Bali is the reason I made the decision to move to Britain. Just before we immigrated, we went to Asia first. Until this trip, I had seen New Zealand and New Caledonia, smaller trips I did when I was a lot younger but it wasn’t until I visited Bali, that I caught the travel bug. It’s such a vastly different culture to our own – a truly fascinating experience.
Welcome to Bali. One of the tiniest Indonesian islands, approximately 6 hours fly time north-west of Sydney or 19 hours from Britain. Despite it’s small size, it has a massive population, at 4.2 million inhabitants in an area covering only 3,500 square miles. Bali relies heavily on tourism with about 80% of it’s income provided by this activity.
We travelled in the height of summer so temperatures were very hot but what got me the most was the humidity. It was sweat central with humidity reaching 95%+, even at night. Most tourists wear next to nothing as it’s simply too hot to wear too many clothes but to my astonishment, the locals still wear collared shirts and jeans most of the time. Topless men, wearing nothing but a pair of board-shorts with flip-flops under toe or even bare foot were commonplace around Kuta beach.
Get used to people trying to peddle their goods onto you. I got sick of being asked “Boss, you want Taxi?”
Travel Tip: A hat and sunscreen are essential items for walking around Bali.
Our first hotel was in the centre of the capital Denpasar. It was still being built as we checked in. It was a very nice hotel but sadly, we only lasted a few days, as the noise from drilling and tile cutting wasn’t exactly the most ideal place to relax. We checked out and relocated to a more suitable hotel right on Kuta Beach which is the main tourist beach. Despite it costing a lot more, it was truly 5 star luxury but we had peace and quiet in the hotel complex.
Kuta is the main visitors attraction with many street side shops, bars, cafe’s and nightclubs, catering to a mostly young crowd. In fact, Bali is renowned in Australia for being the palce where young Australians go to celebrate “Schoolies Week”, after they graduate from school and decide to party.
We wandered aimlessly around the endless back streets of stalls and shops, buying too many cheap rip off Nike trainers and wooden penis-shaped bottle openers. The beach is also quite a sight with lots of umbrellas protruding from the sand and multi-coloured bean bags – places of refuge from the hot sand and sun. Street-food stalls and bars stretching along the entire coastline are on hand to cater to your every whim day and night.
Welcome to downtown Seminyak. This is what it’s like almost all the time, with scooters dominating the streets with fuel you buy in Absolute bottles at vendors scattered across the city.
Travel Tip: Walking, taxis or scooters are the best way to travel around town. Taxis aren’t expensive but their air-conditioned and traffic is a nightmare. While hot, walking is by far the easiest option.
Despite it’s apparent beauty, Bali is one of the dirtiest cities I’ve ever seen. Until only recently sewage from surrounding houses was still be dumped directly into the ocean untreated. The issue is being addressed by local authorities but progress is slow and the problem is widespread.
The beaches and surf look inviting but what’s actually in the water is of a major concern.
Travel Tip: Do not spend more than 30 minutes in the ocean at a time, and try to avoid submerging your head under water.
A mandatory visit whilst in Kuta was to pay my respects for those who lost their lives. On 12 October 2002, downtown Kuta was rocked by a bomb, killing 202 people from 20 countries including 88 Australians. There are still remnants of the terrorist attack scattered around the city and a large shrine erected on the main blast site to remember those who lost their lives that night.
But the Balinese people are strong and resilient, though the after affects were felt for years afterwards as many tourists cancelled travel plans to this now terror infected tourist destination. Bali recovered and people started visiting again but this is a harsh reality check and reminder of the type of world we all live in today.
Travel Tip: Do not try to acquire, take or smuggle drugs in Bali. Even marijuana is illegal and you could end up in prison if you’re caught. Their laws are very different to ours here in the UK. Remember, they still have the death penalty!
This was our second hotel, The Stones Autograph Collection on Kuta Beach…5 star luxury at it’s finest.
Travel Tip: The main water supply is non-potable. Only drink or brush your teeth using bottled water and shower with your mouth closed or you will end up with “Bali Belly”. Don’t assume, as I did, that because you’re in a 5 star hotel, your water is clean.
A trip to Bali simply isn’t complete without a tour into the countryside, a chance to see the real Bali. I found a tour guide online and it cost us about AUS$50 (c£30) each for the day in an air-conditioned 4WD.
We began by visiting a waterfall, then lunch in the rice fields, followed by a visit to the monkey sanctuary, a coffee and tobacco plantation and last but not least, Tirta Empul.
As cute as they look, they’re very intelligent and can be really cunning and quite viscous. This tenacious fella opened up my backpack and took a bottle of water from inside. Another monkey tried to steal my prescription sunglasses…they ended up on the forest floor and my poor boyfriend had to climb down to retrieve them…but despite a few incidents, it was still a lot of fun to mix and interact with these incredible creatures, most of whom were quite friendly and sociable.
The highlight of the tour for me was visiting the local Luwak coffee and tobacco plantation. Luwak coffee is considered to be the best and most expensive coffee in the world. In London, some cafes are charging a whopping £70 for a single cup. How it’s made will blow you away.
Coffee cherries are eaten and defecated by the asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus). The locals call them Luwaks. Fermentation occurs as the cherries pass through the civets intestines, and after being defecated, are collected, washed, roasted and ground down to make Luwak coffee or what many call “cat poo coffee”.
My taste buds were in for a treat this day as I experienced other flavours of coffee and herbal teas, all grown organically in the surrounding forests. Even their tobacco is grown locally and organically and contains zero chemicals. Quite a change from the regular pre-packaged cigarettes or pouches you get here in the UK.
I sat back in my chair, enjoying my freshly brewed Luwak coffee, lit my organic cigarette, and took a moment to admire the lush, tropical rainforest surrounding us.
We had to pay extra for a cup of Luwak coffee but at only AUS$5 (£3), it certainly beats paying 70 quid. It was a very rich, strong, full-bodied coffee, nothing like ever tasted before. To fully appreciate Luwak coffee, for me, it was actually being at the plantation where the coffee is made that made the experience that much better.
You can buy Luwak coffee here to brew yourself but it’s not cheap at around £220/kilo.
The final destination on our tour was Tirta Empul, the water temple. The water here is considered to be holy. It was such an enlightening experience being there…but the water was freezing. You certainly knew you were alive when entering the holy pools. This temple complex dates back to 960A.D.
We were only in Bali for a week but it completely changed my perception of the world and the people in it. I knew that from that moment onwards, all I wanted to do was to travel and experience life in different parts of the world. I do love Asia but ironically, now I’m living in Britain, I have developed a deep love of everything British so most of my travels do not need to extend beyond the borders of the UK at the moment. There is so much fascinating history, heritage and culture here, more than enough adventure and opportunity to keep this budding writer happy.