Bali is surprisingly cultural for being known as a beaching, partying, young tourist hot-spot. All along the sidewalks, in shops, restaurants, spas, and hotels, and on or in concrete walls, there are little Hindu offerings (called canang sari) of incense, flowers, snacks like Ritz crackers or cookies, coins, and even cigarettes.
The island has thousands of temples, with statutes of gods and goddesses and other religious sculptures and monuments everywhere. Of course, Bali also has its fair share of bars, clubs, and restaurants, many of them right on the beach.
For me, Bali was a relaxing vacation from my whirlwind trip so far, and for Connie, it was a well-deserved few days of escape from her demanding job. I was really excited to meet up with Connie, my favorite traveling friend who has seen more of the world with me than anyone else, which I think is in large part due to the fact that we like to do the same things while traveling and also get along very well in travel conditions.
Our first night in Bali was spent at a hotel near Canggu (a surfers’ beach) that was waaaaay far out and was set up so that it was frighteningly easy for lizards to come into our room. We decided to spend the rest of our week at a much nicer and better localed resort-y hotel in Seminyak, a chic, upscale, and more sophisticated area compared to the most popular part of Bali, party-central Kuta.
Upon our morning arrival at the swanky new Amadea resort, we headed straight for the pool for sunning and cocktailing. As afternoon set in, we strolled to Ku dé Ta, a trendy restaurant-type bar with lounges facing the ocean, perfect for watching the dazzling Bali sunset. The Ku dé Ta cocktails were DELICIOUS (albeit quite expensive according to Bali prices – but worth it). Choosing amongst the pages and pages of novel concoctions was incredibly difficult for me as I have a weird need to read every item on a menu, but I finally settled on a black peppered pineapple martini and Connie chose a mango coconut one.
We cocktailed while waiting for the sunset, which unfortunately was completely obscured by clouds by the time 6pm rolled around. (Sometimes I think the clouds are personally out to get me.)
We made up for missing the sunset with a delicious Italian dinner on the main street in Seminyak. Then we conked out in our super comfortable hotel beds (I love nice hotel beds!) to a Keeping Up With the Kardashians marathon on E! (and I love how nice international hotels have American cable channels).
A clear blue sky greeted us the next day, and we spent the afternoon walking the Seminyak beach, sunning, and drinking Bintang (Indonesia’s national beer) at Ku dé Ta. As the sun lowered over the horizon, the sky was completely void of clouds, and the 6pm sunset was one of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. It was a glorious day.
The next day was a day for experiencing some of the tourist attractions of Bali. Our personal driver first dropped us off at an elephant park next to the Ayung River. Candy, the 17-year old elephant from Sumatra (in fact not in Africa as we’d initially thought, but another one of Indonesia’s 17,000+ islands), took us for a bumpy ride around the park, stopping along the way to snuff up foliage with his trunk or slurp water from the nearby pond.
We were immediately charmed by him. It was very sad that this poor guy was in captivity and away from his native home, but our guide assured us that his flapping ears meant he was happy. (However, Wikipedia tells me that the flapping ears meant he was hot.) At least he was saved from the Sumatran poachers who are increasingly infiltrating his natural habitat.
Next was rafting on the Ayung River – SO. MUCH. FUN. It was just Connie and I in a raft with our two young Indonesian tour guides, who took it upon themselves to throw us into the water, maneuver the raft under waterfalls, pretend that we were stuck on a rock, or splash us with their oars whatever chance they had. It was a little bit like riding the log ride at a fair but much crazier and wetter.
After an Indonesian lunch buffet, our driver convinced us to stop at a spa (truthfully, it didn’t take much convincing). Our two-and-a-half hours at the spa getting massages, facials, scrubs, and a flower bath were an absolute indulgence for only 400,000 rupiah (which I know sounds like a ton, but seriously is only $45).
We planned an island tour for the next day, but as it didn’t start until noon, we had the entire morning to gorge on our hotel’s free Indonesia-Western breakfast buffet (yum, omelettes, fried rice, and tropical fruit!) and get pedicures.
Our first stop on the island tour was at Turtle Island, which I think is just a place with a buncha turtles in captivity purely to allure tourists and their money to the island. The turtles were pretty cute though, and we got a ton of pictures with us holding them and posing with them.
Next was snorkeling in the open water. As it was a private tour, we could participate in the activities only as long as we desired, which in this case was just about twenty minutes due to the lack of fish and the boat of leering, jeering Indonesian men right next to ours.
Back on land, our driver took us to Padang-Padang Beach, recently rebranded as “Julia Robert” beach because scenes from her movie Eat, Pray, Love were filmed there.
Padang-Padang Beach is secluded by cliffs, only accessible by walking down about a hundred stairs from the road through a narrow crevice in the rocks, and covered with huge rock formations (which may or may not have been lava rock). It was unfortunate that we only had one hour there because it was the type of unique, gorgeous beach that we could have spent all day at, watching the surfers, wandering around the configurations of rock, and of course, sunbathing.
Alas, we had to get on to our next stop, Uluwatu Temple, also known as “Monkey Temple,” located directly on the cliffs of the surfers’ hangout, Uluwatu, and nicknamed because of the hundreds of thieving monkeys that have made it their home. Living in a tourist destination, these monkeys have learned that stealing things from tourists – hats, wallets, flip flops, glasses – causes the theft victims to bribe the monkeys with food to get their belongings back.
Our tour guide wasn’t exaggerating when he told us to leave everything in the car; despite this, I was still the target of an attempted flip flop theft, which I thankfully averted just in time.
The day ended with an Indonesian seafood dinner right on the beach at sunset watching the huge waves crash on the sand.
A post-breakfast reflexology massage, Bintang by the pool, sunset cocktails at Ku dé Ta, boutique shopping in Seminyak, an evening stone massage, and another Italian dinner at the Trattoria was the perfect mix of relaxation and fun for our last day, interrupted by just a bit of excitement when we returned to our room to glimpse a lizard darting into our air conditioner.
Luckily, staying at a nice resort has unlisted perks as well as the advertised ones, one of which included the service of three young hotel employees working for about a half hour to get the lizard out of our air conditioner.
Unfortunately, even after being sprayed with Raid and poked with a feather duster, the little guy never reemerged. It was an apprehensive night’s sleep anticipating his reappearance (which thankfully didn’t happen).
Now we are flying home to San Francisco for the wedding of our great friends, Betsy and Marcus (“Betcus”), which I have been really really looking forward to since their engagement a year and a half ago!