A year ago, Labor Day to be exact, I was the photographer at a wedding in Wilmington, North Carolina. My nephew and his new bride exchanged their vows in a waterfront setting overlooking the Intracoastal. Fast forward to Labor Day last month, and I find myself, with eight ladies and two guys, in Asia in the town of Ubud — a small town on the island of Bali, one of the 17,000 islands that make up the country of Indonesia.
I remember telling family and friends that I was going to Bali. The reactions were varied, but all revolved around the same themes: “That’s too far!!” “I don’t have the time.” “How do you do that?” “How much does that cost?” “How can you fly for so long?”
As a present to the bridal party, my nephew and his bride booked a Villa in Ubud. The only cost for attendees was a ticket to get there and whatever incidentals you incurred.
The trip began with a 2.5-hour flight from Charlotte to Detroit. From there, it was a 13-hour flight to Incheon, South Korea and another seven hours into Denpasar, Indonesia. Add about two hours for the drive from the airport to our Ubud villa. We arrived at 2 a.m. and were greeted by a very friendly staff before partaking in breakfast, Balinese style.
We’re on Indonesian soil, time to get settled
Keep in mind that we have been traveling for 20+ hours. Add the fact that Bali is 12 hours ahead of our U.S. local time, and you can start to get a feel for how much our sleep clocks were off. I awoke at 8:30 a.m. (Bali time) to the gorgeous view of our jungle villa.
In my initial research, I saw several views online but none came close to showing just how lush and beautiful our setting actually was. For as far as you could see, there was greenery, rice terraces, coconut trees and more. Also, I was taken aback by the multiple roosters crowing throughout the morning. The weather was similar to what I left in Charlotte, but without the high humidity. We were able to time our stay during a very moderate and nice climate.
Let the fun begin
We made the executive decision the night before to move our included breakfast to lunch. We all had traveled long distances, so we figured to let the first day be chill and get to know the grounds. Our hosts, the newlyweds, arrived a night after everyone else, having missed a flight in Shanghai due to a plane delay.
The next few days were packed with trying to see all of the wonderful cultures that Bali had to offer. We explored numerous temples, taking in the architecture and culture as it unfolded around us. The Ubud market offered not only a unique Balinese shopping experience full of local artisans but also a taste of the local food and friendly people.
We took an opportunity to go to the Monkey Forest located in downtown Ubud. It’s nothing short of a walking monkey safari. I’d read many things regarding how aggressive they could be at taking sunglasses, keys, etc., but we didn’t experience any of that and were able to observe them playing.
The Mount Batur Sunrise hike, a two-hour trek, required a 2 a.m. start time, which came with many comments from my travel companions (it was my idea). But after reaching the top and witnessing the sunrise, all were happy they made the journey.
The Aling-Aling Waterfall was a highlight of our trip. We purchased our entry tickets and grabbed lunch at a small family-owned open-air restaurant. The wings I ordered were some of the freshest and flavorful that I’ve tasted. The 10-minute hike to the waterfall was very scenic, but the view of the waterfalls (there are three) themselves was spectacular.
Entry tickets ranged from viewing to wading to full immersion in the waterfall experience. Along with the natural waterslides, there were three waterfalls with jumps ranging in height from 15 feet to 49 feet. The middle jump reminded me of the jump I did at Rick’s Café in Negril, Jamaica. The 49-foot jump definitely tested my resolve. I did it, but not without considerable hesitation.
Guided walking tours of various rice fields and the surrounding area opened us up to what it is like living in Bali. The people are extraordinarily nice, humble and interested in our lives in the U.S. We had conversations with several people regarding the political climate here in the states as well as how businessmen are encroaching on what was revered as sacred (building hi-rise structures close to temples) to make that “almighty dollar.”
People in Bali live quite differently than those of us in the states. Many, especially in the country, aren’t educated and some do not have access to electricity or even clean water. The main exports from Bali are pork, coffee, coconuts and rice. The rice fields boasted an impressive, and thoughtful, irrigation system to water hundreds of paddies.
The main business outside of agriculture is tourism. The US dollar is extremely strong. For example, 100,000 rupiah is equivalent to $7.03. We spent roughly $235 per person for the week, which included food, drinks, massages and daily car service.
Worth the visit
What I can say about traveling to various locations is that as much as people are different, people are the same. They want the best for themselves and their families. They go about their daily lives dealing with circumstances the best they can, and they do it with a smile.
I always ask myself would I return to a destination. Speaking on behalf of our group, I can definitely give that a resounding yes! Bali and her people were good to us. I met friends that I will keep in touch with, and I already miss the genuine welcome received from that Indonesian island.
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Glyn Stanley is a Shallotte, N.C. native currently living in Charlotte. He’s a UNC Charlotte graduate and a self-taught photographer with experience in film and digital mediums covering family, travel, lifestyle, wedding and landscape assignments.