Bali : Things to do. Places to stay.
How do I even begin to describe Bali?
Perhaps a good place to start is that I found it challenging to place this post in a category. Sure, Bali is ‘travel’ in the literal sense. But Bali isn’t just ‘travel,’ it’s a journey. Surely then this post should sit aplomb in the ‘pursuit of balance’ category? Hmmm. My self-chosen blog category tabs stared back at me alongside my fresh-out-the-box Coddiwomple logo (shout out to Collectiv Advertising for the design). Us humans do love a category, right? And I’d inadvertently forced my writing into little boxes. Hell, Bali could even fit into ‘health’ given its rich yoga culture and balanced lifestyle. In the end, the ‘travel’ category screamed “pick me!” the loudest. But I will attempt to illustrate why Bali is so much more. This inimitable island reignited my creativity, soothed my anxious soul, and saw me embracing life with a giant bear-hug of gratitude.
We’d fast discover that Bali is not the novel Eat, Pray, Love. Yes, its energy is profoundly spiritual, but it’s a far cry from a choreographed movie set. Bali is frenetic, colourful, and raw. It’s both loud and silent. It’s the tranquillity of beauteous rainforests juxtaposed against the bite of ninja-quick mosquitos! It’s remote beaches versus Australian-filled ones. It’s guffawing laugher and silent introspection. You will feel hot always and hustled frequently. So, no, it’s not perfect. But it is as broad, characterful, and enchanting as a Balinese smile. It’s perfect imperfection.
‘Yogi, why do the Balinese always smile?’ I asked our ever-smiling taxi driver. ‘We do this because I good energy to you and good energy it will come back me,’ (sic) came his reply. Karma is an intrinsic component of the Balinese Hindu faith, which manifests a culture of endearing generosity and kindness. Evidence of their faith is part of the landscape. In fact, care needs to be taken not to tread on the daily offerings (Canang sari) to God Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa. You see these pretty offerings in temples, shrines, cars, and on sidewalks..
We asked a lot of questions of a lot of people before deciding to stay in Legian for the first portion of our trip. We knew what we wanted from this holiday: spiritual growth, relaxation, some dancing, and to experience authentic Bali. There was hot debate between Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, or Canguu. What made our decision trickier was the contradicting feedback from our Bali-savvy friends. The opinions online vary greatly too. In retrospect, it comes down to who you are. Legian is very central and more laid back than the other 3 areas, which were just a quick taxi drive away. We had magical days chilling on Legian Beach, side-street shopping, and exploring different eateries. Special mention has to be made of Three Brothers Bungalows next to our hotel that serves breakfasts that are a feast for the eyes, not just the belly.
A Seminyak sunset does more than set – it evokes emotions. Photos do no justice, simply because the atmosphere can’t be tangibly shared. The beach is like a rainbow cookie of brightly coloured beanbags, with slow-vibe beach bars emitting gentle Café del Mar style music. As the waves gently roll and reflect the multi-hued sunset, you’ll feel close to heaven and then realise heaven is precisely where you are.
Not staying in Kuta was a wise decision, but a taste of the nightlife is a must. Our decision to do just that, was spontaneous. We were closing off our lazy beach day with a reasonably conservative dinner when we made a far less conservative decision. ‘Is there anywhere to dance?’ we asked our waiter. It was the 2-for-the-price-of-1 cocktails talking. ‘Only in Kuta,’ came her reply. ‘Not here in Legian. You need go, Billis.’
After asking several taxi drivers to take us to “Billis,” one finally deciphered the broken-down telephone. ‘Ahhh. You mean say Billy’s.’ Now, if you have grown up in Durban, there is a good chance you almost lived at the restaurant/bar Billy the Bums. ‘It’s a sign!’ one of us declared before jumping 3-astride on the said scooter, with no helmets, heading to, we didn’t really know where. Basically, doing all the things you tell your children not to do.
Billy’s Bar was both fun and odd. The crowd was a real mixed bag of ages, nationalities, and cringe-worthy inebriation levels. The music was primarily rap when it wasn’t karaoke. Not our typical chosen vibe, so we did the next best thing and ordered a round of Bintangs and tequila. Why does anyone ever order tequila? Let’s just say, one of our trio took to the karaoke stage and tamed Lady Gaga. Her bravery (not singing skills) earned us some street cred, though, and we ended up chatting to some Australians that have made Bali their long-term home. They suggested we head to The Engine Room, where all the locals go. So, we did. And it was epic! We danced a LOT. I felt so carefree and liberated as we headed back home, on a scooter, helmetless, under the late-night inky sky. ‘We’re in Bali, baby!’ I yelled with the wind in my hair.
The previous day we had booked a day trip to Ubud. The early wake up was brutal and didn’t allow us time for breakfast. We were a sorry bunch. Our taxi driver had to stop en route to refuel. And I’m not talking about his car. We stocked up on energy-restoring sugar-packed cokes and a few packets of chips. I chose the wrong chips. My mouth was so dry that I had a near-death experience when a round, cheese-flavoured, air-puffed chip got stuck in my throat. The Coke was a literal life-saver.
Our taxi took us via a Silver jewellery making factory on our way to the forest Swing. Taxi drivers make a commission by stopping at additional places of interest, but I don’t see a problem with that. Good for them and good for us. It was a quick and interesting stop. I bought my son a handmade ring that he loves, plus it comes with the added benefit of Bali sentimentality.
The Celuk swing and Luwak coffee close to Ubud was a wonderful experience. The most beautiful, fine-featured Balinese lady was assigned as our chaperone. She explained the fascinating origin of the coffee, but the Swing was our focus. Make no mistake, you reach significant heights as you swing above the breath-taking valley. Yet, the feeling is more magical than adrenalin pumping. You are securely strapped in and free to release your hands, throw your head back and soar. The ‘swingers’, which is a rather unfortunate title, are a little crazy. There’s a lot of ‘whooping’ and extreme jumping that goes on. They tinker dangerously close to the valley’s edge as they leap up to push the Swing, effortlessly putting Olympic high-jumpers to shame. Their energy is fun and infectious.
The Tegenungan Waterfall was disappointing, but perhaps it was the time of year (December). I haven’t researched as to whether other waterfalls are less overcrowded. Still, our romantic ideals of diving into crystal waters below thunderous water was not to be. It felt like a Black Friday sale – a lot of crazed flocking but without the discount. We did still swim. And we did still take pictures. But, we could have given this waterfall a skip. There were, however, lovely places to eat, and I may or may not have bought another flowing skirt from the nearby market.
Our next venture from Legian was to Canguu. We were set to do some exploring in the town and check out the beaches. Before dropping us, our taxi driver suggested we ‘pop’ in to see Finns Beach Club. We ‘popped in’ at 10h30 and left at 24h30. This was hands-down one of our best days in Bali. Finns has beach views with perfect waves, four pools (some designated to adults only), swim-up beach bars, and a dance floor complete with world-renowned DJ’s. The music started at 11 am. Imagine a day where you’re going between ocean swims, pool dips, and dancing? You’re doing this barefoot and in your bikini. I loved that regardless of shape or size, revellers walked around confidently in their swimwear. How liberating not to care? Refreshingly, there is no judgment. And some of those butts did not lie. We did lose our slops. All three of us. It’s Finn’s policy that all belongings are kept in lockers, so we did well just to lose our slops. Sigh. Take me back.
Ashana Hotel Uluwatu
Uluwatu is laid-back, surfer-vibe charming. By this stage, we were utterly Bali-fied, so the slow pace suited our tangled-hair and makeup-free faces. There are far fewer roaming vendors and attention-seeking taxi’s, which was a welcome relief. Our hotel at only R200 a night was walking distance from the dramatic cliffs of the beautiful and world-famous Uluwatu surf break. The beauty is goosebump-inducing. Then it was off to the famous Single Fin beach bar for some lounger reclining, good food, and refreshing pool submerging. I think it may have been on this day that I decided Bali would one day be home.
We had booked our New Year’s Eve tickets online after researching what we thought would be a decent beach club to transcend into 2020. Ok. So, Omnia Club Bali is not ‘decent.’ Far from it. It’s like calling a Martial Eagle a Pigeon. Omnia surpasses anything I have ever witnessed in my life! I’m not even sure I’ve seen clubs like this in the movies. Pools, private jacuzzi’s (that groups had hired for exorbitant prices), loungers, professional dancers, and a crowd that was or should have been movie stars. We were entirely out of our league, but WHAT an experience! A single round of drinks came to R850! Ahem. Needless to say, minimal drinking was done. And there was no need. The atmosphere was electric, and so was the DJ. As I danced with my friends under the stars, before hugging beneath the fireworks, all I could think was: if this isn’t happiness, then I don’t know what is.
Our first day of 2020 was spent on Padang Padang beach . Try not to hate us. A steep walk down narrow stone steps unveils a paradise. We relaxed on loungers (again), sipped on water, and ate the worst toasted sandwiches in the world from a rustic beach shack. But the sandwiches made us giggle, not complain. You can’t rebuke food that’s been made with Balinese sincerity – you’d break their hearts. The highpoint of this day was watching a pack of mixed-breed dogs playing with a coconut. It was being washed in and out by the waves, creating extreme tail wagging. We learned that despite there being so many free-roaming dogs in Bali, they aren’t, in fact, strays. Dogs in Bali aren’t kept behind fences. Instead, they are free to hang out with their dog-friends and return home for food, love, and shelter. How delightful is that? Even dogs in Bali get the true meaning of life – friends, fun, and freedom.
Sadara Boutique Beach Resort – Nusa Dua
As relaxed as Uluwatu, but with less of the surfer-dude feel, Nusa Dua moves slowly and soulfully. Sadara was exceptional value at just R750 a night with a 3-course breakfast included. It was fit for movie stars – honestly. From the building aesthetics to the staff, to the food, to the pristine beach – Sadara is like a 5-star resort without the take-out-a-second-bond price tag. Oddly, my only criticism is you could be anywhere in the world when you stay at resorts like this – you need to get out and about to know you’re in Bali.
We relaxed. And then we relaxed some more. We did discover that food and drinks are where they really make their money. It was R50 for a small bottle of water. And we drink a lot of water. So, we went true South African on the crowd and made-a-plan. We ate with the locals at a very (very) rustic restaurant right next to the hotel. But my goodness, this was where we tasted truly authentic Balinese food. I’d tell you the name of the place, but I’m not even sure it had a sign outside! We also befriended some water sports locals that were happy to sell us bottled water out their personal cooler box – for just R10. If nothing else, we South Africans do know how to survive.
Puri Kasih Hotel – Ubud
Several people suggested I spend the majority of my stay in Ubud. They’re the ones that know me well. I mean, do you get a better combination than yoga and rainforests? Our earlier day-trip to the Swing and the Waterfall had been too swift and commercialised to breathe in the pure, therapeutic essence of Ubud. You need time for its energy to infiltrate. In short, Ubud is special.
Puri Kasih afforded us a sanctity to reflect on our trip. Without being cliched – it was a chance to count our blessings. We read our books in swing chairs, we indulged in full-body massages (R200 for 1-hour), we walked to rice paddies and spent evenings in a jacuzzi overlooking the forest. The staff are like family and you’re made to feel part of it.
The hotel was a good hour’s drive from the town of Ubud, so we explored the narrow streets just once. For us it surpassed the other areas in terms of shopping. That came as a surprise, given that Ubud is perceived as more rural. The town is wonderfully quaint, with healthy, ‘new-age’ eateries that cater to vegans and high-quality clothing. It was also where we found The Yoga Barn. Imagine doing a yoga class surrounded by rainforest? It was perfect. Well, almost. Just bear in mind that mosquitos are more into buzz than zen – a healthy dose of mozzie repellent is advisable.
I had decided before leaving home that I wanted a tattoo in Bali. I decided on the word ‘bernafas’ which means ‘breathe’ in Balinese. Furthermore, I wanted it written in traditional Balinese transcript. Our taxi driver, Yogi, went above and beyond to find me the best artist in town. That in itself is a happy memory I associate with the tattoo. He happily declared that after much discussion with his friends and tattoo-covered brother, that Kings Tattoo Ubud are THE guys. He had also asked his ‘very’ artistic, tattoo freelancing friend if he would do my tattoo, but apparently in true artist style – “he has to be in the mood” and he also decides what the tattoo should be. Um, ya, so Yogi suggested that despite his supreme talent, going that route was somewhat risky. We had a good laugh over that. Another crucial aspect was checking that Yogi confirmed that ‘bernafas’ did in fact mean ‘breathe’ and not ‘idiot’. That would have been a not-so-funny story to live with. The KIng’s tattoo artist couldn’t speak a word of English. His assistant, however, spoke me through every step. They unwrapped the needle in front of me, both wore masks, and took a good 10 minutes deciding on the perfect size and placement.
When we were at the airport headed home, the Balinese bag wrapper stopped in his tracks and pointed at my tattoo. ‘Bernafas. Breathe. Ahhh. Thank you for choosing a Balinese word. That makes me happy.’ That made me happy too.
So now, when life begins to overwhelm, I just need to glance at my inner forearm. Not only does it remind me take deep breaths and pause, but it reminds me of a place very dear to my heart. Thank you, Bali. I am forever changed.
Please hit hyperlinks in the blog for more info on the hotels we stayed at, as well as further details on the places we visited.
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