Ever since I watched Julia Roberts soul searching through rice paddies into the arms of her Brazilian expat Felipe in Eat, Prey, Love, I’ve wanted to go to Bali and see what all the fuss is about. What is it about this place that gives people a sense of direction, of inner balance and of new found purpose? I can’t say I thought I’d crack the code to all that in a fortnight, but surely I could get a rough idea of why so many of us are turning to travel and following in the footsteps of our Jules to find a little piece of ourselves we never knew we was missing, nor that we needed.
I did a fair amount of research before we went to Bali. If we were only going for two weeks I wanted to make sure we planned our trip and moved around enough to get a true idea of what this Indonesian paradise was all about. Which actually translates as, how many of these cafes and restaurants that I’ve screenshot can we realistically eat our way through in 13 days. You can take the gal out of Brighton but her appetite gonna follow.
We decided to split our vacation into four different places, spending three nights in each and this worked out really well. Let’s start with our first stop and my favourite place of the four: the lovely, charm-the-Spanx-off-ya, Ubud.
This is in fact where much of the Bali you see in Eat, Pray, Love was filmed and many of the locals are proud of its authenticity, championing it as the ‘real Bali’, no doubt due to its endeavour to honour and practice Balinese traditions. Despite being very popular among tourists, it continues to be the cultural hub of Bali and even after spending just three days there, I came away feeling thankful I saw Bali just as it was intended.
We stayed at the beautiful Udhiana Resort, about ten minutes out of the centre of Ubud and the hustle and bustle of the market place. The hotel is just under a year old and we couldn’t have asked for a better, more personalised experience. The jungle views were quite literally jaw dropping. I was half way through my welcome drink when I tapped Joe with my chin resting on my espadrilles and said, I can’t believe we’re here. Complete with infinity pool, the best banana pancakes I’ve ever tasted (I nooo lie) and the comfiest of beds, I’d go back in a heartbeat. Our driver, Dhana, spent pretty much every day with us, taking us wherever we needed to go and recommending some must-see gems along the way. Listening to him gave me more of an insight into the Bali way of life better than any Lonely Planet book ever could. Perhaps the most poignant of Dhanaisms was when we asked how much money he wanted for driving us round for five hours. He said he wasn’t worried about a fee because our friendship is what he’ll remember and without even looking at him I knew he meant it wholeheartedly.
If there’s one thing you should prepare for in Ubud, it’s that there’s more monkeys than people, and there’s more mopeds than monkeys. We went for a trip to Bali Zoo to have breakfast with some orangutans, as you do! I wore a bardot dress, braless for the occasion (always assume I’m braless from here on out) and nobody warned me orangutans are f*cking mind readers but apparently they could hear me saying, don’t go for my tits, don’t go for my tits over and over in my head so lo and behold they went for my tits and the girls very nearly came out. Then it went to take a different approach and went to lift up my dress… then he gave up and just plaited my hair instead, which was a bit of a, ‘is this actually happening’ moment. Am I really stood here, in various states of undress, getting a fishtail plait off a monkey? Yes, Lareese, yes you are. One time, we watched a monkey steal the flip flops off a guy’s feet, as in, WHEN HE WAS WEARING THEM. Only when he got a banana did he toss the flip flops back… now that’s the kind of petty food tactics I can get on board with. The rest of our time was split between touring the rice paddies, visiting the coffee plantation and tasting the cat poo coffee (no, really. It’s called Kopi Luwak and it’s formulated from the droppings of a Balinese civet cat. Who. Knew. It’s also the most expensive coffee in the world, so yeah eat ya poo people).
What else did we do other than eat cack? We went to the amazing Tegenungan Waterfall, much to TLC’s dismay, which was just insane! It had rained quite heavily the night before (it does that a lot in Ubud due to the whole rainforest thanggg), which meant the waterfall was running full and the noise of the water cascading so close to me was something I’ll never forget. Loud, yes, but in the most liberating sense of the word. It made you stop and listen, really listen to the surroundings we so often ignore. Dhana then took us to this beautiful restaurant overlooking the rice paddies called Teba Sari. It serves delicious asian fusion food (the ribs were insane in the membrane) and you get to dine in these cool bamboo huts right on the water and watch the coy carp flipping about. I could have stayed there for the long haul.
We also indulged in traditional Balinese massages while we were in Ubud – ‘cos when they’re £10 a pop for an hour full body, it would be rude not to right?! In fact I’m not afraid to admit I had 2 full body massages and a facial while we were on holiday so yeah, now I’m basically a knot-free blob of play dough with a face poked into it.
Am I really stood here, in various states of undress, getting a fishtail plait off a monkey? Yes, Lareese, yes you are.
On the second day, we decided that getting up at 2am to hike a volcano by torchlight was just what our jet lag would love (holy crap NO), but actually it was so worth it for the beautiful views of the sunrise. The Mount Batur trek itself is around five kilometers and though there were some tough parts with loose terrain and a hefty incline, it’s pretty moderate as treks go. She says, panting like a stallion the whole way up. We arranged our tour through our hotel which made it all very easy but in hindsight, it’s probably cheaper to just travel to the volcano yourself by taxi, take a torch and then just follow the long line of crazy people making their way to the top. There’s no need for a tour guide but if you feel safer doing it that way, then for peace of mind it’s worth tagging on to a tour with arranged pick up and drop off. At least that way if you snap your ankle the tour guide knows exactly which resident monkeys to round up to stretcher you down #PotassiumGains
A final note on Ubud, the yoga is hot damn. Confession: I am not a yogi. I avoid a downward dog like a hair wash if I can help it and a head stand? Forget. It. But when in Bali, you’ve gotta do as Jules did haven’t you? I went to Yoga Barn for a Vinyasa Slow class which was the perfect level for me and my inflexible imagination. Ya see, I can get on board with a good ol’ stretching but as soon as they start telling me my arse is a beautiful lotus flower, I’m out. For any yoga lovers I would say it’s well worth doing a class here and enjoying a fresh cold pressed juice for your efforts afterwards.
Lots of people travel to the Gili Islands when visiting Bali thanks to the fast boat service from various different ports. From Padang Bai, the boat trip was about 90 minutes and reasonably priced, which made it a no brainer for us. Though, I have to say, Captain Phillips was a questionable choice of in-sail entertainment, despite being one of my fave films. I’d heard all kinds of horror stories about wading hip-deep through the sea balancing your suitcase on ya head, but no such thing happened to us. We debarked straight onto the white sandy beach – my precious kimono cargo still dry and well.
I was doubting our decision to visit Gili T a little en route, or ‘condom island’ as it’s better known by the locals. You begin to see where my doubts came from eh! A few people had said it’s louder and dirtier than the other less populated Gili Meno and Gili Air. I imagined guys in their deep scoop Bintang vests or better yet, a specially made t-shirt baring the slogan, ‘Made in England, destroyed in Gili T’, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was nothing like that. We stayed on the north side of the island away from the main cluster of restaurants and bars but that said, you can cycle the whole island in 45 minutes so nothing is ever too far away. There’s no cars on the island which means you’ll need to hop on a trusty horse and cart (cidomo) if you need to get to your hotel or hostel. Trust me, from experience, if you’re staying on the other side of the island you cannot wheel your suitcase through those sandy pathways. We found that out the hard way when the animal lover in me said no, I’m not supporting the unfair treatment of these poor horses. Forty minutes later in 30 degree heat me and Joe were sweating from every orifice and wondering whose bright idea this was. The horses here are very much working animals and the average Westerner would struggle to understand how they can be left without water but the reality is, many of the inhabitants are doing just that too. Eating just one square meal a day and standing in the blistering heat for hours on end without rest. That’s their way of life and as a traveller and a guest, I had to integrate and respect that.
We weren’t quite as active less here, a) due to how much we’d packed into Ubud and b) because it’s a pretty small island, but it was nice to spend our days cycling, snorkelling with the huge turtles, catching up on some sun and eating our way through the street food at the night market. My favourite restaurant had to be the Banyan Tree. It’s a little vegan eatery smack bang in the middle of the main strip and its coconut curry was just gawwwjus. We also slouched on the beach and got stuck into some tapas at Karma Kayak too – a really relaxed, beach front restaurant with beautiful views.
The outdoor cinema is worth a visit too! They put sun loungers out on the beach and it’s just a nice way to unwind after dinner with a Leonardo classic or, if it’s anything like the second time we went, a really cringe film called The Best Of Me. I promise the rest of the listings seemed easier to watch without the risk of spewing up your gambas.
The purple sunsets are just beautiful – the perfect excuse to saddle up and get out into the water on horseback. Joe sat this one out and watched me with mum-like eyes as I bid farewell and waddled off into the horizon. Don’t get me wrong, I was equally as worried that my horse, Romeo, was gonna keep walking out to sea and eventually, I’d just be known as the weird horsewoman who wanders lost out at sea with coral stuck in her hair. And the locals would call me L-Sea…
Talking of saddles, boy was my crotch happy to see the back of that bike. The first hour’s a novelty but once you’ve taken the back streets and ridden over every hump and bump in the Trawangan terrain, you’re pretty much ready to marry the next leathered cab seat you get into.
On our way back to the port to catch our boat back to Bali, we did have to get a horse and cart but BUT I did insist on stroking his nose way longer than I should of to say thank you for his hard work.
Ok, 2,000+ words Lareese, really? I think I’d better leave part 1 here and save Uluwatu and Canggu for the next post. I’ve gotta go practise my Kim Woodburn impression anyhow so, love you bye.
Brief photo diary below, and by brief I mean it’s considerably longer than my second toe and Kendall Jenner’s legs put together. Enjoy!