Monday, June 20, 2005

A Look Back - Bali 2002

Our first trip to Bali had been a real eye-opener. We were a little taken aback by, what to us, was grime and squalor, coming as we did from squeaky clean Singapore. Don't get me wrong - we quite fancied ourselves the independent travellers. Not for us, the sanitised haven of Nusa Dua where most Singaporean visitors to Bali hide out. Too touristy, we said, we who could proudly claim to have stayed in a S$6 per night homestay in Tanjong Pinang, and a S$12 per night hut in Trikora, the local beach far removed from the comforts of Singapore-run Bintan International Beach Resorts. Somehow, we hadn't expected Bali, Island of the Gods, to be so... third-world.

How could the street just outside the immaculately clean and beautifully landscaped grounds of our hotel be lined with piles of rubbish and dog poo? Why, in the middle of a tourist district like Sanur, were the drains not properly covered, requiring pedestrians to do a hop, skip and jump every now and then? We just couldn't figure it out.

To make matters worse, there were the innumerable touts that pounced on us each time we stepped out of our hotel. It was December 2002, two months after the bombing, and the locals were clearly in dire need of customers, from Sanur to Lovina. Our worst experience was outside some restaurant at Lake Batur. We were tired after a long drive. The meal had been less than appealing, plagued as we had been by swarms of flies. The view had been non-existent; there was heavy fog that day. We really weren't up to being besieged by a crowd of desperate souvenir-selling "aunties" who, once it became clear that we were not about to purchase anything, gave us the evil eye.

So why visit Bali again, one may ask. Well, because it was impossible to ignore the incredible natural beauty of the place, once we learned to look past the dirt. Because, outside the main tourist areas, it was really quiet and relaxing, particularly in the more remote areas of Pemuteran and Amed. Because the Balinese did everything in such an aesthetically pleasing way. We loved the pretty gardens and charming rooms of the small hotels we stayed in, the lovely place settings in the simplest of restaurants. Because I liked how the tacky touristy bits sat side by side with what seemed to be deeply ingrained traditional practices.

Anyway, we figured things would be different this time round. We had a better idea what to expect. We were going to spend some time in Ubud - "one of the culinary capitals of Bali", yes! -which we had had to forgo the first time round. We were looking forward to staying at reputedly one of the best little hotels in Bali, Tegal Sari. I couldn't wait.


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