It was the perfect combination of West vs Asia Pacifica.
It was the first time in a year that I enjoyed vegan food, quality coffee and surfing.
It was uncanny how many travel bloggers I saw with cameras strapped to their bodies or boyfriends following them around…
but it was also the first time I encountered a culture in Asia that smiled back at me 100% of the time. (I tested it)
I traveled alone to Indonesia for my summer vacation in Korea. I spent one night in Surabaya and 7 in Bali. As an English Teacher and temporary resident of North Eastern Asia, Bali was a home away from home and then some. The reason that many people dislike the little Hindu island, is mainly because it’s 100% touristland, which is why it was 100% perfect for me.
I really can’t explain how good it was to have normal paced English conversations, and eat things my body feels good eating.
Korean people are not mean, but they don’t smile at strangers.
Bali was the first place in a year that I felt the warmth of a returned smile, and it was so welcoming.
Brb, just buying another plane ticket…
I had to cancel volcano hiking plans with a friend because I misunderstood how long it takes to get to Bali from Korea, leaving me only one night on the beautiful island of Java.
Surabaya is in East Java, and is the largest city after Jakarta.I couchsurfed with a lovely woman and her family for the evening, after waiting way too long for a bus and haggling down to a $5 taxi fare.
We got on the back of her scooter, as one does in Indonesia, and went to her house about 20 mins away. I was wearing shorts because I forgot to pack the pants* I had set out specifically because I knew I needed to dress modestly in the world’s largest Muslim population. I felt the eyes of everyone around me, but no one was rude or stared too judgmentally (compared to some side eye in Korea..)
My host is also a teacher so we chatted about education and laughed about the things I was noticing. On the way to her home she took me to a monument made for Korea, after the Korean war. Her kindness and thoughtfulness was so appreciated.
We shared her room, in which I had what felt like an anaphylactic reaction to something over night (I’m allergic to trees, dust, mold, cats and cockroaches and there were probably all those things). I snuck a Benadryl while she slept next to me and hoped to breathe again. I did.
The next morning I needed to get on a plane for Bali, but not before she showed me her amazing neighbourhood and gave me a small breakfast.
Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch for over 300 years until 1945, and celebrates its independence on August 17th every year. While I was there, there were flags and red and white decorations everywhere.
*I found the pants 2 days later, after the last thing my host’s older brother will remember is me waving goodbye and my sarong falling down
face palm face palm face palm face palm
Indonesia is a Muslim country, with Bali being the only non-Muslim island. This means you can’t drink anywhere except in Bali (and may have something to do with Bali being Australia’s choice getaway in Indonesia).
Sanur is on the South East side of Bali, and is much quieter than other areas of the island. It’s quiet beaches are known for older people and young families.
My family friends planned a family reunion in Bali and I got to see them! The parents worked with my parents and had four children about 10 years older than my sister and I. Growing up they were our role models and now they all have families and live all over the world.
It was the first time I met their kids and got to hangout as an adult and I had such a wonderful time. One family was renting a house in Bali for a few months and they were kind enough to let me stay with them and ‘get used to Bali.’
Tell you what, I got could definitely, always, get used to Bali.
This was the first time in a year that I saw a sky so blue. How sad is that?
If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a bunch of kites in the sky. They were everywhere in Bali! Big and small, in every shape or size.
I learned a lot while I stayed with them because the eldest daughter had lived in Indonesia for a year after high school, on a rotary exchange. She gave me a lot of tips and showed me the ropes, while we hung out with her daughters.
For privacy’s sake I won’t put any pics of their beautiful kids on the interwebs.
Ubud is an area inland, surrounded by lush rice fields and forest, and rains a whooole lot. Every day I was there, to be exact. It’s famous for its monkey forest and traditional dance shows. I just wanted vegan smoothie bowls.
The weirdest part about traveling alone in Bali was.. for lack of a better word… how rich I felt. Taxis were really cheap and the fastest way to get around, so I’d often travel long alone in the back of a nice car, with a personal driver.
I stayed in a rather… modest… hostel and made friends with the family that owned it. They ran all kinds of services from their hostel, including motor bike rental and tour bookings, and served coffee and fried banana for breakfast.
I found a plant based restaurant called Watercress and ate there basically every day, almost every meal. Among other things, Bali is both made fun of and famous for vegans and yoga.
After exploring the area for a few hours I signed up for a sunrise volcano hike. I went to bed at 8pm to be picked up at 2am? 4am? I can’t remember but it was too early.
After being loaded up into a van with a bunch of other travelers, we stopped at a random point and had coffee and some cake while it was still dark. About 40 minutes later we got out of the van with at least 400 other people getting ready to climb the volcano at the same time. It was insanity. There was a line of flashlights going up the entire mountain like a snake.
I couldn’t get a good picture, but this was the first time I had seen Orion upside down since I’d lived in New Zealand.
It felt like coming home.
And this was the magical sunrise from Mount Batur we climbed up in the pitch black to see.
It was alright sunrise, but an amazing experience hiking in the dark. It always feels epic to do things while every one else sleeps, especially with other travelers.
So I hate monkeys.
I hated them before this experience and didn’t even go to the monkey forest or monkey temple like every other tourist, because I know how horrible and smart monkeys are.
They’re all the bad parts of humans. Aggressive, jealous and hangry.
Anyhoo, my phone alarm was going off in my backpack (the usual 6:30am woohoo!) and we were standing about 20 feet away from where crowd was gathering to take pictures of a few monkeys that popped up. They know where the tourists are.
My alarm was loud so I was more focused on turning it off than the monkeys. I put my bag down and mindlessly pulled out my bag of snacks to get to my blaring phone. Of course, out of nowhere two monkeys flanked me on either side and grabbed the bag of food at the same time.
The three of us pulled on the bag until it tore, I was screaming, fruit was flying, and the monkeys were clawing at everything. Just picture me flailing around and people taking pictures and laughing and judging me for being that girl.. ugh…
We managed to gather up some of the passion fruits I paid too much for, and a banana, but my dignity was gone by then.
The way down was shocking.
We got to see the dangerously slippery metamorphic sediment we climbed up, and the vast landscape surrounding the volcano, including a crater lake. It was so beautiful!
That evening, I decided to take a personal risk and rent a scooter for the next couple days.
Best. Decision. Ever.
My fingers were continuously pruney from driving in the rain and I had to be extra careful driving on the opposite side of the road AND in the rain. I felt so alive (and perpetually soggy).
I got myself to the famous Tagalong rice terraces, and found a cafe across from them. The pics were probably better from my side.
I had a great cup of coffee and banana pancakes. Yes, it was raining and I’m a Jack Johnson fan.
The next day I had a coffee (I am very addicted to caffeine) and took off in search of a waterfall said to be 30 mins away.
It was not 30 mins away. Thank God you can use Google Maps offline, even with pruney fingers. I drove around a Bali neighbourhood forever and ever until on my 3rd round, I noticed a sign.
When I found it, I paid the fee and wandered down alone. There was a temple at the top of the falls and a bunch of women were rolling rice for the daily offerings that they make for the gods. They smiled when they saw me and gave me a piece of dough to roll myself.
I was the only one at the waterfall, and it was both beautiful and extremely eerie.
So green and lush!
The next day I went on a tour up North. Well, I thought we’d go up North.
The tour guide, just a local dude who wasn’t really trained as a guide, told us we couldn’t go to the beach I wanted to see because there was too much garbage on the beach from the constant rain. He said the tourists from the day before complained a lot, so we should consider going to a rice terrace instead. I was the only one who still wanted to go to the beach.
I hate this apathetic, out of sight-out of mind, mentality. But that rant is for my other blog.
To be honest, I have no idea where I was in these pictures. They took us to an old government building? A palace? Something beautiful, Balinese, and old.
Also there were signs everywhere that said that women on their periods couldn’t enter. I’m assuming because they would be considered “unpure.”
Next was a temple on a lake. Ulun Danu Beratan Temple is located on a lake surrounded by mountains.
That day I also experienced my first ever group mutiny in Asia.
I’ve been on a lot of tours and in general they’re less carefully organized than they are in Canada, and the tour guides often don’t care about their guests (coming from a tour guide myself). Some of the other people on our tour had been on a tour the day before and said they were taken to a buffet with a fixed price and the food was awful for the high price. We were seated at a table vbut then the 7 of us got up, went and found our tour guide, and told him to take us somewhere else. He panicked a little bit and the other tour guides laughed at him, but we all piled into the van and he took us to a place with traditional rice and chicken. It was too spicy for almost everyone except me (thank you Korea!)
I prayed I wouldn’t get Bali Belly, and I didn’t.
The mutiny made me feel so uncomfortable and spoiled, as if every Westerner always gets what they want. but it was actually so good to stand up and ask for something better and different. I learned a lot from the experience.
Next was a waterfall swim.
At some point during the day we went on a tour of a coffee plantation. I tried Luwak coffee. A luwak is a civet. It eats coffee beans and poops them out to make an expensive cup of coffee. I tried it. It was more acidic than their other coffee but really good.
A cat-poo-ccino they called it.
Here’s a pic of a coffee plantation tour guide showing us the spices that go into making the coffee. This experience was by far one of my favourite, as I got to see what turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon plants actually look like. I smelled a cinnamon leaf from right off the tree!
Finally we went to a hot spring at the end of the day (obviously no photos until I acquire a GoPro)
Indonesia is a very active volcanic island group, making some very wonderful hot pools. This one was a strange green in colour, but so comfortable. It was lovely to sit in the rain and soak in the middle of a rainforest. I just listened to the birds and chatted with my new friends from Greece, the Netherlands, and Chile.
After the hot springs we saw the rice terraces promised instead of the beach. So lame. But we were really tired and ready to go back after an entire day of sightseeing.
The next day I headed to Canggu to finally catch some waaaaarm waves in Indonesia! I said goodbye to the hostel owners and gave one lovely girl a Canadian maple lollipop.
My last two days were at a surf camp in Canggu, part of Kuta. I absolutely loved Canggu! It was full of foreigners, plants for food, and best of all, waves.
I was immediately filled with regret when I reached Canggu. It was too good.
Why wasn’t I surfing every single day I was in Bali? Next time.
The waves, even when small, were powerful. Although you still had to paddle, even the white wash could be ridden well. The surf camp meant we got time with surf instructors in the water and they gave me some great tips. I started on a long board the first day and went down to a 7’6 the next day. The first day was small, but the second day was bigger and I could even catch some green waves! And wasn’t wearing a wetsuit! AH!
I met some great people at the surf camp. Liv was from the UK, Anais from Belgium, and some great people from Iceland and the Netherlands. None of those countries are known for surfing so we were all just there to learn and have fun.
Two days was not a long time. I basically ate the entire time, and managed to do one yoga class. The studio was absolutely beautiful. There was no glass on the windows in a large circular room and the roof was very very high. You could hear the wind and the birds.
On my last night, It was a full moon. I attended a full moon party on the beach. Enough said.
I chose to miss a dinner and yoga to see the final sunset of my trip. It was worth it.
I treated myself.
I am soooooo grateful for my experience in Bali and the people I met.
In summary, here’s a list of my accomplishments:
– see the Southern Hemisphere stars again
– hike a volcano at sunrise
– surf in warm water
– motorbike in the rain on my own without dying
– drank coffee that came out of a jungle cat’s butt
– soaked in a hot spring in the rain forest
– met people from all over the world
I made a video you can watch here. It’s actually pretty good, if I do say so myself.
Until next time! Stay tuned for a post from Taiwan and Sri Lanka.