Bali: A Mixed Review


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While Australia hit it out of the park for us, connecting on all categories of interest, Bali was more of a mixed bag. And while we want to love Bali, and there are plenty of reasons to love it, there are some things that just didn’t do it for us. Here is our report of the things that we loved about Bali, as well as the not-so-loved parts.

But first, I’ll start with some of the big picture travel stuff we’re learning and getting better at, and then I’ll highlight some of the key memories that will stick from our two weeks in Bali.

Playing with trucks at dinner while looking out on a rice paddy, of course!


Itinerary: 6 nights in Ubud, 6 nights in Seminyak

Feeling good about how we’re playing the travel points and rewards game. In talking with friends about the various perks we’ve had so far on this trip, they were amazed. In adding it up, we’ve redeemed points worth a total of roughly $5,000 USD on this 7 week trip. Here are the key wins:

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards flights, acquired primarily from the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. This covered flights for all three of us from SEA to HKG and then from AUK to SEA. Well over $1,000 each way in free flights.
  • $2500 for 5 nights in a Category 5 Sheraton in Sydney. Lodging was ridiculous there and we cashed in a whopping 58,000 points to make this happen, but it was worth it. We were treated so well and enjoyed the city in a way we never would have otherwise.
  • $300 free night at Crowne Plaza hotel in Auckland. We cashed in our annual free night with IHG for a stay in a great hotel in the center of the city.

We have a slew of credit cards with no foreign transaction fees and use them whenever we can to accumulate more points.

We have an ATM card (Schwab) that refunds us for any ATM fees, so getting cash is easy and free. Plus, we can get cash at nearly any ATM worldwide. Easy.

T-Mobile gives us free texting and 2G data everywhere we’ve traveled. So we get off the plane and our phones work. Huge.

We use Skype for calling US landlines. A monthly subscription costs $2.99 and we just have to be on wifi to use it. We use Google Duo for calling family face to face, and we use WhatsApp for communicating with friends too; both of these are free.

Planning ahead has been really helpful for us and we realized that after our time in Bali, we didn’t prepare as much for this segment as we had with others. We were relying largely on our friends Dionne and Joel, and while it generally worked out fine, we both agreed that it would have benefited us to do a little more research ahead of time so that we knew better what we were in for and how to navigate our options.

Always sharing walkways and roads with motos

Looking back, our time in Hong Kong (and Australia too) was so good because we knew where the vegan restaurants were and we knew where the Science Museum was. We knew when they were open, where we would run, and the general lay of the land. This made everything easier in the long run. Plus, the time we typically spend doing this kind of research is usually the random downtimes when we feel like casually browsing the internet (and not doing work stuff).

We relied a lot on Dionne to translate and help us get around


Traveling with friends is awesome! On previous trips, we’ve felt isolated and alone at times. This trip was planned largely upon a 2 week time in Bali with Dionne and Joel. The timing worked out fantastically. We had been on our own for a month before connecting in Bali with our friends. We were having fun on our own, but we were also excited to be with friends again. If we can plan more trips with family and friends in the future, life will be all the better!

We’re getting soft. The rough sidewalks, stray dogs, ubiquitous motor bikes, and garbage on the beach were tough for us to overlook and not whine about. Coming on the heels of our Sydney Sheraton stay made this all the more real. Yet, so much of the world is more like Bali than a Category 5 hotel, so we’d better toughen up so more of the world stays open to us!


Now for some highlights and memories:

  • We finally tried the fruit, durian. We didn’t do it in Thailand a few years ago when we were there and we let Dionne know that we really wanted to try it this time. This is a pungent fruit. Our hotel had signs that said “no animals, no durian!” Dionne had one of our drivers pick one of these big spiky, stinky fruits up for us and we all stood in the parking lot, looking like we were all doing some illicit drugs, as we cut into the big, mysterious fruit. Texture: slippery on the outside and creamy custardy on the inside. I didn’t love it. But after my second piece, I was feeling better about the texture and ready to keep going. Dionne and Bionda had devoured it by that point though! 🙂
  • Paavo swam nearly every single day. The pool at our hotel in Seminyak was particularly awesome. It had shallow steps and it was really warm. He swam for hours at a time! Some of the highlights were that he would walk to the edge of the deepest step and then step off into the deep water, getting completely submerged, kicking and moving to get his head up. He never got to where he could get back above water on his own, but every time we would pull him up and he would beam with pride. We of course encouraged this as the others in the pool stared in amazement at his boldness. His next big feat was “let go”. He would hold my fingers, say “let go”, and then let go of my hands, again sinking below the surface of the water, try to get back on his own, finishing with me pulling him back above the surface. We did this for hours! So cool to see him comfortable in the water and so confident in us to sink down below the surface, trusting that we’ll pull him back up.
  • Bali belly!!! First it was me, and then Julie. Thankfully, Paavo never exhibited the symptoms. Liquid poo coming out our bums for three days straight. The first full day of feeling sick was the worst as my entire body ached and getting up out of bed was a challenge.
  • This was extra sad because my favorite part of being in Bali (other than being with our friends) was the food! It was cheap and there were so many vegan options! For the first 10 days, I gorged and enjoyed every bit of it. I wasn’t hungry for 4 days with the Bali belly.
  • Vegan buffets. Wow. $3.50 for all you can eat vegan buffet. Tempeh galore, and all kinds of veggies, noodles, and rice. Loved it! There were two competing buffets next door to each other in Ubud. I could have eaten every meal at those places.
  • Most dogs that roamed the streets were chill. However, the occasional one would bark and growl as I ran up and by as I attempted my daily running. That, along with the endless motorbikes, and a general lack of runnable sidewalks (or streets for that matter) made running suck for the most part. Add in Bali belly and the heat and humidity and I’m simply glad I still ran something every day we were there.
  • Motorbikes: entire families on one little bike. And Paavo was forever wanting to be one of those families! From the moment we arrived, every day he’d say “new new”, his word for moto (Spanish for motorcycle). He’d say “kid, new new”. He’d point to their helmets and say “Paavo”, pointing to his own head. He wanted so bad to ride on a moto with me. I’ve never ridden a motorcycle before and riding in Bali with a two year didn’t seem like the place to start, but the idea definitely crossed my mind as I wanted so badly to give Paavo what he wanted. Another trip and he and I will ride together!
  • Joel and Dionne got robbed by monkeys! We had heard about this kind of thing before. It’s an entirely new ball game when it happens in front of your eyes. Our hotel was near the Monkey Sanctuary. We cautiously walked by them on our way to lunch. They were sitting along the road, grooming each other, hanging out. They were on buildings above us and in trees watching us. They didn’t do anything though. But on our way home from lunch, we stopped at a store. We carried things home in plastic grocery bags. That was the ticket for the monkeys. First, I watched as one ran right up to Joel, ripped open his bag, and began tugging on his 6 pack of beer. Joel squealed and then began running away. The monkey gave up on the beer and Joel got away! But no sooner had all this registered with us as we stood there in shock, when one ran right up to Dionne, ripped open her bag, and took out a box of cookies! The monkey scurried away, sat down, opened the box, and ate the cookies right in front of us! We couldn’t believe it! We hurried on only to watch another monkey come from across the street, right up to Dionne’s bag, and quickly and assertively pull out a couple pieces of rambutan fruit. We were in shock for the rest of the day. And while Julie and Dionne were understandably shy about going back through there again, so long as we didn’t carry plastic bags, we weren’t bothered again (Joel and Dionne watched another person get nabbed a few days later, despite their attempts to warn her)
  • I resorted to treadmill running for a few of my days. This was primarily a result of the Bali belly, but it also was just more enjoyable some days. Running in Bali required near constant attention to footing and my surroundings. Some days I just didn’t want to put in so much mental energy and the treadmill was the easier challenge.
  • We ditched the Youtube Kids app. Paavo would wake up saying “truck show”. What this translates into is crappy videos with no content. Terrible repeat nursery rhyme songs or looping catchy wordless jingles, with cartoon trucks or cars doing things of little to no educational value. After reading a few articles about how this kind of stuff is bad (we already knew this of course), we removed the app from our phones and cut back on screen time. Paavo adjusted surprisingly quickly; it really shouldn’t be a surprise – he adapts to everything quickly!
  • Julie and I have actually been reading. I finally finished the Tim Ferriss book “Tools of Titans” and Julie is currently finishing up the Phillip Pullman series as I write this. So good to be reading again.
  • There is a smell of incense everywhere in Bali. Multiple times per day, little offerings are set outside of businesses and nearly everywhere you go in Bali. Little bits of food are placed on the offering, a little box composed from a green leaf, along with a stick of incense. A morning run was filled with these smells.
  • Fish, lizards, and frogs. Our Ubud hotel had a fish pond out front, as did many other places we visited during our time here. Gecko lizards were all over the walls and ceilings. And the occasional frog or tadpoles could be found. These provided a huge amount of Paavo entertainment and we would talk about the fish for many minutes on our walks home to the hotel before stopping to point out the white, black, and orange fish together.
  • Paavo wanted to interact with every kid he saw. He would go right up to them and try to engage, usually by offering to show them one of his cars. There was a 5 year old girl from Beijing at our Seminyak hotel who took to him. By the end of their stay, they left Paavo with new Lego toys. He has quite the ability to make an impression and receive all sorts of gifts from people.
  • Chinese tourists in particular are drawn to Paavo. He’s had his picture taken with probably a dozen different tourists on this trip alone. Sometimes they’ll ask, and sometimes they will simply pick him up and take some photos. It all seems innocent enough so we roll with it.
  • We got to be part of the family for two weeks. The Nanlohy family were all getting together and we were able to be adopted into their crew. Spending time with them and their family was our favorite part of the entire trip. Dionne’s nephew was in for a few days from Jakarata and he graciously played with Paavo the entire time they were together. Paavo would follow him around saying “kid, kid”. They invited us to do fun day trips around the island, most of which we declined, but simply being included and having friends to hang out with made this a memorable time for us. 

Dionne looking a little crazy with a fresh Durian to eat



That wraps it up for us. We didn’t go to temples or do much of anything touristy. We hung out at the pools, ate good foods (when our stomachs allowed it), and we had fun with our friends. In short, Bali was good for us. While running and kids stuff were not as good as other places we’ve been, it was still a very positive experience and one that we’re thankful for.

 

Happy Buddha

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2 Responses to Bali: A Mixed Review

  1. Mark Doremus says:

    Matt,
    Thanks for sharing your story.
    Glad you had a great time in Bali. We were in Legian just 2 weeks ago. Didn’t have nearly as great a time as you did. Being on our own didn’t help. You are absolutely correct about the streets and running. My wife broke her heel, chipped one of the bones, two weeks before we left. With few to no sidewalks, she had to walk in the street, but the sides were so uneven, she had to walk towards the center of the street. All ways getting run up on by cars and bikes. In most places, the street wasn’t nearly wide enough for the traffic anyway.
    Good to hear about the Vegan options. I’m supposed to be moving away from a meat based diet for my health. But I just didn’t for this trip, maybe next time. Oh, any you can have my durian, tried it in Malaysia a few years ago, can’t walk by the street vendors without gagging. We both managed to avoid gastric distress until we were back home.

    • Matt says:

      If you’re trying to do a plant based diet, Bali – Ubud in particular, is a good place to start! Awesome food!

      Funny about the durian. About half our group had your experience. Once I got over the weird texture, I was better with it. I think I had a bias toward really wanting to like it, which probably helped me out.

      I won’t miss running in Bali though! Cheers.

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