24 hours into my solo trip to Bali and I’m currently chuckling out loud sitting on the front porch of my hotel room. I’m alone aside from this little lizard frozen by my feet, judging me with his beady little eyes. This hotel only has a handful of rooms, perhaps 12, and feels so peaceful despite being a block off the hustle of Monkey Forest Road. And yes, that name is literal… there are monkeys everywhere.
I was going to wait to write a post until I could formulate one of my signature ’10 ways to fit in like a local in Seminyak’ or ‘If you don’t eat here on your trip to Ubud, you didn’t really go to Ubud’ or ‘what to pack for a month on an 85 degree 100% humidity island’. But I desperately need to process the past day, and what better way than with a blog post.
The flight to Denspensar was painfully long (23+ hours), but Eva air kept me entertained with their Hello Kitty themed airplanes and peculiar Taiwanese food service. Once landed I had the joy of wasting sunlight while I sat in an hour line for my customs stamp. By some grace of Buddah, my bag actually made it to my destination and I grabbed it hot off the belt and ran outside to catch my uber, happy as a clam. Well that is until my driver texted me asking for extra money. I canceled, but it happened again. And then Again. Sweating, flustered and hellbent on seeing the sunset for my one and only night on the ocean, I decided to give into one of the 100 private drivers vying for my business. For the thrill of it, I talked one down from 100.000 IDR to 40.000 IDR. I ended up giving him 60.000 once I got in the car and realized 60.000 is only $5 bucks.
Driving through the city I couldn’t help but remember the commercialized hell outside Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the tourist nightmare in Phuket, and the dilapidated streets of Vietnam. However, I was pleasantly surprised once we entered Seminyak. Touristy? You bet. Couldn’t get much worse honestly. But the streets were lined with chic shops, organic restaurants, spas, and luxury hotels. A narrow little street off the main road, and we arrived at my hotel, Casa Kayu. A quaint boutique spot with modern fixtures, plush beds and a pool. All for the splurge price of $22 usd a night. Can’t really beat that.
Uncomfortable admitting this… but I didn’t shower when I got to the hotel at 5:30 PM. I knew sunset was at 6 and I was damned if I was going to miss it. I did brush my teeth though, so points for that. I changed clothes in lightening speed, grabbed my camera, and jolted out of the hotel. I wasn’t even particularly sure where I was going but I had a notion of the direction of the beach and knew I wanted to end up at Potato Head.
I stormed to the beach, passing American after Australian after European, all dressed to the chicest despite the excruciating heat and humidity. When I finally reached the grand stone entrance, I felt like I couldn’t open my eyes wide enough to take it all in. The sunset was absolutely stunning and the beach was filled with tourists pouring over from the stretch of bars and beach clubs lining the sand. Couples and groups of friends were snapping photos left and right while I walked the beach letting the warm water lap my feet. I am content traveling alone but it’s moments like a once-in-a-lifetime sunset that I wish Matt were here with me.
Once the sun went down I finally stopped pestering strangers to take photos of me and I stopped by Potato Head for a cocktail. The vibe was electric and everyone seemed ready to take their Saturday to the next level. By now it was close to 8pm and I saw zero sign of the pool party coming to an end… ever. A few sips into my refreshing libation and I could just barely keep my eyes open. The flight had taken its toll. So I meandered back down the beach and to the hotel, all the while looking for something quick and easy to eat on the way.
Every restaurant seemed entirely too lively and I didn’t pass any takeaway spots… but what there was an incredible abundance of?! Spas. Lots and lots of spas. So naturally, I booked an appointment with a no frills (read: cheap) massage parlor a block up from my hotel and ran home to shower before. (shower isn’t relevant to this story, but I had to let you know that it did take place!).
I shouldn’t type this for fear of my parents being horrified that they raised such a ridiculously absent-minded ninny, but when I got home – to my dismay – I hadn’t shut the door to my room all the way. As in it was about half way open (but I was hurrying for the sunset remember?!!). Yikes. My heart dropped to my toes and I sprinted in, knowing the worst. That my laptop, cash, camera lenses and passport would be gone.
…but they weren’t! In fact, not a single thing was out of place in the 3 hours I had been gone! I will undoubtedly never be that lucky again.
An hour long 100.000 IDR ($8) full body massage later and my spray tan was officially rubbed off, but it was well worth it. I basically floated back to my hotel room and slept for the next 10 hours like a rock.
Which brings us to 7 AM Sunday morning and me waking up RAVENOUS. I headed straight out the door and to Sea Circus, a breakfast place I already had been eyeing from my extensive instagram creeping on the Bali food scene. This is probably a good time for me to mention, I’ve decided to go vegan for my time in Bali. Maybe indefinitely! It just feels like the right thing to do along with the yoga teacher training.. and honestly, there’s no better place to do it! I can just live off acai bowls, vegan ice cream, jackfruit, and herbal teas.. and the occasional grain bowl with veggies!
Anywho, Sea Circus not only lived up to the hype, it tops my list for favorite breakfast places ever. This decked out seaside cafe spared no details in manifesting a hipster vibe to accompany their mouthwatering menu and fun cocktail list. Needless to say, I wolfed down my enormous coconut yogurt parfait and green juice before heading out to explore. (Breakfast cost around $10).
Luckily, Seminyak square is compact and walkable. I swung a left out of Sea Circus and looped around to Eat Street where I swooned over restaurants like this one and window shopped until my hearts content.
I even went into the infamous Revolver coffee just to check the place out and did the ol’ ‘I’m just looking for a friend’ thing so I could creepily get the essence of this hipster kingdom in all its glory without actually having to order a cup of coffee. (I might give up coffee too?!)
Every new corner led way to something that surprised me. Like this adorable door that says ‘smile’ and like the 200 stray dogs that had no interest in being smothered by me. …and that I have the nerve to ask a complete stranger to take a photo like this of me.
Two hours later and I was done. I felt like a block of cheese that has been left out for too long and couldn’t wait to jump in the ocean before my 1.5 hour ride to Ubud. I dropped all my stuff back at the hotel and straight to the beach I went… only to arrive and see not a single other person in the ocean. Not one? I mean the waves are brutally high and the undertoe must be killer… but I’m a good swimmer? A lifeguard even at one point and time? I walked in up to my calves with every intention of running and jumping under the next wave.. but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was scared to death imagining being swept out to sea or worse just drowned on wave impact. Or at the very least trying to come back to shore only to get rocked by wave after wave until my swimsuit was off and I had swallowed a bucket of salt water. So I pussied out, reasoning that all my good karma was already used up for my ‘open hotel door’ incident.
Defeated, I slugged back to the Casa Kayu to call an Uber, knowing very well that I’d be receiving a whatsapp text asking for more money. This guy actually had the decency to ask in person (probably because he didn’t speak English and needed the front desk help, but still), so I agreed to an extra 100.000 IDR, bringing me to the grand total of 220.000 IDR or $16.50 to go 1.5 hours. God I love this place.
The ride was mesmerizing. Little villages rolled by with locals widdling handicrafts and painting murals. Enormous temples filled to the brim with offerings. Corners gave way to plush green jungle and wide rivers flowing rapidly below us. And the miles and miles of rice paddies dotted with the unmistakeable pointed straw hats! It was a real glimpse into local Balinese life and one I’m glad to have experienced.
As we neared Ubud I noticed more and more chic and trendy restaurants and boutiques sprouting up along the road. To my delight, we also drove through a gang of monkeys just hanging around eating bananas looking so stinking cute I just wanted to squeeze their furry little faces and cover them in kisses. (Hopefully I’ll have better luck than with the stray dogs.)
A quick 2 min drive up from the monkey forest and we arrived at my unassuming hotel. The sign read, “Ubud City Hotel, Restaurant, Pool and Puppet Show”. Puppet show? While in the most central location of Ubud, the hotel is located down a pretty shabby alley. But oh my gosh when you round the corner to the hotel ‘lobby,’ what. a. dream.
Constructed in the traditional Balinese temple style, the red and yellow curved and tiled roofs house an open air reception and restaurant overlooking a zen pool. My room is perfect – traditional yet comfortable with an enormous private balcony on the ground floor. I was immediately smitten, especially with the ever so lovely price of $20 per night.
I spent the next hour or so unpacking and trying to make a yoga video on my balcony so I’d be able to track my progress (stay tuned -lol). At 2:00 PM, I came back out to the front desk to ask the lovely check in girl, Ria, if it was too late for me to visit the Tegenungan Waterfall. Ria explained I could get a taxi or a tourist service… or I could wait for her to get off at 2:30 and she’d take me for 100.000 IDR ($8). I gave her double to work back up on that karma bank and strolled the perfect little streets surrounding my hotel until she was ready.
We weaved through traffic on her scooter to go pick up her two year old gem, Andid, then headed to their house so they could change. To my alarm, Andid was just plopped in front of her mom on the scooter and off we went. Dawning a pink tu-tu and pig tails, Andid danced for me at their house and teased her caged chickens while she rattled about in Balinese. I found it particularly amusing that she was fascinated with wearing her mother’s shoes… something I too was guilty of at that age. Their place was petite and quaint, nestled against a sprawling rice paddy. Inside their little apartment complex was an elaborate stone temple of sorts surrounded by offerings. Past the tiny chicken coops where the birds could barely spin in a circle, there was a heap of traditional dance clothes Ria had worn the night before for a festival.
The three of us cozied back onto the vespa and went to Kopi Luwak coffee farm for a quick tour. The guide was sweet… but I had my eyes on the waterfall prize and wasn’t that keen on this distraction. I was especially turned off by the part of the tour where we saw the caged raccoon/cat mix sleeping and was told the secret ingredient of this famed coffee. These buggers eat the coffee seed, which then ferments in their belly, and then when they poop, the coffee farm workers wash and peel the bean and grind it into coffee. I know, horrifying.
Yepp. I still drank it. With little resistance, I agreed to the $4 coffee and tea tasting overlooking a jungle slice of heaven. The coffee was actually pretty good but the teas were so sweetened I could barely choke them down. At least Andid had a grand old time squealing at the animals.
It was only a 20 minute ride to the waterfall, but I was surprised by how fast the area faded to rural. That is until you get to the parking for the falls. The waterfall entrance is pretty built up with a number of restaurants and shops. I paid for us to get in 20.000 IDR total and we carefully descended the steep staircase down to the base of the majestic waterfall. Obviously the water rushing off the cliff was breathtaking, but it was the gully of ferns (#ferngully) that really moved me. I jumped right into the warm water and swam as close to the falls as I could without being pushed back. Once out I hobbled over to a narrow bamboo plank to cross the river. The bamboo bounced under my barefeet as I tip toed across, my backpack full of expensive camera equipment in tow. On the other side I was charged another 10.000 IDR to make my way up the even steeper staircase to the very top of the falls. My feet stung under the sharp rocks, unaccustomed to being barefoot. A million photos later and I hobbled back down to my new friends.
Ria had mentioned to me that she didn’t know how to swim so I promised I’d teach her and Andid in the hotel pool while I was in Ubud. She wasted no time on my offer for teaching Andid, and led me to a natural spring pool with some supposed healing properties. Andid stripped down to her birthday suit and I took her into the water, maybe for her first time ever swimming. I can’t say she loved it since she did a lot of screaming for her mom and pulling my hair, but I also can’t say she hated it since she begged to go back in after we got out. She had me crying laughing in the refreshing water as I twirled her around and tried to get her to kick her little feet.
Ria had invited me earlier to eat dinner with her and her family at their home, but I was absolutely exhausted from the day and asked her for a rain check. She told me we still have to eat and that she’d take me for food somewhere local. I tried protesting but she wouldn’t have it so off we went, this time with Andid sitting snug between us. Well, she was sitting.. until she decided to stand up between us and I held onto her so tight as I screamed over the wind, “this really doesn’t feel safe” only for Ria to laugh and nod in reply.
Andid finally sunk back onto her butt and wedged her legs between us. She peered her head up at me and giggled groggily before her head started to get heavier and heavier. Before I knew it she was asleep in my arms.. and there I was in this strange land so far from home, and all felt right in the world.
We arrived at this corner hut that was packed with locals and Ria ordered us each an enormous bowl of broth with noodles, meatballs, dumplings and some fried something or other. And just like that my veganism dream was crushed. The food was savory and flavorful, especially topped with the firey hot sauce. Although the mystery meat was a little unsettling and I basically just consumed a bowl of sodium, gluten and animal byproducts I don’t want to ever think about again… it was a great $0.75 traditional meal with my new friends. I wanted to take a photo, but really wasn’t the type of place for the only tourist to pull out her camera for a photo shoot… so here’s one I grabbed off google.
Back home at the hotel and this is where I find myself laughing out loud as I watch that damn lizard scurry into my room and I curse myself for not thinking to shut the door. Guess I’ve got myself my first pet, Yogi the back eyed lizard.
What have I gotten myself into? Have I gone absolutely mad? Probably. But for some reason, I can’t help but feeling that I am extactly where I am supposed to be.