As far as authentic travel destinations go, Bali’s got a bit of a twisted reputation, as I was briefly informed by a local tour operator:
“Every year, masses of tourists flock here from short-haul cities for a sun tan and a cheap piss-up”
The man had a point, especially if you visit the south end of the island, and especially if you compare it to the rest of the region’s less crowded destinations. With that said, Bali remains a global brand in it’s own right. The entry point to the diverse paradise of Indonesia. A boisterous fusion of amazing waves, rich pilgrimage, and kind faces.
Shortly after arrival, I found myself standing in front of an empty luggage conveyor, hoping that my suitcase would be late to the party, but that it would at least show up. No luck. It went missing somewhere between Yangon, Changi, and Denpansar.
While it was not the first time this had happened to me, it was the first case where I really needed the contents of my suitcase (I facilitated a workshop the following morning, and had nothing to wear but the spray-on denim, t-shirt and filthy chuck tailors I wore on the flight). And there it was. That humbling moment. A reminder that no matter how well you are prepared, things might, and probably will go wrong.
You’re not in control, and that’s why you bother to leave home in the first place. A small, insignificant taste of the true spirit of travel.
If you arrive by air, you’ll likely spend your first night in Denpasar or Kuta. Other than being labeled as party districts, they offer access to infamous surf spots and historic temples. For a blend of both, consider travelling further South to Uluwatu. A trek along the area’s coastline revealed the clear blue waters, lush hills and perfect swell I dreamed about on my flight in. I even spotted a massive sea turtle from high up a Pura Luhur. A real life Windows 95 desktop background, with monkeys.
The most affordable way to get around is by scooter, although car rentals are reasonably priced in Bali. Taxi fares will vary significantly depending on the time of day. Expect to pay double during rush hour, or prepare for a serious negotiation (a skill you should probably brush up on anyway if you plan to visit South-East Asia). *Also, don’t be surprised if the driver hands you a phone to negotiate with an English-speaking operator on the line.
Then there’s Ubud. Widely known as an artist village, this quirky town is home to miles of markets selling anything from Indian Triad paraphernalia to knock-off designer underwear. For most, Ubud’s biggest drawing card is a popular rice terrace, where one can walk a labyrinth-like path and learn about the daily lives of local farmers. Young kids stick to you like gum; a monotone pre-school choir, begging you to buy a faded postcard. Tourists enjoy balinese cuisine and beers in a cluster of tiny eateries along the side of the terrace. Despite an obvious lack of managed authenticty, you’ll find yourself enjoying a warm and festive atmosphere
As the sun sets in Denpasar, you’re confronted with a surprisingly peaceful side of Bali. Tourists trade loungers and towels for dinner and nightlife. Locals are seen on bicycles, cruising along the shoreline. The tide pulls back. Motorcycle-helmet-wearing fishermen patrol the now shallow waters.
I eventually got my suitcase back, thanks to a lovely airline ground staff member called Walhi. I left Bali with a new appreciation for clean clothes and the comfort of unzipping your own toiletry bag (even though mine is filled with disposal razors and microscopic tubes of toothpaste from airport lounges). Most of all, I left inspired to return, with more time, less meetings, and a few less blank pages in my passport.