Rafters on Bali Sobek’s tour paddle through the lush scenery of Bali’s rainforest. // © 2013 Bali Sobek
An oft-trekked haven for Australian surfers and party-lovers, Bali has had its fair share of tourist-based industrialization. But there is much more to the destination beyond the beach bums and rowdy bars of Kuta.
Just 22 miles inland of Kuta lies Ubud, the cultural hub of Bali. The Ayung River, just a short trip away, is the longest river on the island, stretching approximately 47 miles from source to mouth. The Ayung River opens up at the Badung Strait and has several tributaries that run from it. Colorfully decorated Hindu shrines, tropical forest landscapes and rice fields cover the landscape as rafters travel downriver.
Ready for our thrill-seeking adventure, my group and I checked in with tour operator Bali Sobek and were assigned a rafting instructor, who equipped us with oars and lifejackets prior to boarding the raft. We walked down winding stone steps through lush greenery to the riverbank’s dock for a speedy briefing on safety and rowing techniques. Rafters should be outfitted for the water — I wore a bathing suit, shorts and a tank. Water shoes or sturdy sandals were recommended as well. Because most rafters end their excursion soaking wet, we were encouraged to bring an extra set of clothing to change into afterwards.
The adventure was even more enjoyable thanks to Bali Sobek’s engaging and entertaining rafting instructors. Our instructor playfully pitted us against another team in a race to the finish. Our guide was a Balinese native who was very knowledgeable about the rainforest surroundings and explained each type of rapid we encountered: level I (no maneuvering required), level II (basic paddling skills required and some rough water) and level III (experienced paddling skills required and medium waves with 3-5 foot drops.
A professional souvenir photograph was taken toward the end of the ride, right as the rapids dipped for a 3-5 foot fall, which made for a great action shot. It perfectly captured the look of extreme excitement and fear on our faces as we floated in mid-air above the river and rocks.
I wasn’t bothered by the turbulent times when the raft felt unstable, because that excitement was exactly what we wanted. The tour also included quieter moments, mimicking a leisurely sail through Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise. But, because the rapids can quickly escalate to levels II and III without warning, it was important to remain careful and alert even in those quiet moments.
Though I chose to do whitewater rafting for the adrenaline rush, my favorite part of the entire ride was more serene. At the end of the trip, we had the chance to swim in a waterfall. I stood underneath the cascading water and posed for the ideal rainforest photo.
There is a restaurant at the end of the river’s trail, beckoning tired and hungry rafters to enjoy traditional Balinese cuisine like nasi goreng (fried rice) and tempeh (a fermented soybean patty). Restrooms and showers are included and available at this juncture.
There are pick-up locations for Bali Sobek in four cities in the surrounding area, including Kuta, Sanur, Ubud Nusa Dua and Jimbaran. The entire excursion lasts about 3-4 hours roundtrip and includes a generous lunch. It costs $79 for adults and $52 for children ages 7-15. This is an adventurous day trip that can be shared with the family, as long as everyone is in good health and no one minds getting wet.