What I remember most about Bali is being afraid, being adventurous, and being happy. We rode around on small motorbikes, and I think this allowed me to really get to know Bali in a way that hiring a car couldn’t have given me. Indonesia is the first undeveloped nation I’ve ever been to, and it was a striking experience.
The tropical island of Bali is a 5 hour flight from my accommodation in Cairns. It is the number one vacation destination for Australians. It’s relatively close, insanely cheap, and astoundingly beautiful.
Bali is a unique and beautiful place that is also quite sad when you think about the way the world works. There’s a lot of low-income locals and a lot of wealthy tourists. We happened to be staying in party central, at J4 Hotel in Legian, which is very close to Kuta, the main tourist city. Every step you take there’s a local trying to get your attention and your money. Shop keepers competitively hassle tourists on the street for business. The people were generally quite friendly and helpful, and amidst the mass produced typical souvenirs there were some flourishing artists.
Once you’re in Bali, there is so much to do. In the six days that I was there, I accomplished so much. My friends rented ‘scooters,’ little motor bikes that gave us more freedom than renting a car. We were often able to overtake traffic, which helped us get to our destination faster. The roads were absolutely crazy sometimes. There aren’t many traffic laws other than that you drive on the left, and sometimes people didn’t even follow that rule. The lines on the road were more like suggestions than boundaries, and I don’t think that dotted and solid lines signified anything specific.
Bali grew too fast for its roads to keep up, and this resulted in some winding, weird roads, as well as some awkward one-ways and narrow streets. There’s so many scooters trying to overtake the cars all the time, and sometimes it felt like we were in the center of a swarm. Despite the mayhem and lack of structure, the drivers themselves were typically not aggressive. Sometimes their aptitude at driving was plain bad, but often drivers were courteous and helpful. One time, we were struggling to make a U-turn in non-stop traffic, and a local driver basically cut off traffic slowly so we could go also.
Usually there are people who work at the hotels or restaurants on busy roads who will help a car back out or even just pull out normally into traffic, otherwise, they would never be able to go. But once you get out of the main city traffic, the ride is relaxing and beautiful. There are serene rice paddies, stoic temples, colorful shops, and ornate statues all around Bali.
Saturday, Day 1: Tegenungan Waterfall
We landed very late on Friday night, and started out our Saturday sleep deprived, but energized with the excitement of a new place. We drove a good distance to Tegenungan waterfall, the closest waterfall to where we were staying. On arrival, we walked through some little shops that ended at a nice local café with an amazing view of the falls. They sold cold drinks, fresh coconuts, and dried fruit. They even had a western style toilet, which I was very happy about. We walked down steep steps to get to the base of the waterfall, where there were photo ops galore. Wooden sculptures, cute signs, and painted platforms had all been set up to attract even more tourists. The water was like the Jersey shore on a bad day (maybe worse, actually), but it was cool and refreshing in the humid Bali heat. The mist of the waterfall felt like life itself, and the rush of the water was so strong that they blocked off some of the swimming area to tourists.
As we walked up the waterfall, the views only got better. We were able to walk along a natural platform halfway up and to climb some sketchy iron stairs that had been built into the side of the cliff. The cairns (man-made stacked stones) at Tegenungan were amazing. Traditionally, cairns hold significance to certain cultures, including Buddhism, but here, they are often stacked up by tourists for tourists. Bali is a primarily a Hinduist island, but does have some Buddhist minorities. They sell lots of tiny Buddha’s, though, cause lots of tourists don’t actually know or care much about the island’s history or culture.
On our first night, we couldn’t resist the pull of the city, and went out clubbing. On the 8 minute walk from our hotel, J4, to our friends, Sun Island, we passed countless nightclubs, the biggest and best being SkyGarden. We made the mistake of going to a free-entry, primarily local nightclub before going to SkyGarden, and I made the mistake of ordering a drink made with local spirits. Often these spirits are distilled improperly and contain traces of methanol, which is highly toxic. I was feeling and acting wasted after only half a drink of this, and I knew that something wasn’t right. Luckily, I was with a group of friends, didn’t drink anything after that, and still had a good night. The most important thing when travelling is always making safety a priority. The best way to do that is by being both aware and responsible… only one of which I was able to do that night.
Sunday, Day 2:
After a riotous night that didn’t end until early morning, we had a chill beach day and kicked it in the sand at Seminyak Beach for sunset. As we sat, countless stray dogs passed us by. Throughout Bali, we must have seen at least 20 dogs a day if not more, wandering the streets or napping in the shade. In certain places, like the beaches, there were so many. I loved this, because I love seeing dogs. But it was also sad, since many of these animals are sick, underfed, and dirty. I knew that these animals were wild, not domesticated, and carried disease, so sadly, I didn’t pet any of them while I was there.
At Seminyak, they had a fancy and expensive beach clubs with funky music, hip kids, and high prices. We checked out Ku De Ta, which had a gorgeous view, nice lounge chairs, and a sweet fountain. The cheapness of Bali is great, since we could eat relatively fancy meals and still be able to afford it as a bunch of college kids.
Monday, Day 3:
The best Monday I’ve had in a while began with an early morning drive down to Uluwatu Temple, where we met monkeys, saw amazing views of the sea and the cliffside, and walked tons. In the temple, we had to wear sarongs, which are basically just rectangular cloths tied about the waist to cover your knees. I bought way too many sarongs in Bali, since they double as small tapestries.
The monkeys at Uluwatu Temple definitely had a lot of personality. They would jump onto people if they wanted to, usually to steal something they wanted like plastic water bottles, bananas, shiny lenses, and food if they knew you had it. It’s funny, the way the monkeys prey on the tourists at the temple. There’s even guards that will warn you about them, scare them away, and get your stolen stuff back (if you pay them to).
After these amazing views, we headed to Uluwatu Pantai (pantai = beach), where we dug our toes in the sand yet again and swam in the tide pools with the sea life. We ventured out on the rocks and regretted not wearing shoes to do it. But we saw some amazing sea life like snails (that are poisonous), sea worms (that looked like scary snakes), starfish (with fragile limbs that hide in holes), sea urchins (also poisonous and also pointy), and heaps of different kinds of fish.
To get to the beach we had to walk through small shops, down some sandy steps, and through a looming cave. It was a wonderful adventure with wonderful friends.
Tuesday, Day 4:
Our Tuesday began with a 1am pickup at our hotel by a personal driver who took us to Mount Batur, an active volcano in northern Bali. I slept mostly on the two hour drive, but woke to an eerie and all-encompassing fog settled on the world around us. As we drove closer and closer to our destination, the mountain began to grow, and the clouds around the moon became more and more surreal. The stars shone brightly in the sky, and for the first time since I’ve been in the southern hemisphere, I saw Orion twinkling in the ebony night.
We met with some friends at a small local home near the base of Mount Batur, where our guides gave us water, flashlights, handshakes, and smiles. To my horror, the only toilet available was a squat toilet, with no paper. We were really out in the bush for this excursion. Luckily, I manned up, and got over it. Sometimes travelling means giving up the amenities were used to.
After everyone woke up, we began our two hour trek to the top of the volcano. In the dark, there wasn’t much to see except the lights of the city. It made the walk less scary, since you didn’t realize how much of an intense incline we were climbing. We took short breaks to catch our breath and stare at the sky. The lights of the city reflected on Lake Batur were beautiful, as was the depth of the night, and the brightness of the stars.
At the top of the volcano, we were treated to hot tea and cocoa. The guides cooked us bananas and eggs in the hot steam of the volcano and made sandwiches from them. We ate breakfast and watched the sun rise in brilliant rays of orange and red. After the sun came up, we were able to walk to the area they cooked the food, and we basked in the heat of the hot steam wafting over the mountaintop. It was a cold walk up, and the higher we got, the colder we became. Our guide showed us to a water drip, and poured hot water onto my numbed hands. It brought the feeling back to my fingers.
The walk down was much faster, but a lot scarier than the walk up. We slipped and slid on the loose rocks and volcanic ash that lined the pathways, and you could easily see where you would fall if you slipped. On several occasions, we had to stop to empty our sneakers of the sand and dirt. Our guides described that section of the trek as skiing, and it was pretty accurate. You hardly had to lift your feet up and instead slid down the slope.
After another nice nap on the way home, we showered and got ready for the rest of our day. We went to the Turtle Education and Conservation Center, where they rescue and rehabilitate turtles for release in the wild. They also take eggs from the beaches, where they would likely be stolen or simply trampled and killed, and raise them in a safe environment. The turtles here have 20% higher change of survival than those hatched in the wild.
We adopted turtles, about 15 AUD each, and released them at the beach. We got to name them, and received an official certificate of adoption from the center. I named mine Vega, and I hope she makes it out there.
Wednesday, Day 5:
Ubud is about and hour and a half drive from Kuta, full of scenery, shops, and strays. There’s so much to look at, it makes the long drives feel short. Here, we visited the Monkey Forest, where there might be more monkeys than tourists. It’s only $5 entry fee, and the photo ops are endless. The monkeys are not afraid of people, and they will steal whatever they want. On entering the park there are signs that warn about theft by monkey, to not bring in plastic or paper, to not touch the monkeys, and to avoid eye contact, as this could be seen as a sign of aggression. Evidently, we overlooked the plastic water bottles, and the monkeys love them. One of them jumped up onto my friend to get to hers. Another scooped mine after I had set it down to take a photo. I made the mistake of trying to help him get the water out, and he bit me. Luckily he was a small guy, and didn’t puncture skin. Sometimes they can carry deadly diseases, so I got really lucky after making the stupid decision to touch something a monkey had.
After our time in the forest, we went to Ceking Rice Field, an enormous and gorgeous rice field surrounded by shops and full of tourists. Amazing for photos, there was a skinny and crowded trail that wound up, down, and through the paddies. After trekking the trails, we walked back to scooter park and headed back to Legian.
It was our friend’s birthday, so everyone who had come to Bali from our university got together for German food and SkyGarden on Wednesday night.
Thursday, Day 6: Echo Beach
After another long night, we finished our trip with another chill beach day. But I couldn’t resist the allure of a $2 surf board rental. Exhausted and sore, I tried surfing for the first time in my life. Having only a few pointers from a friend who was also an inexperienced surfer, I took on the waves eagerly, forgetting how tired I was. Surfing is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I think it has a similar thrill to sailing, but with a board, you’re more in control on a personal level. You’re closer to the sea. I had no clue what I was doing really, but I was able to get up once and ride a wave in. It was so thrilling, and the perfect end to a perfect vacation.
Soon, I’ll be on my way to Byron Bay to catch some waves with real lessons. I can’t wait!
Honestly, going to Bali, I was a bit afraid at first, knowing that the tap water wasn’t safe to drink, that the alcohol in the clubs might not be clean, and that the food would likely make me sick. Along with these mundane fears, there was a fair bit of talk about serious danger in Bali. Luckily, I had no serious problems on my trip.
We did encounter some problems though, with wildlife, theft, and theft by the wildlife. A friend’s phone was stolen out of his hands by a scooter going by, and the same friend had his glasses stolen by the monkeys.
Bali was one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever been on. Someday, I want to go back. I think the things that will stick with me the most from Bali are the feelings I had, the great food, incredible wildlife, crazy nights, beautiful architecture, and stunning views.