Bali Bares It All

He got excited and blurted, “I don’t have a license too!”

Back after five years, this holy land never lost its magic.

I like the idea of Bali. I like the promise of palm trees, warmth of sun, sea breeze, hot surfers and (not forgetting) fascinating Balinese cultures. Sunglasses on at all times. Many are inspired by the clichéd output of Elizabeth Gilbert despite grumbling about over-development. The fact that it became so heavily romanticised is exactly why one way ticket wouldn’t work for me.

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To the beach, Padang Padang.

It would appear that having a great sense of humour is necessary and, being able to laugh things off is a great life skill.

To begin with, the man designated to pick us up at the Ngurah Rai International Airport did not turn up. This is hardly news for me, for a series of unexpected events that I’ve been through on holiday due to sensual carelessness.

Truth is, we have failed to locate the villa we booked through Airbnb. So we ended up hopping in a taxi where the taxi driver did not seem like he’s having a good time getting lost with us. There, four vacation warriors standing by the roadside in South Kuta, very ambitious. Under the big hot sun, we remained Mr. Brightsides.  

Whilst we almost gave up hoping for silver lining, a local hero came to our rescue. I wish we asked his name, but I will hereinafter address him as ‘the hero’.

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Horse carriages, Kuta.

The hero took my friend to go on a bike ride, relentlessly searching for the villa with a vague description. The rest of us were invited into his humble little crib  juxtaposing between villas owned by Australians and Europeans. There’s a vintage sofa in the hallway and we can see where they sleep, where they cook and where they spend their Saturday night. They live a simple life.

The story ended with the French villa owner finally picking up his phone after two good hours, providing us the right address. Oh mon dieu! That’s so French!

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Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Ubud.

What used to be a land where growing your own lettuce in volcanic soil is great appeal, has now turned into something more — and it drew hybrid crowds of beautiful weathered old Balinese women, cheerful surfers and nouveau riche.

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Coffee Tasting

Exotic, as promised.

What used to be a land where growing your own lettuce in volcanic soil is great appeal, has now turned into something more — and it drew hybrid crowds of beautiful weathered old Balinese women, cheerful surfers and nouveau riche. There are umpteeth things to do, eat and see. Hipsters do what hipsters do on the streets of Seminyak. Here we looked for the best babi guling in the island. The gastronomic stratosphere is exciting indeed. Besides authentic eateries, Bali’s major spots are mushroomed with its Ralph Lauren franchises and très chic cafes.

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Impeccable coastline, Uluwatu Temple.

Having visited more than ten sights in Bali during my first voyage, Uluwatu temple is my favourite. In the words of Holly Golightly, ‘calms me down right away’. The monkeys are quick, curious, playful and strong — just what you imagined a modern Kate Spade gentlewoman to be. No jokes. Hide your sunglasses.

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Spot the monkey, Uluwatu Temple.
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Sunset was so extravagant that describing it with precision is an improbable feat. Zone of Sepia tones, dashes of orange and pink, jawdroppingly beautiful. And that, is typical Bali. Sometimes, your pleasant evening might come with a price — ridiculously overpriced Bintang beer.

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This place exists, Rock Bar.

Yes, we can’t ignore the tremendous gap between the locals and the tourists. It’s a weird contrast. Our guide, Agusto rented a room for USD50 per month, that’d be USD600 for a year — the equal amount of money we spent on two nights in our hotel (for two deluxe rooms).

You go from paying 100,000 Rupiah (USD7) for a 330ml bottle of Bintang beer at the Rock Bar to bribing local policemen with USD1 when you have to. I thought, “Who needs a licence?” Our guide got excited and blurted, “I don’t have a licence too!” News flash: our lives are in the hand of an illegal driver.

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On the road.
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A statue of a Balinese lady making offering, accompanied by her child.

But it’s a norm — that is just how things work on the island. The Balinese, in my opinion, is the best kind of people. They are extremely kind and helpful.You should also know by now that Balinese women thrive at graceful living within hardship. Having to live up to the standard of traditional society means waking up by 4am to get all prepped — going to the market, getting fresh ingredients to cook for your husband, make offerings and etc.

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Balinese offerings, crowd at Uluwatu Temple.

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I do still think we got the best guide ever — the kind of guide who emanates incredible warmth and tell you interesting things. We were also storied with the tales/facts of the Balinese gangsters — Laskar and Baladhika. They just had a face off last Friday, three days prior to our arrival. In fact, they are almost legal. You often spot them or their logos on billboards, wishing you a happy new year.

It is definitely some kind of a cognitive vacation.

Danica Chia

Writer, flâneur & ice-cream enthusiast.

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