As the Spring Break of my freshman year of college was approaching I realized I had no one to spend those two weeks with, so I decided to treat myself without compromises - and I booked a ticket to Bali!
As soon as I got there I fell in love with the people, the crazy unpredictable weather and traffic, the no-filter sunsets, and the cheap as hell beer. Of course, as with every destination, it is all about how you approach it. So here are a few tips on how to fall in love… with Bali.
#1 Go Alone
Bali is a backpacker heaven. In the West it is portrayed as an exclusive and exotic place; the kind with white sand beaches through which Kim Kardashian runs in tiny bikinis and long white dresses. This kind of marketing makes it look expensive, it makes it look unreachable, it made a friend ask “How are YOU going to Bali?!”. That is why this is not the place where you will meet a bunch of first-time backpackers doing a gap year before college (like you would in Western Europe) or college students on a spring break (like you would in Cancun).
Who you will meet are the I-don’t-know-where-I’m-going-next kind of backpackers. Young people who got sick of the routine, quit their jobs, and got a one way ticket to Southeast Asia. Who you will meet is a guy buying a motorbike and driving through Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A girl who has been travelling for more than year and a half while doing her PhD in Psychology. A guy whose favorite pick up line is that he was on a Canadian reality show. You will meet people who call Bali a second home and always come back – and very soon you will understand why.
If you are alone, without a to-go person every time you feel lonely or uncomfortable, these people will become your best friends over the course of one drinking game!
#2 Practice Yoga
There is a great chance that your Western yoga instructor did their training in Bali, and there is a good reason for it. Even though Indonesia is regarded as a Muslim country, the island of Bali is an exception, with the majority of people practicing Hinduism. In Hinduism, yoga is a form of meditation, a lifelong journey through which one should achieve moksha (emancipation, liberation, and release). A small mountain village of Ubud is the yoga hub of the island, a place where you will find numerous yoga sanctuaries and retreats with offers from one-time classes to full-on instructor training. Here, yoga is taken seriously and it is practiced in the most beautiful spaces - open wooden houses immersed in the trees or overlooking the rice terraces. There is a number of yoga studios to choose from, but keep in mind that most of them do not hold classes after 1 p.m.
#3 Enjoy Cocktails in Sunset
Beach clubs along the coast of Canggu and Seminyak are what heaven must be like. Make your way down to the beach in the afternoon and find a nice little nest on the benches of Old Man’s in Canggu, a lounge bed in the Potato Head overlooking the infinity pool or a colorful bean bag in the sands of La Plancha in Seminyak. Order something extravagant like seaweed bruschettas or a prawn burger and blind pick one of a hundred cocktails on the menu. Be sure that the colorful drink in your hand will be matched by the fairytale sunset!
#4 Trek a Volcano before Sunrise
A trek to Mount Batur is a perfect way to start your morning or end your night. Walking down the streets of Ubud or just asking at the reception of your hotel you are sure to find an adventure deal. Starting at 2 a.m., most of these excursions provide authentic Balinese coffee and breakfast, and then you are off to trek this 1,717 meter, still active and very much still smoking, volcano. The hike is about three hours throughout the night, the forest, the cliffs. At one moment, in the beginning of our climb while I was still able to talk, I asked if anyone ever played Slenderman, and got cursed by a girl in our group.
Once you’re up there, tired and sweaty and a bit dizzy from the thin air, the sunrise that comes over a mirror-like lake feels like the birth of the universe!
#5 Explore the Holy
Balinese culture is heavily concentrated on the relation with the nature as well as religion, so they usually come together. Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is the place to find both. On the outskirts of the village of Ubud, this green oasis is a home to thousands of monkeys as well as to several temples. All of them are to be treated with the utmost respect. Which means that when a small monkey starts pulling at your dress and looking under it, the only thing you can do is hope that he does not decide to climb up your bare legs.
There are a number of temples to encounter wherever you find yourself (over 20,000 of them on the island), but not all are open for tourists. Those that are, like Tanah Lot, Uluwatu, Goa Gajah, and Pura Tirta Empul are usually outside the towns, but definitely worth the visit. Towering halls and soaring pillars of these temples emerge in between colorful gardens and waters of streams, lakes, or ponds, creating perfect symmetry, showing how the man is supposed to live in harmony with both the nature and the divine.
#6 Stay in a Party Hostel
I am always a big advocate of staying in hostels when travelling, it is cheap and it is fun. In Bali, it is so much more than that. Whatever you are looking for, you will find it in a hostel.
Capsule Hotel New Seminyak is doubtlessly one of the best hostels I have ever stayed at. Bunk beds in dormitories are actually capsules that give you an astonishing amount of privacy, your own bed light, a power outlet, locker, and a pull down table surface. Everyone is nice and friendly, and the place has a reputation for being a party hub, so there is a lot of people who are travelling alone and who are looking to make new friends over drinking games. The staff is amazing and very welcoming, they are really trying to give the place a homey feeling. During my stay there they organized a St. Patrick’s Day barbecue party and served a variety of green-colored drinks. It was a nice break from La Favela, the most popular club in Seminyak, which is only a 5 minute walk away from the hostel and a regular going-out spot.
#7 Stay in a Non-Party Hostel
In Da Lodge is another widely popular hostel in Bali with an entirely different reputation. It is located in Ubud, a city known for yoga, temples, and the overarching peace and serenity. In Da Lodge reflects the same pure vibe. It is definitely not your typical hostel, with hammocks hung between trees, streams full of colorful fish running between the outbursts of green, and a pool overlooking the rice terraces. It is a place to relax with a book, a beer, and one of the Indonesian specials from their kitchen.
Ubud in itself is not a party town, so don’t expect a lot of things happening after midnight. Which is an upside because you will get a chance to get a good night’s rest and wake up ready to hit the yoga sanctuaries in the village.
#8 Get Massages
For a person who doesn’t like to be touched, hugged, petted, kissed, cuddled, or anything by people I am not sleeping with, I was surprisingly comfortable with the amazing Balinese massages. There are spas around every corner offering massages at great deals. It is a really great way to detox and get ready for some sweating in the yoga class or on the dance floor.
#9 Rent a Motorbike
About two years ago I was dating a guy who was driving me around on a motorbike. He offered to teach me how to drive it. I was afraid, I wasn’t even driving a car yet, and I refused. Man, did I regret that in Bali!
The first few days I got around on foot and, apart from being scared for my life, it took me almost an hour to get to the nearest beach. There are taxis driving around the touristy places ready to haggle for a price, and even though it is frowned up, Uber is also available. However, if you find yourself just a tiny bit of the beaten track, you are screwed. I got around this by making friends who did know how to ride a bike and then tagging along with them or by arranging a transportation beforehand. But if you are travelling alone you probably do not want to depend on anyone. My advice: learn how to ride a motorbike somewhere where you have health insurance so you can avoid the long tropical walks once you get to Bali.
#10 Have an Affair to Remember
On my first night in Bali a man started hitting on me, not all too surprising but that definitely wasn’t in my plans. I mean flirting or hooking up or getting involved in any way. I laughed at his see-through passes and even harder when he suggested we went for a night swim. This went on for a while, but I wouldn’t give in. I went to Bali to get over a bad break up (apparently so did he), I wanted to teach myself how not to get attached to people and a Casanova guy on this paradise island is surely the worst person to get attached to.
But then I thought “Fuck it! I am here precisely to get out of my comfort zone, and if this isn’t an opportunity to fall in love for three nights with a stranger then when is?” And that’s exactly what we did, had mindblowing love for three nights. It felt like hedonism at it’s finest, enjoying all the perks and leaving before the mist broke.
If you let it, Bali will teach you how that is exactly what life's about - beautiful love affairs. Affairs with tan strangers, with the ocean, the exquisite food, the drinks that make you moan. Affairs with yourself, your limitless body, with God and all the spirits in everything around you. Affairs with late nights and early mornings, with love in all the meanings of the word.