A Troublesome Travel Review
I claimed this little corner of the internet almost a year ago now. I chose it and made it my own and I badged it as a travel blog. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s realised by now, it’s not all that much about travelling, it’s really just a diary of thoughts I like to keep together.
Well, let’s be crazy for a moment… I’d like to write a travel related post *GASPS, CUPS MOUTH WITH BOTH HANDS*
I know, I’m wild.
Anyway, I recently returned to Auckland, (bless them, for allowing me back in), following a holiday in Bali. I don’t really do holidays anymore. It might seem as though my entire life is exactly that. But travelling and holidaying are very different experiences. I actually intentionally booked a week off work to fly to a warmer country and lay by a pool, in the sun, eating stuff, drinking stuff, looking at other people eating stuff and drinking stuff, read a book, day nap… No exploring or getting too involved in local culture, no hiking, cycling or climbing things to jump straight back off them. Just chilling the eff out, for a whole week. THAT is a holiday.
Bali is a beautiful place, a world apart from anything the average Brit will have ever experienced. The kind of place you might go to explore but accidentally find yourself relaxing and enjoying basic pleasures in life – if you’re in the mountains. Or it’s the place you go for a relaxing week of pampering and find yourself people watching and analysing local culture instead – if you’re in the cities.
But it’s not the first time I’ve been to Bali and I’ve come away from my second visit with some (limited) wisdom gained over both trips that I’d like to share with you, here are some thoughts from me…
The first time I visited Bali, I took part in a turtle conservation project which bases itself at the farthest end of the tourist area of Kuta Beach. Me and my younger sister spent our week watching over the hatching eggs and controlling the crowds of unruly children and their obnoxious parents (and vice versa) from poking at the newborn babies, organising them all to participate in the release of the turtles out to sea at 4.30pm every day. This was a beautiful experience and the staff and volunteers there are doing a wonderful thing for these tiny creatures, but if I’m honest, it has become a little too commercial since my first visit. Over 320 turtles were released in a single afternoon on my revisit there last month, and every turtle was escorted down to the sea by a small child.
My criticism is not of the work they do or of their methods, I think it’s a beautiful thing to get children involved in saving the planet, in fact it’s not a criticism at all, they are doing a great job of raising awareness – but if you are looking for something to heal your soul, you may need to look somewhere further away from the tourist area. This experience is a bit… ‘peopley’. Absolutely worth a visit one afternoon to witness the incredible ‘Turtle Race’ for yourself though.
Turtle Tip: If you’re interested in taking part in the turtle race I would recommend making a small donation to the project early in the afternoon to secure yourself an adopted turtle for the day, to make sure you are one of the people who gets to release these beautiful tiny babies back out to sea. A little bribery goes a long way.
In terms of the rest of the beach, this is where you’ll find the stereotype, Aussie holiday-makers, hanging out under the trees with the locals. Lots of opportunities to get a sneaky (and occasionally uninvited) foot rub, surfing lessons, a cold beer from the Esky, jewellery, art, clothing or fresh fruit – all from the locals trying to make a few extra Rupiah to keep their small business going. But there’s no point being sheepish here, if you show you’re weak they will take you for a ride for sure. If you’re not interested, ignore them, if you think what you’re buying isn’t worth what they’re charging, make sure you’re firm on your price.
For the rest of the area, there are plenty of side streets to get lost in, shopping, eating, pampering yourself. Fill your boots!
Shopping Tip: The first sale of the day is considered a lucky sale, so the early bird definitely catches the worm. If you are the first person looking to buy from a shop in the morning you can basically name your price. Play fair though, they are trying to make a living!
This time around I stayed in a lovely hotel called Maison at C, which is about a 20 minute walk or, sadly, also a 20 minute taxi ride from Seminyak Square. We acquired the room on a cheap website deal and really lucked out. The room was lovely with a beautiful enclosed outdoor shower leading off from the bathroom. The pools were both beautiful, the staff were exceptionally friendly and helpful, the occasional live music is relaxing and non-invasive and their breakfast (included) offers an epic selection of up to four courses. Despite visiting in the middle of the Australian half term, the hotel was quiet for the whole week and we hardly saw more than 20 other guests throughout the week. This hotel is a fair stroll along a side street, but never seems that far in daylight and they offer a buggy to the end of the lane.
The local shopping in Seminyak is pretty diverse (as are the prices) and the bars and restaurants around this area are definitely a class up from Kuta Beach. We didn’t really fail on our dining experiences at all but I definitely had a few favourite places that I’d highly recommend. “Rumours” was the most incredible dining experience and we were shocked at how reasonable the bill was after we fed our faces like fat kids at a buffet. Great cocktails too! Can’t recommend this highly enough, it was just immense. The other place that stood out to me was a hidden gem called Savannah (I think) – you can’t miss it, it looks like Africa even from the outside and the whole place is decorated with animal print. Food 10/10, drinks 10/10.
Dining Tip: If you do happen to stay at Maison at C or anywhere at that end of town, it’s definitely worth the taxi ride past Seminyak Square and ask them to drop you off at Ginger Moon or Rumours (anywhere along that street). This street seems to be where all the trendy kids hang out and I wish I’d had more time to trial all of the bars and restaurants there, day and night.
Pamper Tip: Carla Spa had THE most incredible deal on offer during our stay. We paid less than $20AUD for a full body massage, exfoliating scrub and a facial. ALWAYS ask the spa what deals they have on, or whether they will combine treatments for a ‘special price’… everything in Bali is a ‘special price, just for you’, so make the most of how much they clearly love you!
The streets of both Seminyak and Kuta are absolute insanity. I have never experienced a road culture quite like it. Think Japan crossed with India and then add the Friday 4.30pm queues to get on or off the M4… then add the same number of mopeds to the equation. It’s complicated.
What I learned very quickly is that beeping is not related to anger here. Beeping here is just, well, a noise. They use it if they’re passing another vehicle or rounding a corner, it’s just a form of communication, a language that only local drivers seem to understand.
It’s a bit like AFL. You know how, if you’re not really familiar with the rules of AFL, it sort of just looks like a heap of guys are imitating children trying to learn soccer in their early years of school – everybody is running for the ball and it seems to be each man for his own and it’s not really clear where they’re trying to go or how they earn their points, but there is a guy somewhere off-screen who COSTANTLY blows a whistle, which seems to go mostly unnoticed and the game continues in this odd, chaotic, seemingly rule-free manner for about 2 ½ hours…
Yeah, that’s Bali traffic.
Lots of vehicles trying to get in and out of the same junctions, on whatever side of the road suits their mood, paying little or no attention to traffic lights, pedestrians, traffic jam beggars or even to each other. Moped seems like the quickest way to get around, but you need to get yourself familiar with the beeping and unspoken etiquette of rounding a corner if you’re going to brave it.
Taxi Tip: Be very picky when getting into a taxi. The most reliable company around here seems to be Blue Bird Group. The best tip we were given in advance of this holiday was to only flag down taxi’s, which are light blue in colour and have “Blue Bird Group” written on their windscreen (some of them are darker in colour and have a picture of a bird but are a different company). When you are getting into the taxi, check that they have a meter and ask them if their meter is working. This will ensure you get a fair price for your trip. If they can give you a price upfront and have no meter they are more than likely swindling you.
Navigation Tip: DO NOT TRUST GOOGLE MAPS HERE! We made more wrong turns through dark alleys than a pretty blonde in a vampire movie because we had so much faith in the power of the Google. We were wrong. People seem to build houses, fences, gardens, temples etc. in any space that looks available, most back streets turn out to be a very dark dead end and fence-scaling in most cases would result in a pretty gruesome dog attack.
The Rest of Bali
I wish I could say I had spent more time travelling throughout the mountains and serene side of Bali, but I can recommend a few things I have seen between my two visits:
- Monkey Forest
Maybe a little bit of an obvious tourist attraction, but you can’t pass up the opportunity to meet and feed the monkeys and the fruit bats here.
You can’t visit Bali without getting yourself a guide and touring as many temples as they will allow you to in a day. If you get a really great guide (and ask them nicely) they will be able to take you to the ones having a festival on the day of your visit. Some (very rarely) may even be able to get you inside and into the appropriate clothing to take part in the festival. Dress respectfully on the day of your visit and you could get lucky. I can’t remember the names of them all but Tanah Lot is the sea temple and that’s an absolutely stunning view. Essential that you visit some of the other, more accessible ones though.
- Rice Terraces
Make sure you take the time to visit rice terraces. They are so beautiful to look at and drive through, but there’s nothing that beats the experience of submersing yourself in local culture for a few hours, donning their epic headgear to keep the sun off your brow and actually getting involved in a little open plan gardening, Bali style.
- Bali Butterfly Park
This was phenomenal! If you liked your winged things, this is a day well worth the entry fee.
- Hot Springs
I think we managed to get a deal where we visited both the Butterfly Park and the Hot Springs together. This tour took us from Wanasari Village, Tabanan to Penatahan Hot Spring and I think we visited the temples along the way.
I spent a long time pondering between the two options for the Sea-Walking adventure and I was not disappointed with my final choice. The options were Nusa Dua or Lembongan. Lembongan was the more expensive of the two options but offered so many extras that it was hard to argue with, and they were worth every cent. Besides, I think there was only about $5 difference in the price overall.
The day started with a bit of a deathy boat ride over stormy seas to Lembongan, but we soon got over that and the waters were beautifully calm at our destination. You only get 15 minutes under the water with the snazzy helmet on, but that’s really all you need. You’re given a little bottle of food you can squirt all about the place to attract the fish and there’s a pretty decent range of marine species to play with. Since there is only 15 minutes under the water, they offer a few other ways to fill the 1 ½ hours out at sea, with snorkelling, watersliding from the top deck, banana boat riding etc. After that they took us onto the island for an included lunch (which was beautiful) and some kayaking and a village tour – brief, but recommended.
Tourist Tip: Avoid Bali Zoo. This will make me sound hypocritical but I visited here with my sister and we took the night tour, which… was pretty amazing. But I was young and naïve and in hindsight, they are not about their animal welfare at all. The elephants were chained up and all of their enclosures were like the cages you’d use to take your dog to the vet. I would not recommend handing your money over to these people. They don’t appear to be spending their revenue on improving living conditions for the inhabitants.
Tourist Tip 2: Get a local guide. If you stop by a few local shops and tourist booths, and get to know the guys there, they will most likely be able to fix you up with a flexible driver / tour guide who will just charge you a minimal fee by the hour for his fuel and his services and then the entry fees for any temples or attractions you visit. That’s what we did, and we were rewarded with a very knowledgeable man who spent the entire day as our own personal photographer (by choice, not at our request). There’s no deal that beats those you come across while you’re getting to know the locals.
And last but not least…
Packing tip: Don’t bother to take hair products – it’s a waste, it’s just too damn humid to look good. Take it from Monica.