The car could not reach our hotel room in the middle of the rice fields, so we got picked up on a motorbike. On our way, we almost rode over a swirling snake crossing from the field to the water canal. The fear of snakes runs in the family, so I panicked. When I saw on the same road the next morning a barefooted farmer busy working the land, I remembered that fear is only a matter of perspective.
Back on the Balinese coast, I got in an argument with our Grab driver who thought our destination was Blue Point Beach instead of Balangan Beach. Not close enough words and 15KM apart by car. He met my anger with kindness and I remembered that you don’t always win an argument by force or loud voice. His calmness seemed to us typical of Balinese people, the type that forces you to reciprocate.
And that’s the thing about Balinese roads: you think it takes 10 minutes to go from say Jimbaran to Kuta. They look close on Google Maps after all. But there is rarely a straight line to go between two points and there is almost always traffic, making it tough for cars and motorbikes alike.
And one must plan accordingly because every hour in Bali counts. Here are some of the top things To Do on this beautiful island:
1. Spend two nights in the rice fields
Visit the Tegalalang rice fields in Ubud (we amused the locals by calling them Tega-lang-lang) where you can also do the famous Bali swing and cross on a zip line.
For an even richer experience, spend a night (ideally two) in one of the hotels in the nearby villages offering villas overlooking similar but more square shaped fields. That’s where I met the twirling snake and was given a delicious welcome drink by a non-stop smiling front desk clerk. If you are a yoga fan, you’ll enjoy a calm early warm up with the sunrise.
2. Eat fish at Jimbaran Bay
Not only was the food experience unforgettable but so was the setting. We got a candle-lit table amongst many spread out on the beach.
Yet ours was closest to the water which meant seeing ourselves floating three times when waves came crashing. Lobster is famous and cheap but you won’t go wrong indulging in even more affordable clams, prawns and red snappers. If you are a drinker then, of course, accompany your food with a Bintang beer.
3. Walk the Uluwatu Temple cliff road.
The temple is a 15 min ride from Jimbaran, on a cliff with mesmerizing views of the Indian ocean. The walk overlooking is breathtaking and the sunset pictures incredible.
Hide all that could be at risk of being stolen by not so friendly monkeys who will greet and accompany you throughout the journey. If you manage to arrive early, you could get lucky getting a spot to watch the Kecak Fire Dance.
4. Enjoy the sunset drinking a Stark beer at Potato Head, Seminyak.
This famous night spot has the music to keep you going and the Stark beer rarely found anywhere else on the island. The décor is eclectic, worthy of day and night pictures. The entrance is decorated with colorful flip flops and the exterior façade is covered with thousands of warmly colored window frames juxta positioned next to one another.
5. Face the high waves at Rock Bar.
We went there for my wife’s birthday and she loved it. Enough said.
You will be lucky if you go when the waves are ferocious so you get a bit of a splash and roaring videos to remember.
6. Meet the Luwak and drink his coffee.
One of the most expensive coffees in the world. It refers to coffee beans eaten and excreted by the Luwak animal. He selects the best quality beans and generously offers his digestive tract to add the right kind of flavor. Satisfaction guaranteed.
7. Visit two temples.
There are plenty and you ultimately have to pick. Famous ones include Uluwatu, Besakih, Tanah Lot, Pura Ulun Danu Beratan, Pura Lempuyang Luhur.
Some are few hours away by car while others are closer to the airport. Wear the traditional dress and get a guide who would tell you a thing or two about the religion. We didn’t.
8. Get lost shopping and eating in Ubud’s market.
This vibrant market starts as a fruit and vegetables market in the early morning hours and transforms into an everything else market later on. You can buy fashion accessories, household artifacts and textiles. Bargaining is expected (nicely and with a smile, as in every other encounter in Bali).
Nearby streets have plenty of restaurants and cafes. One of our favorites was Bonito, a previously dusty small corner turned into a constantly turning six table joint by a Canadian Chef coming all the way from Vancouver. Try the duck. Another delectable experience was by Hujan Locale, which was recommended to us by a friend married to an Indonesian (serving more proof that you can rarely go wrong with a local’s advice). The food was simply sensational, beating every expectation. Try the chicken wings (stuffed with shrimps?) for a starter and the fried fish or black noodles with crab for the mains. Cafes are diverse and packed with barefooted yogis.
9. Take breaks doing an hour long USD 5 full body massage.
I recommend you have at least one per day and can pick from 60-minute full body massages to 30-minute ones focused on an area or two (I like head and shoulders). Parlors are aplenty and you can never go wrong with the traditional Balinese option.
10. Take pictures with the hanging gardens.
The resort of the same name is out of the way and only go if you are willing to spend some serious cash.
Otherwise, pretty much all other resorts offer the same, if not better, views of the lush rainforest around and beyond the Ayung River. Drop in infinity pools and take happy pictures.
In Bali, Indonesia I finally learnt how to ride a scooter. More importantly, I saw the genuine kindness in peoples’ hearts, that which makes your own heart melt. Wherever you go and whatever you do, expect to be met with smiles. Breathe in the positivity, enjoy the crisp landscapes, live the rich culture and you will leave with lifetime memories and long for your next trip back.