Yogyakarta and Borobudur in the central island of Java are the places I have the strongest desire to check out once in Indonesia. Bali, even with all its fame–especially with all its fame–is not even a close third on my Indonesian travel list. Then how did I end up in the Island of the Gods for my first time in the massive archipelago?
Simple mathematics: Spontaneity + Hope.
In my connecting flight from Singapore, there were countless of families and groups of friends also bound for a summer holiday in this Indonesian island famed for all sorts of tropical and cultural offerings.
I was observing a German family while at the boarding gate. An enthusiastic teenage boy told his mom while showing off his phone, “I will have this tan and I will surf like this”. Of course I speak no Deutsch, that’s just how my brain interpreted that particular people-watching scene while at the very same bored-ing gate.
My point is: unlike that boy, I don’t have any master plan nor do I have high expectations coming to Bali. I just want to celebrate my 27th birthday by the beach in a new country with the person of whom I have high-interest of
annoying traveling with. I just want to see for myself the rave about hot surfer dudes the spectacular cliffs and dramatic sunsets. But most importantly, I just want to uncover a possible answer to the puzzling question, “What is it about Bali?”.
Everyone has a unique definition for the word “paradise”. Bali has always been described as such and truly, for all its glory, it is an island paradise. After all, Bali has and will always have something to offer someone at some point.
Of its six regions, we were able to go to a few spots in the Southern and Central regions.
If surfing is the main reason for you going to Bali, Canggu could be your turf. There are three main surfing spots there: Berawa Beach, Echo Beach, and Old Man’s Beach. Most beginners would line-up for a good break at Old Man’s, while intermediate-pros would ride the bigger and much powerful nalus at Echo and Berawa.
The atmosphere in Canggu is relatively more quiet compared to the party central Kuta and the trendy Seminyak. Renting a motorbike is a reliable and a convenient way to get around different areas in the island. I always enjoy being a back-ride especially if the drive around small bricked roads has a view of endless terraced rice fields.
August and September are the peak months for tourists in Bali. It was the beginning of July when we visited and there’s already an influx of people especially in Ubud. It’s not uncommon to meet Aussies given its very close proximity, but their ratio is probably still incomparable to the tourists who arrive in tour buses 😉
We’re not party animals hence big and loud parties are not our scene. There are several places to hang out in Canggu for a hip night out with music and all that, but there are a lot more chill and romantic restaurants located inskirts the rice field areas that are equally delightful.
Uluwatu (Bukit Peninsula, South)
I was hoping for a rosy tan and a good dip in the waters facing the Indian ocean. Unfortunately, both the weather and the current were not in my favor. We went cruising to two low-key beaches in Uluwatu in hopes of 1) Sunshine 2) Whiter sand. Then I heard the gods say, “You can’t have everything, my dear. Only 1 of 2.” So okay, white sand it is.
Given the volcanic nature of Bali, most beaches have gray sands but there are several beaches in the Southern region with peachy-white sands like the Dreamland Beach and *Green Bowl Beach. However, swimming conditions in these beaches highly depend on the season. For those who would like to have a nice dip should be aware of signs on where and when not to fun-swim as rip tide and drowning are not uncommon in Balinese beaches.
Uluwatu is located on the south-west tip of Bali. It is famed for phenomenal limestone cliffs thus its name which literally means “rock at the land ending”. The *Pura Luhur Uluwatu or Uluwatu Temple could definitely be one of the most picturesque temples I have ever seen. This sea temple sits on the edge of a 70-meter high cliff and it is believed by locals that this temple was built to protect the island against dark forces.
The island of Bali greatly practices Hindu religion that is very much different than Indian Hinduism. Balinese’s deity is an “all-in-one” god named Sanghyang Widi Wasa. If you see a mini-tray made of leaves containing a variety of offering items like flower, rice, snack, coffee, or fruit, it is a Canang sari or “offering”. Those offerings are seen everywhere and being sprinkled by holy water for at least three times a day.
With over 20,000 pura or temples in Bali, it is rare that two puras are the same. However, the most common architectural feature of Balinese Hindu temples are the bales or gazebo pavilions, just like what you see in a Balinese tourist ad or post card. Temples are treated with utmost respect, sarongs and sashes are required for both male and female upon entering.
Given the chance, I would really want to stay longer in Uluwatu. It has better beaches, hilly roads, quaint local cafes and restaurants, and over-looking views–basically the closest characteristics to what I call my sanctuary. But we choose to stay the night in the seafood haven: Jimbaran.
Picture this: grilled seafood and cold beer in your stomach, creamy white sand on your feet, romantic serenade by a group of Ketuts in your ear, plane-landing against a hard-to-get-sunset in your view, and a good-looking bae in your arms. Is there anything else missing in the equation?
The small fishing village of Jimbaran is just about the holy grail for anything beach must-have: fresh seafood, tamer waves, clean creamy sand, and a lit sunset. With an array of restaurants serving fresh seafoods are located along the beach, be ready to spend at least 400,000 IDR for a dinner for two. But every bite is oysteriffic!
I was already on my third day on the island (out of six) and still no sign of a good sunshine. While sitting on a purple beach bean bag, I was
cursing praying to the Gods in my head to give us at least a few minutes of sun. And just before I totally give up, there it was. The ray of sun for a good 10 minutes. A girl could wish and just believe a god would listen.
Anyone (any girl, actually haha) who knows “Eat Pray Love” has probably fantasized about Ubud at one point in their hopeless-romantic lives. This cultural and historical capital of Bali wears its utmost charm up its sleeve with unique Balinese arts and crafts including wood carvings and paintings, meditation and yoga retreat centers, and top religious sites.
If Ubud has a beach, it will be my ultimate sanctuary. I only had one full day to acquaint myself with this town so I decided to go for a “proper cleansing” in one of the holiest temples in Bali: *Pura Tirta Empul. After all, that’s my only non-negotiable wish/gift for my birthday.
The Balinese people and tourists alike come to this temple to bathe and purify themselves physically and spiritually. It is believed that the clean water coming from the spring has magical powers.
On the way back to downtown Ubud, we passed by the very touristic Tegalalang Rice Terraces. We decided not to walk along the muddy paddies anymore because of the rain and because we’ve already seen a few ones (up close) all thanks to my very local GPS 😉
There are SO MANY sights to see and activities to do in Ubud: water rafting, mountain trekking, waterfalls chasing, monkey
shooing spotting, profile-picture-worthy temple searching, gallery hopping, even rice planting. Unfortunately, I can only do so much with a very limited time.
On my last night in Bali, we decided to keep it simple: eat local food, walk around, and listen to good music. We get to have it all, but when we accidentally discovered a small bar with a local band playing Latin music, it became so much more for me. Its al fresco interior is beautifully decorated with vintage elements. It’s honestly the materialization of the “Cha was here” moment I have in mind: something no Bali Guide will ever mention.. nor will I 😉
For a legit Indonesian food treat, go to a warung or a local little resto. Dishes are served buffet style and you can pick as many variety of food you want. Prices range from 20,000 IDR to 60,000 IDR. Some very local warungs could even be cheaper than 20k.
Also, never leave Bali without trying out Babi Guling or roasted pig. As Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, this island is where you can freely have a pork attack. It is similar to lechón only it is served with a sauteed bean sprout on the side and a distinct spicy sauce on top. This one is priced between 40,000 IDR to 70,000 IDR.
Along the beach, devour on a grilled sweet corn garnished with sweet and salty butter for only 15,000 IDR. Pair it with an ice-cold Bintang Radler and your day is made.
So what is it about Bali?
I spent a total of six days on the island and 80% of the time it was raining. Not exactly the ideal climate for an island holiday, but no weather condition can ruin the momentum that is entirely protruded to experiencing the beauty of a place and the stories that are shared in between. It’s always one for each. So for me, Bali’s magic lies on spontaneously living in the now while hopefully building the new.
It was a great six days to be 27. It was a great six days to realize there’s always something to look forward and go back to. And that most often than not, some 10-minute of sunshine with your inner person is more than enough.
* Note: Most temples have entrance fees ranging from 20,000 IDR to 30,000 IDR per pax. While a fee of 10,000 IDR is collected before entering Green Bowl Beach.