As was the case 4 years ago when we were living in Nanjing, Chinese New Year crept up on us and we were faced with the prospect of either sitting in China for a week with nothing to do as everything shuts down, or pay through the nose for tickets out of the country. Our wallets are unhappy with our decision, but we’re not.
Our friends had previously purchased tickets to Bali, Indonesia for CNY and they were generous enough to let us and 2 other families crash their vacation. Bali has been pretty high on my travel list for the past few years and I’m so glad I finally got to experience it–especially with some of our closest Shanghai friends!
Since we were pokey at purchasing tickets, our flights were less-than ideal. It took us about 24 hours and three flights to get to Bali when it should have taken 1/3 that time. Our most painful layover was in Jakarta from 12:30-5:00 am. At one point, Greyson had a major blowout that took three people to contain. As we were in the throes of de-pooping, Kinley threw up all over the airport floor. Traveling internationally with kids is soooooooo fun. You should definitely try it.
Our first destination in Bali was Ubud. Ubud is inland and is the cultural heart of the island. Most of my travel group wasn’t too thrilled to add Ubud to the itinerary, but I made a passionate argument in favor of it, and I’m glad I did.
Upon arrival, we visited the famous Tegalalang Rice Terraces. They’re still used to farm rice, but their main value is in the tourism they draw. Unfortunately, that’s how much of Bali is–I would have loved to have visited it before it was “discovered.” We were able to hike down the rice terraces, which proved to be pretty challenging with both kids, the heat and the humidity. I’m pretty sure that tears were shed, though noting compared to the misery that followed.
Kinley had a meltdown of Biblical proportion on the way home from the terraces—kicking, screaming, clawing, more screaming, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Considering that she hadn’t slept the previous night, had sadly thrown up on the floor after complaining her stomach hurt and being ignored (we were preoccupied by the blowout), and was now being dragged through a HOT, new country, we had it coming. She was so exhausted by the meltdown and everything that preceded it that she fell asleep while standing on the front of the scooter during the ride back to the hotel. She didn’t wake up for 16 hours. #respect
Chris stayed at the hotel with the kids so I could join my friends for dinner at a beautiful open-air Indonesian restaurant. The restaurant had traditional Balinese dancers and I was entranced. The more I travel, the less mysterious the world is, but something about the beautiful costumes and motions seemed so exotic and foreign.
Legong dance is usually performed by two women and it involves lots of dramatic facial expressions (shifty eyes and pursed lips), flexed fingers and side-to-side head movements. I loved the ornate clothing and the way that their headpieces were constantly bobbing. They invited me up to give it a try and I like to flatter myself into thinking I did pretty well.
Once I got home, Chris took a turn exploring and stumbled on a cremation ceremony (possibly a Ngaben) with hundreds of participants that went well into the early morning. It involved all kinds of intense religious stuff, dead bodies, and a guy in a scary mask. I’m sad I missed it; it sounded really fascinating.
Ubud is deeply religious and saturated in culture. Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, but Bali is Hindu, which is what makes it so unique. There were signs of people’s devotion everywhere. Commonly seen clothing included surangs (skirts worn by men and women) and headdresses. Sculptures of gods in prominent areas were dressed in religious clothing and the larger banyan trees were wrapped in large surangs. People leaving the temples had rice pressed to their foreheads and flower petals on top of their ears. The hour-long drive into Ubud was a constant blur of stone gods for sale along the roadside, and nearly every structure, whether a home or business, had an alter or a small temple on the property.
Another sign of the Balinese’s complete religious devotion is in their offerings. Daily offerings, called canang, are small shallow boxes made of coconut leaves and they’re EVERYWHERE. The canang are filled with different flowers and plants (representing different gods), a gift (usually a cracker, or a piece of waffle cone in the case of the ice cream shop we loved), and a stick of incense. These offerings are littering Bali. They’re on the floors of businesses. They’re on the sidewalks. They’re on top of parked scooters. Honestly, there a bit difficult to avoid and you have to watch your step. I read that the average home makes 15 offerings and they are replaced EVERY DAY. One alter we passed had a mountain of old canangs to the side that were slowly deteriorating in the elements.
Only females can make the canang and typically women offer the associated prayer unless they’re menstruating. They begin by dipping a flower in water and use it to sprinkle the offering. Afterwards, they fan the smoke of the incense 3 times with their hand while offering a prayer. It was not uncommon to see women attending to this each morning. It’s understandable why Ubud perpetually smelled of incense.
During our time in Ubud, we enjoyed some fun shopping and visited a lot of interesting temples and historic sights. We also took a trip to Monkey Forest, which, as the name implies, is teeming with monkeys. The monkeys are brazen from too much exposure to tourists. If you’re not careful, they’ll jump on your back and try to steal whatever they can get their creepy little hands on (Michaela nearly got robbed of her sunglasses). I was really worried about Kinley showing too much interest in the monkeys (or vice versa), so I threatened that she’d have to get a rabies shot if a monkey touched her. Unfortunately, one of the park employees didn’t get the memo and was helping Kinley feed a monkey. I think it was possibly one of the hi-lights of her trip though.
After two and-a-half days in Ubud, everyone in our group split for a night, which our family spent at a resort in Nusa Dua. Typically, I’m not a big advocate of resorts. My philosophy is: if you’re paying money and taking the time to travel to a new country, it’s stupid to isolate yourself in an artificial paradise. However, when you’re traveling with kids, you have to know your limitations (or more importantly, theirs) and taking a break in paradise is usually a good idea. We had a beautiful room and access to a lovely beach, which unfortunately we only enjoyed for about 30 minutes before a torrential downpour. It’s Bali’s rainy season and they can get 3-6″ of rain in a day. I figured we were already wet, so the kids and I had the pool and ocean mostly to ourselves.
Over the following 4 days, we rented an open-air beach house with our big group of friends. We didn’t realize how treacherous getting to the house would be (it was at the bottom of 150 uneven, steep, winding stairs carved out of the cliff, and a 10 minute walk from the nearest road), so thankfully the employees helped us with our bags. The weather continued to be spotty, and the beaches were pretty anticlimactic, but we had so much fun regardless. We enjoyed meals together, played games, and stayed up late talking. We did make it out on a few excursions, and whenever the rain cleared, we’d grab our stuff and run for the door to explore.