I’ve been in Bali for a week now, and it’s been quite the experience – complete with radical highs, lows, and me constantly battling with myself for becoming a travel snob*.
*Stated because the majority of the things I’m seeing are slightly toned-down versions of things in Hawaii and Fiji
For starters, I arrived incredibly groggy after about 30 hours worth of flights, layovers, and transits – a record for me, despite being used to airports and overnights by now. Singapore’s Changi Airport was my highlight – it has been voted the best airport in the world for 27 consecutive years, and it’s so easy to see why. It’s cleaner than even Japan, and the amount of things you can do in the airport is absolutely astounding. Free movie theaters, video games, foot massages, indoor garden exhibits, koi ponds, a rooftop pool, the world’s largest indoor slide at an airport, designer shopping galore, you name it.
Even though I started getting delirious at 3 A.M. (shouldn’t that be normal, especially when I always get 8 hours of sleep?), I never ran out of things to explore. And as luck would have it, I met someone in line (on the same flight as me) whose twin brother worked at REI Tustin (and I’m positive that I knew his brother). What are the odds of finding three degrees of separation between you and a stranger at an airport thousands of miles away from your home? Clearly a small world.
And the bonus of flying from Singapore to Denpasar was getting an entire emergency aisle row of seats to myself. More points to Garuda Indonesia for also serving us a hot meal despite the flight only being two hours, and the fact that they had an episode of Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways available to watch.
Touchdown in Bali
I was expecting my arrival in Bali to be terrifying, perhaps because I’m a naive, unknowledgeable American who hasn’t traveled to any third-world countries before. It was anything but that. Denpasar Airport was gorgeous and spacious, and immigration was so smooth and easy (especially since American citizens no longer need to pay for a 30-day visa on arrival). I was clinging to my backpacks for dear life, somehow thinking that I was going to be accosted by airport security for some reason, but everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming – quite a similar vibe to landing in Fiji (although Fiji is even more laid-back). Converting currency, getting a SIM card (hello, $30 for 12 GB of data, oh my God), and securing a taxi to Ubud took about 15 min. in total combined. Compared to my hell-hassle with internet setup and SIM cards in Japan, Bali was a walk in the park. And I soon found out just how westernized the country really was…
First impressions of Ubud
Unlike most backpackers, I headed straight for Ubud – skipping Kuta and Seminyak entirely. My knowledge of Ubud upon arrival consisted of Eat, Pray, Love (which, according to Lonely Planet, isn’t highly regarded by locals) and opinions from others who said it was their favorite place in Bali. Basically, I knew nothing about the place – not even its correct pronunciation (ooh-bood).
Also, because I didn’t do much (if any) research on Ubud, I was taken aback by how many tourists there were in Ubud. TOO MANY PEOPLE. SWARMS. And with more tourists brings more western things… there’s a Starbucks and Pandora (jewelry store) on the cramped and crowded central street, for crying out loud. This could also be my fault for staying in Ubud’s city center, where cars and motorbikes whiz at you like whirling dervishes and will plow you over if you’re not careful. Basically, I don’t think I’ll be walking around with earbuds in during my stay in Bali – at all. And that makes me sad, because I love music.
I got a taste of the infamous heat and humidity associated with Bali as soon as I started walking around the city. Unlike 99% of travelers, I am so not a fan of heat in general. Give me a thunderstorm, rain, and freezing temperatures, and I’m in heaven. I seriously belong in Europe (next on my list).
If you’re in a resort with A/C (I’m not) or constantly inside shops with A/C (I hate shopping), you’re fine – but otherwise, you want to melt to the sidewalk. At least, that’s how I feel. After looking around at what others are wearing in comparison to me, I’ve determined that either no one else sweats like a pig as I do, or they’re just experts at masking the fact that they’re dying from possible heatstroke. Being that it’s September, I’m pretty sure this isn’t even that hot compared to the rest of the year.
Ubud in particular is known for its lush green rainforests and rice paddy fields, but the heat drained me so much that I didn’t really appreciate everything. It’s hard, since I know what it feels like to fall in love with a particular place in an instant (Wellington!) – so I’m either going to love Ubud eventually, or be one of the only ones who thinks it’s overrated and overhyped. Thankfully, I’m reuniting with a few friends in a couple days who will undoubtedly give Ubud an extra special vibe when I re-visit.
I did take my very first yoga class in Ubud. It wasn’t life-changing, but I’m glad I did it. It was set in the backdrop of beautiful rice paddy fields early in the morning, which seemed like a scene straight from a film. I also took my very first cooking class, hiked an epic mountain, and attempted to ride a motorbike here (and failed) – more on all those experiences later, when I have more energy to write about each individually.
Adjusting to Bali has been full of ups and downs, as expected. For one, the people are incredibly friendly, it’s fairly safer than I expected (again, I’m just too paranoid), the food is insanely delicious, healthy, and cheap, and everywhere looks like Indiana Jones and Jungle Cruise, which is really beautiful. On the other hand, the pollution, run-down buildings, the fact that you should only drink bottled water, getting ripped off as a tourist, and general condition of life here has been eye-opening and somewhat hard for me to adjust to.
It has been humbling, of course, but I feel so strange being here because it’s so unlike any other country I’ve been to. Balinese people are very friendly and will always smile and ask you if you need any help (or a taxi, ha), and they never seem to complain (the downfall of all Americans, especially myself). I’m so out of place since I’m not comfortable with the concept of haggling, especially after being in Japan, where everything is orderly and polite – and you’d never think twice about bargaining for a lower price there. It’s safe to say that I am failing at haggling since I’ve never done it, and I’ve probably wasted a chunk of savings already just because I agree to every price quoted to me (“nice girl” status once again). I even stupidly overpaid at my own mistake for a bottled water in my first day here, handing over a 100,000 RP bill rather than a 10,000 bill. Some lessons are only learned firsthand…
As with everything, new changes and new cultures have an adjustment period, but it’s definitely been a bit overwhelming, even moreso than Japan ever was.
Bali was actually never on my bucket list, especially since it seemed so similar to Hawaii. I did think it would be a rightful challenge for myself, almost like the first baby step to ease my way into the other SE Asia countries (if I eventually make it out to all of them). And with all the promises of good food, I knew I couldn’t go wrong. Yet, I really didn’t have a clear reason for coming here (other than to reunite with my best friend and her boyfriend, which I couldn’t be happier to do), and I think that’s okay. You don’t need to rationalize every single move you make in life, after all – right?
However, one of the most difficult things for me to accept is my inability to live in the moment and be content in the present. Not even “happy” – since a “search” for happiness will never yield that – but just “content” with the way things are and how they’ve turned out. While I’ve only been here a week, I’ve struggled to be at peace with where I am, why I’ve come here, and how this is only my journey. I can’t compare it to anyone else’s. My heart, deep down, still longs to be in Wellington, the only city I’ve fallen in love with upon arrival and left far too soon for the wrong reasons.
The good thing about travel is that there is no right or wrong way to do it – everyone enjoys different things and has different styles. Similar to my previous year of traveling, I definitely don’t go out of my way to meet and hang out with people (which is probably a bad thing), since I still prefer to explore things on my own. And sometimes when you’re struggling to find peace with the present, it helps to be in solitude rather than constantly surrounded by people.
But for now, I’ll relish in the flavorful, spicy food that this country offers… and learn to be okay with just sunbathing on beaches and taking it easy for the rest of my two weeks in Bali.