This post is saturated with delicious, colourful, dribble-onsetting food. FOODIES BEWARE!
I moved to Bali back in 2011, with all but the intentions of having a peaceful, relaxing fortnight with nothing but friends, food and the beach. Those two weeks turned into an 18 month journey of living and working on the island – an experience that altered my perspective and attitude on many things, and people, around me. A few months ago I wanted to revisit my old haunt, but this time with Thibault by my side, to show him exactly why I fell in love with the island all those years ago.
Bali, as a whole, is a spectacular, enticing island. After living on the Thai island of Koh Phi Phi for numerous years, Bali was a very welcome change. The language felt like music to my ears – a symphony of words and dialects I’d never been graced with before. The streets were bustling with motorbike taxis (Ojeks) ferrying around tourists and locals barbequing glistening, dewy corn on the sidewalks. I’d sit on the beach and watch the old ladies (also known as ‘Ibu’s) with their baskets full of threads, beads and trinkets held graciously upon their heads, walking up and down the blistering sandy beaches seeking for a holiday-maker in need of a massage or new hair braid.
Albeit daunting moving and setting up shop in a new country, the island is almost over-run with friendly Australians on holiday who provided me with a wealth of new friends in no time.
I worked and spent all of my time at a bar called Eikon, which soon became my home, and subsequently my family. Unlike the hoards that come to Bali in search for ‘themselves’ (the yogi’s who spend their days stretching in temples and sipping on goji berry smoothies) I did things a bit differently. I drank, danced, and ate my way through this small, great island of Indonesia. Working at Eikon was a dream come true – I was ultimately paid to make friends and share drinks with them. Every night I was meeting new, interesting people who would tell me snippets of their life in return for answering questions about how I live mine. More often than not, we would find we had mutual friends (thanks Facebook!) and spend the rest of the evening sharing stories and fun tales.
Almost every morning, I would roll out of bed and jump on my scooter to the nearest local’s market where I would be warmly greeted by ‘Fruit Lady’, who would make the most scrumptious Avocado and Chocolate Smoothies (I KNOW) for 50 cents..(I KNOW!!!!) I would then cross the street to another vendor, who created delicious salads bursting with colour and flavours for a mere Euro. I’d hop back on my bike and hurry along to the beach (the favourite being Double 6 or Padma Beach) to starfish on my sarong, listening to the waves with my Bali buds.
In the daytime we were asked to promote the bar, which involved striking up conversations with more holidaymakers and giving them the rundown of our drink specials and guest DJ’s. At 10pm we would head to the bar and begin chatting away to people walking past on the street, luring them in for a drink and a dance. If I got one thing out of working at Eikon, it was confidence. It may sound trivial and petty, but making a stranger conversate with you, trust you, and even like you – is quite a nerve-racking and challenging feat.
After I’d finish work, I’d giddily end my night with a plate of Mie Goreng Ayam (Stir fried Noodles with Chicken) or Nasi Campur (Rice with a selection of Sauted veg, Curries and Sweetcorn Fritters.)
Food in Bali is nothing short of mouth-watering. It’s in fact one of the main reasons I was so desperate to bring Thibault to the island, my recent apprentice foodie. The island hosts a magnitude of little ‘Warungs’ (small restaurants) which serve a variety of both Indonesian and Balinese food including Nasi Lemak (Rice with Fried Chicken) Bebek Betutu (Slow Cooked Duck) Sate Lembat (Minced Meat cooked on a stick) and the glorious Babi Guling (Spit Roasted Pig). Babi Guling is hands down my all-time favourite Balinese dish. When Thibault and I went to Bali for Christmas 2015, it was all I talked about. The pork is lovingly rubbed with turmeric, before being stuffed with a spicy paste known as ‘Base Gede’ (a combination of coriander seeds, lemongrass, Asian & salam leaves, chillies, black pepper, garlic, red shallots and ginger.) Plates consists of a few slices of tender pork meat, surrounded by caramelised crackling, pork sausage and then a few ‘unknown’ parts – which also taste fucking amazing. The most well-known and respected Warung to dine on Babi Guling is called Ibu Oka in Ubud. Just head over to their Tripadvisor page and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about (although they have unfortunately redesigned their restaurant and removed the tables and seating on the floor, which in my eyes was one of the most alluring aspects of making the trip there.)
Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali, was made most famous by the ‘Eat, Love, Pray’ book released a few years ago. Home to one of Bali’s most royal families, Ubud is made up of jaw dropping rice paddies and luminous green valleys (such as the famous Tellagang Terraces.) Many of the people that come to Ubud do so with ‘detox’ in mind, as there are literally hundreds of yoga retreats and wellness centres dotted around the area. It’s clean, fresh, and drive two or three minutes from the center and you’ll have that real traditional feel of old temple gates and Balinese statues.
Revisiting Bali with Thibault after all this time was so wonderful. Everything but nothing had changed. My old friends and colleagues had moved on, but the island remained the same beautiful island. We played in the skate bowls of Canggu, dined on fresh seafood at the notorious Jimbaran bay, and watched the sunsets in blissful silence with old and new friends. Thibault was able to have a go at surfing the warm waters of Padang-Padang, and I was able to sip on a fresh coconut in a bamboo-vegan cinema (it was even more hipster than it sounds.)
We hired a scooter and stayed in a few different areas of Bali, including Seminyak, Canggu and Ubud. I’d say hiring a scooter on the island is almost required to see into all the nooks-and-crannies Bali has to offer, but no worries if you can’t as the Ojeks are extremely cheap to get around – I’d recommened downloading the GoJek app.) We spent the week zipping around the clear waters of Uluwatu, Padma and Echo Beach, followed by chilling under thatched huts in rice fields watching ducklings pitter-patter behind their mother.
Don’t get me wrong, Bali has room for an entirety of improvement. They suffer severely from police corruption and serious over population (mainly of tourists), but the island is what you make it. They charge you an exit fee as well as an entrance fee, which is a bit annoying, and they do restrict things such as how much alcohol you can bring in (1litre per person) but if you ask nicely they sometimes turn a blind eye. If you’re a night-owl and after a heavy headed tequila drowned trip, then yes, hang out in the likes of Kuta and Seminyak. Conversely, if your on the search for a tranquil and a relaxing holiday, avoid these places at all costs.
Bali has so much to offer, so don’t pay a lick of attention to the misanthropists. Go and see for yourself. No the water isn’t comparable to Bora Bora, and yes as a tourist you will find yourself getting occasionally ripped off. But go with an open mind and kind heart and you’ll struggle to focus on the negatives. Balinese are truly some of the nicest people on this planet who love to interact and learn from tourists.
To be honest, as soon as we landed and walked into the first minimart we were celebrated with the warmest ‘Hii!!! Welcome!! How are you today???’ Thibault was sold.
Bali sculpted a big part of my character and I left a different person than when I originally came. Going back with Thibault and experiencing the country through his eyes was fascinating to see, and I’d strongly encourage you to do the same and see exactly what all the fuss is about.