I first came to Bali in March, 2012 with my best friend Vy and I gotta admit that I hated it. I enjoyed her company, it's just the things that we saw and did wasn't my cup of tea. I didn't like Bali for several reasons and one of the main reasons was it's Perth bogan central. Being only 3.5 hours away from Perth, people can count on partying hard here on the weekend because it's significantly cheaper than spending money anywhere in Perth, and with Sydney or Melbourne being 4-5 hours away, Bali is a safe haven. Actually, "safety" is debatable. There have been numerous irresponsible behaviours reported over the years, coming from Australians and it has deterred me even more from spending any more time here.
So what made me come back this time? Well, photography did. Ever since I got into this new hobby last year, it has taken me to many places, challenged me to do the things that seemed impossible, created wonderful memories, made new friends, taught me valuable life lessons and last but not least, let me discover the strength, passion, endurance, creativity, and abilities that I never knew I had. Since then I have wanted to give Bali another go. I did some extensive research on scenic locations in order to convince myself to return and I finally booked the tickets! I took this trip with 2 other trusting travel buddies Mandy and her boyfriend Sin, whom have never been here before, so I knew that even if Bali was gonna be bad, at least I would still have excellent companies.
I arrived at Bali around 11am and was shocked to find out the visa fee has increased to a whopping AUD42, compared to the humble AUD15 2.5 years ago. Not a good second impression. The taxi fare from the airport to our hotel (Jocs Boutique Hotel & Spa) was IDR100,000 (~AUD10), which was quite reasonable for a 20-minute drive but still more expensive than what Mandy paid (IDR80,000) when she arrived last night. After I've settled into our hotel, we took rest, caught up and planned our itineraries for that day and the days after. We finally booked our private car for 4pm, for 5 hours and was told a total of IDR500,000 (~AUD50), which matched the price shown on the brochures I took from the airport. We paid a deposit of IDR200,000 to the hotel and later on found out that the driver was only charging us a total of IDR300,000 for the 5 hours and that the deposit the hotel took was actually their "commission"! What a rip-off. Lesson learnt, we arranged our transportation for the rest of the trip with our driver (Nengah) and not with the hotel. Nengah was a lovely man with such a gentle nature. He was very understanding and patient with our requests to shoot sunrise and sunsets and he didn't just drop us off at the locations like other drivers would, he actually accompanied us everywhere!
Our first scenic destination was Uluwatu Temple, it was meant to be a great place for sunset but naturally, Mother Nature was not on our side. What thought to be an amazing sunset was let down by this massive cloud formation that came out of nowhere and hovered over the sun for half an hour, just in time for sunset. Luckily I managed to take this shot before the disappointment swept over. We were all hungry at this point so we gave up, took our gear back to the car and headed to Jimbaran for a seafood dinner.
The next day Nengah picked us up at 12pm and drove us to GRAHA Adventure where we would be doing white water rafting. We negotiated the price the night before so we ended up paying only IDR400,000pp (~AUD40), instead of the USD65pp they advertised. We were all so excited but something unfortunate happened on the way down to the river, Mandy twisted her foot and was in excruciating pain the whole time. She probably would have had more injuries than just a swollen twisted foot if it wasn't for Matt, Shane (the 2 awesome Perthies in our group) and the 2 guides' sprinting to the rescue, especially Matt who sacrificed his shirt to wrap it around the injury. It took us a bit (okay, maybe a lot) longer to get down there but with everyone's help, Mandy was able to enjoy her day, one that she would never forget.
We planned to only stay in Legian for a few days to check out the busy Bali and were already feeling a bit uninspired so when it was time to move to Ubud, the forest, we were ecstatic! We didn't do a lot today as we were on the road for 4 hours so after checking into our hotel (Jati 3 Bungalows & Spa), we were driven to Tegalalang to see the rice terrace. This probably wasn't the best season to view it and I gotta say this had nothing on the ones in Lào Cai (Vietnam). Also we saw some "rice terrace walking tour" on offer for USD45pp and had a chuckle, they really knew how to milk money out of tourists.
I had to farewell Mandy and Sin in the morning as they flew back to Vietnam at noon. As I was having a whole day to spend by myself, visiting the Gitgit Waterfalls was appropriate. Nengah was busy today so he arranged someone else to drive us instead. Little did I know this other driver, Mr. Dewa Antara, was the boss of the other company himself! What a humble and respectful man, even though he owns 15 cars and 5 villas in Bali, he still works everyday. That is something we all should learn from, not taking life or money for granted.
The 2-hr drive to Gitgit from Kuta was winding, to say the least, but we got to see so many monkeys on the way. They were just hanging out on both sides of the road, eating off tourists' feeding. When we arrived at Gitgit, I met with a guide (#36) and he stayed with me the whole time. Ever since the waterfalls became popular, a guide was appointed with every group of tourists to ensure their safety and I guess to enforce the entrance fee. The Gitgit waterfalls consist of 3 different ones, the twin waterfall which was the most popular, the main single waterfall where people would swim under and the terrace/multi-tiered waterfall was the least popular yet most photogenic. The fee to visit all 3 waterfalls was somewhere around IDR350,000 (~AUD35), which I wasn't willing to pay because 1. I ran out of money and 2. I didn't have enough time anyway so I opted for the multi-tiered waterfall only, which cost me IDR250,000 (~AUD25). It might seem a lot but I was told that the money would go to maintenance and education for the village's children so I didn't mind. The way down was only about 500m but the "road" wasn't that easy. It was basically just a walking track made by the locals for the locals so I was glad that there was someone there with me, and literally held my hand as I descended. The guide was super nice and friendly and we had such a great chat, about his life and about Bali. It didn't take long for us to get down to the waterfall and I was so happy that I chose to do what I did.
After visiting the Gitgit waterfall, it was still early so Dewa suggested that we go to Echo Beach for sunset. I have never heard of this beach before and the fact that he knew exactly what I was looking for to photograph was incredible. This beach was full of rocks and it was 1 of the best beaches I've ever been to! I could easily photograph this place everyday for a whole week! Before dropping me off at the airport, Dewa kindly bought me dinner after he learnt that I have run out of money and only had enough to pay for the car. He said he didn't want me to starve and wanted to treat me a good meal before I left Bali. When I told Dewa I would like nasi campur for dinner, he took me to a place near the airport and even though my meal only cost IDR40,000 (~AUD4), the food was super delicious and I was extremely grateful.
So here comes the verdict, do I still hate Bali? The answer is no, but would I hurry to go back? The answer is also no. I would love to be back next time and finally get a good shot of Ulun Danu Temple, trek up the Kintamani volcano in the dark, photograph sunrise from Nusa Dua or Sanur, visit the lusciously green Pesaban traditional village, watch people submerge in the holy water of Tirta Gangga water palace or explore the untouched Negara region; but for now I would rather fly over to Malaysia where I could be more independent with transportation, put my broken Mandarin to good use, satisfy my laksa cravings and last but not least, not have to pay a single cent to enter and depart.