Many people dream of going to Bali, be it for a romantic honeymoon or a vacation. It’s renowned for pristine beaches and amazing waves. Sadly, we didn’t find the beaches pristine at all, although the waves were pretty amazing. What we did find, though, were really friendly people and seriously amazing handmade everything.
We spent about ten days (Jan 22 to Feb 1, 2019) on this famous island. Most of that time, I wished I had a container ship I could fill to the brim with all the beautiful, colorful, handmade household goods that would rival any Pier One. Or at least a bigger backpack!
I’d seen Balinese bungalows highlighted on Instagram, so I thought what better way to splurge than to get one for a few days when we first arrived in Bali from Singapore? I found a resort that was close to the Balanga Beach, known for its “killer waves, brah.” The bungalow lay amid an adorable setting: lush tropical plants and a lovely swimming pool across from the small restaurant. There were only 10 or so private bungalows, each with wall-to-wall windows. (No traipsing around naked!)
Our stay was ideal the first night, with the exception of a few mosquitoes. The following few days, though, not so much: due to a big wind storm, our power went out for 36 hours. That meant no A/C, which forced us to open the windows… inviting all the mosquitoes in the surrounding area to come and feed on us pale, delicious gingers. That first night, Scott woke up with approximately one million bites. He is pretty tasty.
Sweetly, the French expat woman who owned the resort with her husband and another couple offered us free massages to make-up for the power outage.
Another disappointment was Balanga Beach itself. There’s no waste management in Bali, as in much of Southeast Asia, so while the waves are “killer,” well, so is the trash. I walked from our hotel to the beach one day, but once I reached the waterline, I almost cried; there was just so much garbage, whether it was washed up by the wind or just left there by ignorant a-holes. I literally stood watching a local man rake up a pile of trash and then just bury it right there on the beach. I turned right around, deciding not to bother leaving our resort again until it was time to relocate to the next destination.
So, on the days Scott worked, I wrote blog posts, read, enjoyed the sun (when it wasn’t pouring rain and blowing, which it did for a couple days), and hung out by the pool. Entertainment included watching the tropical trees get blown around by the “big winds” that hit this part of the island. When I say “big wind,” I mean BIG — the kind that make you think a tree is gonna fall on your head.
Not all was lost in paradise, however! On day four, we relocated to another part of the island called Sanur. There we stayed in the fabulous Villa Yuliasa, which you can check out on Airbnb: https://abnb.me/tfFMOeEJVU.
A lovely couple rents a Balinese villa and have opened it as an Airbnb. Our hostess, Carola (hi, Carola!), formerly managed a Michelin-stared restaurant, so she knows a thing or two about presenting a meal, and man, did she present! We had delicious breakfasts everyday, each one unique and beautifully displayed.
On our first full day in Sanur, we went to the beach (which proved nicer than Balanga) and hung by the ocean.
We rented some beach chairs and then proceeded to get harassed by a woman trying to sell us stuff. Went eventually acquiesced and bought some stuff, although we bargained her down a good way.
Haggling: Bargaining is a very common practice in this area of the world. Neither of us likes to haggle, but there’s no better position to be in than not really wanting what they’re selling. If you don’t seem to care and are obviously willing to walk away, they’ll usually come down pretty significantly.
What if you do want what they’re selling? Let them quote you a price, and counter at about half that amount. (If half of the starting price is still too dear for you, then the goods you want are probably out of your price range, and you should just walk away.) Let them negotiate the price up slightly, to the point where you still feel good about paying it, but you wouldn’t want to go much higher. Then pretend the price has gone too high; you might even start to walk away. That usually seals the deal at your last offered price.
That evening, we ate — very cheaply and very well! — at a seafood stand along the beach. Perfection!
The next day was an active and adventurous one, and a bit dangerous: whitewater rafting. We’ve both gone rafting before, and it’s usually super-fun. This was not that.
First off, the guide spoke very little English. (That’s not a deal-breaker, just background.) He asked if we had done any whitewater rafting before, and we both said yes, so he skipped trying to give us the safety briefing. About 5 or 10 minutes later, we headed off with our boat of five people (ourselves and another couple from Latvia, plus the guide) and another boat.
No joke, the water was rushing hardcore from start to finish. I’d never experienced that before; usually there are rapids every so often, interspersed among quiet sections where the water is smooth. Not on this ride.
Early on, we hit a rock really hard and four of us, including the guide, fell out. I thought I was going to die. Like, genuinely die die, not just scared. We were washed about 150 meters or so downriver before we could get out. Scott, another guide, and a few small Chinese gals pulled me into the other boat after I tried unsuccessfully, for that entire 150 meters, to stand up. Shaky as hell, I reluctantly got back into the boat, sans paddle, to white-knuckle it the rest of the way. Never had I been so happy for something to be over as I was at the end of that two hours.
After that, we rode some ATVs for a few hours. Scott was in heaven, and I was just thankful to be back on land and not hurtling down deadly rapids. We sped around a couple of muddy courses out in the middle of some rice fields for a couple hours, with some local adults and a bunch of kids looking on bemusedly. It was filthy and fun; by the end, we were covered in mud.
The next day, we didn’t do much. Some recovery was required (mind, body, and soul… I mean, I had almost died in that river). That night, we went to a bar and heard some local Balinese guys sing some Western music. We got to request a few songs, one of which was “Sweet Home Alabama”; there’s nothing like hearing some Lynyrd Skynyrd to make this Alabama girl smile. You can take the girl out of the country, but I guess you really can’t take the country out of the girl.
On January 29, we went on a daylong sightseeing ride. Our first stop was Tanah Lot, a Hindu temple on the shore of the Indian Ocean. The temple itself was not impressive compared to some others we’d seen, but it did have an incredible view of the ocean and some seaside cliffs.
Afterward, we drove to Jatiluwih, an area of beautiful rice fields in the center of Bali. Our walk through the rice fields was really spectacular: rolling hills of green rice paddies on every side; a beautiful, clear sky; and serene mountains in the distance all around. It was gorgeous and peaceful.
Next, we stopped at the Luwak coffee plantation to sample their amazing teas and coffees. This type of coffee has a “special” processing method involving small native animals called luwaks, which look like sad-faced tree rodents, sort of a cross between a big rat and a small raccoon. The critters eat and then poop out the coffee beans before they are hand-gathered, hand-peeled, hand-roasted, and ground up, again, all by hand. The coffee has both a unique, smooth taste and a hefty price tag. It was really good, though, especially with all the added flavorings available, such as vanilla, ginseng, and chocolate. (No, not poop!)
After the coffee, we visited Ulundanu Bedugul Temple, the oldest one in Bali. It was recently renovated and looks beautiful. This place was Scott’s favorite thing we saw all day. The highlight for me was seeing a woman in her bridal costume there, along with her groom and wedding party: her train was hand-painted, and her headdress was gold and shiny.
Our last stop was Taman Ayun Temple, built in 1634 AD by the first king of Mengwi. The temple was built as a place to worship the royal ancestors and to invoke prosperity for the former kingdom. Apparently you can’t enter it, though, and similar temples, if you are female and menstruating, which they refer to as niddah or “unclean.” That pissed me off, so I don’t think I’ll be converting to Hinduism anytime soon.
Bali is not a small island, so our various stops took all day. We were exhausted by the end. It cost only $40 for the taxi for the entire day, though, which was pretty amazing. Some of the sites had their own fees, but still, it was all pretty affordable.
The next day, our hostess Carola took me to a great local market called Sukawati that’s not frequented by tourists. I wanted all. the. things. I bought a few gifts, and I was proud of my self-restraint. (Scott says I have none, but I beg to differ: I have a teeny, tiny, almost imperceptible bit that I use every once in a while.)
As an aside, I’ve decided that I want to start an online business selling Laotian and Balinese handicrafts. [In hindsight, since I wrote this article weeks ago, maybe Peruvian and other South American goods too.—Connie] Everything made there by hand is so special and beautiful, and the prices are very low by North American standards (before shipping costs, of course).
The next day, I happily bought a piece of handmade batik artwork. 😉 It is amazingly intricate work that takes creativity, patience, and a very steady hand.
Batik is a multi-step process whereby the artist creates a pattern, stencils it on cloth, and then covers the pattern with wax, dips it into dye, lets it dry, boils the wax off, and repeats the process until the final image is complete. The result is gorgeous. Here’s a video showing the process.
On our last day in Sanur, we went snorkeling. We took a ferry to the nearby island of Nusa Lembongan. On the ride over, we met a woman who hooked us up with her brother and his friend; after a lot of bargaining, he took us snorkeling for a very good price, around USD$55. This was easily the best experience we had in Bali (besides the shopping, of course, which is the number one reason you should visit the island).
Anyway, snorkeling. The coral, OMG. It was like being in the movie Finding Nemo, but way better. We went to three different spots, and each one had many different kinds of coral. The reefs are very shallow, so you’re only maybe 3 to 8 feet away from them; we were very up close and personal with a ton of amazingly beautiful coral.
We didn’t take any pics since we didn’t have an underwater camera, but I found this video that gives you an idea of what we saw. Still, it’s hard to capture the feeling of seeing it with your own eyes. The only downside of the snorkeling trip is the sunburn we both got, despite putting on lots of sunscreen: my butt was bright red afterward and hurt like hell for several days.
Days later, we both peeled down the entire length of our bodies, from our heads to our legs… but only on the back side, and only where our bathing suits and snorkeling masks didn’t cover! 🙂
Ah, the life of a ginger.
Later that day, after showering and saying a nice farewell to Carola and her boyfriend Yuliasa, we headed to the airport. We had a long overnight flight coming up to New Zealand, which has been a bucket-list country for both of us forever. That’ll be the topic of our next blog.
In closing, here’s a very special thank you to Carola and Yuliasa for making Sanur and Bali so memorable. We loved staying at your villa, and we wish you the best of luck with your new business!!
—Connie & Scott