Find that ember inside yourself.
I just want to scream.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”
Choice. Both a blessing and a curse. Privileged to have choice. Privileged to be able to make choices. Taunted by thoughts of the road not taken. Haunted by thoughts of you.
Bali has captured my heart and soul. I have been in Bali three times in the last year, most recently for about a month. It is easy to get lost here, and never leave (believe me, I’m meant to be travelling the East Coast of Australia right now!) Why do I love Bali so much? Within the same day you can hike a volcano for sunrise, snorkel with turtles, surf to your heart’s content, get lost in the rice paddies and dance all night long on the beach, all while munching on some delicious chicken sate! I’ve decided to put together this blog about Bali’s best bits and add some photos from my travels to help you understand my obsession.
To me, Canngu has a lot of offer: green, green rice fields, vast beaches with waves for surfing, delicious food- particularly the vegetarian food- a lot of nightlife, so many chilled cafes, lots of yoga studios, cute boutique shops and much more. It is easy to see why many expats base themselves here.
My favourite beach definitely is Berawa Beach. There are great waves here and there is a huge stretch of beach. Many cafes and chilled bars line the beach and it has beautiful sunsets. Most of my evenings were spent here holding a puppy while drinking a Bintang and taking in a stunning sunset.
The following are a list of bars to party in: Old Man’s by Batu Bolong beach for some Bintang and dancing; Pretty Poison for live music, live tattooing and a skate park; Deus for some great bands; Gimme Shelter for some live music with locals; Sand Bar for some late night partying (it alternates between Batu Bolong Beach and Echo Beach.) You are guaranteed many a late night of partying here.
As I said, there are multiple restaurants and cafes to choose from. Believe me, I’ve eaten in most of them! Here are some of my favourites for brunch: Veda; Koi; Canteen; Roti Canai; Cafe Organic and Little Flinders Cafe.
For dinner: La Baracca for pizza mmmm; seafood by Echo beach at sunset- choose the local owned restaurants for better quality and a cheaper price, and Ithaka– try the gado gado, believe me, it’s worth it.
I stayed in Pande Homestay which was a short walk to the many cafes and shops of Batu Bolong. The family are very friendly and helpful and the rooms are basic but cheap. On my second visit, I stayed in FRii Hotel which was nice but slightly overpriced in my opinion- it was in a great location though and had two nice pools.
So, Canggu, great to travel in and VERY livable…although a definite possibility of cabin fever if you don’t get out of it now and then. Luckily, I explored a lot of Bali.
I spent an amazing weekend in Amed! Picture this: tropical fish of ALL colours only meters from a black stone beach with a clear blue sky and blazing sun; towering volcanoes in the background of an deep orange and navy picture perfect sunset followed by sparkling stars all around. In Amed, I went snorkelling, got up for sunrise and ate delicious food at sunset, oh, and drank Bintang.
There are many dive schools here too if you want to dive but the snorkelling was so good that I didn’t feel the need to dive.
Uluwatu: a surfer’s paradise, a beach lover’s dream, a party goer’s Mecca…enough said.
Seminyak is very modern: lots of shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and villas- it is one of the more expensive places in Bali but it is good if all you want to do is stay in beautiful accommodation, stroll around shops in the day and party into the night. I recommend La Favela for a good night out- don’t be intimidated by the police with the machine guns outside!
My friend recommended Nusa Lembongan to me and boy am I glad that she did. Located about thirty minutes on a ferry from Sanur, Lembongan is very easy to get to. We used Scoot and were picked up from our villa in Seminyak in a private car, got the ferry across and were dropped off at our accommodation on the island- you can do it cheaper but it was worth it for the convenience.
We spent a brilliant and busy couple of days exploring the island: we visited the stunning blue lagoon, the breathtaking Devil’s Tear and did a memorable *snorkelling trip where we swam with fish of all colours and HUGE Manta Rays!
*Ask for Sudi!
Ubud, Ubud, Ubud. I am always drawn back to Ubud and if you have been (or will be persuaded to go after reading this blog!) then you will understand why. Ubud has culture and beauty in the forms of many temples and dance shows, delicious food from a multitude of restaurant, authentic homestays, green, green, GREEN rice fields and undulating rice terraces that stretch as far as the eye can see (even further sometimes!) In Ubud, there are a range of yoga classes and yoga residentials to choose from; we took part in yoga and meditation classes in Ubud Yoga House which is located in the middle of the rice fields and has very experienced and friendly teachers.
On another trip I ventured outside of the center of Ubud, which many people do. The day started exploring the rice fields and ponds full of lillies surrounding this restaurant:
We then travelled onwards by motorbike to one of my favourite places in Bali, and definitely one of my favourite places in the world…
This is Gunung Kawi Temple. This breathtaking temple is a must see in Bali. The story goes that Gajah Mada- a very strong and loyal warrior- carved this temple using only his nail for the first Balinese king, King Udayana. I think the picture captures this but if it doesn’t then note it was overwhelming. I had the same thought that I had as I looked into the bubbling crater of Mount Bromo: I felt so small and insignificant in comparison to its magnitude, but in an awe inspiring and mindful way- it made me understand EVERYTHING so much more; I didn’t need to wonder or question or even think, I was exactly where I was meant to be: in the present.
Afterwards we went to Tirta Empul, a Hindu Balinese water temple. Bring a change of clothes if you want to take part in the blessings here- I didn’t take part as I want to understand the traditions and beliefs of Hinduism before taking part. Even if you don’t want to take part, the temple is definitely still worth a visit- it is popular with both locals and tourists.
We also stopped off at the famous Tellalang rice terraces which are beautiful but I had already visited another of my FAVOURITE places in Bali (and possibly the world!) which is Jatiluwih so Tellalang paled in comparison.
Because I spent a lot of time in Canggu I did several day trips to explore more of Bali from there. Here are the places we visited:
- Jatiluwih rice terraces- a UNESCO World Heritage Site:
- Danu Tamblingan where we went to Puncak Giri- a swing that is ridiculously high with amazing views of Lake Tamblingan:
- We took a boat trip on Danu Beratan and stumbled across an abandoned villa on the other side of the lake- it was eerily beautiful:
- Ujung Water Palace:
- Tukad Capung Waterfall:
- Padang Bay, a white beach on the way to Amed from Canggu where we stopped off for a break and a coconut- I drank many coconuts in Bali :
- Bukit Asah hill overlooking the cliffs and ocean- this place had such picturesque views:
- Pengragoan- a beach in West Bali 20 minutes before Medewi surf spot- was absolutely deserted except for a lone fisherman; I felt so at peace here that it also made the top of my favourite places in Bali list. Many a sunset jumping shot was taken here:
More of West Bali:
Oh yeah, and I ended up at a Balinese wedding!
The motorbike ride to these places was breathtaking in itself- the views of strawberry terraces, the rows and rows of rice fields, the mist falling over the highest points of the hills, the miles of deserted beaches and crashing waves- truly breathtaking.
The Gili Islands- Not Bali But Close Enough
A natural trip to take while in Bali is to the Gili Islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. Located about 1.5 hours from Sanur by ferry are these small islands with white sand and clear waters. There are no cars or motorbikes on these islands so you can walk or get a bicycle around them. I went to Gili Trawangan or the ‘party island’ out of the three. It’s true that there are multiple parties here every night of the week but the island itself also has a lot to offer for the day time: snorkelling, diving, boat trips, cycling, swings, beautiful beaches, stunning sunsets and so on. We took a day trip to Lombok- a diverse island of jungle and mountains and coconut trees and white beaches. For nightlife you need to ask a local where the party is at for that particular night as it moves every night. Popular places are: Sama Sama, Evolution Bar, Jiggy’s and Rudy’s Pub.
And, oh, the sunsets:
Getting Around Bali
There are many options to get around Bali- a private driver or taxi, shared minivan or motorbike- which makes Bali accessible for all types of travellers and holiday makers. Whatever route you take be sure to take it ALL IN: the culture, the views, the people, the animals, the surf, the food…the MAGIC! No doubt I’ll be back to explore more of this diverse island very soon.
I am on a journey of self discovery, a journey to ‘find myself’ so to speak. And what have I discovered? Well, to put it in a way that a contemporary audience would understand:
Nothing. I know less about myself now than I did at 17- and that’s saying something. At 30 I thought I’d have it all together, not necessarily a house, kids and the husband to match, but at least that I could describe myself- really describe myself- in three words.
Yup, still drawing a blank.
So, as I sit here with my raw vegan mud cake and my matcha latte why not surmise what’s on my mind?
I am in Canggu in Bali right now. After being the ‘always had a goal’ gal I decided to quit my great job working internationally in Bangkok and become a backpacker without any plans. Yup, oldest backpacker in the world. I’m still convinced that it is BAGpacker because all you do it pack and repack your bags! And don’t get me started on the packing process because I can’t even find my underwear never mind myself!
I thought about going for an inspirational post: discuss my yoga and meditation, share the lessons from the healer I saw yesterday, reminisce about the calm I feel looking out over a cliff top…but this is not how it is flowing for me right now so I thought I’d attempt ‘funny’, feel free to criticise me if I fail miserably.
The truth is I’ve had an opportunity to do yoga a million times a day and I’ve done it about five; I attempted to be a vegetarian but the chicken sate got me every time; I aimed to start every day with a morning jog and it has happened one and a half times (how does the half even happen?); I saw a healer and my restless legs got me irritated; I gave up coffee only to become addicted to matcha lattes; I planned to blog every day and this is my first post in six weeks…find yourself FAIL.
I have found myself (oh the irony!) wanting to scream because I don’t know who I am or what I want. Isn’t time away from everyone and everything supposed to bring clarity? Isn’t throwing off the shackles of a routine meant to bring a calm alertness to my mind? Isn’t all this chatter in my mind meant to ease with the soft blow of the wind through my sea swept hair?
I love an inspirational quote, ask any of my friends, my Instagram feed is full of them, I drive my friends crazy on Facebook with yet another daily dose of inspiration. I can also talk the talk, giving good advice and words of wisdom (or so I’ve been told.) My problem? Not following through with my own words. I am my biggest critic and I often compare myself to my past self- teenage Claire who knew it all and genuinely didn’t care what people thought. Am I not supposed to be lost at 17 and found at 30?
And there lies the problem…
The constant wondering, the constant thinking, and the constant questioning. I need to just shut up. The truth is I don’t need to have a 5 year plan, heck I don’t even have a 5 week plan! I don’t need to have any of the answers because as I desperately search for them life is slowly passing me by, breath by breath. I need to remember: I am not looking for something, I am experiencing everything.
So, there you are. I’m a metaphorical mess who needs to chill the chatter in my head by just doing things I enjoy and not wondering ‘where next?’ or ‘what next?’ or ‘who next?’ Because, my friends, the beauty of life is that we never know what is around the corner…so there is absolutely no point in looking.
For some poetry is the place to be
from the prism we have found ourselves in
the unrelentless blurring
of the lines
between reality and the alternate world(s)
A world that is scourged with
but what we often fail to see
as we fall aimlessly is the beauty
the beauty of this earth, this home, this being
The unspeakable woes
The unstoppable boughs
Of the branches of our being
of our being
Watch it sprout
Our human need of being.
Drowns the canvas
The wall you built between us
The you, the me and the everything
It is true what people say about the South Island: it is beautiful.
The drive into Kaikoura from Picton was immense: towering cliffs, blue, blue water and an array of seals sprawled here, there and everywhere. Literally EVERYWHERE.
The town is quaint with local pubs, cute cafés and boutique shops, the locals friendly. We travelled to Kaikoura to go dolphin and whale watching and it was wonderful: we saw hundreds of dusky dolphins and also humpback whales.
Personally, I was on the lookout for orcas…a huge passion of mine and it is my dream to see them in the wild. This dream did not happen in New Zealand but fortunately it happened in San Juan Islands, Washington in the summer of this year- that blog will follow…it was a once in a lifetime experience.
Back to Kaikoura…other than dolphin and whale watching, we did a variety of things from a lone sunrise walk on the rustic beach to silly sunset jumping:
We continued our adventure as we headed towards Franz Josef Glacier. It was a long drive but boy was it worth it. Naturally, we broke up the drive with some more ridiculous jumping shots:
We managed to grab food in a pub next to our accommodation, this took some begging as they were about to close…I think it was the first time I’ve had a roast at 10pm!
The next day we prayed for good weather and we were lucky enough to get some and so our helicopter and trek on Franz Josef continued. If you don’t have this on your bucket list then I suggest you do: the helicopter ride was such a thrill and the views were wonderful. The glacier is retreating so it is even more important to see this natural phenomenon before it disappears.
My school Geography lessons came flooding back to me: scree, crevasse, fissure, moraine, blue ice and so on…oh the blue ice!
They say that there’s no rest for the wicked so we must be very wicked as it was on to Wanaka we drove that afternoon. We slept well that night and explored Wanaka the next day. This exploration involved obligatory lake jumping shots and a free wine tasting session in Rippon vineyard.
The designated driver then drove us to maginificent Queenstown where we met up with a good friend of mine from home who had recently moved to New Zealand. We stayed in her home overlooking Lake Hayes. Everywhere you look in New Zealand is breathtaking.
That night we had delicious tapas in a lovely Spanish restaurant in Arrowtown and then went into Queenstown for a few drinks. Queenstown has lots of cute bars and intricate streets. It is quiet, well to me anyway, but that’s coming from Bangkok, it was a refreshing change. We even drank cocktails from teapots!
The next day is something I like to call “The Best Day of my Life!” Well, one of them anyway. I turn thirty in December and I am following my friend’s great idea of making a ‘Thirty Before 30’ list. The biggest- and one of the most challenging- things on my list was to JUMP OUT OF A PLANE! I say challenging because I’m afraid of heights so what better way to overcome this fear and expand my consciousness than by jumping from a plane 15’000 feet in the air?
I became invincible: I donned my brightest pink lipstick and Batman pants and I was more than ready to take on this challenge. For the sake of not boring you with all of the details (as I’m aware this blog may be dragging on) I’ll sum my experience up in one picture:
And the experience in one word? Exhilarating.
That evening was spent chilling in, well you know, the HOT TUB! Our wonderful friend and hostess popped some bubbly and we relaxed and laughed and reminisced in the hot tub under the vast, vast sky of bright, bright stars. Pure bliss.
Milford Sound was the plan for the next day and the drive down there was the best part about this trip- the sound itself was a little underwhelming but we had a great day nonetheless. We watched “Whale Rider” on the long journey back and I recommend you give it a watch if you get a chance.
Queenstown was ended by reliving our youth with the Skyline Luge: think go-carts and zooming down a hill to this amazing view!
Leaving behind the amazing time that was Queenstown was eased by the breathtaking drive to Akaroa. I have never seen such blue lakes, the azure of the water is unforgettable.
Not to mention seeing Mount Cook in all its glory:
Akaroa itself is a beautiful seaside town with cute shops and restaurants, with some wonderful sunsets:
It is also home to the smallest species of dolphin in the world: Hector dolphins. The calves are the size of a rugby ball and we managed to see one on our dolphin tour. The tour guide was very informative and the experience was amazing. The boat allows the dolphins to approach and play with it before the guests can get in the water with the dolphins (with many rules as to when and how we can get in.) We were given explicit instructions so as not to disturb the dolphins in the water. We had a dip with Hector dolphins rather than a swim as they are a lot more timid than the dusky dolphins of Kaikoura but still it was an amazing experience…even in the freezing waters!
Oh, and I mustn’t forget our alpaca watching:
After another amazing experience in another amazing place, we headed to our final stop: Christchurch. Christchurch is still obviously hugely affected from the 2011 earthquake, you can see restoration and building work everywhere you look. However, it still has so much character.
The next- and final day- of our adventure was spent exploring the street art of Christchurch and, like the restoration works, it is around every corner, literally.
That, my friends, is South Island and it sums up my experiences in New Zealand: azure lakes, snowcapped mountains, huge whales, tiny dolphins, naughty alpacas, lazy seals, breathtaking sunsets, towering glaciers, wild white water rafting, geyser exploring, hobbit hunting, plane jumping, helicopter riding, bar hopping, street art finding, hot tub dipping, burger eating New Zealand.
Sitting on this sun lounger in Gili Trawangan looking out at the oh so beautiful sea has got me all inspired (despite the sun block in my eye!) I was once told to finish what I start, and I have to admit that I haven’t been so good at that when it comes to blogging. Now writing in my journal comes easy to me. But let’s start now…
So New Zealand travels were in April: an adventure packed two weeks and we managed to see so many highlights and experience so many wonderful things. Obviously more than two weeks would be amazing…not even two months could cover all the beautiful sights to see but boy did we try.
Auckland was the first stop. I came with my wonderful friend Sinita (who will be happy that I’m finally writing this blog!) and my equally wonderful friend Claire (who made the looooong journey from home for our adventure.) Auckland, despite being New Zealand’s busiest city was quiet…although coming from Bangkok many places are quiet in comparison (if you’ve ever been to the city of squalor you’ll know what I mean!) We strolled around the city and had a few drinks in some local pubs…nice and relaxing (despite the house party full of eighteen year olds we ended up at!) Chilled was just what we needed in order to be ready for the adventures that followed.
My friend Claire is super organised; I’ll attempt to attach her itinerary here so you can do New Zealand in two weeks too if needs be:
From Auckland we travelled to Rotorua for some exploration and adventure! We went white water rafting in level 5 rapids…I love the adrenaline! We jumped off a bridge into a plunge pool, floated aimlessly down the rapids in our life jackets and went down what seemed like huge waterfalls in the raft…my friend was even catapulted off the raft which she did without hesitation! It was so exciting…and it definitely highlighted that I need to do some work on my upper body strength…I won’t tell you about landing in the crotch of some poor guy who pulled me into the raft!
Followed by this was a trip to a national park to explore some geysers (not pronounced as the dialect of an Englishman as I thought!) The colours (and smells!) were definitely interesting. Sinita, the scientist, informed us of the sulphur and so on and so forth. There were greens and yellows as I’ve never seen before, and steam to match!
We went from adventure and natural phenomena to more wonder…
Waitomo, to the glow worm caves. This was my FAVOURITE thing about NZ, although that is a bold statement to make…literally everything we did was amazing…as Sinita kept yelling, just in case we didn’t realise it! Being a little claustrophobic, I was hesitant at first but with the support of a lovely guide, and equally supportive friends I went in.
And boy am I glad that I did. The cave itself was a wonderful sight. Who would have thought that a tiny entrance could open up into such a space?
Not me apparently.
We walked through the stalactites and stalagmites and my years of studying geography came flooding back to me. That in itself was awe inspiring yet it didn’t even prepare me for the magic to come.
I say magic because that’s what it is. The quiet calm and lull of the boat as you pass through the cave, taking in the stars of the glowworms above that reflect in the water beneath. I felt so at peace there. I could have stayed there for hours. Despite it only lasting a few minutes, it felt like a lifetime. Such simplicity yet such inspiration.
We stayed there for one night and then it was off to Matamata for some hobbit hunting! Even if you’re not a Lord of the Rings fan you will love it here. The little hobbit holes in an array of colours and the facts about the filming of the trilogy and of The Hobbit trilogy is fascinating. My friend aced every question…she is a much bigger LOTR geek than me! Me? I’m into it for Aragon and Legolas. A girl can dream can’t she?
We left Middle Earth to return to Auckland and fly to Wellington to complete our trip of the north island. We stayed there for two nights, exploring the city and sipping on some delicious cocktails. The food there is delicious! We had a delicious breakfast and some more delicious dessert! I could eat that pavlova right now actually! One day we climbed to the local peak and took in some breathtaking views of the city and surrounding water.
Another day, we explored the harbour taking pictures and strolling into boutique shops, and sat on quirky steps such as this one…
Afterwards it was onto the ferry heading for Picton; this may be the most beautiful ferry trip I have ever been on, weaving in and out of the sounds.
If I thought the North Island was gorgeous, it wasn’t even close to the beauty of the South Island.
That adventure is for another time, after I sip this Bintang. I’m not even a beer drinker but when in Rome…or Indonesia even!