Surf, sun, the most Instagram-able cafes and rice fields…Bali is a truly incredible experience.
So why the post title?
After spending a month exploring the Indonesian island last year I was more than ready to move on and fly down to Melbourne.
As a solo traveller I’d been spoiled so far with super comfortable and safe destinations. I wouldn’t say Bali is unsafe, but it can be an intense place and several small incidents accumulated; it was time to leave.
A year later and this nomad is a more seasoned traveller.
Reminiscing on The Bali Experience
Recently many of my friends have been reminiscing about their Bali experiences. It’s made me appreciate the magic of this island and, honestly, I’m ready to go back…and do a few things differently of course.
This post is for those Bali bound. I want you to have the most incredible time and experience all the island has to offer. Let my lessons learnt the hard way help some of you out there!
Let’s dive into it…
In recent years Bali has become one of the most popular destinations for nomads and travellers, frequently sitting towards the top of the Nomad List.
So, last February I left Chiang Mai — like many do as the burning season ramps up — and caught a flight to Denpasar. I headed straight to Ubud, knowing it was full of vegan, gluten-free cafes (it didn’t disappoint), co-working spaces and a good base to explore from.
I stayed in Ubud for a couple of weeks before spending time at Bali Silent Retreat (incredible experience!). It was then off to Canggu to surf and catch up with fellow nomads I’d met in Thailand.
The Darker Side of Paradise…
Being Hassled As a Woman
Culturally, Indonesia is very different to anywhere I’d been before; Even other Southeast Asian destinations like Thailand. The constant stream of men trying to offer taxi rides or selling some random souvenir was quite overwhelming at times.
One day I was waiting on the side-walk in Ubud for my transfer to a weekend retreat I’d booked. One of these taxi drivers was shouting across the road to me for a few minutes trying to get me to go with him instead. I politely declined and moved further up the road to get away from him. He then crossed the road and just wouldn’t leave me alone. Eventually, hands up to keep a distance between us I had to angrily shout at him to “Seriously, get away from me!”… and those that know me know I rarely ever get angry.
And this wasn’t the last time I had to deal with being hassled. If you don’t drive a scooter (which I don’t but would actually recommend it for Bali) you don’t have much choice but to use one of the Uber-like services GoJek, or to take a local up on their ‘taxi offer’.
At times, especially when visiting Nusa Lembongan, I didn’t feel very safe on these scooters. Local men would ask so many questions about whether you were single and where you were staying. I’m sure most of these were not meaning harm, but as a solo female traveller you have to have your wits about you.
Now you might not mind this, and it’s great to get on board with the culture of the country you’re visiting. Personally I feel very uncomfortable in this type of situation.
From these experiences the first things I’d recommend to do is learn how to ride a dang scooter and if possible, go to Bali with friends or a significant other.
Dogs Aren’t So Friendly
My goodness, being chased by a dog was not exactly how I planned to spend my first morning in Ubud!
Being from the UK, we worship our puppy friends. Dogs aren’t allowed to wander the streets and they’re kept on leads in public.
In Bali, dogs are allowed to wander the streets and they can be quite aggressive. Never try and stroke them, even if they look cute and cuddly!
I was exploring Ubud quite early in the morning and happened to look over at a particular building. The dog sitting outside the gate saw me and started growling. As I walked past swiftly he started chasing me down the road. Luckily he gave up pretty quickly but it was so scary.
So another Bali recommendation – stay clear of the dogs.
The Plastic Situation
You may have heard about or seen images of the washed up plastic on Bali’s beautiful beaches. And sadly, it’s very true.
The burst of tourism over the years and lack of infrastructure to deal with the disposal of single-use plastic has led to this crisis today.
While visiting a temple in the mountains I noticed something really interesting, and luckily our guide was on hand to explain the situation. Years ago, the Balinese wrapped food in Banana leaves and didn’t have all of this plastic packaging. They would simply burn piles of this natural waste. What I saw was waste burning…but it was a pile of plastic! The smell was so strong and got down your throat. It was a really sad sight.
There are however programs trying to improve the situation. And an adorable sight was watching local school children picking up litter in the morning. I just hope they don’t have to grow up to this still being an issue.
As a western tourist I felt somewhat responsible for the mess this Island is dealing with. As a nomad wanting my supermarket snacks and cafe nourish bowls, was I impacting the eco-system of this once idyllic Island?
There are however things you can do to make a difference as a tourist, even if it makes only a small positive impact.
Accommodation like Serenity Eco House in Canggu is a great alternative to a traditional hotel and their whole ethos is natural and environmentally friendly. I loved their healthy restaurant too!
Also, whilst you can’t drink the tap water, the co-working spaces offer filtered water you can stock up on (I only used Out-Site but I think Dojo and Hubud offer the same). So take your flask and skip out on bottled water. It’s hot and humid in Bali so you’ll be drinking a lot!
So Why the Urge to Go Back to Bali?
‘Island of the Gods’
Now we’ve got the crappy bits out of the way…on to the good stuff!
Whilst you might think I’ve just slated Bali, it would be hard to talk about the experience without also telling you about the magic of the Island and why I can’t wait to go back.
Bali is referred to as the ‘Island of the Gods’.
And honestly, it is a very spiritual place. There are beautiful temples everywhere you look and ceremonies and rituals are part of the daily life of locals.
There is a real energy on the Island and it’s rich with culture.
While it’s a haven for tourists getting the best Instagram shots — not throwing shade I’m totally guilty of this too — it would be great to spend more time with locals to understand the ‘real’ Bali.
Yoga & Meditation Retreat Heaven
By far the most enlightening experience in Bali was going to a silent retreat. Being out in the jungle — with no noise, wifi, or phone — was pure bliss. And there are retreats all over the island.
Bali Silent Retreat ( you can read about it here) offers multiple yoga and meditation sessions daily. Honestly, it was so nice to just slow down and relax. It’s definitely a place to go back to.
The island is also well known for its many yoga teacher training courses if that’s more your thing.
One thing that should be on every Bali bucket list is to do the sunrise trek up Mount Batur.
The volcano in the heart of the island has breathtaking views and dam, I bet it feels good to watch the sun rise after a tough hike…
…I wouldn’t know because I chickened out last year, telling myself I didn’t have the right shoes!
We are Travel Girls have a detailed post about the experience, and if their photos don’t make you want to climb this volcano I don’t know what will. I can’t wait to go back to see that sunrise for myself.
So Much to See
It’s not just Mount Batur that will take your breath away in Bali; there are countless temples, waterfalls, rice fields, caves to explore.
Again, I was working so much whilst in Bali I missed off a lot of these mystical attractions. Just a few of which include:
Pura Lempuyang Temple
As one of the oldest and most sacred temples on the island, Pura Lempuyang is truly stunning. It’s definitely one to visit, although many travel friends have warned that the queue to get your photo taken can be super long.
Tegallalang Rice Terrace
Tegallalang is probably the most famous Balinese rice terrace. It’s just north of Ubud and you can find multiple tours stopping at this attraction. You can also hire a driver for the day to take you on a tour.
Or, like most people in Bali, just hop on your scooter.
Tirta Empul Temple
Lastly, I would love to visit Tirta Empul Temple. Also close to Ubud, Tirta Empul is a sacred site for purification and cleansing rituals. You’ll need to remember to wear a sarong when entering the site.
Huge Nomad Community
Lastly, one of the reasons digital nomads like myself can’t stay away from the Island is the strong community of remote workers.
There are several coworking spaces and coffee shops to get work done and meet new people. Accommodation packages offered by places like Outsite or Dojo are, compared to finding your own pad, pretty darn pricey. But I suppose that all relative to what you earn and to rock up with everything sorted for you (including a ready made community) is worth it.
I stayed in a mixture of hostels and guest houses but it would be worth looking into renting a villa with other coworkers.
While my first experience in the Indonesian paradise was rocky, I ABSOLUTLEY want to go back.
Last year I put my negative feelings down to Bali being ‘too touristy’ or ‘spoiled by nomads’. While this is debatable, I realised I left so much beauty and wonder unexplored. Plus, maybe in hindsight I should have been a bit more prepared and learnt to ride a scooter. It really is a must for the true experience.
Have you been to Bali? I’d love to learn about your experiences. 🙂