After traveling around for 10 months I finally got to see some friends from home in Bali! Monica and Cooper, two friends and former roommates in SF, made ridiculously long treks to meet me on this beautiful island. As if being with friends on this trip wasn’t special enough, my Aunt Linda treated us with an overly generous amount of SPG points so we spent the week in luxury at Starwood hotels in Kuta, Ubud, and Nusa Dua.
By far my favorite experience in Bali (and I think the same for Mon and Coop) was our sunrise trek of Mt. Batur. We got picked up around 2:15 am and around 6:00 am arrived at the summit of Mt. Batur, just in time to watch a gorgeous sunrise over Lake Batur. We were lucky to have a tour guide all to ourselves who knew how to take all the instagrammable photos.
We also went to some beautiful cliff-side temples for sunset, hit up a hot spring, did some beach hopping, swung on some swings (for free!) and ate a lot of great food (and battled some food illnesses).
While staying in hotels can make it a bit more difficult to get a feel for the culture, based on our interactions with the hotel staff, taxi drivers, hiking guides, and really anyone we came across, it was immediately clear there was a laid back friendliness about the Balinese. Here are a few other interesting things picked up while kicking back on the “Island of the Gods”:
- While only about 2% of the Indonesian population is Hindu, over 80% live on Bali, making Bali a predominantly Hindu island. There are huge statues of the Hindu Gods and temples all over the island.
- Bali is a major producer of Luwak coffee (aka poop coffee). Luwak coffee comes from a process where coffee cherries are eaten by Luwaks (picture below), fermentation of the beans occurs in the Luwak’s intestines, and then the beans are collected from their poop before being cleaned and roasted. It’s been called the most expensive coffee in the world retailing at around USD $700/kilogram. I was able to try a cup for about $3.50 at the coffee farm and it was absolutely delicious. We also got to sample a bunch of Balinese coffees and teas (sorry, Luwak coffee not pictured, but it just looked like a cup of coffee…).
- One of our drivers told us that 55% of businesses on Bali (it was either on Bali or in Kuta…) are owned by Australians. I haven’t confirmed this and don’t know exactly what he meant but it’s easy to see that a lot of the cafes and restaurants around the island are Aussie-owned, many sporting Aussie flags, selling flat whites (like a latte with no foam?) and long blacks (an americano with less water), and advertising Aussie beef burgers.
- However, it wasn’t Aussies who turned Kuta into Bali’s first “surfer’s beach” back in 1936; that was a Californian named Bob Koke.
- “No traffic, no Bali” is a common phrase on the island. The roads on Bali don’t resemble anything that could be referred to as grid-like, the highways are scarce, and there are constant festivals that shut down the streets, so with about 5 million tourists coming through every year, traffic on Bali is pretty miserable.
- Bali belly is real. The cleanliness standards on Bali are pretty low, and it is really common to end up with some bad bacteria in your belly! Luckily both Mon and I had quick turnarounds but unfortunately missed out on a day exploring Ubud.
- The official language of Indonesia is Indonesian, which is a variant of Malay. However, over 40% of the Indonesian population speak Javanese as their native language (Java is the island where Jakarta is located), and Bali has its own language, Balinese, which has some similarities to Indonesian and Javanese but would not be immediately understood without some exposure.
- There is a volcano on Bali that won’t stop erupting. In 1963 Mount Agung had a number of eruptions resulting in the death of an estimated 1,100 people. Beginning in 2017 the eruptions have been ongoing, including one while we were there which shut down the airport for the day causing over 300 flights to be cancelled.
- Finally, some history. My reading pick for Bali was a book called Love and Death in Bali, by Vicki Baum. The book was written in 1937 and details the events leading up to the 1906 Dutch intervention in Bali, yet another historical event I previously knew nothing about. The Dutch conquered northern Bali in the mid-19th century but the southern kingdoms managed to stay somewhat independent. In 1904 the plundering of a Chinese ship off the coast of Bali ignited a number of disputes ultimately leading to a Dutch invasion in 1906. When the Dutch troops reached the palace in Denpasar, the Raja led a ritual suicide called Puputan (“Fight to the death”), where the Raja along with his followers killed themselves and their families with daggers called kris so that their souls may be cleansed and enter heaven together. There are disputes as to what led the Dutch to open fire on this procession, but in the end it is believed over 1,000 people were killed by the combination of gunfire and ritual. The book was interesting but if you want to learn more I’d recommend the Wikipedia page on the 1906 intervention instead : ).
I want to give another huge thank you to my Aunt Linda for the amazing hotel rooms during our Bali stay, and to Mon and Coop for traveling to the other side of the world to see me! I am now in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia eating all of the Indian food I can find.