Eden Has an Address: Exquisite Living on the Island of the Gods

Eden Has an Address: Exquisite Living on the Island of the Gods

I’m absolutely stunned. This introduction has taken me a disproportionately long time to write, because I’ve really struggled to find the words to adequately describe how unbearably beautiful Bali, Indonesia truly is. I was not prepared for this. In fact, I was prepared to take my time here with a massive grain of tropical salt: Bali is so well-worn on the tourist trail, so overtly commercialized, so cliché given its famous ‘Eat Pray Love’ notoriety, that I thought for sure I’d find a mixed bag here – a worthwhile tradeoff for a relaxing post-Everest escape.
There’s no way around it, though: this is a blisteringly beautiful paradise. Nestled in the warm embrace of the Indian Ocean,  Bali is what happens when lush jungles, smoldering volcanoes, cotton candy sunsets, sun-kissed beaches, the intoxicating sweet scent of flowers, and a magical spiritual core get together for dinner – and you’re invited. 
Are you into surfing, hiking, scuba, and adventure? Or are you more the type for indulgent pampering and saltwater sunbathing? Do you welcome the sunrise to conclude a night of drunken dancing, or to greet the day for yoga and an organic superfood breakfast? Do you fancy chic gourmet dining and luxury shopping, or do you prefer roadside street eats and local markets? Do you seek exotic cultural immersion, or the plush comforts of home? 
Doesn’t matter; These are all trick questions. Bali ticks every single box without breaking a sweat. Of course, this slice of heaven has a price tag. Only, wait a sec, it’s astonishingly – astonishingly – affordable. I’m talking ‘live like a king for next to no money’ affordable. If you’re waiting for the catch, so am I, and your guess is as good as mine. Nobody here bothers asking how Bali earned the nickname ‘Island of the Gods’, because they’re too busy indulging in its heavenly brand of tropical nirvana. To be clear, it’s hardly a well-kept secret: this is an island teeming with tourists and commercial presence – but it’s too damn good to care.
Now that I have your attention, I’ll fill you in on how I’ve come to this rather flowery conclusion. It began in Seminyak, the ultra-trendy beach district teeming with so-hip-it-hurts restaurants, cafés, and clubs. Unlike it’s southerly neighbor Kuta, a notoriously trashy haven for debaucherous drunken Aussies taking advantage of a brief flight from home, Seminyak is the slightly elevated older brother: a bit more sophisticated, but with a very much intact appreciation for a good night out. With its ubiquitous private villas, beachside pool clubs, french press coffees, and dimly-lit cocktail bars, I suspected that the ‘Yak (sue me, I didn’t coin the nickname) would make for the perfect recuperative getaway from Nepal’s strenuous trekking. I wasn’t wrong. 

Sarah (You remember Sarah!) and I arrived at our private gated 3-bedroom villa – complete with a pool, daily maid service, and private airport transfer – and spent our first day doing absolutely nothing at all. When Kenzie (Co-conspirator of ours in Sydney and Melbourne) arrived the next day, we graduated to doing ‘not too much’ – and split amongst the three of us, that lavish villa I mentioned would now be costing us each a wallet-busting $31 per night. 

(After a few nights here, we’d move over to our own private room at a hostel in town to cut costs substantially lower still. But don’t feel too sorry for us. It wasn’t a bad spot 😉)
What we did manage to do was eat really good food, drink really good coffee, and visit some really good bars and clubs. Restaurants in Seminyak boast gorgeous designer interiors, menus rife with fresh delicious organic food, and, of course, free wifi (the kids love it these days)! Prices fall just north of nicer drive-thru value meals. Bars are awash in neon, street art, ocean views, and sexy crowds – but are somehow completely devoid of snobbishness and pretension, harboring an easy island vibe despite their presence on the bleeding edge. Blend the sexy beach style of Miami, the young-and-hip edge of NYC or Melbourne, and the ‘no worries’ island attitude and inclusivity of Thailand, and you’ve got Seminyak – at a slim fraction of the price. 
Favorite spots? Motel Mexicola, which slung legitimately authentic Mexican fare in an atmosphere dripping in color and harboring an uproariously fun dance party – complete with conga line – at dinner hour on a weeknight (we’d later return for their CRAZY Cinco de Mayo party). 
Aya Street, a Peruvian fusion restaurant with stunning nikkei dishes plucked right out a Michelin dream and walls dripping with street art, mirrors, and neon. 
La Favela, a massive and gorgeously designed nightclub that evokes a gritty Brazilian neighborhood and feels like a massive house party where everyone’s a friend of a friend – no snobbish exclusivity, VIP ropes, or entry fees. 
I forgot to take a photo; here's one of theirs
Potato Head Beach Club, which hosts an infinity pool from which to view a postcard sunset, complete with a swim-up bar, two gourmet restaurants, and a live DJ spinning low-key deep house music under a canopy of disco balls suspended between a group of palm trees. 
The one real cultural activity we managed to get into during our time in the neighborhood was actually an hour’s drive away at the Ulawatu Sea Temple, which housed an amphitheater perched on a cliffside facing the ocean where we saw a traditional Kecac dance performance, which included both gorgeous views and… uh… a giant monkey dancing in a ring of fire. So yeah, there’s that.
Point is, Seminyak is not a stressful place. But for all its trendy hotspots, it lacks… caloric value. It’s the ideal spot to relax and indulge, but it’s not exactly rife with authenticity – or soul. Enter Ubud, one of the foremost spiritual epicenters of the world: a place with a magical magnetism that you feel the moment you step foot in it. The sole commonality between these two boroughs is the fact that they’re both so stunning and bizarrely affordable – and there the similarities end.

Ubud: Spiritual Juggernaut

Providing a gorgeous viridian ‘yang’ to Seminyak’s oceanic ‘yin’, Ubud is nestled under lush canopy, bursting with vivid flora and seeping in a palpable energy that’s pretty tough to put into words. Supremely serene, Ubud’s landscape combines seemingly-limitless rice terraces, steep ravines, ethereal forests, and mystical temples. The city center is surprisingly cosmopolitan, but despite a buzz of activity is nonetheless incredibly zen. I don’t use that word accidentally – Ubud has a global reputation for its focus on wellness, which manifests itself in manners practical (yoga, health foods, sauna), experimental (sensory deprivation tanks, colonic irrigation, detox), esoteric (ecstatic dance, crystals, ozone therapy, tarot), and… erm… dubious (DNA healing, reiki, etc). 

The end result is a warm, spiritually rife town with ample opportunity for quiet reflection, self improvement, worship, and healthy living. It never comes off as pretentious – you’re struck immediately with an urge to spend your time in a productive, healthy manner, and locals and visitors alike all have incredibly positive mindsets and big smiles in tow. Our hostel here didn’t stray much from the Ubudian standard – it was stunning. Free breakfast and yoga in the mornings, to boot!
In Ubud, we continued to enjoy delicious fare, including dinner at Locavore, which made 2016’s list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and has subsequently been included in Asia’s 50 Best List multiple times. They use incredibly fresh and healthy local ingredients.
We paid a visit to the Sacred Monkey Forest, an absolutely beautiful sanctuary that’s home to several Hindu temples and hundreds of macaques: Balinese long-tailed monkeys. The scenery takes your breath away, and the inhabitants take away whatever other unsecured items you have on you; they’re thieving little monkeys who have lost all fear of humans after years of exposure and interaction. Fortunately we knew to secure our things – but we witnessed a few unlucky visitors have their food and drink pilfered. Entertainment for us, at least.
The 4 AM wakeup call one day was well worth witnessing Ubud’s famous rice terraces as they were illuminated by the rising morning sun – and we witnessed them again on another day as the sun retreated below the horizon, as well. It doesn’t get much more serene or beautiful than sights like these.
As you might expect, Ubud and the surrounding area also have several beautiful temples around town that we were eager to see, and they too failed to disappoint.
We visited Paradiso: an independent movie theater and vegan restaurant that serves healthy fare on demand as you kick back and enjoy a free film; They post their schedule a month in advance and screen a diverse variety of movies, documentaries, and even binge-worthy Netflix docuseries like Wild Wild Country, a recent obsession of mine. We watched ‘Disconnect’, a fictitious film that highlights the pitfalls of living an increasingly online life and the perils of cyber-bullying.
Finally in Ubud, I had an opportunity to try out something I’ve been meaning to try for some time now: a sensory deprivation tank, also known as a ‘float tank’. It’s a concept that’s been rapidly gaining in popularity, thanks in no small part to podcasts like The Joe Rogan Experience – a favorite of mine – to facilitate an unprecedented physical space for uninterrupted meditation. Essentially, it’s a lightless, soundproof ‘pod’ (not entirely unevocative of a casket) that’s filled with extremely dense epsom salt water, heated to match human body temperature. 
The resulting environment allows you to float effortlessly on your back, in absolute darkness and silence – it’s a feeling of weightlessness and absolute nothingness that cuts off all of your senses except for your own restless mind. For an hour, you’re alone and entirely uninterrupted by the external stimuli that so relentlessly bombard our daily lives. The experience was a good one – though it was a quick reminder that I have a lot of work left to do on my meditation practice. Best of all, the facility itself was absolutely beautiful (shocker!), and after I finished my float, I had a private bed to myself with a fresh young coconut to reflect on my experience.

Fire and Water: Adventures in the North

After four blissfully relaxing days in Ubud, it was time for a field trip to the North of the island, where we’d visit Tulamben – home of the world-famous USS Liberty Shipwreck, which has been highlighted as one of the 50 best scuba diving sites in the world. Tucked off the coast of a tiny little local dive town, this absolutely gorgeous wreck is TEEMING with life. I forgot to bring my GoPro, but fortunately my pal Google has seen the place:
While the diving was magical, the real highlight was the awesome hospitality we were shown by the Dive Shop we chose to explore the site with, Aqua Dive Paradise. Owner Alex and divemaster Kadek weren’t just competent, kind professionals who lead us on our underwater adventure – they were also incredibly benevolent hosts who insisted on us sticking around for HOURS after our dives drinking local beers, laughing, swapping stories, and even sampling Alex’s homemade honey arak, a local Balinese liquor notorious for its potency. These guys treated us like we were their own family, and it felt like we were old friends by the time they gave us a free lift back to our hostel that evening, stargazing from the back of their pickup as we drove along the beautiful coastline. 
They even helped us arrange a car for the next day, when we made our way to the base of Mount Batur, just one of Indonesia’s 127(!!!) active volcanos that constitute the aptly named ‘Ring of Fire’. That’s right: Indonesia has more active volcanoes than any other country on planet Earth. When we arrived at the gorgeous Black Lava Hostel, we were preparing for a sunrise trek to the smoking caldera of one of them. The hostel itself was magical enough – a natural volcanic hot spring feeds its pool-with-a-view, creating a natural hot tub in which to relax and kick back a few beers (a few of which the lovely owner provided for free, just because)! 

We rose at 3 in the morning to embark on the 2 hour trek to the top – certainly no Everest by any means – but the journey was a fun one that provided for one hell of a sunrise view to enjoy over breakfast. Not just any breakfast, though – fresh fruits and banana sandwiches that were cooked naturally by our local Balinese guide over volcanic steam, plus hot coffee and tea to cut the chill from the summit wind. Breakfast doesn’t get much cooler than that!

"But wait - there's more!"

We’ve actually been exploring a few other Indonesian islands away from idyllic Bali in the time since we finished the Batur trek – but I’m going to cover that time in my next post and wrap this one up, since it’s getting a bit… wordy. Suffice it to say, I’m absolutely smitten with Indonesia, and I think it’s likely pretty clear as to why. The people here are the kindest and sweetest I’ve met anywhere in the world, the food is mouthwateringly good, the diverse scenery is enough to bring tears to your eyes, and the cost of living is uproariously inexpensive. This country has been my favorite destination in the world so far, and that’s not something I expected to say.
It bears mentioning that we visited Bali in the shoulder season, and boy am I glad we did. I’ve heard the crowds during high season can get pretty dense, and prices creep up as competition increases. While April is the hottest month of the year – and it does get proper HOT here – temperatures don’t really fluctuate that much throughout the year, and we’ve seen nothing but beautiful weather without a single drop of rain. Locals seemed really appreciative of our off-season dollars, hotspots were busy but not at all packed, and our bargaining power was strong. 
In any case, several of you have messaged me asking about whether Bali is a spot worth visiting – and no matter when you do it, I think it’s evident that my answer is a resounding YES. I will be coming back here, MANY times – perhaps even retiring here some day. There’s a vibrant expat community in Ubud, and that’s something worth chewing on for a bit.

See you again soon, Bali. Can’t be soon enough.

In my next update, I’ll tell you about Gili Air, the tiniest and most remote island I’ve ever step foot on – and about diving and trekking in Komodo, an unprecedented underwater paradise and a gorgeous cluster of islands where I’ll be meeting an ancient predator with ancestors that date back more than 100 Million years. Should be a fun post 😉 

3 thoughts on “Eden Has an Address: Exquisite Living on the Island of the Gods

  1. This sounds amazing. Would Dad and I like to go there? We need to figure out where and when to meet you.

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