I’d witnessed Bagan sunsets in Myanmar, splashed around in the lagoons of Laos, buffed up on history in Cambodia and stuffed my face with Vietnamese delicacies in Saigon. I was, sadly, coming to the end of my big Southeast Asian backpacking trip, but at least I was going out on a high. It was time for an incredible two weeks in Bali.
After five years of living on the continent, this trip was something of a farewell to Asia. And my final two weeks in Bali were a farewell to that trip itself. After six weeks of sightseeing, I was ready to flop on a beach somewhere, stretch out with some yoga and relax with a cocktail in hand.
I had been trying to get to Bali for at least four of the past five years, specifically for the amazing surf and therefore surf schools. In my two weeks in Bali, I visited Legian, Kuta, Uluwatu, Nusa Dua, Lovina, Amed, Ubud and Canggu. I absolutely loved it, but unfortunately, luck just wasn’t on my side…
Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Bali, Indonesia
After a lovely stop in Singapore (do I rave enough about how much I love Singapore?), I landed at Denpasar airport on the Indonesian island of Bali just after sundown. I had booked a transfer to my hostel in Legian, so I had that lovely experience of seeing someone holding up a sign with my name on as I came through the Arrivals gate.
The journey didn’t take too long. I had specifically booked a few nights at The Eco-Living Hostel precisely because it was in Legian, not too far from the airport and y’know, cheap. As it turned out, it was cheap for a reason. The hostel was in the middle of a car park in the middle of nowhere and a 45-minute walk to the beach.
By the time I had arrived and settled in, I was starving and so I ventured out to find food. However, being in the middle of a car park in the middle of nowhere, my options were limited. I managed to find a street vendor selling noodles to locals.
Although surprised to see that I wanted local fare, the vendor and I communicated through hand gestures, shrugs and laughter until I had a bowl of noodles in front of me. The noodles may have been with chicken, or another meat, or fish. I have no idea! But it was spicy, filling and only cost me 10,000r (US$0.75), exactly what I needed!
Day 2 & 3 – Exploring Uluwatu & Nusa Dua
Disbelieving that the beach was really so far away, I spent the next day attempting to walk there from my hostel. Turns out that it is definitely that far and feels even further in the midday sun. When I finally arrived, I walked up and down the volcanic sands and paddled in the warm, shallow water.
I expected the Kuta-Legian beach strip to be dirty and full of annoying tourists. Although it was of course busy, it was still quite beautiful. The waves were huge and full of first-time surfers. Naturally, I was jealous and couldn’t wait to get out there myself.
Back at my hostel, I got chatting to a couple of girls. We all agreed, seeing as we were opposed to the hiring one of the dangerous scooters that tore up the manic roads, that we would join forces the following day and explore south of the island by Uber.
We started at Uluwatu in the southwest with its dramatic views of cliffs and coastline. Then, we refreshed ourselves with a young coconut before heading to the beach at Nusa Dua in the southeast. Needless to say, the beach was stunning and the water was clear, though the current was surprisingly strong.
After 4pm, we walked further along the beach to the ‘water blow’. Where, at high tide, the waves smash into the rocks, creating beautiful spray displays. It was a lovely spot to watch the sun go down, though there were a few other visitors who really wanted their photos taken with us.
Classic white tourist problems in Asia!
We ended the day in Kuta, also known as Bali party central. It was hectic in the centre, full of rowdy nightclubs and the drunk western tourists that come with them. It was the exact side of Bali that I had wanted to avoid.
I started to wonder whether Bali truly had been spoiled by tourism and whether these two weeks in Bali were a mistake. The only way to find out was to escape the Kuta/Legian region and head up north.
Day 4 – Arriving in Lovina & Playing Tarzan
I made the journey up north to Lovina by taxi. It took three hours, though my Uber driver, Bagus, was a font of information.
We talked about the treatment of Uber drivers on the island (there’s an ongoing ‘turf war’ with local taxi drivers), philosophised about Hinduism and reincarnation, all while he pointed out things of interest along the way.
We saw the monkeys up in the mountains, rice fields, strawberry farms, coconut trees and stunning lakes. I was wrong about Bali being spoiled; the natural beauty of the island is breathtaking.
By the early afternoon, we had arrived in Lovina and I was on the doorstep of Santhika Bed & Breakfast. I didn’t have high expectations after my last hostel, but this little guesthouse was like nowhere I had ever stayed before.
It’s essentially an elfish garden of Eden, with pools and hammocks and cosy nooks perfect for reading a book in. I felt like a pixie living in the forest.
Contrary to the hostel treatment I was used to, at Santhika I was given a cooling juice on arrival and a foot bath, with massage. It was heaven! I don’t usually like having my feet touched, but my scuffed soles enjoyed the pampering after weeks of traipsing around Asia on foot.
The cherry on the cake was the room I had booked – my own little gazebo. The same price as a bed in their shared dorm room, this quaint wooden structure on stilts with canvas drapes and mosquito netting for walls, was fit for Tarzan, or Jane, or both.
The nearby beach wasn’t exactly ideal for sunbathing, though the black volcanic sand and the calm lapping waters were especially beautiful at sunset.
What wasn’t quite so tranquil was the chanting from the local mosque, which played from around 7pm to 11pm both nights I stayed at Santhika. Apparently, it was a funeral for an important man in the community, so it didn’t feel right to complain. But after eight hours of the noise, I was really starting to twitch…
Day 5 – Meeting Dolphins & Unfortunate Leg Injuries
What brings visitors to Lovina is the wildlife. Specifically, the dolphins that call these waters home. Eager to spot one of these animals myself, I booked myself on a early tour to see the dolphins when they like to play most – just after dawn.
I rose ready for my 5am pick up, though there was a little confusion and after some waiting around, a scooter turned up outside the hostel. After trying to communicate to the driver that there was really no way I wanted to get on the back of that scooter and couldn’t I just walk the five minutes down to the beach? – we were getting nowhere.
I sucked up my fear and realised that if I wanted to see the dolphins, and we were running out of time now, I needed to hop on the back. I’d heard the stories of backpackers getting scooter injuries, most of which were to do with hitting a leg off the exhaust pipe, so I carefully tried to maneuver myself onto the seat, swinging my leg around and…
OUCH. Yep, found the exhaust pipe.
Watching pods of dolphins leaping out of the waves just offshore in the early morning sun was magical. Then again, it was hard to appreciate the moment when there are fifty boats trying to chase them, everyone shouting and pointing and elbowing each other with cameras.
I took a couple of videos on my phone, then put it away, preferring to try and take in the moment (and not think to much about my throbbing leg).
Day 6 & 7 – Being Lazy in Amed
I thought my ‘Faraway Tree’ fantasy in Lovina had been a beautiful place to stay until I turned up at Kelapa Cottage in Amed! This place was paradise. The ride from Lovina to Amed hadn’t taken long, so I had planned to spend the day exploring Amed and booking a snorkelling excursion.
(Amed is famous for the shipwrecks that lie just offshore and known to be a snorkeller’s and diver’s dream.)
Yet, somehow, I found myself getting sucked into a lazy pool day… and it was hard to resist the delicious Indonesian food on offer at the hotel’s restaurant. Upon the recommendation of the hotel owner, I decided I would rent a snorkel and go underwater exploring myself the next morning.
I awoke with a banging headache, feeling incredibly nauseous. There was no way I was moving from my bed, let alone walking down the the waterfront and going snorkelling. Instead, I spent the day resting, sipping on tea to try and calm my stomach, finally starting to feel better by sundown.
Annoyed that I had missed my snorkelling opportunity and that I had only given myself two days in Amed, I turned in for the night. I put it down to yet another thing to add to my series of unfortunate events that was my two weeks in Bali.
However, I was somewhere between sleep and awake when I felt something move and then a lot of yelling in a language I didn’t understand.
Panicking, I turned the light on and saw the only other occupant of the shared dorm room standing in nothing but his boxers at the foot of my bed, rambling. With the light on, he suddenly seemed to snap out of whatever trance he was in and then apologised in English:
‘Sorry,’ he shrugged, grinning sheepishly. ‘Sometimes I sleepwalk and talk in my sleep. Did I wake you up?’
Uh… YEAH. YEAH, YOU DID. *clutches heart*
Day 8, 9, 10 & 11 – Yoga, Rafting & Cooking in Ubud
Although Bali was undeniably a gorgeous place to visit, I was seriously doubting it’s appeal with my lack of luck on the island so far. That was until I arrived in Ubud.
I spent five days in Ubud, staying four nights at Kayuni Hostel. This was longer than I had spent anywhere else on the whole of my Southeast Asian backpacking trip. And I could have stayed much, much longer. I fell in love with the relaxed, hippy vibe of the village, which catered to tourists just as much as locals.
Finally, I got to stretch out the muscles in my back that had been contorted by carting my bag around for six weeks at Yoga Barn. I had a near-cultish experience at a yoga class at Radiantly Alive, where meditation in the dark was amplified by the drama of a storm outside and a shower of moth-like insects that lost their wings when they flew too close to the light.
Against my better judgment about the burn on my leg, I went white-water rafting. Gazing up at magnificent jungle scenery, standing under cascading waterfalls and splashing around having fun. I haggled and bargained for Christmas presents at the markets, laughing with stallholders.
I walked around Hindu temples, fascinated by the colourful statues of Ganesh and the flower offerings that could be found everywhere in the streets. Then, I signed up for a cooking class and ate like a queen, as well as learning to make the flower offering for myself.
I spent hours upon hours studying what was on display at the art galleries, staring at exquisite paintings and sculptures in the traditional and modern Indonesian style.
Basically, what I’m saying is, Ubud is my spiritual hometown. Maybe I had finally broken my Bali curse?
This seemed confirmed when had a stroke of luck – bumping into Claire, an old friend from uni, who I hadn’t seen in over five years! We drank beers and cocktails, catching up, until I had to put up my hands and admit that I needed to catch a ride to my final Bali destination – Canggu.
Day 12 & 13 – No Surfing in Canggu
At last! After years of planning, months of looking forward to it and now coming to the final few days of my two weeks in Bali, I was ready for surf school. And Canggu is exactly the place to do it.
Sadly, surf school was not ready for me. I arrived at Surfers House full of excitement. As the name suggests, this was a place with a resident surf instructor and reviews of booking.com reassured me that this was an ideal place for a keen surf student like me.
However, I was told on check-in that the resident surf instructor was on holiday. That certainly threw a spanner in the works! Next, was the realisation that I would not be able to surf with my burn.
I’ll spare you the gory details, but the scooter burn was not looking great. Claire’s sister, a medical professional, had taken a look at it and advised me to keep it dry.
I was tossing up whether it was worth the risk to surf with it and thinking out loud to with my hostel dorm mate, when she revealed she was a doctor. After looking at it, she said it was a firm no. The wound was healing fine, but there was too much risk of infection. It would be weeks before it would be healed enough.
So, that was settled then.
But, I wasn’t about to spend my final days in Bali moping! I could be enjoying the end of my backpacking trip and the final farewell to Asia. I spent my last two days writing in cafes on the beach. Though I tortured myself by watching surfers play in the waves, I completed NaNoWriMo 2016.
Day 14 – Two Weeks in Bali Come to an End
Despite my series of unfortunate events, I didn’t feel unlucky at all. My two weeks in Bali were plagued by both bad luck and bad decisions on my part. But, it was still my favourite destination on the whole of my backpacking trip.
Bali has everything: amazing food, friendly people, a million things to see and do and a fascinating culture. That culture could have so easily have been stripped away by tourism, but hasn’t been.
Sure, I hadn’t been able to do all the physical activities I had wanted to. On the hand, this meant that I did a whole lot of writing.
And hadn’t that really been the theme of this trip (and of this blog, and of my life)? I was travelling through the pages as well as through the places I wanted to tick off my bucket list.
So what if I didn’t get to surf, snorkel or dive? That’s all the more reason to go back one day, right?
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