Monday, June 21, 2010

The Truth About Bali

Kevin and I spent about 10 lovely days in Bali for our honeymoon--4 nights in Jimbaran Bay and 6 nights in Ubud.  So how was Bali? This is kind of hard to admit, but I don't think I appreciated the great parts of our Bali trip until I had some distance from it.  I mean, did I love being on vacation just after having been married, and not having a care in the world except whether to sit by the pool or the beach during the afternoon? Yes, of course I did.  Part of the joy of a vacation is the state of mind.  And we were in a great state of mind.

On the other hand, after we got back and people asked us how the honeymoon was, I almost felt like I *should* say "Oh it was wonderful" and blather on.  But honestly, there were some things that we were not prepared for that kind of threw us off (I'll get into it later).  I'm not sure if our expectations were to walk into a Gauguin painting or something (in which case we really should have looked at a globe first), or whether there was all this pressure because it was our "honeymoon" and we spent a "shitload of money" and Bali is supposed to be "paradise" and what have you, but we almost felt guilty about pointing out certain tips and criticisms, like we were miserly. I mean, was it just us? Were we ungrateful malcontents? 

Now that some time has passed, I do find myself really appreciating Bali and the time we spent there.  Is it rose-colored hindsight further fuzzified by a longing for another vacation? I don't know.

Looking back, I remember lounging on a peaceful beach...

Getting side-by-side massages in an open air...cabana type thingy (?)...with sumptuous oil and royal treatment at Jimbaran Puri Bali:

The beautiful, vibrant flowers and fruit:

The greasiness and stickiness from sunscreen, bug spray, humidity and general grossness:

The modern yet pampering loveliness of our hotel in Ubud, Komaneka at Bisma:

The amazing breakfasts and afternoon tea they served:

This was breakfast, folks.

Greasiness check? Yep, still there!  Bali's still hot and humid as hell!

The gorgeous scenery we saw on day trips:

The details of a culture we could see just by taking a walk:

And the amazing pork and duck that we had in Ubud (for pork, get yee to Ibu Oka; for duck, order the smoked duck at Casa Luna one day in advance, and do try the crispy duck at Dirty Duck and Bumbu Bali (I think this is the place I'm not sure, although the smoked duck reigned supreme).  

Proof of yummy duck gnawed to the bone? Check.  Greasiness still in full force? Check.

So you might ask yourself, what kind of things was I unhappy with? Am I insane? Well, here are some things I wish someone had told me about Bali, or things to which I wish I would have been quicker accustomed.

Point 1
Yes, you've seen my shiny, greasy face several times in this post. While I'm usually a combination skin kind of gal, let me tell you that in Bali, no matter what your skin type, you will be covered in a layer of grease that is the result of the commingling of your sweat, sunscreen, bug spray, and the thick, permanent blanket of humidity in Bali that wraps itself around every nook and cranny.  Don't listen to  It said 80's. Wrong. It was in the 90's and felt way into the 100's because of the humidity.  Plus, the sun is set on permanent nuclear-level force because of the proximity to the equator.  We asked a native of Jimbaran Bay what the Balinese do during the hottest parts of the day, and he laughed and said "nothing".  I don't think people were meant to move during the hottest hours. Really. So, what's a traveler to do?

Just chill out between the hours of 11 and 3. Get a massage. Sit by a pool. Read a book in your air-conditioned room.  Go on a day trip but spend most of it in an air-conditioned car.  The heat was seriously, seriously debilitating. If you don't take my word on this it means you are a child of Hades and/or have no regard for your well-being.

Point 2
Bali is poor. Really fucking poor. The cost of living in Bali is extremely inexpensive, which is great for tourists, but it's hard to avoid the cognizance that you are benefiting on the backs of people who deserve much, much more than, among other things, a crippled government and economy that require them to *pay* for public education for their children. It's heartbreaking.

All the guidebooks tell you that the vendors charge you three times as much as what you should pay, and bargaining is the name of the game.  So we kinda got into the "game" a few times. But then you realize you're trying to bargain someone out of $1. It's...not cool.

There is a tinge of desperation from the 15 men who will say "taxi, taxi" to you during a 2-minute walk, all of them hoping to make a few dollars, and then maybe, just maybe, parlay it into a full day 8-hour trip which will cost a whopping $40, including gas.  Many vendors will ask you to refer your friends to them, to ask when you're coming back, to see how long you're staying, if you need a driver, a tour guide,'s a little difficult to see what was probably once a self-sufficient culture so very dependent on tourism.

Just know that it's poor. I know this sounds really naive of me--of course I know that most beachy tropical places have a culture of poverty, but I didn't realize the extent and I wish I had been more psychologically prepared.  I mean, what kind of asshole would I be if I were like OMG it's the most beautiful place on earth wow I had the most amazing aromatherapy massage it's magical by the way I saw someone bathing in a ditch?

So that's why it was a bit difficult to talk about Bali when I first got back. But do I love that I got to go? Of course! Did I have a great time? Of course. The heat I think one can work around by just relaxing (except when you have a husband that likes to take death marches and doesn't particularly enjoy massages and sitting by the pool. who did I marry).  As to the poverty, I was affected by it, but I am not selfless enough to let that overshadow memories of my honeymoon.  It's just a conflict that I have to accept as part of the whole "life is not perfect" thing. Okee.


  1. I totally get what you're saying. We weren't in Bali, but in Mexico the poverty is really bad as well. For the most part we had our blinders on because we stayed on the resort, but I wanted to venture out, and that's when Sean and I were just so sad. It's heartbreaking. I think after our "adventure" off the resort, we were both so depressed that we just went to dinner and then bed.

  2. those are some beautiful photographs. who took them? what a great eye!

  3. Wow, Bali looks gorgeous through your lens. And those mangosteens!

    I hear you about feeling guilty about the surroundings. I had the same sense of discomfort traveling in rural Vietnam about 10 years ago.

  4. Hot Cocoa--I take it you're a fan of mangosteens? Aren't they awesome? Slurp.

  5. I really appreciate your honesty. I certainly felt a level of guilt on our honeymoon (in Tahiti) for similar reasons. Sure, everything there is SUPER EXPENSIVE-but realizing that I was groaning about prices when a lot of the people who live there are making very little money.....I definitely felt guilty. Thanks for being real.

  6. Thanks Eve--Kevin and I had a lot of conflict over admitting this to folks who asked about Bali, but it sounds like our experience was not unique, and it's something that people might want to be prepared for. Thanks again.

  7. Wow, Bali is gorgeous! I totally understand how you could be really affected by the poverty of the country. That always makes me so uncomfortable and sad - which sounds so selfish I know. I feel truly bad for them, I just don't know what to do and I feel so awkward. Still...gorgeous.