The Insta-Famous Bali

June 4, 2017

Bali, Indonesia

Crossed off one of my biggest bucket list items this year: visiting the Insta-famous Bali, Indonesia. I was fortunate to spend two weeks on this trip and we used this opportunity to visit four different destinations: SeminyakUbudGili Trawagan and Uluwatu. (Plus a little bit of Taipei!)

Taipei
Before arriving to Indonesia, we had a  14-hour layover in Taipei. It was my first time in Taiwan and I was very eager to see the city. Arriving late on a Sunday night, we weren't able to visit any of the famous night markets (d'oh!). Instead, we got to try Din Tai Fung. The soup dumplings were extra delicious and noodles were authentic as expected. It's safe to say we went back to our hotel with a satisfied belly.


After getting a good night sleep in Taipei, we hopped on a five-hour flight to visit my first Southeast Asian country.

Seminyak
We decided to make Seminyak our first stop since it was closest to the airport in Denpasar. Upon arrival, we immediately felt the strong humidity that reminded me of my home city, Hong Kong. We were greeted by a private driver hired by our hotel - we couldn't believe that he waited over an hour for us. The immigration process took longer than expected, even with $0 visa fee.

With no Indonesian money on us, we had the driver drop us off at a money exchange location. BEWARE of these spots! Check the rate conversion online and always count your money before you leave. It turns out that the rate is usually better at the airport so be sure to exchange your money before you leave the airport. This was something we learned after and would not want to repeat this mistake again. (I mean, it was only a few dollars here and there but still, all about the principle.)

When we arrived at our first villa, we were instantly greeted with welcome drinks and a team of staff to help with our baggage. We were exhausted and so sweaty at this point (can you imagine!) but we were excited to jump into the big pool and be surrounded by pretty greenery. I ended up getting the biggest mosquito bites of my life that day but luckily they did not leave any lasting scars. Phew!


Our Seminyak villa was both affordable and accessible to main streets. As soon as we finished dipping in the pool, we went out for some well-anticipated Indonesian food. Which brings me to tell you about my first ever Soto Ayam: a chicken soup with vermicelli noodles and tons of spices. So awesome I literally got it every night on this trip (or tried to).

Be sure to rent a scooter with a helmet when you are in Bali. It is the easiest way to get around. Haggle and pay no more than 70,000 rupiahs (US $5.30) per day. And yes, I'd say haggle with anything and everything that has no price tag.

Fancy Spot; Highly Recommend
Potato Head Beach Club
Instagram: @potatoheadbali

Rating: 6/10

Although the streets were exciting and filled with life, I gave our Seminyak visit an average rating because I did not feel that it lived up to the expectations from other Bali posts I read. Additionally, safety was a concern in a crowded beach town and drugs were often offered (any type of drugs is illegal here so please beware). Understanding that Bali is a top tourist destination, I was still uncomfortable with strangers constantly approaching us. Being the first leg of our trip, Seminyak did not impress me as I hoped.

Ubud
We got the same driver to take us to visit both Tanah Lot and Ubud. At first, I had doubts about staying in Ubud given the recent snake eating human case (ugh). I was worried that staying in a jungle that would attract snakes to sneak into our rooms. But man, was I wrong. I was so happy that we went to Ubud because it was absolutely amazing and unforgettable. It was such a 180-degree turnaround, I would live in Ubud if I could.

It took us about an hour to get from Seminyak to Ubud. The resort was fairly hidden so we had to wiggle through tight roads (ones without traffic signals) to find where it was. As soon as we walked up to the resort's lobby, my mouth dropped. The view was so stunning with an endless forest that went for miles and the only sounds you would hear were birds chirping. I laughed when the staff told us the wifi password was "paradise." Because indeed it was. If anyone were searching for the "eat, pray, love" of Bali, go to Ubud. This place was it. 

The resort had a total of 13 rooms and they were all situated mountain-high overlooking the forest and the horizon. Our gorgeous room had its own private pool, patio area and a beautiful marble-tiled bathroom. We stayed for three days and those were possibly the most luxurious days of the trip.


Since we flew across the globe to Bali, we had an intense jet lag that worked amazing for us. We got up at 6AM every morning and had pretty much everything done by 2PM (breakfast, swim, photos, swim, see Ubud, lunch). It was incredible how we packed so much in a day. We got around most of the Ubud center, visited rice fields and bought souvenirs for our families.

I had so many firsts on this trip. One of which was finally getting a massage (what better place than Bali, am I right?). Our resort connected us with a spa that had a soothing atmosphere with so much zen and relaxation, it was a great way to conclude Ubud.

Fancy Resort; Highly Recommend
Udhiana Resort
Instagram: @udhianaresortubud

Rating: 9/10

The best part about our Ubud experience was definitely the resort. It was everything we wanted. It checked all the boxes for a beautiful jungle view, private pool access that I could not get enough of, high-end interiors with superb decorations and of course, photo opportunities in every corner. Aside from where we stayed, I had a great time visiting the Ubud center and felt comfortable walking around during the day and night. We also met other tourists that were extremely friendly, which made me feel very much at home. Ubud was a whole new level from Seminyak! Go Ubud.

Gili Trawangan / Gili Islands
After we said bye to the beautiful Ubud (a very sad day), we haggled with the locals on ferry rides to bring us to the Gili islands. This part was tricky because we had no idea what the average price for both the ferry ride and driver pick up would be. We asked a ton of small kiosks and stores at the Ubud center and found a legit boat and pick up for USD $22.50 per person. That's a pretty good deal in our opinion. We did tons of research on Bali forums with boat quality to Gili so be sure to do your own research here as well. My advice is do not go with the first offer you get and do not pay for anything over 300,000 rupiahs per person. We had offers up to 1 million rupiahs per fare. In Cantonese, I would say "No la!"

It took us about one hour from Ubud to Padang Bai, a town with ferry ports. After waiting for another hour or so, we hopped on the ferry with pretty much all foreigners. Although we did intensive research on boat quality, I didn't expect the ferry to be so well managed. To my surprise, our boat was very clean with air conditioning and even movies to watch. Go Eka Jaya!

We learned quickly that the Gili islands did not allow motors for transportation. The three options we had for getting around were walking, biking or horse carriages. Sadly, I did research (our entire trip was research) on the horses and I was heartbroken by how they were treated on the islands. Even though it was 85 degrees on both the days we arrived and departed, we dragged our luggage from the island port to the villa and vice versa.

This was our second week in Bali and I was already feeling a little homesick. We visited the mini night market on the island and picked up a few local dishes with fried seafood and watermelon juices. By the second night in Gili, we found a pizza spot and I was so happy to finally have some spaghetti and sausage in my belly.


A second "first" on this trip happened here! I went snorkeling for the first time and I felt so brave. I've never been a water-sport person because the truth is... I don't know how to swim and I have drowning fears. I almost turned down snorkeling but my boyfriend encouraged me throughout the whole process. From putting on the snorkeling mask to throwing up in the water (yes, this happened), he helped me feel less scared about the water and less embarrassed about not being able to swim. I ended up having so much fun that I got to feed fishes and witness sea turtles. Towards the end, I got a massive headache from all the motion sickness and threw up really hard (gross...). Still, I had a lot of fun and would definitely do it again.

Fancy Spot; Highly Recommend
Regina Pizzeria
Facebook: Regina Pizzeria

Rating: 8/10

Gili Trawangan was a nice break from Bali. It was more relaxing and time went by a lot slower than I expected. The world felt so small on the island and it was the ultimate vacation spot. I wouldn't stay in Gili for more than a few days but it was definitely a great place to wind down from the trip.

Uluwatu
Our final three days were spent with cliffs and waves. Coming back from the Gili islands, we found ourselves a hidden cliff villa in Uluwatu. Drawn by the ocean view, we visited the Uluwatu beach (it was really just a cliff) that were minutes from where we stayed. The nature of this area was very dangerous and intimidating. We were hiking between narrow concrete stairs and broken pathways to get to the cliffs. There was no way to relax in the sand area because it was mainly an entrance for professional surfers who knew what they were doing. Anyone could be easily pulled away by heavy waves. We ended up visiting the restaurants built around the cliffs and got ourselves a nice sunset view for our first night.

As we got more situated in Uluwatu, we found surfing camps and yoga studios that offer drop-in classes. My boyfriend attended a two-hour surfing lesson that provided all the equipment and even drop-off at the Padang Padang beach (an actual beach that was less intense than the Uluwatu beach). I ended up trying out a traditional flying yoga class that gave me a real workout. Unfortunately, I did end up vomiting because of my weak belly and horrible motion sickness from being upside down. I met a girl from class who was also from SoCal but I never got to follow up with her because I felt so ill. (If by any chance you're reading this, I'm so sorry! I wish I got breakfast with you that day. I was trying so hard not to throw up when we were talking.)

We went to Padang Padang beach by ourselves and rented a paddle board for an hour. I had so much fun being on the paddle board (another first!) even though I fell off multiple times. It was a lot harder than I thought and required so much patience and obviously, balance. I thought my yoga experiences would help but I was only able to kneel and not even stand on the board. Next time for sure.


This was our final leg of our Bali trip and we decided to finish with visiting the Uluwatu Temple. We were handed orange ribbons by the temple staff. This was a much better experience than our Tanah Lot visit back in Seminyak. Not only we avoided the sardines of tourists, we also caught a gorgeous sunset that was the most memorable from our trip.


Fancy Spot; Highly Recommend
El Kabron Spanish Restaurant & Cliff Club
Instagram: @elkabronbali

Rating: 7.5/10

Uluwatu overall was a really beautiful place with tons of local food and fun water activities. I wanted to give a higher rating but I did not enjoy this leg as much as I did in Ubud or Gili Trawangan. Besides paddle boarding for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the heat and the unfamiliarity of the area. I wish I could say I'll visit again but most likely, I won't.

Taipei
Coming back to our two-hour layover in Taipei, I was ready to be home. We sipped complimentary drinks and slurped noodles at one of the premium lounges at the Taipei Airport. The flight back to Los Angeles was very easy and we were mostly asleep the whole time. I found that I still had 200,000 rupiahs in my backpack and will keep them as memory from the trip.

Final Thoughts
Overall, our Bali trip was a great getaway from all the stress at home. I felt extremely fortunate and recognized the immense privilege I had when I visited Indonesia. Although I was raised in a small town in Fuzhou and the village side of Hong Kong, my first experience in Southeast Asia was eye-opening and nothing compared to the environment I grew up in. I felt sadness every time I stepped out of our expensive villas and saw local Indonesians living out of tin-can houses. I felt a deeper sadness when we were approached by those that were desperate for money. The amount of hustle reminded me of my grandparents and parents when they were trying to survive and bring their kids to the states. Even as an American citizen, I would never forget where I came from and would always be aware of the privilege I have as a 1.5 generation Asian American.

One thing I would like to point out is that: social media images of Bali are disappointingly deceiving. While the resorts were luxurious, the immediate streets nearby were either developing or underdeveloped. I wish there were more images that depict the reality of Bali versus ones that only showcased the upscale villas and fancy foreigner attractions.

As a final thought, I most likely will not return to Bali again. Why? Even though the trip was a break from the craziness at home, I found myself with my guard up most of the time and encountered multiple stressful situations that defeated the purpose of the vacation. I'm so thankful that I had my boyfriend with me on this trip because truth is, I would not be able to visit Bali by myself.

Overall rating: 7.5/10

*Recommendations are genuine and purely based on my own experiences. I was not paid to promote or advertise any of the spots or villas mentioned!*

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