The last time I was in Bali was fifteen years ago, when I was newly pregnant with Monkey. Flying halfway around the world perhaps wasn’t the wisest thing to do 12 weeks into a pregnancy, but I like to think that’s where Monkey’s love of travel began.
I remember whispering to him—groggy and nauseous, just moments after he was born—about all the great adventures we would have together, and mentioning the ones we’d already had. I had no idea how much that promise would come true.
I suppose there was a certain “full circle-ness” to our most recent trip. The main purpose was to attend a meditation retreat in the mountains above Ubud, at Bagus Jati. However, we were able to squeeze in one heavenly night at the beach on our way back to Hong Kong.
My foggy memories of Bali recall a sleepy, quiet, fairly small place, with Hindu offerings pleasantly littered about in doorways. Driving through the countryside and villages back then, you might still spot an older woman traditionally dressed (i.e.: topless) among the silent rice terraces. Tourist attractions, like the butterfly farm and the monkey forest, were enjoyable and not at all busy.
Today, Bali is quite different. The traffic rivals places like Thailand, yet there are no highways. Just narrow roads accommodating one lane of traffic in each direction. 20 miles takes two hours, as you battle the mopeds, scooters, and cars. Tourists tend to be in cars with drivers, while the locals zip about on two wheels.
The rice terrace we saw, just outside Ubud, had become a well-worn tourist attraction, with shops selling knick-knacks and visitors wandering in between the paddy fields. Ubud itself, which on my last visit was somnolent with only a handful of cafes and local artist stores, is now jam-packed with mostly Aussies and Western clothing stores. The market is primarily there to serve tourists, selling, among other things, giant penis-shaped wooden bottle-openers—presumably for good luck. No word of a lie.
And apparently, the beaches, especially around Seminak are throbbing with nightclubs and a vibrant party scene. I guess the march of progress happens everywhere.
Somehow, we managed to skip most of the madness by heading to Jimbaran beach, which is close enough to the airport that it avoids any fears of missing your flight due to traffic, but far enough that you aren’t bothered by the sound of aircraft. It’s also where the famous outdoor fish restaurants are located.
We opted to stay at the Belmond Puri Hotel, and despite only to discover on our arrival that I had made the reservation for the wrong day, the staff were welcoming and fortunately able to move our booking.
I had chosen a cottage for us, with a secluded little garden, outdoor shower, sunken bath-tub and a cozy terrace facing the beach. It was paradise. The hotel was quiet, no music by the pool or big crowds, with lovely landscaping and literally right on the sand.
With less than 24 hours to enjoy heaven, I made sure we hit the highlights: a gorgeous sunset, dinner on the beach, a peaceful sunrise, an early morning walk around the shoreline to see what the fisherman had brought in. We capped it off with a couple of hours by the lovely pool, but not before photographing the lotus flowers in the large fish pond.
We enjoyed every minute, and it was only minimally spoiled by our desire to remain longer.
I didn’t have much of a chance to shop in Bali – and honestly, there wasn’t much to attract my attention. I had it in my head that if I could find a statue of Ganesha, I’d bring one home. As serendipity would have it, we spied a local artist painting wooden eggs with greatly intricate designs in the hotel. And of course, because that’s the way the Universe works, he had a couple of gorgeous eggs that featured the aforementioned elephant god. Finding him brought our short stay to a peaceful and happy conclusion.
I highly recommend the Belmond Puri hotel and look forward to returning for longer at some future juncture.