House hunting and returning to Ubud after 10 years

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After 5 days in Sanur we relocated to Ubud in an attempt to find a house to rent for a week. Our taxi driver really didn’t get the concept of a “house” and kept showing us normal hotels. The first was owned by his friend. We were expecting the “friend” deal so we didn’t mind – on an island like Bali where tourism is such a big industry everyone has a “friend”. Sometimes the “friend’s place” turns out to be a scam, sometimes it’s great. When you rent a driver and give them the instruction of taking you around to find a place to stay you just have to expect to see something owned by a friend!

The friends place turned out to be lovely and if we had of been after a hotel it would have been perfect. But after pulling up with tired kids at the 5th hotel rather than a house we had had enough of his inability to grasp the concept of a “house” so we called it a day. It was strange. His English was good. We’d explained and mimed what we wanted but it wasn’t helping. We asked everywhere we stopped thinking surely someone working at a hotel will have a friend that has a small house for rent. Nothing fancy, just separate bedrooms and a kitchen.  Friends have since been to Ubud and had no problems finding a place but we just weren’t having any luck so we decided to chalk it up as a bad day, paid our driver his fare and got him to drop us off down a side street near Nicks Pension. Plan B was to get a room there for the night, provided they were nice and start the house search again tomorrow.

So there we were trudging up the road to Nicks Pension, a large collection of bungalows set amongst rice fields and creeks, feeling pretty discouraged. Then they showed us our room.

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It was in a little valley overlooking a creek next to a pathway that led right to Monkey Forest Rd via a bridge. Hayley instantly named it the “Grumpy Troll Bridge”. For those who have never watched Dora, the Grumpy troll lives under a bridge and makes you solve a riddle before crossing. The kids have spent hours taking turns being the grumpy troll. Nicks Pension definitely lives up to its good reviews. For 450000 we have a very clean large room with three single beds, ac, hot water, fridge, breakfast, daily room cleaning and a thermos of hot tea sitting on our balcony when we wake up each morning.

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One morning sitting on that balcony sipping tea while the kids played in the garden and I never wanted to leave. House hunting could wait!

They also have a very kid friendly pool, rice fields and 100s of gardening staff that are all trying to win Hayley over in vain. But most important – hot tea on a quiet balcony overlooking a creek and nothing else. Bliss.

On our first night at Nicks there was an earthquake that we all slept through. Others told us the rooms shook. I have vague recollections of strange noises on the roof that I thought were a cat… maybe not? Anyway it was a minor earthquake that caused no damage.

Ubud 2001 to 2010

Ubud has really changed in the 9 years since we were last here. Back then it was rustic. There were giant gaps in the footpaths and ducks crossing anything that wasn’t a major road. Between the bottom of Monkey Forest Road and the markets at the top was a large gap where no shops existed. And there were a lot of reggae/burger bars. Laid back affairs selling burgers with a free movie for just a few US dollars.

Now there a sophisticated upmarket shops and restaurants everywhere. Even Billabong, Mooks and Crocs have stores here. It has a polish it never previously had. But it’s still Ubud. It still feels like Ubud. The people are still as friendly, the food and clothes are still cheap and you can’t help but feel relaxed here, even if it’s a lot more grown up now.

Back then Ubud was the cheap place to go. Now, in comparison to Sanur, Ubud is a lot more expensive for food and drinks. We were averaging 140,000 for dinner and beer in Sanur. In Ubud 220,000 is about average for a family dinner out.

Ubud life

On our first day Noah and Hayley had a private painting class at the local library (behind the soccer field) and we discovered the best pancakes in the whole world at a nearby café, Tutmak (sorry Nanna Beach, yours are good but these are divine). The meals and chocolate cake there are also amazing so we have been back every day.

Yesterday we went in search of a house again with a different taxi driver. He of course offered to show us his “friends place”, supposedly a house so we said OK only to find it was just large hotel style rooms around an infinity pool. Sigh!

After looking at another couple of places we’ve given up on finding a house for now and will keep staying at Nicks for another two nights before moving to nearby Gayatri II, which has larger rooms with two double beds and ac right next to a pool for the same price as Nicks.

Last night was one of the most successful dinners we’ve had out with the kids so far. Or perhaps that should be the most successful dinners I’ve had with them as Colin went home sick halfway through dinner. We arrived at a local restaurant that Colin had worked at a few nights before to discover two young Australian boys standing in the fishpond catching fish and tadpoles with their hands. Noah and Hayley soon joined them while we ordered dinner and had a beer. After all the tadpoles were caught and the slowest fish in the pond severely traumatised by multiple catchings (poor fish), we then went inside to eat dinner in front of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony. The kids both sat there eating spaghetti and pumpkin soup without getting out of their chairs and without me having to nag them to keep eating. So after polishing off dinner we celebrated a successful night with strawberry ice cream (10000 Rupiah a scoop).

Of course the night ended on a bad note when Noah decided for some reason that he wanted to 200 Rupiah (3c) coin that I had asked him to give to the waiter (along with other notes) to pay for dinner. He cried his heart out the whole 10 min walk back home about this coin.

The kids are finally starting to get some more energy and adjust to life away from home so today we went to the Monkey Forest. Colin and I don’t remember Monkey Forest being all that interesting from our last visit. But this time, perhaps seeing things through the eyes of kids, we had a wonderful time.

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Noah and Hayley fed bananas to the monkeys, Hayley held hands with a couple of toddler monkey’s

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Until they all tried to steal her bright pink Dora hat.

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It doesn’t matter how furry and cute you are, you don’t mess with a 2 year olds favourite Dora hat apparently! Hayley was not impressed!

I even had three different monkeys climb on my head. Still recovering from surgery I tend to sit down quite frequently in the heat of Asia, which I guess made me fair game to any nearby curious monkey! It was amazing. As soon as I sat over one ran and jumped on me. Of course until one of them got a bit bitey (in a “you know I’m the boss” more than a trying to hurt me way).

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A lot of the recent reports we have read about the monkey’s in Monkey Forest made us a little hesitant to take the kids there but so long as you use common sense and keep an eye on the dominant males while the kids are close the monkey’s it felt safe.

Of course it pays to take precautions – this particular species is one of the most aggressive and least fearful of humans in Asia. Ask locals how the monkey’s have been acting lately before visiting. Don’t let your children carry food or eat while they are in the forest. If the kids want to feed them, let an adult hold all but the one banana that is being fed and keep an eye on the situation. Stay near your children and let the monkey’s come to you. Just use common sense and keep assessing the situation. Both times we’ve been there, ten years ago and with the kids we felt perfectly safe and had an amazing time.

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