A few years ago, I got sent with work to Jakarta for a project. Obviously, despite being solo, I couldn't pass on the opportunity of exploring a bit of Indonesia (it's also a 20+ hour flight from London).
So, I managed to squeeze in ten days of travelling to Bali and Yogyakarta (or how locals call it; Jogja). I know, Indonesia is the biggest archipelagos in the world, the third biggest population in the world, you can't say you explored the country in ten days and visiting only five places. But, I do intend to go back for more and I've sent already a few people there holidaying and honeymooning since I've been.
A sneak peek from Jakarta (my favourite taxi ride, the prominade, the city centre, and view from the city in the rain from the hotel)
So, on Saturday morning after an exhausting work-week in Jakarta, I still don't know how I made my flight from Jakarta to Bali...I was left at the wrong terminal and I made it about 30min before departure to the right check-in area (the airport is huge). But I remember they were very sweet to let me go through. If you are tall and fair-skinned and have been to Jakarta, you know. Locals look at you as an amusement, they stop you in the street (if you dare walking in the chaotic Jakartan traffic) to take a picture with you. There was a live band singing at the hotel in the last evening and they were really insisting I join them (me and singing?!? you don't want to go there). Why were they insisting? Because I looked like Adele to them - I'm not joking! This is exactly what they said!
Denpasar Airport in Bali
When I landed in Bali, I drove straight to Uluwatu, the bottom left corner of the island. Beautiful coasts, ideal for surfing, yoga and sunsets. I went straight to Uluwatu beach which was amazing! It's this sort of secluded beach underneath a cliff, which disappears depending on the tide. It's kind of separated by large rock formations but it's very scenic and a great surfing spot.
The sunset in Uluwatu, changing colours by the minute.
So, after enjoying the beach and buying a sarong to lie on, I decided to enjoy the sunset with a Biltong (a famous local beer). The place was quite empty and close to me was sitting a guy who was doing exactly the same as me and we started chatting for a while. He came to Indonesia from Italy for work and decided to rent a bike and do a tour of Bali. Eventually, after the sunset was long gone, we decided to get changed and meet up later for dinner at a nearby place. Something noteworthy which I never experienced before is that as I was going out of my hotel to walk to the place it was pitch black, no lighting at all. I had to use my phone to see where I'm going. How amazing is that? No street lights at all. Can you imagine the stars? And despite the darkness, it felt completely safe!
Pouring rain that evening
So, as we were having a delicious nasi goreng with Marco, it started raining. Like pouring monsoon rain, like rivers on roads rain. It was the end of the rainy season so you could still get this weather once in a while. He was very kind and gave me his raincoat to drive me back. Below is a picture. You can see underneath my lace maxi skirt - dressed for rain. We arranged to meet the following day to enjoy a day at the Uluwatu beach. He would arrive a few hours earlier as I wanted to enjoy a bit of sleep. Guess what happened? When I arrived at the beach, there wasn't a beach. The tide was so high, it covered it up! Ow, and of course, we didn't think of exchanging numbers or any other contact details, it was kind of nicer that way.
This is how quickly weather in Bali can change - you could get stuck on a rock in the sea or on a motorbike with a lace skirt.
The next evening at the Single Fin, another beautiful spot to enjoy the sunset, I met the music band that was singing at the bar that night with whom we've been in touch throughout my whole stay there. When I visited, Single Fin was the hot spot of the area's nightlife.
Yoga at 7am in Uluwatu
One of the mornings, I also tried yoga in one of these beautiful open studios with wooden floors and tropical trees underneath. The place was called Uluwatu Surf Villas. Something to consider is that Bali enjoys a tropical climate, which means you are sweating, just by sitting doing nothing. So, if you want to try yoga, you need to do it at 7 am, later on, it will be too unbearable to do so - besides the fact you won't find any instructor willing to give a yoga lesson.
A cafe-restaurant behind which you can have a massage or food in bed.
While in Uluwatu, I also pampered myself with a massage. The great thing in the area is that you can get a massage anywhere, they have them even above cafes. And I still remember it years later, it was so relaxing, I fell asleep and I could even hear myself snoring (oops!). It probably was also the hills I had to climb from the beach in the heat.
On the southern edge of the island, there's Uluwatu temple, where, during sunset, local dancers perform a beautiful ritual dance.
One of the rice fields in Ubud
A few days later, I travelled up to Ubud. Some people find it too touristic, some people love it. I was one of the later ones. Loving walking, I would take on a path and just get lost.
One of the first days, I found a beautiful hidden rice field terrace with a small warung, 'a place for selling food' in Balinese. While in Ubud, I loved going to Sweet Orange Warung to enjoy the serenity of the rice field with a book and beautiful healthy meals. During the days I spent there, time passed quickly chatting with the owners and people working there. One of them was kind enough to drive me back to my hotel a couple of the evenings, as leaving from a rice field in the dark was scary.
One of the beautiful meals in Sweet Orange Warung. Accompanied by a lemongrass juice, my most favourite Balinese drink.
Ubud has a very vibrant ex-pat community. I almost saw a pattern, whoever visited Bali, wanted to stay there. Whoever was able to stay there, they did. There's a story that when Dutch explorers came first time around to the island, their crew jumped ship to stay there forever. They were in awe by Bali! So much that they didn't want to destroy it by conquering it.
The place has an aura of serenity, despite the busy streets of the town. The Balinese prayers are with offerings, so as you're walking around you'll see trays made from bamboo with rice and flowers. You'll see them lying on the floor, as an offering for demons, or high on one of the many sculptures as an offering to gods. Interestingly, in Bali, the New Year's Day is the 'Day of Silence'. None is allowed outside and no celebrations are allowed either. Fires and lights are extinguished. Why? The local tradition is to stay at home very quietly so that evil forces think that the island is deserted and leave it alone.
A sneak peek of the temples and sceneries in Ubud
One evening, I enjoyed with ex-pats the live music at the Laughing Budha bar. It was such an interesting evening, so many interesting and inspiring stories. While in Bali, you are usually among locals, travellers and ex-pats and the discussions are rarely ever small-talk. You might hear a pilot who is on garden leave in Bali, sharing a story about how enlightened they feel after their first yoga and meditation session. You might get a local explaining to you how arranged marriages work in local culture or how the wedding ceremonies are. How an ex-pat moved to Bali and established their local business. Or how a writer finds inspiration by just living there.
Flying in front of an active volcano in the rain...with a bit of fever and no voice...
On my last day in Bali, I decided to go on a tour, where I met even more amazing people from all corners of the world. We had such a great time and I still remember all their beautiful stories while we remain Facebook friends still. By the end of the tour, however, I started losing my voice and got a fever. Switching from a tropical climate to air-conditioned rooms so often finally had taken its tall after two weeks in Indonesia.
Then, I flew to Jogja (or Yogyakarta to the rest of the world) to visit two ancient temples that were nearby the city (but still required some travel). One of them was Prambanan, a Hindu temple and the other one was Borobudur, a Buddist temple. They were built to be rival against each other but someone would see that this struggle made them both so divine!
At the top of Borobudur temple
I did stay only two days in Jogja before I had to fly to Jakarta, but I wish I had stayed longer. Travelling from Jogja just to the temples was such an experience on its own; taking a local bus, riding on a touk touk (local rigsaw) and walking. Jogja is worth exploring longer, as it's such an artistic city. It was where the Indonesian revolution started and you could even dare to describe it as the hipster city of Indonesia. Even with fever and no voice, I could appreciate the city's charm (but couldn't speak much with locals to get a better feel of the local culture). Yogyakarta is in central Java and is very different to Bali or Jakarta.
Have you been to Indonesia? What's your favourite experience in Indonesian islands?
Let us know in the comments below.
*Disclaimer: This is just my travel story from Indonesia. It isn't any pre-arranged promotion with any of the places I mentioned, just my personal favourite picks.