Happy November! Wow how time flies, I can’t believe that I’ve already been in Asia for almost 5 months. I finally had a chance to travel out of the country during my October break recently, and was lucky enough to start it off with 10 days in Bali. And I already can’t wait to go back.
Bali. Even just the word sounds exotic. This beautiful island in Indonesia was just the first stop of my month-long charade of pretending to be a backpacker. And it was by far the best place I’ve been besides Thailand, in fact actually a close competitor with Thailand, and I could easily imagine myself living there for a few years.
While many people know that Bali is some exotic dream destination that seems to only exist in the land of wedding blogs and Instagram models, if you’re like myself you don’t really know where it is. It’s an island in Indonesia, one of thousands, and holds the honor of being the last Hindu island in Indonesia. The currency of Bali is the rupiah, the people speak Balinese, and the island is known for beautiful beaches, world-class surfing, and yoga.
When my friend Freddy & I landed at the airport in Denpasar, it literally felt like a dream. Probably because I was sleep-deprived after cramming 4 girls into 1 full-sized bed at a friend’s apartment in Nana(Bangkok), but it was still magical. Even the airport had beautiful Balinese architecture, and(even if it was just for tourists) there were people everywhere wearing the traditional Balinese sarongs and head wraps. I was FINALLY on vacation.
The airport and it’s gorgeous architecture.
A large group of friends were joining us in Bali, all on separate flights(teacher problems), so we spent our first few nights in Kuta, which is about a 20-minute cab ride from the airport in neighboring Denpasar. Note – in Bali there are people trying to rip off foreigners left and right(per usual), and you should only take verified Blue Bird cabs. Blue Bird is a cab company that requires that it’s drivers use meters, and is identifiable by the Twitter-like bird on the top of the car. Although to be honest transportation in Bail is pretty rough all around. Public transit doesn’t really exist, and traffic in Kuta/Seminyak is hell. Since we were traveling with a group of 9 we usually hired cars to take us around, which was the most affordable way to do things, but would’ve been pricey with a small group.
Even the entryway to our hostel was gorgeous – Balinese architecture was everywhere. We stayed at TZ party hostel, which had 2 awesome pools and a great location, but I wouldn’t recommend. It was pretty dead the entire time we were there, the owner was weird, the “free breakfast” advertised was pancakes that you make yourself, and it definitely was not a party hostel.
Little details from around the city. The Balinese architecture is EVERYWHERE. There are also little Hindu shrines everywhere. Someone told us that the black and white colors on the shrines represent balance between good and evil.
Ahhhh Kuta. The armpit of Bali. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Kuta, but it was rank with cheesy tourism and tacky spring-breaker-type bars, complete with plywood and stripper poles. Even the beaches were ehhh. They were overcrowded, and you couldn’t take 3 steps without someone walking up to you to try to sell you surfing lessons or give you a pedicure. Unless one of those women were able to pull a hot foot bath and a massage chair out of their backpacks, there was no way that I was letting a stranger play with my feet while I was trying to tan. I pity all the poor foreigners I saw flopping around on the dry beach in front of hundreds of people for the “surfing lesson” they paid for.
The entryway to Kuta beach, and our first Bintangs(Balinese beer) of the trip.
Kuta is also known for being the site of the infamous Bali bombings in 2002. A terrorist group decided to target popular tourist areas, and killed over 200 people. I found an article from BBC that explains it in-depth here. Apparently they were actually targeting Americans, which is ironic because Bali is more of an Australian vacation spot, due to the fact that it’s only a few short hours away. There was a big memorial to the people that died in the bombings near our hostel.
The memorial to the people that died in the bombings, and a Balinese woman walking on the street. For some reason it’s a Balinese thing to balance random stuff on your head, I’m not really sure the reasoning, but it’s impressive.
So what did we do in Kuta? Exactly what people do in Kuta. We soaked up the sun, sucked down our first few Bintang beers, enjoyed Indonesian coffee(!!!) and sampled the local nightlife.
Not that Kuta is the most dangerous place that I’ve visited, but it’s definitely the place where I’ve experienced the most travel-incidents. By travel-incident I mean random scams that you read about on blogs that never actually happen to you. Well this time they did happen, not to me but to the people I was traveling with.
So what happened in Kuta? We were heavily warned not to take our phones out to the club with us by the people that worked at our hostel. Even when we were getting post-club pizza the guys at the pizza counter told us “watch your bag.” So these weren’t freak occurrences, they must be regular in Kuta.
- My friend had her phone pick-pocketed right out of her purse when leaving the bar on her first night in Kuta.
- On my first night in Kuta, I was thirsting for kebab(do I miss Europe?), so my friend Calli and I made a turn off the main road to go literally 20 FEET to a kebab place. When we were about 5 feet off the main road we were suddenly surrounded by 10 Balinese guys. They didn’t get aggressive, I think it was just a scare/distraction tactic. Then I turned around and one of them had Calli’s purse IN HIS HANDS and was trying to take it. Thank god it was a cross body, both of us immediately started yelling at them and they scattered. But it was definitely a close call.
- Someone staying at our hostel brought a girl home(thinking she was a normal random Balinese girl), and in the morning she woke up and said to him “2 million rupiah.” He refused to pay, and she started freaking out and screaming. The police had to be called to remove her from the premises.
- (Disclaimer: this was actually 10 minutes away in neighboring Seminyak) The beaches in Bali can be pretty rough, which is what makes them so great for surfing. My friend Anna got caught in a rip tide and started getting pulled underwater repeatedly. Luckily 2 Balinese guys spotted her, immediately grabbed their boards, and swam out to save her. It was a rough current, I’m really not surprised.
- My friends went to exchange money at a place that had good rates for American dollars(almost too good to be true) while I was exchanging money at a legitimate Central Kuta with my friend. I insisted on staying at Central Kuta, they went to this other place in a convenience store, and they ended up getting ripped off. I don’t remember the numbers exactly but the man exchanging money was chatting with them to try and distract them, and ended up slipping a couple bills out of their pile(easy to do with Auber-inflated currency).
But Kuta wasn’t all bad. We had some laughs, mostly at infamous Paddy’s Pub(actually one of the locations of the 2002 bombings) and Skygarden, the largest club in Kuta, where everyone ends up at least one of the nights they’re there. We mostly just beached and hung out, we even found a fun little bar to hang out at during the day that had a pool. While I don’t remember the exact name of our little pool bar, here’s a great list of restaurants and bars that have pools in Bali.
For some reason some of the touristy bars served their drinks in these nasty sippy-cup looking things. 10/10 WOULD NOT recommend.
Because when you see smurfs in a bar, why wouldn’t you take a picture with them?
Late night pizza & Balinese dancers on stilts. Being a touristy area, there’s an absurd amount of western food in Kuta. Ironically, where the pizza is located on the main strip is where a lot of people get pick-pocketed. They literally bait you with pizza. Genius.
Confession(pictured above) – one night we actually paid 100,000 rupiah(about $8) for an unlimited food & booze dinner at Skygarden, the club mentioned above. It was super touristy, but still a good time. Although I must say eating dinner in a club is one of the strangest things I’ve ever experienced.
We spent one day at neighboring Seminyak beach. Seminyak is like the slightly-less-grimy more expensive version of Kuta, but is still just as touristy. However, the beaches were WAY prettier. And there were tons of restaurants on the beach that had pretty umbrellas, a great place to get drinks and watch the sunset.
The food pictured is gad-gado, Indonesian salad made of steamed vegetables and served with peanut sauce. SO good.
We even experienced our first round of AMAZING Indonesian food in Kuta at Warung Indonesia, which you have to check out if you head to Kuta, especially considering the heavy amount of western food and the lack of authentic Indonesian.
Indonesian food is extremely underrated, in my opinion it actually might be level with Thai food in terms of tastiness. It’s the same concept as Thai food, meaning it’s mostly everything over rice, but it’s absolutely wonderful. They eat an extremely spicy sauce with everything called samba, and I miss it dearly. A “warung” is like an Indonesian food stall restaurant, if that makes sense. So basically it’s a little hole in the wall with authentic food. They have a style of food called “padang” where you’re given rice, and then you pick out what you want buffet-style and pay per item. The padang at Warung Indonesia had awesome stuff like tuna curry, eggplant, and tempeh that will blow your mind. Tempeh is like the chunky peanut butter version of tofu, it has more whole soy beans in it, and it’s absolutely wonderful. I’ll talk more about amazing Indonesian food in another post.
Padang in Kuta, recognizeable by the stacked plates with different Indonesian dishes.
So that was it, our first 3 nights in Kuta. If you head to Kuta make sure you watch out for pickpocketing, especially on the main strip at night. Also make sure to be careful at the beach, and only exchange money at legitimate places. I’m usually one to roll my eyes and say “I’m not an idiot” at tourist warnings, but Kuta is the one place I’d actually listen to them.