Choosing Bali Tour Packages – A Solo Traveler’s Dilemma

Bali was the last stop of my solo backpacking trip around Southeast Asia, and my biggest dilemma when I arrived was choosing among the plethora of Bali tour packages offered. What made it more difficult was that I can’t find any group tours that a solo traveler can join, which means I need to go on a private tour.

With dwindling travel funds, I couldn’t afford to take multiple Bali tour packages and had to settle with just one. Even with this comprehensive Bali travel guide, I still had a hard time choosing. I figured I’d just get the one where I’d get to visit its famous landmarks.

north west bali tour package

The tour I got focused on Bali’s north west side covering sites like Taman Ayun, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, and Tanah Lot.

taman ayun bali 1

The driver picked me up from the hotel at 10:00am, and within an hour, we reached our first destination – Taman Ayun.

Taman Ayun

A few minutes walk from the parking lot, we entered a manicured garden. I then learned from my driver that Taman Ayun literally means ‘temple in a beautiful garden’.

taman ayun bali 2
Taman Ayun is considered a family temple where the ancestors of the Raja of the Mengwi Kingdom and other gods are honored.
taman ayun bali 3
Pura Luhuring Purnama

We walked further and entered an elevated split gate – a distinguishable Balinese doorway – to reach the Pura Luhuring Purnama which is the holiest courtyard in the temple complex.

***

It was already lunch time when we left Taman Ayun. And since I haven’t had pork for almost a couple of weeks (I came from Malaysia before coming Indonesia), I asked the driver if we can drop by one of the warungs along the way so I can eat babi guling.

I was expecting it to be similar to our (Philippine) version of lechon, but the spiciness caught me off guard. I’m not a fan of spicy food, so I wasn’t able to finish the meal. 🙁  

Also, I probably got ripped off because I paid IDR50,000. I later learned that babi guling usually only cost around IDR25,000-IDR30,000. -_-

***

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan

Moving on, about an hour and a half away from Taman Ayun is Pura Ulun Danu Bratan.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan Bali 2

Located 1,231 meters above sea level, it was the perfect respite from Bali’s humidity. It was even a bit foggy when we went.

There’s an expansive and well-maintained park, but I find it quite odd that it looks like a mini zoo (with bats and python you can take a picture with for a fee) within the temple grounds.

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan Bali
The iconic Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is set on the beautiful Beratan Lake.

On a clear day, the lake is mirror-like; beautifully reflecting the temple and the surrounding hills.

Jatiluwih Rice Terraces

jatiluwih rice terraces bali

When our car pulled up at a parking space in front of a restaurant overlooking the paddies, I thought to myself “Wait, this is it?” You see, I’m from The Philippines and rice terraces are not exactly a novelty in my country, so I found it quite underwhelming.

I was also kind of expecting that we’d go in the actual Jatiluwih, and not just admire it from afar. Needless to say, there was nothing much to do here, so I asked if we could go to Tanah Lot.

COFFEE TASTING at sari amerta luwak coffee (one bali agro)

Because it was still early, the driver suggested that we drop by a coffee farm first for coffee tasting. He said there was no pressure to purchase.

coffee tasting bali
I can’t exactly remember the correct order, but pictured are: Mangosteen Tea, Red Ginger Tea, Bali Cocoa, Lemongrass Tea, Ginseng Coffee, Coconut Coffee, Ginger Tea, Bali Coffee, Lemon Tea, Cocoa Spices, Rosel Tea, Vanilla Coffee, and Luwak Coffee.

We did a short tour of the coffee farm first before the coffee tasting. Then I was presented with a dozen sampler of their products.

I actually liked a couple from this bunch and was planning to bring home some, but got turned off by the price. I decided to just buy one from the supermarket close to my hotel. :p

tanah lot

Not too far from the coffee farm is Tanah Lot.

tanah lot bali

This Hindu shrine is perched atop an outcrop in the sea, but devotees doesn’t seem to mind the crashing waves and ‘guardian’ sea snakes (according to my driver).

We were supposed to wait for the sun to set, but there were too many people so I asked the driver if he has any suggestions. He said we could go to Seminyak Beach.

seminyak beach

seminyak beach bali

Seminyak Beach is lined with posh hotels and high-end restaurants, so it’s less crowded than the rest of the beaches this side of Bali.

seminyak beach bali 2

While Philippine beaches are far better than Bali’s (yes, I’m biased), there’s no denying that their spirituality, culture, and way of life is unlike any other in the world.

seminyak beach bali 3

I know I’ve barely scratched the surface, so I am aching to see more of what the Island of the Gods have to offer.

I’d probably bring a friend along when I return, so we can fully enjoy other Bali tour packages such as Kintamani Tour, Ubud and Goa Gajah, Uluwatu Temple Sunset and Kecak Fire Dance, and Bali’s East (Tirtagangga) tour.

Have you been to Bali? Which Bali tour packages did you like the most? Please leave a reply below.

Nepal for Non-Trekkers

Undoubtedly, the first thing that comes to mind when people hear ‘Nepal’ is Mt. Everest.
Sure, tourists from all over the world flock to Nepal mostly to climb the ‘roof of the world’, but did you know there’s plenty of other activities for non-trekkers?

How to go to Nepal from The Philippines

First things first. There are no direct flights from Manila.
The most economical way would be to book a flight from Manila to Kuala Lumpur from any of the LCCs (low-cost carrier) then book another flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu.
 
Filipinos can get up to 30-day visa on arrival, and the process is very straightforward. You just need to fill out the visa application form, attach a passport-sized photo, line up at the visa on arrival counter, pay the $25.00 fee, and that’s it!

KATHMANDU

It was almost midnight (thanks to our delayed flight) when we arrived we arrived in Kathmandu, so we didn’t get to see the city until the following day.

First order of business was to visit the 3 famous Durbar Squares (plazas) of Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur.

Maju Deval

The driver we hired decided to drop us off at Kathmandu Durbar Square despite being instructed to bring us to Bhaktapur first.

There were pilgrims spinning prayer wheels, vendors hawking their wares, rickshaws whizzing past people, taxis that kept honking like there’s no tomorrow, and stray dogs and cows all coming in from every direction. There was so much going on, I was just overwhelmed.

For a minute, I just stood there trying to take it all in. Kathmandu’s chaos is like Manila’s, Ho Chi Minh’s, and Yangon’s combined.

I took a deep breath, and simultaneously inhaled burning incense, dust, and fumes.

Once I got past the culture shock, I was able to concentrate on admiring Kathmandu’s numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Kathmandu Durbar Square 

A monk stands amid a flock of pigeons in front of Jagannath Temple
Narayan Temple
The carved timber roof struts portray the incarnations of Vishnu.
Kathmandu Durbar Square entrance fee: NPR750 (USD7.50)

Sure, Kathmandu has some rundown buildings and haphazardly-built new ones, but we, as Filipinos, could learn a thing or two from them about heritage site preservation.

Patan Durbar Square

 
Krishna Mandir on the far right
photo credit: Jyse Salubre
Vishwonath Temple
Patan Durbar Square entrance fee: NPR500 (USD5)
 

Bhaktapur Durbar Square

Our last stop on our first day was Bhaktapur, which is my favorite among the 3 Durbar Squares, because it’s the biggest and least chaotic. Ironically, it’s also where we met the most persistent guide. He kept on following us, offering his service even though we already turned him down a number of times.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square entrance fee: NPR1500 (USD15)
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to explore the entire ancient city of Bhaktapur because we were pressed for time. We only had 2.5 hours, but half of it was wasted while waiting for our food.
You’ll find this is often the case when dining in Nepal, so don’t go to a restaurant starving, because believe me, you’ll be HANGRY (adj. hunger causing a negative change in emotional state). Average waiting time is 45 minutes.

L: Momo – Nepalese dumpling with chicken, vegetables, or buff (buffalo) filling; R: Chicken Biryani

 

If you’re with a big group, it might also be a good idea to split into smaller groups, and dine in separate restaurants, and/or, once you’ve placed your orders, take turns in sightseeing instead of just waiting for the food.

 Boudhanath Stupa 

Probably the closest I’ll ever get to Tibet…for now
Entrance fee: NPR250 (USD2.50)
 
Probably the most iconic among Nepal’s heritage sites is the Boudhanath Stupa. This mammoth of a stupa is the biggest in Nepal, among the largest in the world, and is the most sacred Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet.
Buddha’s all-seeing eyes, colorful prayer flags, pilgrims walking clockwise while spinning prayer wheels, and ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ on repeat gives Boudhanath a very spiritual and serene atmosphere.

Garden of Dreams

 
Believe or not, this beautiful neoclassical garden sits right in the middle of the city. It was the perfect respite from the chaos of Kathmandu.

Families, friends, and lovebirds enjoy some quiet time here

Entrance fee: NPR200 (USD2)

In a rather conservative country where public display of affection is taboo, I was surprised to see many couples here who were rather, uhm, affectionate. Probably not the best place to wander alone. haha It made me want to grab the next Nepali cutie that’ll pass by. LOL

One of our favorite pastimes while in Kathmandu – Nepali cutie spotting LOL
photo credit: Jyse Salubre

Spotted this adorable kid while walking around Boudhanath

Nepal’s got some of the most beautiful people I’ve seen. Their well-defined features will give ’em Brazilians a run for their money in the modeling industry here in The Philippines. :p


Thamel 

In the tourist area of Thamel where cashmere and pashmina stores are left and right, there was, surprisingly, no hard selling. Visitors are encouraged to enter shops and check the merchandise. Haggling’s pretty easy too.


POKHARA

Like most countries, Nepal’s true beauty is seen outside of the capital.
The views along the way made the drive to Pokhara bearable. The scene is actually very similar to what one would see heading north of The Philippines.

Phewa (Fewa) Lake

Phewa (Fewa) Lake.
 
Boating is a popular activity in Phewa Lake. You can just leisurely boat around, or if you’ve got more energy, you can hire a rowing boat, cross to the other side of the lake at the foot of World Peace Pagoda, and hike to the top. On a clear day, one will be rewarded with a view of the Annapurna Range.

 

Sarangkot SUNRISE

 

At a little bit past 5:00 am, there were already a number of tourist buses parked at the foot of the viewing platform.

For NPR100.00, we decided to wait for sunrise at the viewing deck – which we unfortunately had to share with a bunch of rude Mainlanders – while sipping hot tea.

We went in November, which is supposedly one the best months to go in terms of visibility, but we were sorely disappointed. We just had a glimpse of the tip of one of the mountain ranges’ peaks.

Paragliding

 
 
Tandem paragliding was definitely the highlight of this trip for me.
It was a very exhilarating experience, and not scary at all! Just listen to your pilot, run all the way to the edge of the cliff, and before you know it, your feet are no longer touching the ground.
Wear comfortable shoes with good ankle support (for landing), and just eat a light meal hours before the flight. Actually, I’m glad I did it on an empty stomach because my crazy pilot decided to do some acrobatics even when I told him not to. But I’m glad he did. haha
For NPR10,200 (USD103), the package included transfers to and from the jump-off point, the 30-minute flight, and pictures and video taken with a GoPro.

THE HIMALAYAS

Lastly, no trip to Nepal is complete without even getting a glimpse of The Himalayas.
Here’s some ways to see this magnificent mountain range:
  • Get a seat on the right side of the plane going to Kathmandu (if coming from Malaysia) and vice versa;
  • Book an overnight stay, or simply do a day trip from Kathmandu to Nagarkot;
  • Book a sunrise viewing tour in Sarangkot;
  • Trek to the World Peace Pagoda in Pokhara;
  • Book an Everest flight;
  • Fly from Kathmandu to Pokhara and vice versa.
We were quite unfortunate that The Himalayas seemed elusive for the duration of our trip even though we went in late November.
 

My last chance to see it was on our flight back to Kuala Lumpur, but our 3:15 PM flight got delayed by a couple of hours. When our plane finally arrived, it took a while to depart because we waited for clearance from the control tower. It was almost sunset, and I was already losing hope, but within minutes after our ascent, I was rewarded with an unobstructed view of the great mountain range!

The snowcapped peaks I only see on pictures are now before my eyes, and it left me speechless. I felt privileged to have seen it in my lifetime.

It was definitely a memorable ending to my Nepal trip. 🙂

K

Bewitching Bagan Temples

With a plethora of temples to see in Bagan, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. In reality, you only need to visit about 4 dozen. Still a lot, eh?

Well, the number of temples you’ll see and which ones are going to be entirely up to you (or your guide), the length of your stay and the weather. Take note that some of my friends visited more temples than the ones listed below because they biked around Bagan on our second day.

Dhammayangyi & Thatbyinnyu in the distance

We decided to avail of Mya Thida’s tour for convenience. Their van comfortably fit our group plus one of the owners also served as our driver/guide.

Now, I won’t bore you to death with the historical facts for each temple. You can always Google that, right?

Our tour started with the smaller temples and the ones closest to the ‘hotel’.
 

Manuha Phaya

Reclining Buddha

Inset: Largest of the three sitting Buddhas

This temple houses 4 Buddhas: a 46 feet high central Buddha and two on its sides each measuring 33 feet, and a 90-feet long reclining Buddha with its head facing north on the verge of Nirvana at the side of the temple.

They said the cramped state of the Buddhas is a reflection of King Manuha’s melancholic state for being under house arrest.

Nanpaya Temple
 
Three-faced Brahma seated amidst lotus stems, roots and flowers
 
Also within the same compound is Nanpaya Temple. This temple is made of bricks and sandstone with perforated stone windows. It also has impressive artworks decorating the four pillars of its interior chamber.
 
Gubyauk Gyi
 
 
This temple may be small, but it is one of my favorites because it houses impressive frescoes – mostly depicting the 16 dreams of King Kosala and Jatakasor previous birth stories of Buddha. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed to preserve the paintings.
Dhammayangyi Temple
 
Next up is the massive Dhammayangyi Temple.
 
 
Before entering the temple, our driver/guide shared that Dhammayangyi survived several earthquakes because of the excellent brick-laying method used. The bricks were laid so close that not even a needle could be inserted between the seams.
 
The four devotional halls: each at one of the four cardinal points
 
Ananda Temple

Our last stop before lunch was the Ananda Temple – one of the finest and most venerated temple in Bagan.

Just like Dhammayangyi, Ananda Temple houses four Buddhas each facing the cardinal directions.
Gold leaf-adorned Gautama Buddha facing west
Ananda Temple’s expansive courtyard where…guess what? WiFi is available!
Had to run back inside the temple after taking this shot. Not a very good idea wandering here at midday…barefoot – something you have to get used to when visiting temples in Myanmar.

And because it was extremely hot, imagine our delight when we saw a sorbet vendor outside Ananda Paya.

We were on our way to the van, parked a few steps from where the vendor was, and I was happily slurping on my sorbet when one of my friends asked the other “Oh my god! Nakita mo ba yung kuko ni kuya?!” (“Did you see his fingernails?!”) Uhh thanks, guys! So they hurriedly searched for a plastic bag to discreetly dispose of the sorbets haha Fortunately, I didn’t suffer from food poisoning or diarrhea after that.
Thambula Paya
Photo credit: Tantan Trinidad

L-R: Claire, Me, Lecky, Tantan, Jyse, Ann and this trip’s mastermind, Chito 😀

Just a little trivia: While this trip took a year in the making, most of us only met each other for the first time on our ‘PDOS’ (pre-departure orientation seminars) LOL a couple of months before the trip.
 
Anyway, we resumed temple-hopping around 4:00 pm starting at Thambula Paya.
 
 Thambula Paya

 

Thambula Paya is probably one of the few temples, if not the only one, built by a queen.

Just like Gubyauk Gyi, it houses frescoes, therefore, photography is not allowed.

A few meters from Thambula Paya is Paya Thonzu which literally means three temples
Lone monk
Tayoke-Pyay
We were on our way to Tayoke-Pyay when we met the lady below.
The lady who asked for a ‘photo blessing’

 

We saw an old lady herding her goats and we asked if we could take her photo. She agreed and so we clicked away. We thanked her, but then she asked for a ‘photo blessing’. At first we didn’t understand what she meant so she cupped her hands. Apparently, she was asking for a donation. The smallest bill we had at the time was MMK1,000 (about a dollar), so we handed it to her and went on our way.

Then she tried to get us to take a picture of her friend, too (so we’d give her a ‘photo blessing’ as well). That didn’t sit well with us so we tried to ignore her, but she kept on calling us – more like yelling at us.

When we reached Tayoke-Pyay, Lecky and I felt she was driving her herd towards us. Good thing our van arrived to pick us up.

Thit Sar Waddy temple according to one of Mya Thida’s owner

Finally, our guide brought us to his ‘special place’, his sanctuary, if you will. He says he goes here whenever he wants some alone time.

Save for a few painting vendors who popped out of nowhere — probably because they heard our raucous laughter — we had the temple all to ourselves.

We weren’t rewarded with a spectacular sunset because the sun hid behind the clouds.

Dhamma Yazika at dusk

In a matter of minutes, darkness swiftly enveloped Bagan, and just like that, we were given the same view we had when we arrived at this ancient city 16 hours earlier.  

 
K