We left Ho Chi Minh City destined for Bali on March 7th, leaving for the airport at five am (again!).
At the airport, we weren’t allowed to check in to our flight until we could show we had a ticket to leave Bali. So, for once on our trip, we were forced to plan ahead farther than we wanted. We ended up buying a ticket to Australia leaving Bali on March 27th, planning on spending three weeks in Bali. Once we bought our ticket out of Bali, they let us check in and we were Bali bound.
Indonesia is a huge country consisting of over seventeen thousand islands! It has a population of over 250 million and is the most populous Muslim country in the world.
Among those islands, is one in the south called Bali. In contrast with the most of Indonesia, Bali has a relatively small Muslim population, with the majority of it’s people being Hindi.
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a religion that has such a visible display of devotion as Bali’s brand of Hinduism.
Each town, no matter how small, has multiple ornate temples and statues depicting the various deities.
Each devotee (it seems that nearly everyone in Bali is highly-dedicated devotee) daily places small offerings in front of these statues and temples but also many other places–the dashboard of taxis, the steps of their homes, their many motorscooters.
The offerings generally consists of a banana leaf folded and stapled into a small box which is then filled with flower petals, rice, candy, money, and a smoldering stick of incense. As you walk the sidewalks in town, you are constantly stepping over these small offerings.
In the small, family-run homestay where we lived in Bali, it seemed like half the staff spent the majority of their mornings making and placing these offerings around the rooms, statues, and fountains on the property.
Based on the recommendations of several travelers we had met in Thailand and Vietnam, we decided to start our Bali adventure in the city of Ubud, which in contrast with most of the tourist destinations in Bali, is miles from the ocean.
Ubud is super picturesque, surrounded by rice paddies and rainforest, and filled with Hindu temples.
The economy in Ubud, as in most of Bali, is very highly tourist-dependent. For us, one thing this meant was that it was easy to find little pizza shops and Mexican restaurants. And while I’ve read that things in Ubud are priced higher than in much of Bali, we found both food and lodging pretty reasonable.
Here are some of the things we did in and around Ubud.
Just waking around every day was a visual treat. Bright colors, ornate temples, statues dedicated to duties and other figures in Hindu beliefs.
There was a monkey forest with tons of monkeys and old temples. If you weren’t careful, the monkeys would grab your bag and put up a fight trying to run off with it.
In Ubud, the food was pretty good. The restaurants definitely were geared toward tourists. We did have some Balinese food, but also a fair amount of Mexican and Italian.
We hiked in the rainforest just outside of town one day.
After the hike, Nolan really wanted to swim. So a taxi driver talked us into driving us to a waterfall outside of town.
The girls stayed behind and Nolan and I hopped in the taxi and drove to the waterfall. It was pouring rain when we got there and walked down to the river in our swim trunks and carrying our goggles. It turned out not to be a great place to swim, but a great place to watch tourists strike a pose to get the perfect Instagram photo.
Nolan and I crossed the river on a little make-shift wooden plank bridge to reach a path where you could climb to the to of the waterfall.
Above the waterfall, we found a hotel pool where we could swim. It was pouring rain at this point. With ask the rain, the river surged and the little bridge we had crossed on got washed out and we were stranded on one side of the river with our taxi waiting for us on the other side. We had to take another taxi twenty miles upstream to cross back over the river to get back to where our taxi was waiting. The whole process took a few hours. But I guess it was an adventure.
One day, we hired a driver and visited a terraced rice paddy. We climbed around the rice patty for a while and Jane and Nolan swung out over the terraces on a giant swing.
We also toured a plantation that grows coffee, cacao, and a variety of fruits and spices. One of the specialties in this part of the world is kopi luwak, coffee made from coffee beans that have been eaten and defecated by the palm civet, a small cat-like animal.
Although it sounds like these coffee beans are scooped up from the scat of free and happy civets, in practice the beans usually come from caged civets. Not only is it a cruel industry, but from what reviews I’ve read from expert coffee tasters, it doesn’t actually improve the flavor of the beans. Anyway, don’t buy kopi luwak, despite what Jack Nickelson’s character on As Good as it Gets might recommend.
The plantation was nonetheless interesting to visit and we see cacao trees, coffee plants, papaya trees, and a variety of other fruity trees and spice plants.
We also toured the Tirta Empul temple, a temple with a holy spring. To enter this, as any other Hindu temple in Bali, you had to don a sarong. If you wanted to bathe in the holy spring, you had to change this first sarong for a special green sarong before you entered the water.
Margaret, Nolan, and I bathed in the holy spring and we all toured the beautiful temple ground with its many temples, springs, and pools.
Storytelling through music and dance is an important part of the religious tradition in Bali. Although the outdoor performance we attended was forced inside due to rain, it was fun to watch.
We had planned on going to visit cities in the far north of the island where the beaches and snorkeling were supposed to be wonderful. But in the few days after we arrived in Bali, the news about Corona virus began to really heat up. The US closed its borders to Europe and many other countries were starting to adopt similar measures. As cool as Bali was, and it was really cool, we decided that if things got worse and we ended up stuck somewhere, Bali might not be the best place to be stuck. So we changed our flights and at 4am on March 14th, we climbed into another cab and drove back to the airport–after just one week in Bali.