It’s one of those trips where you’d rather just stay inside your villa and never leave. I didn’t think it was possible since I love exploring new places. More so, going to a paradise like Bali except, Bali was not paradise and yet, I still wanted it to be.
It was a birthday gift to myself, to go on an adventure around Asia. I shared this experience with a Canadian friend, Nicholas, who just so happened to have the same birthday as mine. Nick landed in Manila on our birthday and he traveled ahead to Malaysia and I joined him in Singapore, Bali, and Boracay, Philippines. At one point, my friends Mia and Bea joined our Asian adventure.
My Bali research only went as far as Ubud, Kuta, and Seminyak. Ubud for nature and culture, Kuta for surfing and parties, and Seminyak for luxury—all in a nutshell. Arriving at Bali, we were picked up in the airport, given refreshments and a cold and moist towelette in the car by our chauffeur, and got lei’d as soon as we stepped foot on what seemed to be our paradise for the next 4 days, The Samaya Resort in Seminyak.
Growing up with hotelier parents of a 5-star hotel, I have a pretty good grasp of how 5-star hotels should be, standard-wise. The Samaya was nothing short of perfection. We were instantly upgraded to their beach-front Royal Pavilion, a 312 sqm one-bedroom villa with a private lap pool, a garden and outdoor jacuzzi, a wooden gazebo, and the largest hotel bathroom I have ever seen, complete with another jacuzzi and indoor and outdoor showers. Jaws stayed dropped until we popped open our free champagne, poured by our personal butler who would then be on-call 24/7.
It was hilarious as much as it was impressive that the staff were so attentive to our every move outside our villa. I kept wondering how in the world our villa would suddenly be fixed and spotless as soon as we finish having breakfast by the beach. Seems like someone kept watch on our villa’s door to see if we have vacated the premises, giving go signals as soon as the coast is clear. One time, we caught them and I’d like to think there was a slight shame on their part for being caught cleaning as they seemed to take pride in their ninja-level cleaning skills. Around 10-15 persons in white uniform were scattered all over the villa to make sure that as soon as we get back from breakfast, it would always feel like a brand new room experience. Everyone knew our full names too and I was called Miss Samantha. I think that’s one of the best ways to make a guest feel special.
On our last day, we had a full day to spare because our flight was scheduled late in the evening, at 2 am, bound for Manila, Philippines. We didn’t bother booking another day in our villa for budget reasons but we wanted to stay and make the most out of our time left there. We just didn’t want to leave yet.
I called our butler to ask for a late check out to which she answered, “Miss Samantha, we are aware that your flight will be at 2am tonight. Feel free to stay in your villa the whole day until you have to leave for the airport.”
“For Free???,” almost shaking with disbelief and excitement, I asked.
“Yes, for free.”
Just wow. The Samaya, you are a standard.
Of course, our Bali trip was not limited to that. We had a whole Indonesian island to explore in between. Okay, just a few towns in Bali.
First up, Seminyak.
Outside our private bubble was a long beach stretch with semi-fine brown sand and pirate ship kites above our heads. It was low season so there were fewer people in the beach—definitely less than Kuta’s crowd. This is where the luxury resorts stand side by side and with a price point like that, you’re sure to see lots of couples/honeymooners and families left and right. I fell in love with the sunsets here too.
I was sadly repulsed by the ocean. I first noticed it when we were having breakfast and something in the waves caught my eye. A lot of things, apparently. Silhouettes of trash would show inside each wave from bottles to plastics, forming a whole line of trash raging with the water to the shore. I thought, children still swim in there? Next thought, there’s no way I am getting in that water.
The water was no better and I expected that. This town is a backpacker turf to surf. We had plans to surf here with Mia and Bea but I still couldn’t stomach how polluted the water was and as much as I wanted to learn how to surf, I was very hesitant. I learned how to surf in the Philippines instead.
Kuta is my least favorite place in Bali. It’s dirty, over-crowded, over-commercialized, and risky. It is a lost paradise. I have been warned countless times about robbers in this town hence my paranoia when walking in the streets with both hands clasped tight on my bag. Bars and clubs would be filled with a blend of locals and foreigners all wasted on cheap booze because this really is the place to party.
Walking in the sidewalk at night scared me the most. Every step I take, one to three men, some standing and some sitting on their cabs and tuktuks, would continually whisper aloud, “Marijuana, Shabu, Ecstasy, Cocaine, Viagra?” By the end of the street, probably 50 men have already offered me drugs. Drugs are punishable by death in Indonesia by the way and if you also know me personally, you’d know of my stand against drugs. It cringed me beyond belief to keep hearing all those while walking. I stayed close to Nick, my Kuta safety blanket. Ha! Thank god for Nick.
I asked our private chauffeur, Newman, the next day as we drove to Ubud why people openly sold drugs in the streets knowing the punishment for it? Newman explained to us that it’s mostly a set up. Most of the drugs being sold are fake and the moment anyone buys from them, there would be a police standing nearby to arrest you and you have two options: pay up or die. Ah, corruption at its finest. I don’t know how true that is but it saddens me to hear the involvement of the police here who are supposed to be protecting tourists too instead of victimizing them. For whatever reason people chanted drugs on the streets, it still traumatized me.
Of course, we should have known better than to leave our itinerary in the hands of Newman. I had myself to blame as well for not doing enough research on Ubud. I looked forward to this town the most since it lived and breathed Balinese art and culture. I was expecting to be exposed to traditions, nature, and the people. That was right up my alley. We were exposed to tourist traps. Sigh.
Newman brought us to a fabric factory and a bird park. Nick and I just breezed through it with barely any interest. Newman would have wanted to bring us to more factories and parks but we had to hit brake on his suggestions and take over the itinerary. He had a booklet in his car of places to see around Bali and with so much time wasted and limited time left, we had to narrow down our choices to what seemed to be the places that we had to see. Unfortunately, we had to leave Ubud and head to Mengwi. Regrets. I’ve heard all about Ubud’s beauty and I could only dream for now to actually see it.
Taman Ayun: The Royal Temple of Mengwi.
Rain started pouring as soon as we stepped foot on this temple. All four of us explored this temple with colourful umbrellas provided by our chauffeurs.
Taman Ayun translates to ‘beautiful garden’ and indeed it was! This is a temple landmark built in 1634 that most would recognise when you think of Bali; specifically, the fourth and last court of the temple grounds, the Utama Mandala. It is considered the most sacred and it consists of several tiers of different sizes.
Making our way to Tanah Lot, a temple built on a rock formation, the rain just full-on showered on us that it wouldn’t make for a nice visit anymore since sunset was fast approaching. Sunsets are said to be best spent in Tanah Lot and we wanted to see it for ourselves but with the thick clouds and heavy rainfall, it wasn’t going to happen.
What goes well with rain then? Coffee! Oh, the best idea Newman has suggested all day was for us to try Kopi Luwak or Civet coffee. Yup, the poop coffee. Cat-poop-ccino. My adventurous tummy started dancing in excitement again. Read all about the experience here.
Finn’s Beach Club, Semara, Uluwatu.
With all these Bali misadventures happening left and right, Mia finally suggested a way for us to just sit back and relax. We were going to an exclusive beach club at Finn’s, an hour away drive from Kuta. Yes, away from it all. So let’s shake off the negativity with this single statement: It was a bright and sunny day and Mia had a bag full of beers for us to drink on the way to Uluwatu.
Ta-dah! Instant good vibes.
Sitting on beanbags in the golden sand of Uluwatu’s shore and sipping on our sangrias, we were relaxed. Beach was clean, water was clean, I was in a happy place with happy feels for sure!
By sunset, we found ourselves sitting on beanbags surrounding a bonfire. With us in the circle were other tourists also enjoying the heat and the cool breeze dancing on our skin, the sound of waves crashing on the rock formations, and a faint melody of instrumentals playing from the bar. That capped off our Bali adventure.
You see, Bali wasn’t paradise for me at all nor was it romantic, as everyone thinks it is. It wasn’t a new environment for me either but this is how Bali got painted in my mind. I’ve seen the bad side of Bali and I’m looking forward to see the best the next time I visit. I so badly wanted it to be paradise but I only found paradise in our resort—I have that to hold on to, at least. This is not the Bali I would want to remember but what has happened cannot be undone but it can surely be made better. ’Til next time, Bali. I’ll be more prepared.