A 3-hour flight south from Kuala Lumpur found us in one of the more popular destinations in the world at the moment: Bali, Indonesia. You can’t visit many travel blogs or Instagram profiles these days without seeing pictures of the island; whether it is a flower petal bath, the swings, the aesthetically pleasing yet ultimately deceptive “reflection pool” temple photos, the monkey forest, and so on.
I get it, though. Bali is super affordable from a tourism perspective; I think the priciest purchases were plane tickets and the time of our driver, Loys, whom we employed for the duration of our stay.
We stayed at the Ayu Duwur Beji Villa, a fair distance away from the main coastal tourism spots. This was fine because the area was peaceful and gorgeous. The space had a very modern layout with the pool being the focal point. The experience was enhanced by excellent service staff who were efficient yet very discreet.
Breakfast and dinner were given as part of our rental although my experience was that the food was on the bland side, but it satiated my appetite somewhat…I chalked it up to having an American palette accustomed to added salt and sugar. Spicy seaweed snacks and Pocky sticks provided a much needed respite for me during this leg of the journey. Speaking of which, I was surprised and appreciative at the amount of Circle K convenience stores dotting the island.
WHERE WE ATE
We weren’t near the touristy area closer to the coast (Ubud is a bit more rural with rice fields dotting the countryside), but still managed to have a great selection of restaurants to choose from. The local cuisine had enough variety, which was fantastic for a foodie like me.
Being an island, there were plenty of seafood dishes served with some chicken and pork thrown in for good measure…To be honest, seeing more than one pig slaughtered on the side of the road put the kibosh on any direct ordering of swine.
My favorite places to eat were the trendy Rock Bar Bali and Ijen given their cosmopolitan feel, varied dishes, delicious cocktails and the astounding views of both the ocean and sunset. I was also a fan of Bebek Teba Sari, a restaurant we visited on our final day, which was more laid-back and had great views of the rice fields; the gentle intermittent rainfall massively enhanced the scenery even if the later downpour threatened to ground our flight back to Malaysia.
After a late night of liquor-induced revelry at Rock Bar followed by a meal on the beach complete with fireworks, there was an all-too-quick turnaround (poor Loys) into an early morning of treacherous mountain driving. That was followed by an even more harrowing climb up Mount Batur (a semi-active volcano).
The road to our destination provided many heart palpitations. Sheer cliffs and sharp turns in the early-morning dark without any guardrails is as terrifying as it sounds, but we made it safely somehow.
This part of the trip made one thing clear — Moutaineering is not my thing. We didn’t realize that a hike up Mt. Batur was going to be full-on anaerobic exercise.
Picture this: A sturdy 6’2″ male expecting to hike up a hill for a relaxing stroll (based on Trip Advisor reviews) instead finds that he is in fact going to scale a rather steep and craggy volcano. He’s wearing city-worn lace-free Chuck Taylor sneakers with minimal treads and rather snug jeans with only the slightest bit of elastic woven in. The early morning dew has not helped the slippery situation as damp rocks abound. On top of this, the darkness further complicates already unsure footing. Finally, the only exercise he’s really had in the past few months is scaling the steps of the NYC Transit system…not a trifle by any means, but not typically sucking the wind from his lungs. This is an accurate description of my experience ascending Mount Batur.
The other maddening thing about scaling the mountain was that while I was struggling to climb in too-tight jeans and chucks, people were basically running up the mountain in flip flops and shorts — this boggled my mind.
However ridiculous I thought the climb was, it was worth it for these views:
Descending the mountain for an additional two hours was almost as tedious and probably twice as dangerous given the slipping and sliding I did in my shoes. Having the sun during descension was the only boon.
BATUR NATURAL HOT SPRING
After a grueling early morning volcano climb, what better way to wash away the the gallons of sweat and grit than to soak aching leg and back muscles in a hot spring. The Batur Natural Hot Spring was much more my speed as someone who enjoys the more luxurious aspects of travel.
We lounged here for quite a few (deserved) hours before heading back to our temporary dwelling.
After an evening to rest from the awfulness that was Batur Mountain we had a more relaxing excursion the following day in the form of Batuan Tembple. As with the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, the temples are sacred ground. We were not allowed to wear shorts or anything too revealing on temple grounds, so everyone was given a kamben, which is essentially a traditionally patterned wraparound skirt, to walk around the grounds in.
The weight of history really hit me as I made my way around the temple. The vibrant colors and the intricacy of the details in the architecture and statues are really impressive. It’s clear that restoration work occurred, but the foundation that ancient artisan hands built is awe inspiring.
NUSA DUA BEACH / CLUB MED
There’s not much to say here other than the beach was gorgeous. It wasn’t super crowded, which is always a plus. The stop was a much needed respite from all the van traveling we did.
ROCK BAR BALI AT AYANA RESORT AND SPA
The Ayana resort was a high-end location on the southern part of the island where we dined and consumed cocktails. Golden-hour here was spectacular with a clear view of the ocean horizon. We were able to see the sun set, which was clearly a major selling point for the location as a great many onlookers, with phones in hand, were able to record the moment when dusk turned into night. I highly recommend stopping here for dinner and drinks if you need a small break from rice farms, and countryside.
BALI GREEN SPA
It would be irresponsible of me to not mention the MANY inexpensive spa options in Bali. The first evening in our villa we purchased in-room treatments, but on our final day we visited Bali Green Spa, where the most expensive package is $55. I’ll admit that I fell asleep during both experiences while receiving a facial; it doesn’t get any more relaxed than that.
You can’t leave the island without having a full-service spa experience!
Bali is trip worth taking. It is an increasingly popular tropical South-East Asian destination with plenty to to do, and is versatile enough to have both traditional and upscale experiences. I highly recommend visiting.
- If you choose to stay away from the action, be sure that you have transportation planned in advance with a reliable, trustworthy driver.
- Be cautious about certain beverages and foods; there is a such thing as “Bali Belly“, so I recommend buying bottled water for all activities that need it (i.e. drinking, brushing your teeth).
- Try to find out ahead of time if any of the volcanoes are showing signs of activity. We were fortunate, but about a week later a major eruption grounded all flights and stranded some acquaintances.