Sideman Valley, an ‘Original Bali’ experience – Bali, Indonesia

We zip along the narrow road winding through lush vegetation and coconut trees and reach a viewing point; I could see the vast green rice terraces in the valley below as the clouds start to roll in and light rain begins to fall. Four months have passed since I was there in that moment, but I still remember the feeling of peace and timelessness that resonated throughout the valley. Sideman is definitely a place I would return to in a heartbeat; if you are looking for a taste of Bali full of local charm and away from the crowds and tourists, this is it.

DSC00829_flickrMt. Agung towers in the background while a farmer works his field

We booked our stay at Samanvaya and I highly recommend this place if you happen to go – all the staff are from the local village and extremely helpful and friendly. The resort is small and cosy, and the lodges have been built by local craftsmen with traditional thatched roofs. The moment we stepped into our lodge, I felt right at home. I also now want a Balinese inspired bathroom in my future home (whenever that happens in our current bajillion dollar Vancouver real estate market) with a round terrazzo stone tub, rainwater shower and indoor garden… Nature still infused wherever you are! Getting to Samanvaya from the airport was made super easy with airport pickup arranged in advance via email.

DSC00827_flickrOur balcony and the two other lodges in the background

Arriving at Nugrah Rai International Airport in the evening, I was a little nervous arriving in a completely new place at night. Luckily we didn’t have to worry as our driver was there waiting for us and we glided past the crowd of taxi drivers hounding unprepared tourists. An insight into the amazing level of service that Samanvaya staff offers: since we arrived at about 8pm our driver informed us that most of the places to eat when we reach the resort would be closed, so he brought us to a seafood restaurant and very professionally excused himself to wait outside despite our invitation for him to join us. Our first meal in Bali was delicious, and also deliciously cheap as the meal for two cost us about $12CAD.

DSC00938_flickrA proud rooster I came across during one of my walks around the village

After dinner, we bundled back into the van and about 1.5hrs later we arrived. I looked up to see bright stars shining through the sky. Light pollution was limited, the road had no street lamps and the resort lighting was calm and subdued. We were led to our lodge by the security guard and this is where I very embarrassingly tipped the equivalent of 1 cent… oops. Indonesian money has one too many zeros for me, 1 Canadian dollar is equivalent to about 10,000 rupiah. It took me a few days to get used to handling wads of cash!

Orchids outside our lodge

In the morning I awoke to the sound of ducks waddling in a small pond outside our lodge and the muffled drumming of bamboo. Sauntering over to the balcony I see a line of women make their way towards a bamboo structure being built. Ironically, even the sound of construction was soothing with the rhythmic beat of bamboo being put together. Looking forward to a day of being pampered, we book a massage at the spa ($10CAD for a heavenly 1hr full body massage), lounge around at the infinity pool sipping fresh watermelon juice (my new daily ritual and addiction) and then take a short walk in the nearby area just outside the resort to buy bottled water and snacks from a small store. One thing I forget living in Vancouver is that in the tropical climates you get more insects, and leaving your snacks out in the open is an invitation for a colony of ants to visit you. Best to keep your opened food in the fridge or sealed containers if you can.

DSC00809_flickrThe new yoga, meditation and spa center being built. Women carry tubs full of soil towards the building site.

The following day we book a walking tour through the resort to explore the rice terraces and our guide leads us through the fields. Having eaten rice all my life, I’m ashamed to say I had no idea what it looked like exactly until this experience. I also learn that rice plants are pretty sharp and scratch, I wish I had worn pants as we made our way through the paddy fields. Also the walkways between the fields were quite narrow and I found myself almost sliding off several times if I got too distracted, a challenge when trying to take photos!

DSC00832_flickrA farmer preps his fields ready for planting

DSC00923_flickrMaking our way along the terraces

DSC00921_flickrThreshing rice

Other crops are grown in the area such as cocoa, coffee, chilies and peanuts. Peanuts grow underneath the ground close to the surface, and the plant itself has small yellow flowers – I would have had no idea that there were peanuts underneath. Why do I assume everything grows on trees? You can buy locally roasted and salted peanuts in the small stores down the road and they pack some good crunch. Again, I am also reminded that ready made chocolate bars do not grow on trees, and a cocoa pod does not look as appetizing.

DSC00899_flickrA small altar with some offerings and chilli crops in the background

DSC00903_flickrBucket full of chillies

DSC00916_flickrRaw peanuts – not as tasty as when they’re roasted and salted

DSC00906_flickrBali female cattles known as domesticated banteng

The guided walk was about 2hrs as our guide took us in a loop around all the fields and back to our resort. It was a wonderful way to see more of the area and having a guide be able to explain to us what the crops were and speak with the local farmers so that we could get a closer look without feeling like we were intruding was valuable. Feeling a little more adventurous from our walk we booked another excursion through our resort for a guided scooter tour. I had an unfortunate experience attempting to learn how to ride a scooter (I expertly drove one right into a brick wall… we won’t go into too much embarrassing detail) so being able to ride at the back of a seasoned driver was a much smoother experience.

DSC00951_flickrScootering along on our tour of the valley

The scooter tour took us to different parts of the area that we didn’t see when we were on foot. When you choose possible excursions another option is to take a tour by car, but if you haven’t tried being on a scooter I recommend it. It’s a more immersive experience while being able to still get around quicker than walking, and you have access to paths that are too narrow for cars which can give you better perspective. You also don’t have to have awkwardly ‘hug’ your scooter driver if you don’t want to, we just held on to the rails connected to the back of the seat.

DSC00929_flickrPassing by one of the villages

At the end of the day, we had dinner at Warung Ida which is only a few minutes walk from Samanvaya and I recommend exploring the other small restaurants in the area which is much cheaper than eating at the resort. I learned that the term Warung means small shop or restaurant as all the places to eat had Warung at the beginning of their name. If you happen to eat at Warung Ida (and I have a feeling that it was lovely Ida herself that cooked for us) be sure to try their banana pancake for dessert! Forget blending bananas into the batter, this pancake was batter with thinly sliced bananas covering the entire surface and drizzled with local honey. It was amazing. We had a full meal for two – freshly freshly blended fruit smoothies, appetizers, mains and dessert – all for about $10CAD with an extra dollar for tip that produced the biggest smile and wave as we left.

DSC00976_flickrBest banana pancake I’ve had!

We stayed in Sideman for three nights and four days – breakfast, lunch, some dinners, massages, our guided walking and scooter tours, airport pickup and transportation to Ubud (our next stop) tallied up to almost $500CAD. What a deal. I’ve heard from others who have been to Bali that the more popular destinations are much more expensive such as the beachfront luxury hotels – but I thought our stay in Sideman was luxurious without being ostentatious and I felt completely invigorated from our visit. There are no parties, bars or crowds in Sideman so if that’s what you’re looking for then you’ll probably be bored out of your mind. But if you want to experience tranquility and local Balinese charm – Sideman is well worth a visit.

DSC00943_flickrAltars with offerings overlooking the valley with rice terraces below

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