It was 12th March and I had just arrived at Denpasar Bali Airport in Indonesia, after a three hour flight, for the final destination of my seven-month trip. This was a chance for me to explore the island and get some relaxing time in, before heading back to the UK and trying to work out what was next for me!
In five days, I would be met by my friend, Bianca, and I couldn’t wait to see a familiar face. She was joining me for a holiday, and it meant that I would have somebody to fly home with and we could enjoy beautiful Bali together. Speaking of flying home, I had decided a few months earlier on my trip that I would finish my travels sooner than planned, so that I could surprise my dad for his 60th birthday. I already couldn’t wait!
In the meantime, I had booked a room in a guest house in Sanur, a quaint seaside town in the south of the island. This was close to the airport and by the lovely and quiet Sindhu Beach, so that I could relax after the more bustling cityscapes of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
I settled into the guest house and then went for dinner on the beach, seeing a very pretty sunset on my walk home.
This was about all I saw of Sanur though, as my hopes of sunbathing and walking on the beach didn’t quite go to plan. The next day I started to feel unwell. I had been really careful with what I ate as I was very aware of the infamous Bali Belly, but I had clearly succumbed to its wrath. I decided to rest up and hoped I would start to feel better, but it seemed to develop into a flu-like illness, which felt worse when I left the confines of my air-conditioned room. This meant that I mostly slept, watched TV (I was so pleased to find programmes like Game of Thrones and Hairspray with Balinese subtitles as opposed to dubbing!), chatted to family and felt rather lethargic.
Though not a hundred percent better, luckily, by the time I was joined by Bianca, I was starting to feel more like myself again. I checked out of Sindu Guest House and travelled to Legian, a suburban beach area just twenty minutes away. Bianca’s flight didn’t come in until that evening, so I lounged around the pool area and enjoyed the fact that I felt well enough to be outside.
Before long, Bianca arrived and we spent the first day of her arrival lounging and exploring the local area, as she was understandably pretty zonked from the flight.
The next day though, we decided to travel to the neighbouring towns of Uluwatu and Kuta. Our first stop was to Pura Luhur Uluwatu, a Hindu temple situated on a cliff edge, seventy metres above the sea. Visited by lots of monkeys, that we witnessed running around us, the temple dates back to the 11th century, with a small structure possibly existing even earlier. The views of the ocean were stunning and the architecture itself was intricate and impressive, with lots of little figures cast into the stone.
We were given material to put around our legs, and were glad this was available as we had obviously overlooked the fact we needed to be modest here.
We then took a taxi (using the Asian equivalent of Uber, Grab, which offered frequent cars and very reasonable prices) to New Kuta Beach, commonly known as Dreamland Beach due to its white sand stretching over 100 metres, and its pristine cliff edge overlooking the Indian Ocean. The sunset views really were dreamy…
We sat and ate chips for dinner whilst watching the sunset, and were joined by some dogs, who came to say hello – what a blissful way to end a day!
The following morning, we checked out of our hotel and went for a delicious brunch at a local café before heading to our next destination, Seminyak, known as Bali’s most sophisticated and upscale beach resort area.
Once in Seminyak, we checked in and headed to Mrs Sippy for the afternoon and evening. This was a beach club with a pool, and the availability to hire out sun loungers for the day. For a small fee, we rented a double bed-type lounger to make the most of the pool, bar and restaurant, in their vibrant and relaxed surroundings.
Breakfast the next day felt luxurious as we ate by our hotel pool and the food was presented very attractively.
I couldn’t wait for today’s activity, as we were off to a waterpark, one of my favourite things to do on holiday!
After a day of excitement at Waterbom Bali, riding the world’s longest waterslide (though this is disputed online!); lots of slides named after snakes, such as the Python, the Green Vipers and the Constrictor; and the lazy river; we were ready for an evening out. We headed to Potato Head Beach Club for some pre-dinner drinks, and rudely, the heavens decided to open and it absolutely poured with rain. We had planned to drink on their loungers on the beach, but instead we sheltered inside the bar.
The subsequent morning, we said goodbye to upmarket Seminyak and took an hour-long taxi northward to Ubud.
Known as the island’s art and culture capital, Ubud is perched in the highlands of Bali. It is scenically stunning and is referred to as the country’s greenest area. We checked in to our new hotel and explored the markets, deciding also on our itinerary for the next day.
We had been advised that the best way to get around Ubud was to book a taxi for the day and ask the driver to take you to the places you wish to visit, whereupon they will be able to provide advice on recommended highlights.
Our first stop was to Kemenuh Butterfly Park. En route, we saw a street festival, which our driver told us was a Barong Dance. According to Balinese folklore, Barong is a mythical creature that resembles a lion. The dance portrays the Barong trying to kill the demon queen, Rangda, in order to restore balance between good and evil.
We arrived at the butterfly park which was located amongst the rice fields we would soon be visiting. The park’s focuses are on conservation, education and attraction. It encourages tourists and locals to enjoy and learn about the different species present in the park, including the endangered Kupu-Kupu Barong, or Atlas Moth.
Upon leaving the butterfly park, and buying a souvenir for my mum who loves butterflies (I could finally purchase souvenirs for family and friends as this was my last stop and I wouldn’t have to lug them around in a rucksack), we headed to Tegenungan Waterfall.
This is one of the most popular waterfalls on the island and it was clear to see why, with its picturesque panoramas, photo opportunities and expansive views of the surrounding landscape.
Our next stop was to Goa Gajah, known as the Elephant Cave because it is situated next to Petanu River, which was once known as Elephant River. It was likely built in the 11th century and is a significant Hindu archaeological site, with a bit of an eerie entrance to the cave…
The doorway, with its demonic mouth, suggests that people are entering the underworld once they step foot inside the cave. It has been said to represent either the Hindu earth god, Bhoma, or the child-eating demon, Randga, who I mentioned previously.
Goa Gajah is still an active worship site, and holds religious and archaeological significance, as well as exquisite surroundings, much like the rest of the places we saw in and around Ubud. We visited the ancient cave and then walked around the paddy fields, the waterfalls and the stone structures.
We then headed to Luwak Coffee Plantation, to find out how this speciality coffee is made and to sample it too. Rather disgustingly, the beauty of luwak coffee (or kopi luwak in Balinese) comes from none other than faeces…
Kopi luwak is collected from the droppings of an animal in the cat family called the luwak (or Asian palm civet). These nocturnal forest animals prowl coffee plantations at night and eat the ripe coffee cherries. They can’t digest the stones (which we know as the coffee beans) and so they excrete them. The farm workers then collect, clean and wash these, and the beans have acquired a unique and highly sought-after taste, with the addition of the enzymes from the luwak’s digestive tract. The males and females actually produce slightly different tasting coffee, with the male beans being stronger than the female.
Kopi luwak was discovered in the 18th century when Dutch plantation owners forbid indigenous workers from sampling the fruits of their labour. However, the locals noticed that the luwak also ate the cherries that they were harvesting, and that when excreted, the coffee beans seemed unchanged. They then cleaned and roasted the beans and created their own coffee. Eventually, the plantation owners found out about this and even decided that this was better coffee than they were harvesting without the luwaks’ help!
We sampled this coffee and it was very strong. I am definitely not a coffee connoisseur so I couldn’t say how it was better than regular coffee, but I hoped my family would know more, and Bianca and I purchased some for them all to try. We also tried a lot of different flavoured tea and coffee. This was likely a marketing ploy to get us to buy their wares, but it was fun and they were free to sample, with lots of really lovely flavours.
Our penultimate destination of the day was for lunch at a viewpoint of the active volcano, Mount Batur. Unfortunately, the foggy sky meant that we didn’t get a great view of it, but we could still observe it in the background.
Finally, we visited Tegallalang Rice Terrace. Situated in a valley with scenic lookouts over the beautifully arranged paddy fields, the rice terrace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is clear why upon visiting the lusciously green oasis.
Our driver actually dropped us off at Batuan Temple as it was situated near our hotel, and he told us it was another important site to visit. We said goodbye, tipped him and thanked him very much for all of his help and advice during the day.
The Batuan Temple, also constructed in the 11th century, is a Hindu temple with stunning architecture.
We walked back to our hotel and got ready for dinner. We were a little exhausted but we had a wonderful day exploring Ubud. We ate in a quirky restaurant where you had to ring a bell for service and your napkin was a tiny little circle until you dunked it in water.
The next day, we explored the many markets of Ubud and visited the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Known in Balinese as Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana, the sanctuary is home to over 700 grey long-tailed macaques. We had to make sure we didn’t carry food or water bottles with us here and were even told to be cautious with our bags, as the cheeky monkeys love to pinch them!
We had absolutely loved our time in Ubud, and the following morning we made our way to the final destination of our trip. An hour-long transfer took us to Padangbai, a coastal town where we were able to take a four-hour boat ride to Gili Trawangan.
I found the boat trip quite rocky, so I was relieved when we arrived onto the island which was to be our home for the next three days.
Gili Trawangan, known as Gili T, was stunning. It doesn’t actually count as part of Bali, but is one of the islands of neighbouring Lombok, another section of Indonesia. At only 15km2, the island seemed like one long road. There are no cars at all on Gili T, and instead you can get around on horse-drawn carriages. This was a wonderful break from all forms of modernity, and it really was an idyllic island paradise.
During our time here, I finished my book; we ate and drank like queens; we met up with two of the friends I had met on my Africa tour (seeing them first in country one and now in country nineteen felt surreal. It was one of their birthdays too and they asked me to sing when we found ourselves in a bar with live music – I clearly have no shame!); we swung in the sea on some beautiful sunset swings; we sunbathed and swam in the pool and we paddled in the sea.
It was the perfect end to a perfect trip!
Before we knew it, we were heading back on the boat to Bali, and leaving for home, via a layover in Dubai that unfortunately ended up being longer than planned as our flight was delayed. I couldn’t wait to see my family after seven long months, and surprise my dad, by jumping out of a box, for his 60th birthday!
Thank you so much for joining me on my adventures as I took you through my travels in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, India, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia! I’ve really spread this blog out, considering I have now been back home for three years, but it has been amazing to reminisce on my wonderful travel memories. I am so glad I have this blog to look back on for years to come, and am even making it into a book. I also feel so fortunate that I was able to complete this trip during what we now see as a simpler time, pre-coronavirus. Here’s to multi-country travel becoming accessible again, and let’s hope that the future holds a much greener, more sustainable route to see all of the beauty that our planet has to offer!