This April I went to Singapore to meet my boyfriend’s parents during Passover. Since we were already planning on making the long flight to Southeast Asia and both of us love to travel, we didn’t want to leave without adding another place to our itinerary. We agreed upon Ubud in Bali. After Singapore, Daniel only had five days before he had to go back to work, but I was able to stay for another ten days on my own, free to explore solo.
Bali is a complex, beautiful, lush, and simply magical place. For most people it conjures up the last third of the book “Eat, Pray, Love” and you can certainly seek out the Elizabeth Gilbert experience in Ubud between visiting Ketut Liyer and wearing flowing hippie garments while writing in expat vegan cafes. But no one place can be summed up by one book or one person’s experience of it. Between the surfer spring break vacation you can have in Kuta and Seminyak, to the honeymooners getting spa treatments at lavish resort hotels, to the yogis doing vinyasa after vinyasa on retreats at Yoga Barn, there are infinite ways to experience Bali.
Daniel and I set many intentions for our trip that we fulfilled, like taking a Balinese cooking class, exploring temples, and visiting a museum to learn more about Balinese art, but the best moments of our trip were the spontaneous and unplanned ones. When we were walking to a restaurant recommended in the guidebook one afternoon we saw a sign pointing down an alley for a path that said “rice field” and we immediately changed course! It was a meandering route and we weren’t sure it was even a path for a while until we rounded a corner and an expanse of lush green lay before us. In the midst of the rice fields we stumbled upon a small warung where we unexpectedly had one of the most amazing meals of our trip. I love the way that memories shared while traveling, like sidestepping monkeys at a temple, grinding the spices for sambal, and eating corn on the cob from a grill set up on the back of a man’s motorcycle, are woven into the fabric of our relationship now.
As much as we were traveling to simply discover a place, we were traveling to reveal something new about ourselves. Our trip to Bali was a chance to see how we travel together, which you can only be sure of in the midst of a foreign excursion. And though we are both more backpacker than luxury traveler, it was great that he also wanted to splurge for our last night! We stayed at Kamandalu, and I’m not going to lie, being upgraded to a private villa and watching the sun rise from our own infinity pool before lounging in a daybed that looked out over the tropical forest was a pretty epic end to our trip.
After Daniel left, I feared being lonely even though I have traveled alone before. After my first year of college, I spent 2 months backpacking in Thailand, Laos and Nepal, and another summer I couch-surfed my way through England, France, and Italy. But I expected it would be different now that I was in love and worried that I would not be as independent as I once was. Instead I felt strengthened by love, knowing that Daniel celebrates my endless curiosity and independence, and knowing that the more adventurous I was, the more stories I would have for him when I returned. I would wake up early and walk past the bustling morning market on my way to Yoga Barn for a morning class, then read and journal in their Garden Kafé, drinking Balinese coffee and luxuriating in the hours I had to myself for reflection; I’ve always believed that the best way to get perspective on your life is to step outside of it for a little while. I explored East Bali with Natasha, a wonderful solo traveler I met, going from the ruins at Semarapura, to black sand beaches, to the rice fields of Sideman Road. And I made the impulsive decision to hire a driver on my last day to venture to the beaches in the south, going from Padang Padang to Balangan Beach, ending the day with cocktails at the Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay watching the fiery glow of the setting sun.
During one of my yoga classes, an instructor who seemed to take glee in pushing us to our physical limits, and then a little beyond, said something that became a mantra for me during the solo portion of my trip. As my thighs visibly quivered and I felt decidedly far away from inner peace, he said “Instead of wondering when this pose is going to end, have you considered that maybe this is exactly where you’re supposed to be.” The pose didn’t get any easier, but something in me felt suddenly lighter. In a way that is my experience of traveling alone; it doesn’t necessarily get easier, but whenever I return I feel more grounded in myself, more assured and inexplicably lighter.
Garden Kafe: Perfect place to get a healthy breakfast or lunch after a yoga class at Yoga Barn.
Kismet Café: Kind of quirky since it’s above a jewelry store, but it has amazing vegetarian food, fresh juices, great coffee, and lovely views from the rooftop window seats.
Alchemy: Worth the walk from central Ubud for the fantastic juices and smoothies and great raw vegan food (assuming you’re into food that’s not actually cooked…)
Hiring a driver is a great way to explore Bali. In a half day trip from Ubud you can go to:
-Goa Gajah: a cave temple with an elaborate rock facade
-Tirtha Empul: a holy spring where the Balinese come to purify themselves
-Gunung Kawi: an 11th century temple complex with shrines carved into the cliff face amidst a tropical forest which makes it look like something straight out of Indiana Jones
-Tegalalang rice terraces: the ancient cultivation technique that allows water to flow from terraces carved into the hillside
In a full day trip from Ubud, you can go to:
-Padang Padang Beach: A smaller beach that’s great for swimming but gets crowded when the tourist buses roll in.
-Balangan Beach: It’s more of a trek to get here, but truly a hidden gem, a beautiful and quiet beach with an expanse of white sand and blue sea
-Jimbaran Bay: Another great beach in the south, especially known for its seafood restaurants.
-Pura Uluwatu: The temple perched atop the coastal cliffs of the Nusa Dua peninsula would be worth coming to on its own, but the incredible sunsets and views of the coast make it truly amazing.
Yoga Barn: Whether you’re a devoted yogi or not, you should take a yoga class at Yoga Barn while you’re in Ubud. The teachers are wonderful and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful place to deepend your yoga practice (or just stay moderately fit after eating heaps of Indonesian curries and rice!).
Cooking Class: There are many classes on offer, but we chose to do Payuk Bali and they were so kind about accommodating our vegetarian and gluten-free needs even though we had forgotten to tell them in advance.
Hibiscus Cottages: I had a beautiful room here with traditional Balinese furniture, views over the rice fields, a good breakfast included, and it was much more peaceful than staying on one of the main roads.
Kamandalu Resort: We only stayed here one night because it was such a splurge, but I can’t imagine a more beautiful and relaxing resort for a romantic trip.
Written and photographed by Nicole Anderson of Sorella Muse Photography.
Nicole is the media gal turned photographer behind Sorella Muse Photography. Her style is crafted by her love of stories and creative expression which can be seen through the beautiful portraits of her brides and grooms, travel photos, family portraits, and intimate moments between couples. Learn more about Nicole’s charming personality and talents on her website.