Who doesn’t dream of going to Bali? Its reputation precedes it, be it chilling in the poshest world class hotels in the middle of the jungle, immersing in the rich cultural heritage, enjoying breathtaking nature or parting in Kuta, until the heart stops. And the last, but not the least – eyeing those sexy, muscular surfers from all over the world. Bali has it all…
A couple of month ago I was thinking, where to go that time. On my list were Barbados, Mauritius, San Lucia and the Canarian Islands. My boyfriend didn’t feel happy about spending too much on the flights, but in the end, I managed to persuade him, that spending very little on flights and going to the Canaries would be a false economy, as the hotels, car hire and eating out would be charged at the European rates. So flights would be the only cheap thing about that holiday. Far better, in my opinion, is to invest in a long distance flight to somewhere at the very end of the world, a place that hasnt been over-developed yet and enjoy a great exotic experience at very pleasant prices. In the end it would work out like going to Italy or France by Ryan air and paying all those expensive holiday extras on top. Somehow we decided on Indonesia.
Our two weeks holiday cost us only £1100pp. But could have been less, if it were not for buying all those paintings, python leather bags, hand made shawls and other souvenirs.
We flew with Qatar airlines, changing in Doha. Very comfortable, can recommend it. I bet the first class was even better! On the arrival we took a taxi to the hotel. We didn’t take the ones straight at the airport doors, as I had read, that they charged too much. And they did! They were asking something around $30-40, and it should be around $10-20. It also depends, where you are going, of course. If your hotel is situated on the opposite side of the island, and it takes three hours to get there, you can’t be expecting to pay just a tenner. But if it is Seminyak you are going to, than $10 should suffice. That’s how much we payed. Not $30 they were asking at the airport. Just leave the airport territory, and you will be able to find a Blue bird taxi or another taxi meter.
The paradise image of Bali gets shattered, as soon as you leave the airport – dusty, noisy, overcrowded streets. Hundreds of cars and motorbikes, emitting clouds of exhaust fumes. Shabbily dressed locals mixed with tourists, wearing next to nothing. ‘Am I in the right place? That’s not what I saw in the magazine!’ Well, it is, and it isn’t. I heard a lot of stories about people, who painted pictures in their heads, and came back from Bali disappointed. Bali is quite a sizeable island, and what you see around, depends what part of the island you are at.
In my opinion all touristy areas like Kuta, Seminyak, Nusa dua, Legian look like typical densely populated Asian cities. But with that comes good infrastructure. There are plenty of bars and restaurants for every taste and pocket. From super plush ones with Manhattan-like prices to really good restaurants with both European and Asian menu, where you can have a meal for £10. It is even possible to have a meal at a local warung for a pound or two.
Bali is not a pedestrian island, it is better covered on a motorbike or a taxi. And Ladies, don’t even dream about wearing pretty designer high-heeled sandals – flip-flops are your best friends. In so many places they don’t even have pedestrian walks, so you need to walk on the road, looking apprehensively behind your shoulder.
Another misconception about Bali is It being a perfect beach getaway. You can find swimming places of course, but I bet the ones you saw on your previous trips were better. Kuta beach has very high waves and more suited for surfing, rather than traditional swimming. It is one of the most famous surfing destinations in the world. Do not fret, if you are a surfing novice – there are plenty of places, that offer equipment hire and couching, be it a group one or a face to face experience. You are in the right place and in the right hands.
Another one to visit is Padag Padang beach. Probably the most photogenic of all Bali beaches, and a famous one for that. Some would recognise it from the Hollywood adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love. That’s the beach, where Julia Roberts had done a lot of loving. To get to the beach, you need to walk down the stairs, from the height of which you can enjoy the view, as well as look for a place to crash, as the beach is not only popular, but also very small. Loads of surfers here as well!
A big part of Bali’s shore is rocky and not suitable for swimming, but there are a few beaches to choose from, you just need a motorbike for that.
I find it really hard to adjust to the local time. I need to pressure myself to sleep at night and struggle to keep my eyes open during the day. That’s what happened on one of the days, when we woke up around 2pm and didn’t want to waste the day. We went to the aqua park!!!! Waterbom was the best aqua park I’ve been to. Not because it had the state of the art water slides, because it didn’t , but because it was situated in real tropical settings. Palms and lush greenery gave it an incredible atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong,the slides were quite good as well, everything you would expect from a modern water park. We had so much fun!
We also visited Uluvatu temple. The scenary was very beautiful and dramatic, but I can’t say I was overly impressed.
There were a few monkeys there, and I heard, that they were not nice monkeys. I didn’t have any trouble with them, but some lost their earring, sunglasses or cameras to the little monsters. But It was so entertaining to see them swim in the pool and dive from the kerb.
On the way back we stopped at Jimbaran, former fishing village, famous for its sunsets and sea food restaurants on the beach. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from. They are priced very similarly and offer pretty much identical menu. The fish and seafood is sold by weight, but they also have seafood platters with fixed price, that’s what I went for, as I wanted to try everything. My plate consisted of one small fish, a couple of prawns, calamari, and some sort of shells. It all came with rice and salad and cost around £8. When the sun went down, they lit little lanterns on the tables, it was very atmospheric – ocean, sand, candle light, loads of happy people around. You should do it once!
Our next destination was Ubud. It was possible to get there by public transport, but we opted for a taxi. The trip took around an hour and cost £25.
We had a hotel booked – Pandoc Bulan Maas. Finished in a traditional Balinese style, it cost £20 a night. It also icluded lovely breakfast with options to choose from, which a lady brought to our own private terrras. That’s when you understand, that life is beautiful! The hotel was swimming in greenery, the family, that owned the hotel, lived there as well. A little piece of paradise it was.
Ubud is a cultural capital of Bali, a place where all craftsmen create and live. I bought two lovely paintings there. You can also buy batik and silver goods at the local market.
Monkey forest is another attraction – very dark and atmospheric place, with interestingly shaped trees, resembling the tree of life in Avatar. This is amazing how such a dark place can exist in the middle of sunny Bali. Dark, as with no sunlight, and not as in sinister. As you can guess from the name, there are monkeys, monkeys everywhere! Little babies look so cute, but, please resist the urge and don’t touch them, as you can end up with the teeth marks from the protective mother. I know a person, who ended up this way.
The next day we decided to go for the white river rafting. Going down the river in the middle of the tropical forest. it sounded so exciting! It still was very enjoyable, but the river was so slow and flat, that I would give it 2 out of 10 thrill-wise. We had a family of the most funny and loud Australian lads with us in the boat, their presence definitely made our trip! They were splashing water at all other boats passing by, and we had a lot of fun listening to little Asian girls scream!
One evening we were walking down the main street in Ubud and were stopped but a man, who offered to come for a traditional dance show, Barong, at the local temple. Why not? The ticket cost £8. I always wanted to see traditional Balinese dancers, because, apparently, they start learning at 5 years old, as they need to make their fingers very flexible, as well as learn to make their eyes move. It was a good experience, but for a western visitor, spoilt with high-profile musicals, it might look a little bit naive and somewhat uniform. I still enjoyed immensely and can recommend it to anyone.
When you take a ride around Bali, you notice numerous rice paddies and terraces. The most known one is Tegalalang. It is one of the most beautiful ones in the world. It was created hundreds of years ago manually, with the most primitive tools, and is used by this day.
After we passed the rice terraces, we decided to ride further north to the lake Batur.
When we arrived there, we were approached by locals with a boat, offering to take us to the island with the magic tree, under which dead bodies did not decompose and smell, even after a long time. I don’t know, why we declined, should have been very interesting. Around Batur there are quite a few eateries, that serve fish from the lake. We had lunch in one of them, it also had a great view over the mountain.
Our last day on Bali we decided to spent in a different hotel, in a rural area. I had no idea how exactly rural it would turn out! When I was reading reviews on trip adviser, it didn’t really separate the hotel from a local family homestay experience. I thought different price meant different rooms, while it meant different locations altogether. So we took the taxi to the hotel, only to find out, that we were staying with the hotel gardener’s family!!!!!! Seriously?! The original hotel looked so nice, that we felt really down to leave it for the unknown. When our gardener finally finished his job, we hopped in his car and were on our way.
Instead of staying at the hotel, we ended up staying with a real balinese family!!!!! We were given the best room in the house, their honey moon room, as we were told. The shower and the toilet were outside, and we were given a torch to get there, so that we would not step on anything. The gardener and his wife were sleeping outside on a big bed. Well, with that lovely climate, who wouldn’t! We got to talking, and I found out, that they had 4 generations of the family leaving in the house. Our host was around 50 years old, and when he told, his grandfather was leaving with them, I couldn’t resist, but ask, how old he was. He was 93! When I mentioned, that people in Europe rarely lived that long, he replied: ‘it doesn’t matter how long we live, it matters how many people we help!’ How about that!? What a wonderful life philosophy! And I have to say, I encountered people like that during all our stay in Bali – they were not helpful, because they wanted a tip, they were helpful, because they believed, that it was the right thing to do.
To sum it up, in my opinion, Bali is not a paradise in a conventional way. It is a wonderful place, with wonderful people and a special atmosphere.