(I ran into a college friend last night who reminded me [inadvertently] that I hadn’t blogged in a while. Doh!)
Last August, the boyfriend and I went to Bali to attend his friend’s wedding. I’d never been there (or Indonesia, or most of South East Asia, for that matter), so I was very excited. My dad told me that people who go to Bali fall in love with it, and I did – I loved the whole trip, except for one tiny bit.
There is no direct flight from Manila to Bali. I decided to go through Singapore, taking Jetstar and Cebu Pacific to/from Changi, and Air Asia to/from Bali Denpasar. Taking three budget airlines was a bit stressful, since they all had different procedures, so I packed for the airline with the smallest carry-on restriction: Air Asia. They only allowed one piece of carry-on with a maximum weight of 7 kg (in comparison, that’s the usual weight of my laptop bag)!. After nights of packing and repacking, I was finally able to fit six days’ worth of clothes and shoes into one backpack, saving me the extra charges for check-ins 🙂
We signed up for a tour with the other guests, which meant that we were well taken care of. The accommodations were phenomenal. The wedding was held at Conrad in Nusa Dua, and it was the most luxurious hotel I’d ever seen. From the huge suite to the landscaped halls, everything had no other purpose than to Look Good. The wedding itself was held at their Infinity Chapel, which was so beautiful that I teared up even before the ceremony began. The view of the ocean and the symmetry of the architecture were absolutely stunning.
For the second leg of the tour, we stayed in Pertiwi Resort and Spa in Ubud. This had a more rustic feel, complete with mosquito netting around the bed (and lots of mosquitoes!), but each villa also came with a private pool. Everything was beautiful and the service was excellent. The only thing we didn’t like was that the villa was far away from the main road, so sometimes we’d need to call a golf cart to pick us up. (The rest of the time, we treated the strenuous uphill climb as our daily quota for exercise.)
My original (mis)conception of Bali was it was all sand and surf – au contraire, we didn’t spend time on the beach at all! (We did go to Kuta Beach on the first day, just to see what all the fuss was about. And it WAS pretty, but, well, you guys know my stand on the matter.) The rest of the time, we explored temples, rice terraces, and markets.
The temples were my favorite. There was the huge Besakih Temple, which was the “mother” temple high up in the mountains. There was the smaller Tirta Empul, which was composed of hot springs that they believed contained holy water. Then there was Ulun Danu Temple, beside a lake, which was so peaceful even with the crowds of locals and tourists. The Balinese seemed very religious, and were always praying or making offerings, so we politely stayed out of the temples if there was a ritual and didn’t make much noise.
The rice terraces were different from the ones I’d been to in Northern Philippines. These were smaller and less intimidating, so we could go explore at our leisure. (There was also no trekking or hiking required! 😉
My favorite place in Bali, by far, was Ubud itself. It was up in the mountains (away from the beaches), and was like a little artsy downtown full of little shops, restaurants, and spas. Everything was very chic and interesting. I wish I had more time to explore it – if I ever come back to Bali, I’m gonna stay here exclusively and be happy.
I’d read that one should only half-fill your suitcase when going to Bali, because you’d come back with lots of shopping loot. This wasn’t true for me, as many of the souvenirs on sale were of a similar quality to what I could get in shopping markets in Manila. Items ranged from sarongs and sundresses, to wind chimes and painted eggs, to the token R-rated souvenir (if we have the Barrel Man, they have the Polka-Dotted Penis).
What WAS fun about shopping in Bali was haggling. Any price a shopkeepers give you is at least twice what it should be, and you can pretty much haggle for anything – from expensive jewelry to bags of coffee. I’d never been a good haggler, so I ended up “hiring” one of our friends to do it for me – and it got pretty ruthless!
The one thing I did end up buying for myself was a small painting of a couple, which my friend haggled down from IDR 250K to 100K (less than Php 500). The shopkeeper lured me in by saying he had painted them himself (I fell for it, of course) and said that women in Balinese art were usually topless because that was their way of life before the Westerners came. Not to worry, as the women were usually goddesses: the goddess of fertility, the goddess of farming, etc.
“And this one,” I said, pointing to the painting I wanted, “she’s the goddess of…?”
He stared at me. “That is just a naked woman.”
Balinese food was generally good – lots of rice, lots of seafood, not spicy (but we were told they’d de-spiced it for tourists). We tried a few specialties: one was luwak coffee, from the… uh… excrement of the civet cat (“poo coffee”, as we called it). It’s supposedly one of the best coffees in the world, and also very expensive. The verdict: It was bitter, but not unpleasant. I liked the traditional Balinese coffee better, though!
We also tried crispy duck, a Balinese specialty, and this was my favorite meal of the trip! On the menu, it said crispy duck was “best eaten with hands”. I noticed that the other guests were using their fork and knives to gingerly cut the pieces. My Filipino instinct kicked in, and I just grabbed it and went for it. Veeery good. I liked it more than their suckling pig (aka lechon), as the pig’s meat was very tender but the skin was rubbery and not crispy. I also realized that the lechon experience isn’t complete without the lechon sauce, which seems to be a Manila thing.
Pertiwi Resort’s breakfast must be mentioned because of their green banana pancakes, which were so delicious that I don’t have any photos of them – I devoured them too fast each morning. They would serve it with fruit shakes of your choice (I liked banana shake the best).
The only pimple in this beautiful, amazing vacation was the fact that I (along with some other guests) ate something bad at the wedding reception in Conrad 😦 I stayed up that night feeling very ill, and remained queasy for the rest of the trip. It got worse the day I landed in Manila – I woke up with a fever and a shot stomach, and had to be put on antibiotics for a week. Ugh! (Would that stop me from returning to Bali, though? Or drinking their fruit shakes? Absolutely not.)
- Bring a sarong. If you’re going to a temple, they won’t let you in if you’re wearing shorts or anything above the knee. You could wear pants, but it is so hot that you will MELT – so it’s better to bring a sarong, or buy/rent one outside the temple. (Sometimes, the temple provides sarongs in exchange for a small donation, but you might as well bring your own if you’re hitting up more than one temple.)
- Wear sandals. There’s a lot of walking up and down uneven steps and paths – it’s better to be comfortable.
- Wear sunscreen. And reapply all the time. I did, and I still burned.
- Don’t entertain shopkeepers unless you really want to buy something. I’d read about this before, but was still unprepared for it – shopkeepers can get REALLY push about their wares. (One shopkeeper wrapped a sarong around a guest so she would buy it; another one stuck his hand through our bus door to prevent it from closing.) It’s better to ignore them completely than to get into a situation where you’re forced to be rude.
- When offered a price, retort with 30% of the original price. This is what other people on the tour were doing when they were haggling. *I* can’t do it, but maybe you can!
- Buy bottled water from a convenience store before heading out. Don’t rely on restaurants to give you water that you can carry around – they serve it in actual glass bottles with no caps. Also, Aqua was our trusted brand for bottled water.
- Whatever you do, don’t drink the water unless you know where it came from. This also goes for any beverages with ice.
- Don’t tip in restaurants. It’s included in the bill. (I got duped on the first day.)
- Scout around for spa prices. Hotel spas are very expensive, so go for a massage parlor off the street instead. But look around first, as prices could change drastically just a few stores down! (Also, try to reserve if you can, because they get pretty busy.)
- Lastly, if you’re going to the Monkey Forest, go during the daytime. The forest was down the road from our hotel in Ubud, so we snuck a peek after sundown. The monkeys are quite aggressive, and will steal eyeglasses, food, and even earrings from you! Couple that with constant rustling of trees in the dark… I lasted about 15 minutes before admitting that I was too afraid for this. (Our friends went back the next morning and said it was much better!)