After an all too brief glimpse of the Indonesian mainland we boarded a flight to the much-hyped Bali, 2016’s most Googled travel spot. Within Bali hides the spectacular, elaborate temples we had seen on the mainland, alongside idyllic rice paddies and picturesque volcanoes across the North; and these are contrasted with Western-style resort towns teaming with restaurants, bars and clubs walking distance from picture-perfect beaches across the South. Being a perfect blend of a cultural site and a lazy beach getaway, we were eager to see what it had in store for us.
Our hotel was based in Legian in the South, walking distance to party-town Kuta. Upon getting off the flight we were met with hordes of taxi drivers, swarming us like we were Margot Robbie at a comic book convention. We were given an amazing range of prices for the ride to Legian, from the ridiculous to the bank breaking, and would recommend any visitors to Bali doing as we did and picking up a metered taxi from outside the airport grounds, and making the most of Uber during your stay. It was a bit of a shock to the system when compared to Surabaya, and the novelty quickly wore off I can tell you!
We arrived at the Duo Legian hotel, which was Steph’s suggestion at about £12per night. It was, in our jaded travellers eyes, beautiful! White-washed, clean with friendly staff and even a swimming pool, I still wistfully think back to our spacious, air conned double room when lying in a roasting bunk room listening to people snore! Sure there was a minor altercation with an Ozzie bloke and his prostitute at 5 in the morning, but does that really matter when you have en-suite AND a TV in your room?!? Amazing find, thank you Steph!
We ventured down to the street and again were mobbed by locals selling a variety of odds and ends, and Alex, who had recently lost his fashionable Riy-Bons, became the proud owner of a very authentic pair of Ray-Bons. We found the sales approach to be a little bit pushier than we have experienced in the past, with three or four blokes working a shop and all getting involved, trying to step in front of you and block your path or grabbing you to get your attention, which quickly got annoying.
We were spoilt for choice in terms of restaurant for lunch, and had an amazing Mexican at Holy Guacamole, which we chose almost entirely because of the name but were very glad we did! After this we headed back to the hotel for a dramatic and very noisy reunion with the girls (picture slow motion running, tears – the works. It had been two whole months after all!).
The following day was a lazy beach day and Alex and I tried our hand at surfing. We were (not) naturals, but it was a lot of fun and the swells were probably just right for beginners like ourselves, and if nothing else we provided entertainment for a couple of Ozzies who stopped laughing long enough to give us a few tips.
After another delicious meal at the Smiling Frog (we had some great food in Bali, as evidenced above!) we had a very hasty research session into the best way to see the island on a budget. While there were plenty of organised tours available, as the girls had done before we arrived, we wanted something a little more personalised, where we could spend longer at places we were more interested in and skip or cut down time at other places. We opted for car and driver hire, and found details of Bali Travelo where we booked 10hrs and up to 120km for $40US, which was amazing value when split between the four of us. Despite us messaging at 10pm at night they were quick to reply and we were ready to go the next morning!
Our first stop was at Tegenungan waterfall, where Steph and Selene had actually already been on their previous tour, but as Alex and I had now been in Asia an embarrassingly long time without being anywhere near a waterfall they very graciously said they were happy to go again. Braving the couple of hundred rickety steps to get down to the waterfall, we had a great time tumbling about under the quite considerable force of the water. It was busy without being too crowded and even despite the people it was breathtaking; undeniable evidence that Bali doesn’t need hundreds of bars, restaurants and clubs to be sensational in it’s own natural right.
Our next stop was Ubud village, and I think our driver was keen to see the back of us after an hour + of singing along to the radio in the car! We were awed by Steph’s expert haggling skills in the marketplace and had a very tasty lunch. I would have liked to see more of Ubud had we had the chance, it had a much more traditional feel to it and seemed the perfect middle ground between the tourist trappings of Legian and the solitude and emptiness of Solo.
Our driver then took us over to a coffee plantation, which was interesting in some ways and very disappointing in others. Bali is renowned for Luwak coffee, which involves taking coffee beans which have passed through a Luwak’s system and roasting and grinding them, the theory being the Luwak pick the best beans and I presume that their digestive tract gives it a bit of extra spice.
The coffee samples they gave us were amazing and varied, including white chocolate, lemon, vanilla, mango, however we weren’t too impressed with how they treated the Luwak, Alex noticed the workers banging on one’s cage to wake up the poor terrified thing so tourists could have a look in. They are nocturnal and given free reign over the coffee beans at night, and normally in the wild are quite inquisitive and friendly, but don’t tend to be so in coffee plantations, probably for this reason.
Our final stop was Uluwatu, which was unanimously the best part of our day and if you are ever in Bali, definitely make time to check out their Kecak dance. The Kecak dance, or ‘monkey-chanting dance’, began in the 1930s is now synonymous with Bali culture. It’s a bit surreal if you don’t know what to expect and involves a group of men circling stage, chanting and going in a sort of ‘trance’, while actors dressed as White monkeys and Princes and evil Kings cavort around the stage. Uluwatu was the perfect backdrop for the performance as the sun set, an aged temple on the South-West peninsular of Bukit. It was great fun, entertaining and cheeky and inclusive of tourists and locals alike, although very difficult to work out exactly what was going on!
The following day we bid a fond farewell to Steph and Selene (sniff) and had a proper lazy day in the hotel and watched a bit of TV. We learned while they are happy to show films rated 15 or even 18, they will cut out anything with religion or strong violence, so pretty much nothing we watched made any sense, but it was great to just have a day doing absolutely nothing, and not worrying about missing out on seeing sights or getting our money’s worth. As we’ve progressed travelling we have come to terms with the fact that we are no longer Spring chickens, and have to take a day off every so often, for our sanity if nothing else!
While we may not be Spring chickens, we are still immature enough to enjoy a water park, so the following day we headed off to Waterbom! TripAdvisor rated Waterbom #2 waterpark worldwide in 2016 and while not a typical outing for a backpacker, we decided to splash out (get it?!) and embrace our inner child, and had a great day shooting down water slides, playing volleyball and lounging around on the lazy river, not to mention enjoying a cheeky drink at the swim-up bar.
After much consideration and investigation we decided to head to Turtle Conservation and Education Centre in Pulau Serangan. We originally looked at Turtle Island with Steph and Selene, but having read some awful reviews about the animal welfare on TripAdvisor we decided against it. Having read much better reviews about the Conservation and Education Centre, we got an uber over. We had pretty mixed feelings about the site, while they did some good work, for instance a local annual celebration traditionally involves a turtle within the parade, the towns would normally kill the turtle afterward but the Centre donate a turtle and therefore ensure the turtle is brought safely back. They also demonstrated some rehabilitation and release work of adult turtles, but a lot of the turtles are never released due to ‘studies’, which when I pressed they couldn’t actually explain to me what they were doing with them. They had massive turtles left long term in very small pools, as well as Brazilian tortoises and turtles kept just for show in a tiny enclosure with hardly any water, which they encouraged visitors to feed.
They allowed members of the public to release a turtle for the equivalent of £15 per turtle. While we weren’t too sure about the Centre itself (and not to mention £30 was an entire day’s budget) we each took a turtle, simply to get them out as quickly as possible. The turtles were 5 weeks old, and they had younger groups of turtles also ready and waiting to be let go. When I asked what happened to the babies who weren’t released they gave the impression that the turtles were just kept in the small pool until someone paid to release them. While I’m sure they get a lot of visitors and the turtles wouldn’t be there too long, I didn’t think it particularly fair on the poor things to be in captivity any longer than necessary, so we picked up our little lads (or ladies) in a little bucket of water, named them Wallace and Gromit and hopped into the van to take them out to the Big Blue.
Gromit seemed to have some minor issues with his sat nav, or perhaps was set on having one for the road, as although every other turtle toddled off happily into the sea, he insisted on turning left and heading straight for the bar! After some gentle encouragement he was on his way, and we waved them off like proud parents. It was an amazing experience, and they were gorgeous and incredible, but I’d advise doing A LOT of research into turtle rescues before visiting, and ensuring that your money is going to directly benefit the turtles of the area.
Wallace and Gromit were a great end to our time in Bali, and in Asia for now. Bali is undeniably a tourist trap and tourists hit it hard there; we equated it to the Ozzie version of Benidorm. As soon as the sun starts to set, there are entertainers outside every club, each trying to outdo their neighbours and bring in the punters. While Halloween decorations were all over the place, there was absolutely no mention of Diwali at all. A lot of the businesses are either Australian owned or Australian financed, so you lose a bit of the authentic Indonesian feel. For all that, the traditional culture is there for those prepared to look for it, and the peace and tranquility of having a drink and watching the sun go down on the golden, near-empty beach made it worth the trip alone. Perhaps not a traditional stop for your typical backpacker, but despite this we thought it was a great send off from Asia, and were sorry to say goodbye as we boarded the plane to our next stop; New Zealand.