The Beaches and Streets of South Bali
Posted November 4, 2012on:
When one mentions about the island of Bali, I imagine white sandy beaches like the ones in Hawaii—minus the ukulele that’s playing in the background—coconut palm trees adorning the tiny streets, handsome surfers catching some waves, and cheap island-inspired cuisine to nourish the tired souls, trying to get away from it all. Also known as the island of gods, there is much more to Bali than the beach or what Julia Roberts (or the real life protagonist, Liz Gilbert) had experienced in the popular Eat, Pray, Love. Bali’s culture and worldview, which heavily revolves around its main religion—Hinduism, contributes much to its mysticism which makes it unique. I particularly adore the abundance of offerings to their gods, colourful street processions during many of its festivals, the smell of incense permeating the air, the soothing sounds from Balinese gamelan and their reverence to the volcanic Mount Agung. I wanted to see them all.
We decided that our Bali trip was worth splurging; in fact, it was the only trip where we made an effort to relax and do nothing, and spend slightly more on nicer hotels. Mind you that we indeed had a tight budget and when I say “slightly,” I really meant it. Albeit its size, which is a wee bit smaller than Delaware, USA, there’s really a big difference in terms of geographical landscapes in different parts of the island. We planned three nights in South Bali, perfect for unwinding by the beaches. Then we spent two nights in Ubud, central Bali and two nights at the quite shores of East Bali. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to hike the majestic Mount Agung and the national park in West Bali due to time and money constraints but we figured seven nights would be sufficient for a quick introduction to Bali.
We took Air Asia because it was the cheapest flight that we could get and all flights to Bali would fly into Denpasar unless you are heading to Lombok, which is Bali’s quiet neighbour. Java Island, where Jakarta is located, is actually quite long; flying from Jakarta to Bali took us about two hours, about as long as flying from Chicago to Toronto when I visit my relatives. The sights from the plane were quite incredible considering Java has a number of volcanoes–we saw a possibly extinct one with a large crater as we were about to land.
It was evening when we arrived. While Kuta is normally a de facto hang-out place for many tourists and backpackers, we opted to stay away from the crowd. Instead the taxi drove us past the upscale Legian area and straight to Kerobokan where it is less developed but still 5 minutes drive away from the beach. In the midst of family-owned paddy fields through the residential areas, we thought we were lost for a moment when we pulled up in front of a low-key hotel—not shabby or upscale by any means–with literally four parking spaces. At US$80 per night (tax included), I can’t complain much about the room. I mean, look at it—nice decor, large bed, private balcony cum outdoor living room and open-air bathroom. The downsides for this place? It was facing an actual village and the rooster went cock-a-doodle-do every day at 6.30 AM. Also, I could see people in their backyard while taking a shower since it was open-air. Some people might be uncomfortable with it.
Breakfast was quite easy at our hotel, The Seri Suites. We called the reception to order our options and they brought the food to our living room. My favourite was the American breakfast which came with two eggs—any style, toast with butter and jam, chicken sausages, fresh tropical fruits and of course, local Bali coffee. You can dine at the lobby (they don’t have a restaurant) but why would you when you can have breakfast at the comfort at your own room?
With so much space, I would be content to just sit back, relax and read a book but with a pool in the property that nobody ever uses–Legian beach was within walking distance–I might as well take a dip when I get bored with my book. Wait, a book? Who am I kidding? I came for the sunshine, the water and the food.
Speaking of food, the locals love homestyle meals that are sold at the warungs. One Balinese specialty that I’ve been reading about was babi guling, which means roast pork. Bali is unique because it is the only predominantly Hindu region in Indonesia and therefore, pork is prominently featured in Balinese cuisine. The famous babi guling is in Ubud but we came across this warung while we were walking around; so we just stopped by for lunch. They served roast pork with rice, crispy pork skin, pork offals prepared with local spices and aromatic condiments. For Rp 50,000 (~US$5) for two with drinks, it was a delicious meal that we can afford.
We headed to Legian beach right after but it was not the azzurro-blue kind that I expected. Regardless, it was a decent beach and there’s miles and miles of them stretching along the coast from Jimbaran to Kerobokan. One can expect nicer beaches in the southern peninsula near Nusa Dua but the hotels in those areas also seemed to be more pricey. Beach chairs with attached umbrellas were available for hire–perfect for people who want to relax to the rumbling sounds of the waves. I, as you know, am very cheap; so I would usually find a tree or a shaded area nearby. Some things are just not worth paying for.
Streets of Bali were similar to that of a small town in Malaysia–lots of motorcycle on the street and food stalls–and of course touristy shops because we’re in Bali. One thing that was particularly striking was that people sell petrol or gas in 1 litre vodka bottle off the main roads. I don’t know if it’s for motor vehicles or home use, but it was certainly quite hazardous and not something common in North America.
We ended the day looking for dinner after a long tiring day at the beach. We came across Waroeng Enak, owned by a Balinese woman and her German husband. They offered a buffet but we weren’t that hungry. So we opted for the classic nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles) and they came with an egg. Note that hot food in this buffet were not kept at a certain temperature and it is not uncommon in Asia. In North America, we are concerned that bacteria might grow if they are left to cool in room temperature but honestly, I lived with food like this for 20 years and I never had food poisoning before. Decent and cheap (~US$ 2.50 per person) meal to wrap up the night and we also had a conversation with the nice couple who owns this place about the politics of Bali and how hard it is for foreigners to live and buy properties in this island.
In my next post, I will be writing about my trip to the southern-most peninsula of Bali. Expect majestic cliffs, clear blue waters, temples and lots of Balinese culture!