I can still hear the sound of the mouse-sized cockroach crawling towards the bed, stretching its wings. Yes, wings! The tropical ones are the biggest cockroaches in size and they are able to fly.
I bet when you hear someone talking about the Indonesian island Bali, the first thing that pops into your head is the tropical paradise on Earth: coconut shakes, exotic food and crazy waves to surf. Or the movie “Eat, pray, love” if you are less fortunate. You imagine the peaceful happiness most successfully captured by the Bounty adverts of the 90s. But seriously, who wouldn’t want to visit Bali?
I am among the lucky ones, as I’ve been to the island recently. However, my journey started a little bit different…
It was already dark when we landed in Bali after a long flight from Melbourne. Once we left Denpasar’s air-conditioned airport, we felt that the evening air was incredibly humid and filled with all sorts of night time noises we haven’t heard before.
We joined one of the local taxi guys standing in a huge line of drivers holding name plates, and got in his car. He took us through remote, winding roads. It was our first glimpse of the crazy local traffic.
The accommodation was also full of surprises. Having our own gecko in our room wasn’t listed among the amenities on Airbnb. (Ok, not really a gecko, more like a meter-long lizard.) But the reptile seemed like a pleasant roommate compared to our night time visitors.
After the initial shock I have to say that this was THE holiday of my life.
The next morning our hosts were waiting for us with the most amazing breakfast, including the Balinese coffee called ‘kopi’, omelettes and fresh juicy local fruits. They shared their top secret, insider’s guide of the things you absolutely have to see, do and/or eat when you’re in Bali.
Bali’s beach todo list
Are you traveling to Bali for the picture-perfect beaches?
Then try the fishing village Jimbaran for swimming and playful waves first. In the evenings they serve delicious freshly grilled seafood dinner, which you can eat right on the shores while the sun sets before your eyes. It’s mind-blowing beauty, no wonder that many 5-star resorts are also located in this area.
If you’re up for the less playful waves, join pro surfers in South Kuta, at the equally beautiful Balangan beach. An extra bonus point for the ladies: if you fancy hot Australian surfer dudes with the appropriate size of muscles, that’s your place to be!
Padang Padang is a gorgeous sandy beach right at the bottom of a cliff and is almost fully covered by water in high tide. After squeezing your way through the claustrophobic stairway in the belly of the rocks, you’ll find a once hidden gem. (Since the characters played by Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem fell in love at the same spot in the “Eat, pray, love” movie, it’s not so hidden anymore.)
If you still didn’t have enough of the turquoise shores, go to Gili Trawangan, or simply Gili T. It actually belongs to another Bali-like island, Lombok, but there are many overnight tours to take from Bali.
Bali has areas which, especially in the last 10 years, became easier to handle for the very-very Western tourists as well. Ubud is the centre of the island with the most attractions of this kind: there are art exhibitions, fashion shops, restaurants – and even Starbucks opened their cafes here. With geckos climbing on the roof, of course.
This all doesn’t mean that Ubud is a boring place to visit. You can wander around the rice fields, or drink Kopi Luwak – which is a coffee as exotic as a coffee can get: made of a quite little rodent’s poo.
Just imagine: you wake up on this beautiful island, in the middle of the jungle or next to the ocean. You open the door to the summer breeze, and start the day with meditating. Yeah? If you’re into yoga and mindfulness, this is the place to be to find yourself.
Bali is also the island of “gods” and the “thousand temples”. As a proof, you can see flowers in banana leaf baskets all over the walkways and doorsteps. Those are the locals’ offerings for their gods.
The locals seem to be very much in touch with their spiritual side. Our taxi driver says, there are more temples than inhabitants in Bali. It is a tough choice to decide which ones are worth a visit. I would guess whichever comes first will be a good choice, but my suggestion is Uluwatu with its astonishing panorama to the open seas. Don’t miss it, especially if you’re a friend of monkeys.
Once you’re on the island, you simply have to have a traditional Balinese massage. Avoid the spas of the luxury hotels, which can cost a fortune, and try the independent boutique spas in the less touristy areas instead. I spent the most relaxing 60 minutes of my life at a small massage place in a remote part of Ubud, where I could hear the sound of the neighbors’ roosters cock-a-doodle-doo (yep, even that wasn’t a turn-off).
You’ll find that Balinese people are considerably happier than the tourists visiting the island. You can actually recognize who is here only for a couple of days and who has chosen Bali as a lifestyle.
For the hungry
Food in general is legendary. This island is a true paradise offering all what one can want: fresh fruits and vegetables, rice and fresh sea food of all sorts. Not to mention the amazing juices made of these fruits just fallen off the trees.
Whatever you like, you will find it within your budget. For the super-low-budget backpackers there are fantastic local markets, and street food does exists even where there are no streets at all. For a more sophisticated experience, there are plenty of good restaurants offering the traditional Balinese dishes. Wherever you end up eating, Nasi Goreng (the Indonesian fried rice dish) will be found in all restaurants, and is an absolute must-eat.
And once again, don’t try to leave the island without going to Jimbaran beach. There’s plenty of fresh grilled sea food under that cloud of smoke, just before sunset.
Everybody is riding scooters in Bali, without exception. Scooters are the usual family vehicles as well, so it’s not at all surprising to see babies or small children sitting between their mom and dad. Just as they are a lot more easy-going than Western fellows in most areas of life, Balinese people seem to have lower sensitivity for danger.
It’s easy to rent a scooter, you can get one for about $3 a day. Petrol basically grows on trees. Right, not on trees, but there is a “petrol station” almost every corner, where locals are selling fuel in water bottles. (That doesn’t do too good for the petrol of course, but the actual, real petrol stations are less common to see.)
If you haven’t ridden a scooter ever before, this is not the place to learn. Especially if you don’t have an international driver’s license, in which case you might end up on the roadside, trying to talk a policeman out of putting you in jail for the night.
Forget walking though! There are no sidewalks and the remote roads, distances and the hot, humid weather are your enemies.
So if you are not an experienced scooter guy and don’t have a death wish, using taxi is recommended. You can get around with your own driver in a decent car for a reasonable price (around $60 per day) – no limits on distance and everything included.
Startup life in Bali
If the only thing what’s keeping you from packing your things and booking a one-way flight to Bali is the fact that you don’t want to leave your awesome company and creative startup community behind, don’t hesitate anymore.
Some geniuses have already created a cool co-working space for local and visiting creatives, techies and entrepreneurs. Just search for Hubud, the hub located in the city of Ubud, and watch their video introduction for a serious case of office-envy (as they so eloquently put it).
Photos by: Ildikó Takács, Barbara Szirmai