Location:Bali - Indonesia
What We Did:
If only you could do all this in one day! We lived in Bali for 5 dramatic weeks, and quickly discovered there are two Balis: a tropical resort escape popular with the Drop n’ Flop tourist, and a frenetic and crowded island choking with traffic and garbage and locals tuned into the possibility of making a quick buck. A taxi mafia and unscrupulous rideshare drivers made getting around difficult, and wild traffic didn’t make us too enthusiastic about going too far with the kids on the scooter. So we kept it close to our Air Bnb in Jimbaran, a nice-enough home and respite from the madness beyond the big iron gates. Keeping the kids busy (and safe from the relentless, aggressive mosquitoes) kept us busy as well, and we had some great moments. The 121m-high GWK statue took 30 years to build and is out of this world. We found some backroads to get really close, and even went to the big opening night launch, although torrential rain put a dampen on the fireworks. That same night, a big earthquake rattled the island, which was spared the devastation of the adjacent island of Lombok. It was the first of three quakes, which definitely kept us on edge. Just about every time we jumped in a car (to argue with a driver who would inevitably double the agreed-upon price), Gali or Raquel would throw up. Winding roads, terrible driving, horrendous traffic – the poor kids didn’t stand a chance. We made it to the sunset kecak dance on the cliffside Uluwatu Temple, which served up the travel buzz. But the crowds, oh, serves us right for visiting Bali in high season! Our closest beach was Jimbaran, which we would have enjoyed more if not for the garbage on the shore. The first (and last) time we went into the sea, slimy plastic wrapped around our legs. Once it got dark, tables and chairs were put out on the sand, and with the darkness masking the trash, it certainly made a beautiful site to see the candlelit dinners under the stars. A scooter ride away were two kids play areas – one indoors and the other outdoors. The fees were worth it as there were no free playgrounds for the kids to run about. Raquel even took her first ballet lessons. Gali was over the moo-oon to visit the cows who lived in a dusty, rocky patch around the corner from us. Raquel loved feeding the crazy monkeys who lived on a wall about 15 minutes scooter ride away. We had better luck at the Splash Waterpark in Canggu, where the kids had a blast, and the Hotel Nikko in Benoa Beach, where we got a sweet taste of the true resort experience. While Raquel got her toenails painted, Gali was head-massaged into a blissful nap. Mom and Dad had a couples massage, and then we enjoyed a stunning outdoor bubble bath! We saw out Bali with a visit to an expensive beach club, where Raquel finally enjoyed her first real swim in the sea (not including the rogue wave that drenched Amy and the kids one day on Jimbaran). There were some magic moments on the island, but boy we had to work for them! We’d recommend the island as a resort experience, but for families looking for a place to live somewhere exotic, and for a longer period of time, we’d have a hard time recommending Bali. And for those visiting for a week: you’ll want to experience the incredible culture on the island, but after you spend 3 hours in traffic driving 46 kilometres to Ubud, and an hour driving 7 kilometres to Pedang Pedang, you’ll probably have much better luck hanging back at the pool bar, enjoying happy hour under the coconut trees.
What We Ate:
The best part of Bali was the food, which surpassed our expectations and, dare we say it, was better than Thailand! There was a massive difference in the price between resort/tourist restaurants and local eateries, called warungs. We found amazing warungs that would serve better nasi or mee goreng ayam (rice/noodle chicken) at just $1.50 a plate than the resorts serving them at $18! When tourist spots typically charge $18 for a single cocktail and we could feast as a family of five at a warung for less than $10, it’s a jarring. We ate gado-gado (peanut sauce on salad) and tempe, stews and soups, soy-sauce chicken, satay sticks, and found a few local places that served up excellent international fare like Korean chicken waffles and burgers. The iced teas were always excellent, the coconuts fresh, and the beer cheap (Bintang is still the best local beer going). Our lunch at the Hotel Nikko was outstanding, and the extra-large family pizza at Splash was something special. We did cook at home, picking up groceries at a local market, the Pepito Express and Coco Mart, our two small but good supermarket chains. Decent breads, cold cuts, pasta, and of course, some great Balinese coffee, including the legendary kopi luwak, which Robin wrote more about here. We did get a slight case of Bali Belly when we tried a more tourist-friendly warung as opposed to our street food favourites, but overall, the food in Bali is consistently excellent.
Where We Ate:
We don’t know the name of the warungs, but on Puri Gading (the main road that served our neighbourhood) were two fantastic street eateries next door to each other. Wee-Wee and Iya were masters of nasi-mee goring, and we ate their several times a week. Next door, See-Ti made a masterful soy-sauce chicken. We loved these friendly warungs! On Jimbaran Beach, we had the best luck at the last warung (closest to the Intercontinental) where the kids could play in the sand and the slope kept us away from the incoming tide, and offered great views of the beach. Cafe Kul Kul was our international escape, where tuna poke and beef redang would cost about $5, and the drinks were excellent value too. In Kuta Beach we ate at a place called Bamboo and service and food was great. Mom and Dad had a date night and excellent dishes at the Shisha Cafe. Because getting around is so crazy, we didn’t manage to get out more.
My Favourite Pictures Today
Where We Slept:
Our Airbnb villa had some neat Balinese touches but was also a little rough around the edges. Big carved wooden doors looked great, but we had to keep them shut because of the insane mosquitoes (we burned coils and pads and applied repellant and used nets and still got feasted on!) There was a pool in the back that was supposed to be ready by our arrival but wasn’t finished when we left – lots of things work this way in Bali. The villa came with a cat called Bulan, which was particularly vocal in the middle of the night. Raquel and Gali liked the cat. Our beds were hard and lumpy but we got used to it, as we did the cold showers and bath (at least we had a bath!). The gas seemed to leak from the oven (at least we had an oven!) but we’ve become quite adept at arranging things around and working with what we have. At first we thought we were quite isolated, but later came to appreciate just how isolated the villas can get in Bali. Being close to Puri Gading placed us in a local neighbourhood, and kept the prices low (as opposed to the tourist rip-offs). The singing from temple loudspeaker replaced the rooster crows of Chiang Mai, and were better in that they actually stopped after midnight.
Oh boy, we learned a lot in Bali. About travel and expectations, about pollution and the disaster of plastic in the oceans. About what happens when tourism overwhelms a culture, and resort tourists spend more money on a meal than a Balinese family might make in a month. We learned that Raquel is a scooter-freak like her Dad, enjoying speed and craziness. We learned that Gali tastes great to mosquitoes, and has become a full blown two-year old. We learned that the kids don’t do spicy, but Mom suddenly can. We learned to never visit Bali in high season. We learned to always drive with a towel handy to catch the puke, and to carefully look for the signs the puke is coming. We learned to not trust anybody (there were some sad incidents, but we can’t blame locals for seeing tourists as walking dollar signs, because as much as we wanted to connect, in Bali that’s what we are). We forgot what it’s like to flush toilet paper. We learned to pick mangoes. We learned about Balinese art and history, which is fascinating as a Hindu enclave in Islamic Indonesia. We learned you can never get tired of a 121m-high gold-domed god riding an eagle-lion creature with massive wings. We learned how to ride scooters like legends. We learned the Art of Saying No in Bali – as in, “No, I’m not going to pay $10 for a $4 can ride” or “No, I’m not going to pay you $4 because my kid picked up a floatie at the pool.” No works fine. We learned that the Indonesian wine they offer at restaurants for $9 a glass tastes like Apple Cider vinegar peed out by a wild cat. We learned that coffee beans pooped out by a wild cat as the world’s most expensive coffee is kind of OK, if you brew it at about a tablespoon per 100ml of hot water. We learned how to navigate a crazy world and appreciate the good moments.
Reflection of the Day
The Best Part:
Riding around freely in our scooter through crazy side roads. Having cows around the corner for Gali to visit every day. The food. The hot but never too hot weather. The breaks from the madness in the resorts and beach clubs. The amazing and unforgettable family spa! Raquel conquering the rope swing and the biggest waterslide of her career at Splash Waterpark. The “Everything” shop where we could find, well, everything, including kids scooter helmets for $5 each. Having a home concierge who helped us get better internet, not get ripped off by the water and gas delivery guy, and getting to and from the airport. Finally getting our bearings and finding our feet.
The Worst Part:
Traffic, traffic and more traffic. Taxi drivers, especially the ones that threaten to beat up the Grab/Go-Jek drivers and the ones that prey on you at the airport. Travelling on a tight long-term travel family budget in Bali, which is best suited for those who have saved up for a week or two week annual holiday. The pukes in the car. The rip-offs. The mosquitoes and the carnage they caused on Gali and Raquel. The unfinished pool. Bali Belly. The pollution and smog belched out by buses and trucks. The potholes on the roads. Finally getting our bearings and finding our feet – and having to leave.
Today's Random Thing
A Note from Mom and Dad
Potty training does not happen easily on the road. We struggled with a two year old that desperately wants to potty train and a schedule that does not allow for accidents, poops in a taxi ride or pees in a 5 star hotel pool bar.. so we are left with diapers and a heart crush times 10. As much as you try and protect the kids from the bugs, the bugs know that sooner or later you can’t swat them away. Gali would pull off his mosquito net in the middle of the night, the mossie pads would burn through, the repellant fade into his skin,, and by morning the mossies would line up for their pound of his flesh. We’ve had to wrap up his legs in band-aids as he scratches his bites to infection. Raquel has learned a lot this month with Amy’s amazing efforts at home schooling, and watching her push herself – be it at a waterpark, in the waves, or on a scooter – is impressive. Still got a mean temper though. Gali is speaking more and more, but also starting to throw some classic 2-year old moves – tantrums, attitude, food etc. Bali was not what we had hoped, and yet we will probably remember more stories here than in Chiang Mai, which was much easier, cleaner and gentler – that’s the nature of travel.