Saturday, August 11, 2012

Kebun Villas in the western rice fields

Visited July 2012.

I saw a post on a travel site saying Kebun Villas was pretty special. Having enjoyed checking the ricefields in Sideman and around Ubud, I penciled this place in for my next Bali trip.

Kebun Villas is 9km up the ricefields road which connects the busy west coast highway to the north coast. You are talking 120 to 150 minutes daytime from Kuta - a little more from the airport (modified Google Earth image).

KB is a short distance from the small village of Belimbing (spelled incorrectly on map but too hard to change) which is exclusively on the side road, not the main. Tell your driver Belimbing - the website gives Papuan* which is a fair bit further up the road (* probably referring to Papuan DISTRICT).

This is shot from just below the restaurant at street level. The resort cascades down a steep gully (early morning sunlight is hitting one side) with villas distributed both sides of the path (mostly moderate to steep steps). There is a pool way down there which you may be able to see by clicking to expand.

Bungalows were duplexes in a really nice garden setting.

Chez Tezza at left. Big spacious brick and tile room. Firm but to me comfy king size bed, TV (no English language channels in a resort where most guests were non-Asian), safe, electric jug, no refrigerator. All or nothing doona fine for pre-dawn when the room had cooled but too hot earlier where a top sheet would have been welcome - tip, bring your own. Big stylish tile and brick bathroom, water supply a bit unreliable. Pretty quiet at night - some distant road noise but not much traffic. French neighbors reinforcing the national stereotype by shouting at each other in normal conversation (yeah yeah, I know: theres no-one noisier than a bunch of Aussie bogans in Kuta. But we bogans don't claim to be cool and sophisticated). Nice spacious balcony with outlook as in the pic before this.

Nice pool area at base of stairs. Just long enough for laps - small kiddies area other end. Building at left contains some gym eqipment, games, a dartboard and some nice bales for lying back and reading. Roofs above far corner of pool are the less expensive bungalows. Building at top center is the restaurant reception area.

Poolside rice terraces a nice feature. Plenty of sitting cabanas as at top of slope scattered around the resort.

Google Earth's definition for this area is fine enough to see KB's layout. Parking lot/reception/restaurant at top center, villas distributed down the gully, pool at bottom.

A short distance above the pool is a small putting green. Ground staff seem to spend as much time fooling around with putters here as on the grounds - although the latter are pretty immaculate.

This is part of the view from the restaurant - in the haze in background is the curve of the coastline right down past Kuta and out to Uluwatu. On clearer days the white of the breaking waves and the limestone quarries on the Bukit peninsula south of the airport was distinctive. Lights at night way better - and to the right of frame it was possible to see the lights of south-east Java.
Restaurant was disappointing. Inclusive breakfast was not very good (tea lovers - herbal only), and prices of other dishes were maybe 50% more than budget restaurants. Service was friendly but slow - most dishes arrived semi-cool as though they'd been sittting around for some time. The beer frig was broken so the Bintang was warm. The credit card machine was not working.

Other restaurants - fortunately there were other restaurants not too far up the main road (see second map up page) with good food at lower prices.

About 6 minutes scenic walk north is restaurant one (I forgot to get names - duh!) which had pretty nice views from its dining area from where this was shot. That's Guning Batakuru, Bali's second highest mountain in the background.
This restaurant seemed to attract Balinese passers-by and was truly budget in price (although the western menu had higher prices than that for the locals - still very reasonable). Food good.

Restaurant two is another 8 minutes walk north. It tends to have the best rice fields views (I took this shot from the car park on account we didn't eat here) and as such attracted quite a crowd of western daytrippers (it is a popular trip out of the Kuta strip to visit the lake Bratan caldera on the road to Singaraja, maybe check Lovina or Munduk and then return south via the more western rice fields  road - see map towards the end of this page). A check of the menu showed prices a fair bit lower than Kebun Villa but more than at restaurant one.

Restaurant three is another 2 minutes north at the junction of the main road and the side road into Belimbing village. It has pretty nice rice fields and Mount Batakuru views too. We found the food here very good with prices similar to restaurant two.

Belimbing is a small linear village along a side road off the main rice fields strip. It extends about 400m from the junction, then there is a 300m gap before another dozen houses plus a temple and the school. One or two very small shops although for general goods a couple of shops on the main road just north of the town road junction are better bets. Some aggressive dogs in this area, I walked with a big stick.

Trekking the countryside 
Unlike Sideman there is no circular route through the countryside - if you want to view the rice fields you are forced to stick to the roads and return the way you came. I found the best rice fields viewing was along the main road just north of the Belimbing junction. About 2km further is another ribbon village - the most notable feature being a couple of small timber mills (when I passed some locals were loading impossible heavy structural timber posts onto motorcycles - 2 each side). The side road past Belimbing village deteriorates quickly into an unsealed mess and has inferior rice fields scenery.

Organized Activities
Kebun Villas can organise guided trekking, beach visits, craft classes (the guy who owns the place is very arty, has a lot of nice stuff in a fairly large showroom adjacent the restaurant), coffee making lessons and road trips (KB is pretty central to the north coast, the south, the Lake Bratan region and Ubud). I'm not big on organized activities so I'll leave these to you dudes' trip reports.


Kebun Villas is best reached from the southern tourist strip by taking the busy western coast highway which runs all the way up to Gilimanuk in the north-west for the vehicle ferries to Java, and turning onto the rice fields road at Antosari. The resort is only 9km up this twisty, scenic and much less busy road.
The resort's website says KB is only 55km from the airport but I'd say over 60. We came up from Seminyak which is a fair distance north of the airport and the distance was 51 km - time taken 96 minutes. I'd say Kuta would be at least a half hour more - Kuta area traffic is horrendous. We paid the Seminyak transport mafia 300k idr (July 2012 prices) after furious bargaining (they started at 550 which is way over the southern full daytrip rate, and the crooks tried to tell me the rice fields road was an unsealed car-wrecker and that KB was at Papuan which is way further north) - I reckon most Kuta transport guys would do KB for 300 or less.

From Lovina or Pemuteran on the north coast the best bet is to make your way along the main coastal road to Seririt from where the rice fields road starts its steep scenic climb across the western foothills of Gunung Batakaru. Interestingly, considering he has a captive market, KB's transport guy took us up to Pemuteran for 300k idr which I thought reasonable for a longer distance and time than from Seminjak.

Kebun Villas is the better resort, but then it is considerably more expensive. It has a pool, nicer grounds and the villas are probably a bit flasher although not as big as Lihat Sawah's more expensive rooms which also have a more panoramic outlook over the surrounding countryside. Breakfasts and general meals are better at Lihat Sawah - dinner was included in our much lower tariff. Altogether Lihat Sawah was much better value - and if you need a pool there are more expensive Sideman resorts.
The nearby restaurants were probably better value out of Kebun Villas.
Sideman town is considerably bigger with more services than Belimbing. About the same distance from the resort.
I thought the countryside was nicer around Sideman although the rice terraces themselves were maybe not as good. The fact that you could do a circular walk on very quiet country side roads plus climb the far valley side at Sideman was a definite plus.
Now that the east coast by-pass road is finished Sideman should be much easier to reach from the southern tourist areas.

In general I thought Kebun Villas was a bit boring for more than two days unless you want somewhere to totally relax and sprawl by the pool or drink in the garden view from your villa's patio or one of the cabanas scattered through the grounds. I reckon it is the perfect place to spend a night or two breaking the journey between the south and the north-west coast, which indeed quite a few guests seemed to be doing - eg our noisy French neighbors only stayed one night.

I think for travelers into the rural scenic thing a trip which took in a few nights at Kebun Villas, then shifted to the coffee and fruit growing areas around Munduk and Lake Bratan, then took in the rice terraces near Ubud and finally shifted across to Sideman would be a pretty good experience.


Note - if you see mistakes or have extra information please post below. But if you have QUESTIONS please post them in THE FORUM. I check this most days whereas I seldom check individual place pages.

Another shot of Gunung Batakaru from restaurant number 1


Friday, August 10, 2012

Pemuteran and Menjangan

Visited late July 2012

Rest stop off Menjangan island.

Pemuteran is a small fishing village towards the west end of Bali's north coast. However these days it is better known as a dive and snorkeling center on account of Bali's best coral at nearby Menjangan island. Diving and snorkeling is pretty good right off the town beach too.

Modified Google Earth image - my labels are a bit small, click to expand image

Pemuteran is about 4.5 hours from Kuta and the airport, 1-1.5 from Lovina and Singaraja and only half an hour from Gilimanuk where the big vehicle ferries arrive after the short 5km hop from Java. I have miss-spelled Gilimanuk on the map but it takes too long to change these images so you are stuck with it.
Lady Tezza and I came to Pemuteran in about 2.5 hours fom the rice fields resort Kebun Villa in Blingbing which is not a bad break point between the airport-Kuta strip and the north west.
Menjangan island boats mainly leave from Labuan Lalang harbour about 18km west of town although some flasher dive boats leave from the town beach.

Pemuteran is a ribbon development stretching about 3km along the main north coast road - about half as much again of the town extends each side of this shot. The ribbon contains small shops, resorts and homestays, dive-shops, restaurants, other businesses and dwellings. There are a half dozen lanes extending off the main road each side with similar activities - a lot of the longitudinal lines in the shot are fences and other borders between fields. There doesn't seem to be any concentrated 'downtown' area as far as I could see. Seems crazy, but in August 2012 there was no ATM in town. 
There is a string of resorts along most of the shore of the bay in shot. Once again it might be worth clicking to make my labeling clearer.

When you arrive at the "coral restoration" beach via the 300m access lane from the highway, you hit  roughly mid-shot at a black sand beach. However closer to camera the sand turns yellow. Behind the trees in most of this shot is a bunch of resorts, most midrange or better with a scattering of sunlounges on the sand or behind on the lawns. I was surprised at the number of tourists along this strip considering Pemuteran is probably the most distant resort area from Kuta and the airport - seems more than divers/keen snorkellers are being attracted to the area these days.

Black sand area from adjacent arrivals lane. Falling tide exposes some lines of coral in background but to right of camera sand is underfoot at lowest tide - okay for swimming.

About 400m west of previous shot sand turns yellow - don't ask me why. Unfortunately low tide exposes a lot of coral rock along this stretch. The yellow sand seemed to hang in westward - at and around Menjangan Island there was no sign of black sand.

A short distance to the left (west) of where the access lane hits the beach is the most extensive area of  Pemuteran's  famous coral reef restoration project - look for the signs and buoys. This is the biggest Biorock project in the world. Submerged steel lattices with a low electrical charge to stimulate coral and other marine growth have proved markedly successful - I thought the coral and fish were almost as good as Menjangan Island and by far the best off the beach stuff I have seen in Bali. No really big fish though. The lattice framework can still be seen in newer sections at right of shot but were completely covered by heavy layers of coral to the left.
Note that when I entered the water at both low and high tide conditions were very murky - but about 30m off the sand the water cleared remarkably. I put the murkiness down to sand stirred up by the swimmmers congregating just out of shot to right. 200m east of this area in smaller coral restoration zone away from the swim area - here the sea was clear immediately off the sand.

Layout of Biorock scheme and of beachside resorts. If you want a nice bayside resort you could do worse than these places. Quite a few budget restaurants etc a short distance away on the main road.
Click to expand for detail.

Entering the water can be tricky and coral damaging in restoration areas so safe zones have been established.

I've found places frequented by divers to be expensive and accommodation in Pemuteran bears this out - I like to stay flashpacker/lower midrange standard when Lady Tezza is tagging along but I found prices in Pemuteran considerably higher than other Bali locations. I also found a lot of places booked out despite seeking accommodation some months ahead. Having said that I did notice seemingly dozens of homestays along the 2km of  road from the eastern edge of town to our accommodation - maybe these don't figure on the booking websites.
This is the place we managed to book - Badini Homestay which was pretty reasonably priced for the area. And a pretty nice little resort. That's the restaurant in front mid-shot - very good budget priced food tended to attract a crowd from surrounding resorts (free wifi didn't hurt) - one downside, fairly slow service (I got the impression the kitchen was a bit small).The 20k (approx $2) blueberry pancake with ice-cream was exquisite. Structure to left of restaurant is a bar which was also popular and shows sports on the big screen - also orders a lot of food from the restaurant. Bar didn't seem to be a source of loud music or TV commentary.
Next door is the associated Kokak Dive center, across the street and a short distance east is a good general store with internet. Jammed between Badini and Kokak is a tiny fresh fruit store. There are other restaurants and stores within a fairly short walk along the road.
Beach access is good - cross the road, walk along it 70m west and take the side lane 250m down to the Biorock beach.

Our deluxe aircon room was in a neat garden area up the back of the resort - far enough from the road and restaurant/bar that noise was not an issue. No pool but proximity of beach saw no need.
5 deluxe rooms out here - there are 4 less expensive fan bungalows closer the road in the family conclave area - gives a true ring to "family homestay". Staff and management here super friendly and efficient - pretty hard working: girls who do your room serve your dinner in the restaurant at night.

Chez Tezza at Badini. #1 is older than the other 4 deluxe aircon rooms which look recently built, but is separate whereas they are semi-detached. Roomy, but limited storage, queen softish bed with big soft pillows very comfy to me who normally prefers harder mattresses, nice outdoor bathroom with good hot water (but some water supply problems one afternoon). Nice veranda to drink elcheapo beer from nearby general store (not that Badini's is expensive but Tezza is cheap), mozzie coils come around late afternoon. Downsides - no refrig, no jug, only one small bottle of water supplied on arrival, outdoor bathroom means potential mozzie entrance at night, very poor light for reading.
Inclusive breakfast was basic continental but adequate.


Menjangan is a small, low semi-arid island about 20 minutes west of Pemuteran. Those are the volcanic peaks of east Java in background.

I went with Kokak Dive next door to Badini Homestay (run by brother of the lady who runs Badini). Cost in August 2012 350k idr each (minimum 2 people) for a full day's snorkeling (about $US38), but because several divers and other snorkelers were going on my trip they quoted 300k. I reckon I could have bargained lower but that seemed fair enough. From memory divers paid 700k for a 2 dive full day. Lunch, transport, national park fees included.

Labuan Lalang harbour is on a big sheltered inlet (Teluk Terima Bay) about 20 minutes west of Pemuteran. There are several resorts scattered around this inlet (maybe best to google "Menjangan resorts" rather than "Labuan Lalang resorts"). 
We picked up a diving couple from a resort pier a few minutes after zigging our way thru the scrum of boats in background.

Upper section shows main Menjangan dive sites, lower similar off Pemuteran itself. I clumsily cropped the bottom of the shot a bit fine. This was on the wall at Kokak Dive's office.

My trip concentrated on the northern side of Menjangan which was the sheltered side in the prevailing dry season south easterly winds. 2 snorkels/dives with lunch between, starting from the western end of the island to take advantage of the slight current heading east. Lotsa time, low effort.
Best snorkeling was along the reef edge (drop-off), never too deep for surface snorkelers. I saw several divers lower on the drop-off as I moved along.

My trip had 4 divers and 3 snorkelers. I was the only one from Badini. Kokak guys at back consisted of a dive guide, a snorkeling guide and the boat guy. Nets hanging from roof keeps backpacks etc dry. Got a bit splashy on the 30 minute return trip to the harbour in choppy conditions.

I found the coral and fish at Menjangan very good, by far the best I've seen in Bali, way better than anything I've checked in Thailand in recent years (Thailand's two best areas the Surins and Similans are shot down with coral bleaching) and a bit better than the Perhentians and Redang in Malaysia last year. As in other Asian areas, really big fish were absent. I also looked extensively under reef ledges etc but didn't find any of those striped tropical lobsters - quite unusual for what is a protected national park area.
I don't carry an underwater camera - I lifted this shot from via Google images.

Scrum of snorkelers checking the scene.

The luncheon stop saw a dozen or so daytrip boats moored together over the reef. Kokak's adequate lunch consisted of fried rice/noodles or chicken salad sandwich, plus fruit, water or coke. Drinks were provided after each water session too.
I'm used to lunch on the beach on such trips but beach access looked a bit tricky with lotsa rocks to negotiate - it may be better at higher tides than the lunch time level of the day I visited (high tide gets roughly an hour later each day).
In all there must have been over two dozen boats with divers and snorkelers the day of my visit. Most were these traditional fishing type boats but there were a few bigger faster modern craft.

The only structure on the island is this pretty impressive temple called Puri Gili Kencana. About a dozen boatloads of locals were doing a pilgrimage on the afternoon of my visit - access is via a jetty out of shot to right. It is not uncommon for snorkellers who organise their own boat at Labuan Lalang (a naional park guide is compulsory) to visit the temple - many often spend an extra hour or so walking the island's circumference.

The other main activity out of Pemuteran is trekking and animal/bird watching in the West Bali National Park.

This is Bali's biggest national park, covering some 10% of the island and taking in all of the Prapat Agung peninsula at the north west tip plus a sizable section of the lower mountainous area south of the main road. Resorts in Pemuteran can organise guided visits and for independent travelers there are park offices in Gilimanuk, Labuan Lalang and best for trekking, Cekik. Once again guides are compulsory but not expensive. 
This map and further info from

Menjangan is a major stretch from the main tourist areas of south Bali (4.5 hours or so in daytime), but a doddle if you are coming in from Java or across from the Lovina/ Singaraja stetch.
Its not a bad trip from the west Bali rice fields area both sides of Papuan and from the Bedugul/Munduk region in the Lake Bratan caldera between south Bali and Lovina and Singaraja/Lovina. I noticed most airport/Kuta to Menjangan transport comes via Munduk rather than the slower west coast road and then the twisty rice fields road past Kebun Villas and Papuan. Both options are very scenic routes and offer some nice places to stop over to break the trip.
Amed is about 3.5 hours east and a travel booking office near Badini Homestay was offering Gilis trips via the new fast boat out of Amed including shuttle from Menjangan. Amed from Menjangan is an hour or so closer than the main Gili boats out of Padangbai and Amed is an hour or so closer to the Gilis too, so this would be a good time saver. I noticed quite a few travellers hanging around the travel office around shuttle time. Most resorts would be able to organise this too.

These are some transport costs I copied out of Badini Homestays info book (high season 2012):
Kuta/airport/Sanur/Ubud all 480k idr, Jimbaran/Amed/Cadidasa all 520k, Lovina/Munduk 275k, Singaraja 300k, Kintamani 450k, Gilimanuk 275k. The latter sounds a bit rich for such a short distance. A one day trip was 560k.
The longer journeys above seem a bit higher than you would pay for the same distance using south Bali transport guys although most would insist on a full day payment for airport/Kuta to Menjangan (they have to get back) which at the time of writing was 400 to 450k.

Leaving town we caught up with several bands of school kids marching along the main road practising for August 17th's Independence Day. Traffic banks up behind them waiting for a chance to overtake on this pretty busy road.


Attention - if you have extra information or see mistakes please comment below. 
But if you have any questions please ask them in THE FORUM which can be accessed via the INDEX - I don't get to check individual location places very often but I check the Forum most days I'm not travelling.