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Traveling: Unlocking Bali, Indonesia

    Indonesia
    Bali
    Ubud, Sidemen, Gili, Nusa Penida

    Every other year, I make it a point to save up for an adventurous trip. This year was the moment when I traveled across the world to see the famous island of Bali, also known as the Island of the Gods. 13 days, 4 locations, many kilometers traveled, and a lot of amazing memories.

    First a few things about Indonesia. 

    It is a country made of 17,000 islands and it is between South Asia and Oceania. Almost 90% of its people are Muslims, yet Bali is almost 90% Hindu. 

    The Ubud area became wildly popular after the movie Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts was released and has then become one of the most visited places in the world. Approximately 4.5 million tourists visit the area each year. 

    Bali has a tropical climate and it has 2 main seasons, dry (between April and October) and wet (November until March). Even during the dry seasons, you can still get rain, but it usually stops within a few hours. 


    My trip started in Cluj and had a few days stopover in Singapore (more about that later) and after an internal flight, I landed in Denpasar, the biggest airport in Bali. From here a driver that we booked in advance took us to our retreat near Ubud, our first destination. 


    Ubud: 4 nights 


    We chose to stay in a bungalow at a small retreat since we wanted to take advantage of the beautiful and relaxed vibe. The staff as well as everyone in the area is highly connected to the spiritual side and every day we would find offerings left around the garden or at the entrance. Also, the Balinese people pray and practice meditation 3 times per day. We often saw them light incense sticks and pray at the home altar. 


    We found most of the people to be very discreet and jolly. For us, it was a pleasure to watch the women and girls dance or do the spiritual rituals, showing us a very genuine side of Ubud. 

     

    In the 3 days we had allocated to this area, we wanted to visit some of the famous places that we included in a 2-day itinerary with a private driver. Another day we kept for Ubud Central and the Market.

    Our itinerary included the following: 

    • Tegalalang Rice Terraces

    • Sacred Monkey Forest

    • Ubud Palace

    • Tirta Empul Temple

    • Gunung Kawi

    • Goa Gajah Temple

    • Saraswati Temple

    • Pura Lempuyang (Gates of Heaven)

    • Tukad Cepung Waterfall

    Additionally, we went for a coffee tasting, where we tried the famous Luwak coffee. Not bad, not that good, or maybe it was just not for me. But one thing that I liked was the Avocado and Coconut coffee. The latter two I recommend to anyone who likes flavored coffee.

    Apart from the Pura Lempuyang (Gates of Heaven), most of the attractions are close to Ubud and it doesn’t take that long to reach them.

    One big downfall of this place is how commercial everything is, crowds are very big and it’s a huge focus on getting that picture. In all the rice fields you will see swings and they will offer you clothing (dresses) so that you can take pictures, at the Gates of Heaven there is a huge queue where you wait for someone from the temple to take the famous picture with the mirror. 

    You do have to haggle for anything and everything and sometimes the prices are higher than in the West, especially around the temples.

    The driver will take you or recommend restaurants that are high priced with bad or mediocre food. 


    Be extra careful with the money exchanges, they will count the money in front of you, and then take a part of the money before handing it over. We counted those and we caught the guy, but others were not that lucky.

    So those are a few things to keep in mind when you travel here, otherwise, you might get caught in some tourist traps. 


    Although Ubud has a lot to offer, to me it looked fake and focused on getting money from the tourists, even at the price of their religion. One example is the Tirta Empul Temple where all the “influencers” are going through a purification ritual that should only be for the Hindu people. At the Pura Lempuyang (Gates of Heaven) the locals that come to pray at the temple have to navigate hundreds of tourists. 

    Costs:

    • $280 - 4 nights at the bungalows 

    • $40 - per day for the driver

    • $25 - airport pickup

    • $30 - Grab Taxi round trip to Ubud central

    • $110 - Diner and drinks at the hotel for each night

    • $30 - Gifts 


    Nusa Penida: 3 nights


    Our next destination was Nusa Penida, the island with the most beautiful beaches. 

    It’s just a 2h boat drive from the south-east part of Bali and it is a must-see from the area. 

    To purchase the boat tickets, we used Klook, it was the most “elegant” way given that we do not like the haggling part, however, if you want to get it from your hotel or the boat offices from the port you can do so. Just keep in mind to haggle hard since most of the prices are highly inflated.  

    We went for another bungalow near Crystal Bay beach, a location that was close to a few restaurants and that offered us the possibility to rent a scooter.


    To go around the island, you need either a scooter or to rent a driver. Please note that driving there is very dangerous, the roads are narrow (only one car can fit) and most of the taxi drivers will make you go off the road. 


    This last part made us question their motives, whether they just want to “protect” their cars or they want to scare tourists into booking a taxi. We did notice that on the island, the prices are way higher than in Bali. 


    We used the scooter for one day and a half, but on the last day, after 2 taxis almost hit us, we decided that we would much rather stay at the hotel and be safe. 

    If you do rent a scooter, please use a helmet, there are so many accidents and a lot of tourists choose not to wear any gear.  

    For the 2 days, our itinerary included the following: 

    • Diamond Beach

    • Kelingking ‘T-Rex’ Beach

    • Crystal Bay Beach

    • Suwehan Beach

    Costs:

    • $105 - 3 nights at the bungalows 

    • $22 - boat trip

    • $7 - per day for the scooter

    • $12 - port pickup at arrival

    • $20 - port drop up at departure

    • $2 - Laundry 1kg


    Gili Meno: 3 nights


    From Nusa, we booked the boat to Gili Trawangan, the biggest of the Gili islands, and from there we took another boat to our destination Gili Meno. 

    The smallest island is perfect for a chill stay if you enjoy the silence, and the nature and you just want to have a few days to yourself. 

    If you want to party, the best option would be Gili Trawangan. We didn’t, so we were a perfect fit with Memo Island. 

    A few things to note here, the island is small, and only carriages, electric scooters, and bicycles are allowed. We walked all around it given that in 1.5h you do the full tour. The sand is made of coral, so bring your water shoes, we didn’t and it was very hard to walk into the water. 

    The reef is near the shore so there is no problem going into the water and seeing it from the island, but you need to be very careful since it’s painful to walk into the water. Additionally, all the boats will be there, and again, they have 0 consideration for the rest of the people, you need to be very careful not to be hit by them.

    Even if Gili Meno is a turtle heaven, because of the boats and the heavy tourism, most of them will run away to the shore. We did see them a few times running from the boats. 

    For the 2 days, our itinerary included the following: 

    • Snorkeling with the turtles 

    • Snorkeling around the underwater statues

    • Island tour 

    • Chilling at the beach and the pool

    Costs:

    • $110 - 3 nights at the hotel

    • $22 - Boat trip

    • $10 - snorkelling equipment 

    • $100 - Lunch, dinner, and drinks at the hotel


    Sidemen: 2 nights


    The last part of our trip was dedicated to a more authentic side of Bali, Sidemen. We took the boat from Gili to the Padang port and from there we took a Grab. 

    Grab is the Asian version of Uber/Bolt. You can find it in Bali, but the local taxi drivers are at war with them, so expect to have to walk out of the port just because they are not allowed in. 

    The prices on Grab are very good and the fact that you pay by card is a big plus, but you will see a lot of signs to not use the online taxis. 

    Please note that in Sidemen, there are no available drivers on Grab, and you can end up like we did, having to use a taxi from the hotel that was double the price of the one from Grab and even more expensive than what was on the card from the Sidemen village. 

    Apart from that “incident” with the taxi, Sidemen had a chill vibe that we loved. We used our free day to walk around the Sidemen Village, see the rice terraces, and enjoy a Balinese massage. 

    Costs:

    • $90 - 2 nights at the hotel

    • $45 - Boat trip

    • $100 - Lunch, dinner, and drinks at the hotel


    From Sidemen we went to the airport and back to where we started, Singapore.


    Conclusion 


    Overall Bali is a unique experience, it was very different from what I imagined and I have to say I am glad I got to see it now, before mass tourism changed it further.

    The crowds and the heavy tourism are leaving a huge print on the island and to me, it all felt aimed at getting the most out of tourists. The constant feeling that you have to make sure you don’t get scammed takes a lot of energy and towards the end, we were both looking forward to returning home. A feeling that I never get while traveling. 

    The prices are indeed very small compared to Europe and there are a lot of things to do and see, so that is a big plus that makes me recommend the place to anyone that wants to visit it.  But I wouldn’t add it as the best place to see in Asia, to us Thailand was a far better experience.

    We do plan on someday returning to Indonesia for other islands, but we don’t have an intention of returning to Bali. For next year we are aiming at Vietnam or the Philippines, where we know we will have to again haggle and be careful, but sadly, Bali will not return to our list shortly. 


    Have you been to Bali? What was your experience? 

    If you haven’t, do you plan on going?


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    • Fashion P Fashion P :

      This is sooo inspiring! As we get closer to winter, this makes our team want to book a workation ticket ASAP!     

      7 months ago 
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