In January of this year we travelled to the idyllic Indonesian Island of Bali. Here are the essential things we suggest you do:
1. Go to the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud and feed some adorable, albeit mischievous monkeys.
I’m not going to lie, as excited as I was about the prospect of seeing real life long-tailed macaques up close and personal, everyone we knew who had previously been there had told us to not have any loose valuable items on us – as the monkeys were known to steal things. I’ll admit this gave me a preconceived vigilante view of the little rascals, so when I saw the ‘Get your official monkey forest bananas for feeding here‘ sign I was picturing myself holding out a banana and being simultaneously mobbed by 12-18 of them.
Fortunately the reality of the feeding situation wasn’t too similar to that – although Steve’s feeding attempts had far more, shall we say, graceful outcomes than mine did.
See how this little fellow is sitting on Steve’s arm, just chillin’?
Then he leaves a piece of banana in my hair, which is rooted for by another macaque who also decides to have a little paw around in my cleavage for good measure:
For a few days before we went it was a genuine concern of ours that they were going to have razor sharp claws and we were going to be clawed to shit upon coming into contact with them. Thankfully it wasn’t the case at all – we were really surprised with the cute lil’ soft (but really muddy) paws they had.
I would also like to express how safe I felt in that forest – as Steve had very generously packed his finger gun and was definitely not afraid to unload it – should we have found ourselves in imminent macaque related danger:
Knowing I was free to stroll around the sacred forest, admiring the temples and watching the monkeys chase and groom each other without uncompromising on safety only added to the amazing overall experience. If you are ever headed the way of Bali please be sure to pack your finger gun, visit the sacred forest and make pals with the 605 or so monkeys who live there.
It was really important to me that the Elephant sanctuary we visit be one where the elephants were humanely treated and not in any kind of distress or confinement. I had heard horror stories of people visiting mistreated, caged elephants and paying to get pictures with sedated tigers in Thailand; so we wanted to avoid any places that even hinted at a lack of compassion for the animals.
When we arrived at The Bali Elephant Camp there was already a calm and relaxed atmosphere. We paid for our package at the reception and were given a saccharine sweet welcome drink, something we noticed to be a custom in a lot of places over here. We chose a package that allowed us a 30 minute trek on the elephant, a session of feeding the elephant and then dinner overlooking the sanctuary. My only previous experience with elephants had been seeing the ones in Dublin Zoo from a distance and wondering if they were sad – so I felt like being up close and personal with such a majestic creature would go down as being one of the most memorable days of my life. I wasn’t wrong.
We were brought up to a podium that allowed us to get into the seat on the elephant and then our beautiful Elephant pal for the day, SenSen, arrived with our guide, Ketut, on it’s back. We trekked around the sanctuary – taking in the ridiculous novelty of being on an elephant – while Ketut made friendly conversation with us. Most memorably he gestured to a marijuana field we passed on the tour and asked us if we smoked it. Bali has extremely consequential drug laws so I was worried this was a loaded question, but we soon eased up when Ketut said he and his friends smoked weed a lot as alcohol was too expensive for them – in an island where possessing drugs carries the death penalty. You’re a brave man Ketut!
The trek ended with Ketut leading SenSen into a lake, where they then take a photo of you in the water. This, of course, came out looking extremely cheesy – as most part-of-the-package photo opportunities do. Then it was on to the elephant feeding session, which I was most excited about! I was loving being able to interact with SenSen, it was magical. We bought a colourful basket of assorted fruit to feed him, which lasted approximately under a minute in SenSen’s appreciative gob and then got to take more fun photos with our adorable elephant pal.
We finished off with dinner overlooking the sanctuary and reflected on what once in a lifetime experience it was. If you ever find yourself in Bali, please give going to The Bali Elephant Camp preference over anything else. I promise it will be worth it!
3. Spend a lazy day at Potato Head beach club.
After a previous activity filled day, we wanted to spend the next day doing nothing but lying horizontally and drinking cocktails. After more recommendations from previous Bali goers – we decided to head to Potato Head beach club, near where we were staying in Seminyak.
We adhered to the advice of ‘going early to secure a day bed’ and landed a beautiful shaded cabana that looked out onto the beach. The only catch to keeping your place on it was that you had to spend a minimum of $100. This wasn’t all that difficult – considering how expensive the cocktails and food were anywhere in Seminyak – but hey, we were on our holidays. ‘Bring us all of the cocktails and all of the food’ we said.
Potato Head itself was impressive. It was enclosed by a structure built out of colourful wooden window shutters and boasted 2 bars, 2 restaurants and an infinity pool that looked out onto the adjacent Indian Ocean.
Also a plus was their extremely favourable music playlist! In my opinion, music choice can make or break an establishment, but considering some past acts who have graced the club include Mos Def, Mr. Scruff, De La Soul, A-Trak and Fatboy slim – their music playlist is certainly on point. The perfect compliment to sipping a cocktail overlooking paradise are some decent tunes and Potato Head had this covered.
4. Pretend you are on your honeymoon.
This was the best idea ever. We booked a ‘honeymoon’ package at Pradha Villas in Seminyak and our villa was incredible! We were greeted by little touches like rose petals spelling out ‘LOVE’ on our four poster bed and a ‘Happy honeymoon’ cake.
We had breakfast delivered to the villa every morning and on our last night they adorned our villa in traditional Balinese wedding decor and candles and cooked us a romantic dinner by our private pool. It was amazing. If you ever want special treatment then pretend you are on your honeymoon – it’s too much fun.
5. Hire a bike and zip around the island.
Most locals drive bikes as they’re very cheap to buy and run, so there are bikes everywhere. Driving in traffic in Bali is crazy. Motorists just do whatever they want – but I guess it seems to work for them.
We hired a bike for next to nothing and went on some idyllic scenic drives, it was an awesome way to see the island. There’s nothing more romantic then holding on to your beau and imagining what it would be like to feel the wind in your hair if you weren’t wearing such a massive sweaty helmet.
We drove down to Ubud which is kinda like the Magaluf esque tourist area for Auzzies, but I really wasn’t a fan. Everywhere else we had been in Bali had felt so different but this area was severely westernised. Gross fast food places and hundreds of identical shops all selling the same knock-off watches and merchandise. You couldn’t walk down the street without the vendors shouting at you and hassling you to buy things. ‘HEY YOU WAN SEXY SANDAL?’ one of them had called out to me, pointing to a perfectly uniform and non-sexual shoe. Ummm, no thanks! What appealed to me so much about Bali was feeling so cut off from the rest of the World – but being here just gave me a headache. We didn’t stay long.
There are so many temples in Bali and other beautiful cultural features to admire. Seeing paddy fields and little daily offerings of flowers and sweets to appease their Hindu Gods everywhere we went just added to the magic and intrigue of being in such a contrasting environment.
– Aisling Abbey
Photos by Moi & Steve Franco