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 Guesthouse is 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.
Here is what I’ve noticed in my first 24 hours of our Bali itinerary:
- 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?