Tired of the routine of perusing the islands in Thailand, we sought to broaden our horizons and collect a few more passport stamps. As such, we decided to see more of what southeast Asia had to offer. I was running low on passport pages, and with visas taking up an entire page, I was really starting to worry by the end of the trip! We went from LA to Japan, flew to Singapore for a couple of nights, headed to Bali for a week of sheer bliss, then to Kuala Lampur for one day. From there, it was up to Vietnam for another 5 nights, then we bounced back over to Bangkok before passing through Burma and Cambodia, but again: I was down to my last passport page. So, I split up with my travel group and flew back to Bali, joining up with some travelers I’d met on a rooftop in Bangkok three years previous.
On our last visit a week or so earlier, we’d spent the majority of our time hanging by the pool or sitting on the beach in Kuta with the beach boys (not the band). Kuta Beach is a long string of little beer stands surrounded by colorful plastic chairs and umbrellas, run by local Balinese guys with coolers displaying signs selling “Bloody cold Bintang.” Some are even humorously advertised that the beers were “Cold as your exes heart!” We made fast friends with a beach boy in front of the Sheraton named Harley, with his contagious smile and warm greetings. We were serenaded by the locals, who sang American songs, and kept ourselves cool beside ice cold beers, which whisked us into dusk. We found our own little section of the beach that felt like home.
Even when I returned a week or so later, I felt like I would be cheating on Harley if I sat at any other stand… so I didn’t. In that first week we made arrangements through a local travel agency next to our hotel to rent a van and driver for the day to take us up to Ubud. First we went to the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, then to Monkey Forest in Ubud and finally to the Bali Pulina Agro Tourism Plantation to taste the most expensive coffee in the world. Luwak coffee is made from the poop of a civet cat, which we cleverly nicknamed “cat-poo-chino.” At the time, none of us knew about Kopi Luwak or the cruelty involved with the Civet. All we knew was that coffee pooped from a civet cat is the most expensive coffee in the world sounded like a must-see novelty. In hindsight we probably should have done more research and taken it out of the day’s agenda completely, but it was an educational experience overall.
Be aware that traffic is horrendous in Kuta. We brought plenty of snacks, an aux cord for Spotify playlists and (obviously) roadies… it is us after all! I will also warn you that the driver we hired did try and take us to different places, other than the ones we had agreed upon. He tried to take us to an unofficial coffee plantation, and luckily Anna caught on that it wasn’t the right place. She was able to direct him to the one she had saved on TripAdvisor. Google Maps was another big assist. Traveling with T-mobile makes life so much easier and keeps drivers honest.
So fast-forward a week and some change, and I’m flying solo back to Bali to meet the Canadians. They had booked a spot at TZ Party Hostel in Kuta so I also booked a space. The location is ideal, being right in the heart of Kuta, and the pool bar is a great place to make friends. They have floating bean bags in the pool that I basically lived in for 3 days even in the rain. The rooms themselves are bare and minimal, however, I spent so little time indoors it didn’t matter. TZ Party Hostel was epitomized by the owner, Brad. He sat down with me, explained the place in detail and described the tours he could hook me up with.
Brad’s Australian, and after being in Asia for so long, hustling with broken English and hand signals, it’s so refreshing to have someone speak perfect English that isn’t trying to hustle you! He lays the good and bad out in great detail and has so much knowledge of the culture and the land. He knows which boat companies are safe and which ones have had fires or sunk. No joke! At night he organizes dinners and shows, so that other hostel mates can mingle and get to know each other. I made some pretty fun friends after a steak dinner and a lady boy cabaret show. We are bonded for life after that!
The hostel is on Legion street in the heart of Kuta, right by the memorial of the 2002 Bali bombing, which I highly recommend taking a moment of silence before you set off to celebrate life over at the unavoidable Sky GardenSky Garden. I’m not really sure how to describe Sky Garden. You pay an entrance fee and you get 2 free low quality drinks. I’m not a picky drink person but whatever poison they are serving didn’t agree with me… twice. I promised myself after the first time around I wasn’t going back there, that I’d have just as much fun with my friends at a more low key bar with better and cheaper drinks. However, at my second arrival in Bali, the Canadians and my new friends from the hostel hadn’t experienced it yet and I was dragged back into the lure of the Sky Garden. That poison that they are passing off as liquor has some strange and varying effects on everyone. Personally, I’m not a fan, but like I said, it’s something you have to do, for a reason I can’t explain.
You should make note that October to April is rainy (wet) season. This effected us in really “special” ways. While in Kuta we had about 36 hours of solid torrential downpour. China Air had lost the Canadian boys’ bags and it took them 2 days of having to wear the same clothes and buying a few tourist shirts until their bags finally arrived. Being their luck, the bags arrived the day of the storm. They had to ride their rented motorbikes in the rain to and from the airport. Meanwhile, I was enjoying a couple rounds of Kings Cup with some Australians, Brits and Swedes back at the Hostel. After a solid game of Kings Cup, the rain didn’t matter anymore so we hung out in the pool on floating beanbags until nightfall.
Tired of the noise, the hustle and bustle, and the legendary hangovers, we decided a change of scenery was needed and to chill out over at Gili Trawangan. Anna flew down from Rangoon to join us in Bali and we booked a boat transfer to Gili T. The hostel helped us arrange the transportation to the boat and picked the safest boat to the island. This is a day I will never forget. We had met a Lufthansa flight attendant and a boutique British flight attendant, a Chilean philosophy student who studies in China, a French Canadian bartender and a fun sized Filipina traveling nurse all at the pool in the hostel. We made fast friends on the boat and when we got to Gili T, Surprise… surprise it’s raining!! We realized that none of us have planned for lodging so we head to a bar for ‘planning beers’ as we dried off and used the wifi to find hostels. At the Canadians suggestion, at some point we realize that there are enough of us that we can rent a private villa rather affordably. We locate one on Airbnb and we sent 2 people to go in person to do some low season rainy cash negotiations. We ended up getting the most gorgeous villa for roughly $24 a night per person which in Asia is a splurge but we were beyond ready to be spoiled. We got a palace with our own pool, a live in staff of three, and it included the most amazing breakfast with fresh juices and fruits. It was a great break after so many hostel bunk beds.
Gili T doesn’t have motorcycles or cars; it’s run only on bicycles and tiny horses. We rented old rusty bikes and I believe you can go around the whole island in less than 3 hours, though be prepared that a fair amount of the route is sand and the bikes aren’t properly aligned. They are very rusty and old which can make for some unexpected exercise. We made stops to watch sunsets at various cute little bars and bungalows around the island and we made sure to do the iconic swing photo shoot. We spent 3 days exploring, snorkeling, swimming with the turtles and relaxing.
As travelers go, a few of us split ways and a few of us ended up in Ubud, and our two Dutch friends from previous travels joined us. Ubud caters more to the yogis and the nature lovers. It’s quiet and peaceful and the food selections are incredible. We found a delightful tapas restaurant with tasty sangria and stumbled across a quaint little vegetarian place with bunnies roaming freely in the back garden where you dine. We stayed a day, left our main backpacks at the hotel storage and packed only the essentials for what might be the craziest 4 days of my life thus far. 2 Americans, 2 Canadians and 2 Dutchies hopped on 3 motorbikes and we set off to explore the island of Bali.
As tourists and travelers you are going to be stopped by the police or “traffic officers” and it’s inevitable that they are going to try and get money out of you. We got away with maybe handing over 30 bucks total on a couple of occasions. The goal was to hike up Munduk but between the rains and my broken toe (happens sometimes when you hike up a waterfall barefoot) it wasn’t feasible. We drove our bikes into the jungle with ponchos and at some point we just gave up since we were soaked to the core and just wrapped our small backpacks in the ponchos. The jungle road trip was incredible minus the rain and the limited visibility due to fog. The turns were hairy and I’m sure my knees hit cars and cyclists going the opposite direction. I held my breath and silently said my prayers. We finally found a little $10 a night guest house, set our clothes on the impossible mission to dry and warmed up in the shower and downed some tasty hot soup. A couple games of cards with beers and we were back in great spirits. The next morning the group headed to watch the sunrise over the mountains and after a good full breakfast we were back on the road. We ended up in Lovina where we set up camp at another guest house that we stumbled upon.
The new goal was to try any activities involving water since the rain wasn’t really cutting us a break. By now we had started to smell like wet dogs, and nothing we owned was dry! Our plan was to go to the natural water slides but yet again, rain fell on our parade. The locals told us that the water levels can get deadly and there is no way we could go. They told us that we could definitely do the natural hot water spring baths instead. So we hopped on our bikes and spent a glorious day in the hot springs with cool rain sprinkling us!
Now, you might have gotten the impression that we cope with alcohol and you’re right. A day in the hot springs with old traveling friends, reminiscing our previous journeys and copious amounts of alcohol later… things got fuzzy. The next thing I know we are getting matching tattoos in a scuba shop in Lovina because apparently that place had the best lighting for the job. We marked an incredible journey permanently in ink to remember for the rest of our lives, not that we could ever forget.
I never knew how helpful a motorcycle ride can be when you’re hungover as holy hell. But the novelty soon wore off, as we spent 6 hours straight riding around the island trying to get back to Ubud to have a warm shower and clean clothes. It’s been 4 days of rain in the same clothes and everything is turning a sort of orangish color. The smell is something we could only describe as “the odor.” We had to wash every single thing we owned, we threw away shoes that were unsalvageable, scrubbed every pore but it somehow still lingered. We had one final night all together in Ubud before the Canadians had to leave and we ventured to a quaint little hookah bar and somehow ended up at a gay club dancing the night away. The group said our tearful goodbyes to the Canadians and Anna and I followed the Dutchies back to Kuta were we prolonged our trip one extra day at a time. We were delaying the inevitable of going home. No one ever wants to leave paradise. The long journey home seemed like a death sentence. Eventually we slowly made our way across the ocean. It personally took me 5 flights and 38 hours before I made it back to California.
One of our good friends just recently returned to Bali and found our friend Harley, tending bar on the beach in his same spot in front of the Sheraton hotel. He remembered her and had a bloody cold Bintang ready and waiting!
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