The gentle chink of china wakes me from my sleep.
Climbing out of my huge four-poster bed, I pull back the curtain to see the villa staff carefully laying out breakfast – sweet, fresh melon, fried eggs, pitchers of squeezed fruit juice and piles of steaming spicy rice. Then, as quickly and quietly as they appeared, they disappear, leaving us to enjoy our leisurely brunch.
We’d travelled to Bali for a family wedding, and, after seeing what we could get for our British pounds, decided to splash out on a family villa. We could barely believe our eyes when we arrived – we had three self-contained bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, and an open-air dining and lounge area, surrounded our own frangipani-filled walled tropical garden. But that wasn’t even the best part – every villa had its own private swimming pool.
The girls were in heaven.
They’d both been taking swimming lessons at home, and now they could put all those new skills into practice. And practice they did… they’d go for a dip before we headed out for the day, then jump back in the moment we got home. Some nights they were in there so long I was literally drying them off and sending them straight to bed!
The contrast between the luxury tourism and the traditional Balinese lifestyle is one of the things that stayed with me long after we left this Indonesian island; you could go from eating lobster by the ocean to watching villagers washing their clothes in the open stormwater drains, all in the space of half an hour.
But there was something so beautiful and honest about the way the Balinese people lived their lives: full of gratitude and utterly content with their modest existence. Rather than being bitter about what they didn’t have, they appreciated everything they did have – including the most amazing sense of family and community.
They were kind and thoughtful, and genuinely so, not the overly ingratiating treatment you get from some popular tourist spots.
There was no envy towards the travellers who visited their island and made the most of the luxury lifestyle (if only for a week or two); rather, the Balinese were grateful for the money and work opportunities brought by tourism. If anything, I found myself envying THEIR simple, stripped back lifestyle and vowing to concentrate more on the things that really mattered once I got home.
Every place I visit teaches me something valuable, and these days it’s easier and cheaper than ever to book an exotic getaway, with companies such as members-only travel club, Voyage Privé offering great discounts via daily flash sales.
Planning a visit to Indonesia? Here are my 5 Things You Must See & Do in Bali:
The MONKEY FOREST UBUD: this conservation area is home to 900 cheeky long-tailed Balinese monkeys, officially known as Macaques. It’s an important part of the Balinese culture that humans coexist easily and respectfully alongside nature, and many of the trees in the sacred forest are considered holy.
Walking through the Monkey Forest, you’ll see the Macaques of all ages, from grown adults to tiny babies. In order to keep the environment as natural as possible, visitors are asked not to interfere with them as they go about their monkey business, and not to feed them ‘human’ snacks.
In fact, I’d advise not taking food with you at all, as the monkeys will sniff it out and could decide to have a rummage through your bag to find what goodies lie inside. There are people selling bananas to feed the monkeys, but be warned – if you decide to do this, you’ll literally be buried under a hungry monkey mountain. Which sounds cute in theory, but is a little intimidating in reality (especially for children).
The traditional Balinese rice fields. You’ll find these iconic farms dotted all over the interior of Bali, possibly the most famous one being picturesque TEGALALANG RICE TERRACES. From special vantage points, you can gaze over the lush-green paddies, or even walk the winding paths down to the bottom of the gully. The more adventurous can even book the Bali Swing, where you can literally propel yourself out over the valley on a giant swing.
The girls were nearly-five and just-turned-seven when we visited, which was perhaps a teensy bit on the young side to really make the most of this, as the terraces are narrow and steep and it’s easy for distracted kids to end up ankle-deep in manure-steeped water. Yes, I’m speaking from experience.
One of my all-time favourite memories is dining out while overlooking Jimbaran Beach and bay, watching the sun dip into the Indian Ocean.
Spend a beach day on the golden sands, or return in the evening to one of the beachfront restaurants, where the tables are set up on the sand, looking out across the water.
This beach is the backdrop to many a marriage proposal, and it’s easy to see why – OH and I sipped on cocktails and ate lobster grilled over coconut husks and enjoyed a rare child-free night. As the inky-blue sky descended, lit candles appeared on our table and we found ourselves serenaded by an incredible beach band. It really was the most perfect night… well, until I arrived back at the villa, tripped over and dislocated my shoulder, but that’s another story (have you read about my accident-prone life?!).
Perched on a rocky outcrop, which becomes an island at high tide, is TANAH LOT. One of seven sea temples dotted around the island, Balinese mythology states Tanah Lot is protected by a giant snake (in reality, there is a small cave at the base where real sea snakes reside – but, thankfully, you don’t have to go anywhere near it).
A hugely popular spot for tourists, many come in the late afternoon so they can watch the sunset behind the temple. If crowds aren’t your thing, come earlier in the day. There are also some tiny Balinese courtyard restaurants on the cliff behind the temple, but – be warned – the drop is vertiginous and guard rails are basically non-existent, so it’s not a relaxing option if you have young children.
My final recommendation isn’t a place, more an experience.
Indonesia is home to the infamous Kopi luwak coffee, a blend made from fermented coffee cherries (the fleshy fruit that surrounds the coffee bean). But it’s the way they’re fermented that makes this coffee truly unique – the cherries are eaten by wild Asian palm civets and make their way through the digestive system before nature takes its course and they’re – ahem – deposited.
These partially digested cherries are then recovered and used to create Kopi luwak coffee. Whether the blend actually tastes better is the decision of the drinker, and there have been concerns raised by animal charities about civets being held in captivity (rather than processing the cherries naturally in the wild) so do your research to make sure you’re getting an authentic, ethically-sourced cup.
If you liked 5 Things You Must See & Do in Bali -read more about our family trip to Bali in ‘Sun, Sand & Smiles‘