After going to Africa for two successive years, I decided to winter closer to home. My mother and sister came to Phnom Penh for a few days before all of us headed to Bali, Indonesia for a week of sun and surf. My sister had a timeshare of a gorgeous small villa with private pool (thanks Sarah!) in the sleepy town of Seminyak.
After the stress of work and study, I just wanted time to do nothing but read and watch trashy celebrity TV for a week which is exactly what I got! FYI, Cambodian TV is very strange / unpredictable. I can never keep up with the ever-changing, eclectic schedule of the 2-3 non-movie English channels which in some weeks may feature everything from TMZ to CSI to Top Chef and then disappear completely… It’s also strange what you crave for just because you can’t have it, but that’s for a completely different post!
Bali seems to be one of those places where you need to know people to get to the best beaches. Taxis are relatively expensive to get from Kuta (the main town) to Nusa Dua (where the best beaches are). We did manage to get to the beach a few times, but I wasn’t impressed with Bali beaches a few years ago, and saw nothing to change my mind. Long stretches of beach, yes, but despite being an island, the water was never that clear or blue.
We did manage to do a day trip around the island, seeing cultural dancing, the monkey forest, artsy towns that specialized in gold or silversmithing and lovely terraced rice fields, something I’ve always wanted to see. My favorite stop was the small town of Ubud, a two hour taxi ride away from Kuta. There, streets are lined with boutiques filled with unique jewelry, crafts and soaps. It made for a great shopping day. Best buy: a decorative metal tree for USD 15!
In Bali I also came across something I’d never seen before – money change scammers! Ubiquitous stalls with “Authorized Money Changer” stenciled onto a chalkboard are on every corner but consist of nothing more than a shack. The money changers make a deliberate, careful display of counting out lots of bills in stacks in front of you (USD 1 = Rupiah 9,000), hoping you’ll just take the money. However, every time I would count the bills again, inevitably about USD 10-20 worth would inexplicably be missing! At one place, I actually saw the guy “accidentally” let some bills drop behind the counter. Obvious newbie. But at a second place, no matter how hard I looked, I could NOT see the sleight of hand despite him counting out the money twice right in front of me. Every time he’d count it, I’d count it afterward. Finally, he told me to get lost when he saw that I was going to re-count the money every time he touched it… It was definitely the strangest thing and the first time I’ve seen that scam pulled anywhere in Asia.
Travel tip: The beaches aren’t that great, so definitely schedule a day trip to the lush interior of the island. Barring hiring your own taxi for the day, I did notice touristy shuttle vans running between the main cities (Kuta + airport to Ubud, for instance) on a schedule with a few trips back and forth every day. Being an island, food prices aren’t as cheap as you would expect. Arts and crafts / home decorations are of high quality / materials. Handmade soaps and boxes crafted out of bamboo or cinnamon make for nice gifts. Asia is blessed with a burgeoning budget airlines industry. Once you land in Asia, check out Skyscanner to find out all the airlines that fly in / out of your desired destination and start researching. Not all travel search engines (like Expedia or Travelocity) include the budget airlines which most of the time are your cheapest options (albeit usually with less desirable connection times).