Last time I visited Indonesia it was 3 years ago and I was left with mixed feelings. I only went to Bali and came away with a dejected impression about the negative tourism that existed there. Ubud was the place that restored my faith in the small portion of Indonesia I visited. I vowed to come back to Indonesia for a second time around next time I was in Asia to give it a second chance and an open mind.
Well, I’m officially back in Asia and I’m looking forward to traveling to Indonesia in the next few months to dive deeper into Indonesian culture. I want to explore the many other wonderful places I’ve heard about in Indonesia, and to get away from the touristy side that I didn’t like so much in Bali.
Since buying my plane ticket last week, Asia has been on my mind nonstop. Regardless of the fact that my trip is still a good 7 months away, I’m constantly daydreaming about dim sum, humidity, exotic wildlife, and life on the road again.
The other night, I spent close to 3 hours researching where I want to go in Asia. Let me be honest, I’m not heading back to Asia for awhile yet (Oct/Nov 2016), but I made the mistake of going to a bookstore and I quickly became lost in the travel section. And I’m not talking about just any old bookstore, I’m talking about the largest bookstore in the WORLD, Powell’s City of Books. It takes up a whole city block in Portland, and the travel section alone is a good corner of that block.
I turned 24 on Monday, and it inevitably made me think back on my 23rd year.
I’ve gone into detail and referenced in passing how much this last year has meant to me, how much I have grown in the process, and how many new experiences I have been blessed to have. More importantly, this year has shown me how to enjoy moments. There’s a reason why one of my favorite song titles is called “Elusive”, why I talk so much about fleeting moments being the most beautiful, sad, and inspiring all at the same time.
Yoga, open-mindedness, and travel have combined to create, maybe not a completely new perspective, but definitely a wider one that I find more beneficial to live with each day. I’ve been rewarded in return with new doors open before me, a whole new cast of friends, confidence, and a type of grace that has never been present before.
I’m a fan of simple aspects that happen every day, I call them daily doses of beauty. In my 23rd year, one of my favorite things was to watch the sunset and/or sunrise in every new place I traveled. Each one containing the same structure, but holding a unique awesomeness that never seemed to fade even with how many I witnessed last year.
Take a moment to enjoy it. That’s what I’ve come away with in the last year. I don’t want my life focused on making the most money, choosing a path based on other’s opinions, or how many material things I own. I want my life to be full of moments simply enjoying it. I want the memories.
Happiness isn’t a permanent state of being, it’s a choice. I think I’m starting to understand what that means now.
From my 23rd year, here are my favorite memories of sunsets and sunrises from around the world.
San Diego, USA
Sunset. Okay, technically this sunset was when I was still 22, but I had to include it because it was the last sunset I saw in San Diego before I left for Australia. I was grabbing dinner with one of my close friends in Ocean Beach, and it was one of those moments that made me second guess what exactly I thought I was doing by leaving such a beautiful place.
But I knew I had to leave in order to come back a stronger person someday, “with grace and flowers in my hair”.
Auckland, New Zealand
Sunrise. After the longest flight I’ve experienced in my life, I had a layover in Auckland, New Zealand before heading to Melbourne, Australia. This view was from the airport waiting room. Whatever anxiety I had about jumping into the unknown, and to what this year would amount to, faded away when I saw the sun rising.
Sunrise. The view I saw from my bed every weekend morning at my apartment in Melbourne, when I woke up for my cafe job. Melbourne had the most amazing sunrises and sunsets, usually littered with the many hot air balloons at sunrise.
The Great Ocean Road, Australia
Sunset. A trip taken with one of my friends from San Diego, our epic two day road trip on The Great Ocean Road was one of the most scenic drives I’ve been on.
Sunset. The deep yellow sunsets in Indonesia, one of my favorite aspects of the country.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Sunrise. On my bucket list for the year, seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. One of my favorite memories from Southeast Asia.
Koh Tao, Thailand
Sunset. Thailand has the best pink and purple sunsets.
Sunset. The last time I walked the Bondi to Coogee walk, the place that first inspired me to move to Sydney.
Sunset. I have a fondness for stormy sunsets, Sydney is the queen of stormy sunsets. We got along.
Tropfest – Sydney, Australia
Sunset. The biggest short film fest in the world. I went by myself and ended up making and meeting friends along the way. The sun setting over the festival before the show started.
Sunset. Terrigal, in central New South Wales, is a small little town not many people have heard of outside of Australia, yet it has one of the most beautiful beaches I saw all year.
This day was pretty perfect, starting off with discovering Newcastle, and eventually making my way down to Terrigal to watch the sunset on the beach and spend the evening exploring the town with a boy I liked.
Byron Bay, Australia
Sunrise. The first stop on my East Coast travels, I begrudgingly woke up to an early alarm to watch the sunrise on the beach my last day in Byron. It was well worth the effort.
Surfers Paradise, Australia
Sunset. I may not have been a big fan of Surfers Paradise as a whole, but with the reflections and colors that lit up the sky my only night there, I’d have to say it was one of my favorite sunsets of the year.
Airlie Beach, Australia
Sunset. Oh Airlie, you are one of the most beautiful places in the world.
The Whitsundays, Australia
Sunset. Sleeping on a boat in The Whitsundays after a day spent diving for the first time in The Great Barrier Reef.
Wellington, New Zealand
Sunset. A day trip to Days Bay and Eastbourne in the Wellington region, the first time I’ve seen the beach since arriving in New Zealand.
What are your daily doses of beauty? Where did you experience your favorite sunset?
After many technical difficulties, I’ve finally been successful in uploading my video celebrating my one year travelversary!!
In the last year, I visited 8 countries, moved to 3 new cities, volunteered at 3 music festivals, and went to an outdoor short film festival. I rode an elephant, learned how to cook Thai food, went to my first footy game, got my scuba certification, and kayaked in the beautiful Halong Bay. I tried more new flavors than my taste buds had ever known before, including the likes of kangaroo, snake blood, emu, and crocodile. I’ve had the most challenging and best time of my life. It’s hard to convey in words what this year has meant to me, so I thought instead I’d say it in pictures. Thank you to all of the people, places, and experiences that have had an impact on my year abroad. It has been one hell of a ride, may the journey continue… 😉
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” – Miriam Adeney
My favorite quote from 2013, and one that I find pretty relevant to my life these days as a hopeless wanderer. 2013 was a year of change, new beginnings, and a lot of falling headfirst outside of my comfort zone. I traveled to 7 new countries, attended 4 festivals, moved to two different cities, said more goodbyes than I’d like to remember, yet have made countless more friends and opened a variety of new doors in the process. 2013 was in a word, epic. I don’t think I’ve grown more in a year previously than I did in 2013, I have a feeling 2014 is going to be even better and more adventurous. Here’s a glance at what my year of travel and spontaneity included.
January – New York, Oregon, California
I started this travel blog just before the New Year, my first posts consisted of my travels around the States for the holidays and reminiscent anecdotes from my summer in Tuscany. I started the New Year off with a bang partying under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City for New Year’s Eve.
“Last June, I walked across the stage at my college graduation with the words “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams“ glued to my cap. I found the quote appropriate, not only because my college at UC San Diego is called Eleanor Roosevelt, but because those words are what I hope to live by as a recent graduate.” – The Future Belongs to those who Believe in the Beauty of their Dreams
February – California
The month of the most change for me in 2013, this was one of my final months in San Diego before moving to Oz. I pierced my belly button, donated most of my belongings, cut off a foot of my hair, and broke things off with my longterm boyfriend.
“There has been a lot to think about with my departure date coming up so soon, and my whole trip itself becoming more real than it has ever felt before. I’m proud of myself for embarking on such an endeavor, one which I wouldn’t of had the confidence or the bravery to pull off as little as four years ago when I first started college. On the other hand, I can’t help feeling selfish and even guilty sometimes for leaving certain people behind to chase my own dreams of traveling, knowing that I’ll miss out on so much in the process of fulfilling what I want to do with my life.” – Walkabout: La Jolla Edition
March – California
My final month in San Diego, I left two jobs and an internship behind and said my final goodbyes to my friends and my life in the beloved place I called home. Even though bittersweet, I was also extremely excited to take on my Aussie adventure, knowing how much it would benefit me in the long run. I lived in the moment, appreciating all those who had touched my time in San Diego, and enjoyed all that the seaside city had to offer. I also made sure to eat as much Mexican food as possible, I even had a burrito on the way to the airport.
“I’ve realized the only way to love the life I live is through passion, optimism, and spontaneity. So, this year my travel resolutions will revolve around just those things, letting go of the negative aspects in my life in the process.” – Travel Resolutions 2013
April – California, Melbourne
My big move to Melbourne and my first month in Australia was a whirlwind of new experiences, tram rides, footy games, new friends, the best coffee, and learning how to live like an Aussie and adapt to colder weather.
“The sun is gleaming through the palm trees, I’m riding alongside the ocean, the orange sky as my canopy. What a way to say goodbye to this cherished place I’ve taken for my own, a place I call home even with these restless bones.” – On leaving everything behind to follow you dreams
May – Melbourne
I celebrated my 23rd birthday and bundled up to settle in for the long hall for my first Aussie winter and my second consecutive winter coming from California with opposite seasons. I explored what Melba had to offer during the winter months… it was heaps. From museums, to hidden coffee shops, to live gigs and warm dumplings, I loved spending winter in Melbourne.
“There are few things I love more than layering up in a warm sweater, finding a cozy cafe, and getting lost in a good book while sipping on my daily caffeine intake. Especially, when the coffee is as good as it is in Melbourne, and the cafe atmosphere just as phenomenal. I try and hit a different cafe every day because there are too many good ones to choose from.” – 7 ways to spend the winter months in the city
June – Melbourne
In June, I moved across the city to a new apartment and met my new roommate, someone who would become one of my best friends in Australia. I found a second job to help save for Southeast Asia, started volunteering at a yoga studio, and used my rusty culinary skills from my time in Florence to improve my cooking. I basically lived at the Queen Vic Market and the Carlton Gardens, my two favorite spots in the city.
“Moving abroad is something I’ve always dreamed of doing, and I’m actually doing exactly what I want to do with my life right now, which is a feeling I’ve never completely felt before with all the pressures of adolescence, and the “correct” path of going to a 4 year university instilled in my American mindset since I was little. It’s the first time I’ve broken off the path of what society deems to be the ‘American Dream’, expanded my perspective of what my life could encompass, besides just worrying about hitting all the generic milestones at the appropriate ages. That in itself is an invigorating realization. And as long as I keep living a balanced life, no matter where I might call home today or tomorrow, I’m going to be just fine.” – Be Free
July – Melbourne
My favorite month in Melbourne. I had been there long enough that it finally felt like home, I loved my job as a bartender in the city, one of my best friends from back home came to visit, I had a solid group of friends, and a couple winter romances as the cherry on top. Perhaps it’s proof that the most fleeting moments in life are usually the most beautiful as my departure to Southeast Asia in August was coming up soon.
“Comparing where I was when I arrived and only had two friends in the city, to where I am today just a few months later, the changes are extraordinary. I’ve somehow built up my own friend base, a support system from scratch in a completely foreign place. I must say, that is one of the most reassuring realizations you can make in life; that you can start over anywhere and be more than okay, you can be genuinely happy.” – Life is a journey, not a destination
August – Melbourne, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam
My last couple weeks in Melbourne before heading over to Southeast Asia. I drove the Great Ocean Road, went wine tasting in the Yarra Valley, said my round of goodbyes for the second time this year to a city that I had begun to call home, and visited Sydney for the first time. In Southeast Asia, I traveled around to Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam with my British friend I met in Europe a couple summers ago. We had our feet cleaned by fish in Malaysia, laid on the beaches of Bali for a week, explored modern Singapore, and fell into the hectic pace of Ho Chi Minh City.
“It was one of those surprisingly sunny days in Winter that Melbourne is fond of having every now and then. My friend and I decided to spend the day exploring more of the Royal Botanic Gardens in the city, because it was just one of those days you had to be outside for. We had a picnic at a place I deemed my own ‘500 Days of Summer’ spot, it was truly a perfect day in Aussie land.” – The Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, a way to spend an afternoon
September – Cambodia, Thailand
In September I fell in love with Cambodia and the Khmer way of life, went through scuba certification on a deserted island in Cambodia, ate some bugs in Bangkok, rode an elephant, played with baby tigers, learned how to cook authentic Thai food, and had an amazing time in the southern Thai Islands at the Full Moon Party.
“It’s the people I meet on my travels that keep me trekking on and grounded when I feel lost, disillusioned with what I find in certain places. A chance connection on a night bus with a Welsh guy, having an enlightening conversation at midnight about our lives on the opposite sides of the world we grew up on. A friendly English girl who became our roommate in Chiang Mai. The fun groups of guys we met at the Full Moon Party. And of course my travel companion and partner in crime who has been with me since the beginning of Asia.” – Moments from the road
October – Vietnam, Melbourne, Sydney
The last stretch of Southeast Asia consisted of traveling down the coast of Vietnam. I loved the old way of life in Hanoi, immersed myself in the beauty of the limestone cliffs in Halong Bay, traveled to Hue, and lovely Hoi An, and found myself in Ho Chi Minh city again before flying back to Melbourne.
I spent a bittersweet week in Melbourne, doing all of my favorite things in the city and seeing all the friends I had missed for the past two months, before I moved for the 2nd time to a new city. My first couple weeks in Sydney weren’t the easiest and I didn’t feel quite at home as quickly as I did when I first arrived in Melbourne, but I found a job my first day, made heaps of new friends, and have since meshed much better into the Sydneysider way of life.
“There’s no magic place where all the bad aspects of life go away, but, of course, there can’t be the good without the bad as comparison. That’s what makes life so complex and interesting, the hurdles you come across, make your best days just that much sweeter. There is no such thing as a new beginning. Even when you start over in a new place, you’re still going to be you, you’re still going to have the same baggage that has made you into the person you are today, there is no escaping who you are to your core. I’m finally understanding who I am as a person, and what I want out of my life now, and even that alone has made my time in Australia worth it.” – Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy
November – Sydney
I took this month to explore Sydney as much as possible on my days off, going to a lot of festivals and art exhibits around the city, and simply enjoying the raw beauty Sydney has to offer on any given day.
“There are two things I’ve noticed about Sydney since moving here: There are a lot of people jogging everywhere and doing group exercises in one of the many parks, and there’s always some sort of festival or event going on in the city. In other words, it’s basically LA without the famous people. I’ve particularly been enjoying the latter – although I’m hoping to join the former with the communal exercise (yoga!) as I’m settling into my life here and now have a more manageable work schedule.” – Celebrating inspiration at Sculpture by the Sea
December – Sydney, Byron Bay
December whizzed by in a matter of minutes it seems. Between countless out-of-town music festivals I was volunteering at, to the realization that my time in Australia may be coming to a close in April, sooner than I’d like to think, I kept myself overly busy with work, creativity, and hanging out with as many friends as possible. It was perfect to end the month disconnecting from all things social media and camping in Byron Bay to ring in the New Year at Falls Fest.
“When I was walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I thought back to when I was 13 and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time with my dad at one of my many basketball tournaments in San Francisco. When I think back to where I was at that age, a decade ago now, it’s remarkable the changes I have gone through. From an anxious, hesitant little girl who had no idea what was ahead of her, to where I am today, I hardly recognize that person anymore.” – Walkabout across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
I’m still brewing up some solid goals for 2014, but I do know that I want to travel to at least 3 new countries: New Zealand, Fiji, and probably either Canada, Japan or Mexico…(suggestions welcome). I also want to see Hawaii this year to sleep on the beach, hike a volcano, and surf at sunrise.
Happy 2014, I’m ready for you.
Watch me –> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDSazU1fvsg
Never have I had as horrible of an experience with tourist exploitation as I did at the Besakih Temple in Bali, Indonesia. Although it is considered one of the top sites to see just outside of Ubud, also known as the “Mother Temple”, I’m telling you right now, it is not worth the hassle you will find there. I’m not one to dismiss tourist attractions simply because they may be a bit more difficult or prone to scams than others, but this place should sadly be passed up, it displays the worst side of Bali tourism.
For a place that’s supposed to be one of the largest and holiest temples in Bali, it doesn’t feel like anything more than a place to exploit tourists out of their money every step of the way, it is out of control.
We went to the Besakih Temple as one of the many stops on a tour we booked in Ubud. Other stops included the Goa Gajah (more popularly known as the Elephant Cave), the active volcano Mt. Batur, and a lookout over the rice paddies, all of which I would recommend. However, when we arrived at the Besakih Temple, we realized that we probably should have kept going. I had read in my guidebook to watch out for the numerous amount of scams at the Besakih Temple, our tour guide, a local Balinese man, even warned us that you shouldn’t pay anything extra than the entrance fee, and yet we were still not prepared for what we would encounter; one of my most frustrating days on the road that I have ever had.
After paying the entrance fee, we walked to the main entrance. There was a booth set up with men in uniforms, supposedly to check your tickets. However, when we approached they grabbed our tickets, and started aggressively telling us that we had to make a mandatory donation, something around 150,000 IDR (about $13), which is a lot in Bali and more than the entrance fee itself. When we told them we didn’t have that kind of money and that we were told there was no mandatory donation, they told us to just give them whatever was in our wallet. I refused and asked for my ticket back. They reluctantly agreed, and that’s when I realized this wasn’t a stop to check your ticket, it was just one of the many scams that the temple had to offer us that day.
After I told them there was no way I was going to make a donation, they told us we needed a “temple guardian”, someone to show us around the temples because there was a special ceremony that day and we couldn’t go into certain parts of the temple. They tell the same lie to tourists every day. I knew from reading up ahead of time that there wasn’t such a thing as “temple guardians”, it was just another scam. The other couple we were with paid them some Indonesian Rupiah to rent a sarong they didn’t need, and to rent a “guardian” simply to appease them. Even still, there was no guardian assigned to them, so we just started walking up the long hill towards the temple.
When we made it to the foot of the temple, there were three sets of stairs, one main one that led to a gate. There were “guardians” everywhere dressed in white. We walked up to the gate and there were children blocking our way telling us we needed a guardian. Already irritated with how many times they had attempted to trick us, I walked through quickly before they could say anything else. Unfortunately, the other three people in my group hung back, unsure of what the correct protocol was when we knew we were being scammed, but at the same time not wanting to offend the local Balinese. I walked back to the other side of the gate, not wanting to continue without my group, and that’s when the leader of the guardians, an older brother I would assume, came over to make his presence known.
Wearing a Harley Davidson shirt and smoking a cigarette on the entrance to the temple with a bandana around his head, he tried to claim that he was in charge and we weren’t getting past without paying an extortinate amount for a “guardian”. We argued with him for what seemed like ages, telling him he couldn’t legally block our way because we knew the “guardians” were just a scam, and we had already paid the entrance fee. At one point, looking into his eyes I could feel his hatred towards us exuding out of his whole body. When my friend told him that all we wanted was to see their beautiful temple, he made a racist slur about not wanting us white people in his country anyway. Ironic being that he makes his money off extorting tourists.
When we asked him if he had a boss or someone in charge we could talk to, he suddenly pretended that he didn’t understand us, even though he had been speaking in perfect english to us this whole time. He was getting angrier and he slammed the gate on us, not letting us past. We went to one of the other staircases and walked up no problem, but there were still “guardians” everywhere inside leading tourists around. We were stopped more than once by these “guardians” telling us we couldn’t go into certain areas, and then watched as they proceeded to bring a group of people into the very area they just told us we couldn’t go.
We were so infuriated at this point, that we just decided to leave, not even having the chance to walk into the main sanctuary yet, we realized it wasn’t worth it anymore.
I try and understand the perspective of the Balinese who run this scam, that they do this out of desperation and need, that they feel validated because the tourists who come to their temple are so much more well off. Still, I couldn’t believe the disrespect they showed to one of their most sacred monuments, a place meant for reflection, prayer, and spirituality. I couldn’t believe they would treat other human beings with such disdain, making racist judgments because of the color of our skin. I couldn’t believe how horrible of an experience the Besakih Temple was, and how unregulated the scams are.
Similar to not supporting the young children in Cambodia selling souvenirs to tourists because you don’t want to encourage the bad side effects of tourism, the Besakih Temple isn’t worth going to because it’s supporting the worst side of Bali tourism. I’d like to believe that Bali is better place than that.
I think I’ve finally recovered from the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan island and I have the energy once again to blog! My second installation for Southeast Asia budgeting is Indonesia! Or more specifically, Bali. Here’s the run down of my expenses:
Note: All prices are in US dollars, and I rounded when necessary to keep things nice and easy.
The currency in Indonesia is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR for short) and the conversion is about 11,350 IDR to US$1. I already converted all the prices to approximate US dollars.
Time spent = 7 nights, 8 days
North Kuta (4 nights) = $13.25/night ($53 total)
Ubud = (3 nights) = $9/night ($27 total)
My accommodation in North Kuta was extremely far from the main part of Bali’s beaches, it was about a 2 hour walk to the beach or a $5 taxi ride, which gets expensive fast. The only benefit was the free breakfast and having our own bungalow, but I don’t know if it was worth it for it was the most expensive place we’ve stayed at besides Singapore. Seminyak is a bit more upscale, so I work recommend checking out Legian or Kuta for cheaper accommodation that’s close to all the action, and make sure to double check the location!
In Ubud, I stayed at a guesthouse called Nyuh Gadingon Monkey Forest Road, which I would recommend simply for the location and free breakfast, and $9-$10 seems about standard for Ubud accommodation. For breakfast you had the choice of a banana pancake or toast, both came with a fresh platter of fruit. The only issue I had was that it was right across from the football field, which meant hearing the local school’s gym class at 7am with a teacher that had a megaphone.
Transport = $3.50/day ($28 total)
Most of our transportation costs were around North Kuta for taxi rides to and from the beach, and keep in mind that was sharing a taxi between two people, so if you’re traveling by yourself it’ll be twice as much. Other transportation costs included a shuttle from Kuta to Ubud ($8) and one from Ubud to the airport ($5.50).
Food = $8.25/day ($66 total)
Luckily free breakfast is included in most accommodations in Bali, so we saved a bit on food in that capacity. You could find pretty cheap meals away from the touristy beach areas and/or in Ubud for around $2. If you are near the beach resorts in Seminyak, it’s hard to find meals under $4.
Smoothies/juices = $6.00 total
Bali had some of the best smoothies.
Water (1500ml) = Around $0.50 each/$4.50 total for 9 bottles
Alcohol = $1.75 (for 1 Bintang)
Misc = $55.00
Breakdown of my miscellaneous purchases:
Massage on the beach = $4.50
Bintang sticker = $0.50
Stamps and postcards = $5.50
Day tour around Ubud sites and temple entry fees = $21
Yoga class = $10
Bracelet = $0.50
Departure tax at airport = $13
Including everything, I spent about $30 a day, or $237 total.
Overall, Bali turned out to be one of the most expensive places we went to in Southeast Asia, besides Singapore which is as expensive as Australia. We did the bare minimum in terms of sightseeing and nice meals to stay within budget, and we still went over budget because literally everything costs money in Bali. So, even though cheaper than say Europe or Australia, be prepared to spend more than you would normally expect for Southeast Asia since Bali has become much more touristy in the past decade.
I’ve been reluctant to write about my time in Bali because, besides Ubud, I have to admit that I didn’t really enjoy it all the much. It’s shocking, I know, it was shocking to me. I thought Bali would be my favorite place in my travels through Southeast Asia.
I find it difficult to write about my feelings toward places I travel if they harbor any negativity. Mainly, I don’t want to influence others to not go to a place simply because I didn’t have the best time there, because everyone’s experiences are going to be different, and it’s always good to check out that experience for yourself. In retrospect, I saw very little of what Bali, and for that matter, what Indonesia had to offer. I only spent time in Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, and Ubud. Other travelers I’ve talked to who have traveled more off the beaten path, have come back with great stories of their time in Bali and other parts of Indonesia.
For me, no matter how hard I tried to make it work, Bali and I were not meant to be best buds.
If I had a more flexible budget there is a better chance that I would’ve enjoyed Bali. I didn’t see that many backpackers to begin with, it was mainly couples and families. With the initial demographic, I shouldn’t have been that surprised, but I found the famous beaches of Bali to be based around resorts and upscale pool clubs that were reminiscent of something out of Las Vegas, not the bohemian beachy paradise I was hoping for.
If I had the money to afford one of the all inclusive resorts overlooking the beach, I would’ve had a completely different trip. Alas, I’ve been on a tight backpacker’s budget from the beginning, and I was astounded with how much Bali broke the bank compared to everywhere else that I’ve traveled in Southeast Asia, besides maybe Singapore. I continuously underestimated how much things would cost in the week I was there that I had to take out money three different times, not the best situation for the accruing amount of international ATM fees my bank account has already been bombarded with.
Another aspect that took me completely by surprise was the beaches themselves. I hope this doesn’t come off as too pretentious, but compared to the beaches I’ve seen in California, Australia, and now even Cambodia and Thailand, the beaches of Kuta, Seminyak, and Legian, paled greatly in comparison. Not only were the beaches not quite as spectacular or as clean as I was expecting, but you couldn’t lie on the beach, or walk anywhere for that matter without constantly being harassed.
I get harassed by hawkers no matter where I’ve traveled in Asia, but in Bali you can’t lie on the beach for more than 5 minutes without being asked if you want to buy something. There was no escaping the constant stream of hawkers when all I wanted was to be left alone to my book or my music and lay in the sand. I tried sitting in the sun, in the shade, behind a tree, but without fail I wouldn’t have more than a few minutes to myself. My solitary activities are one of my favorite things about going to the beach, besides maybe a game of beach volleyball. I try to understand the point of view from the hawkers, needing to make a living and always coming up short, but even still, with the excessiveness of it all, it just ended up rubbing me the wrong way.
The taxi drivers were another story all together. It was our fault that we had booked a bungalow so far away from the beach, a two hour walk from Seminyak. This left us no choice but to deal with the Blue Bird Group taxi drivers every day. Even though our guesthouse was off a main street, we got lost with a different cabbie every single night, and almost had more than a few mental breakdowns and unnecessarily inflated prices that they would add on to our initial agreed (and haggled) price. In none of the cabs we rode in did the driver know the street names, and this is when we would write them out in Balinese as well. They pretty much just knew the touristy bits of the main beaches but not anywhere in town.
The one place that made me reevaluate my initial perception of Bali was Ubud. Ubud is what I was expecting Bali to be: a bit more laid back, hippie, healthy, yoga-centered, with a slower (and kinder) pace to life. I admit, I’m one of those fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, and maybe that built up my perceptions in the wrong way, but at least Ubud was what I had imagined when I read Gilbert’s memoir way back when in high school, and multiple times since. It overflowed with the feeling of happiness and connectivity, it reminded me a lot of my hometown of Santa Cruz, California.
I love Ubud, Bali. It’s easy to maneuver, the market is alive and colorful yet not too pushy, the people friendlier. You can find the most delicious (and affordable) traditional Balinese dishes around town, or indulge in one of the many healthy cafe menu items, such as wheatgrass shots or tempeh, depending on your mood. It showed me that there are other sides to Bali besides the in-your-face tourism-centered side that I experienced in the Kuta area.
Still, after being to every country on my travel list in Southeast Asia, I can say that even though beautiful, Indonesia was not my favorite country, but I look forward to exploring more sides that may suit my personality in a better way – perhaps Lombok and the Gili Islands for my next trip?
Have you ever been to Bali? Was it what you expected?
When people think of Bali, they think of Eat, Pray, Love and finding yourself amongst the rice paddies. Granted, I’ve only been here for 24 hours, but I can already tell how different my original perception was from what I’ve found here since arriving. Not that I don’t love Bali, but it is different than what I had built up in my mind – I have been wanting to go here for the majority of my life.
I’ve already accepted that this trip is going to be a learning experience. The only other developing country I’ve visited is Costa Rica and that was years ago and only for 2 weeks, so I knew from the beginning that I was going to have to get used to a different travel style than I’m used to, and I’m learning slowly but surely what exactly that style is along the way.
Our first speed bump with Bali was our accommodation selection. We were in a hot and sweaty McDonalds in Malaysia when we booked it (Mackers being the only place we could find that had free wi-fi at the time), and we just wanted to figure out a place to stay as soon as possible and get on with our last night in Kuala Lumpur. Dana’s Guesthouseis a lovely place to stay, we have a bungalow, free breakfast, free wifi, and our own room and bathroom for the equivalent of about US$12 a night. However, we didn’t put too much research into looking at where it was located. It’s at least an hour and a half walk to the main beachy part of Bali near Seminyak and Legian, even more to get to Kuta. And we’ve already paid upfront, so there’s no going back now, we’re booked here for 5 nights.
Even still, it could be worse. Our room is luxurious for any backpacker, especially after our digs in Malaysia with weird foreign men in our dorm that would stare at us while we slept. And even more than the nice room, we’re truly in the most authentic location in Bali that you could probably get. Hardly anyone speaks English, I’ve only seen a couple tourists in this area so far, and we already have a local eatery that knows us, probably as the only white girls.
When we arrived last night, it was already dark and a bit late. We walked around forever trying to find a place, tired and hungry from a day of travel, only to realize that nothing in our area was open (we’re really in the rural bits). We begrudgingly walked back to our guesthouse to find our hosts out front on their Mopeds. When we told them our dilemma, they offered to take us for a ride to find an eatery. We immediately hopped on and enjoyed our first taste of Bali on the back of a Moped, it was awesome.
Today, included a lot of walking, waking up to Hindu chanting outside our bungalow, green french toast and eggs, laying on the beach all day (including getting a massage on the beach for the equivalent of US$4.50), and a lot of fresh fruit smoothies. Oh, and I have a horrible sunburn…damn Scottish skin.
The Ngurah Rai Airport is a welcoming, friendly and clean airport. There are loads of free maps and tour suggestions at little kiosks throughout the airport for you to look at while you’re waiting in line for customs and baggage. Also, my customs officer was listening to Top 40 hip hop when I walked up, and started talking to me in Spanish (I guess because I’m from California?). I played it cool. Also, although the airport says Denpasar, it’s actually closer to Kuta. So, if you’re looking to book acccommodations close to the airport, I would recommend finding a place in Kuta.
There are stray dogs everywhere. Some are friendly and follow us around, some I’m pretty sure have rabies and scare the shit out of us. Regardless, there are tons just running along the street or the beach, looking for a friendly hand to feed them.
There are little Hindu offerings everywhere on the streets. On the sidewalks, in driveways, in podiums. It’s refreshing to see how spiritual people are in their own little ways. And the offerings are quite pretty, usually including coins, colorful flowers, and incense with a smell that fills up the streets.
There are hawkers everywhere. You can’t walk 5 feet on the beach without being bombarded by people asking if you want a massage, a sorong, jewelry, a beach chair, etc. And things aren’t as cheap as you would think, especially on the touristy beach areas. We had to barter for everything we bought today, and when I say “we”, I mean Laura and her British swag.
Petrol (or gas for all you fellow Americans!) is sold in empty Absolut Vodka bottles from the little shops along the street.
Don’t trust the directions given to you by locals. I’m sure they mean well, but we were pointed in three different directions today to find the beach (we ended up just having to splurge on a taxi in the end), and every other time we’ve asked for directions they’ve only made us hopelessly lost. Also, the maps are not good.
Bali is bigger than you think. For some reason I was thinking I’d be able to walk most places and to all the different beaches. This is false.
The Balinese are some of the friendliest people.
There are a lot of random gaping holes in the sidewalk. Very dangerous for an accident-prone person like myself, I swear I’m going to fall into one before I leave.
I knew Bali was a bit more touristy than other parts of Southeast Asia, but I didn’t realize how Americanized it would be. Malaysia had a lot more British remnants, but when I bought my visa on arrival at the airport in Bali, they preferred American dollars – luckily I still had some in my emergency stash.
Seminyak is the ritziest place in Bali, there are a lot of upscale boutiques, hotels, and eateries.
At least where we’re staying, the streets aren’t very well lit. I’m talking about pitch black. We learned our lesson from last night and brought my mini flashlight with us for exploring tonight.
Smoothies all day, everyday. The ones in Bali are some of the most delicious and wonderful I’ve tasted, and I’m a smoothie fiend.
Bali is much more touristy than Malaysia. I was surprised with the lack of backpackers we found in Malaysia, in Bali there’s definitely no shortage of tourists and backpackers in their Bintang tank tops and flip flops.
We have a few more days here before heading up to more inland Bali in Ubud, where I’ll be trying out my Indonesian cooking, indulging in some beach yoga, cycling through rice paddies, and getting cozy with some monkeys.
Overall, one thing I’ve come away with is that Bali is absolutely gorgeous and it makes me happy.
Have you ever been to Bali? What were your first impressions?