Sideman sits in the shadow of Mount Agung, in Central-East Bali and suffered badly during the recent volcanic activity, with ash-covered streets putting off many visitors, which is a shame because Sideman has a lot to offer. Not that you’d realise it immediately though, as its easy to ride straight past if you’re not careful! The beauty of Sideman requires a few days in one of its peaceful homestays to wind down, take in the green countryside and go on some hikes.
Going Greener in Sideman
It’s hard to appreciate how green Sideman is, I mean Ubud is one of the greenest places I’d ever seen, but when you take a weekend break from Ubud to relax in the countryside, you are going from green to greener (or greener to greenest?). It’s green, really green, if you know what I mean.
So, having survived rainy season on a scooter with two bald tyres, dodgy brakes and a helmet which fit me about as well as OJs glove, I figured I could only push my luck so far before the inevitable happened and so I decided to dump the two-wheeled death trap and purchase a brand new scooter to get me around. Blessed with holy water from the most sacred water temple in Bali and adorned with offerings to appease the motorbike Gods, my machine was ready for our first trip.
Curiosity and the Greedy Cat – A Waterfall Detour
So, feeling the need for green, I decided to head for Sideman one morning. About halfway there, just after Gianyar there is a sign that says “Waterfall”. Having nowhere in particular to be, I decide to follow the detour and check it out. Two kilometres down a side road, I come to a mud track where I park the bike and continue on foot. As expected, there are the obligatory 2,000 steps to get a glimpse and I am lugging my overnight bag with me. A guy sweeping the steps asks me for 20k for the entrance fee and I grumpily hand it over thinking they could at least build some proper steps, as I almost fall on my arse on the muddy slope at least twice. In the end it’s a nice jungly-type walk to the falls. The waterfall itself isn’t going to make it onto any must-see lists, but its a nice little detour to break up the journey.
Breakfast from the Gods
Bali has a weird way of giving you what you want, and its just after leaving the waterfall that I start thinking about breakfast and how nice it would be to find someone roadside selling my favourite Balinese breakfast snack of lak-lak. Literally 2 minutes later I see a sign point to ‘Warung Lak-Lak’, an actual restaurant dedicated to this delicious snack – thank you breakfast Gods!
There is a menu of lak-lak dishes; green ones, white ones, with banana, with other rice snacks, plus some other Balinese breakfast favourites, hot drinks and fresh juices. No price on the menu gets into double figures (which means everything is under 50p). My mixed lak-lak and hot tea costs me 9k (50p). The owner takes my picture and tells me he has just opened and is trying to promote the place. It seems apt that he should use my picture to do this, as I kind of feel like I willed it into being.
I arrive in Sideman, check into my hotel (Kanda Homestay) and speak to owner Jack, who tells me a couple of trails I can try.
I walk right out of the homestay and have a wander down into the rice fields to some spectacular scenery.
I find a small warung selling local food and order some Gado-Gado and a beer. Gado-Gado is a great go-to vegan dish of rice and mixed vegetables with peanut sauce, that they sell everywhere in Bali. This version has been lovingly prepared and presented and I sit back and enjoy it whilst contemplating the rice fields.
A Trip to the Temple – Pura Bukit Sangkan Gunung
After such a perfect morning I decide to take the bike out and head up to temple Pura Bukit Sangkan Gunung which can be seen up in the mountain from my homestay. The bike does a good deal of the hard work but the final part is up to me and my legs. It’s the Stairmaster 1000 and I’m about ready to have a coronary by the time I get to the top!
The temple is hardly worth it, just a tower with some empty buildings, but the view definitely warrants a bit of exercise.
At the entrance I’m told that the ‘donation’ is 20k, I don’t bother to point out that the concept of donation actually precludes the need for a fixed price, and drop 10k in the box on the pretext that I’ll drop the other 10k if the temple warrants it.
It doesn’t, and actually my screaming thighs tell me that someone will have to pay me to to go up there again.
After some chill-time back at the homestay watching Jack’s sister-in-law weaving on her big Songket contraption, I venture out for dinner.
Warung Wayan’s, just next door has a decent menu with vegetarian choices and the food is cooked fresh and is tasty. Limited choices for the vegan but I manage to find something other than Gado-Gado, so I’m happy.
On the way back, I’m accosted by a local arak purveyor and talked into trying a shot of the locally produced spirit. It’s made from coconuts and is only 5k a shot, which should put me off for starters, but I go for my “If it’s vegan, try it” approach (an approach that may need a rethink). The first sniff reminds me of petrol, but I try to convince myself its coconut. The taste is no less worrying and I can’t even manage to finish the shot; “It’s good for you!”, they tell me – like a bad medicine. I’m not too sure about that and it repeats on me for the rest of the night.
The next day thankfully starts without an arak headache (thank god I didn’t finish the whole shot) and Jack’s sister-in-law comes to ask me if I’m ready for breakfast. I pessimistically enquire as to whether they have anything not involving eggs or dairy and she tells me that she will bring me traditional balinese sweets made with rice and coconut – totally vegan! Shortly afterwards she brings me a plate including more delicious lak-lak, some dadar gulung (pandan pancakes), pisang rai (boiled and battered banana) plus sticky black rice and a mug of tea, followed by a plate of fruit.
For my adventure today, Jack tells me to head to a beauty spot called Iseh. It’s about 10 minutes on the bike and I come upon the small town, which has a lot of activity around the temple. All the motorbikes going past have women in traditional dress, carrying offerings, so I know something must be going on.
The views of the rice fields are spectacular and I drive around for a while but can’t find anywhere to stop and actually walk. Eventually I find a small road coming off the main road with some access points into the rice fields. I try a couple of attempts but they end in dead ends so I come back to the path, frustrated. There is young chap washing his bike who strikes up a conversation
“Mau ke mana?”
The go-to conversation opener in Bali. Not “Hi“, or “How are you?“, “What’s your name?” or even “Where are you from?“. But “Where are you going?“, or more literally “Where do you want to go?”
To an independent wanderer like myself, who moves without an itinerary, I can find this question somewhat annoying and tend to bristle in expectation of the inevitable offer of a brother/cousin/half-sister who is an excellent tour guide – and so tend to answer with the standard; “Jalan-jalan” (just taking a walk), hoping this will put an end to the discussion.
But bike-washer doesn’t have a money-making scheme in mind and instead points me in the direction of some steps “There’s a private villa up there, but it’s empty at the moment. You can go up and get some nice views.” It turns out to be a great recommendation as not only are there indeed great views of the whole valley, but also some steps down towards a stream, with some nice shady spots to sit and take it all in.
I thank the bike-washer on the way back, who tells me his name is Made and that he is washing his bike for the ceremony at the temple they will have later (today is apparently an important day for the local temple and the villages surrounding it) and that they will take some homemade chocolate as an offering (this sounds like the sort of ceremony the Greedy Cat would enjoy).
I tell him that I have seen many people already going to and from the temple and ask why he is not there already. He tells me that it is the women who are going around to take offerings to all the local temples and that the men’s task is to wash the bikes. Women tend to get the more physically demanding tasks in Bali so this doesn’t surprise me. I thank Made for his suggestion and leave him to get on with the important task of washing his bike.
In Search of a Walk
I have seen some spectacular scenery but still haven’t found anywhere I can actually walk. I decide to track back to Sideman and take the right fork which leads to the temple that I visited the day before, recalling that there was a left turn that I hadn’t yet explored.
I pass a few tourists along the way. It looks way too hot to hike along the road and I have no desire to do so. I fantasise about a tree-lined trail, preferably beside a stream.
After 15 minutes riding around more stunning landscapes but not a whiff of a path, I am almost ready to give up but first take an exploratory look down a steep path to see what lies beyond. I ask a couple of locals if this leads to a jalan and they assure me it does. “Take a right at the bottom”, one woman assures me.
I follow the steep path down, pleased that I have my new bike, as would not be confident that the old death trap would have got me back up! It goes down and down into a picturesque valley and eventually I come to a T-junction. I go right, as instructed, and pass through the rice fields – with many people working away busily – and then a series of small villages. Mangey dogs roam the streets and I know I will not be getting off the bike to walk around here! I decide to give up on my quest and head back to town for an early lunch.
When I reach the T-junction again, instead of heading back up the hill, I decide to take the left turn and see what’s there. The road soon turns to a dirt path, and there are a few motorbikes parked, belonging to the rice-field workers. I park up as well and take a peek around the corner to see if the path continues. It looks promising so I lock up my bike, take my pack and see where this path takes me.
It’s not quite as tree-lined as I would’ve liked and the day is scorchingly hot, but the trail is beautiful and there’s not another tourist in sight. After a kilometre or so, I come to a stream with a couple of swans. I take off my sandals and bathe my feet in the cool water. It’s a welcome respite (yes, I know I’ve been on my arse, not my feet all day but it’s hot out there!)
The path continues on the other side of the stream and I could easily cross it but I decide to turn back instead. There is a villa on my right and a path goes up beside it. At first it looks like the path only goes to a private residence and I’m nervous about being chased by angry dogs, but the path continues and starts winding around into some corn fields. It’s like a proper walking trail – I’m so happy!
Before long, I come to a temple perched atop a hill. It’s the one I could see in the distance when starting my walk. It was more steps, but the promise of a view of the whole landscape gave me the motivation I needed. The temple at the top was even more dilapidated then the one yesterday and the jungle was growing through every crack, but the views were spectacular.
I could see right back to the beginning of the trail and noticed that there was a path running next to a stream on the other side of the rice fields, which seemed to lead back there. I surveyed the rice fields in between to see if it looked possible to cross. I noticed some overgrown steps leading back down the other side of the temple, which would perfectly land me next to the stream-side path.
I made it down the rickety steps unscathed, hopped across the rice field to the stream and joined the path. It led me past some isolated little shacks, where children played in the stream and bare-breasted old ladies stared at the strange white interloper, past a waterfall and happily right back to my bike!
Feeling very pleased with myself, I headed back to town, got myself a young coconut and some tipat cantok at Warung Ibu Ayu‘s for a street food lunch and then back to the hotel for a switcheroo….
Accommodation in Sideman – Kanda Homestay vs Kubu Taru
Kanda Homestay is located right in the heart of Sideman. Owner Jack lives there with his brother, sister-in-law and their kids, and the two rooms he rents out are located right next to their house. The rooms are basic but clean, with a mosquito net – very necessary as the ceiling is open so at the top of the front wall there is nothing between you and the rest of the complex – and a standing fan. The bathroom is very nicely done, with an open part above the shower, through which you can see the stars at night.
At night, the complex is silent. It’s location is far enough from the road to escape the sound of motorcycles and, despite the openness of the bedroom, there is nothing to disturb you until the house cockerel makes his presence known before 6am (and he is pretty hard to ignore). My advice is to get an early night.
Jack is a wonderful host, with excellent English and he tells me how he went to work on farms in Japan for 3 years in order to get the money together to build his homestay. We chat about sex robots and the impermanence of existence before I head off, high-fiving the kids.
I’m pretty sad to leave in the end, Jack’s place has been lovely and despite my initial reservations about being in too close-quarters with the family, they are respectful of your privacy whilst also being on hand for whatever you need.
However, I’m seduced by the views at Kubu Taru. You stay in a wooden house on stilts, with an uninterrupted view of the rice fields. I can’t resist a stay here and, after negotiating the price down to 230k (including breakfast) I move from Jack’s for the second night of my stay in Sideman.
At check-in I am told that I must order breakfast now, confirming what and when I want it. I try to negotiate with them, to see if I couldn’t maybe confirm in the morning? I am on holiday after all, but it’s non-negotiable (they seem to be afraid that I intend to get up at 12pm demanding bacon and eggs). In the end I give in and go for the Balinese pancakes with coffee at 8am. After Jack’s happy-go-lucky, go-with-the-flow attitude, I’m feeling a bit stressed out with all the pressure! Then, before I’m allowed to go to my room, I also need to order dinner and fill out a lengthy form. I decline dinner, fill out the form and finally make it to my room for some peace.
After a busy morning, I don’t have much in mind for the afternoon and intend to just chill on the beautiful wooden terrace. However, after a while I realise how hot it is there – completely exposed to the afternoon sun, the place heats up like a greenhouse. Fortunately inside there is aircon so I position a chair inside the doorway and sit there, with a view of the outside but some cooling air for my sweating body.
I notice that the peaceful location belies the close proximity to the main road and the constant thundering-by trucks is a bit of an annoyance (although thankfully this calms down significantly during the night).
In the evening I am informed that I will be completely alone on the complex as all the staff leave at 9pm and security have the night off. My smiling host asks if this is a problem (whilst also making it clear that this question is rhetorical). I don’t ask her why they usually require security staff, hoping it’s nothing more than a precaution. She tells me their card is by the bed and just to phone if I have any problems in the night. I double lock the door and pull the sheets up around me, ready for the axe murderer.
In the end, there is no visit from an axe murderer, just some scratching on the roof from the local field mice, otherwise I sleep very well. In the morning I sit on my terrace, awaiting my 8 o’clock breakfast order. When I see no movement from the restaurant, I venture down in my pyjamas to see what’s what and, on seeing that there is no coffee and pancakes on the go, ask about breakfast. It’s as if yesterday’s conversation never took place!
Breakfast at Jack’s definitely wins. The setting here is fantastic but the pancakes resemble sugar-filled face cloths. I order extra coffee to wash them down (with balinese style coffee you have to leave the bottom third in the cup as it is all coffee-sludge), which in fairness I am not charged for.
Eating and Drinking around Sideman
The eating options around Sideman are pretty standard tourist fare, with prices to match, so I decide to ride to the next town to get something more authentic. After a 15/20 minute ride back in the direction of Gianyar I find street stands selling basic Indonesian food. You can get a paper cone of rice plus some plastic bags filled with side dishes; I go for some tomatoey tempeh and tofu, spicy tempeh , plus some hot sambal. The whole thing is 10k, I go back to the Kubu Taru and eat it along with a Bintang, overlooking the rice fields.
The next day I complete the easy 1-hour ride back to Ubud and promise myself I will be back soon. Sideman is a perfect option for a nice easy and relaxing weekend away from Ubud when you are finding that you just need MORE GREEN!