“Oops, I peaked too early” aka My Bali Experience
Bali is a lovely island. If you’re seeking a combination of relaxation, adventure, and culture, all wrapped up like bacon on fruit in an island paradise while maintaining the creature comforts of home, Bali has a lot to offer.
But I’m a big weirdo and experiencing discomfort has been the name of the game, and frankly, Bali felt like being back home in the U.S. Granted, I only had a little over a week to explore the island, and I chose to spend the majority of it in Gili Air (which is NOT Bali), so there’s that.
Unlike the rest of Indonesia, the island of Bali is over 83% Hindu and as of 2003, 80% of the island’s industry was tourism-related. I think the Israelis summed it up pretty accurately with this statement: “There are so many white people!”
Where to Stay in Bali
Bali has a little something for everyone, and Claire from Claire’s Footsteps has done an excellent job describing some of its highlights. Most of the popular destinations are located on the western part of the island.
As I’ve met other travelers, I’ve realized I have this terrible habit of deferring to my companion’s plans or opinions rather than take the lead. After traveling alone for some time, it also felt nice to not have to put time into researching my next move, so I pretty much left it up to the Israelis to decide where we’d stay. I knew I wanted to go to Ubud and that I was eventually going to leave for the Gilis, so what happened in between didn’t really matter to me.
The Israelis knew a leader in the Jewish community who had a place in Seminyak, so we spent the first night there. After that, room availability was scarce (Bali is one of the few places in SE Asia where you should book your accommodations in advance), so we ended up staying at a hostel in Kuta.
Seminyak has a classy vibe, perfect for the 30+ crowd looking for great restaurants, boutique shopping, and quality spas! The beaches of Seminyak are much quieter than neighboring areas, and you can easily rent a lounge chair right on the beach for 100,000 IDR!!!
We stayed there for exactly one day, and after acquiring a couple motorbikes for a weekly rental of 50,000 IDR (this is actually a good price), we moved south to Kuta.
Kuta is THE place to party if you’re a 20-something backpacker—okay, I can’t. I just can’t pretend I have high opinions of Kuta. We spent a total of three nights in Kuta, and while I dug the vibe that first night (our hostel, Captain Goose, was actually pretty cool), things got weeeeeeird that second night.
On the first night, tall Israeli and I checked out the club scene. He was refused entry into the exclusive Sky Garden because they had a dress code (hint: not shorts and a tank top), so we ended up club hopping for a few hours and witnessing a whole lotta paid “dates” and one impromptu pole dancing show. Most of the clubs were dead well into the night. We finally gave up and called it quits around 1am.
The next night, I went out with a British girl from my dorm. The clubs were equally dead and Sky Garden’s cover charge was equally outrageous. The other two British guys from our dorm had planned to go to a nearby reggae bar, so we decided to set up shop there. I love beaches and I love reggae bars, so I was completely fine with this plan. Apparently so was everyone else who thought Sky Garden was dumb, which meant a full house at the reggae show.
I was enjoying myself on the dance floor, when I turned around and saw a very familiar face—Bus Station Boy from Banyuwangi!
“You ripped us off,” I told him.
“Yeah…sorry about that. Where are your friends?” he asked nervously.
The Israelis were celebrating Shabbat with all the other Jewish people on Bali. “At a Hungarian dinner,” I replied.
Bus Station Boy disappeared into the crowd, but that wouldn’t be the last I saw of him. Throughout the evening, we’d end up in the same area, and though it was challenging to air my grievances at the entire situation as the band covered Bob Marley’s One Love, I felt like I said what I needed to say and he aptly avoided me for the rest of the night.
The Brits decided that the drinks at the bar were too expensive and left to chug convenience store beers in an alley. I decided I was too old for this shit and went home to sleep.
On my third day in Kuta, I finally decided to split off on my own and explore other parts of Bali. Ubud, known for its yoga and rice fields, was a little less than an hour north, so I used Grab to find a motorbike, and off I went.
My motorbike driver had a need for speed, so I experienced my fastest and most terrifying bike ride on the trip thus far. However, he also seemed to know what he was doing, so I agreed to let him take me back to Kuta after my Ubud adventure was over. Pro Tip: Most drivers are willing to hang out and wait for you to finish up whatever touristy thing you’re doing to take you back to your origin point. Sometimes this is easier than trying to arrange transportation, especially in Indonesia where everything is either a haggle game or a surprise.
I spent the afternoon in the Ubud Monkey Forest, a sanctuary where monkeys roam freely and steal tourists’ water bottles to their heart’s content.
The visit is easily doable in 1-2 hours. It’s necessary to have access to a car to get around Ubud, which I didn’t plan ahead for, so I just walked around the area surrounding the Monkey Forest for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. I didn’t get to meditate or practice yoga or have any epiphanies while sipping wine over the Ubud rice fields, but I did have a great dinner at the Arma Museum and hung out with fluffy cats at a cat cafe.
Overall, Bali was an okay experience. I think if I had gotten to check out other areas, such as the surf and dive destinations of Padangba and Ulawatu, or explored the trails of Mount Agung, I would have enjoyed my time there more. I do believe that Bali is a great place to visit for a vacation, but as a backpacking destination, it was a bit underwhelming.