Our adventure in Bali came about because we were in Southeast Asia and had five weeks before we needed to be back in the Bay Area for the holidays. After considering Thailand and other places in Indonesia, we decided to spend our free time in Bali. For people based in the US or in Europe, Bali is a real challenge to visit. Since we were in the area we figured this was our chance and we weren’t disappointed. We really liked the vibe, the people, the food, and the prices of everything in Bali. The island seems to be one of those rare places that exemplify “Cheap, Fast, and Good” and that is saying something.
On our way from the airport to our hotel, I asked our driver about the people of Indonesia. I knew Indonesia was a Muslim country but it didn’t seem like it looking around. It looked more like India to me. He said while Indonesia was a Muslim country, in Bali, the people are mostly either Hindus or Buddhists. There are Hindu temples in every block and in front of every house and business. Everywhere. People are supposed to erect a temple for each member of the family in their yards or at their businesses. Most homes are like small complexes with multiple buildings and you can see many temples and shrines in the yard. If the family has run out of room in the yard, they put temples on the roof.
We happened to visit Bali during the G20 conference, being held in the Nusa Dua area of the island. But the entire island was spruced up for this major occasion and there were G20 signs everywhere. The Balinese were really proud to be hosting such an event. However, that also meant that we didn’t want to be anywhere near Nusa Dua until well after the conference finished.
About the Balinese People
We had a number of drivers while we were on the island and several of them were named Gede. During one of our drives, we asked our driver about this name. We were told that in Bali the name of the children is decided upon the position they are born into the family. The firstborn is named Gede, then Made, Nyoman, and Ketut, in order. It doesn’t matter if the child is a boy or a girl! So if you are in a supermarket and shout Gede, half of the people in the supermarket will turn their heads towards you!
Bali is unique because of the friendliness and politeness of the people. We were routinely greeted by everyone in our complex and in restaurants with a bow and hands in the prayer position. The other appealing part of Bali was how cheap everything was. Everywhere we went people would say, “you’re not Australian, where are you from?” There were Australian tourists all over because Bali is only a six-hour flight from Melbourne. It is much rarer to see Americans on the island.
Where We Stayed – Legian and Seminyak
In Bali, there are three well-known places to stay:
- The swanky (read expensive) hotels in Nusa Dua
- A villa in the rice fields of Ubud
By now, you should all know that our preference is for the beach. Our timeshare, the Anantara Vacation Club Legian, was a lovely small complex right across from the beach in Legian, an area with lots of restaurants and shops. We could hear the surf from the pool. We thought $80 per night was a good deal for the location and quality of the property. When we first arrived, the area had tons of motorbikes and people hawking massages, beer, beach chairs, tours, etc. Initially, it struck me as a little gritty but it was actually pretty typical Bali. It didn’t take much to get used to.
We had a nice grocery store within walking distance from our hotel. Most places were within walking distance, including the dentist and the dermatologist. Just north of Legian and the Double 6 beach, where we were staying, was another town called Seminyak. We often got a ride to Seminyak, which has nice hotels, lots of nightlife, a few very nice restaurants, and several swanky beach clubs. We spent some time there walking around and sampling the fare. But overall we were happy with our more low-key Legian location.
Going to the Beach
The hawkers put us off from going to the beach for the first few weeks of our stay. Besides, we don’t really like to hang out on the beach during the day, but sunset is a different matter. The people at our hotel told us if we wanted to go to the beach they would escort us out there and set up chairs and umbrellas but we never did. What we did do, however, is go to the beach at sunset and find comfortable bean bag chairs to sit on and a beer to drink. Every time we did this, we decided that the beach in Bali, at sunset, didn’t suck. High praise!
What There is to See
There are a few distinct regions of Bali. Our location in Legian on the western south/central part of the island is great for sunsets. In the middle of the island is Ubud, which has temples and rice fields. There are the southeastern and southern areas of Nusa Dua and Uluwatu with swank hotels and more temples. On the less populated eastern and northeastern sides of the island are different beaches, views of volcanos, and lots of dive sites. Because traveling around Bali takes so much time due to the state of the roads and the traffic, we needed to do separate day trips to these different regions. The traffic is also compounded by the number of motorbikes, everyone has them.
We had considered staying in Ubud because friends it recommended to us. But we opted for a day trip to Ubud and check it out but stay close to the beach instead. Ubud is in the middle of the island of Bali and is populated with terraced rice fields. There are many private villas scattered amongst the rice fields, including where some friends we met up with in France were staying. We figured we would arrange to see them another day when we weren’t there just to visit Ubud. Happily, we spotted them walking down the main street in Ubud!
There is a palace in Ubud as well as other interesting-looking Balinese temples, but we didn’t have much time after bumping into our friends on the street. We were all able to watch what looked like a parade going down the street. We found out later that it was actually a funeral procession. Ubud town seemed a little more low-key than Legian and there were lots of art galleries, but the shops seemed pretty much the same.
Ubud Monkey Forest
Who wouldn’t want to visit a sacred monkey forest? First, you must take off anything that a monkey might steal, like sunglasses and purses. There is also a temple in the middle of the monkey forest and it is an easy walk, with plenty of monkey dodging along the way. We were even able to watch a religious ceremony in the middle of a “treehouse” temple in the jungle.
One of the most beautiful places to look out over the rice terraces is Tegalalang. We were dropped off at a small restaurant that had a beautiful view of the Rice Terrace Swings and the dramatically steep rice terraces. The Rice Terrace Swings is one of Bali’s biggest tourist attractions. Apparently, having your picture taken on a swing over the canyon of rice fields is Instagram-worthy. There are lots of tours that advertise it that way. Since it was raining heavily, there wasn’t a chance that we were going to walk down into the terraces or sit on the swing. Still, we enjoyed the view and our lunch at the same time.
We probably wouldn’t have visited Nusa Dua if we didn’t have to go to the Immigration office for a visa extension. Since we had to be at immigration at 8:30 am to do our biometrics, we decided to hire a driver and make a day of it. The immigration things took less than half an hour, so we were off to the hotels of Nusa Dua quite early in the morning. I suggested finding one of the nice hotels to relax and have a cup of coffee. Our driver kept talking about the Kempinski hotel, which was beautiful and newly redone. So we went there to check it out and find coffee. The place was huge and very chill. We managed both and had a nice quiet rest on lounge chairs at the pool.
Our next stop was at Melasti Beach, which is supposed to be a famous beach. Frankly, it didn’t do much for us so we didn’t stay long. Then we drove to Uluwatu Temple, which is set out on ocean cliffs. From our hotel, we could see a massive statue, miles away, on the top of a plateau in the Uluwatu area. Since we were nearby, we decided to pay the statue a visit. But when we got there, all of the easy ways to get up to the statue would have taken a 30-minute walk uphill. As it was late in the afternoon and we were tired, we decided not to climb to the base of the statue. Instead, we drove to a spot where we could get a good view and some pictures of the statue.
Stay tuned for another post on Bali where we describe the food, the diving, and the Balinese temples we saw.
Did our description of Bali so far make you want to go?