Alyssa and I stood on the platform with giant hiking packs on our backs and little school backpacks on our stomachs. We were wearing light layers even though the wind was strong and hail was coming down in a 45 degree angle all around us. We were freezing and cursing the bitter Fukui weather. Realizing we were moments away from getting on a train we shouted “So long sucka! ” to each other and into the “clean” Fukui air. We would soon be at the airport traveling south into the southern hemisphere and into summer. Bali was in our near future.
ok. ok. Enough of the epic story telling… But seriously. We were excited and It was epic.
I don’t particularly hate winter contrary to what you would think since I come from a state known for it’s sunshine, hot hot summers, and a lack of any other season. In the winter I genuinely enjoy the beauty of snow and the early mornings snowboarding in the mountains. I also LOVE Japanese food in winter as you can see in the extra bit of fluff I acquire around my middle during December. (Hello combini niku-man and nabe parties around a kotatsu. I’m talking about you.)
With that said, every year winter vacation still can’t come fast enough. The fall term is always by far my busiest at work and by December I’m itching for some freedom from the structured life of work and living in Japan. Also I just plain miss the sun. Hokuriku in winter has a serious lack of sunshine that can really put my mood down in the dumps.
This year myself and two friends, Tom and Alyssa, planned a vacation for 16 days in Indonesia. We were excited. It was the first time for the three of us to plan a big international trip on our own. I did travel a few years ago with some friends to Cambodia and Thailand but I didn’t do much of the planning myself. Needless to say there were things that worked out beautifully and things that I wish I could forget. So this post will be a list of the greatest hits and misses of our time in Bali.
Greatest Hits of Bali
1. Using Ubud as our Base Camp
We only had a few days in Bali before we left for Lombok so we had to make some tough choices about what parts of Bali we wanted to see. The first thing we decided was that we wanted to avoid the crazy overcrowded party scene of Kuta, Bali. That really only left us with using Ubud as a place to stay and explore from.
It was a great decision. While Ubud is quite expensive in comparison to other places, there was so much to do that I think it was worth the price. The city is unique and touristy without feeling fake and showy. I enjoyed my time there. Some real standout highlights were dinner at Naughty Nuri’s Warung, The Jazz Cafe, and our incredible hotel that we splurged on. It was worth every penny
2. Missing Sunset at Tanah Lot
No, you read that correctly. We missed the sunset at Tanah Lot and I am SOOOO glad we did. Since we had such limited time on Bali we had to fit anything and everything in whenever we could. We were going to be arriving in Denpasar at 3:00 and driving to our hotel in Ubud. Looking at a map, Tom had a great idea of asking a driver to pick us up at the airport and drive us to Tanah Lot directly, catch sunset there, and then go to our hotel late in the evening.
It was going to be quite the welcome to Bali! Unfortunately, we chose the wrong line at immigration at the airport and we didn’t end up leaving the airport until about 4:30. Then we met Indonesian traffic for the first time and we ended up watching most of the amazing sunset from the car.
We debated if we should even go to Tanah Lot at all but we decided this was likely our only chance to see the famous temple. We wanted to get whatever we could out of the experience even if it was in the dark. We managed to get to Tanah Lot right around dusk. The very last bits of sun disappearing into the night. The temple was deserted. We had it nearly completely to ourselves and it was glorious.
Tom and Alyssa waded across to the temple and were blessed by the priests. We took our shoes off and played in the sand. We climbed all over the rocks and explored every corner of the temple. When the last of the light had left and it was completely dark we said our farewells to the temple and the ocean and went back to the car.
I wonder how many people get to experience Tanah Lot without another person in sight. We were so lucky.
3. Bike Tour
After our fortunate bad timing at Tanah Lot we woke up early for our pre-booked bike tour. If you are an active person I highly recommend a trip like this. We booked through Bali Hai Bike Tours. The tour was a bit on the pricy side but fantastic. It gave us a great opportunity to see a ton of Bali at a leisurely pace in an active way.
The ride itself wasn’t strenuous at all since it was nearly all down hill. We were in a group with a few other travelers and it was nice to meet new people and hear about their experiences in Ubud and Bali. We got some great sight seeing tips from them.
One of the women in our group did get a bit spooked with biking down hill. She wasnt super comfortable on her bike and she ended up hitting a tree. Because of her accident, we couldn’t stop at all of the locations towards the end of the tour.
We did end up stopping on a random street in the middle of northern Bali and got to see a local 12 year old girl’s music concert. She was excited to have someone to sing for. Win.
Also the food we ate as a part of the tour was some of the best food we ate the entire trip. Definitely worth the money.
I’ve had friends who have also used the Bali Eco Cycling Tour and had equally wonderful things to say about it. I will definitely be signing up for bike tours when they are available during any other vacations I take in the future.
4. Great Travel Friends
One of the biggest reasons why the trip was so fantastic was because of the group I traveled in. I have never traveled with Alyssa and Tom for more than 2 days before and Tom and Alyssa barely knew each other at all. We ended up being great travel partners and 3 was a great number.
We occasionally met up with 2 of our other friends who were in Indonesia during the same time making our number 5. It was a great number for going out and having fun on New Years and Christmas time.
Good friends make good trips great. Love them.
Greatest Misses of Bali
1. LONG CAR RIDES
Bali has some very congested roads and many of the things we really wanted to do in Bali were very spread out. It made for some long days spent in the car. This was a part of Bali that I really disliked.
Its actually easier and cheaper to hire a private car for the day than for a single excursion because drivers are always going to try and pressure you into doing packaged tours. Drivers want a job for the entire day and don’t want to work with you for a few hours when someone else they could pick up in the morning with hire them for 10 hours.
The problem with packaged tours is that we as a group were usually only interested in 1 of the things in the tour. We ended up driving all day long in a car to see 1 thing we wanted to see (Rice Terraces) and 3 things that weren’t great and we weren’t interested in.
What a waste of our time and money! If I could go back I would have stuck to our guns and found a driver who only took us to the things we wanted to do. I would have preferred shorter car trips and half day tours over longer trips and full day tours.
2. Indonesian Radio (this goes hand in hand with long car rides)
So, what do you do on these long car trips? Well after conversation slows down in the first couple hours you listen to the indonesian radio AKA endure torture. I can’t even begin to tell you how annoying I thought the radio was. At first I found the strange foreign pop music and children rapping in Bahasa over EDM funny and entertaining- Then I began to feel like my head was going to explode and my ears were going to bleed.
Why, oh Why, is there 30 minutes of children rapping poorly in a language over annoying EDM? AND why does this 60 year old man thats driving us seem to enjoy it? By the end of the trip Alyssa and I didn’t even bother with conversations in cars. We just put our headphones in and listened to our ipods to escape the radio’s noise, I mean music.
3. Forgetting to bring Imodium…
Listen, saying the Japanese diet is mild is an understatement. White rice, raw fish, very little heavy red meat, cheese, dairy, spice, and sugary foods… My stomach has been surviving off Japanese food for 2 and a half years with very little interruption.
Indonesian food wrecked me. I had diarrhea the entire time I was in Indonesia. This was partly from stubbornness. I enjoyed the taste of Indonesian food and I wasn’t going to let my weak stomach stop me from eating it. I tried to make smarter choices but I continued to eat what I wanted within reason.
I know what you were thinking, you probably had some tap water. No. I was careful. I even ordered water from a bottle warm to avoid ice. I think I have learned from now on I should always travel with imodium and avoid copious amounts of cheese on the first few days of vacation.
If you end up like me in Bali look for white rice and Banana Jaffles on the menu. They will become your new best friend.
4. Under budgeting
Lastly, we seriously under budgeted Bali. I was very happy with Ubud and the feel of the city but it was expensive. It wasn’t like other southeast asian countries I had been to and the prices did not reflect the research I did online. Bali has had a large tourism industry for many years and during those times the prices have continued to rise in tourist areas.
Meals were usually around 6-8 dollars on average at restaurants. You could do cheaper at street stalls but with my stomach illness I didn’t want to take too many chances. So the prices were way more than what I was expecting. We could have enjoyed our whole trip more if we had been better prepared with a more realistic budget. I think it might have been because we were there for the busy season of Christmas and New Year… But there’s no way to tell for sure.
In the End,
I wish we had an extra day in Bali. Not because I wanted to do more sight seeing in Bali, but just to give us a little extra breathing room in between the things we did. I wish I could have wandered aimlessly through the city of Ubud. There were so many places to discover and people to meet. It’s a shame we were so busy the entire time.
On boxing day we woke up early to be picked up by a bus that was going to deliver us tot he port to catch a boat to the traditional more rural island of Lombok. Getting to Lombok was quite the adventure and exercise in patience.