Earlier this year if you had asked me to name places that I had visited and not particularly enjoyed, you would hear me name two countries – Singapore and Malaysia. I visited Singapore when I was only 16 and although I liked the shopping and the food, it didn’t seem to impress me. As for Malaysia, I have visited Kuala Lumpur on two different occasions, one as a family holiday when I was 12 and the other on my graduation trip. Both times, it didn’t blow me away – the traffic, the pollution, the weather and the shopping – it was all too similar to India. These two countries had left me with little to no desire for exploring other parts of Asia. The opportunity to visit Bali, Indonesia fell into my lap when all the stars aligned on my recent work trip to Perth. I’m not one to deny a cheap getaway, so I took it upon myself to make Bali my first solo adventure!
I flew with Air Asia from Perth to Denpasar despite the numerous warnings from my flight agent. He had pretty much told me to bugger off and that he wouldn’t take my business if I chose to fly with Air Asia. “They’re very unreliable, always having cancellations and delays without giving any notice. I just can’t subject my customers to that kind of service.” But at the attractive price of $250 return, I was ready to take the so-called ‘risk’ of flying with a budget low-cost carrier. While I was waiting for my flight at Perth International Airport I witnessed a Malaysian Airlines flight get cancelled and a Jetstar flight get delayed. My flight with Air Asia left on time and I had three seats to myself – basically a bed. Oh the irony!
I absolutely adored Bali and this trip has to be one of my favourite holidays. I could lay by the pool all day long or go be active at the beach or trek a mountain or shop all day long or try all the foods or be cultural and visit temples or play with the wildlife – I did all of the those things, and that’s probably why I love Bali.
I wanted to share with you my learnings from my trip to Bali and although I know you may not agree with a few of them, please keep in mind it’s my perspective.
1. Balinese Hinduism differs greatly from the traditional Indian Hinduism
Indians have a tendency to perceive the world in two colours – black and white. The black being the Indian society, unique as a result of the cultural and social diversity that our country of over a billion possesses. The white is the western world. We have never really addressed any other countries or cultures. Thus, I’m not oblivious to the fact that this may partly be the reason for my strong opinion in the next paragraph.
Bali is the only Hindu island in Indonesia. Being a Hindu myself, I wanted to visit as many temples as I could and learn as much as I could from them. I soon discovered that the Hindus in Bali are very different to the traditional Hindus in India. For example, during a funeral the Balinese perform a ritual slaughter on cattle and during a wedding they sacrifice a pig. I could not come to terms with this. I just wanted to scream, “How can you call yourself Hindus and kill a cow? How can you not eat beef but ‘sacrifice’ a cow to the gods?”
I felt as though they had taken Hinduism and modified it as they deemed fit. It wasn’t an entirely new religion because they still had Hindu deities, but it wasn’t Hinduism because they had just invented new goddesses which were never mentioned in the Ramayana or Mahabharata. I couldn’t embrace their religion, and it was because it hit so close to home.
It struck a nerve and throughout the numerous dances that depicted parts of Hinduism, I became unaccepting, almost critical of many things they would say. I also felt a strong urge to tell the Balinese to ensure that the tourists know the Balinese Hinduism isn’t the same as traditional Hinduism. Although there is nothing wrong with religion and every single person is entitled to their beliefs, I didn’t want the tourists to think of Balinese Hinduism as Hinduism. I wish that I didn’t seem so shallow but this somehow irked me. However, I was impressed and in awe of how religious the Balinese are. It truly is The Island of the Gods.
2. Bali has a lot of temples
Every house in Bali must have a family temple. Every community in Bali must have a community temple (Trinity Temple). Every region in Bali must have a public temple. The Balinese pray three times a day and you will find offerings in cars, boats, houses, roads, shops – everywhere. They are extremely religious people and it’s something to admire.
I had my itinerary planned out from the moment I had landed in Bali and it was filled with numerous temples. However, I soon came to the realization that the tourist hot-spots were h0t-spots for a reason. When it comes to choosing which temples to visit – and I would advice you not to dedicate more than two days to this – consult google.
3. Having a good driver is key
My first driver was utter shit. He didn’t like to hold a conversation, he enjoyed staying in the car and sleeping and most of all he did not give an absolute crap about my trip. If you don’t have a good driver – fire him! I made the mistake of staying with this driver whose goal was to show me as little as possible and make me finish my day trip as soon as possible. He was also very pushy in taking me to places such as the Gold and Silver Villages and The Batik Factory. After the first two hours wasted on this, I figured out that he would be getting commission from these places and told him, quite frankly that he was wasting his time. On one occasion, I asked him to take me to an authentic Balinese restaurant – I can tell you where he didn’t take me.
I have to admit that I did not have the heart to fire him no matter how much I was raging on the inside, so I spent two days with him. On the third day, he didn’t show up to pick me at my hotel and he didn’t pick up my calls. The receptionist at my hotel called his company to find out that he had called in ‘sick’. I was later advised that this is an excuse a driver uses when he finds a better paying customer. So although I was late to my massage appointment due to the mishap, it was the best thing that could’ve happened. Company is very important and I found this out when I finally found a driver who was always more than happy to show me around. He would come out to the sites with me and haggle prices with me. He also took me an authentic balinese road side stall where I had a meal for less than $2 AUD. The owner let me have a look at the back of their restaurant and I got to see how the balinese cooked outside of a traditional kitchen.
The moral of my story being is to ensure that you’re happy with your driver. It doesn’t matter if you end up paying a few bucks more for a better driver because you’ve invested a lot on coming on this trip and if $5 more per day means that you get a genuine experience then it’s worth it.
4. Experience Kuta – but get out in one day
My trip happened to coincide with a friend’s and since she was staying in Kuta I decided it was best to migrate there to spend some quality time with her. I was happy that I did because Kuta was a completely different world to Ubud.
In Ubud, I would get up at 6am to the sounds of geckos and roosters. The mornings would start with an organic breakfast with fresh juice, followed by either a swim in the pool or a walk in the organic gardens. Everything in Ubud would die down after dark. The vibe in Ubud is very artsy with yogashalas, vegan restaurants and art galleries surrounded by the lush green rice paddies.
Kuta’s day starts around midday and finishes in the wee hours of the morning. You will find vulgar men who will yell disgusting remarks at you, ladies dressed up in fancy costumes trying to lure you into the clubs, and a lot of bogans. Kuta offers cheap massages, great bargains, beaches and bars. It’s happening!The massages at Kuta were very clinical. I was lead into a cubicle with a massage bed lined with lino and I could hear what was going on in the cubicle next door. It felt like a brothel – not that I know what they’re like. However, I got some cheap knock-offs, great dresses and pants and it was close to a lot of water sports. Personally, I would avoid Kuta but a lot of tourists like to go there to see the clubs and the night life so perhaps for that I would advise a one day stop there before heading over to another part of the Island.
5. Safety isn’t a priority in Bali
I was able to do a sunrise trek with no prior experience. I was able to scuba dive for the first time without being certified. I was able to paraglide unsupervised without having done so previously. I was able to cling onto an inflatable boat as it was flung 50m into the air for the fun of it. I loved every second of these activities and I would do them again. But keep in mind that you are essentially endangering yourself doing these things in an Asian country. I was well aware that some of the things I was doing weren’t the safest – especially the paragliding I had a mini heart attack when the rope holding me did a little bit of stall and I was jerked back and forth – but I took a calculated risk, fueled by adrenaline. I also researched the companies that I was using to ensure that they had good reviews and a good safety record.
There were also instances where I saw tour guides assuring the passengers that it’s okay to feed the monkeys. It is not okay to feed the monkeys. Monkeys are dangerous, I learned this the hard way when my brother got bit by one when he was four, and thus stayed away from all monkeys the entire time I was in Bali.
I thought I’d take my scooter and check out the rice terraces early one morning. I drove around the monkeys in the monkey forest and the crazy Ubud market traffic fine but then somehow ended up on a deserted street with two crazy dogs madly chasing after me. Since I was on a scooter, I thought, “no biggie” and just kept accelerating. Until the street came to a dead end, and then it all was screams, horns and barking while I was trying to turn around the scooter. I got out alive!!! (And still managed to see the rice paddies again). I didn’t realize it at the time but if those dogs had gotten to me I would’ve been in big trouble. There was no one around and I am sure that those dogs would’ve bit me and possibly infected me as they were stray dogs. I got out lucky but I learnt to not expose myself to such situations.
Just use your common sense to guide you and ensure you have travel insurance to cover you just in case. You would be an idiot to go to an Asian country without travel insurance so that should be the first thing you invest in right after you book your tickets.
6. Balinese people are the friendliest people you will ever meet
Aside from the disturbing experience in Kuta, I met the most friendliest people in Bali. In particular, I will always remember the farmer I met when I took my scooter to the Ubud rice paddies. He was probably in his late 60s or early 70s and was a farmer who worked at the paddies and sold coconuts to tourists. He asked me if I wanted a coconut for 10,000 IDR, to which I replied, “That is so expensive! I see you’re hiking up the prices for tourists”. He was taken back by my comment but gave me a smile and said, “Nooooo! I sell very cheap, others put prices up”. I had no idea what the market rate for coconut was, I was just playing with him. We chatted for a while before I had to leave. My scooter didn’t start up and he started it back up for me. I was very grateful that I had met him because meeting him had just made my morning.
I also learnt that every Balinese person will ask you, “Where are you from?”, “What is your name?”, and “Who are you here with?”. If you say you’re there alone, they will be a bit taken back, especially if you’re a girl. Then they will smile and say, “Next time you come to Bali, bring your boyfriend. Maybe for your honeymoon”. I smiled and said sure.
It was a great adventure.