Wednesday, 3 October 2018

BALI - AN INTRO AND SOME DOS AND DONT'S



Bali had never been particularly high up on my list of potential holiday destinations, myself not being of the “I am going to take gap year to explore Asia” kinda persuasion (mainly because I couldn’t have afforded not finding a job straight out of university). Of course, I had heard of its beautiful beaches and lush nature but on the flip side I had also heard, how over the last few years, much like many other stunning spots on this planet, it had fallen victim of its own success by becoming a tourist hotspot and with that beginning to be overrun by ignorant foreigners with no regard to local customs, cultures or the preservation of the nature they came to see in the first place.

However once one of my dearest friends, Josie, decided to move out to there with her fiancé for a year to “work remotely” (a growing trend not only on Bali but in any tropical paradise around the globe where millennials with jobs that essentially only require a laptop and internet connection go wherever their “wanderlust” takes them), I thought it was about time for me to put my cynicism to one side and explore this island for myself, particularly being lucky enough to have someone with local knowledge to show me around. And that has to be somewhat of a disclaimer before I descent into my Bali guide, as Josie was an utterly wonderful and considerate host who created a tailor-made itinerary for me that showed that this girl has been my friend for a good 8 years now, completely nailing what I want from this holiday and what I can’t stand. In my case that meant that my 6 days there were filled with fantastic food, unforgettable exercise experiences and staying as far away as possible from tourists which definitely was not the easiest as I went during peak holiday season but which Josie still managed up to a certain point (more on that later).

I therefore had to barely think or plan anything on this trip (utter bliss for me who usually needs to be in control of everything ALL the time), able to simply enjoy the spots Josie took me too- most of them frequented mainly by fellow expats rather than hordes of young backpackers. Of course, I can see how someone’s holiday experience could have been radically different with just a bit bad luck, for example, not knowing any better, ending up in the more “party mile” like areas of the island such as Kutar and Semiynak, where it is more about the nightly partying and cheap beers for visitors and flogging of unnecessary and tacky souvenirs for the locals, rather than peaceful holidaying and where one quickly begins to feel like a “human ATM”.

I only really saw the darker side of tourism on a day trip with a driver that Josie had organised for me, a common thing to do on Bali, with the driver taking me to the major sights reachable by car on the island. During that day I felt like on a tourist conveyor belt, being shown the same sequence of sights as thousands of other tourists each day, from a waterfall to a butterfly garden to some ancient Hindu temples. No doubt all of these sights had been beautiful previously but to me now somehow appeared as tarnished by tourism and constant overuse as the tatty laminated brochures my driver had in the back of his car. The worst for me was my driver’s, to his defence innocent, offer to take me to massive swing in the midst of Bali’s rice paddy fields to have a little swing on, swiftly turned down by me as I reflected on this grotesque theme park like element in the midst of Bali’s stunning fauna meant to satisfy people’s constant hunger for something Instagram worthy to post.

Don’t worry this is not going to turn into some tirade on “Instagram tourism”, but I will say that for me a trip is about SEEING a place- yes, there were pictures of me and my outfits taken on the trip, but these weren’t next to some waterfall or temple to prove that I had been there. Instead I took the sights in with my own eyes AND heart, creating memories that remain for life, and I do really hope that we are not all slowly going to be ruining our holidays by just witnessing them through an iPhone lens…. but let me get back to Bali.

After 6 days in Bali I left for the airport with tears in my eyes, a little heartbroken about my time there coming to an end. Not only because I had the most fabulous time with Josie and her fiancé Matt who almost became like family to me during the time, but also because, in big part due Josie’s fantastic hosting and itinerary, I had utterly fallen in love with the island despite my previous reservations, which is why I want to share all my tips, things to do and places to eat at that made this trip so magical. The only thing that makes me rather sad is the fact that I know deep down it is only a matter of time before these pockets of calm and beauty also fall victim to tourism, so I urge you to book your ticket to Bali before it’s too late, for me it was a holiday of a life time that I will never forget.

TOP TIPS


AREA TO STAY IN: CANGGU

I know a lot of people travel the island during their trip but for me my first and only destination, Canggu, proved the perfect place for my stay. It may not have the most picturesque beach, more rugged and filled with surfer dudes, but it is yet to fully fall victim to mass tourism, still with spots more filled with locals and clued up expats and with a sense of serenity away from the crowds, even though of course it does still get plenty of tourists but perhaps a slightly older demographic than other spots on the island. That more sophisticated crowd could in part be due to Canggus’ phenomenal culinary offering that meant we never really had to leave a 5 mile radius to experience utterly incredible food, in my time there barely scratching the surface in terms of what was available with a huge number of fantastic restaurants. The same goes when it comes to working out, with Canggu being a haven for yoga classes and all other kinds of exercise, with most people you see wondering around the area being ridiculously good looking and toned.

Despite going at peak season, we never had to queue anywhere or felt a sense of overcrowding and I found everyone extremely friendly and welcoming, whether local, expat or fellow short-term visitor. I stayed with Josie but there is a plethora of beautiful villas to hire, hotels to stay in or, if you are more on a budget, hostels to check out and although I of course didn’t explore many other spots on Bali’s coastline to compare Canggu to I can only recommend this little piece of heaven that became my home for the week.


IDEAL TIME TO VISIT: MAY-AUGUST

I went during tourist peak season but any time between May and August is ideal as the island is relatively dry and temperatures consistent. Be warned of the low clouds though, they may look like the sun isn’t out but oh boy does it still burn (as I found via one of the nastiest sunburns of my life which happened to be located rather conveniently on my butt cheek one day before a 14 hour plane journey home)


SIGHTS TO SEE AND WHAT TO AVOID: 

As I mentioned before, I embarked on a tour with a driver for the day and was left a little unimpressed with the waterfalls (very overcrowded) and other “filler” sights he had on his itinerary. I did however adore looking at the traditional Hindu temples, particularly Tanah Lot which is an ancient Hindu shrine located on top of a cliff right by the shoreline, giving the temple an utterly unique setting. Be warned though, this one was particularly super crowded, with more selfie sticks in sight than I had ever witnessed before, but in this case it was a nuisance worth enduring.

The smaller, less famous and as a result less crowded Hindu temples he took me to once I enquired were a delight to look at with their ancient structures and serene atmosphere and I loved seeing local ladies braiding dried bamboo leaves into little baskets to hold colourful offerings for their gods. Make sure you do the same and instruct your driver to perhaps take you away from the usual tourist route and instead to slightly more authentic temple spots as for me they were a definite highlight of the tour. 


IDEAL DAY TRIP: SUNDAYS BEACH CLUB


As I said Canggu where I was staying didn’t have the most picturesque of beaches so Josie decided to take us to this wonderfully luxurious beach club an hours taxi ride away for a day at their gorgeous beach. It is part of a luxury hotel so the crowd is a little older and the vibe more sophisticated with not a backpacker in sight or EDM soundtrack to be heard. You pay the equivalent of £25 to spend the day on one of their lovely loungers and are able to claim back £12 of that fee on food and drinks at the club (which are very good and offer a wealth of choice from burgers to poke bowls, I had coconut ice cream which was OUT of this world amazing).

You can snorkel, stand up paddle board or simply lie back and enjoy the dreamy surroundings. This was as close to paradise to me as one can get and we had an utterly wonderful day- unwinding, chatting and enjoying the beach and sea. As the sun sets they light bonfires daily by the shoreline and as we siped on half price frozen margaritas (they have a great daily happy hour) I had that true holiday feeling, a world away from the worries and anxieties that London can at times induce. One of my top tips for any Bali traveller and worth the taxi ride and slight splurge on the entrance fee.


THINGS TO BE CAREFUL ABOUT:


MOSQUITOS:
At night they are EVERYWHERE and can ruin your trip both with itchy bites and sleepless nights. Stock up on some strong repellent and make sure to make it a nightly ritual to cover yourself to avoid becoming a target for them. 

DRIVING SCOOTERS:
they are the main mode of transport if you want to get anywhere quickly (and I mean that, we took a taxi once that should have taken half an hour but took 2 and half instead due to their poor infrastructure and everyone’s total disregard of traffic rules), but roads are far from safe or straightforward here and a lot of stupid young travellers still attempt to scooter home highly intoxicated after night out which means there is A LOT of accident potential if you dare to drive one and don’t feel fully comfortable or competent. I for one didn’t want to risk it and remained firmly on the back of Josie’s scooter but even if you don’t have a friend that can drive you around there are safer ways than driving one yourself. They even have a scooter version of Uber called GO-JEK which allows you to order a scooter taxi in minutes, driven by a local who knows his or her way down the confusing and narrow roads, plus they are super cheap too rarely costing you more than a couple of pounds for a journey.

ATMs:
Make sure you go to official looking ones inside supermarkets or other decent looking shops, Josie told me there are a lot dodgy ones that will swallow your card for good.


OTHER USEFUL TIPS:

THE IMPORTANCE OF WHATSAPP:
 Balinese people are super switched on when it comes to social media, with almost every restaurant, shop or gym having a very interactive social media presence. It goes as far as that you can do most of your restaurant reservations via whatsapp or direct Facebook messages with restaurant so bear that in mind when planning ahead. We even booked our surf lesson that way! 

ALCOHOL:
Wine is super expensive to buy in the supermarket (I spent £12 on a bottle of prosecco to go with the Aperol I had brought as gift from duty free) but local wine in restaurants is pretty decent and only about £2 a glass although it seemed that everyone apart from me was drinking the local beer Bingtong, which to be fair as far as beer goes (which I usually detest) was actually alright.

MONEY:
 Other than that, however Bali is incredibly good value for money when it comes to food and drink. You are going to struggle to spend more than a fiver on a fantastic dinner or brunch with the highest quality of ingredients.

CURRENCY: 
 Do bear in mind that the currency CAN be confusing. God knows why but the entire money system is in hundreds of thousands so that you become an instant millionaire when you exchange a hundred pounds. You’ll get used to it after a couple of days but I did really struggle to understand how much I was spending!

Next up my ultimate Bali exercise guide followed by my favourite eating and drinking spots so keep your eyes peeled!

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