While I’m writing this, it’s actually a Sunday morning in early autumn because I’m a bad blogger and it takes me til its time to start wearing pants and scarves again to finish reviewing my July vacation. Whoops!
Looking back at these photos and thinking about our trip has been a really fun way to start the day though–remembering this vacation makes me even more enthusiastic about our mini-trip to Busan next weekend and New Year’s in Hong Kong.
But, back to Bali, and our favorite day of the trip!
On the Friday we spent in Bali, we went on a day tour through a two man company called Bali Traditional Tours. Let me get this out of the way first: I cannot recommend them enough!! I even went so far as to put up my first review ever on Trip Advisor our tour was so amazing. Nyoman was our driver for the day and was incredibly personable and knowledgeable (the other is his cousin, whose father founded the company). You couldn’t ask for a better guide than one with his university degree in Balinese history & culture! He was able to answer our every question (and I asked a lot) and in between cultural sites, entertained us with stories of his life on his family’s compound, wife, and their new twin babies. The craziest thing was he was only in his mid-twenties, so for David and I, it was a day spent with a peer. A really phenomenal one.
Our first stop on the tour of South Bali was to a Balinese school. As teachers, we were really excited to meet the students and their antics indicated that they were equally as thrilled to visit with us. The school we visited was one for two small villages and without a resident English teacher. The kids began learning in 3rd grade so we were able to ask the elementary schoolers simple questions like name, age, and about their studies and Nyoman helped us translate for some of the younger and shyer kids.
Something that will always amaze me is the pervasiveness of North American culture worldwide. I had 4th and 5th grade girls asking me questions about Justin Bieber and boys reciting the names of the whole Obama family. We couldn’t disrupt their school day too much but if they had asked, I would’ve moved into their village and taught those beautiful children English every day right then and there!
Next we headed to the Temple of Taman Ayun, which we couldn’t enter because of our non-Hindu status. Luckily, there is an observation path that runs beside a low wall surrounding the temple, and I was glad to not be asked about my menstrual status by a complete stranger a la the large sign outside forbidding non-worshippers and ladies on their cycle. Yikes!
This visit allowed me to geek out on religious ceremony as food for the gods was being prepared by local people.
This particular temple used to be one for royals only and is known for its unique moat and inclusion of all levels of stacked pagodas (tiers 2-11). It was surprisingly uncrowded for such a beautiful day in high tourist season, but I was glad for the opportunity to take my time walking and chat with some temple workers.
Because we had been picked up at our hotel at 9 am, it was barely mid-day by this point, and after a water and bathroom break, we were onward towards Tanah Lot.
Tanah Lot is famous not just for its structure, but for its inhabitants–two black and white holy snakes who make the trek from the temple to a nearby cave every day at the same time. The snakes have the company of a brahman during the day, who sits next to them and blesses you while you touch them and pray/make a wish. Only after we had touched them did Nyoman tell us they were highly poisonous, though had never bitten anyone. Eek!
While stooped over inside a small cave with venomous snakes wasn’t a photo op moment, David and I were blessed again at the mouth of another cave, drinking from the holy spring and bathing our faces thrice with the water. We were decorated with rice and franpini flowers and standing on rocks in the Indian Ocean, I couldn’t believe how awesome my life was in that moment (and, all the time, really).
High on life as I was, it was definitely time for some lunch after our visit to the spiritual realm. We stopped at small open air roadside restaurant frequented by locals and David and I had our new favorite dish of non-greasy, perfectly portioned Balinese fried noodles called mie goreng. I’m headed to the grocery store after I finish typing this and buying the ingredients to make it myself because thinking about it again has me salivating.
Refueled, we embarked on a two hour drive further south to Ulu Watu, the grand finale of our day tour. Along the way I must’ve asked Nyoman a hundred questions on Hinduism and rice farms and every day life in Bali. Though many, many Balinese work in the tourism industry, their lives outside of work seem to be very un-Westernized. Extended families often live together in large stone compounds in small villages with no road names, farm rice, eat with their hands, keep chickens, attend temple and make offerings…. just very different from the daily experience of Americans or Koreans.
Now, Ulu Watu is another must-see in Bali. Like Tanah Lot, it is a seaside temple with some animal inhabitants (fat, lazy monkeys who like to nab shiny things off of tourists) but unlike Tanah Lot, Ulu Watu is perched high on a cliff and thus, has a world-renowned sunset over the Indian Ocean.
Visitors of Ulu Watu are asked to wear a sarong provided by the temple, which weeds out any indecency with shorts or short skirts forbidden on temple grounds. We experienced this in the Sacred Monkey Forest as well, except for this time Nyoman paid our donation because entry fees were part of our tour package.
As you can tell from our photos, it’s a bit of a hike from the entrance to the actual temple, but with the seabreeze and dodging monkeys, you barely notice you’re walking uphill.
Here we were able to attend a kecak dancing performance, which typically tells a Hindu story through dance and chanting. Its unique because there are no musical instruments–all of the rhythm is created by a massive chorus of men.
The view from the small wooden amphitheater was spot-on and we were able to absorb the chantings of the chorus while focusing on the sunset before the beautifully costumed dancers began making their appearances.