My 30-day Thailand visa was going to expire before I was scheduled to go back to Seattle in December, so I needed to leave Thailand and re-enter in order to get a new 30-day visa. I debated whether to go back to Bali or go to Vietnam. After about 10 minutes of internal debate with myself, I decided to go back to Bali. A quick check of the forecast for both places also helped seal the deal – there were some storms blowing thru Vietnam, and nothin’ but sunshine in Bali.
I only had about 5 full days in Bali on this trip, and for whatever reason I was really just wanting some quiet beach time rather than exploring more parts of the island. So I stayed in the Seminyak area, right on or near the beach, and pretty much spent my days on the beach and tried out new restaurants and other places in the evenings.
One thing that I didn’t write about in my previous blogs on Bali were the offering baskets. These require a little background to fully understand. First, the population of Indonesia is 86% Muslim; however, the island of Bali is 95% Hindu. The Balinese Hindu have a tradition of three times a day putting out these offering baskets, called Canang Sari, as way of giving back to the gods. The baskets are made of palm leaves, about 6” square and about 1” deep, and are filled with flowers, rice, and just about any kind of other treat like crackers, peanuts, goldfish crackers (I’m not kidding), small coins, etc. They put these baskets out three times per day in front of their homes, businesses and temples. They’re also on the beach in front of the beach vendors, on people’s dashboards in their cars, and really just about any place people live or do business. You can’t really go anywhere in Bali without seeing millions of these baskets.
It’s interesting to watch the “ceremony” of putting the baskets out. A shopkeeper, for example, will bring the basket out to the sidewalk on a tray, place the basket on the sidewalk, sprinkle some oil (or maybe some kind of holy water, I’m not sure) on the basket, light a couple sticks of incense and place them on the basket, fold their hands to their face and pray for a minute. It’s very interesting to watch, and you see it happening all day long.
The strange part, though, is that these beautiful, thoughtfully-created and humbly-placed baskets last all of about a minute, and then a stray dog or bird comes along and eats the rice and crackers and spills everything around, pedestrians walk on top of them, motorcycles drive over them… and soon the baskets are a flattened piece of frayed palm leaves with flowers and miscellaneous colorful contents strewn about the sidewalk and street. And this happens in front of EVERY shop…THREE times a day! Needless to say, by the end of a night, the town is just a mess of wasted offering baskets. They get swept into piles in the curb/street, and the garbage trucks come around about 3am and pick them up with the rest of the garbage.
Seems to me like there ought to be a little more dignity and respect given to something that holy and revered, but apparently the most important part of the ceremony/basket is when it first touches the ground. After that, it’s fair game for being kicked around and trampled on.
The Beach Clubs
There were a couple of “beach clubs” I’d heard about prior to going to Bali that are pretty well-known. On my first trip there in October, I walked by one of them one night but noticed I was woefully under-dressed (my standard shorts, flip-flops, tanktop) so I didn’t go in. This trip, I was talking with a local who said that one of the clubs is fine for more casual attire, while the other one is casual during the day and until about 8pm, then they expect people to be in “smart casual beach attire”. If you know me, you know there’s nothing “smart” in my closet, but plenty of “casual beach”.
So one night I went with a guy I’d met there to check out Potato Head Beach Club. First of all, you have to agree that that’s the most awesome name for a club, right?! Anyway, you walk down this very long brick driveway (a good 4 to 6 city blocks, I’d estimate), with 12 foot concrete walls on each side and lined with palm trees. When you get to the end, you see this massive wall of the building that’s made entirely out of thousands of wooden Indonesian window shutters, all in different distressed colors. It kind of takes your breath away when you first see it, because it’s not really anything you’re expecting to see. I unfortunately didn’t take any pics of it that night, as I had planned to go back during the day someday to get pics (which I never did…), but here are some I found on the ‘net.
The club itself is kind of horseshoe / boomerang shaped, and is two stories, facing out to the beach and ocean. The upstairs part is mostly fine dining restaurant, while the main level is open-air dining as well as a lot of couches, chairs and beds for hanging out for drinks. There’s a grassy courtyard in the middle, lined with palm trees, and an infinity pool that drops off right to the beach below. It’s a very cool place, from both an architectural standpoint as well as just the chilled-out vibe you get there. Drinks are a little expensive by Bali standards, but it was worth the price of a couple drinks there to take in the atmosphere. Oh, and I don’t mean to be a name-dropper, but apparently Paris Hilton was there a few weeks before I was there…
The other, and more famous, club is called Ku De Ta. It’s touted as the place on Bali where people go to see and be seen. Well, seeing and being seen are not really my “scene” (damn that was a good play on words!), but I figured I had to at least check it out. I went there one afternoon to watch the sunset, since you don’t have to be dressed fancy for that. It was similar to Potato Head, although a bit smaller. Again, it was a very chill vibe, with a DJ playing great music and everyone sitting around having drinks, tapas and watching the sun work its way down over the horizon. For a place that’s not really my scene, it was actually a really fun afternoon, I met some great people there, and ended up staying there until around 8:30pm. At which point the more fancy-dressed people were starting to show up for dinner and I was starting to look a bit more out of place…
Just about 50 meters down the beach from where I was staying was a beach bar/restaurant called La Plancha. Around 4pm, they put out dozens of these colorful beanbag chairs and little tables in the sand, have a DJ playing chill-out music, and lots of people migrate there for tapas, cocktails and watching the sunset. No dress code there, it’s very much a come-as-you-are kind of place.
I’ve seen my fair share of sunsets all over southeast Asia, the US, and the Caribbean. But I have to say, I’ve never seen more consistently spectacular sunsets than the ones every single night in Bali. I suppose it has something to do with being so close to the equator, and the beaches where I’ve stayed are facing directly west so you have a direct-on view of the sun. But whatever the technical and scientific reasoning, I’ve decided that Bali has the absolute best sunsets I’ve ever seen. Night after night, clear or clouds, the beaches fill up with people around 5pm to watch the sunset around 6:15pm. And night after night, it never fails to be awe-inspiring. Pictures, of course, do it no justice but here are a few attempts.
The Bali Taxi Insanity
There are several different local taxi companies in Bali. There is also a company called “Bali Taxi” that’s run by a company called the Bluebird Group out of Jakarta. Now, the Bluebird Group runs taxis in Jakarta and other places, and their business-differentiating factor is that they are very focused on insuring their drivers are honest, friendly, and always use the meter. Apparently, when they started a little fleet of their taxis in Bali, tourists soon realized that they wouldn’t get ripped off from a Bluebird taxi, so they started waving other taxis on by and waiting until a vacant Bluebird came along. I don’t know the full details, but there’s been an ongoing feud between Bluebird and the other local taxi companies as Bluebird has added more and more taxis to Bali. The Bluebird taxis have a very distinct look to them: sky blue painted cars, with a white light on top that says “Taksi” and has an emblem of a bluebird on it.
Well, I shouldn’t say they have a distinct look. Because now all the other local taxi companies have painted their cars the nearly-identical color blue, as well as put a little blue splotch of paint on the top of their white lights. It’s not exactly a bluebird emblem, but it’s easily mistaken for one…especially at night… and especially after you’ve had a couple drinks.
I just thought it was funny how the other companies are so desperately trying to imitate the look of the Bluebird company’s taxis, when in reality if they just copied their business practices – enforce drivers to always use the meter, don’t rip off people, etc. – they’d get just as much business and could compete effectively with Bluebird. But until then, if you ever go to Bali, always go for a Bluebird.