Depending on where you go in Bali there many different sounds, smells and tastes. When people who have yet to venture to Bali hear the word, ‘Bali’ they tend to have a very romantic ideal of how spiritual and calming it is. As many places around the world, Bali has many sides. And everyone’s experience is different depending on where they go, where they stay and what they do. I have been to Bali 4 times (Abe 8 times) and every experience has been different. But the one common thread is that as wonderful as Bali is, it’s not always the romantic ideal that is portraid.
We were very fortunate this time when we got off the plane in Denpasar. Usually, the line through immigration is really long and uncomfortably hot. But Bali has already started to upgrade their airport terminal with a new visa window and there were only a few people in front us to have our passports checked and stamped. For a moment we thought Bali was going to be low on tourism… But no, the second you walk out of the airport you see a large Starbucks in the parking lot and as you drive away in the very expensive taxi, you see the massive new airport and shopping center that is being built. The streets are crazy as ever with motorbikes and cars merging in front of each other with no concept of lanes or the possibility of side swiping each other. It’s quite an impressive dance to watch. We stayed in Kuta first at the Hotel Lusa, which has gone from $17/night 3 years ago to $30/night- its not worth the increase. Our friends, Gus & Jansie from Australia we’re set to meet us there later that night so we dropped our luggage and headed to one of the main streets for lunch. Kuta is a very busy city. Shops (some proper, some open market style), restaurants, and spas are all lined wall to wall, with Balinese and Javanese standing out front trying to get you to come in. At the same time there are motorbikes, cars and vans squeezing and flying down the narrow streets by you. Balinese and Javanese constantly saying “transport, transport, good price for you, come inside, hey boss, looking, looking, you want massage.” You can’t walk 10 steps without hearing one of those sayings or a motorbike flying by you. The novelty of it at first is fun, but it wears on ya after awhile. We spent 5 nights there exploring the city. The first night we even tried to find our friend Davo from Australia at the bottom of the steps to the ‘new large’ shopping center. Well we waited at three large new shopping centers for Davo and still weren’t at the same one. Eventually, he just had to take a taxi to our hotel. Abe, Gus and Davo surfed almost everyday, while Jansie and I searched the different shops for cheap dresses and tested out the different massage places for $6-10/ massage or treatment. I even lived a little on the wild side and got a $4 haircut! Food and beer has also gone up a couple dollars from 3 years ago. And if you go to the larger busier restaurants you have to tack on a 10% service charge. Tourism is really good here! Bali won’t be considered cheap for much longer as its growing rapidly and has recovered from the bombings 10 years ago.
From there Abe, Gus, Jansie and I hopped on a fast boat to Joyos Surf Camp at G-Land on the island of Java for 6 nights. The guys got 8-10 foot waves and mostly to themselves, so they we’re stoked! It’s a beautiful place on the edge of the jungle, but swimming in the ocean wasn’t an option due to the reef, so we sunned ourselves, practiced yoga and read. We also had many ping pong, pool and yatzee tournaments. The only downsides were the numerous mean monkeys that would steal from you if you left your door open or walked away from your belongings. And the food at Joyos was the same everyday. By day 3, we were hating the food. Once we got there we were told that Raymond’s Surf Camp has the best food and that’s where the regular G-Land surfers go now. Bobby’s Surf Camp is suppose to be the nicest but over double the cost to get there and for accommodation/food than the other camps, which are already very expensive for what you actually get. By the last few days we were all ready to get back to Bali.
We headed back to Kuta for 3 nights staying at the Ayu Lily Garden Cottages for $19-28/night(price depends on either just a fan or a/c). This was a much better value for your money than the Hotel Lusa. They have a nice pool, actually give you towels, blankets and clean your room daily. Plus it felt very safe and quiet. We met up with new friends that we met in G-land for drinks and a night of dancing.
From there we headed to Bingin on the Bukit Peninsula just up from Uluwatu. We lucked out and got two rooms at Leggies, my personal favorite spot there. http://www.leggiesbungalows.com/
It’s $25/ night, has decent big rooms, nice pool, tasty food and garden lounging areas. They usually don’t take reservations since they allow guests to stay as long as you want. Like us, you tend to stay there longer than expected. We ended up staying for 11 nights. The guys surfed down at the beach or rented scooters to the other local surf spots. On the non-surf days, Abe and I mostly relaxed around our hotel and down at the beach, while our friends rented a scooter everyday and explored the other beaches. We probably should have done the same more than the last 2 days, but we were just too comfortable! We do recommend renting a scooter for $5/day to check out the restaurants on the main road though. The food down on the beach is really basic, yet expensive for Bali. The main highlight of Bingin for me was the $18 massage Abe and I got at Mu’s hotel right on the ocean cliff and the delicious salad they serve for lunch. If only staying there was in our budget! http://www.mu-bali.com/
From Bingin, we parted ways with our friends for our last 4 nights in Bali. They headed to another Island, Lombok and we headed to the north Batakuru Mountains staying at the Bali Mountain Retreat (2 hours from Kuta). http://www.balimountainretreat.com/batukara/balegede.html
We have been here two nights now and it is luxury! This retreat offers rooms for the budget traveller as well. Our large room is a beautiful traditional Bale Gede for $30/night. The remote places in Bali found in the north are where the romantic spiritual ideals come from. Here we are surrounded by lush green jungle, rice fields, 99.9% Balinese, fresh mountain air and endless natural spring water. I had almost forgot how beautiful Bali really is. Yesterday we went on a 3 hour hike past a couple temples and up into the jungle nearing the peak of Mt Batakuru and an easier walk to another temple today due to our blisters. After only wearing flip-flops for 4 months our feet didn’t understand the concept of shoes! Our afternoons are spent relaxing in one of their many outdoor lounging areas. It’s tough, but someone’s gotta do it. We head back to Kuta tomorrow for our last night and for last-minute shopping before we head to Perth/Margaret River for 5 nights and then……. South America here we come!
Bali in a nut shell