My Australian relatives and friends have been telling me for ages that Bali, Indonesia is their favourite place to spend their vacation time. In the last few days I am getting to know why.
When I arrived in Bali, the first thing I noticed is the extreme humidity and heat. It hit me like a wall as soon as I got off the early morning Air Asia flight from Phuket. As soon as the humidity hit me, my camera lens instantly fogged up and it reminded me of stepping out of my cabin on the Amazon River cruise I took a few years ago.
My first day in Bali was a relaxing one as my flight from Phuket left at 6:30am and I had been awake since 3am. There are three main areas you can choose to stay in Bali. Semeniak and Kuta are the party areas that have been made famous by Australian tourists looking to unwind and have a great time. Ubud is a mountainous region that is the cultural centre of the Island. Finally, Nusa Dua which is the resort area that offers the quiet area away from the insanity that is Kuta. Coming from Phuket, I chose Nusa Dua because I needed to get away from the frenetic nightlife and crowded streets for a few days.
The next day was planned as a day of culture as I had hired a driver and guide to take me into the cultural heart of Bali. His name is Joko and is extremely knowledgeable and a great guide for anything on the island. You can contact me if you are heading to Bali and I pass along his contact info. His daily rate is very reasonable and he will go out of his way to make sure you enjoy your time here.
My day of culture started with a Barong and Kris dance at the Jalan Waribang temple. This was a great start to the day with costumes, traditional music and dances. The hour long show was a great introduction to Balinese culture and the island’s huge Hindu population. In Singapore, I had watched a special on the Kris on the discovery channel. It is a traditional dagger that is believed to have its own spirit. That part of the performance was very mysterious as the performers would drive the tip of the blade into their chest as they performed the dance.
The next stop was at a Batik processing factory. This is the traditional textile of Indonesia that is similar to tie-dying but it is done in many steps, using wax to apply dye to specific places on the fabric. The process is amazing and very labour intensive.
After photographing the process and some of the locals producing their art, it was off to a local Balinese home to photograph a family and their home to see exactly how the locals live. Every home is laid out the same with a Hindu temple in the exact same spot and a holy wall directly behind the main gate to keep bad spirits away. The extreme humidity of the island help to make my photos even more amazing as there is a beautiful green moss on almost everything, including the detailed stone carvings and temples. I met the grandfather of the home and as you will see in the images below, he was a great subject to photograph.
After working up an appetite by shooting over a thousand frames in the morning, Ubud, the cultural heart of the island was my next stop. I had Joko stop the car many times along the way as there were countless beautiful scenic spots. Ubud was the location for an intricate Balinese lunch of Nasi Champur, a large platter of spicy and flavourful foods with emphasis on the beautiful presentation. The backdrop for my lunch was a huge rice patty with flags flying in the wind. This was an wonderful experience and the food was delicious.
After recharging with that huge lunch for only about $8.00, the next stop was a coffee and chocolate plantation. This is the part of the day that I was most excited for as I would be checking off an item that has been on my bucket list since seeing the movie “The Bucket List”. After being shown around the plantation and seeing the production of coffee beans in the traditional way of using small pans over an open fire, I was brought to a terrace overlooking the jungle. Five cups of locally produced beverages were placed in front of me. In the image below, you will see them. From left to right they are: Ginseng Coffee, Ginger Tea, Bali Coffee, Lemongrass Tea and fresh Bali Hot Chocolate. After sampling all of these, I was brought my bucket list item, Kopi Luwak! If you have seen the movie “The Bucket List”, you know that Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee on earth. The beans are eaten by a cat-like animal called a Civet that is very selective and only eats the ripest and best quality beans. After passing through the Civet’s digestive system, the beans are collected, cleaned and roasted to produce Kopi Luwak coffee. I was a little reluctant to try this coffee as it basically cat crap, but I am all about immersing myself in culture. I was told and shown that the beans do not smell, even before they are cleaned! The Kopi Luwak was actually very good and had a very nice flavour that included hints of chocolate and caramel. I actually bought a small bottle of the beans to bring home with me.
From the plantation, we worked our way north to Mount Batur Volcano. This spot was magnificent as the volcano was right beside a lake that acted as a mirror for the gorgeous clouds that were forming around the volcano. In the high elevations, the temperature was slightly cooler and more comfortable.
Making my way back south was the last cultural stop of the day, Tampaksiring, the holy spring and temple. As you will see form the images below, this 12th century temple was a great place to photograph as well.
The drive back to my beach resort took me by some other scenic spots and photogenic locals that you will see below. This has turned out to be my favourite destination of the expedition so far, and anyone traveling to Southeast Asia needs to make Bali a priority.
This has turned out to be a very long blog post as I have so many things to write about, but there is one more thing I need to mention about Bali. For years I have sworn that Australia was home to the nicest, most hospitable people I have ever encountered. My time in Bali has me questioning that as I may have just met the warmest and most generous people on Earth. Not only will the staff at resorts and restaurants go out of their way to be nice and hospitable to you, locals on the street will surprise even a veteran traveler such as me. It was a torrential downpour while I was walking to the internet café two nights ago. I had an umbrella and was fairly comfortable walking in the lightning storm, but what happened next opened my eyes to the kindness and generosity of the Balinese people. A local restaurant owner named “Buda” on his way home stopped his car beside me and asked where I was going. It was only a few hundred metres more, but he turned his car around and drove me the rest of the way so I didn’t have to walk through the massive rain puddle that was just ahead of me. Try finding someone that will do that for a stranger anywhere else!