When I saw a promo flight to Bali I could not – quite literally – pass it up! Who doesn’t want to live out the romanticized recollection of Elizabeth Gilbert’s love chapter of Eat. Pray. Love? I must admit though, for reasons other than just her book, I had my own romanticized notions of what a vacation to Bali would look like, however, it was somewhat clouded by negative accounts that I’d also heard regarding its over-the-top club and Aussie backpacker scene. Determined to see for myself – and a bit reluctant to remove my rose-colored glasses – I booked a one week Balinese getaway.
My list of favorite moments from the trip could be an endless one; so instead, I’ve condensed the week down to my top 10 favorite experiences – all of which I might add completely surpassed my already high expectations. Bali, it seems to me anyways, is well worth the hype it’s received. It’s just a matter of stepping out with the intention of adventure – and adventure you’ll always find.
See for yourselves:
1. HIKING MT. BATUR
While much of why we chose Bali as our target destination had lots to do with images of cocktails and beach days, and little to do with being sweaty and physically exhausted, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to get our boots dirty and catch a sunrise from a mile up. After a 1:00AM wake up call, we took a two hour ride (nearly the length of the whole island) to the foot of Mount Batur where we began the hike. We trekked through complete darkness, led only by flash lights and stars in order to reach the summit just before sunrise. We stumbled, struggled and laughed our way up the side of the mountain. Believe me, we had all the scrapes and bruises to show for our effort. But, despite our sleepy eyes and aching legs the mood was ethereal. Intoxicating. It took everything in me not to stop every two minutes to glance back at the sky catching fire all around us.
While standing atop the mountain at sunrise was incredible, the journey up was pretty magical in itself.
2. JUNGLE TREKKING TO SEKUMPAL WATERFALLS
I don’t use the world otherworldly lightly, so trust me when I say that Sekumpal Falls is deserving of the word. Imagine Jurassic Park meets Lost and you’ll have scratched the surface of what the journey to these falls is like. In a complete downpour, we wound down a sketchily-small road through the heart of the jungle – complete with monkeys and all – before beginning the 300+ steps downward. Steep and slick, the stairs led us deeper into the jungle and closer to the falls. It wasn’t long before we no longer could tell if it was the sky or falls raining on us. We waded across a powerful, waist-deep river before finally reaching the foot of the falls happily soaked and breathless.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the child-like joy that overtook us as we all stood as close as we dared to her mouth, belly laughing and screaming, holding on for dear life.
3. MARKET SHOPPING IN UBUD
I.COULDN’T.STOP.BUYING.THINGS. The Ubud market is what dreams are made of – mine at least. There we found piles and piles upon hand and locally made goods. Everything from traditional fabrics and woven baskets to dresses and handmade wood crafts could be ~and were~ bargained for at this never-ending stretch of stalls. We spent the whole day perusing the streets of Ubud, shamelessly searching for this and that to add to our ever-growing collection of worldly memorabilia.
I ended up with a dress, shaw, shirt, pair of shorts, and table runner. When we did stop though we made sure it was for the most delicious homemade coconut ice cream this world has ever seen. Two words: Tukies Cafe. You’re welcome.
Oh, and full transparency, I was apparently too busy spending money to stop and take pictures. Alas, the photos you see here are of a different – obviously food oriented market – not the aforementioned Ubud market. It was also magical might I add and much easier on the wallet.
4. COFFEE & TEA TASTING AT A LOCAL PLANTATION
To be honest, visiting a plantation wasn’t really on my radar for this trip, but after having gone, I’m so glad we did! The five of us were fittingly in desperate need of some caffeine by the time we arrived at the venue. Situated high in the mountains, we found the place parked in the forefront of a cluster of terraces, providing the perfect backdrop for some early morning coffee tasting. Upon arriving, we were met at the car by the cutest Balinese girl, who we’d later realize would be our guide for the morning, and immediately briefed on the various types of beans and techniques used to make their local coffee. We even got to pound some of our own!
The experience was extremely educational, relaxed, and a great way to try some flavors we never thought we would – for instance, the infamous coffee that’s first digested by cats before being pooped out, washed, and ground into coffee. Yep!
Check that off the bucket list…
5. VISITING TEMPLES
It obviously wouldn’t be a trip to Bali without a stop ~or ten~ to the iconic temples scattered across the island. Among the ones we visited were Taman Ayun, Lotus, Tanah Lot, and Ulun Danu Bratan – each unique in their layout, surroundings, and architecture. My personal favorites were Ulun Danu Bratan and Tanah Lot, much owed to the journey it took to reach them. For Ulun Danu Bratan (used for ceremonies to the water, lake and river goddess) the drive required passing through quaint mountain towns and stunning views. Protected, the temple sits fully surrounded by Lake Bratan. It’s mystical and serene.
As for Tanah Lot, (which means land in the sea) what was originally perceived as a leisurely 20 minute walk, materialized as a comical disaster, which, nonetheless, led to some pretty breathtaking views. Never under estimate the power of bad directions and wrong turns, am I right?
Alas, we made it just in time to snag the perfect table, cash in on happy hour, and settle in for sunset just before it dipped behind the ocean-side temple.
6. LEARNING (ATTEMPTING) TO SURF
This so-called “surf lesson” we joined – more like surf boot camp – kicked our butts. And it was awesome. We signed up for a lesson with a locally run and staffed surf school that, through varies activities, events, and donations, gives back to the local community. Not only was the company’s mission incredible but I seriously could not have loved our two guides more. They were quirky and outgoing, spilling with positive island vibes and life mottos, attentive and, well, ruthless. If we were tired they‘d push us on. If we wanted to give up they’d attach themselves to our boards and drag us back out. If we were scared they’d, with their charming smiles, give us a spiritual pep talk on giving into the ocean rather than fighting against her. The yoga of the sea they called it. We all spent most of the morning scoffing at this as we’d never known yoga to be so seemingly life or death. As I’m sure you gathered, we spent most of our “lesson” nearly drowning.
I’m still not quite sure how those two willed me to my feet on that board, but they sure did, and not just once but three times! When asked what the secret to surfing was one of them answered, “smiling” with a quick followed “and calming your breathing. Isn’t that the secret to everything?”
7. WANDERING THROUGH TEGALALANG RICE TERRACES
I’m not sure I would have appreciated the beauty of rice terraces had I not been living in the Philippines for the past two years and, therefore, now consider rice a crucial part of my every day. While rice is seldom something I cooked for myself in The States, here, and in many Asian cultures, it’s a way of life. In the Philippines and Bali the pride they take in cultivating rice is beautiful and it shows in their terraces. As you can see, they are truly impressive – architecturally and aesthetically. When it began raining the day of our planned stop to the famous Tegalalang Rice Terraces we nearly backed out, but thank goodness we didn’t! Resembling an amphitheater, the terraces are vibrant green and perfectly crafted – hand crafted might I add!
It seems as though the rain gods were looking out for us as well, as the pending rain held off until the moment we left.
8. SPENDING THE DAY WITH A BALINESE FAMILY
You know those annoying ads Instagram sometimes sneaks into your feed? Yeah, well, I have one of those to thank for the wonderful day the five of us spent cooking with a local family. Through Traveling Spoon, we had the opportunity to explore a locally-visited market, learn to cook several fresh and authentic Balinese dishes, and relax in the company of the sweetest and most welcoming family. It was such a unique and fun experience! When we arrived, we were instantly greeted with hugs and a fresh coconut, followed by a briefing of the amazing dishes we would be learning to prepare that day. We cooked up a variety of dishes incorporating everything from pork and tuna, to bean sprouts and coconut shavings. Oh, and lots and lots of red chilies… Easily one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
We booked this day with the expectation of spending an hour or two in a cooking class, and left with happily full bellies, a better understanding of the culture and language, and a couple new members to add to our ever-extending global-family.
9. SPENDING DAYS POOLSIDE (OR SEASIDE)
Most of our days in Bali were spent out-and-about exploring the island from sun up to sun down but we did set aside some days for the sole purpose of relaxing pool-side in our dreamy Airbnb home. This was my first time booking with Airbnb – but consider me hooked. All week we played house in a traditional Balinese style home, set in a tiny jungle-ish garden surrounded by banana, mango, jackfruit and lime trees. The house was located in a small rural community with views of mountains and rice paddies and, best yet, only a short walk to the beach. All sides of the house were covered in large glass doors that slide open to views of the garden and pool. Any spare chance we got at the house we mostly spent cooling off in the pool, enjoying a glass of wine or shandy or ~both.~ Not to mention the wonderful house caretakers both went above and beyond to make sure our stay was seamless, and the village driver who was always available to take us where we needed to go.
For one week we let our guards down as budget travelers and instead took baths in our large limestone tub, whipped up at home cooked meals like barbecue chicken pizza and veggie fajitas, and went to bed each night in the comfort of an entirely too-cold aircon-cooled room. Man, what a time to be alive.
We left Bali sweaty, sleepy, and dehydrated – so, in my opinion, a perfect getaway. What about you? Are you more of a relax on a resort vacationer or a get out and get dirty kind of traveller? Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time, keep adventuring x
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it.”