Left My Heart in Bali
When we originally planned the Southeast Asia portion of our trip we'd included a few day stopover in Singapore between Melbourne and Bangkok. But after coming across a recently published article listing Singapore as one of the most expensive cities in the world we began to rethink our decision. It was then that Jeremy casually brought up the suggestion of subbing in Bali as a more affordable option. So I reached out to a fellow traveler and friend who had spent a considerable amount of time in Bali to see if it would be a good fit for us. Kailey had nothing but amazing things to say about this Indonesian island, and raved about Ubud where she'd spent most of her time. So halfway through our time in Australia we booked our flight to Bali, planning on spending about a week in Ubud and a few days on the Gili islands. It was a decision we would not regret!
Our last few days in Australia we spent soaking up all the Western culture we were going to miss during our four months in Asia. We knew a big cultural change was coming and we were both excited and nervous. We were lucky enough that my friend gave us the name of a fabulous driver she had used in Bali and we arranged for him to pick us up at the airport thus avoiding the pressure from about a hundred men vying for your taxi business upon arrival in a hot and sticky land. Bali announced herself right away as we pulled into Ubud and paused in the car to let a very large, very long snake cross the road before entering our home stay. Welcome to the jungle!
Taking advice from Kailey we decided to book a home stay in Penestanan, a quiet, authentic Balinese neighborhood just outside Ubud. It was a traditional Balinese family complex with our own little studio apartment and shared pool! Our stay included a breakfast of fresh fruit in the morning where I quickly developed a love of the mangosteen, a purple fruit about the size of an apple that has white flesh on the inside and tastes slightly like sweet tart candy! Most of the people we'd known who went to Bali stayed at beautiful honeymoon style resorts along the coast. And while it would have certainly been a pampered and enjoyable stay we really enjoyed staying at a family's guest house in Ubud and getting a really authentic experience. It also helped that our lovely little "villa" was just $30 a night!
The first morning we awoke to crowing roosters and made our way down the road and into Ubud to explore. Most of Bali's population are of the Hindu religion and each morning an offering to the gods is made usually with flowers and rice laid out on a banana leaf along with some burning incense. Not only do people lay out offerings in front of their home, but also in storefronts, restaurants and even on the dashboards of vehicles. It seems to me like a positive way to start out ones’ day and I loved having it be a part of our daily lives while in Bali.
After a long walk into town we realized why most people either owned or rented scooters during their time on the island. So later that day I took to teaching Jeremy how to ride a scooter based on my minimal dirt bike riding experience back in the day at our friends the Shepherds. It also helped that one of my best friends has had a motorcycle since high school and I've learned to be a good passenger over the years. My knowledge of the "lean" did wonders for teaching Jeremy to turn, haha. Even though I'd had more experience, Jeremy learned quickly and it seemed to make more sense that he drive based on the size of the scooter and holding us both up at the frequent stops and intersections. Soon he was merging like a local!
While we were looking forward to street food in Asia we discovered that at least in Bali, most food was found at restaurants. Although we stayed mostly in the casual restaurant range and not opting for anything very fancy, it was still a bit pricier than we initially expected to be for SE Asia. We did find a great little street in Ubud named Jl. Goutoma that we went to several nights for dinner eating at a Balinese tapas style restaurant called Warung (restaurant) Biah Biah twice and another fantastic spot run by a French lady called the Melting Wok known for their amazing curries.
The second day we woke up and decided to take a class at Yoga Barn, an amazing yoga facility that makes you feel like you’re doing hot yoga in the jungle. We opted for a gentle yoga flow class as we both hadn't been practicing any yoga since we left for our trip. It was a really peaceful experience that included a lot of stretching and most of the beginner yoga moves we were familiar with. After coming back to our guest house to shower we decided to take a walk through the rice paddies in order to check out a restaurant called Sari Organik that makes almost everything from their organic farm right next door. They even allow you to pick your own things from the garden before eating if you should wish and then they will cook it up for you. We decided on two fresh fruit juices and also split one of our new Indonesian favorites, Nasi Campur and a raw cold soup that was super refreshing.
After a long hot day we decided to stay local for dinner in Penestanen and check out Warung Bayu recommended by a blog we follow http://travelwithbender.com/travel-blog/bali/ultimate-guide-ubud-bali. We also had a really long day ahead, which would turn into one of my favorite travel experiences yet!
After a 9:30 pm bed time we were picked up at 2:45 am by our new friend and driver Gede to take us to the base of Mount Batur where we would summit the active volcano, climbing through the middle of the night in the pitch black in order to see the sun rise. I was quite proud of myself that at the last minute I decided to pack our trusty headlamps and we were so glad to have them because part of the climb required a bit of a scramble using both hands and feet in order to make your way through the loose volcanic rock and soil. We had an amazing guide named Suli, who did the climb up to seven times a week and lived in a nearby village. She spoke great English for never having left Bali and it was a really nice experience to get to know her in addition to learning more about Balinese and Indonesian culture; this included the importance of the mountain to their people and the belief that a God inhabits it. Finally, just before sunrise we made it to the top of the crater, way above the clouds and got to see a beautiful sunrise over Lombok (an island off of Bali). The last time I climbed a mountain for sunrise was when I visited Israel right after graduating college and it was a similar awe-inspiring experience. There is something to be said about waking up before the rest of the world to share such an amazing experience with someone you love.
After our climb up Mount Batur our day continued with a stop for breakfast and a much needed soak at some nearby hot springs which was really more of a day spa experience. The hot springs held many beautiful infinity pools backing up right to Lake Batur. It was super relaxing to enjoy the warm water and a little luxury after an early morning climb.
Next we made our way to the world famous Taggelelong rice paddies which was unfortunately cut short due to a downpour. But that meant we got to squeeze in a visit to a coffee plantation where we were able to sample some amazing coffee combinations and teas as well as Kopi Luwak that comes from a cat-ferret type hybrid of an animal called the civet, that only eats the best coffee beans and then poops them out. After that fun time, they are then roasted and ground into a fine powder to make coffee. While the coffee was good, we preferred the vanilla coffee which we ended up purchasing to take with us on our travels.
After a super busy and tiring previous day, we decided to spend the next day much more casual; spending some time at the pool, catching up on emails, and some copywriting. We had a bit of adventure in us though as we decided to explore Ubud’s Monkey Forest which we were initially hesitant about visiting due to the aggressive nature of the monkeys. But after learning that if you don’t bring into the forest food, water bottles, purses or pretty much anything but a camera and avoided making eye contact with the little rascals they would leave you alone. There were plenty of people feeding them bananas and teasing them with plastic bags and they were literally jumping all over people. While their antics were goofy and cute, and I especially loved the tiny baby monkeys, we stayed far enough away that we were left alone. Afterwards we decided to splurge on Balinese massages (2 for like $11) and a place for lunch that is known for their amazing BBQ ribs. Both the massage and ribs were worth it!
The next morning, we woke up a bit earlier to try and beat some of the humid heat and do the 45 minute Campahuan ridge walk to Cafe Karsa for a breakfast among the rice paddies. The views from our little bungalow where we shared banana pancakes and smoothies was absolutely gorgeous. The grounds and their spa were covered in beautiful flowers, pools filled with Koi and completely surrounded by bright green rice paddies.
In the afternoon we had Gede pick us up to take us to the Elephant cave temple where we received a blessing from an older Balinese woman.
Afterwards we drove to the Air Tejun waterfall which was absolutely massive! And there was a big pool of water at the base that people were swimming in. We kind of wished we had brought our bathing suits so we could have joined them.
The next day we would continue our Indonesia journey to the Gili Islands! We didn't know before arriving in Bali just how large the island itself is. We would have loved to have had a bit more time to explore but it’s a big place and you just need more time to get acclimated to the roads and layout. We understand now why people come to live for several months in Ubud and explore the island on their own time. The Balinese people were so warm and welcoming and Bali itself is a gorgeous place. It makes sense why it's such a popular honeymoon destination and why expats come to live here for months at a time.