Freelance writer and world traveler
Pura Ulun Danu Beratan temple in Bali. (Shutterstock.com/Pelikh Alexey)
Bali has long been one of the world’s dreamiest travel destinations, romanticized as a place where the beaches are pristine and life is simple. Yet, visitors to the Island of the Gods are often shocked by the amount of garbage, traffic and congestion that plague much of it.
Bali has become almost synonymous with concerns about overtourism, from the strain on resources to the degradation of local culture to an overwhelming amount of trash. Some even say the responsible thing for travelers to do is to boycott the island.
If you do decide to go to Bali then getting off the beaten track to places such as Munduk can be a great way to combat the problems of overtourism. It will also help distribute the revenue generated from tourism more evenly throughout the island. However, before leaving your home country you may want to research Bali packing lists to get an idea of some travel items that can help keep you safe and make your trip more enjoyable.
Munduk is a fascinating place because it is so different from much of the island. Situated up in the mountains of Bali’s interior, there is no surfing, diving, or nightlife here. Instead, it is a place to bask in the quiet, witness more traditional culture, and enjoy the cooler temperatures. Even though Munduk is small, travelers will find plenty do in town and the surrounding areas.
Hike to waterfalls
Red Coral waterfall in Munduk, Bali. (Shutterstock.com/daboost)
The interior of Bali seems to be filled with waterfalls -- people plan whole trips around seeing as many of them as possible -- and the area around Munduk has several to choose from. The best part? You don’t need a guide or transportation to get there; instead, you can walk straight from your hotel in town to a few different falls. Or string them together for a nice half-day hike that starts and ends in the middle of town.
There’s a lot of confusion about the names of the different waterfalls in the area, which is not helped by the lack of signage. But paths just outside of town connect three falls, and the trail begins right on the main road in Munduk. From there, you can follow Google Maps to get to each waterfall. There are even some tiny coffee shops along the way where you can take a break to sample the famed Munduk coffee. The paths are relatively flat so the hike generally isn’t too strenuous, but be prepared to climb steep steps up and down to the falls. If this DIY hike doesn’t give you your fill of waterfalls, you can reach many others in the area by car or motorbike or on a guided trek.
Look out over the twin lakes
Munduk is situated near two twin lakes, Tamblingan and Buyan, the ends of which nearly touch. Rainforest-covered slopes rise straight up from the edges of the water of both lakes, and there are great views to be had from above them. The main road runs up the west side of Lake Tamblingan and then along the north edge of Lake Buyan. It makes for a nice motorbike ride, or you can park and get off to stroll around. There are also several restaurants overlooking the water near where the lakes almost touch, and it’s well worth stopping for a meal or coffee to give yourself more time to enjoy the view.
Take a canoe ride on Lake Tamblingan
Lake Tamblingan in Bedugul, Bali. (Shutterstock.com/randi_ang)
Next to Lake Tamblingan is Tamblingan Nature Recreation Park, where you can organize a canoe ride (they also run guided hikes in the surrounding area). Local women paddle the unique dugout canoes, which are made up of two outriggers attached to each other, so all you have to do is float along and take in your surroundings. The trip takes you past the lake’s forested edges and right by Pura Hulun Danu Tamblingan, a beautiful temple that sits on the water. For such a stunning place, very few tourists seem to come here, so it’s also incredibly tranquil.
Ride a motorbike through the countryside
A motorbike is the easiest way to get to most of the places listed above, but the journey can be just as exciting as the destination. Motorbiking around Munduk will take you to even more offbeat areas, where tourists are a rarity, few locals speak English, and most people dress in traditional clothing. Pass by small villages, terraced rice fields, and rural temples, experiencing a side of Bali that few visitors see.
Just be aware that many of the roads in this area are narrow and incredibly steep, so going by motorbike is only advised if you’re an experienced rider. Check that the bike is in decent condition, and rent one that’s over 125cc if you can. Cell service is limited, but an offline mapping app like Maps.Me will help you avoid getting lost.
Soak in Banjar hot springs
Panas Banjar Hot Springs in Bali. (Shutterstock.com/Inspired By Maps)
After hiking or taking a motorbike ride, it’ll feel great to soak your muscles in a natural hot spring. Banjar Hot Springs, locally known as Air Panas Banjar, is closer to Bali’s north coast, but still an easy day trip from Munduk. The water in the springs has a high sulfur content, which is said to be therapeutic.
You can take a dip in any or all of the three separate pools, which have different depths and temperatures. A tap sits high above one of the pools with its water pouring down to give visitors a natural massage. You can also get a Balinese massage on-site before or after your soak. Not too many tourists make it to these hot springs, but it’s a very popular spot with locals, so try to get there early and beat the crowds.
Take a Balinese cooking class
From the ubiquitous fried rice and fried noodles to the almost tapas-esque gado gado (mixed vegetable with peanut sauce) and nasi campur (Balinese rice meal), Balinese cuisine is incredibly underrated (and also surprisingly vegetarian-friendly). While you sadly won’t find many Balinese restaurants in other countries, you can learn to prepare versions of the island’s most popular dishes at home.
Cooking classes are available in many towns on Bali, including in Munduk. In a place like this, where most of the top attractions are outdoor adventures, a cooking class is a great rainy day option. Chez Rico offers incredibly well-reviewed classes in Munduk, and you can sign up via their Facebook page. You’ll learn to make a variety of local dishes, get to eat them all afterward, and go home with a cookbook of Balinese recipes.
Do it for the ‘gram
Candi Bentar, Bedugul in Bali. (Shutterstock.com/ikmerc)
Bali is an Instagrammer’s dream -- which is, admittedly, not unrelated to some of the problems the island is suffering from due to overtourism. Still, social media influencers and photography aficionados alike will love the photogenic spots around Munduk.
The most famous is easily the gate at Handara Golf Resort, near Lake Buyan, which has become an iconic symbol of Bali. Everyone wants to take their photo at the gate, though, so you might have to wait to get a shot devoid of crowds. Even closer to Munduk is Wanagiri Hidden Hills, which is something that would never have existed in a world without Instagram. It’s essentially a park made up of quirky structures designed and placed specifically for taking pictures. Pump your legs on one on the island’s famous swings, sit in a floating bird’s nest, or walk out to the end of a bamboo platform -- just make sure your Instagram husband is nearby to get the shot.
Of course, a trip to Munduk doesn’t require going out to see every single sight. You might prefer to sit at a quiet mountainside restaurant, taking in the view and enjoying the fresh air while sipping a coffee or nursing a Bintang. There are plenty of places to do that, and it’s a perfectly respectable way to spend your time in Munduk. (kes)
Valmir is a freelance writer and world traveler. He can be reached on Twitter @ValmirMehmeti.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.