Bali, a destination of surfers, hippies, backpackers, honeymooners, and a lot of Australian families on holiday. Is there really that much Worldschooling to be done in Bali? Isn’t it ‘just’ another beach destination, miles of sandy beaches with Instagram perfect sunsets.
We had 3 weeks in Bali at the end of our time in Asia. Planned to be a time to unwind and relax after being constantly on the move, and time for a last bit of sunshine before heading to the UK in April. Bali had been on Paul’s bucket list for a long time but it had never quite worked out, being that bit further to travel for a family holiday from NZ than Fiji or Australia. When we did travel further it was to the UK and Europe to visit his family. In Bali we expected to spend more time on the kid’s workbooks and for me to catch up on the blog and we did do both of those things. We also found loads of other things to do.
We arrived in Bali with two sick children, still unwell and on antibiotics from our time in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The only bonus about this was when S vomited at the immigration queues in Bali airport, we got to skip the massive line at 1am and were ushered through the diplomats queue.
Our first few days were very quiet as they recovered. We were staying near Kuta, and I wouldn’t recommend the area overall for families. Although I would recommend our hotel the Swissbel Hotel Tuban, it had a nice pool and good family room. Handy for a night or two in Kuta but also near the airport for before or after a flight. We (Paul) chose this area because it is known as the heart of the ‘action’ in Bali. It’s the bars, backpackers, lively part of Bali, it is also the seedy part of Bali, with the most hassling touts and I didn’t like it. I think sometimes my husband forgets that he isn’t a 20 year old backpacker and he has 2 children now, so hanging out at bars until the small hours isn’t us anymore, if it ever was. Anyway, Kuta didn’t have a lot to offer us, although some people love it and return year after year. Still we persevered and on day 2, desperate to get out of the hotel, we went to see the famous Kuta beach.
If you’ve been to Bali you’ll know that along the beach there are walls, so you enter through gaps / gates in the wall and get your first view of the beach. Imagine our disappointment and shock when we stepped on to Kuta beach to see a shoreline literally littered with plastic rubbish and rafts of waste floating in the ocean. There were a few surfers in the water, almost no swimmers, and on the beach mostly touts selling massage, henna, beer, surf lessons, sunglasses, and the usual tat you find for sale on many beaches in Asia. We were horrified at the plastic waste and utterly mystified as to why people travel to Bali for their beach holiday.
We weren’t unaware of the problem of plastic in the world’s oceans. You’d have to have been living under a rock for the last few years to not have read or heard about what is probably the most important environmental issue of our time. But hearing about it and seeing it on the news, is completely different to being confronted with it in real life. If you’ve followed our blog you’ll know that by this time on our trip we’ve developed an interest in responsible travel, we’ve sought out charities and experiences that have an empowering, positive impact on local people and communities. But Bali was a timely reminder of the important environmental issues that we all must take responsibility for. The plastic has been everywhere throughout our trip, clogging up rivers in Vietnam, on roadsides, in markets, being handed to us daily in the form of straws, bags and water bottles. But Bali was the final ‘straw’ for us and my first question was, why don’t they clean it up?!
Turns out they do try to clean it up. The litter is at its worst in the rainy season when the monsoon washes it down the rivers from inland communities, into the sea, then tides wash it on to the beach. During the height of the rainy season truckloads of rubbish are removed from beaches every day, but still it keeps coming. The stall owners know that the beach is their livelihood and keeping it clean is vital to continued tourism, so they rake up the plastic around their patch of the beach, which is literally like a drop in the ocean in terms of impact, but still they try. The rubbish is much improved in the high season so many visitors remain unaware of the issue.
Our plans for a few quiet beach days evaporated and we headed back to the hotel for more pool time and to look up ‘what to do in Bali’ that isn’t going to the beach. At this point I really didn’t like Bali and was over it, especially since we’d saved 3 precious weeks of our travel time to see Bali and had just one week in Cambodia which I had loved. Our next destination was Ubud and I was hopeful that things would improve there.
What I really wanted from our time in Bali was to stay at a Bali villa, see rice paddies, do some more cooking classes and eat Balinese food. Ubud was the perfect destination for this. This is possibly not the same thing as Paul and the kids wanted, I’m pretty sure they were thinking beach, pool and repeat. Here is where Mum’s catchphrase of the trip came in “this is not the international tour of beaches and swimming pools”.
Once we arrived in Ubud we stayed at 2 different villas for 3 and 5 nights. We were all feeling much healthier so we got motivated again to seek out a variety of worldschool experiences, sightseeing and crafts to keep us busy. L and I did another cooking lesson, the kids did a wood carving experience with backstreet academy and we all enjoyed a full day trip with a driver, and a papermaking class. I saw plenty of rice paddies, although I never got tired of the beautiful uniform rows and vibrant colours.
We met a great driver who we used a few times and got to know, this gave us a greater insight into Balinese culture and we got some questions answered. We were also fortunate to be in Ubud during the food festival and visit this annual event. The kids were in heaven with all the free food tastings, although the chilli noodles at the beginning had our mouths on fire!
8 days later we’d settled in to Ubud and our lovely villa in the rice paddies. I could have happily stayed there until our flight to London. We deliberated for ages about our next destination. We’d heard that Sanur was very family friendly, but as the Australian school holidays were starting it was getting tricky to find family accommodation within our budget. Having come so far staying within budget, we didn’t really want to blow it all in Bali. We were convinced that somewhere there had to be a better beach and locals did tell us the rubbish situation would be improving every day at the end of the wet season.
In the end it was accommodation that decided it. Paul found a hotel with interconnecting rooms – every parents idea of bliss – within budget and with a pool. Located an easy walk from Legian beach. He convinced me that with space to spread out the kids could focus on school work, I could write and we could get started on planning the next stages of our trip, Marrakech and Europe, which were only a few weeks away!
Legian wouldn’t be my ideal holiday destination, Seminyak is nicer but more expensive and we passed through the surfing resort village of Canggu which looked nice. But we enjoyed our last week there. The beach was much cleaner so we swam there most mornings before it got too hot, we explored the surrounding streets and found some good (and not so good) restaurants. We also enjoyed some beautiful ‘Instagram’ sunsets on the beach. On the final day, after deliberating all week, Paul and L went for a surf lesson and had an amazing time.
Reflecting on Bali as I write this, I think our experience of a destination has a lot to do with our state of mind. For our first week in Bali, we were tired, fighting illness, really worn out with bargaining and watching out for scams all the time, just ‘over it’. In Ubud we had a more positive mindset, we’d hibernated in our comfortable hotel for a few days and we were ready to face the world again. We looked up lots to see and do and we made plans and kept busy. In Legian we didn’t expect too much. We wanted a place to relax and reflect on the trip before the long journey to London and the big reverse culture shock we were in for!
The surfing lesson that was never planned turned out to be a highlight of the stay in Bali. L was glowing with excitement, except for the bit where he knocked himself out with his surfboard! It has ignited a new passion that Paul and L will enjoy together many more times I’m sure.
So would we go back to Bali? I think we would, but there are lots of other places I would return to, and I’m going to say it, I think Thailand has nicer beaches! If I did return I would definitely go to Ubud again.
I started writing this post, originally titled – 12 things to do in Bali… But I had so much to write about our thoughts and feelings about this destination that this post came out. So next will be a post with more details about the different trips and activities that we did, including what we learned while worldschooling in Bali. A huge variety of experiences, including a Hindu blessing at Tanah Lot Temple’s holy spring.
We started a blog about our journey because people asked us to, they said they would be interested to read about our experiences. We want to inspire others and to share what we are learning along the way. Some of our readers respond to a more personal style of post like this one. Some people find our site when they are planning their trip and they find it more useful to read a ’10 things to do in…’ post. Whichever you prefer, we’re pleased you’ve taken the time to read about our journey, and welcome your comments below or on Facebook page.