To Bali or Not To Bali? This was the question we asked ourselves repeatedly when planning our trip to Indonesia. We hadn’t previously thought much about our time in Indonesia, as we figured it would come at the end of our SE Asia stint, as initially we relegated it to the “if we have time at the end” category. However, when we suddenly reversed the order of our entire Southeast Asia itinerary (to visit friends in Singapore before they moved), we realized that it probably made sense to hop down to Indonesia before heading north. And that’s when we started with the question of “to Bali or not to Bali?”
Throughout this trip we have tried not to stick to the typical tourist trail (with the exception, of course, of places such as the pyramids and the Taj Mahal which we obviously couldn’t miss). Instead we have tried to find places a little off the beaten track. However, at the same time, at the price of a $40, 2-hour trip it seemed a little strange to skip Bali —a destination people (including us) dream about going their whole lives. With some great advice on people experienced in Indonesia and it being our honeymoon and all, we ultimately to go for it and take the Bali plunge. Though of course, we mixed a little bit of non-Bali Indonesia as well.
After a little bit of last minute switching (we arrived at the airport to find that the flight we planned to take from Bali at the end didn’t actually fly the day or time it was scheduled for- and why would it?) we started in central Java in the town of Yogyakarta. This was a great place to start and our first impression of Indonesia was incredibly positive as Yogyakarta is full of very friendly people (during our first afternoon, multiple locals went out of their way to direct us to various sights without looking for any personal gain)- though this is somewhat offset by the incredibly hot weather and somewhat bland food.
On the recommendation of several people including Jed’s aunt and uncle, who lived in Indonesia for a time, we went to the magnificent Buddhist temple at Borobudur and the equally impressive in grandeur Hindi temple complex of Prambanan. Both of these were real architectural and spiritual achievements. We could understand why Jed’s grandmother catalogued them as the best places she visited on her around-the-world journey as a young woman (which was something more of a feat when she did in the 1920’s). Reflecting upon these centuries old structures and imagining what visiting them in the early part of the 20th century (talk about off the beaten path!) was real joy.
Then, bowing to our modern, tourist path instincts, next we set off for Bali. Our initial reaction was disgust (though a large part of this was due to our flight schedule which meant that we had spent the night in Kuta). Kuta is the worst kind of example of a western tourist town run amok. With no zoning to speak of and unchecked western influence, Kuta (in contrast to Singapore) reminded us of many of the worst aspects of home (picture the strip malls of Myrtle Beach or the cheesy-ness of Jersey shore picture, only worse). While this image was redeemed later in the week when we returned to Bali for a stay in the non-touristy highlands, we were still glad to depart for Lombok and the Gili Islands.
We found Lombok to be a nice change and the Gili Islands to be a low cost tropical paradise. In contrast to the many development mistakes of touristy Bali, the Gili Islands have had the foresight to ban all motorized transport, transforming the islands into peaceful getaways where bicycle and horse cart are the most advanced forms of transport- though Meg had a little trouble with the former:
And finally, we had a wonderful time at a fabulous, relaxing and non-touristy retreat in the mountains of Bail. Here we wandered among rice paddies, biked all the way down to the sea, and enjoyed the relaxed vibe of simple village life. So all in all, we were glad that we decided to go to Bali, though as you can tell, we have a definite opinion about where best to go (and where best to avoid) there.