Traveler: Jamie Colosimo
When: April 2017
Things to do In Bali
After reading the great tips in Part I: Logistics on where to stay and how to get around, now I’ll take you through all of the amazing things to do on the island.
Mahout for a Day
While lions, rhinos and zebras may not be native to Bali, there is one animal that most tourists hope to encounter on any trip to Southeast Asia: the elephant. Though technically from Sumatra, the elephants of Bali have become a big draw for foreign visitors and you will find no shortage of tours offering an opportunity to ride one of these magnificent animals. But I didn’t want to ride one. As silly as it sounds, I just wanted to hang out with the elephants. You see a few years prior, I had made the common mistake of riding an elephant during a trip to Thailand and, well, it just felt wrong! Afterwards, I did some research which confirmed my suspicions: Elephants are not built to withhold the weight of a human on their backs. If anything, the “proper way” to ride an elephant is on its neck the way it has been done for centuries by jungle tribes. But even that seemed unnatural to me. So instead I set out in search of a more mindful elephant experience. I stumbled upon the “Mahout for a Day” program offered by the Bali Zoo. It wasn’t cheap. At $550 USD per person, it took some serious self- convincing. Luckily, my husband and I had just celebrated our 5 year wedding anniversary and so it seemed a worthwhile celebratory splurge.
Our elephant was named Molly. Yup, Molly from Bali – adorable right? Throughout the day, we fed her apples, we took her for walks, we gave her a bath in the river & we helped clean up her stall. Though repeatedly offered a ride, we politely declined – a decision which I have not once regretted. Never be afraid to trust your instincts and stand your ground when seeking out that authentic travel experience. Just because an activity has become the norm for tourists, doesn’t mean it’s a “must-do”. Trust me, you’ll cherish the experience a whole lot more if it’s mutually beneficial. To this day, I am grateful to Molly for allowing me to be her Mahout. I genuinely felt as though I made a connection that day.
Beyond the Mahout for a Day Program, the Bali Zoo was surprisingly large, well maintained and offered numerous animal encounters that were also included in our full day package. A favorite for the kids was the Orangutan Breakfast where we had the rare opportunity to dine with rambunctious primates who seemed especially intrigued by our playful 6 month old – and vice versa!
Sacred Monkey Forest
Besides elephants and orangutans, there’s another mischievous critter in Bali that often steals the show…and anything else it can get its little hands on. The best part is that you don’t need to go to the zoo to find them! I’m talking, of course, about the Balinese long-tailed monkey or macaque. You will find these adorable albeit bold creatures throughout the island but the Sacred Monkey Forest of Ubud hosts approximately 600 who live amongst a number of ancient temples. As the name suggests, the monkey is a sacred creature – revered and respected by the Balinese people. With that in mind, you are forbidden to touch them… but be forewarned, there are absolutely no rules to prevent the monkeys from touching you, or your children. Keep them and any valuables close – and have that camera ready for the most epic outtakes!
Roadtrippin’ around Paradise
The scenery of Bali is absolutely stunning. I spent nearly every moment of every day in awe of the natural beauty around me. Coming from one island paradise to another, I intentionally focused less on the beaches and more on the geographical landscapes that are unique to Bali. What follows are a few of the scenic highlights from our road trip around the island:
With Mount Batur looming at a distance, the backdrop of the Kintamani village is undeniably breathtaking. The general ambience and the food? Not so much. The vendors here are pushy, borderline overbearing in their quest to sell trinkets from the numerous stalls that line the main street. Still I urge you to stop and take in the sights. If you are feeling extra brave, you can also grab lunch at one of many hillside restaurants. Just be advised, our meal here was uncharacteristically bland for Balinese food… and came with complimentary cockroaches. Let’s keep moving, shall we?
Riding a Traditional Jukung on Bali’s North Shore
What I loved most about this experience is that it was completely unexpected. Not wanting to stay in Kintamani, we continued north and stayed the night instead at the lovely Bondalem Beach Club. I hadn’t planned any activities for the evening but as we sat watching the fishing boats at dusk, an idea occurred to me: Let’s get on one! I asked the front desk agent and, luckily for us, he indeed “knew a guy”— his dad! Without hesitation, we jumped aboard. The whole ride couldn’t have been more perfect from its spontaneous start, to the magical rainbow, to the gorgeous sunset, to the endless smiles on everyone’s faces.
Getting Up Close to the Spectacular Sekumpul Waterfall
I stumble to find the appropriate words to completely capture the awe I felt when my eyes beheld Sekumpul Falls. Coming from Hawaii, I am fortunate to encounter gorgeous waterfalls on a regular basis… but not like this. As I stood at the bottom, rainbows emerged organically out of the ever-present mist created by the cascading waters. At nearly 300ft, the size alone was enough to take your breath away. Sekumpul is by far the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen. Luckily its location in Northern Bali has kept it somewhat low-key. The descent to the bottom of waterfall is very steep but relatively brief. It’s takes approximately 45 minutes. I managed the hike while babywearing with moderate breaks & lots of water. Just be careful of the rickety bridge at the bottom for this is where my husband had the aforementioned mishap that caused a pretty serious leg injury… but at least he has a sizeable scar as a physical reminder of our vacation to Bali, right?
Reveling in Rural Hills of the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces
One of the many advantages of hiring a driver in Bali is gaining access to obscure locations where the rural roads become too narrow, windy and uneven for your average tour bus to maneuver. Thus, while the majority of visitors opt for the Tegalalalang Rice Terraces on the outskirts of Ubud, the remoteness of distant Jatiluwih makes for a more tranquil, almost transcendental experience. Just be prepared for rain… and for the most mesmerizing shade of green as far as the eye can see!
Making that Authentic Connection through Cultural Activities
Bali boasts more temples than I honestly believe it’s humanly possible to visit in a year, let alone two weeks. There’s a temple on a lake, temple on a cliff, a temple on an island, a temple in the sky. There’s a cave temple, a water temple, an elephant temple, and the previously mentioned monkey temple, etc, etc, etc… Don’t get me wrong! Each is absolutely exquisite in its own right. But for the love of Shiva!… & the sanity of your family, I suggest you narrow it down to just a few. Temple Ennui is a real plight. Don’t overdo it. We chose five, with my personal favorite being Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. Set on a lake and surrounded by beautiful flower gardens, it’s so iconic to behold and yet also so blissfully serene. Plus, it has a playground for the kids!
Overall, if I had to guess, my toddler’s favorite part of temple exploring was playing “dress up” in the traditional temple garb insomuch that it was a daily challenge convincing her to give it back. Meanwhile, baby Gavin took full advantage of these midday excursions to sneak in a quick snooze in his stroller or carrier. As for me? I adored the attention to detail in the architecture of these ancient sites. The carvings are so intricately ornate and the grounds always so well maintained. I should also mention that I was mildly amused at the sight of my very masculine, military husband in a skirt. When in Rome, darling, when in Rome…
Personalized Culinary Experience
What better way to imbibe a new culture than directly though the mouth? With young children, the trouble is finding a personalized culinary experience that caters to young families. We couldn’t drag a baby & toddler along to your typical cooking class – at least not without judgmental looks from our well-meaning, but childless classmates. No, that wouldn’t work. I decided instead to find a local family who might invite me into their home for the ultimate introduction and taste of authentic Balinese cooking. I stumbled upon The Traveling Spoon, an international company dedicated to pairing travelers with local chefs. What a brilliant idea! And their slogan? “Travel off the eaten path”. Yup, I was sold! For approximately $65 (I’d assume the price varies by location), I signed us up for this unique and authentic culinary experience.
Unfortunately, I overbooked our activities on the day of the scheduled course and almost had to cancel. After traveling all day (the same one we chose to visit Sekumpul & Jatiluwih) the kids were exhausted. I contacted Putu, our host, to express our sincerest apologies and urged her to keep the money as I had paid upfront… but in the spirit of true Balinese hospitality, she packed up all the ingredients and drove over on her scooter to set up a private cooking class right in our villa! At the time, we were staying in the Bali Dream Resort in Ubud which conveniently offered a huge outdoor kitchen connected to a spacious yard with ample seating perfect for entertaining. Though I was disappointed we didn’t get to visit her home, it actually proved the ideal setting for personalized instruction. With the help of Putu, we made a number of Balinese dishes from scratch. Though baby Gavin retired early, Naia was eager to show off her newfound culinary skills to our host and new friend. It was truly a night to remember and yet another shining example of the gracious and accommodating nature of the Balinese people who made this whole trip so effortless and enjoyable.
Book your local culinary course at: https://www.travelingspoon.com/
Better yet, contact Putu directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
A few final words…
Bali forever changed the way we travel. Our expectations are sky high and we immediately realized how this could jeopardize our future family vacations. As we boarded our plane, I distinctly remember my husband saying, “You know we could just keep coming back here. We don’t need to see the whole world.” He wasn’t joking and honestly, it’s tempting. Between the hospitality, the culture, the awe-inspiring scenery and the overall value, I’d totally go back to Bali as a top contender for “Best Destination” worldwide. And yet, my insatiable wanderlust moves me forward. I’m reminded of a favorite quote: Travel is like flirting with life. It’s like saying “I could stay and love you.. but I have to go”. Nowhere on earth has this been truer for me. I could pack my bags and move to Bali tomorrow. In doing so, though I’d be afraid to miss out on another adventure elsewhere in the world. So for now, Hawaii will remain our home and our journey around the globe will continue. In the meantime, I’m keeping Bali close at heart… and saving it as a very real possibility for our eventual retirement.