If I could pick one song that truly captures the spirit and tempo of my Bali trip, it would be “Bright” by Echosmith. The lyrics definitely resonate with me since the first three lines describe how I felt once I stepped foot inside Melia Bali Hotel in Nusa Dua (Southern tip of Bali).
I think the universe is on my side
Heaven and Earth have finally aligned
Days are good and that's the way it should be
Okay, enough of my sappy side. Bali has been on my must-see list for several years, knowing it would be the perfect springboard for rest, healing, and restoration. I embarked on this last minute journey to fully decompress and soak up the cathartic powers of this idyllic place. And that is exactly what I did during my 9-day retreat, which was evenly split between 8-hour sojourns with a hired driver and full sloth-like days lounging by the resort pool, where most hotel staff knew my name.
Here are several trip highlights beginning with a truly authentic, Indonesian drink experience.
BAS Bali Kopi Plantation
Here you can sample what is arguably the world’s most expensive coffee, Kopi Luwak, which is essentially brewed from beans extracted from an Asian palm civet’s feces. After my initial gag reflex subsided, I sampled the coffee from the toddy cat’s butt (not literally), and it was surprisingly smooth. The plantation is home to several civets that were most likely responsible for my afternoon coffee tasting. The process is definitely intriguing and indigenous to Indonesia and the Philippines. These animals initially digest coffee berries, which then go through a natural fermentation process inside their digestive tracts. After 1 to 2 days, the beans are defecated in clumps, thoroughly cleaned, roasted, and brewed for your drinking pleasure. Coffee is extremely expensive if you were to purchase it. You’re essentially paying for the unique coffee processing methods vs. the actual taste. For reference, a small box at the airport retails for $71 USD.
3 Perfect Destinations for the Animal Lover Like Me: Sacred Monkey Forest, Bali Zoo, and Butterfly Park
The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud (30.000 Rp) is the largest of three sanctuaries in Bali and definitely worth the visit. I’ve heard from several people that these monkeys can get extremely aggressive by snatching sunglasses, jumping on your head, or defecating on visitor’s clothing. Luckily, they were mostly calm when I visited with the exception of 2 monkeys mating in front of a growing crowd. Aside from that, I was very lucky to witness and film a family of monkeys (also known as macaques) helping each other down one of the tall tree branches. This was happening while one of the park workers reiterated special park feeding restrictions over the loudspeakers: Don’t feed them peanuts, cookies, or candy!
The Bali Zoo (900.000 Rp) is another one of my favorite destinations since I was able to ride a 22-year old elephant during a short, 15-minute trek on the private elephant trail. Longer rides are available for additional rupiah. Roaming the entire zoo didn’t take very long - 1 hour at most. If a banana peel or other flying food item smacks you in the face while you’re navigating the zoo, don’t worry. There’s a very friendly Orangutan waiting to toss discarded food scraps at random, unsuspecting visitors. I highly recommend eating at the WANA as well since several lions are lounging just outside the restaurant window. It was a great way to end my afternoon with various birds, horses, camels, and other animal species mainly (70%) relocated from various parts of Indonesia.
Bali Butterfly Park ($8.50 USD) – I was one of only 5 people inside the park so I was able to slowly meander through the entire butterfly habitat without interruption. Overall, it’s a tiny, netted enclosure that also features a collection of beetles and insects. Worth stopping by if you’re visiting Tabanan or want a special photo with a fairly large flying mantis on your bare arm.
It must be my Filipino rice-loving nature, but I definitely gravitated towards Bali’s Tegallalang Rice Terraces. This is a gorgeous place, where you’ll find layers upon layers of rice paddies nestled along the hillside just 20 minutes north of Ubud. If you want to explore the area, I don’t recommend wearing flip-flops (my shoe of choice) since you’ll need to climb up and down the various peaks and valleys to navigate the terrain. If you don’t have the proper footwear, you can visit several outdoor kiosks that sell sarongs, fans, blankets, and other knick-knacks along the terrace perimeter.
Temples, Temples, and More Temples
You can’t visit Bali without seeing at least two or more key temples, which are pervasive throughout the region. My driver mentioned that roughly 90% of Balinese people are Hindu so temples (and bi-yearly ceremonies and cremations that are conducted within the temple) are an intrinsic part of their culture. It is so important, that small offering baskets containing flowers and rice can be found at temple entrances, sidewalks, etc. My driver and his wife donate 50% of their already meager salary to give thanks to the Gods. Balinese believe that these offerings will increase their overall harmony and prosperity.
Keep in mind that when visiting temples, both men and women must wear a sarong. These are provided at the entrance in exchange for a nominal donation - approximately 20.000 to 30.000 rupiah depending on the site. I asked my driver why menstruating women are not allowed inside the temples. He told me that the Gods do no want anything “dirty” entering the temples, which is why that is one of the most prominently displayed stipulations on numerous pre-entry billboards.
Here’s a short list of popular temples that I visited during my brief stay. The last 2 are highly recommended.
Batuan Temple – The first temple I visited since it was only a few minutes from the last place I went: Tohpati Village, where you can see the entire batik weaving process.
Goa Gajah – I recommend exploring the elephant cave and the adjacent forest, where you’ll find a Buddhist priest who may ask you to join him in a special prayer. He must have known that I needed a special blessing since he sought me out of the crowd and sprinkled holy water on my head. Be prepared to offer a donation.
Taman Ayun – This is a royal family temple of the Mengwi Kingdom with beautiful tiered structures throughout the entire lot.
Meditation Temple – I don’t know the equivalent Balinese name for this very serene temple nestled in the mountains. All I remember is that I had to stop every few minutes to listen to the birds chirping while I strolled through the expansive lot. My driver even stopped to sit, close his eyes, and mediate for several minutes.
Holy Spring Temple – This temple is known for its holy water-filled rectangular pools that are lined with several waterspouts. Many devout locals and tourists flock to these pools for purification and wellness purposes. I watched visitors move from spout to spout cleansing their entire body for several minutes, wishing I had packed extra items of clothing. Had I done so, I would have happily joined this ceremonious bathing ritual.
Tanah Lot Temple - Located Northwest of Kuta, this temple is one of the most picturesque sites along the Bali coastline. The primary temple is located on the beach, where waves continually erode the base of the structure. Most tourists come here during sunset since it offers a spectacular backdrop and view of the Indian Ocean.
To summarize: there’s a lot to see and do in Bali, and I barely covered it all. Other points of interest include: Tohpati Village (traditional batik hand weaving), Celuk (gold/silver jewelry production), Batuan (art paintings), Mas (wood carved sculptures), and Tegenungan Waterfall. These tours can all be scheduled on the same trip since they are relatively close to one another.
As far as eating options are concerned, I was not as adventurous on this trip. Traveling alone limits my options in certain countries, where I am often approached by locals. Sadly this meant spending most of my mealtimes at the hotel, which got expensive quickly and lacked the local flavor I craved. There was one experience that I would definitely repeat, however. On my first 8-hour tour, I was dropped off at Bebek Teba Sari Restaurant shortly after I sampled Kopi Luwak. This place blew me away since I was able to sit inside a hut on top of a gorgeous rice field. I loved every second and savored my Iga Babi Bakar (grilled marinated pork ribs, steamed rice, sautéed green beans-eggplant, bbq sauce, papaya pickles) and Bintang Pilsner. I’m hungry just thinking about it.
A few final notes.
Since I booked this trip a couple of days prior to my departure, I completely forgot to check if I needed an entry visa. Luckily, you can purchase one upon arrival at the airport for $35 USD.
Melia Bali Hotel provided a wonderful respite and offers a private beach, spa, daily buffet breakfast, fitness center, and many other amenities. It’s only 5 to 10 minutes walk to Bali Collection, where you can shop, dine, and withdraw money from several ATMs.
I avoided the infamous “Bali Belly” by using bottled water to brush my teeth and asking for “no ice” everywhere I went.
Balinese workers are not paid that well so I tipped heavily, even when service charge was already included. The workers are very friendly and appreciative of your efforts.
Check the exchange rate prior to leaving for your trip. I usually do so, but completely spaced once again. Once I went through customs, I immediately spotted an ATM and withdrew rupiah for my taxi ride. I only withdrew 100.000 Rp thinking that was a lot of cash. I approached the exchange desk asking them to break this large bill not knowing it was only worth $7.50. You should have seen my face when I approached the taxi stand and they asked me to pre-pay 200.000 Rp. I thought they were price gouging me. How embarrassing. Lesson learned.