Is this the real Bali?

Trip Start Jan 01, 2009
Trip End Jun 30, 2009

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Flag of Indonesia  , Bali,
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bali – this tropical island in the Indonesian archipelego is our wild card at the end of our journey. While the itinerary for the past 5 months had been loosely planned, we left this last month up for grabs. I had hoped to finish with Vietnam, the children were lobbying for a repeat visit to Thailand and Andy was remaining uncommitted – as long as it involved sunshine, beaches and relaxation. Hmmm – a quick scan of Google Earth revealed an infinite number of possibilities in South Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Phillipines or Polynesia. But after taking into account monsoon season (Vietnam and Thailand were crossed off), airfare costs (we had to fly out of Hong Kong July 3 – there goes Polynesia), and ease of travel and safety (that crossed off Papua New Guinea), we were left with Bali beckoning to us.

Bali had never been in our top 10 list of places to travel too, (too much like an Australian Hawaii?) but it seemed to fit the requirements for us at this time and hey, it wouldn't be too tough. After a quick review of Lonely Planet, it seemed there should be enough balance between western luxury (something we wanted a taste of at this point), culture and adventure. Though when I spoke enthusiastically of climbing Gunung Rinjani on nearby Lombok – a 3726 meter volcano, even Andy didn’t show much enthusiasm and you can imagine the kids reaction. Perhaps I mentioned it just a little too soon after spending 17 days in the Himalayas??

We spent the first 3 days sorting ourselves out in a villa with a private pool in Seminyak. Seminyak is billed as the quieter, more up market end of the famous stretch of Kuta beach. Kuta, we learned, is an Aussie playground – surfing, nightclubs, budget accommodation, motorcycle congested roads, souvenir shops and a long stretch of surf pounded beach unsuitable – even dangerous – for swimming. While it must have once had its charm, it did not appeal to us. But the villa was relaxing, we had a taste of some decent food and we got our bearings, deciding where we were to venture to next. While I was surfing the internet for off the beaten track budget homestays in East Bali, Andy was off on a scooter, risking his and my firstborn son’s life on the South Bali roads checking out deals in the Nusa Dua area (a stretch of 5* resorts on a peninsula decidedly lacking in any meaningful relationship to the 'real’ Bali but bountiful in generic luxury). The luxury won out when Andy scored a ‘too good to be true’ deal at the Laguna Resort and Spa. One week of spoiling wouldn’t hurt us.

The resort was absolute decadence. Wonderful rooms, the hotel grounds were impressive with swimming lagoons meandering about the entire site, and the most gracious staff we have ever encountered (even by Bali standards and that is saying a lot!). The one downside was that while we scored a deal with the rooms, the food and drink was on us and the prices were astronomical ($12 US dollars for a cocktail). So, the ironic thing was we had Sporks (combo spoons, knives, forks for use in our budget accommodations – but never needed them) and now, when we are staying in the nicest place of all, we put them to use along with some little plastic bowls we bought so we could eat breakfast in our room. This plan, along with some local Bintang beer purchased at the grocery store, and some fabulous noodle and rice dish lunches for $2 at the nearby public beach warungs (little food stands) kept us in budget. We did have a few very good meals – one at a seafood restaurant by Jimbaran Bay, a major surfing beach on the west side of the island and another at Bambu Bali, a well known Indonesian restaurant in Nusa Dua. (but to be honest, my favourite was the noodles from the warung on the beach).

OK, so what of Bali culture have we been exposed to in this – so far - sterile introduction? One thing that is immediately noticeable is the Balinese ritual of offerings. When we arrived at the airport and needed to change some money, I glanced down to the floor by the window at what looked like a small pile of rubbish – some type of leaf, rice, a ritz cracker and a few flowers all tossed together. What a funny place to throw your garbage, I thought. But that’s weird, as I glanced around there were more of these things, seemingly randomly placed on the floor about the airport. On closer inspection, they turned out to be little woven palm leaf baskets, with carefully arranged rice, flowers, and other seemingly odd bits such as ritz crackers, wrapped candies, and even a cigarette. Some had an incense stick burning in them as well. I later learned that these are offerings to the gods and are an important everyday ritual for the Balinese. These offerings are placed outside a home or business everyday to appease the gods. They are absolutely everywhere – store fronts, sidewalks, roadways, on special decorative holders at entrances to houses, shrines, temples, checkout stands, boats, and dashboards. You can see women on the street weaving the little baskets and putting the ‘ingredients’ together and selling them (busy Balinese don’t always have the time now to make their own). And, since the offerings are presented to the gods everyday (often several times a day), they are ‘disposable’ and mostly biodegradable so you see piles of used offerings everywhere. Apparently once the offering is presented to the god it is now taken, so to speak, so if you step on one on the sidewalk, or run over it on your scooter it is supposed to be OK and this is a relief as it is sometimes difficult to avoid them! It seems to be the local dogs that benefit most from the edible portions of the offerings (that is, other than the intended god) and I suppose this contributes to a win-win situation as there is less garbage remaining.

Our next stop is Nusa Lembongan Island.
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pandadownunder on

looks good
read with interest as usual..but with extra interest as I am headed here for 10 days at the end of July..we have booked our for a girlfriends 40th bday, but still looking at where to stay..Nusa Dua seems like my sort of place !!!

hamiltonfamily on

Re: looks good
Hi Amanda-
Nusa Dua would be great - we found a great deal for $110 a night at the Laguna (walk in rate was $260 so shop around). I think you'll find some great deals. Think about combining Nusa Dua with at least a few days up in Ubud where we are now. That would give you a bit of a different scene and make you feel that you have actually been to Bali. We have only been here one day so far but there is wonderful scenery of verdant rice paddies, great shopping (that you won't find in Nusa Dua), and world class restaurants.
Enjoy planning your trip!

Jessica on

Hi there, your trip looks great! Mind telling me the exact website you got your deal from? I've been searching and none is that cheap.

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