Writing on the eve of our departure from Bali, I reflect on the past nine days of our stay here. It’s been an adventure of many sorts, in particular all the things I’ve done for the first time- jet-skiing, wake sliding, scuba diving, white water rafting in the rain and visiting waterfalls; it’s been relaxing on the side too, with the occasional spa and massage that would otherwise be too expensive to indulge back in Sydney (like Jari Menari for example- the masseuse there really do have magic fingers). I even stood at the edge of a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean at Uluwatu Temple- a scary but once-in-a lifetime experience!
Oh, and the food! Don’t get me started on all the spices and variety, and the fresh fruit drinks! Strawberry juice anyone, or perhaps a cool glass of papaya juice? We had one of the best juices at a small restaurant in Pemuteran called La Casa Kita– their juices are TDF!
This ‘oasis’ is not without its cons however. The lack of footpaths on the roads of Seminyak make it difficult to navigate through the city; the constant dodging of wild-runaway dogs and their droppings is stressful; and the pungent smell of open sewerage holes reminds me too well of so many places in Asia. Worse still, you might even fall into one if you’re not careful.
And while it’s true that many South East Asian countries are similar, I find their subtle differences fascinating. For instance, the Vietnamese in Hanoi like to lie back in their motorcycles, their ability to balance even on such a slim and visibly uncomfortable position approaching mastery on an unheard of level; while the Balinese like to relax on makeshift sofas of old, discarded car seats at the front of shops and homes.
Many of these thoughts and others occurred to me during our five-and-a-half hours drive from the southern point of Bali in Seminyak to the northern-west tip of the island in Pemuteran. During that time, I was fortunate enough to see a side of Bali different to the populous and crowded cities known for its hip clubs and touristy restaurants, to the smaller villages and townships surrounded by lush forests, farmland and plantations. Here, you will pass big family temples (sometimes larger than the houses themselves); domestic chickens and untamed dogs roaming around; and trees and plants growing all sorts of fruits and flowers from durians to jackfruits, coconuts to strawberries, frangipanis, cocoa beans and peanuts; as well as locals doing… well, very Balinese things:
The views at times were spectacular and completely unadulterated in its natural beauty. I think the locals really appreciate and know what they have because while they like to ask questions about where we come from, and may wistfully remark that Australia is a nice country they’d like to visit one day, when I comment on the beauty of their own island I can see that they are proud; that they wouldn’t give up their home for another country. And so home is where the heart is for them.
So while I think it’s the tourists who have made Bali the epitome of paradise, it is surely the Balinese locals who have added that certain je nais se quoi to the place with their charming warmth, genuinity and love of visitors. The Balinese are one of the friendliest people I’ve met, willing to help others and give suggestions whether they be a fellow islander or a tourist.
My favourite place has been Ubud, the cultural centre of Bali where you do, indeed, see much more of the Balinese people’s traditions pervading many aspects of the city and its surrounding towns. Ubud’s citizens appear more religious than their counterparts in, say, Seminyak, and you’ll see an art gallery in pretty much every narrow laneway you come across. That said, Ubud is also a lot more touristy, and taxi drivers or restaurant hosts will hawk at every foreign passerby. Nevertheless, the diversity and number of things to do or eat in Ubud never ceased to entertain us. Some personal favourites in Ubud include:
- Warung Teges– we had great nasi campur here for lunch (a common Indonesian dish with rice and side dishes) and it was so cheap at 20,000rp (equivalent of around $2AUD) for a dish! Yummy, casual and no-fuss, it was definitely worth the short drive.
- Bali Adventure Tours– we had a great time with them. Our day started with a cycling tour through a Balinese village, before we stopped at the Elephant Safari Park. Here, we fed Indonesian elephants and I even got to perform with one during the elephant show (it was more than amazing to be up close and personal with one of my favourite animals!) Later, we went white water rafting on the Ayung River, made even more fun by the heavy rain during our rough sojourn down the river. Bali Adventure Tours is one of the more reliable and safe tour companies to go with for rafting.
- Ganesha Bookstore– I love visiting bookstores so this one was obviously a no-brainer for me. This small store tucked away in a side-street is filled with both new and second-hand books on topics ranging from the spiritual to Indonesian/Balinese culture, to crime and non-fiction. I picked out a few books here myself.
- Travelling around Ubud with a scooter. We rented one for as little as 50,000rp (around $5AUD) a day. I find that this is the quickest and most cost-effective way of getting around the city since getting from one place to another may take some time to walk and that’s definitely not a good idea in Bali’s hot and humid weather. The traffic is quite congested though, and the conditions aren’t the safest so make sure you always wear a helmet.
- Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA)– the best art museum in Ubud, this gallery showcases both pre-war traditional and post-war modern Balinese art. This took us around 2 hours to get through. I found that this was a great place to self-learn about Balinese culture, history and art.
With all that I’ve seen and done in the short time I’ve been here, I’m so glad to have Bali ticked off my list. And with all its adventure, romance and serenity, Bali makes the perfect place for a honeymoon or an off-the-grid getaway.
Now… off to HK!