Years ago, a friend invited me to go to Bali with her. Her parents lived there, and she painted visions of tropical beaches, cheap massages and gourmet food for a fraction of the price. But getting to paradise cost more than my college student budget could afford at the time, so I never made it out to Bali. That is, until last week.
I pushed open the door to our resort and was greeted by a mini ant hill in the middle of our room.
“I’ll send someone to clean it up,” the hotel receptionist said cheerfully. Later, the housekeeper came in with a broom and attempted to sweep the ants away, but all it did was disperse them about the room. That night I drifted off to sleep with several ants on my bed, praying that I wouldn’t swallow one in the middle of the night unknowingly.
Welcome to Bali.
The beaches were honestly disappointing. Maybe because we were there during Christmas week, or maybe it was the area we stayed at (Kuta/Seminyak), but there was trash everywhere. The sand was golden but coarse, and I couldn’t walk two steps without someone trying to sell me surf lessons, sunglasses (even though I was wearing a pair) or a lounge chair. After about an hour, Mr. Wonderful had had enough and we sought sanctuary in the nearby Beachwalk Shopping Center instead.
Ridiculously cheap massages though, were a definite reality. They run as low as $5 USD to $9 for a spa experience. Just avoid the services at your hotel, which are quite pricy in comparison and can cost as much as $30 or more.
The best part of our Bali experience was the discovery in how delicious Indonesian food really is. I’m not sure why it hasn’t yet taken the food world by storm, with the wonderful combination of spicy, sweet, savory and a hint of lime in most dishes. If you find yourself in the Kuta area, hire a driver and visit the restaurant Tempo Doeloe/Ikan Bakar Cianjur. Loud, messy and utterly a must-visit local experience, it’s known for its Ikan Gurame Pesmol, a fried fish covered with an addicting sticky-sweet tomato chili sauce. For the health-conscious, grilled fish is available. There is also fried chicken for those that dislike seafood.
More than the beaches, I enjoyed Ubud. Located in Northern Bali, Ubud is touristy but has a smaller town feel and the nearby rice terraces are breathtaking. Bring a hat and lots of water, and allow yourself an hour to walk along the rice paddies. For dinner, enjoy the Indonesian specialty of Babi Guling (suckling pig). And if you’re a Starbucks lover, the location in Ubud is particularly unique with its temple-like awning (and a real temple in the back!).
My advice? If you’re still planning on a Bali vacation and want a nice beach, I heard other travelers recommend the resort area of Nusa Dua. If you’re more into a nightlife and party scene, then you may not mind the Kuta/Seminyak area. Either way, plan for a couple of days in Ubud and don’t forget to visit Tempo Doeloe on your way back to the airport!
What is one vacation destination you did not enjoy and probably will never return?