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Experiencing Bali, Then and Now

The pool at Kokonut Suites in Seminyak
The pool at Kokonut Suites in Seminyak

Dig far enough back through the Archives on Go Backpacking, and you'll find Bali was the first place in Asia I visited on my trip around the world.

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 first hotel had a beautiful swimming pool, complete with Swedish women. 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 ordinarily 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 friendly staff with fresh coconut water and lots of smiles.

Sunset at Uluwatu, on the southern coast of Bali
Sunset at Uluwatu, on the southern coast of Bali. Note the Uluwatu Temple perched high atop the seaside cliffs to the right.

We hopped back in our vans almost immediately 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. We arrived 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.

Kecak dance performance
Kecak dance performance at Uluwatu

We slipped into the show and were seated on the ground 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.

Palace in Ubud
Palace in Ubud

The following day, 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 completed a reader dare (bet) and earned myself $20 for getting a monkey to climb on me.

A baby monkey at the Monkey Forest in Ubud
A baby monkey at the Monkey Forest in Ubud

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 interfere with the tourists taking photos.

We outsized them, but thanks to survival instincts, it didn't mean they weren't going to try to protect their young.

Roast suckling pig at the famous Bebek Bengil in Ubud
Roast suckling pig at the famous Bebek Bengil in Ubud

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.

Sunset as seen from Potato Head Beach Club
Sunset as seen from Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak

I was signed up to go surfing on our third day, but I was feeling exhausted and unwell by then, 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. I 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.

The same sunset, thirty minutes later, casts an entirely different light over Bali
The same sunset, thirty minutes later, casts an entirely different light over Bali's Potato Head Beach Club

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 squeezed in a quick stop at Kuta Beach. It was just as I remembered it, though more developed.

Modern hotels were built amidst the fast-food restaurants, and a stone wall divided 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. However, 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.

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:


Monday 31st of October 2016

Always love to see everything in Bali in other perspective. Its important to know how foreign people think and feel of our island.

Lucy Bronk

Thursday 6th of December 2012

These photos are just awesome. If ever there was advertisement for Bali this would be it. Love the photos, the 2 contrasting sunsets - 30mins apart are just spectacular. Think i know what i am going to put my savings towards a little visit to Bali :)


Thursday 6th of December 2012

Thanks Lucy, I think Bali has something for everyone, it's just you have to look a little deeper if you want to escape the regular tourist trail.

Alberto Dav

Wednesday 5th of December 2012

I just left Bali about a week ago and did a similar round about, although I stayed in Kuta. I couldn't agree more with you, Seminyak is definitely more upscale and it is where I started in Bali, but after going to the Gilies I got hooked on the party and after going to Ubud on my way back I settled in Kuta, and I must say, it was a lot of fun, crazy drunkenness everywhere but good facilities and clean beaches. You say you notice a change in Kuta in 4 years, I wonder what it would be like in another 4 years...

BTW, I tried Ibu Oka as well and the skin is to die for...

Forest Parks

Monday 3rd of December 2012

Bali seems like one of those places every traveller has been.... Except for me! I really would love to go some time before the magic totally fades away... Looks like it's faring ok for now!

The baby monkey is enough to make me start checking flight prices!

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