It was my first time in Asia, too, so the culture shock hit me hard and fast.
Walking around Kuta my first day, I quickly learned to stop making eye contact with vendors and touts, and focus on going about my business.
My hotel the first few nights had a beautiful swimming pool, complete with Swedish girls. I quickly learned how much those platinum blonde Scandinavians love Bali, and Southeast Asia.
I remember it all like it was yesterday, yet here I was landing on Bali over four years, and thirty countries later.
Would it look and feel the same since the Eat, Pray, Love craze took hold?
Upon our arrival from Komodo National Park, we ran into traffic on the normally quick, 45-minute drive from the airport in Denpasar to Seminyak.
This wasn’t a little traffic, it was bumper to bumper, reminiscent of the 495 Beltway around Washington, DC traffic.
But, hopefully, it is temporary–the result of a construction project south of Kuta that is ultimately aimed at reducing congestion on the main highway.
Upon arrival at the Kokonut Suites, we were greeted by the friendly staff with fresh coconut water, and lots of smiles.
Almost immediately, we hopped back in our vans and drove south, past the airport, to Uluwatu Temple.
Uluwatu, as I learned in 2008, is a popular place to go and watch the sunset. Due to more traffic on the way south, we got there just as the sun dipped below the clouds on the horizon.
Unlike my first visit to the temple complex, I didn’t witness a monkey steal anyone’s hat, it didn’t start to rain, and I had the chance to attend an exciting Kecak dance performance.
We slipped into the show after it was already underway, and thus were seated on the ground, right behind the performers.
The shirtless men of varying ages chanted in unison, providing the soundtrack to a theatrical performance involving a love story, and a heroic white monkey.
We’d previously seen the same story performed in the Javanese style in Yogyakarta, but I found the version at Uluwatu to be much more exciting.
It was also less than half as long (about one hour), which we all appreciated as well.
The next morning, we left for Ubud, in central Bali.
I have fond memories of my first visit to Ubud, which I did as a day trip from Kuta.
Visiting the Monkey Forest in 2008, I was able to complete a reader dare (bet), and earn myself $20 for getting a monkey to climb on me.
This time around, I didn’t feed the monkeys, but I did manage to capture some adorable shots of the babies.
It was interesting to observe how the older monkeys moved around the baby and mother to try to run interference with the tourists taking photos.
Clearly we outsized them, but thanks to survival instincts, it didn’t mean they weren’t going to try to protect their young.
We also visited Bu Oka to sample the local delicacy, roast suckling pig (babi guling).
I had previously been here too, as it had been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.
My taste for pork skin and blood sausage has not changed, but the tender, juicy meat remains worth the trip.
The suckling pig was a snack, and we’d later have lunch at a restaurant famous for its duck, but I’ll be sharing those photos in a future post.
I was signed up to go surfing on our third day, but by then, was feeling exhausted and unwell, so I relegated myself to bed rest.
(See Stephen’s post on Bohemian Traveler for terrific photos from his and the others’ surf session in Kuta.)
By late afternoon, I was feeling better, and joined the other bloggers, along with our entire supporting crew, and a representative from the Ministry of Tourism, for happy hour drinks and dinner at Bali’s hottest nightlife spot, the Potato Head Beach Club.
There, we were treated to another gorgeous sunset. Along with India, Bali is one of the few places I’ve seen purple sunsets.
Dinner at the beach club was one of the best of the two-week trip, and along with the duck restaurant in Ubud, I’ll be sharing those photos in a future post.
On our final morning in Indonesia, we were all treated to one hour Balinese massages at Taman Air Spa.
Over the last four years, I’ve had massages in a dozen different styles and countries around Asia, and the world, and the Balinese aromatherapy massages are still my favorite.
With time running out before my flight back to Berlin, I was able to squeeze in a quick stop at Kuta Beach. It was just as I remembered it, though more developed.
Modern hotels had been built amidst the fast food restaurants, and a stone wall was dividing the beach from the street. The sidewalks had also been improved.
I was pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness and modern image presented by the new development along the main street in Kuta.
My return to Bali was a mix of reliving old memories, and experiencing new restaurants and bars.
The more upscale Seminyak better suits me four years later, but for the budget-minded who still go to Bali for the surfing and parties (Australians, I’m looking at you), Kuta appears to be heading in the right direction.
Note: My visit to Indonesia was in conjunction with a blog trip hosted by the Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy. We took all of the trash associated with lunch with us when we left the beach.