Stepping out of the airport in Denpasar, the heat will embrace you like a familiar friend. If you’ve been to Indonesia and other Asian countries before, you’ll know the heat can be generously thick, yet if you’re leaving winter in New Zealand like I was then you’ll most likely turn up in jeans or pants and regret the decision until you reach a long-awaited shower at your hotel room, (heads up to pop a t-shirt and shorts in your carry-on). Nevertheless, there’s nothing quite like a tropical escape from the wet and windy months back home.
It may sound cliché, but it’s true – the air smells like lemongrass, frangipani and something else sweet and magical you can’t quite put your finger on. The enveloping heat invites you to roll down the taxi window and take it all in – the sizzling street food, the flood of scooters and horns and the hustle and bustle of this beautiful island.
I was so glad to be back in one of my favourite places, and you couldn’t have taken the smile off my face if you tried!
With a heart full of excitement and a suitcase brimming with sunscreen and long since worn shorts, I embarked on a journey that would encompass turquoise beaches, delicious cuisine, the compassionate people of Indonesia and of course, the thrill of riding a scooter on winding roads with the sun kissing my face.
Our first stay was in the somewhat urban vibes of Seminyak, the perfect place to slowly ease into island life. After a cooling plunge in our private pool we headed to Seminyak Square where we fossicked through the sea of trinkets on display, bartering for a lower, more appealing price. I’m not the best at partaking in the ‘haggle’ but gave it a good shot and ended up with a handbag half the price! Although most likely double the price of its worth…
Although it can daunting, haggling is an integral aspect of Indonesian culture, deeply rooted in the tradition of friendly negotiation and mutual respect in markets and daily transactions. If you ever find yourself in the midst of it, don’t be afraid to suggest a lower price, or start with just a few dollars off – just remember that they are still trying to make a living!
The atmosphere on the Seminyak streets is an eclectic fusion of traditional Balinese aesthetics and modern style, creating a unique ambiance that is both serene and energetic.
With weary legs and a desire to see the sun dip below the horizon in style we ordered refreshing margaritas at the infamous Woobar on Seminyak Beach where the people watching was also really fun. This beach club was a bit pricey with the only option to book a sun couch for two hours and hope to drink and eat your cost of the hire – that was of course no challenge for me. But it was worth it, and hey, what are holidays for? I’ve done the backpacking and living on a budget gig, so an occasional splurge is okay I reckon!
For two blissful nights, we indulged in the vibrant nightlife, sampled sumptuous dishes and even downed a few bottles of the local Bintang beer.
It was a taste of Bali’s vibrant culture that left me with a smile as wide as the locals.
We headed inland to the lush, green heart of Bali – Ubud. This is a truly captivating place with a rich tapestry of culture, nature and art. It also felt like a real authentic Balinese experience, which Seminyak can often lack due to the saturation of tourists.
We ventured into the mystical, moss-covered Monkey Forest, where cheeky macaques rule the roost. I watched a mischievous monkey snatch a tourist’s phone charger, and couldn’t help but think, “Welcome to the jungle!” Aside from the Animal Kingdom meets a tech-savvy gang of pickpockets side of things, this ancient forest boasts a rich history. Dating back to the 14th century, it has been regarded as a sacred place, housing spiritual forces and guardian spirits. The 1260 long-tailed macaques, are seen as sacred animals to the local Balinese people, symbolising both protection and mischief, and a unique connection between humans and wildlife.
Ubud’s lush landscapes are a treat for the senses. The emerald-green rice terraces that surround the town are not only a visual delight but also a testament to the traditional farming practices of the region. The lush vegetation and the soothing sounds of the Ayung River winding through the town create a serene atmosphere, perfect for introspection. Ubud is a sanctuary of calm in the middle of Bali’s bustling energy, and if you’re looking for some meditation, tranquillity or yoga time, you’ll find it here.
Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan
From Ubud, we taxied and boarded a boat to the increasingly popular Nusa Lembongan and its smaller sibling, Nusa Ceningan. Known for some of the best surf breaks in the world this is paradise and with a whole week here I could really get into ‘island life’. We rented scooters so we could explore the islands’ hidden gems.
Cruising over the iconic yellow bridge that connects the two islands felt like crossing into a different world as Nusa Ceningan is not as populated but just as charming. A scooter is the best way to get around here, and for around $8 per day you can’t really go wrong. Zipping from beaches to look-outs, and markets to beachside restaurants, this by far topped my favourite destinations list.
Perched on a cliff was our stunning home for the next week, Rindu Villa, that looked straight out of a brochure and had an infinity pool overlooking the endless blue sea. The sunsets here were a daily spectacle – breathtaking blends of colours that washed over us in waves of awe.
Each night, we jumped on our scooters and headed to one of the nearest local restaurants. I became a bit obsessed with Sate Ayam (Chicken Satay) and made it my mission to rate each one I tried in order to find the best – it can’t be that bad right? All protein?
Hesitant to leave these two dreamy islands, we took a small, and frightfully sweaty boat ride to Lombok. Our home for the next week was a southern beach town called Selong Belanak, a tranquil paradise where time slowed down. The beach, with its powdery white sand and crisp beer on tap, beckoned us to sunbathe and forget the worries of the world.
The coastline of Selong Belanak is a surfer’s dream, and even as a novice, I couldn’t resist riding the waves. They are small and friendly on the main shore with boards to hire by the hour, but if you take a jukang (small outrigger canoe) out to the big breaks, keep your wits about you. I had a bit of a terrifying experience and got pulled under for a long while, after which I had to use my remaining strength to paddle back to the boat which was anchored out past the waves that had just ambushed me. Nothing a good sate ayam and Bintang couldn’t cure though.
We immersed ourselves in the local culture by visiting a friend of my husband’s, Samsul and his family, in their small village, sharing stories and laughter over cups of sweet Indonesian tea and traditional food. Covid was a tough time for the locals on Lombok, with many people losing their jobs, including Samsul. It was heart-warming to hear how the community bands together and supports each other. As Samsul talked his passion became increasingly apparent; he told us about his mission to teach local children English, so now we have set aside time to log in to Samsul’s class once a month to help his students learn English.
One thing I noticed on Lombok is that even when times are tough, the people don’t lose their kindness and spirit. They are strong, resilient, and take pride in everything they do. Plus, they are friendly. Driving through the small towns on my scooter and having so many people smile and wave brought me so much joy.
At the end of our trip we stayed at Amber Resort, a luxurious oasis right on the beach where the sounds of the waves serenaded us to sleep every night. We strolled along the beach, cocktail in hand, and felt incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to travel and experience moments like this. The water buffalo made this scene even more magical, strolling right past you in the lapping water with the towering mountains in the background. A surreal experience. And of course, no trip to Indonesia would be complete without indulging in some authentic Indonesian massages that left us feeling rejuvenated and utterly relaxed.
The essence of Indonesia
Reflecting on my holiday, I’m reminded of the magic of travel. It’s not just about the places you visit, but the people you meet and the experiences that leave a lasting impression on your heart.
The genuine kindness of the locals, the tantalising cuisine that danced on my taste buds, the ethereal beauty of the beaches, and the thrill of scootering through picturesque landscapes – all of these are etched in my memory. My adventure in Indonesia was not just a trip, it was a journey of the heart and soul.
If you ever find yourself yearning for a taste of paradise, where every sunset is a masterpiece, and the journey is as rewarding as the destination – pack your bags and set your course for Bali and Lombok. You won’t be disappointed. Traveling here is like stepping into a dream, one that will leave you with a heart full of gratitude and a camera roll full of memories that will last a lifetime. Terima kasih, Indonesia!
If you’re wanting to see highlights of Bali and Lombok or ask for travel advice, don’t hesitate to visit my Instagram page @jess_weale.
Del Cielo Villa – Just a few minutes away from the famous Petitenget Beach and trendy fashion, dining and entertainment district. Affordable and located on a quiet street. delcielovillaseminyak.com
Warung Jembung Restaurant – The perfect local spot next to rice fields, affordable, and friendly staff.
Graha Sandat Villas – This tranquil villa is just off the main road of Ubud but feels like you are in a quiet retreat with your own pool and lush greenery. pramanaexperience.com/villas-in-bali/graha-sandat-villas
Donna Restaurant – A slightly more pricey contemporary restaurant that celebrates the vibrancy and diversity of Mediterranean and Latin American cuisine, featuring classic dishes and modern interpretations on traditional favourites. donnaubud.com
Rindu Villa – Beautiful ocean views overlooking the channel between the two islands. Relax by the infinity pool and soak in the stunning seaside view. Restaurants and beaches are walking distance or hire a scooter from the villa owner. Breakfast is cooked for you every morning. airbnb.co.nz/rooms/23359012
Two Raksa – The best chicken satay! Very affordable food and drinks and you are met with smiles and warm conversation. instagram.com/tworaksa_cafe
Palm Merah Villas – More affordable accommodation a 5 minute walk and 1 minute scooter ride from the beach. Clean and comfortable with your own pool and extremely friendly owner and cat. secure.guestaps.com/palmmerah
Mango Lodge Rooftop Bar and Restaurant – With the same owner as Palm Merah Villas, this is a beautiful place to eat, drink or stay. Only 2 minutes from the beach, watch the water buffalo in the paddock and the skyline for miles.