I probably haven’t been travelling lately or perhaps the times have caught up with me. I was recently in Bali with my friends and on our second day we planned to go to some spa for a massage after a long day of sight-seeing. I asked our driver, Ari— a good-natured guy whose English accent can rival any call center agent working for a European account, if he has an idea on good spas around Ubud. He mentioned one as what he can think of as reputable and I should have agreed right away because when I mentioned, “any other else?,” poor guy was caught off guard and started handing me his iPhone: “Here, you can take a look at Google”. There you have it girls and boys, the universalization of travel. If this was years ago, Thomas Friedman could’ve gotten an island tan if he went to Bali instead of India and might have ended up with that same conclusion: the world is flat indeed. But I digress. If anything, Bali has rekindled my love for traveling which was almost lost because it seemed, for a while, every place is the same. The key, I reckon from this trip, is to just let things be. Sometimes, the more you struggle with finding what’s better or what’s new makes you miss the goodness that just clearly surrounds you. So, did google found us a good spa? No. We found a spa ourselves just by walking around. As any self-respecting traveler should.
EAT, PRAY, LURVE
A TALE OF TWO BEACHES
Hinduism is the main religion of Bali and basically, guides its way of life. Every house, restaurant, shop and or any establishment has mini temples in which they give daily offerings to. You would commonly see offerings on the streets inside a box-like basket weaved from banana leaves. And there are thousands of temples– big and small throughout the islands. But one temple you should definitely go to is Pura Uluwatu if not for the sunset alone. Perched atop cliffs 250 feet above the Indian Ocean, this temple was built in the 19th century and is one of the key temples built to protect Bali from evil spirits. The place surely is remarkable with resplendent views of the Indian Ocean and come sunset, is probably one of the most stunning horizon views you will ever see. We actually just stayed here a few minutes before sunset and it was already magical, so you could just imagine how insanely beautiful it was come sunset. After sunset-watching, there is a Kecak dance performance on a make-shift small arena on the area. Macaque monkeys also roam around freely here as they are believed to be the guardians of the temple from evil influences so we are advised not to wear any small accessories that can be easily snatched away by our little friends like sunglasses, hats and dangling earrings. But from my experience, the monkeys were never bothersome. Just don’t taunt them with your flashy Ray-Ban club masters and I think it will be alright.
BALI BY WAY OF OZ
From the boutique shops lining the streets of Jalan Oberoi to the five-star hotels surrounding Seminyak Beach, Seminyak is upscale for sure. If you’ve ever been to Sydney or Melbourne, you can tell by the design of the shops and restaurants that it has that influence. The boutiques do sell well-designed dresses and bags, although a bit pricier than you would expect. Good restaurants are aplenty and run from very casual taco shacks to dress code-restricted fine dining places– you are sure to find something to fit your taste and budget. There are lots of eye-catching shop displays just by walking around the streets and of course you can go ahead and grab an eclair or a gelato while you’re at it.
A DIFFERENT WORLD
While Seminyak is that sophisticated, cosmopolitan lady, central Kuta is its loud, party-animal cousin who might or might not have gotten pregnant at 16. We went for a quick trip to Kuta to do some groceries and as our Taxi weaved its way through Kuta square, it is like a whole new place. It is definitely not the Bali you have in your mind: boozy tourists, bazaar style shops, bustling bars where you can hear the bass from their loud speakers through the closed windows of the taxi. I could not peel away my eyes from what I was seeing and not because what I was seeing is beautiful, but it was because it was leaving me perplexed: How did this happen? See, we mostly stayed in Ubud- with its rural and laid-back village life and then in Seminyak and its classy and hip lifestyle– both are as different than the other for sure but Kuta is, well, just a whole new world. It reminded me greatly of Khao San Road in Bangkok and certainly some seedier, louder parts of Hong Kong. Some people might find what I just said as snobbish but, to each his own: my aversion to drunken douchebags might be someone’s idea of adorable (I usually don’t judge but if that is you then you should seriously need to re-think about your priorities in life). The only possible silver lining in this is that locals have jobs from working at the numerous establishments in the area. I guess there is really that part in any country that will cater to drunken, sleazy messes. But hey, there are surf shop outlets here for your beach wear and there’s a huge supermarket in Kuta square to buy foodstuffs as pasalubong. You can drop by for those.
STAY: In Ubud. If you are looking for peace and quiet, arts and culture. Otherwise, if you would like to be in on the action of surf + night life then Seminyak is your best bet. I mean, Kuta should be alright but I did warn you. Rent a villa, which is more reasonably-priced than you would think, especially if in groups of 4 or more. I think we all need to spoil ourselves a little and what better way to do that than a private pool to dip in after a long day? Air Bnb has a lot of listings to cater to your taste and budget. The one we stayed at is Ajun Villa in Ubud and like most villas, they also include a daily breakfast prepared by a house staff so you can truly feel like a celebrity even for just a few days.
GETTING AROUND: There are metered taxis in Kuta/Seminyak and flag down rate as of writing is at RP6,000. You can also rent motorbikes, as this is the ideal form of transportation to get you around in short distances although you do have to have an international driver’s license to ride one. Car service are also common most especially in Ubud. It is especially ideal if you are in groups of 5 or 6 then you could just split the charge of around RP500,000 TO 700,000 to have the service for a whole day.
EAT. The food choices in Bali are very diverse as well as the price range. There are street-side warungs that can get you a meal of rice/noodles + fried dish for about a dollar to casual dining places that serve some well-known comfort food (tacos, burgers, Pizza!) and of course, posh restaurants that require you to dress up for dinner. As if you don’t know already, we here at Quarter-life travels love eating out when traveling and here are some of our approved places you must try when in Bali:
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
If you are after well-presented, excellent Balinese-style cuisine then you should make Casa Luna on top of your list. The prices are rather reasonably-priced for a meal that is not only superbly done but also generously served. Its location is also a prime spot, just down the road from Ubud Market. I’ve also learned that this restaurant is the brainchild of Janet De Neefe who is regarded in Australia as an expert in Balinese cuisine so you can be sure you are getting the best quality for your money here.
Naughty Nuri’s Warung
Jl Raya Sagginan, Kedewatan
Everyone in Ubud will probably tell you that the best pork ribs in town can only be Naught Nuri’s. Our driver, Wayan, seemed happy to know that we are having dinner there one night and assured us that the pork ribs are good, but I felt sad when he said that he had never eaten at Naught Nuri’s at all, like, ever. But this also made me think: is his assurance bogus? I mean, why say something is good when you haven’t even tried it? But the bandwagon is true on this one: the ribs are indeed delicious. And after getting our bill I also have a probable reason why Wayan has never eaten at Naughty Nuri’s: it is a bit on the pricier side, their ribs at RP200,000 which can be good for two and their equally-famous brutal martinis go for RP100,000.00. Not entirely expensive but a far cry from your typical warung price point. And Wayan, like most Balinese, probably like his pork done as they do it at the next warung…
Babi Guling Ibu Oka
After spending the whole day haggling for the best deals in Ubud Market, head on for lunch to the nearby Babi Guling Ibu Oka just opposite the Ubud Royal Palace. Ibu Oka is perhaps the definitive restaurant to go to for Balinese style roasted suckling pig. Quite similar to the Philippines’ lechon, the only difference perhaps is the spices and herbs used in roasting the pig. You can be sure that Babi Guling is more flavourful in a sense that it is very lemongrass-y and coriander-y, whereas our lechon relies more on the actual meat flavour with perhaps only salt and pepper and the occasional lemongrass to bring out its tastiness. Personally, I like our lechon more as I think all those herbs and spices are quite overpowering. And the skin is not that crispy too which I don’t know if was intentional but let’s be honest here, the best part of a roasted suckling pig is the crackling, crispy skin, am I right? Order the Babi Guling Spesial which has a little bit of everything- a bit of meat, a slice of skin, a pork blood sausage, side of rice topped with a serving of spicy veggies. All that for only RP45,000-
Jalan Kaya Ayu (Jln. Oberoi)
I am going to be honest here, we were supposed to have lunch in Seminyak at Motel Mexicola which blogs from all over have raved about if not for its impressive, colourful Mexican-style decor. But, as fate would have it, they were doing some renovations that day and won’t be open till the next day, which is our date of departure to Manila. But it is true what they say: when a door closes, another one opens. In this case, we were greeted not by doors but by the colourful window jalousies of Sea Circus. We love it here. Everything about it is just so casual and light, like a smile from your favourite friend in the whole wide world. The menu consists of beach-side grub favourites: tacos, burgers, fresh shakes, juices and mojitos. Their food is just honestly good and the ingredients, you can tell, are fresh. And they encourage sharing, which is always a great thing because that means their servings are generous and the prices are affordable. Their fish tacos are easily my favourite because fish tacos are my jam. And their mummy’s mojito mocktail is also good. And their quinoa salad. And they have gelato too. And… I think I made my point.
It has been 2 days since this trip to Bali and writing about it has left me yearning to explore the island again next time, perhaps on a longer stay. Sure, it is not exactly the unadulterated, exotic Bali I was hoping for but then the heart of Bali is still its people– courteous, friendly and peaceful. They just exude a certain serenity and spirituality that seems to elude our modern lives nowadays. Perhaps that’s what makes Bali magical despite the modernities and heavy-tourism– it’s the allure that you will also achieve peace within yourself like the Balinese do.
Otherwise, there is always Google.