A man we met on the plane told us we were starting our trip into Asia the right way with Bali being the first stop. He said it’ll be a nice introduction to Asia. (Technically we’ve been to Asia, but we consider India its own sub-continent) He called it “Soft Asia” and that the weather and culture will progressively change as we get deeper into Asia. We can definitely see why. It’s clear we’re done with the first world countries and are making our way deeper into the worlds we have yet to see. He gave us some great tips on things to do and see and we were so happy he did, thanks Michael!
We thought South America was heat like we’ve never experienced before… Indonesia is on another level. Holy. Sweat. Neither of us have ever sweat like this before. Legitimately dripping sweat through the streets of Bali. Soaked clothes and sweat dripping into our eyeballs. I’ve officially done away with makeup. (never did I think those words would cross my lips…)
We realized very quickly that tourism is pretty much the economy of Bali. English is still spoken and written on menus, the food’s are understandable and delicious but there’s the perfect mix between the fact that we’re in Indonesia (still can’t believe it!) and that we’re not that far away from things we know like McDonalds, Starbucks and beeping taxis!
Both of us expected Bali to be far less developed and commercialized. There are no high-rises monopolizing the island but there are way more businesses and tourist attractions than we thought. Both of us were expecting quiet, serene, peaceful beaches amongst small towns. It’s the complete opposite, at least in the south where we stayed. Not entirely in a bad way though, just surprising. Take a look at this comparison. We feel it’s the best way to describe how we felt. On the top you have what we pictured while heading to Bali. Beautiful beaches and vibrantly green rice terraces (which there still are.. these are our photos!) but below is what we saw the most of. It’s okay, we love our Starbucks and we love to see how McDonalds is different in other countries.. just was a little disheartening that we saw more of these places than the serene images we anticipated.
We had no idea where to stay and ended up deciding on Kuta, which you may have heard is the most touristy place on the island. We decided on it because we found a hotel through hotels.com (using eBates of course, click our link to help us plus get a $10 bonus for yourself!) that won us over with its infinity pool that overlooks the ocean. We also saw there were a lot of choices for food around and since we didn’t know what it would be like, we were comfortable knowing there were at least a few choices for us. We weren’t far from Seminyak which also was a great town with lots of restaurants and shops. It ended up being the perfect place for us. When we come back, we will definitely need to head further north and into less developed areas for the “real” Bali.
The sun was hot and strong… we’re both still feeling it’s effects! We relaxed at Kuta beach (epic surfer waves bro!) right across from our hotel and hung out by the pool that looks out on the ocean. It’s Bali, after all! There has to be some relaxing! We had so much fun playing in the water. Our lobster red skin is reminding us to reapply that sunscreen next time though!
Our first nights hotel had an free airport transfer service and our driver offered to take us on a tour of Bali to see all the main sights. Since he would charge $50AUD (Yes, he charged Australian dollars… weird..but it was about $38USD) and all the other tours were that price per person, we decided to give him a shot. We definitely recommend doing a tour like this. You get 8-10 hours with a private driver and they’ll take you wherever you want to go. Here’s the thing, they take you where ALL the other tours take you. VERY touristy. We recommend doing your research and finding the places you want to go and make sure it’s all doable within those hours, then tell your driver where you want to go. We didn’t do that, so our driver took us to a bunch of places he thought we’d want to go to. It was no problem to skip things we didn’t want to see and move onto the next, but we felt like if we had planned it ourselves we would have gotten to see more of what we wanted versus all the tourist spots. For us, we didn’t want to spend 200,000 IDR ($15USD) to see a Balinese dance that was clearly put on just for the tourists and the “gold and silver factory” ended up being more like a jewelry store. To each their own, but it wasn’t our style.
There were a few parts of the tour that we really enjoyed, so it wasn’t a complete fail. We stopped at the Sacred Monkey Forrest in Ubud and it was awesome! We learned after the fact that this was one of the spots that the movie “Eat Pray Love” was filmed. Cool! For 50,000IDR per person (about $3.75USD) you can walk amongst thousands of monkeys in a gorgeous forrest. It was nice to see that this is an actual sanctuary for them where they can run around everywhere and jump from tree to tree, it’s not like a zoo where they are in a cage. Every generation is here, from the elders down to little newborn babies, even a gentle old blind monkey named Nelson that has a private cage for his protection. They are definitely not afraid to jump on you either, so be prepared! I had a few jump on my head and try to pull at my hair bun (ouch!), while Dean had one jump on him and pull out his arm hairs and try and eat them! It was all in good fun though, mostly they just want to explore and look in your bags or pockets for bananas! It definitely leads to great photo ops! Plus, how many times will you get to say that 2 monkeys used you as their personal playground while playing? One word of caution, do not look them in their eyes or show your teeth to them, it’s a sign of aggression and Dean learned the hard way when a large male seemingly got pretty mad and hissed and showed his big sharp teeth! He definitely learned his lesson!
Another fun stop was at a spice and coffee plantation called Teba Sari. They showed us all the plants of different spices, coffee and chocolate. They also taught us about Luwak coffee. The coffee bean is sourced from the Luwak (a member of the cat family!) who eats the coffee cherry which ferments in their stomach and then poops out the bean, which is then washed and dried and turned into delicious (at least we thought so!) Luwak coffee! They call it “cat-poop-chino” and it goes for about $200 per cup in the states! It was fun to be able to try it. It pretty much just tasted like coffee, but with a smoother taste, to our palates. For 50,000IDR ($3.75USD) you can try luwak coffee along with a tasting paddle (the paddle tastes are free) of their Balinese coffee, flavored coffees like vanilla, mocha or coconut and flavored teas like Mangosteen, Coconut, Ginseng with Lemon and more. In all we tasted 15 different types of coffee and tea. Our favorites were the vanilla coffee and coconut tea, we even had an impulse buy and bought some!
The biggest disappointment during the tour was unfortunately the thing we were most looking forward to. The famed rice terraces that everyone Instagram or shows in movies. For us, they are part of what defines Bali. We’ve seen rice growing in the paddies outside of Valencia while eating paella, or rice growing in India so rice growing is nothing new to us, but the world famous rice terraces cut into the hill sides of Bali were supposed to be epic, unspoiled and they were a must see for Dean! Our tour guide dropped us off at a little hut where a man was collecting money for the tickets to enter the beautiful rice terraces, only 20,000IDR ($1.50) for both of us. Hmmmm paying to see a rice terrace? We thought that was weird but disregarded it, paid and started the long trek down some very steep stairs (like, worse than Machu Picchu…), crossed over a small river and started to hike up the right side of the terraces. It’s brutal, hot and sweaty and it didn’t seem like we were going to get the epic views we had hoped. So we decided to go the opposite way, only to be stopped by a man named “Howard” saying we need to pay him a donation if we wanted to see this side of the terraces and refused or tickets. Since there was no getting through to him, and we were so hot and sweaty, we decided to leave in failure. Luckily we still got a few good pics from the Rice Terrace Cafe. This wasn’t the serene beautiful Bali we were hoping for, instead monetized touristy Bali. Extreme disappointment.
The Food: Oh the food! We have had nothing but incredible food so far and it makes us that much more excited for the rest of Asia!
Hilton Garden Inn Airport: Yes, the Hilton. After our long day of travel (Virgin Australia was not a good airline for this flight) with barely any food, we were starving by the time we got to the first hotel we stayed at. Since it was so close to the airport, we figured we’d stay there before heading to Kuta. We got there just in time to grab a bite before the kitchen closed and were overwhelmed with joy when they brought our dinner to the table. Dean ordered Crispy Duck Leg with Green Chili Sauce and I ordered Nasi Goreng, Indonesians most famous fried rice. The best part of the food besides its authenticity and amazing flavors? The prices! Perfectly cooked Duck leg with an amazing fresh made chili sauce and flavor packed Nasi Goreng, each for about $6!
Gabah: We were looking for authentic Indonesian food of course, and a quick search on TripAdvisor led us to Gabah, it had great reviews. It was a hotel restaurant but was situated right on the street so you wouldn’t know that the hotel was attached except for the fact that we sat right next to the pool, which was actually very nice! Since it was Saturday night they had a live band playing American folk songs which made us laugh (and reminded Dean of his dad!) given where we were and the setting we were in. We decided to go all out and order some tasty sounding appetizers before our meal since it was all so inexpensive! We started with Lemper Goreng Solo. Basically an Indonesian version of Arancini! A large rice log stuffed with chicken, then breaded and fried and cut up into pieces. They served it with an absolutely delicious sauce of what we believe was dark soy sauce and with chilis. Mmm! We could put that sauce on everything! The other appetizer was probably our favorite dish of the night (maybe even of this part of the journey), Gado Gado. The way Dean describes it, a potato salad with mixed vegetables, tofu and hard boiled egg in a peanut sauce, also “an amazing symphony of flavors” Yum! It’s definitely one we’ll bring back to the states and make for all our friends and family. The main meals were Nasi Tumpeng for me and Nasi Goreng Kambing for Dean. Mine consisted of saffron rice with both pulled chicken and chicken satay, both cooked in traditional Indonesian spices. It definitely had a kick! It was also served with fried soya beans (tempeh). The mixture of all the flavors and spices were familiar yet completely different than other dishes I’ve had in the past. Dean’s was traditional Indonesian fried rice with lamb served on a large crispy roti (like a large fried tortilla). The best part of his, he asked for it to be spicy, and they delivered for sure, he said it was like a flavor bomb went off in his mouth and it was definitely spicy, he had sweat dripping his face! (Although he may tell you it was because of the heat and humidity in Bali!) Both our meals were gone within minutes, that’s when you know it’s good!
Rice Terrace Cafe: Before heading into the rice terrace we needed some fuel. Since this was really the only place around, this was it! We were happy that the food turned out to be pretty good! The heat convinced us that we needed the “large” Bintang beer and of course being thirsty tourists, a large fresh coconut, freshly opened! We started by sharing spring rolls dipped in the most delicious peanut sauce, then we each had a different rice dish. For Dean, steamed rice with a fried chicken wing and ground chicken satay on a lemongrass skewer. I had fried rice (yes, again.. it’s just so good!) with chicken satay and a fried egg. It was the perfect meal fuel us for what turned out to be quite the hike to get to the rice terrace! Our legs are still burning from all those steps!
Oriental 66: Located amongst many other food stalls selling very similar things, it’s hard to choose which one to go to! Everyone has menus outside their stall begging you to eat at their spot. We chose this place because they had the most beautiful fruit juices! Similar to other restaurants, we both got fried rice and noodle dishes. Again, super flavorful and delicious. What made this meal different from the others were the drinks! We got a dragon fruit juice and an avocado juice. The dragon fruit juice was a vibrantly pinkish purple color and very sweet! The avocado was by far our favorite, (you think Americans love avocado, think again! The Indonesians have us beat!) A little thicker and topped with chocolate. It was creamy and unexpectedly sweet, like a Chocamole shake!
Chandi: We were told that this was one of the best restaurants in Seminyak and when we saw they had a happy hour, we were sold! We started with cocktails, Dean got a Chili Cucumber Cooler which was vodka, cucumber, lime juice, basil, mint, basil seeds and chili syrup with a cucumber twist and chili pepper garnish. It definitely packed a punch, it was both cooling and herbal, yet fiery. I got a Rosé Sangria studded with fresh star fruit, oranges, apples and snake fruit. The fruit here is all so ripe and juicy, it made for the perfect sangria. Then it was time to share some small plates. We started with the Corn Fritters with a spicy sweet Chili mayo and finely julienned radishes. We also ordered up the Curry Coconut Dumplings, a crispy wonton like exterior with a yellow curry filling served on fresh herbs and a mint ginger yogurt. They were so delicious, it was such a tease! We had to get a few more. Next round was Crispy Calamari with a house made aioli dipping sauce, Pan Seared Black Pepper Pork Dumplings with a dark soy sauce, finally the Crunchy Crumbed Tofu Squares with cucumber and a peanut sambal. The perfect midday snack. We can see why people rave about this place!
Honorable mention goes to the Mercure Kuta beach breakfast buffet! The freshest fruits including vibrant pink juicy watermelon, bright orange musty papaya, fragrant sweet lycees and the local favorite snake fruit. (A member of the palm family that has an exterior that looks like snake skin, but a sweet and sour segmented interior that tastes like a lemon and pineapple had a baby with the texture of an apple). They had a full western spread like eggs, toast, croissants and breakfast sausage. Plus our favorite, the eastern breakfast, fried rice, noodles, beef teriyaki, spring rolls and bao (and even chicken nuggets one day for me!).
Overall we really enjoyed Bali, it’s a beautiful island that will cater to whatever you want. Whether it’s diving, beaches, tourist attractions, temples, great food or a Starbucks. We were a little disappointed… the perception that is given is of a remote tropical island that is sparsely populated with amazing unspoiled sights. The reality in most of the island, especially further south is clogged city streets, western fast food brands, shopping malls, an ungodly amount of Polo shops (not sure if they’re all real or not), everyone selling something and Uber drivers taking the long way to earn an extra buck. Take our trip here as a pre-made learning curve, do your homework, find the things you want to do and research. For us, traveling the entire world leads to not being able to do weeks of research on each location. Having been, we’d say head north, find a secluded beach resort and relax, but leave time for the temples, the monkeys, the shopping and the amazing array of food. The happy welcoming people of Bali will greet you with open arms, huge smiles and generosity.