The moment we landed in Ngurah Rai International Airport of Bali, also known as Denpasar International Airport, the hot, humid air of the tropical island engulfed us and it was nearly midnight. As usual, the airport exit gate was crowded with taxi drivers. After more than half an hour of bargaining, a car took us to our hotel, passing darkened streets in silence. Only the bars near Kuta Beach breached the silence with some music and light. It was the end of February and my friend Jin and I were on our way to Australia heading from China. We chose Bali as our transition point and decided to stay for a week. With our late arrival, the Bali trip had finally begun.
Next morning we found ourselves in the middle of a small alley. Walking through it, we came across shops, restaurants and massage parlors along the road. Like many other tourist spots in Asia, there were colorful dresses and trousers displayed in shops, giving the place an exotic feel. It was the off season so girls from massage parlors sat outside the shops, saying “massage, massage” softly to passersby, as if they were afraid to bother us. At the end of the alley we came across the famous Kuta Beach.
Kuta Beach is famous for its colorful night life and surfing and that’s where most backpackers wind up. There’s always loud music, surfboard and girls in bikinis with their hair flowing in the wind. When darkness fell and street lamps came on, the party began.
Music and drinks so essential for a party could be found in the bars. We walked into a bar that faced the road and the beach beyond it. Standing in front of the dazzling light and happy people, even the band guys were enjoying their time on stage. Familiar old rock music flowed freely in the air. For that moment, I forgot who I was and where I came from. I existed in the moment, and that moment seemed to go on forever. After a drink, we ran to the beach. The waves in the dark make you feel safe and afraid at the same time; afraid of the unknown, but feeling safe out of ignorance. Everything else faded away except for the warm wave and the enormous sea. On our way back, the live music came mixed with the sound of the sea. I just wanted to melt into the music and float with the tropical wind.
After staying in Kuta for two nights, we booked a car and headed to our next destination. Ubud is one of Bali’s major artistic and cultural centers. It is located in the southeast part of the main island. We took nearly three hours to reach the center of Ubud town, where Monkey Forest Road and Jl Raya Ubud Street crossed. Totally unprepared, we hadn't booked our hotel in advance. We just carried our luggage and randomly searched for a place to stay along the road. Luckily, there were some small signs along the road saying “family hotel” or “Inn”. We chose one not far from the center. Our choice turned out to be good as it was easy to go anywhere in every direction. Most of the time in Ubud, we just strolled around town to enjoy the views, to explore the shops and especially to try their food. The Balinese steamed and roasted duck known as Dirty Duck is popular, and it was good.
Later that day, we walked along the road in front of the hotel into the heart of Ubud. The road became narrower as we walked further along coming across many lanes on the sides, which were the living gallery of local buildings and temples. Entering any of the alleys was like entering a maze. Bounded by the walls on two sides, all we could see were the tall Penjor1 in front of every house. The Balinese use natural raw materials such as yellow wood, quartzite, pebbles, granite, thatch for building. The colors are mostly black and brown to keep in harmony with the environment. Watching from the narrow isle, brown houses piled up along the oblique road with red and green plants interspersed among them, which was right out of a fairy tale. After crossing many alleys, we got out of the maze and reached one of the main roads which could lead to Ubud Palace. The noisy tourists were back again.
Next day, we decided to visit the famous Ubud Palace and Monkey Forest. The best way to travel for outsiders would be to rent out to a motorbike, because of the inconvenience of public transportation on the island. There’s an entrance fee for tourists to enter the Ubud Palace. Walking into the garden, the classic royal architecture caught my eye, taking us back in time. The famous Ubud Palace was smaller than I expected. It only took me about fifteen minutes to walk through all the palaces, but it is not a place just for quick sightseeing. It is a place to sit down and take in the surroundings. Most travelers do. We sat down watching the sunlight fall on the Paduraksa2 in the palace rendering everything yellow. On the west side of the sky, the cloud turned pink and orange. The world seemed to be warmer and softer in that magic hour. We shared the same twilight with other visitors, enjoying a moment of peace.
The Monkey Forest was quite far compared to the other attractions. We drove out of the town and passed several villages. The land was flat and the sky was bright. Coconut trees stood in a row along the road. Tropical fruits could be easily found along the way at very good prices. All of the experiences reminded me of the Terai in Nepal. Even the Monkey Forest reminded me of Swoyambhu, both of which are famous for the monkeys.
Small tropical islands are always the best places to spend your holidays. Though Bali was already an island, we still wanted to go further out into the other islands. We chose Lembongan Island. Located on the southeast of the main island, it is famous for seaweed farming, diving and snorkeling. A minibus took us to the Sanur Beach, after which we reached Mushroom Bay in Lembongan Island after an hour’s ride on the ferry. Our hotel was close to the Mushroom Bay, where we could find shops and restaurants close by. We thought we had got used to the heat in Bali, but when we reached Lembongan, the heat was still suffocating. Everyone tends to laze around on the island, moving around slowly wearing slippers. Unlike other commercialized tourists spots, the island is mainly covered with forest with only a few restaurants and shops centered in Mushroom Bay. Most hotels are very inconspicuous, hidden around the corners. We rented a motorbike to explore the vast jungle and drove along the only road on the island. It was free of traffic when the bike breezed down the road, leaving all the greenery behind. I enjoyed the pristine cool air and fresh scenery shouting and laughing all the way. When the bike went down the hill, we could see the whole island, the sea and horizon far away. We drove past the local people’s houses and small food stands along the road, where we occasionally pulled up to eat. In one restaurant, we met some locals and two French people from whom we learned that most tourists were in the sea, diving. That explained why there were so few people on the island.
The next day we booked a snorkeling ship with a Chinese couple and went out to the sea. If you ask me what paradise looks like, I would say it looks like the sea around the tropics. The light blue water was crystal clear, sparkling in the sun. It felt like there were just us, the sea and the sky left. Jumping into the water, we were surrounded by colorful fish and the coral reef. The multi-colored underwater world looked just like the travel show on TV. That day, we went to three different snorkeling spots, among which we found Buddha statues sitting on the bottom of the sea covered with seaweed. Characins swam around it. Our guide took off his respirator, dived deep to where the statue of the Buddha was, and waved at us. Floating on the sea admiring the view, I felt an amazing feeling rise inside me. Maybe this is what traveling is all about; to forget my own life, to see the magic world around us.