As an American when I thought about Bali, it seemed like a far off distant Neverland that could only be dreamed about or pinned on Pinterest. When I moved to Thailand I truly had no idea that I would explore South East Asia so much while I was there. I quickly realized that I absolutely had to take advantage of being on this side of the world therefore any chance I got to explore a new country I took. After many separate groups of teacher friends made their way to Bali after our first semester in Thailand, I knew I had to make it happen. Just like that Jackie, Maggie and I booked our flights and convinced our friend Brittaney to come along with us. (Not that it took much convincing). We got tons of advice from friends which made planning our trip relatively easy. We also agreed to remain extremely flexible in our plans by only booking our first hotel. We started our Bali adventure in Ubud, which is north of the airport near the center of the island. Ubud is known for its rice fields and amazing scenery. I will tell you a little secret…Ubud is the best kept secret of BalI! We expected to spend a night or two, do some outdoorsy stuff and then head straight for the beaches. We were absolutely captivated by this town the moment we stepped foot in it. It was so quaint and interesting, with brick sidewalks and tree lined streets full of shops, cafes, spas and art galleries. There was a huge cultural influence woven into the streets due to the temples and ancient architecture still standing but converted into hotels, businesses and restaurants. It was a whirlwind experience and we ended up staying a few extra nights to soak up as much Indonesian culture as we could. Must sees if you are traveling to Ubud:
Monkey Forest– A short walk from the action of downtown Monkey Forest is a nature reserve and temple swarming with wild monkeys. They can be vicious (one bit Jackie & stole her sunscreen from her bag) or they can be very loving (at least 3 climbed on my head and gave me high fives). I think it just depends on the monkey vibes you give off. Clearly, there has to be part monkey in me somewhere.
Sunrise at Mt. Batur– We woke up at 2 am and took a painfully winding ride to the bottom of the active volcano Mt. Batur. We proceeded to hike 1,716 meters up this volcano in the freezing cold and pitch black. Maggie was the ultimate trooper and completed the hike in FLIP FLOPS! On top of the volcano watching the sunrise above the fog is one of the most vivid memories I have of the trip. I felt like I was on top of the world. The hike down the volcano slowly brought us back to reality but that is the way things go with traveling, you gotta take the good with the bad.
A Coffee Plantation– Bali is known for its coffee and this made me ecstatic after suffering for a year with instant coffee in Thailand. We got the chance to visit a coffee plantation and taste test about 10 different types of coffees and teas. The most famous coffee was called Luwak Coffee. It is made by feeding the coffee beans to an animal, a Lombak, and waiting for them to poop it out. The bean ferments in their stomach and then it is roasted normally. It is casually referred to as “Shit coffee”. Jackie and I had to try a cup and it was honestly delicious. Good luck finding some in the states because it supposedly costs 50$ a cup!
Authentic Scenery- We had so many friendly tour guides/cab drivers who took us on excursions off the beaten path. It was incredible to explore the rice fields and secluded neighborhoods of Indonesia. I can picture the narrow roads in my head and I hear the ONE Indonesian song playing…that lasted about 25 minutes….and was on every time we got into a car. Nonetheless, it was magical scenery and so different than what you picture when you hear “Bali”.
After Ubud we headed South to the beaches and here began our relaxation “vacation” portion of the trip. Often when we are backpacking we have lots of things to accomplish every day, planned tours or excursions or long travel days. It is very rare that we got time to actually relax on the beach for multiple days on end. This was our chance. We decided to stay in Jimbaron Bay, which is a less touristy area but it is right in the middle of all of the different beach destinations we wanted to visit. The actual mileage between them is not much but the traffic is awful. Who would have thought that an island could have so much traffic? I could go on forever about the beaches but here’s a few must sees and then I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Padang Padang-Blue Point, Uluwatu- Secret Beach, Potato Head-Seminyak, Waterbom Waterpark-Kuta– All unique beaches/areas that are worth the visit! Potato Head is one of the best beach front pool/resorts I’ve ever been to!
Single Fin– (preferably on a Sunday) Three-story bar/restaurant sitting on a cliff overlooking the best surf in Bali. This place redefined the meaning of Sunday Funday.
Gili T– Magical little island off the east coast of Bali with the bluest water I’ve ever seen! No motorized vehicles, just horse drawn carts. Great vibes! We also went snorkeling off the coast and saw a huge sea turtle!
While we were there we honestly lived the life and got treated like American princesses. When I think back on our two weeks in Bali the word freedom immediately comes to mind. We decided to participate in a campaign called “The Topless Tour.” Their motto is “Feel the freedom, share your beauty to the world.” and features photos of women all over the world topless (facing away from the camera). They often feature the emails or messages that women attach with their photos and they are always about independence, feeling beautiful in your own skin and embracing the differences and flaws we all have. We happily joined the tour one day on a secluded beach in Bali. I posted the photo on Instagram and simply stated “FREEDOM”.
As the trip went on I became infatuated with this term, this feeling, and this way of life. Freedom is something that is sought after by people of all ages. Children want freedom from their parents, school, and siblings. Teenagers want freedom from anything and everything. College students define and epitomize freedom and adults usually spend the rest of their life trying to attain that carefree freedom that they once had in college or their 20’s. Freedom is the reason for world wars, religion, genocide, protests, and all great changes in history. People fight and die for their own freedom and the freedom of their countries every single day. I am proud to be from a country that claims to be, “The land of the free.”
One day I sat alone on the beach in Bali waiting for my friends to meet me and I couldn’t stop thinking about freedom. For the first time in my life, I felt completely free. I was single for the first time in many years, I was in one of the most peaceful and relaxing countries in the world and I was 24 years old with the whole world at my fingertips. I felt free from the confines of a prescribed future. I felt free from judgment or worry. For being “The land of the free” American society has a very specific version of what they deem as “successful” or “living the American Dream”. I can’t count the amount of times people have asked me when I am going to get “a real job”? I hate to break to you folks but just because you live in a different country does not mean you aren’t working a “real job”. The road to success is different for everyone and I am so proud that I have the confidence and the FREEDOM to follow my own path. Being truly free is one of the most empowering sensations I have experienced thus far in life. Freedom doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want whenever you want. It means you are in control, you are at peace, and you are responsible for yourself. You are confident in who you are and flexible enough to know that may change tomorrow.
Bali is the epitome of freedom and I will always be thankful for the time I spent there. Bali will always be a beautiful destination but I don’t think there was a better time for me to experience it; young, with my girlfriends, with no limitations or reservations. I was in awe of the kindness of Indonesian people, and the stunning beaches, mountains, and greenery. I will look back years from now and remember how I felt sitting on the beach alone, soaking up the sun, staring at handsome surfers, thinking a million thoughts per second…. I felt powerful, stimulated, gratified and most importantly….free.