation of The Rani Garden, where we met our hosts Pak Indra, Pak Kadek and Om Poetoet.

 Left to right: Om Poetoet, myself, Nadiah, Maya and Pak Kadek, getting ready to explore!

Left to right: Om Poetoet, myself, Nadiah, Maya and Pak Kadek, getting ready to explore!

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The weather was extremely rainy during our first day, so we mostly stayed indoors and unpacked our bikes. Our rooms had an attached patio in front which made a perfect spot to park and service our bikes. We definitely wanted to fit in some cycling time to explore before race day, so we discussed a plan to head up to Ubud.

"Let's do a santai (relaxed) ride to Ubud," said Pak Kadek, to which we all agreed. It would be good to stretch my legs a bit before race day, and a relaxed exploratory ride sounded like a fantastic idea.

So there I was, enjoying the sound of the rain, cleaning up my drivetrain and adding chain lube while sipping on a cup of local Balinese coffee. And to top it all off, these guys served an elegantly simple bubur ayam (chicken porridge) with bits of tempeh mixed in for wonderful texture and flavor. Needless to say, it was a dish we always looked forward to having before we ventured out for the day! This was also my favorite dish there for good reason.

Our day trip to Ubud

On the next day, the rain let up a bit and we began our journey through the streets of Denpasar, heading north towards Ubud. In a place where traffic laws sort of transition into guidelines and mere suggestions, it was surprisingly easy to navigate with our bicycles. We cycled through roads big and small, and regardless of the traffic condition, people made way for us as cyclists.

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We darted from one small village to another, each of them connected by small agricultural roads that were sometimes paved, but mostly gravel and a bit of mud. We went through the rural countryside and experienced the real Bali, far away from the commercial hubs and the chaotic tourist traffic.

The roads toward Ubud passed through beautiful paddy fields, lush and green as far as the eye could see.

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Halfway through the paddy and lotus fields, it was quite clear that my skinny road tires were having a bit of a hard time going through some of the muddy sections, but we managed to keep on going. In areas where it got too muddy, I simply had to get off the bike and pushed until we found either hard packed dirt or gravel. Every now and then, cemented and paved roads do appear with a little bit of hills thrown in for good measure. Bali is a volcanic island after all, so you would expect to see hills from one village to the next.

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The weather teased us throughout the entire journey, with sporadic bursts of rain pouring down to soak us through, but then we quickly dried as the heat of the sun peeked through the clouds. The good news was that it never got too hot, so we counted our rain blessings and kept on going.

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In addition to paddy fields, the Balinese also grow fields of many different types of flowers. Marigold, chrysanthemum, lotus, jasmine and many others – all primarily used as offerings to the gods for daily worship. 

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The Tegallalang Paddy Terraces

Our destination for the day were the terraced paddy fields of Tegallalang in Ubud. Situated at the top of the valley, we did a gradual climb over the course of twenty kilometers, cycling through a path in the Ubud Monkey Forest and going past the art shops, galleries and artist homes of Ubud.

Tegallalang is famous for its lush terraced paddy fields, made using "subak" which is a traditional Balinese cooperative irrigation system.

According to local history, the knowledge was passed down by Maha Rsi Markandeya in the eighth century. A disciple of the Siva Sidhanta Sect led by Maha Rsi Agastya, Maha Rsi Markandeya settled in Tegallalang after having received divine enlightenment in Mount Dieng and in Besakih, therefore establishing Shiva's teachings in the region. Hinduism is central to Bali's identity, and the island is cultivated from these foundations.

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Tegallalang is the most beautiful of three terraced landscapes in the region of Ubud, with the others being in the villages of Pejeng and Campuhan.

The terraced paddy fields of Tegallalang spread across the slopes of the valley, making for a picture perfect view, and also serves as inspiration for the local artists who live there.

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We arrived close to midday, but I could imagine what this valley could look like with the light of the morning sun rising from the east.

We wanted to savor the lush greenery of Tegallang for a bit longer, so we decided to park our bikes and followed our noses to one of the hillside restaurants with a beautiful view of the surrounding landscape. We had a delicious feast of mi goreng (fried noodles), sate ayam (chicken satay), tempeh and tahu goreng (fried tofu), and the all-time favorite regional dish of gado-gado.

Gado-gado in Indonesian literally means "mix-mix" since it is made of rich mixture of vegetables such as potatoes, longbeans, bean sprouts, spinach, bitter gourd, corn, cabbage, and also mixed with tofu, tempeh and hard-boiled eggs. The entire combination is all mixed in a delicious peanut sauce dressing. A generous topping of krupuk and sprinkles of fried shallots add the finishing touches to this simple comfort dish.

After basking in a bit of a food coma, we hiked a bit through the paddy terraces to enjoy the views of the valley and to digest our food for awhile longer before getting back on the bikes. And indeed, the views were splendid and beckoned us to stay longer, but the journey must go on.

 Glued to the bamboo bench, especially with the weight of all the food and all this beautiful scenery.

Glued to the bamboo bench, especially with the weight of all the food and all this beautiful scenery.

Heading back into Denpasar

Traffic started picking up after midday, as more and more tourists hit the roads in their hired vehicles. Luckily the ride back into Denpasar was mostly downhill as we spent most of our morning climbing up towards Tegallalang.

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Although traffic felt chaotic at times, we never felt like we were in any danger of losing control or being bullied by motorists. In fact, it was all rather calm in the chaos as motorists gave space to cyclists and naturally slowed down when we had to make a turn that required us crossing into the path of oncoming traffic.

It does help to have a degree of confidence in cycling with traffic, and that's something that only experience will provide, but all of us managed to navigate calmly through Balinese roads with the expert guidance of Pak Kadek. Overall, it is always best to have your wits about you and practice common sense safety.

As we made our way out of the central Ubud region and entered Denpasar, we all decided it was time for a pit stop as the weather was getting hotter and we were in dire need of a refreshing drink. We stopped at a stall that served a refreshing concoction of coconut and lime, and we even sneaked in another healthy snack of tempeh and vegetables.

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After downing some much needed electrolytes in the form of coconuts and lime, we were back on our bikes to finish the last few clicks. We zigzagged through some of the less busier roads, passing by the neighborhood temples where we got visual samples of vernacular architecture.

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At last we arrived back at The Rani Garden with big smiles on our faces. We finally had the opportunity to explore Bali on our bikes, which was a much more fulfilling experience that engaged all of our five senses.

As we looked at our phone screens to stop Strava and finish the ride, i couldn't suppress a satisfied smirk after realizing that the "santai" (relaxed) ride was an 80km journey into the heart of Bali.

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Our ride

Thankfully I had one day of rest before the race on Sunday, and I was quite happy to have been able to join the crew for a beautiful ride through the Balinese countryside.

  • Distance: 80.2km

  • Elevation gain: 644m

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As for the GFNY Bali ride experience, stay tuned!