So this past weekend, 14 of my closest study abroad friends and I had the opportunity to travel to Bali, Indonesia for the weekend! While 12 of them left on Tuesday, I had to stay for an exam Thursday morning, then one other friend and I met everyone at the villa. Despite the ENDLESS planning we did to make the trip come together, it was far worth it.
In two words, I would summarize my experience in Bali as beautiful and heartbreaking. Read below, and find out all the things we were able to do on our brief vacation from vacation. You may have questioned the title of this post.. well in currency terms, $10 US dollars exchanges into one million Indonesian Rupiah. So, when exchanging $150 Australian dollars, I was able to spend the day as a “millionaire!” When factoring in the exchange rate, costs of living in Bali are far less due to the developing economy and weak currency in comparison to the US dollar. Although the upfront costs of the flight and villa were considerable, I was able to complete the weekend trip for under $600 USD, which is remarkable considering all the once-in-a-lifetime experiences I had there.
Arrival to Denpasar
Immediately stepping off of the plane into Denpasar, the first thing I noticed was that Bali smelled and looked exactly like I expected it to. Although I try to be thankful for what I have in life, living in a developed country is something that a lot of people take for granted. Things so “simple” as clean water are so precious here, because tap water is 100% non-potable, meaning you are unable to drink it. To make matters worse, Smart Traveler has currently identified Bali with a level two travel advisory for threat of terrorist attack. This means travelers should “exercise a high degree of caution” when traveling in the area, a step above “reconsider your need to travel.” Just on January 14th, there was an attack at a Starbuck’s cafe and police post in Central Jakarta, where eight people lost their lives. The recent breakout of devastating incidents is heartbreaking, and also legitimately a concern for travelers like ourselves. Other areas of concern in Bali include police bribery, unreliable emergency services, drink drugging, monkey bites, and lack of medical support. However, this may have been the only time in my life to experience Bali, and thankfully we ended up staying safe and making it home alive!
Our villa driver met us at the airport, and drove us to our villa in Seminyak, about 45 minutes away in the South-West area of Bali. We arrived there at about 1am Bali time, checked out the villa and headed to bed. Everyone else was already asleep since they all got up early to do a 2am mountain sunrise hike the morning before!
On the Road Day 1
The first morning we had a 7:30am group breakfast at the villa, made by two of the house staff members. Everyone working at the villa during our stay was extremely polite, very kind, and hard-working. We enjoyed fresh fruit, pancakes, eggs, juices, and soon gathered our things to head out for the day. By 8am we were in the car on our way to Ubud, or central Bali.
Common sights while driving through Bali
Prior to our arrival, Bali had just begun celebrating a few of their famous holidays, leaving the streets decorated everywhere we went. On February 9th, Penampahan Galungan took place, a day where Balinese households prepare for the next day by decorating curved bamboo poles with natural items like fruits, rice, and plants. This acts as a blessing by Mother Nature, and when completed these ornamental poles line all the streets of Bali until February 20th, or the next major day of observance, Kuningan. On February 10th, Galungan commenced, a day the Balinese commemorate the triumph of Dharma over Adharma (good against evil). On this day families dress up to visit temples, and the festivities continue for 10 days until Kuningan. Similar to a New Years celebration, there is dancing, food, art, and parades.
As we drove and walked through the streets and visited temples through Bali, it was beautiful to see all these natural decorations. The bamboo poles really do line the streets, and have shrine-like decorations at the base of the pole. In the shrines as well as sitting in front of many doorways or entrances there are little containers of incense made with all natural materials.
Ornamental curved bamboo pole
Elephant Safari Park & Lodge
After about and hour and a half drive, our first stop was at the Elephant Safari Park & Lodge, where we got to have some up close and personal experiences with some amazing creatures! *Cue the endless pictures and videos* We had the opportunity to literally stand among the elephants, feed them pieces of Coconut palm bark, and take lots of fun pictures. They were literally trained so well that if a guide said the word selfie, they would move their trunk to pose for a picture. They could also put a leis over your head and give you a kiss! I must say, they were the most photogenic elephants I’ve ever met. We saw a brief talent show where the elephants were trained to play basketball, soccer, do math, and a few other tricks. The best part of the park visit was going for a half-hour ride through the surrounding area!
Entrance to Elephant Safari Park & Lodge
Feeding elephants coconut palm bark
Posing with a few elephants
Such gentle and amazing creatures!
Pose with elephant and leis
Group photo with a few extra friends
One of many tricks during the talent show
Elephant scoring a soccer goal
Riding through the park, one of the best parts of the entire weekend!
Wading through the water at the end of the ride
A little history of the Elephant Safari Park, they have 34 elephants, and most of them have been rescued then rehabilitated while being trained on the property. I am happy to say that while it is still a zoo-like atmosphere, it appeared that the animals were well taken care of, and getting the proper treatment they deserve. There were also several baby elephants, and they were being taken care of appropriately as well. I would definitely give the park a great review and recommend others to visit if ever in Ubud!
Definitely a day to remember!
Hanging Gardens of Bali
Following the elephant park, we made our way to the Hanging Gardens for lunch. While we ended spending a considerable amount of our day there, it was a beautiful view and surrounding landscape. This property is mainly a resort hotel with gardens, outside guests are able to visit for tours and meals. I enjoyed a veggie falafel burger and fresh basil mint juice, and we all explored the incredible infinity pool area afterward. There were monkeys along the railing, just an arm’s reach away.
Entrance to the Hanging Gardens of Bali
Lift down to the restaurant area
Monkeys along the pool railing, look closely to spot the baby!
As part of our stay at the villa, we received one complementary meal cooking service, and decided to use it this evening for dinner. After making the drive back to Seminyak, we enjoyed a lovely group dinner with lots of options. As a vegetarian, I was happy to have a few options like spring rolls, seitan, tofu, vegetables, and rice. After dinner we all spent the evening at the villa and got ready for the next morning’s early start.
First Day Impressions
Overall, my first day in Bali was overwhelming and completely amazing. During our time there we got to see and do many once-in-a-lifetime things, but it was also heartbreaking to see the way that some people have to live in this world. Many roads are uneven or broken, traffic rules don’t exist, you can’t drink the water or rely on any medical service, and almost everything is dirty or somehow contaminated. Regardless, the people I met were very nice and happy, and appreciated us as visitors being interested in the culture. I can say that I am extremely happy to have as fortunate a life as I do, but feel that it is also very important for everyone to experience this same opportunity at some point in their life. The entire trip was very humbling and eye-opening, yet also a fantastic way to see a few of the most beautiful landscapes and natural attractions in the world!