Why NOW is the right time to travel to Sidemen on Bali
My second week in Indonesia is a wrap. This week I won’t publish a weekly report like I did last time, but I’ll tell you a story from the heart about my stay in Sidemen on Bali. Sidemen that’s located nearby the Agung volcano and which is the place I discovered the real Bali. Where I spent hours overlooking the rice fields and where I experienced my first earthquake ever. Now is the right time to visit, not next year, or the year after.
Despite the fact I enjoyed Ubud, it was mostly too busy for my taste. Too many backpackers, too many scooters and way to much noise. And so deciding to head to Sidemen for my next part of my trip was an easy choice. I’d already read about this place on various Dutch travel blogs and so I asked Ketut, the driver who also took me from the airport to Ubud, to pick me up and take me to Sidemen. However, he messaged me he first needed to find out if it would be possible at all to reach Sidemen, because of its close proximity to the volcano. Luckily it turned out that the road to Sidemen was open and that it would be safe to go. And so I started looking at a place to stay in Sidemen as well as things to do. The next day I’m getting into the car with Marieke, who I more or less travel together with and we are headed to Sidemen.
I had not really thought of what it would be like to be in Sidemen on Bali. After getting disappointed quite a few times in the past while traveling (because of Instagram, you can read more about that here) I’ve decided a while ago not to set my expectations too high. Having little or no expectations often leads to wonderful surprises I have found out by now.
In all honesty I was a little disappointed by the rice fields around Ubud. Those at Tegalalang were extremely crowded and the ones I visited during my bike ride around Ubud, were not the terrace shaped ones I had hoped to see. I hadn’t really expected much of it, I just imagined it to be a little different. Upon driving into the Sidemen valley, I notice how incredibly green it is around here. Green, greener, greenest. Fifty shades of green. Give it a green name, you get the idea.
Hotel in Sidemen, Bali
Although Marieke and I travel together, we are staying at separate hotels. Not because we have enough money to spend, but because we both enjoy a little privacy. Plus hotels in Sidemen are fairly cheap compared to other places in Bali and so I book a nice room at Abian Ayu Villa, an amazing four star hotel right in the middle of the rice fields. I paid no more than 365.000 IDR which easily falls within my daily budget. Upon arrival it turns out this hotel is indeed a great pick: my large room is above reception and overlooking the rice fields and in the distance, Mount Agung. This is the famous volcano that’s said about to blow, however it’s surrounded by clouds all the time during my stay in Sidemen.
Peace and quiet
As I lay down on my kingsize bed and realize that this might be the place where I’ll find some peace and quiet I’m looking for, there is a knock on the door. One of the girls from the restaurant brings me the menu and asks me what I’d like to eat tonight. A little surprised I quickly decide to go for a curry and one hour later I head over to the restaurant. Only two other tables are occupied and after dinner I head straight into bed since I’m still somewhat tired from the Mt. Batur climb that I did in the middle of the night just the day before.
The next morning I make my way over to the restaurant for breakfast, but there is no staff around. And no guests either. I see a French couple in the swimming pool and ask them whether this is the place for breakfast. They confirm and tell me that someone should be there shortly, which is indeed the case. Soon after a staff member arrives and not much later I’m enjoying a very good breakfast.
I head back to my room, determined to get some work done. I open up my laptop and after just a few moments there’s a quick knock on my door. It turns out to be Marieke, who has walked to my hotel. She tells me it’s very quiet in the village and that she has found a silver smith where we can make our own jewelry. I’d like to have a new ring and decide to join her.
And so we end up spending our late morning and early afternoon at Agung Silver where we both design our own rings. The gentlemen helping us tells us that he hasn’t had any business in weeks and is running out of money. He blames the media for it as they have been talking so negative about the possible eruption of Mt. Agung which makes the tourists stay away. The workshop is a lot of fun and after we finish making our rings, we head back towards my hotel. We are looking for a restaurant for lunch and it seems like all places are empty. Eventually we find a nice spot overlooking the rice fields, feeling a bit awkward that it’s so quiet here. After a healthy lunch I decide to go back to my hotel, where I hang out at the pool for the rest of the afternoon.
Once again I notice how quiet it is. Maybe even too quiet. Of all the rooms only a few are occupied and the restaurant is empty. I ask the girls working in the hotel what’s going on. They tell me that almost everybody cancels their stay in Sidemen because of the volcano. That groups are no longer coming and that they are running out of business. It saddens them and at the same time it saddens me, too. According to them, Sidemen is outside of the danger zone and so there is no reason to stay away.
Earthquake in Sidemen
That night I fall asleep while still wearing my clothes, still not entirely recovered from my nocturnal Batur adventure. All of a sudden I wake up hearing a loud sound. And feeling some kind of tremor. At first I think it must’ve happened in my dreams, but only moments later I feel it again. A brief shake-up of my room, yet quite powerful. My heart starts beating like crazy and I get out of bed onto the balcony, looking for a sign of an eruption in the distance. There’s nothing to see or hear however so I decide to get back to bed. It takes me about an hour to fall asleep again thinking it may have been a bad dream after all …
The next morning I get up and walk back to my balcony. Agung is covered in clouds just like the previous days and life seemingly moves on without anything being wrong out in the countryside. Right at that moment I feel another tremor and this time I’m sure it was not my imagination. I send a Whatsapp message to Marieke asking her if she felt that too. As she confirms I realize last night was not a bad dream after all. I head down to reception to ask them about the earthquakes and they mention it was indeed the case there were three tremors. However they tell me there’s nothing to worry about since this has been going on since September and Agung still has not erupted. It could even be years until it erupts.
That day I go on a rice field hike with a guide from my hotel. I walk around Sidemen on Bali, where it’s quiet, beautiful and most of all very non-touristc. We don’t really see anyone else other than a few locals who are working on the rice fields. Plus we pass a few temples, a local school and some cabins for the stock. And I keep on wondering how a landscape can be so incredibly green …
Helping those who had to go leave
The next night there are no more tremors. I decide to extend my stay in Sidemen with another night because I’m loving it so much. Very few other tourists, no partying backpackers but just a whole lot of piece and quiet. That afternoon Marieke and I head into town. Well, it’s not really a town, but more like a long street with some shops and warungs. And … the community hall which has been turned into a refugee camp for people escaping from Agung. It’s sad to see really, people are living on the floor, kids are dirty and cats and dogs are peeing all over. I feel a bit uncomfortable but decide to head in anyway, asking around for someone who speaks English. There turns out to be a coordinator whom I ask what we can do to help. He asks if we can provide them with some fresh fruits and vegetables, but they are not available throughout the town. We may also bring in mineral water and snacks for the kids.
And so we decide to go shopping at all the shops in that street. At some we buy water, at others we buy candies or salty snacks. We hand them out to the kids who are seemingly happy. We cannot talk to them because they can’t speak English, however gratitude shows on their faces. They have no idea how long they will have to stay and when they are allowed to go home again. I refuse to take photos because I don’t want to be seen as some kind of tourist trading candies for pictures. Once back outside I ask the coordinator if it’s OK to take a photo of the outside, which he confirms. That one picture is more than enough.
Once again I head back to the hotel. I decide to get a massage and a pedicure so the girls can still earn a little money. That night I get a warm farewell from the staff. Everyone stops by to say goodbye. The ladies from the spa, reception and the boy who cleaned my room. I even receive a breakfast for the next morning as I’m heading out early. The guy taking it to my room gives me one last hug. ‘Bye Anto, thank you so much for your visit!’
Why you should go to Sidemen on Bali now and not in 5 years
As I mentioned before, now is the time to head to Sidemen. I was told by many people that Sidemen is the old Ubud. The Ubud it was 15 years ago. Little tourism, quiet and green. Authentic, friendly and relaxed. The media attention for Agung has been way too much and makes visitors cancel their stay, not realizing that Sidemen is not in the evacuation zone. Everything around a 12 km radius of the crater has been evacuated, Sidemen is more than 18 km from the crater. There is no reason to stay away, it could still take years until Agung erupts and maybe it won’t even erupt at all. So activate your adventurous mind and head to Sidemen before it’s too late and this place too is overrun by tourism. I can guarantee that you will love it! In case you decide to book and stay at Abian Ayu Villa, tell the staff I said hi. They are an amazing bunch of people!
Planning your Bali trip:
– Check out the best airfares to Denpasar airport on Skyscanner.
– Find the best Sidemen hotel deals here.
– Order your copy of Lonely Planet Bali & Lombok or Lonely Planet Indonesia to start planning your next adventure straight away.
Also make sure to check out my full article with travel tips for Sidemen in Bali!