Of all the places I have visited, Bali remains one of my chart buster hits. The tiny island in Indonesia bowled me over in the literal sense with its sheer beauty and simplicity. From serene beaches, to emerald green rice terraces, Apsara dances, vintage car rides, antique shopping and more, Bali is every belle’s dream come true.
Here I list some of my most memorable moments from my trip to Bali in 2011 with a ‘Girls On The Go’ group and also some of my solo travels through this beautiful island.
1. For me, a great trip is largely measured by my gastronomic experiences. If my tummy is happy, so am I.
Dinner at the charming Man Enking restaurant, by the watefront was a great introduction to traditional Balinese cuisine. Sitting on a bamboo floor at low tables and savouring the most delicious Balinese delicacies was an absolute treat.
Photo courtesy – Preethi Anirudh
Our dinner at Man Enking restaurant. Note the ‘Flying Fish’ (third from left)
But while I love gourmet cuisine, I truly believe the soul of a place lies in its street food. Here I get to mingle with locals and eat like them, discover interesting idiosyncrasies about their food habits and flavours I may never get to taste in a fine dine restaurant.
Being a pork addict, I had to check out the famous Babi Guling, or suckling pig. The pig is stuffed with a concotion of spices and then spit roasted. Though available at several road side eateries, one of the more popular places to try this, is in Ubud at Ibu Oka.
2. Sunset over the sea at the Kuta beach was breath taking. No photos do any justice to it. The fact that our resort was right on the beach meant I spent some of my evenings sipping on a cocktail in an easy chair and watching the sun disappear into the sea and the last boat return to the shore. Even fantasies are made of merer stuff than these.
3. We were lucky to visit a Batik workshop where we saw how this traditional art was painted by the local women. Some of us even got our T shirts painted with this bold and beautiful art.
Photo courtesy: Preethi Anirudh
4. We ditched the regular tourist bus and explored the island in a vintage Volkswagen convertible. Its a fun and interesting way to travel on the narrow paths where regular coaches cannot go. Expect lesser leg room than you are used to the modern day cars, but if you are like the wind zipping through your hair and no roof separating you from the skies above, then this is the car for you.
Zipping past emerald stretches of green rice terraces such as these takes the experience of vintage car drives in Bali to a whole new level.
Photo courtesy: Preethi Anirudh
We were seated three to a car and our car happened to break down mid way. But what is a trip without unexpected incidents that turn into pleasant surprises? Our car broke down right in front of an old temple where a traditional festival was going on. Not only did we get a chance to see the temple, but the ladies in the temple also showed us how they made the offerings to the village deity. It was interesting for me to see how Hinduism was practised in Bali.
Since our replacement car had still not arrived, we were invited by one of the women we met at the temple to rest at her place. We laid down on her verandah watching her little children chasing hens around and conversing with her in sign language. As a parting gift for her hospitality I gave her a ring that I was wearing. It was a very small gesture compared to the great cultural insight she had given us in the little time we spent with her. It is at times like these I feel how blessed I am to have the resources to travel to other countries. For a poor villager like her, the ring I gave her would perhaps be the only slice of India she would ever see or possess.
5. If you are a food enthusiast, please attend a local cooking session. We drove down to a village past rice fields to attend a cooking session in a beautiful village. We first beautified ourselves in pretty sarongs and then learnt tips and tricks on cooking delicious Balinese food in a little bamboo shed while the rains drizzled around us…. total romantic bliss.
6. One of the very intrinsic things about Bali are its flower arrangements. It is interesting to observe quaint little flower arrangements prepared as offerings to the village deities every day (that are later thrown out on the roads in the evening, contrary to the Indian Hindu customs) to more elaborate arrangements like these. The white and yellow Frangipani flowers are commonly used in almost all flower art.
7. Shopping in Bali is quite an experience. Besides the regular souvenier shopping at Kuta, the real delight lies in checking out the little villages in Ubud (Bali’s artistic hub) that specialise in different art forms like making masks, wooden art, paintings, scuplture, jewellery etc. If you are a lover of art and time permitting, shopping in Ubud itself deserves a good 2 full days at a bare minimum.
8. While in Ubud, you cannot miss visiting the award winning ‘Owl Man’, Wayan Sila in ‘The Owl House’. Stumbling by on this genius artist who specialises in sketching and painting beautiful photos of owls was sheer luck. Here is a photo of the Owl Man himself.
This is just a sample of his amazing work, inspired by listening to sounds of owls in the wild. He was sweet to give me a postcard that was a replica of this beautiful painting.
9. Nightlife in Bali rocks! If you are into a very exclusive party scene, maybe you could check out what is happening at the high end resorts of Nusa Dua or Jimbaran.
If you are into the esoteric eclectic partying, you should try attending one of the many expat parties that keep happening in Ubud. Its a different level of partying where poets, artists, authors etc turn up in pretty fascinating garb and besides great music and drinks, you are likely to find yourself drawn into an intellectual, yet fun conversation.
But, if you would like to spend time checking out Bali’s main party strip, then heading out to downtown Kuta is your best bet. The entire road is lined with disclotheques, lounges and pubs. Entry is usually free for women and sometimes drinks are on the house 🙂 Theme nights, international DJ’s and performers keep making their rounds, so the best thing would be to walk down the road and collect the leaflets handed out by each club, to narrow down your choices.
Here is a photo of a ‘Fire Dance’ from a very popular club called Skygarden in Kuta that we went to.
10. Weird and yucky as it may sound, the explorer in you may want to check out Bali’s exotic coffee ‘Kopi Luwak’. Probably one of the most expensive coffees in the world (according to Wikipedia a kilogram would cost 700 $) , Kopi Luwak is made out of processed droppings of the Civet Cat, whose favourite food is coffee beans. The enzymes and chemical reactions that the coffee beans are subjected to in the Civet Cat’s tummy produces one of the most supposedly delicious flavours of coffee. Kopi Luwak voices my belief that if touted as exclusive, hence expensive even s**** sells.
11. Looking for a shot of spiritual bliss? Well, my quest to get a sneak peek into my future landed me at the door of Ketut Liyer, the 90+ years old astrologer made famous by Julia Robert in her movie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. I was in queue, so I put my time to good use by taking a walk around his sprawling property. With the regular inflow of the dollar, his estate and mansion could easily give competition to many of the fancy resorts in Bali.
I happened to meet his son who was babysitting his children and chatted up on traditional Balinese astrology and how Hollywood made his father famous, with people coming from all over the world everyday to meet him.
After a wait of over an hour, I finally got my turn to meet the living legend himself. With a toothy grin he showed me chapters from the book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ written by Elizabeth Gilbert where he had underlined references to him being her guiding light.
Well, no comments about his predictions, as I was goofing around more out of curiosity than earth shattering revelations, but he did give me value for my ‘Indonesian Rupaiah’ by telling me I look as beautiful as Julia Roberts and that I will live a 100 years! What a fantastic ending to my holiday in Bali.
WHERE TO STAY IN BALI?
My vacation was special thanks to the hotels I stayed in. From staying in traditional homestays to youth hostels, eco resorts, a yoga retreat to hedonistic beach resorts, every single place had the unmistakable Balinese warmth that transforms a mere trip to an experience of a lifetime.
Bali on a budget: If all you need is a clean bed and a safe place to stay in, staying at one of the traditional homestays or budget guest houses in the Legian street (Poppies Lane 1 or 2) is a good option. You are close to restaurants, the beach and the nightlife of downtown Kuta. I stayed at the Ronta Bungalows for a couple of nights on my own without any hassles. They even have a luggage room where you can keep your luggage post check out.
Address: Legian Street, Poppies Lane 2.
Phone: 0361 – 754246
Eco Resort: I stayed a night at the spectacular Natura Resort and Spa, Ubud. Rising several feet above a forested area, it is an absolute engineering feat.
My balcony on a lovely, rainy morning.
The lovely villas (some with private pools) spread over a sprawling estate offer privacy, great views and a touch of class. If you are a nature lover and on a romantic vacation, you must check out this place.
3. Beach Resort – The entire stretch of Kuta, Semniyak, Nusa Dua and Jimbaran is lined with resorts and villas of all types and budgets. I stayed at the graceful Patra Bali, in Kuta for the maximum duration of my stay. An elegant 5 star property, right on the beach front and very close to the airport.
Patra Bali occupies a huge area and golf carts are available to transfer you from the lobby to your room, There are beautiful landscaped areas in the property.This serene and peaceful area of the resort was one of my favourite corners to chill out and rejuvenate myself.
3. Villa in a rural setting – The quaint Puri Sunia resort at Ubud is located in the middle of a village, with a frequent complimentary shuttle service to the city centre of Ubud. This offered me a great insight into rural Balinese life. I got a chance to interact with local village artisans, watch village kids playing and villagers drying grains in the sun. The resort provided an opportunity to learn some local crafts, an early morning guided walk around the village, yoga etc. This unpretentious resort won me over by its understated elegance.
A highlight of the resort are the canopied beds that combines the thrill of camping with the hedonism of indulgence. Once inside, you just may not want to come out.
4. Yoga Retreat – Fancy a journey into your inner self? Then look no further than Soul Shine Bali, a laid back Yoga retreat in Ubud.
Lotus in bloom at a pond in the resort
What I really liked about this place is the sense of community bonding it offers. You are not treated like a guest, but as family. The owner Carla Swanson invited me to attend the opening of the largest chocolate factory in Ubud, along with the other guests at the resort. A wrong turn on a rainy night, down a narrow slope did mean that we had to get out in the rains and push the car backwards. But, the great mix of adventure and fun company can even turn a problem into a moment full of mirth.
You can choose to mix around with an amazing international crowd or just disappear in one of the nooks and crannies of the enormous estate.
Website : http://www.soulshinebali.com/
USEFUL TIPS :
1. The Indonesian Rupiah is highly devalued. Denominations are in thousands and above. Tricksters take advantage of tourist who are baffled by having to deal with such large denominations of multiple notes. Its sensible to keep a close eye on the change.
2. The souveniers sold in the villages of Ubud are highly over priced and not all the souveniers are made in Bali. I picked up a couple of masks from a village thinking it must be original. To my surprise I discovered later that my sister had picked up the exact same mask from Egypt. So probably both are made in China!
3, The beaches atleast in the Kuta side of Bali are average. If its sparkling blue waters and white sand you are looking for, consider hopping over by ferry to the nearby Lombok islands.
4. Despite its beach scene and happening nightlife, Bali is a conservative country and pretty rooted in customs and traditions. Familiarising yourself with the cultural do’s and dont’s before going is a good idea.