My Love and Hate Relationship with Bali

This post is a first hand account of my 30 day stay in Bali. I stayed mostly in the towns of Ubud, Padangbai, and Canggu. This is far from being an all-inclusive guide to Bali as there was so much I still hadn’t seen when my 30 day visa ran out! Still, those 30 days allowed me to taste a small morsel of what Bali had to offer.

1. A week in bustling Ubud

When I first arrived in Bali, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had read an outdated Lonely Planet and made up my mind that the place to be was Ubud, described as a quiet village filled with beautiful rice terraces and cultural experiences. So I set off, taking a taxi direct from the airport to my destination of choice.

Downside

Ubud turned out to be a busy and noisy city, with scooters at every turn, impossible sidewalks filled with holes over-your-waist deep, and the nonstop question of ‘Taxi? Taxi?’, wherever you go.

I didn’t find peace.

I tried to give Ubud a chance by staying a few more days. Maybe I was just in the wrong mindset. But I could feel myself getting increasingly frustrated by the infinite number of tourists in yoga pants sipping on their kale avocado smoothies with wheatgrass before heading to their next yoga class. It just felt forced. As if it was all made up to please the ‘Eat Pray Love’ junkies who wanted the shortcut to finding themselves.

Upside

Whining aside, Ubud does have some beautiful spots that make it a worthwhile destination during your stay in Bali. I’d recommend taking a walk into the rice fields from central Ubud, known as the Campuhan Trail. It’s drop dead gorgeous, and best of all, it’s free. The earlier you start, the better, as the heat can make even the easiest of walks unbearable.

You can also rent a bicycle (affectionately known as ‘push bikes’ in Bali) to cycle to the bigger and more well known rice fields of  Tegalalang, located just 10 km north of Ubud. I guarantee that you will be dripping in sweat by the time you reach them, but reward yourself with a refreshing coconut water at one of the numerous cafés that bordering the rice paddies, and you won’t be disappointed. Make sure you take the back road (Jl. Tirta Tawar rather than the main road, Jl. Raya Andong) to avoid traffic and get a sneak peek into a more laidback and quiet villager’s lifestyle. This was one of my favorite memories from Ubud, and one of the reasons I wish I had a GoPro to document it all! Because taking pictures with your iPhone while cycling in Bali can quite easily result in a disaster.

Tegalalang Rice Paddies
I was so happy to finally arrive at the rice fields after my hot and sweaty bike ride. But it was so worth it.

2. Two nights in Padangbai

After Ubud, I decided to check out the east coast in Padangbai. From what I had heard, it sounded like Padangbai didn’t have much, and that suited me just fine.

Downside

The calls of ‘Taxi? Taxi?” I had gotten used to hearing in Ubud, were now replaced with “Gili? Gili? Fast boat to Gili?”, as Padangbai is mainly a stopover for tourists en route to the famous party island of Gili Trawangan. Because of this, tourists and backpackers often pass quickly through it, describing it as a ‘shit’ town. In my mind, this could not be further from the truth. Then again, if you’re looking to party, this probably isn’t the place for you.

Upside

I wasn’t sure what I was looking for in Padangbai. And I wasn’t sure what I found. But I did meet some genuinely kind locals, and for that I was grateful. The folks over at Ozone Café are unbelievably friendly. I ended up eating there for almost every single meal. Not only was the food delicious, but the people working there are fantastic. When the owner, Komang, heard I had a sore throat, he brewed up a special ginger and honey tea just for me! If you’re there, make sure you also try the ginger coffee. It’s to die for.

I also went to White Sands beach. It started pouring, so I took shelter at one of the beach shacks where you can buy food. Since it wasn’t busy, I ended up talking to the family running the business, and got a free lesson on the Balinese language!

There’s also a bar in town (my memory is a bit foggy but I think it was called ‘Sunshine Bar’) that plays live music a few days during the week.

View of Padangbai
View from the Lemon House guest house, where I stayed in Padangbai.

3. Layover in Gili Trawangan

Then came Gili. I’m not sure what made me decide to go there, as it represented everything I was trying to avoid. Maybe the beach would do me some good? Or maybe I just needed to embrace the party lifestyle?

Downside

Gili T. is pretty much a paradise for backpackers who want to party. Still, when I arrived, I was so put off by the idea of backpackers coming to an island to do nothing other than get wasted, that this wasn’t my idea of ‘paradise’ at all. The main street is lined with expensive cafés, bars, dive shops and tourist agencies. Girls in bikinis also love to parade down this street, adjacent to signs asking tourists to dress modestly (aka: no bikinis). The Gili Islands belong to the adjacent island of Lombok, which, contrary to Bali, is mostly Muslim. Shouldn’t something be said for respecting the locals?

Upside

The nice thing about the Gili Islands is that motorized scooters and cars are not allowed, meaning that you finally do get some peace and quiet walking down the main street. At the same time, this does mean keeping an eye over your shoulder to avoid being run down by the numerous horse drawn carriages used to get around. Although the main street is busy enough and filled with tourists, it’s incredibly easy to escape by walking towards the centre of the island. It’s almost as if you’ve stepped into another world, where tourists don’t exist and local children are curious enough to try practicing their English with you.

back alley Gili T
Exploring the backstreets of Gili Trawangan

4. Finding peace on top of Rinjani

On Gili, I noticed signs for climbing Mount Rinjani everywhere. Everywhere. So what had started as a tiny seed of an idea in my head took sprout, and I decided to just do it. I left to climb Mount Rinjani, the second highest mountain in Indonesia at 3,726 masl, after just two nights in Gili, and it was the best decision I had made since arriving in Bali.

Note: Mount Rinjani is on the island of Lombok, a short ferry ride away from the island of Bali.

Downside

One word. Garbage. It lined some of the most beautiful parts of the trail, even nearing the summit. Pack out what you pack in!

Upside

I’ve said this before, but Rinjani was one of the most amazing hikes I’ve ever done. It’s filled with natural beauty, and because it’s such a long hike (we did it in three days) there are more than a few sections where you may not cross paths with anyone for hours (even better if you do the hike in the low season, from March to early June).

tent rinjani
Camping out on the crater ridge of Rinjani, the night before the summit.

5. Falling in love with Canggu

Rinjani put me on such a high that I could only fall down from there. As soon as I had arrived back in Gili, I wanted out. I had heard about a surfer town called Canggu, outside of Kuta, and decided to check it out.

And it was in Canggu where I let go. Where I stopped trying to get off the beaten path and instead just accepted the path I was on.

Downside

My love for Canggu may have been as much a result of myself accepting where I was, as it was enjoying Canggu’s unique and laidback lifestyle. Now Canggu isn’t perfect. It still has some of the same clichés I so despised in Ubud, those trendy cafés filled with smoothie and nalu bowls that cost the same as three filling local Indonesian meals. But hey, who goes to Bali to eat Indonesian, right? And I am just as guilty as the rest of them. There I was on a Saturday morning, chowing down on my sinfully delicious French toast and bacon drizzled with syrup at the local hotspot, Crate.

Upside

I think part of my love for Canggu resulted from the people I met there. I made an awesome decision to stay at the Surfer’s House while there, and I can honestly say it’s been my favorite hostel to stay at since starting my travels. Also, Canggu is an amazing place if you want to learn how to surf. You can rent a surfboard on the beach from 6 am in the morning for only 50,000 rupiah (that’s $5 CAD)! There is nothing more therapeutic than watching the sun rise while you’re out in the big ol’ ocean.

Not once, while I was in Canggu, did I get asked where I was going or if I needed a taxi. The locals simply leave you alone. It’s so refreshing! And if you’re looking for a place where you can chill, practice some aerial yoga and do some slacklining, the lawn is the place to be. It’s an oceanside green space filled with beanie bags, hammocks and ukulele playing Balinese boys.

Now that I think of it, Canggu is kind of like a toned down Ubud where you can surf. Some might disagree with that statement, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For whatever reason, Canggu felt like the perfect fit for me and I ended up staying there for two weeks. There wasn’t much to do besides surf and chill, but I was never bored. The nightlife and people there kept me entertained, and I became a much better slackliner than I once was.

the lawn
The Lawn in Canggu. A perfect place for drinking a coconut water, chilling out and slacklining.

Last Thoughts on Bali …

Bali can be as amazing or as terrible as you want it to be. For me, it was both. It was a beautiful island filled with temples, offerings and a unique culture, that was also masqueraded by an overflux of Western tourists demanding their low-fat almond milk lattés and stand up paddle board yoga classes.

I wish I could’ve traveled to Bali 20 years ago. I’m sure it would have been even more amazing and incredible than I find it now. Still, there are some hidden gems to be found in Bali if you’re willing to take the time to explore.

Balinese Hinduism
A beautiful but routine sight to be seen on the streets in Bali. Watch your step!

My Love-Hate Relationship with Bali Pin

Have you ever traveled to Bali? How did you find it? What were your favorite places to visit there?

You might also be interested in: The Dilemma of the Banana Pancake Trail

4 Comment

  1. Darlene Wilcox-Smith says:

    I loved your realistic description of Bali. I hv found several other places in the Carribean, for instance, where beauty and poverty simultaneously coexist. I got a sense of peacefulness and rest from your write-up. Your pictures were awesome!

    1. Susanne says:

      So glad you enjoyed it Darlene!

  2. Shing says:

    Reading your post really brought back memories of my trip to Ubud 31 years ago. I think you have really loved it back then, I know I did. We had planned on staying in Ubud about 2 weeks but it was so bucolic and quiet there we ended up staying more than a month. Took one day trip to Kuta, hated it and ran back to Ubud. It was a small, slow place with mostly small places to stay. We stayed in Pengosekan at the Gucci Guest House. Three beautiful huts built next to rice patties. We’d walk past the monkey forest into town and never went in, there were enough monkeys that came out of there that we didn’t feel it was necessary. Pretty aggressive types for sure. I’m glad you were able to look past the touristic crap and get a glimpse of the real Bali. No yoga, no special drinks or food when we were there, just the delicious local fare. It was truly a magical place. Thanks for the memories!

    1. Susanne says:

      I would so have loved to see Ubud all those years ago, that sounds amazing! Thanks for the lovely comment, Bali definitely is a special place. And there are still so many hidden and lesser known places to explore!

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