Today I’m going to share highlights from Bali, and I’ll save Singapore/Phuket and Hong Kong/Shanghai for other posts. To prepare you, this is going to be long, picture-heavy post!
Let me first explain how we landed on the destinations we did – which were Bali, Singapore, Phuket (Thailand), Hong Kong and Shanghai. As a wedding gif, my mom gave us a week from her timeshare to use for our honeymoon. Our initial plan was to go to Phuket, but we quickly realized we’d need more than a week. So we put the Asia trip (and my mom’s offer to use her timeshare) on hold until our one-year anniversary and instead went to Hawaii for our honeymoon. I know, what a sacrifice!
When it came time to plan our one-year trip, we checked my mom’s timeshare availability and were disappointed to see that there wasn’t anything left in Phuket. We instead found a resort in Bali that was available, so we decided to start there. Phuket was still a must for us, but after seeing it was a 5 hour plane ride from Bali, we decided to break the flight up with a stop in Singapore for a day. The hubs has a bunch of friends who were ex-Pats in Singapore during high school and we figured it would be cool to see the city.
Finally, since we were so close to China, we knew we had to work it into the trip. Originally we only planned to stop in Hong Kong, but one of my husband’s friends lives in Shanghai and said we had to come see him if we were in that part of the world.
With our itinerary set, we jetted off to Bali. It’s a crazy long flight to get there; we left at midnight, flew 14 hours, then arrived in Taipei where we had a four-hour layover before a five-hour flight to Bali. After 24 hours of traveling, we arrived completely exhausted.
We stayed in Nusa Dua, which isn’t as popular as Kuta or Seminyak and also not the most convenient location – but it was free, thanks to my mom. Our first full day was action packed. We hired an English-speaking driver who took us around the island. I didn’t know much about Bali before we arrived — aside from what I read in “Eat, Pray, Love” years ago — and I quickly learned that it’s a fascinating cultural destination. The island is mostly Hindu so there are all kinds of cool temples and statues in the cities and villages, and they have some interesting customs and superstitions.
Our driver took us first to watch a traditional Barong dance that depicts the eternal battle between good and evil. That was an … interesting … experience, since everything was spoken in Balinese. But it was still cool to see, and the costumes were impressive. From there, we got to stop at a few art villages to see how they handcraft silver goods, batik cloth and the most unreal wood carvings.
Then we made the trek to Ubud – which, if you’ve read “Eat, Pray, Love,” is where Elizabeth Gilbert stayed. The trip to Ubud was just as fascinating as any of the stops we made, as we got to drive through tiny little villages that showed us what real Balinese life is like. You’re totally reminded that you’re in a third-world country when you see the living conditions. One of the most shocking things we saw were 8-year-old kids driving scooters around, barefoot and helmet free. Our driver said, “In villages, no helmets, no license, no police, no problems.”
Our first stop was the Sacred Monkey Forest, a sanctuary for more than 600 Macaque monkeys. We were warned to be careful with the monkeys, as they will steal any loose items from you. Armed only with our cameras and selfie stick (don’t judge), we wandered through the forest. For the most part, the monkeys only seemed to care if you had food – which you could purchase, but we decided not to. We took about a zillion monkey photos and laughed at the tourists who had monkeys climbing all over them to get at the bananas they were holding. We came out mostly unscathed … minus a little incident where the hubs got bitten by a monkey. He tried to take a selfie with one little guy, but the monkey wasn’t having it. The monkey gave him a little warning nip on his arm – not hard enough to break skin, fortunately … but I still got a little freaked.
Next, we drove to the Tegalalang Rice Terraces. These terraces are a work of art themselves, built right into the hills and gorgeously green and lush. Our driver explained that the terraces are built so the water flows from the top of the hill down to the bottom to irrigate the rice. We were there in between harvests so there wasn’t much going on, but it was still really cool to see.
Our next stop was the town of Kintamani, which overlooks Mount Batur – an active volcano situated next to a gorgeous freshwater crater lake (which I couldn’t fit into the photo below). The last eruption was in 2000, and I’m not gonna lie … it would have been kind of awesome if we got to see some ash or lava — but no dice. We grabbed lunch at a restaurant (a buffet, of all places; totally thought that was an American thing) with a beautiful view overlooking the volcano and lake.
Our driver then took us to a coffee plantation, where we saw how they make Balinese coffee and the infamous Kopi Luwak coffee – or “poo coffee,” as our driver giggled. If you guys have ever seen “The Bucket List,” there’s a couple of scenes about Kopi Luwak, the world’s most expensive coffee. The coffee is made from beans that have been digested by an animal called the civet cat. The civet goes around the jungle eating Arabica coffee berries – a super premium type of coffee berry. As the animal digests the berries, its gastric juices work their magic on the coffee bean inside the berry – which it can’t actually digest – and it reduces the acidity of the coffee. The beans make their way through the cat’s digestive system and end up … well, in a pile of crap … which the locals collect. They pick out the beans, wash them a million times, then roast them and grind them into the smoothest cup of coffee you’ll ever taste. No joke: It. Was. Delicious. Best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. I obviously had to take some home with me, and a tiny little package set me back $40!
From there, we drove through a bamboo forest to get to our last stop of the day: the traditional Balinese village of Penglipuran and the Kehen Temple. The Hindu temple dates back to the 11th century, though some of it has been restored over the years. But it was still awesome to see such old structures. We wandered around the temple a bit, then explored the village. From what I read online, the village has 700 people and 192 families. As is traditional in Bali, extended families all live together in walled compounds – and each compound has its own temple. We were invited into several of the villagers’ homes (many of which sell goods), but since we … or rather I … dilly-dallied at the coffee plantation, we were a little behind schedule. So we politely declined, snapped some photos, got in our car and headed back to the hotel.
Our second full day in Bali was all about beach and pool time, so I won’t bore you with the details. That night, we visited Jimbaran Bay, which is known for its seafood. We feasted on freshly-caught seafood (like, no joke … we chose our dinner from tanks of fish that had been caught that day) at a table right on the beach where we watched the sunset.
On our last day in Bali, we had an evening flight so there was plenty of time to see a few more sights. Our driver took us first to Uluwatu Temple. Built right on the edge of a cliff, this is another Hindu temple that dates back to the 11th century. You can’t actually go in the temple, but the views from the cliff were pretty amazing. The temple also has its own monkey forest, and our driver warned us these monkeys were much more aggressive. Luckily, we had no run-ins this time around.
Before we headed back to the hotel, he took us to Padang Padang Beach. This beach was made famous by the “Eat, Pray, Love” movie … but to be honest, I can’t remember any beach scenes (I probably blocked it out because the movie just didn’t do the book justice). But I digress. To get to the beach, you have to walk down this crazy little staircase carved into rocks. And once you’re down there, the beach is spectacular, albeit quite small. We didn’t bring suits or towels with us, but we waded in and the water was clear and warm. There were about a million surfers out on the break, and we agreed that if we ever go back to Bali, we’d want to spend a few days in a little hotel near that beach and maybe try our hand at the surfing.
Back at the hotel, we had a few more hours to kill so we got Balinese massages. You can get some insanely cheap massages in Bali and Thailand. Even going to a “ritzy” place (because I was a little creeped out by some of the cheap street massage vendors) we only paid $25 each for a one-hour massage. It was the perfect end to a few great days in Bali.
I’ll share highlights from our stops in Singapore and Phuket in my next recap! Have you ever been to Bali? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!