I’ve just finished what may have been one of the best weeks of my life travelling solo around Bali. Ancient Hindus named this place the Island of the Gods and, though I am inspired by a different sort of magic than they were, it is both easy to see and hard to list all the things that make Bali so amazing.
Where I began at Lovina Beach is a quieter part of the island and initially I had no idea what to expect for the rest of Bali’s many different regions. I was immediately struck by the multitudes of Hindu shrines and temples; intricately worked stone arches and pillars, stone-carved demons guarding doorsteps to the most rudimentary businesses and homes. My bus from Lovina to Kuta wound southward and up into Bali’s living green mountains, peppered with rice paddies, temples, and waterfalls that seemed frozen in time. Clouds wound and wisped around the peaks of holy mountains above idyllic resorts and homes tucked into the mountainsides. For the entirety of the three hour journey south I was mesmerized by the landscape and remnants of a culture that far predates my own.
Arriving in the surfing beachside town of Canggu just north of Seminyak and Kuta I was suprised by the amount of arts and local events I found in such a tourist destination. Children and adults flew kites in intricate formations right across the street from a California-style skate bowl and bar. The hostel I stayed at had a pool and a beautiful cast of people from Chile to Russia and even a few rare and exotic Americans! Just like my time on Gili Trawangan I spent my mornings lounging with new friends or exploring the island on the back of a motorbike (only slightly terrified at times, Bali’s traffic is insane!). The day was spent on the beach and surfing, eating delicious food, and relaxing as you can only do on a beach before picking one of several astounding sunset spots like Tanah Lot to watch the daylight fade. Our nights were filled with dancing at Old Man’s Bar with sandy feet, large Bintangs, and midnight swims in the surf. A few of those nights had the kind of magic that you never want to end, and I fell asleep in the early morning hours with a smile and a tiny bit sad that the night had ended.
After days enjoying the beach lifestyle and staying up entirely too late with people who were entirely worth it, I decided I needed some rest and relaxation in a quieter part of Bali, so I hired a taxi to take me to Ubud, Bali’s cultural and artistic heart. Located in the midst of rolling emerald green hills, Ubud is a place where people come from all over the world to admire Bali’s famous arts, museums, and craftsmen. It is also known worldwide as a center for Yoga, and retreats number in the dozens if not hundreds with every studio offering their own classes on the activity. Recently it has become much more popular, so the level of tourism actually exceeded that of Canggu. However, where Canggu’s heartbeat is the beach and surf and the culture that goes with it, Ubud’s is the calm, controlled tempo of the Yogis that founded this place. Nights end early because everyone is up with the sun for morning yoga, and the days are spent viewing temples, hiking beautiful ridges, and exploring the Monkey Forest. You can see traditional Balinese dances at the Ubud Royal Palace and many other temples in the area, accompanied by a Balinese orchestra. Also amazing is wandering the vast and labyrinthine Ubud Art Market where craftsmen from the countryside gather to sell handcrafted silver jewelry, ornately carved hindu masks and sculptures, and vibrant handmade Batik shirts and sorongs. The food is good, the atmosphere relaxed, and the entire experience incredibly rejuvenating after Canggu and Gili T.
Altogether my week on Bali felt as though it lasted forever, and at the same time it was entirely too short. There is so much to do and see, so much culture and history interspersed with socialising with people from every corner of the globe. As magical as Bali is in its own right though, the piece that resonated with me, as always, were the people I met. Beaches are not the same without friends, nor are sunset happy hours or temple tours. That you can have such sudden and intense connections with people you meet is, I think, both the best part of traveling and the worst when you inevitably have to say goodbye. Some you might see again, but most are here today and gone tomorrow. Bali provides a backdrop of culture and sightseeing and its magic is that there is always something to do, someplace to see, someone to meet, and always a new friend to do it all with.