There comes a time in every wanderer’s travels when they have no bed for the next night and no idea where to go, only the desire to go somewhere new.
This was me last week (and, now that I think about it, me right now…but that’s ok). I was lounging in Kuala Lumpur with the AC pumping, being unproductive, when I realized I was supposed to check-out the next morning.
“Look how spontaneous I’m being!”
Although I’m a forever loyal Kayak.com customer, I was mildly impressed when introduced to SkyScanner a few months ago. We don’t have a deeply seeded trust like Kayak and I, but I do love (love!) the “Destination: Everywhere” feature. So, verging on desperation, I started browsing. Besides staying in Malaysia or returning to Thailand (I wish), my cheapest destination was $41 ticket to Bali. The next morning.
“Look how spontaneous I’m being!” **revels in self-pride**
BALI HAS BEEN RUINED BY TOURISM
Yes, ok, certain parts of Bali have indeed been completely overrun and, honestly, ruined. I met an American woman today who has been living here on and off (more recently, off) for 30 years and she is disgusted by the change she’s seen. I spent three nights in Kuta (shopping central) and after the first day I couldn’t be bothered to leave the hostel’s pool for the sheer mass of malls and beach chairs outside.
Ubud is famous for being the cultural center of Bali with galleries, shops, and credit for the setting of “Eat Pray Love.” Although Ubud itself is a bite-size Kuta, it has a strong undercurrent of organic/local eateries and just a touch of authenticity.
That’s Ubud center. However, Ubud is also the center — center(ish) —of Bali itself and the perfect launching point for exploring the Eastern half of the island — the very un-ruined Eastern half of the island.
YOU WILL DIE IF YOU DRIVE A MOTORBIKE
Yes, the death toll from motorbike accidents is sickening, especially in Vietnam and Thailand. Inconceivable.
But that doesn’t mean renting a motorbike should be out of the question. Obviously I wouldn’t tell anyone to go get a motorbike in Bangkok, but for any of the Thai islands, the ever-popular Hanoi to Ho Chi Min coastal route through Vietnam, and, most of all, Bali are a resounding “Yes!”
Many hostels rent motorbikes and I recommend taking full advantage of this service. They’re likely to be the most helpful and if something were to happen, they’ll probably care more about you than the bike (not to say they won’t charge you!). Ask for a full explanation of the bike — even if you’ve ridden before — and spend the time to practice on a quiet street. Insist on a helmet, take photos first to avoid false charges, NEVER pull the front brake, and for heaven’s sake, “Slowly, slowly!”
Better safe than sorry.
It may sound like the dangers outweigh the positives, but renting a scooter unlocks the world in a way no taxi or tour ever could.
Today I unlocked Bali and I’m still buzzing from the experience. A Scottish girl and I set off with a full itinerary, but when the first rice terrace was just a series of donation baskets (ugh) we started driving north with no particular destination.
For hours we cruised through small villages and gawked at the astounding number of temples (it is said Bali has more temples than houses) without seeing a single foreigner. Above and between the temples we caught glimpses of the Mt. Batur volcano crowned with a small cloud around its peak. Where the road was pushed up against a cliff and the jungle rolled out below us all we could do was stop and gawk. It was Bali, untouched and alive.
Of my month in Thailand and time in Malaysia, I have not felt so a part of the “real” Southeast Asia (although the Travel Hub Highstreet hostel in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown felt pretty real when the streets flooded with college students every afternoon). Out here, women balancing baskets of fruit or long leafy stalks on their heads smiled as we went beaming by. Genuine smiles. The kind of smile born of surprise and kindness toward us: the white girls driving without the wild recklessness of entitlement, smiling and waving, obviously appreciating the Bali hiding behind the coast’s touristy facade. When we stopped on the side of the road, schoolchildren walking home peeked at us, waved, and ran away giggling. At an intersection, a baby stared wide-eyed as his mother waved his chubby arm at us.
Cruising through the wilds of Bali I not only felt like I was seeing traditional Indonesia, but the Bali of hundreds of years ago.
Is my joy obvious?
When in Bali:
Skip to Ubud, Rama Sita Hostel is located a 10 minute drive from town, connected to a tiny temple-turned-“resort” in the center of rice fields and mostly untainted neighborhoods. Lovely place to have quiet time and explore the underside of Bali.
They also have tours (biking, horseback riding, trekking, rafting, *a sunrise hike*) for when you can’t relax anymore (ha!). Three sisters recently started this hostel and will be SO excited to have you and help in any way they can.
Then just drive.
You might run into the butterfly park, Batur Volcano, art museums, rice terraces, local craftsmen, small villages, and always friendly faces.
Eastern Bali is vast and open for exploration.