Bali, Part 1
I don’t know why I had such a hard time “finding the time” to write this post. We got home from Bali weeeeeeks ago. Although, it still feels like yesterday. But in writing this post, I am actually recognizing that it came - and it went. Womp, womp. I have a hard time with finality. You know that I never finished the final Harry Potter book? Yeah, my favorite series that I have read maybe 15 times, I have never finished the final book. I have a hard time with “endings” and things being “over.”
I should probably work through that shit one day.
So, back to Bali! I am breaking our trip up into a few different posts for ease of information sharing - I don’t want to come at you with a million different links to everything we did.
One of the reasons I feel like I actually HAVE to write this post now, is because of Juli Bauer. Anyone here follow @PaleOMG? *Everyone raises both hands and their feet.* Well she’s in Bali right now, and while her trip looks beautiful, I feel like she fell into the trap that I worked SO hard to make sure we didn’t fall into during our trip. She went to a touristy area, she stayed in population dense cities, she went during the “high” season, and she didn’t pack the right, if any, bug spray. Silly girl.
First things first, when planning your trip to Bali (or to anywhere), you need to ask yourself WHAT KIND OF VACATION YOU WANT TO HAVE. Since I don’t like crowds, people, or tourist traps, we avoid this at all costs, on every trip we take. Since Bali is one of the most Instagram-worthy countries to visit right now, I did a shit ton of research to figure out where all the people were going - so we could be anywhere BUT THERE.
Google and Pinterest will take you to travel blogs, and from here you can glean tons of useful information. I spent a lot of time browsing the forums on TripAdvisor, too.
Any place that said, “It’s worth visiting, even with all of the tourists,” I just wrote a line through. Any blog that mentioned “small, quiet and low-key” I kept on the list.
I also noted the best and worst times to visit Bali in terms of weather and peak tourism. The high season is over the summer, and that’s because most travelers are “off” work or school during this time. Bali is very near Australia and closer to Europe, so you’ll see a lot of people coming over for summer break while their kids are out of school. This means the “high season” begins around July and lasts through September. It’s a slow pick-up though, from what I read, so the beginning of July is pretty quiet.
This is also an ideal time in terms of weather, because it’s the dry season, so you don’t have to worry about being caught in any rain. The weather is a comfortable 75-85 degrees most days.
We wanted to experience Bali culture & people - but not Bali-tourism or Instagram-Holy-Grails.
I narrowed down my list to areas I knew I didn't want to go first; and I started looking at AirBnB, VRBO, TripAdvisor, and spent hours pouring over rentals in smaller, more rural areas close to the water. We were looking for something private, semi-remote, and serene.
Funny enough, the first property we came upon, is the one we ended up coming back to after narrowing it down to our Top 3. He had a list, I had a list, and Villa Sarchi ended up being our top pick - mainly because of 1) the amazing views 2) the staff (more on that later), 3) the awesome reviews and 4) location - in a remote area of Eastern Bali not riddled with tourists. It’s a small fishing village that attracts people that love snorkeling and scuba diving. It doesn’t have a lot of major attractions around it (unless you call amazing views and the ocean a major attraction), like major malls, The Monkey Sanctuary, or Waterparks.
We wanted to take “off-the-map” trips, meet the locals, get lost in nature, spend days laying by the pool, and not have to worry about standing in lines, dealing with traffic, noise pollution where we were staying, etc. We live in the middle of the woods now, so our ideal trip does not include listening to cars and scooters driving by while honking at all hours of the night. Nah, not for us.
So, we narrowed it down to Villa Sarchi, in Amed, Bali. We found it through Trip Advisor. We looked at villa rentals in VRBO, AirBnB, etc.
The only downside: it’s about 2.5-3 hours from the airport, but it’s a trip you’re only making twice your whole trip, so it’s worth getting away from the city for.
Again, if you’re interested in doing some of those touristy things you see on Instagram, and you want to be around hoards of people, Amed may not be for you.
If there’s anything I can say about Bali - get away form the major cities, get away from the tourist attractions, get around the low-key villages, and reach out to the locals. I can’t say this will happen everywhere, but we had such an awesome experience going this route - I trust that you can, too.
Airport: We flew in to Ngurah Rai International Airport in Kuta.
Where We Stayed: Villa Sarchi in Amed, Bali.
We rented an entire property - a 2 bedroom, 2 bath house, with private staff. This is not a resort. Everything was ours: no shared living spaces, shared pool, etc.
We booked for the 2nd week of July for 2 weeks. The weather is dry at this point, but not everything is dead, so it’s still lush and green, and it’s still very early in the season, so there aren’t a lot of tourists yet.
As soon as we had out Villa rented, we started trolling websites for flights. Having flown several times internationally, my go-to choices if they are available are Emirates, Etihad, or Korean Air, in that order. I choose them for their comfortable planes, great food, amazing customer service, and amenities on the plane (free booze/drinks/food, entertainment, and if you book the right flight, an open row so you can lay out and sleep). From the East Coast to Bali, you’re looking at close to 20-24 hours of travel, or longer if you don’t book a great flight.
We wanted a flight that was as direct and as short as possible. It’s so important to plug in every available airport to find good flights - this meant we probably checked flights from 8+ airports, all within a 3 hour drive. We ended up flying out of Washington Dulles (a really low-key, easy airport for International flying). We kept our vehicle in their long-term economy parking ($10/day), and love the ease of their shuttle that runs regularly at all hours to get you to and from the airport or back to your vehicle.
Our flights were about 21 hours each - 14 hours for the first leg from Washington Dulles to South Korea, where we had a 45 minute layover to transfer planes. From Seoul, we flew 7 hours to Bali. If you can, try to fly on the BIGGEST airplane you can. There’s less turbulence, and a higher likelihood that you’ll have available seating next to you to spread out. This has always been the case for me flying Emirates (but their flight was several hundred dollars more expensive than Korean Air, so we couldn't book it this time). The flight from South Korea to Bali is mostly likely always going to be on a slightly smaller plane (I’m talking, smaller than an Airbus, which is gigantic). But, I freaking hate turbulence, and on both of our flights in and out of Bali, I felt like our fasten seatbelt sign was on the whole time and I was literally having a heart attack most of the flight. Swamp ass, sweaty palms, they couldn’t keep the free wine coming fast enough. I am a mess. (See video of me below housing whiskey to calm my pre-flight nerves, at 10am).
Meanwhile, my husband slept through all of it.
While the flight wasn't as empty as I've experience with Emirates, the food on Korean Air is the BOMB! If you have a chance to fly Korean Air, do it for the food! Make sure you get whatever Korean dish it is they are serving on that flight.
Remember that you’re going to be flying for OVER a day to get to Bali, so don’t skimp on your flight. Invest the money to get a good flight, with little layover time, from a reputable airline, with great food and even better customer service. Also note that our domestic airlines (United, Delta, etc), suck compared to the rest of the world. Our first class is like the economy class on an Emirates flight.
We are big fans of Google Flights and SkyScanner for booking travel. International flights should be booked out at least 3 months in advance, anything inside that and you’ll see they start getting more and more expensive. We spent about $1,500 per person, but we booked a little bit inside that window. If you book enough in advance, you can find them closer to a $1k.
The other benefit to flying Korean Air was free checked bags (2 per person) up to 50lbs and free carry-on's. We both checked a suitcase and carried on a backpack.
Bali is exactly 12 hours ahead of us, and as much as we tried to sync our clocks as we were traveling, sleep on the plane, keep ourselves awake on the plane, it was hard not to experience some sleep deprivation and weird jet-lag upon arrival. But bringing a sleep mask and ear plugs, will really help if you're trying to sleep on a long flight.
I would say, make sure you bring a change of clothes, and some sort of body wipe/face wash. After the initial 14 hour flight, it feels good to change clothes, wipe yourself down, freshen-up, etc, before getting back on another plane for another 7+ hours of sitting and swamp ass. I swear by these Shower Wipes and these toning facial wipes.
We arrived in Bali at 1am, after having traveled about 24 hours. I was wired but also exhausted at this point. The airport is gorgeous, kind of an indoor/outdoor vibe, like most of Bali. It was a comfortable 80 degrees at 1am, and I was in a sundress. Our driver (he was part of the staff that came with the house), was there to greet us with a sign, holding up our names “Courtney and Travis”. Warning: there are HUNDREDS of drivers picking people up at the airport. I had never seen anything like it. We were communicating via WhatsApp, and he sent a photo of himself & a photo of where he was standing, so we could head that direction right out of the gate.
I read somewhere that wine in Bali is very expensive. Upon arrival, I realized that this is not really true. Bali has several wineries (I love anything by Plaga!), their wines are delicious and very reasonably priced. You can pick it up at most shops for about $10 American. If you are looking for a wine from California though, you are going to pay a lot more because it’s been imported. I love wine and wanted to make sure I had some available to me, so I checked a bottle and Travis checked a bottle. This is because per-person, you are only allowed to have 1 liter of alcohol on you; you have to claim this as you enter the country, and it will limit then how much you can buy at the Duty Free at the airport.
In the future, I won’t bring my own wine, knowing that I can pop into a local shop and pick up a few bottles of Plaga wine (their Rosé is awesome).
So after cruising through Duty Free (we each picked up a small bottle of hard alcohol, to bring us up to our 1 liter allowance), we hopped in our drivers car and made the 3 hour trek to Eastern Bali, Amed.
The drive was ROUGH. There was no one on the road, it was 1am, I am sure Robbie (our driver) wanted to get us there as fast as possible, and I am sure we wanted to get there as fast as possible. But the suspension in his car wasn’t the best and he was driving - um, hurriedly, you could say. Add that all up: it was NOT a relaxing ride in the back seat like I thought it would be. The roads in Bali are twisting and turning, and he was passing most scooter-riders, so it was a lot of accelerating and then decelerating, bottoming out on bumps and dips … I was white-knuckling it for the entire drive, trying to not get car sick.
The combination of the turbulent plane ride and lack of sleep, the excitement of being in a new country, now compounded with this really fast, really bumpy car ride up and down hilly terrain in the dark, had me feeling SOME KIND OF WAY.
And then we arrived at the villa. When the manger of the Villa (his name is Madé), opened the front gate for us, and ushered us in, taking our bags, and walking us down the entrance stairs to the veranda, it was in that moment that I knew it was ALL worth it.
It was dark, so we couldn’t see the view yet. I could see the amazing architecture of the house though, the beautiful decorations, and I could smell the salt water on the air and listen to the ocean waves, it sounded like it was literally 2 feet from me; loud and powerful and blocking out anything else. The pictures on TripAdvisor did not do our Villa justice!
So, duh, I started crying. I was so relieved, so happy, and so overwhelmed with joy that we’d made it, I just became a blubbering mess. I feel like maybe Madé was used to this from other guests, because he just patted me on the back, smiled a big smile, and continued to show us around.
He got us all settled in with the Wifi password, shared the information book (a binder full of things to do), and asked what time we’d like the girls (the staff includes a cook and a maid) to arrive in the morning to cook us breakfast. He explained that Robbie (our driver) would be available to us anytime we wanted a drive anywhere, that he as the manager would be available to help us with anything at anytime, including planning trips, restaurant recommendations, etc.
It was about 4am at this point. I was exhausted and yet, so elated. We said goodbye to Madé, who promised to stop by again in the morning, and we made our way to our cool, air-conditioned bedroom, and fell into a deep, deep sleep in the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on.
The rest to follow in Part 2: Bali.