“Look at that view,” my driver Gade said to me, as he marveled over the picturesque view of bright green rice fields with high mountaintops serving as their backdrop. We were in Sidemen, a small valley town east of Ubud, Bali where I was staying.
Gade, who spent much of his time serving as a private driver, admitted that he’d seen the striking view at least a hundred times before, but was always impressed by its beauty.
“It’s the small but beautiful things like this,” he murmured, in what some would consider broken English.
But I understood him clearly. And I agreed.
Throughout my trip in Bali, I would progressively learn to appreciate the simple things – like the many traces of untouched nature throughout the island and the frequent smiles from strangers – all while allowing myself to marvel over the small things, just as Gade was doing with the countryside view.
Bali almost forces you to do that – to slow down and reflect on the simple things that are often taken for granted. Over the course of the next few days, I would relax, reset, and grow spiritually through lessons learned from the Balinese culture.
I’d decided to travel solo to the small Indonesian island for my birthday. Although most parts of Bali are considered safe and feature a host of tourist attractions, I specifically chose the town of Ubud – known as the soul of Bali – because I was clear why I was taking this trip: I wanted to feed my soul.
“What’s your itinerary?” one of my friends asked me before I left for my seven-day adventure. “We need to know everything, because you’ll be over there by yourself.”
“I’ll send it,” I replied; but never did. The truth was I didn’t have one.
Although notably a type-A personality who usually relies on checklists, itineraries, and anything else that could provide some level of security, this time I wanted to be spontaneous and experience what Bali had to offer – free of expectations and to-do lists.
Visiting Sideman was one of those spontaneous things. Before then, I’d spent a bit of time at some of Ubud’s higher traffic, areas – like Pura Lempuyang (known as the Gates of Heaven) and Tegallalang Rice Terrace. While the experiences were amazing, they also prompted me to want to immerse myself more in the Balinese culture. The people – usually equipped with warm smiles and kind words – had infectious spirits that made you want to know more about them.
Spirituality is a big component of Balinese culture. It’s the reason many tourists visit the tiny island, hoping to gain a sense of spiritual renewal.
Most Balinese residents are practicing Hindus, who take the act of daily ‘offerings’ seriously. Known as canang sari, the ancient ritual carries a deep meaning in Balinese culture, serving as a sacred form of gratitude and representation of devotion to their (Hindu) god. It’s common to see the canang sari offerings – usually a palm-leaf basket filled with flowers and small pieces of food or money – on temples, shrines at people’s homes, or even on the ground surrounding businesses.
“I can’t help but to be happy,” Gade said to me more than once. “I am close with God, surrounded by nature and I have my family.”
He added, “And when I’m feeling bad, I go back to my center and pray and meditate.”
I didn’t have to practice Hinduism to appreciate the commitment to spiritual growth from the Balinese people. My short stay in Bali provided me with a few powerful lessons that have aided in my own spiritual journey, specific to my faith.
I learned to focus more on gratitude, while making a deeper commitment to prayer and meditation.
I also realized that life is as interesting as an interesting person. In Bali, I’d reverted back to a child-like curiosity, amazed by the ‘simple things’. There is beauty in an inquisitive spirit.
Additionally, I learned to slow down and allow myself to be present in the moment, while focusing on the people and things right in front and me.
From my non-touristy experiences that included making herbal remedies with a Balinese family, venturing to the jungle for a coconut oil tour, and long talks with the locals about the sacredness of their temples, I left the island with a sense of clarity and renewal.
Bali, full of its beautiful attractions and rich culture, makes you do that.
It makes you slow down and marvel over the simple things.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN BALI
Before planning a trip to Bali, keep in mind that the U.S. dollar goes a long way in Indonesia. One American dollar is equivalent to 13, 9000 Indonesian rupiahs (IDR), which is regarded as an exotic currency by the foreign-exchange business.
Additionally, Bali’s people, attractions, and culture can be a great vacation destination for a wide gamut of people including solo travelerss (like me) who are looking for a safe spot for spiritual renewal or couples desiring a beautiful honeymoon getaway.
Hanging with the Monkeys in Karangasem Regency
While the Sacred Monkey Forest is a popular tourist attraction in Bali, I opted for a less structured experience. As my driver and I were heading back to Bali from The Gates of Heaven, we passed a small town where monkeys were congregating in a large space, roaming freely. It was a sight to see. And don’t worry, it’s safe!
Visiting the Sacred Pura Gunung Kawi Temple
While there’s an abundance of temples to visit in Ubud, one of my favorites was Puru Gunung Kawi. The large temple complex is located at the bottom of a lush river valley and features a beautiful lake, allowing for fish-feeding. Additionally, it’s a great place to meditate, pray, and reflect.
* Mostly all large temples have sarongs available to rent or purchase, because men and women are expected to be covered upon entering the sacred spaces.
Coconut Oil-Making Tour
This was by far one of my favorite experiences. I spent hours with a small Balinese family, who led me to the jungle to make coconut oil. I know it sounds creepy, but it was a safe experience, backed by a credible tour company. The excursion was really more like hanging out with new friends while making coconut oil in the midst of nature.
Walking through the Tegallalang Rice Terrace
This is probably the most ‘touristy’ thing on my list of favorites. A leading tourist attraction in Bali, I almost refrained from going to Tegallalang because of the potential of crowds; but I’m glad I did. The rice terraces provide a beautiful view of the terraced hillside. Additionally, there is a famous “Bali swing” and other activities for visitors.
Shopping at Ubud Market
Featuring a series of various markets, the Ubud Market served as a location in the hit movie, “Eat Pray Love” starring Julia Roberts. Selling an eclectic mix of handmade arts, the busy marketplace was a great place to get souvenirs, fresh fruits and vegetables.