I have a very simple desire in life and that is to travel. Many years ago, I made a promise to myself, that I would visit a new country every year, unfortunately, I haven’t really lived up to it because I’ve ended up repeating a few countries. Having been to Jakarta earlier, ideally Indonesia should have been off my list but I still had Bali to visit and this reason took me back to this beautiful country for the second time.
Along with a few close friends, I visited Bali and Gili earlier this April. The plan started off as a joke, but ended up fructifying since we all had Bali on our bucket list. The agenda was to relax and have a vacation, where we could do what we wanted at our own pace and as it turns out, Bali was the perfect choice for doing just this. Sipping on poop flavoured coffee, tripping on magic mushrooms, wild partying, dodging pimps and indulging in some real hot food are just some of the high points of this amazing trip!
From Delhi to Bali
Getting to Bali from Delhi is not too bad. It’s an overnight flight to Kuala Lumpur with a short layover of two hours and a two and a half hours of onward flight to Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport. We landed on a sunny and sultry afternoon, very typical of the tropical weather that Indonesia enjoys. Cabs are easily available just as you step out and they are quite inexpensive.
A Sip of Civet Poop Flavoured Coffee!
Our first destination was Ubud. The ride from airport takes about one and a half hours but our rather resourceful driver suggested we visit a Luwak Coffee House on the way. Luwak are civets (cat family) that eat coffee beans. The beans don’t get digested and end up coming out whole in their poop. Enzymes work upon the coffee beans while in the gut of the animal to give it a characteristic that makes it quite enjoyable on the palate. And if you are wondering and thinking, Yes! The beans are plucked out of the poop, dried, roasted, powdered, packaged, sold and are not cheap at all. Quite frankly the coffee did taste good, I guess it is Civet poop I need to thanks there!
The Ubud Dream
We finally got to Ubud and found our gorgeous AirBnB villa. The villa had 3 bedrooms and was on two levels. The garden had a beautiful little pool that was perfect for an evening plunge. After settling in, we got ourselves mopeds that were arranged by the staff at the villa. 2 wheelers are the ideal way to travel in Ubud. The lanes are narrow and places aren’t far. Also mopeds cost $5 a day to rent! We found our way around easily and set out to discover the “cultural capital” of Bali- Ubud which is steeped in tradition. The Balinese people are mostly Hindu and this reflects immensely in their architecture and behavior. Ubud is full of beautiful little houses, paddy fields, markets and temples.
The market is a great place to shop for souvenirs, handicrafts, Batik or just beach wear. The main market area is dotted with restaurants that serve up the most amazing Indonesian food. There are also little carts that sell snacks (for as much as $2) in case your stomach shouts out while shopping. Around the market is a temple, within the courtyard of which you can watch a traditional Balinese dance. The entry is on tickets that are sold just outside the Temple.
Checkout: All that you can see and do in Ubud.
WORKOUT…If Gili Is On Your Itinerary
Unfortunately we spent just one night in Ubud and the next day left for Gili Trawangan. Gili T (as it is known as) is the largest of the Gili Islands, others being Gili Meno and Gili Air. They’re located just off the coast of Lombok. One can get to Gilis by flying to Lombok as well, but it’s just a 2 hours ferry ride from Bali and not hard to get to.
The Gili Islands are very popular for diving and water activities and have the most breathtaking beaches and waters! One of the best things on Gili T (or the others) is that there is no motorized transportation! You have to walk, cycle or take a horse drawn taxi. The island itself is not more than 2 miles in length so it’s not much of an issue.
There are lots of nice places to stay which are inexpensive. You do have fancy accommodation if you are looking for something luxurious.
Checkout : Great offers on hotels in Gili Islands
Generally a decent hotel with air conditioning and house keeping will cost you about $30 a night. Being shirtless is the uniform in general. So a good idea is to hit the gym with a vengeance before you head to Bali. Mind you, carry a ton of sunscreen. We were burnt like toast by the end of our trip.
The island has dive centers all across and you can hook yourself up for a dive expedition quite easily. The instructors are very well trained and know what they’re doing. The dive itself was a fantastic experience. The marine life is extremely diverse. On our 30 minutes diving expedition we spotted two massive turtles! Again diving, like everything else in Gili is not expensive. We paid $60 which included the equipment, one hour training in the pool, boat ride to the dive spot and a 30 minutes dive. This wasn’t my first time diving having dived in the Andamans earlier, but the experience here was quite unique.
Gili's Australia Connection
Most of the tourists on Gili T are Australian and hence most of the restaurants cater to their taste buds. They generally have an ample number of continental dishes with a few local ones however the local preparations are also spiced down. This was a little disappointing for us for two reasons- one, we wanted to taste authentic local food and two, we are Indians and we are not satisfied till our mouths are on fire! Our disappointment was quickly quelled when we discovered the local market bang in the center of the island. This place had stall after stall that served the freshest seafood cooked on a barbeque in front of you.
You choose between fish, prawn, cuttlefish, clams, chicken and beef. The meat is marinated, grilled and served with rice, a vegetable, a peanut condiment and a fiery chutney. The experience of what you eat is mind blowing. The flavours are crazy and the heat in your mouth and around you is even crazier. All this washed down with a pint of Bintang (local beer) just sends you to gastronomic heaven...or hell if you aren’t able to handle the heat!
The Magic Mushroom Shake!
Apart from great beaches and some crazy food, the south western part of the island is dotted with some really pretty bars that offer some breath taking sunset views. Gili is also quite well known for one more thing- the notorious magic mushrooms and all these bars offer you shroom shakes. They won’t bill you for it but will have boards that advertise the “best shakes in town”! I recommend you try them. It’s not going to send you over the moon but it gives you a few visual trips that make you enjoy your sunset a tad bit more than the usual! This probably is also the reason why nothing would ever compare to the Gili- Sunsets!
The Champ-Elysees of Bali- Seminyak
Post Gili, we headed back to Bali and stayed at Seminyak - the Champs Elysees of Bali. It’s got the best hotels and best clubs and is obviously an expensive area to be in. We lucked out because we got a superb deal on an incredible villa thanks to AirBnB. The villa was a Balinese Villa bathed in French tones. It was fairly old and that added to its charm. The pool was stunning and I mean STUNNING!! Not surprisingly, the bulk of the time we spent at the villa was spent at the pool. One of the great things about all the villas in Bali is that they usually come armed with staff that can cook, clean, organize transportation and assist you with pretty much everything. They’re a god sent!
Pimps, Clubs and Other happenings!
Around Seminyak, the most popular area is Kuta. This is like any trashy south East Asian Party Street. It is not as sleazy as Patong of Phuket, but it’s as commercial. One of the strangest things I experienced here were random men asking me if I needed transportation. At one point when I did need a ride, I asked a guy if he had a taxi and he said, “yes and nice nice women”. That is when I realized that they were pimps and I was not in need of a taxi anymore! You find these guys every 100 feet in Kuta. It got quite annoying after about 10 mins. So the next time anyone asked, I promptly asked them if I could bring my wife along. That was fun!
We reserved one night for pub and club hopping in Kuta and as expected, we had the time of our lives. I mean how a vacation can be complete without partying. But honestly, we’re glad we just did it once and not more, call it getting old or whatever!
The Child-like Rarings and Soul Searching …..Back to Ubud
We took one day and went back to Ubud to check out the Monkey Forest and the Bali Zoo (not so old afterall). The Bali Zoo is definitely worth a visit. It’s a bit expensive at $30, but worth every penny. They have baby Orangutans who you can touch and hold. They have a tiger cub who you can pet. They have bird shows along with a few other really cool animals in the zoo. Regardless of whatever age you are, I thoroughly recommend a visit to the zoo. I was so kicked about meeting the baby Orangutans that I couldn’t have asked for more!
We spent our last day in Bali doing some general sight-seeing. We anyway had a great driver who knew exactly where to take us. The Tanah Lot Temple (I know, temple!) was actually pretty interesting to visit. The Temple is right in the middle of the sea and makes for a gorgeous setting. The waters around the temple are also not calm and walking around the temple courtyard is really fun. One doesn’t generally need to spend more than an hour here, but the interesting thing is that the whole space has been developed really well for tourism. So while they’ve maintained the sanctity of the temple itself by not having anything around it, the walk towards the temple is peppered with shops and restaurants.
We also visited Nusa Dua, which is on the southern tip of the island. Nusa Dua is again quite upmarket with fancy resorts. It’s supposed to have really great beaches and it came highly recommended for snorkeling. Sadly, we reached when the tide was receding and our snorkeling experience was less than amazing. The water also had tall weeds which greatly impacted underwater visibility. Also having dived in Gili, I think I was just being biased! But from what I’ve read, Padang Bai is actually the best part in Bali to snorkel/dive. Padang Bai is also where you catch the ferry for Lombok and Gili.
Our Recommendation: While in Bali, you may want to do the Bali Kintamani Volcano, Ubud and Barong Dance Full-Day Tour. Its the perfect introduction to Bali's fascinating culture and handicrafts, picturesque rice paddy fields, traditional villages and a spectacular lake and volcano. Your journey takes you to Batubulan, known for its stone carving and ornate temples, here you will see the exciting Barong Dance. A traditional dance that portrays the eternal struggle between good and evil, the religious and the profane and with a dramatic ending.
Our Food Adventure (Like none other)!
The highlight for us post snorkeling was something called Babi Guiling. It’s basically a suckling pig preparation which is very popular in Bali. They basically prepare every part of the piglet in different styles, right from making chips out of the skin to sausages out the meat and a soup out of the bones. This traditional Balinese dish is mind-bogglingly delicious! While we were at it, we decided to take our level of being adventurous with food one notch higher and tried a dish called Bubur Ayam. Bubur Ayam is thick gravy based dish made of chicken feet served with a rice porridge. As unpleasant it may sound, it was really tasty!
Of course Bali does have the well-known Nasi Goreng and Mi Goreng available everywhere. Typical to any south East Asian country, the array and variety of fruits available is spectacular! We gorged on melons, Mangosteen and Rambutan while there!
Kissing my Baby Goodbye
Our week in Bali and Gili ended all too quickly. It went by in a blink. But one thing was sure, we were all deeply deeply (yes, I am repeating but that’s because I truly mean it) in love. The people are amongst the warmest and kindest I have ever come across. They are honest and god fearing and always make you feel at home. Atithi Devo Bhava is a Hindu concept where a guest is considered god and no one exhibits this better than the Balinese. They’re also very protective of the environment and it is indeed heartening to see how beautifully they have maintained and how carefully they have developed this island.
And I think I am going to again break my promise by going back to Indonesia for the third time for my newfound love for the Gilis! I hope it’s sooner rather than later but I already have my next dive expedition being planned in my head ;)
About the Author from Author himself!
Hey, I am Suhail, (just) 28 and working with a startup called UrbanClap based out of Gurgaon, India. I had an opportunity to live in Japan for 3 years at a very impressionable age and that's when the travel bug hit. I promised myself that I will save all the money I earn to spend it on travel. Some of the most interesting places I have visited are Scotland, South Africa, Bali and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. I am a huge fan of history and the seas but not so much of the mountains. I think destination next for me will be Jordan and Egypt or Russia! Hope you all enjoyed this piece on Bali that I contributed to Bohotraveller, do leave your comments and let me know!