December 27, 2013 § Leave a comment
I just got back from a jam-packed week in Bali and wanted to document my experiences in a useful format so that I can refer future Bali travelers to this post. Be warned that it will be lengthy but hopefully the insights are worth it and I’ll try to make it as colorful as possible.
Before I delve into the main categories (accommodations, transportation, excursions, and food), I wanted to describe the motely crew of characters I traveled with to give context to the names I will be dropping in my stories.
Cast of Characters
- Debbie: My good college friend who is living and working in Singapore. She enticed me to come visit with her extremely persuasive and winning personality and was the planner extraordinaire behind this vacation. The rest of us just threw out things we wanted to do and Debbie did the research in terms of logistics and pricing and put together a comprehensive itinerary that allowed us to enjoy Bali to the fullest. If you need more information on any of the excursions let me know and I’ll connect you with her as she has spreadsheets full of information.
- Xavier: Debbie’s boyfriend of three years who also lives and works in Singapore. He was an actor and deejay back in the day (in Singapore) and I’ve been told that you can see his famous mug on a random vending machine in Chinatown. If you want any pictures of the food we ate, let me know and I’ll get them from him as he documented everything on Foursquare.
- Tuan: Debbie and Xavier’s klutzy friend from Singapore (poor guy slipped at least ten times during our trip but in his defense it was raining and very wet). I think Debbie expected us to get along because he also works for Google (out of the Singapore office). Tuan was often the butt of our jokes during the trip and we grew a rapport similar to that of siblings around the same age.
- Mykola: Debbie’s Ukrainan born coworker who moved to Minnesota at age fifteen. He regaled us with stories of hog butchering in his village in Ukraine (I now have a strong desire to try salted lard) and impressed us with the fact that his grandmother owned a quarter of the goat population in that same village (there were four goats in the village). It was hilarious as he, this six foot tall, blond, bear of a man, was our de facto tour guide as he had been to Bali three times before and was familiar with most of the areas we were going to. Mykola was extremely chill about everything and balanced the group out very nicely.
I won’t be much help here as our group had fairly unique lodging arrangements. Debbie and Xavier’s have a friend who used to live in Bali with his family and own a five bedroom villa in Pecatu. It was gorgeous and modern as the wife is an interior designer and we were so dazzled by it on our first night. However, we soon discovered that beautiful outdoor living spaces meant that we were also sharing the areas with multitudes of bugs. It was also a bit far from some of the places we went to which meant more time in a car, sometimes sitting in traffic, but it was a small sacrifice to be staying in such a beautiful place.
The going rate for a driver is about $35 USD or 400,000 Rupiah. If you acquire a driver at the airport, it will be about double that rate unless you haggle. I recommend setting up a driver to take you around in advance. For each excursion, Debbie arranged with the facility to include a driver for the day. However, feel free to hit up my new friend Agung (firstname.lastname@example.org or 081-338-383-554). His English is a bit broken but he is extremely nice and knows where all the main spots are.
I’m going to list the excursions in the order of most enjoyment to lowest enjoyment, per my standards. Keep in mind that I’m an adrenaline junkie who loves animals but I’ll give additional context so you can get a sense of whether or not you would enjoy this type of activity.
- Canyoning: I LOVED this experience. My friend who had traveled to Bali just a few months prior told me about this and it sounded like something right up my alley. We essentially climbed up and down rain forests and rappelled down waterfalls. Sometimes we jumped into pools of water, other times we slid down rocks. I suppose this can be considered a dangerous activity but if you pay attention and watch where you put your feet, you should be fine. We originally were going to do the Double K Sporty package but it was too dangerous that day due to the rain so we did Kerenkali instead. Our guide, Pee-E said that the Aling Gorges (only available from July to November) route is absolutely gorgeous so I plan to one day come back to do that. For our group of five we had two guides (Pee-E and Iman) and they led us though the various obstacles. Afterwards we had lunch together at a small shop in the area and they transferred the pictures they took of us with their GoPro to our SD cards (if you don’t have a SD card they will burn it on a CD for you). Mykola also had a GoPro with him so we have a pretty cool video of him jumping off a waterfall (complete with water immersion). The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and I often felt like I was in Rivendell.
- Surfing: I grew up in Socal but for whatever reason, never learned to surf. This was my second most anticipated outing and it did not disappoint. Debbie, Tuan, and I went to Padang Padang beach and approached the lifeguard tent, asking if they gave surf lessons. They had some guys and boards available for roughly $25 USD for a 1 hour lesson which seemed like a pretty good deal to me (I had no real point of reference but it seemed a small price to pay for being able to paddle out into the warm, crystal clear water. My instructor, Wayan, was a burly Balinese man covered in tattoos. I really liked him and thought that he did a fine job of teaching me and pushing me onto the waves but I know that Debbie and Tuan (both have surfed before), were not happy with the quality of their instructor. There definitely was a language barrier but who wants to listen to someone talk when you can be paddling out to sea? I stood up on a few good waves with Wayan’s help but when I tried to paddle through and stand up myself, wasn’t able to find the right rhythm. We only went for an hour on our last day in Bali but it was a glorious experience nonetheless.
- White water rafting: I wasn’t originally looking forward to this excursion because of my injuries (to be described in Gili Islands section) but within ten minutes of being on the river, I couldn’t help but feel so lucky that I got to raft down such majestic views. I’ve gone white water rafting in various other places, most recently the American River near Sacramento, but those views don’t even compare to what you can see in Bali. Our group had two boats with one guide each (Wayan and Rambo) and we had fun battling each other for the lead. I was seated next to klutzy Tuan and within minutes of me telling him to be careful and threatening to hurt him if he hit my face with his paddle, he promptly clocked me in the head. Luckily the helmet protected me but let’s just say that I was just as vigilant about his whereabouts as I was about the rocks in the river.
- Ubud Bike tour: Despite the muddy roads and random trash littered along the trails, I enjoyed the biking tour through Ubud because I felt like I was getting to see how people really lived in Bali. Arga, our guide, took us past his grandfather’s house and we got to ride through rice paddies with men and women planting and harvesting the crops. I was surprised to see that everything was still done manually as more advanced machinery in other industries was prevalent in other parts of Bali but it was fun to interact with the kids and explore the neighborhood.
- Uluwatu Temple: This temple boasts cliff side views that rival even the newest round of HD screensavers. If you come here, bring some bananas or fruit to feed the monkeys (you can also buy some there but it’s overpriced due to the high density of tourists). The monkeys are cute but aggressive so just be careful. I offered a monkey a piece of fruit and he took his tiny little hand, grabbed it, took a little bite, threw it on the ground, and then jumped up and grabbed the entire bag from my other hand. It was amusing to watch him strut around afterwards, popping fruit in his mouth from the bag as if he were at the movies, eating some popcorn. I considered stealing the bag of fruit back but my friends told me that he would probably bite me so I just let him have it.
- Massage: In central Ubud you will walk down the street and see a bevy of boutique shops and spas. Our group really enjoyed our experience at Kayma spa as it had a nice ambiance and talented staff. The prices are ridiculously low compared to US standards so it’s worth going if you like getting pampered once in a while. I tried the Volcanic wrap (combination of bath salts and volcanic ash which is supposed to relax your muscles and purify your skin) but I wouldn’t recommend as I was super itchy when they bundled me up like a burrito and left me to dry. My friends highly recommend the traditional Balinese massage.
- Gili Islands: Oh Gili. I had a lot of bad luck on Gili. The Gili Islands are located off the coast of Bali and take about 2.5 hours via boat. During this leg of our trip I got stung by jellyfish, cut my feet on coral reefs, was eaten alive by mosquitos, and got extremely seasick. Of the three Gili islands, I only went to Gili Trawangan. Snorkeling was fun at first until the jellyfish started to sting me. I recommend wearing a rash guard if you go. Also, don’t expect any instruction – you essentially pay for just the equipment and a boat ride out. Mykola went scuba diving and had a good time. He said that he saw the biggest sea turtle he’s ever seen which is a significant statement as he has been diving many times before.
- Outlet shopping: There are stores that sell clothes (mostly surfing brands like Billabong, Hurley, etc.). Enough said.
We didn’t have time to do everything on our list so here are a few things/places we wanted to visit but couldn’t do.
- Cooking class (multiple options)
- ATV and horse back riding
- Rock bar (located within the Ayana resort)
- Potato Head Beach Club
I didn’t do a good job of paying attention to all the places we ate at but here are a few of my favorites. I’m not a picky eater though so I enjoyed everything I had (including the local Indonesian instant noodle).
- Fish market: This was my favorite dining experience as it was the most interesting. Essentially you walk around the fish market, choose the type of seafood you want to eat, and then take it to a nearby restaurant to grill. It’s not the cleanest environment though so keep your hygiene expectations low. Our group got some squid, octopus, tiger prawns, and sea bass. Tuan also got 3 kilos of some other fish I can’t remember the name of. Tip: Don’t get 3 kilos of a fish with that order unless you’re rreealllyy hungry.
- Bebek Bengil: This restaurant serves a famous crispy duck dish that was delicious. The portions could be bigger and it’s pricey compared to other more traditional restaurants but the ambiance is nice and they have an interesting menu.
- Naughty Nuris: The food was good but the entire time I was eating I kept on wondering who Nuri was and why she was so naughty. My friends thought their ribs were the best they’d ever had but I can’t agree with that statement having eaten at Ribfest. The ribs were really solid though and their pork loin was also quite good.
Hopefully this list is somewhat helpful for you future adventurers. I left off a few things here and there so feel free to reach out to me in person if you want more information. Bali is wonderful and I highly recommend it. If you’re awesome enough maybe I’ll go back with you. 🙂