Because of Bali’s popularity amongst holiday makers and backpackers, I have never really been interested in going there. Although I know that there is a reason for its popularity, I generally prefer to stay away from places that are overcrowded with tourists. However, since I knew that some of my friends would be on Bali during my last week in Indonesia, I chose to go there anyways and give the island a chance to show me what it has to offer.
Having said goodbye to Ian, who flew to Australia on the same day that I flew to Bali, I felt quite lonely during my first days in Kuta. For some reason, homesickness has been much more of an issue on this journey than the Northern Europe journey last year. I think it’s because of the distance, the culture shock and language differences and the amount of time that I’m travelling for. There are people around me all the time, but still, I can’t help feeling lonely at times. Having someone to travel with really helps and the fact that I was going to see my friends soon kept me going.
Kuta is probably the best place to be on Bali if you want to meet fellow travelers, as it’s without a doubt Indonesia’s biggest tourist trap. Basically, all that is there, are tourist shops, heavy traffic, hopeful sellers shouting “taxi taxi” or “yeees massage” or sometimes both, a dirty beach and tourists from every Western country on the planet. I figured that I wasn’t missing out on much by taking it slowly and relaxing at the hostel for a few days. Just as I had hoped, I met some great people at the hostel and shared some fun moments with them.
Jonas, who is half Danish and half Faroese, and I went out for a few drinks one evening, and the next day, we hired a motorbike and drove to another dirty beach. It seems to be a big issue in South East Asia in general; the beaches here are basically rubbish bins. Despite that, I had a really fun day and I even tried to drive the motorbike myself, but failed epically. I’ll be up for the challenge again though, as I’ve decided to not let fear stop me again!
Three days into my week on Bali, Elien and Liam joined me in Kuta. They are eclipse chasers like me, so we’ve already met up in several countries. We were all itching to get out of Kuta, so on the first day, we decided to get a taxi to take us to the Uluwatu Temple on the Bukit peninsula at the southernmost point on Bali.
The Uluwatu Temple is one of Bali’s nice key temples. No one knows for sure when a temple was first built on the site, but in the 11th Century, Empu Kuturan, a Javanese sage, expanded the structure and made it was it is today. The temple is beautifully located on top of a majestic cliff, rising 70 m. above the Indian Ocean. The location is famous for having the best sunsets in Bali and we got to experience one of those ourselves.
The monkeys that inhabit the temple are known for stealing people’s stuff and sure enough, we saw people getting their sunglasses ripped off their faces and a monkey even stole my water bottle and started drinking from it. That was quite adorable though; I loved seeing how intelligent the monkeys are.
The day after, all three of us decided to move on to Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali.
Everyone that I had talked to had recommended Ubud and I expected it to be a really chill place, but unfortunately, because of its popularity, it’s almost just as much of a tourist trap as Kuta. But in Ubud there are many more things to see, such as the many temples in the town and the beautiful surroundings, so I would choose it over Kuta any day.
We only had one full day together in Ubud, so we decided to make the most of it and get up early to go hiking. Unfortunately, I overslept, so we didn’t get to see the sunrise, but we still had a great time walking the 8,5 km. Campuan Ridge, starting at the center of Ubud, taking us past small villages, river valleys, dense forests, rice paddies, temples, local craft shops and workshops and back into town again.
After the hike, we spent a few hours in the famous Monkey Forest, which is exactly what the name says. There are monkeys everywhere; it’s an amazing place and definitely my favourite place on Bali. I loved watching the monkeys play and just doing their own thing, not worrying about the many tourists, apart from when they had food or drink in their hands. I found that the monkeys there were less intelligent – or maybe lazier – than the ones in the Uluwatu Temple, as none of them – and I tried quite a few – could figure out how to drink from my water bottle, so I ended up pouring it into them myself.
I really enjoyed Monkey Forest and the hike around the rice paddies, but to me, Ubud itself is just another tourist trap. I didn’t feel inspired once and it got a bit tiring, especially since I was thinking it would be this cool and authentic place to experience the “real Bali”.
I realize that thousands will disagree with my opinion, but I just didn’t like Ubud. Ubud isn’t for everyone; it’s for the artsy people who don’t mind a crowd of a million tourists, but it’s not for those who enjoy authentic experiences. In fact, I have my doubts that anything in Bali is authentic anymore.
On my last full day in Bali, I got up really early to go hiking on Mount Batur, which was a beautiful experience. Afterwards, I said goodbye to Elien and Liam and headed to Kuta once again, but this time to see Victoria, one of my best friends from back home, and her boyfriend Joachim.
We spent the afternoon talking and playing games and enjoyed a beautiful sunset at the beach. It was great to see them again, but unfortunately, we only had that one day together, as I had decided to leave Bali two days earlier than planned, so I could climb Mount Kinabalu in Borneo. But thankfully, we’ll be meeting up again in Tokyo in one week’s time, where both Joachim and I are celebrating our birthdays!
So Bali didn’t exactly live up to its reputation for me and I never felt inspired to get out there and explore. Despite this, I enjoyed my time on Bali, but I don’t think that it’s a destination that I want to come back to. If I do, it will be to climb more volcanos 😉
Spending time with my friends in Bali was much needed and I have felt much better ever since. Hopefully I can continue this positive mindset throughout my adventures in Asia! After all, I still have three months left that I want to enjoy and make the most of.