Similar to Japan, Bali has been on my radar for a very, very long time. But given that my list of places to travel to is about as long as the world is wide, I was simply patiently awaiting the right opportunity to go to Bali.
Until I got tired of waiting.
How I Choose my Destinations
See, I don’t tend to choose my destinations; I let them choose me. And they tend to choose me in the form of a unique opportunity. This trend started back in 2007 when I was invited to stay in Edmonton for the summer with extended family. It continued when an interesting volunteer gig came up for Hawaii. And on from there in the form of a sponsored trip through Australia. After that it was to film a tv show in New Zealand. And on and on it continued, through the years.
Many of these opportunities came with a conveniently non-existent price tag for accommodation. In the last 10 years I’ve saved over $100,000 on accommodation expenses alone; a key component that has enabled me to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way. (Click here to learn how I got free accommodation around the world).
My last opportunity was to house-sit in Tokyo Japan for two months; a mission I recently completed. Whilst sitting in Tokyo, however, the next “opportunity” wasn’t making itself known. So I created one.
Why I Chose Bali
It was a pretty simple choice, really.
- Being in Japan at the time, I wanted to stick around Asia.
- Without free accommodation, I wanted to stay somewhere with a low cost of living that I could easily afford.
- August is apparently one of the best months to visit Bali.
- I was interested in experiencing the “spiritual” side of Ubud (and it wasn’t just an Eat Pray Love thing; I know many people who have lived in Ubud Bali over the years and I’ve heard some interesting tales).
- I had a few big work projects I wanted to spearhead, and I’d heard from afar that Bali is one of the world’s leading destinations for digital nomads. As such, I figured I could check out the “co-working” scene for the first time in all my years of digital nomadism.
- And for the clincher, I found a business class airfare with Japan Airlines for the 8-hour journey that I could purchase with a surprisingly small number of frequent flyer miles. (Watch this short video with funny music to learn more about this awesome hack I discovered).
Bali, a Month Later
I’m not really sure what happened to my first month in Bali. It kind of just….disappeared.
It’s a common story; people come for six weeks, and end up staying six years. In fact, the Balinese immigration department is well aware of this infliction of the desire to stay, and although it’s far from impossible for a foreigner to live in Bali, it involves a lot of visa runs and/or trips to immigration and/or money.
Although I was prepared to extend my visa and stay a second month, another travel opportunity came calling; this one to Hong Kong and Macau for a few weeks, to speak at a travel industry conference hosted by the Pacific Asia Travel Association.
Lucky for me, the Balinese gods smiled down upon me with a great direct flight to Hong Kong….and back. At this very moment I am in Hong Kong, with intentions of returning to Bali for (at least?) another month.
So….What About Bali?
Having been in Bali – more specifically Ubud – for a month, you might think I’d have more to say about it than “I’m coming back”. I do. For the most part, in typical Nora-fashion, I’ve been doing the “traveling without moving” thing and letting Bali infuse me slowly with its goodness. But I’ve also done a few things; things that you’ll be reading about (and watching on my vlog) in the coming weeks and months.
I’ve used the Sacred Monkey Forest as my thoroughfare to get from the neighbourhood I’ve been staying to/from central Ubud. And although I think monkeys are far more annoying (and even dangerous) than cute, they did pose well for my camera.
I tried out some of the many (many many many) restaurants and warungs, offering anything from cheerful Indonesian fare for $2-3/meal, to five times that price for fusion/organic/fancy (foreigner) meals (which is still a great deal for what you get). My favourite such restaurant in Ubud is Kismet for its incredible menu (OMG the jackfruit poutine, grilled haloumi burger, pad thai, polenta lasagna, benedicts…..), funky ambiance, fast internet, and delicious drinks; when I’m not eating at Kismet, I’m dreaming about it.
I took a Balinese Painting Class from a famous artist, and a cooking class from his wife and daughter.
I embraced the chaos of Ubud market with all the grace of an elephant, visited the many beautiful street-side boutiques, and somehow justified buying considerably more stuff than can fit in my luggage.
I hiked the Campuhan Ridge Walk, known as one of the best and easiest hikes you can do that is mere minutes on foot from central Ubud. I did a few other known walks but they didn’t quite measure up.
I enjoyed Balinese massages for approximately $6/hour, as well as a few other therapies and treatments that were brilliantly priced.
And I met up with quite a few readers of this site, travel bloggers, and online colleagues, all of whom have been traveling through or living in Bali.
I did my first – and probably last – yoga class at the infamous Yoga Barn; which is a complex, not a barn, and during which I joined approximately 50,000 other students (slight exaggeration) in their downward dog before realizing I can do downward dog by myself for free without feeling claustrophobic.
(Although I’m proud of the craftiness of the above sentence, it’s not quite that black and white; I simply prefer a more intimate setting for yoga, and did a few such classes at other centres. Yoga classes in general cost about $10 in Bali, and you can’t throw a stone without hitting a place to do yoga in Ubud, so it’s worth shopping around).
I took a miserable day trip into Kuta (a place I wouldn’t wish on my enemies) to see a “Balinese healer” who was really just a masseuse. That’s a delightful story that you can read about and get a few laughs from here.
Co-Working in Bali: I Don’t Entirely Get It.
Since one of my main attractions to Bali was to try out the co-working thing, I bought a membership to one of the many popular co-working spaces in Ubud. Quite frankly I found the experience more baffling than useful.
I expected to network and collaborate in big ways with other digital nomads, and although the various events and workshops were lovely, I didn’t really get to know anybody.
Of course I didn’t! It’s an office! You go to an office to work. Some rooms in the co-working space I went to are so work-centric you’re not even allowed to talk. It’s just a bunch of people, staring at their computer screens, together, in silent solidarity.
The whole thing was bizarre to me. I mean, I sold everything I owned to escape the cubicle life, and here I was, paying a lot of money for the privilege of working in another office.
Then again, I’m a ridiculously disciplined person; I don’t need to be surrounded by people working to get stuff done; apparently some people require that kind of motivation. Also, I think making connections at a place like this takes time, and I was only there sporadically. Or perhaps, I was just in an introverted mood, sending out introverted vibes.
Either way, I haven’t written off the co-working experience entirely. But out of the gate I’m not entirely impressed, at least with what I found so far in Ubud. When I return to Bali I plan to try out another space and see if my verdict changes.
Bali Bites Without a Scooter
Lastly, I walked. A lot. Which was kind of cool, in a sweaty way. After my near-fatal accident in Grenada, a close call that was entirely not my fault, I always think twice before getting on two wheels.
Bali freaks me out. You can rent a scooter for a couple of dollars a day, and many “rental agencies” don’t even require that you produce a license. Just show them the money, and they’ll show you your scooter.
Hence, everybody has a scooter, and the traffic is insane. And with a likely disproportionate number of riders on the road being utterly unqualified to ride and/or unfamiliar with the roads and/or drunk and/or futzing around with their phone while driving (I saw it many times), I wanted nothing to do with being on a scooter around them. Although I wouldn’t likely get into the sort of higher-speed accident that happened in Grenada, I don’t care to see the inside of a Balinese hospital any time soon, for any reason.
Unfortunately this decision also cuts me off at the knees (luckily only proverbially so), since it means I need to walk everywhere, and has restricted where I can stay. Hiring car taxis to get around Ubud is almost unheard of; if somebody uses a taxi it’s a motorbike taxi, which again, is against my principles (because even a perfectly capable moto-taxi driver isn’t immune to any one of the idiots described above). From time to time I had absolutely no choice, but it was rare. Instead, I walked everywhere, even if it took an hour.
This was great for getting into shape, but quite frankly it was more of a pain than a pleasure, since it restricted my overall options. To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend you adhere to my ridiculous principles if you want to get the most out of Bali; but do be acutely aware of your surroundings if/when you do rent a scooter.
Overall? Bali is Lovely
Despite whatever challenges I may have described above, the benefits of Bali have far outweighed them.
Not everybody likes Bali. After writing my post about Why I Could Never Live in Japan, some other travel bloggers wrote a post about how they vehemently disagreed with my analysis of Japan, but didn’t voice their objections in the comments because they’d just had an awful time in Bali, and realized that travel is contextual to our specific experiences and expectations. I don’t know where in Bali these travel bloggers went, but if they were in Kuta I’d have agreed 100% with them about their analysis. (More on that in another post).
As it was, I enjoyed a month in a relatively quiet area of Ubud, taking time for myself, my work, my health, my healing, and eating some pretty fabulous food. I interacted with some kind locals, and cool expats. All that is good enough reason to come back and hang out some more.
Stay tuned for further in-depth and informative posts and videos about my take on Bali.