Cyndi and family just back
I went to Bali as a first time American visitor nervous about Sars, Bali belly, terrorism, the war in Iraq, crooked money changers, dengue fever, State Department travel warnings, asian toilets, etc... and found it to be a dream vacation destination.
We(my husband, myself and three daughters ages 16,11,and 9) stayed at the Sheraton Nusah Indah in a 2 bedroon suite. Because the pool was undergoing renovations we used the pool at the Sheraton Laguna. Both properties were beautiful, had attentive friendly staff, excellent beaches, and pretty good security in place. We went for 14 nights and the first week there were so few people around the properties that we often had the pool to ourselves. The second week, the PATA conference was going on and things were a little more lively around the place.
The first full day we were there, we walked over to the Galleria shopping center to check out prices at resturants since the hotel prices seemed outrageously high. Every resturant was offering 60% discounts on food (not drinks) so eating was much more affordable than imagined. We were almost the only people at the Galleria for several hours and could immediately sense the desperation among the shopkeepers for our business.
On our third day there, we met with an American missionary who along with another missionary totally fund an orphanage for 20 children out of their own pockets. We had brought enormous amounts of supplies for the children and were able to meet them and give them our donations. We also went to a school and met the students and handed out clothing and school supplies to them. Then our friend took us to two different homes of families he has befriended so we could see how the Balinese live in traditional family villages. One family was woodworkers and because of the slowdown in tourism were selling very few items to stores since they weren't being bought by tourists. It really brought it home to us how the bombing has affected every family on the island in some way.
The next day was our first venture into Kuta and we were really taken aback by it. We walked onto the beach and were immediately surrounded by very pushy hawkers that grabbed my girls to try and start braiding their hair or wrap sarongs around them, or try to put pieces of jewelry on them. I had to rescue them all and hustle them off the beach and over to Hard Rock Cafe where I made a substantial contribution to the tourism economy by dropping a couple hundred dollars on Hard Rock clothes for the family. We ate dinner there as well and found prices to be well within reason and the food pretty good. The best thing about it though were the views of the sunset,ocean and Kuta beach from the terrace eating area.. We shopped around the area for a couple hours and the girls found some really cute clothes at Mataharis and Sweet Poison. We were asked to fill out "tourism" surveys by people on the streets. If you do this, you will get a call the next morning offering you deals and timeshare presentations.The streets of Kuta seemed very busy to me but I can't compare it to pre-bombing. As we were in our taxi riding back to the Nusa Dua area, I couldn't help but feel I was leaving the "jungle " of Kuta for the more serene area of Nusa. On our beach there are no hawkers and one can walk in peace.
We went to Waterbom park the next day and the kids had such a blast that we bought the second day pass before we left. It is a real bargain since admission for our family of 5 was about 60 dollars but the 2nd day pass was only about 18 dollars for the same fun.
We did a tour of the island one day and had arranged with Wayan Sueta to meet us at the hotel but on that morning he was sick and sent a replacement driver. We went to the Monkey forest and one of my daughters made the mistake of trying to pick up a banana that a monkey had shown no interest in and was attacked by the monkey. He bit her twice and she still has bruises on her leg. The hardest thing was our guide kept telling her to stay still while the monkey was attacking her and both her dad and I were ready to kill that monkey to save her. She learned a valuable lesson about getting between an animal and its food. We traveled on to Ubud and shopped at the markets there for a couple of hours. We came away with some amazing bargains. The prices were at least half of the starting price that they were in Kuta. If I have one piece of advice here, it's save the bulk of your shopping for Ubud. I bought sarongs for 5000 Rupiah each and beautiful dresses for 30,000. I also picked up some wood items, spices, a watch, Oakley sunglasses, a kite, Nike sandals, Christmas ornaments, and I'm sure a few other items. We then headed to lunch at a resturant that overlooked the rice terraces. Our guide then took us to the Volcano with the lake in the crater. It was incredibly picturesque. We had some small stuffed animals with us and handed then out to some of the village children and were rewarded with some of the biggest smiles I think I've ever seen. Our guide then took us to a large temple in the area and then drove the back roads home so we could see more of true Bali life.
My husband spent a couple days scuba diving, one day at Nusa Penida and the other at Tulamben. He said it was some of the best diving he has ever done for the sheer numbers of fish he was surrounded by. He even sighted some dolphins on a dive.
One day we decided to go to the bird and reptile park but our driver suggested the Bali Zoo instead so we went there. It is apparent that the zoo is suffering a lack of income from the drop in tourists also as things looked like they had seen better days. But there were some highlights to this trip including the bird aviary and the giant- and I do mean giant- spiders that had made their webs in the trees on the zoo grounds. The zoo resturant was very nice and cheap but as happened far to often, we were the only ones in it.
We ended up at the Sari club on three different occasions. The first time was incredibly moving as the reality of over 200 deaths just a few short months ago at the site became reality. There have been banana trees planted on the property of Paddie's, the site of the other bombing. As it was explained to us, in the Hindu religion, these help bring about a cleansing of the land.
We ate dinner quite a few nights at the Mutiara resturant at the Galleria and became like family to the waiters and Barong dancers that performed every night. The dancers even spent an hour putting make-up on my girls and dressing them up in authentic dance costumes so that we could take their pictures. On the last night we were all crying together, exchanging gifts and promising to keep in touch. Within a day of being home we had e-mails and even a phone call from one of the dancers.
Many days were spent around the pool and at the beach relaxing-after all, that's the point of a vacation right? I have a great tan, great memories, and a managable Visa bill because the prices on everything were so reasonable. Will I go back? It's hard to say. Travel time from our state to Bali including layovers in airports is about 35 hours. We had a brutal flight back because of the turbulance all the way from Tokyo to Seattle. But as I think about the people we met, they draw me back to Bali in a way I haven't felt about other places we have visited. The smiles, and kindness and gentleness of personality of the Balinese people was really something to experience. I am so thankful that we shook off all our fears and had this incredible experience.
Since our last vacation was to Bangkok and Phuket, Thailand, later I am going
to post my pros and cons of each place since it seems to be a questions asked
often enough on this board. I thank eveyone for their help with my questions. I
actually have been lurking on this board for almost 4 years but only last fall
did I actually decide I was brave enough to make this trip. Now I know that all
along I had nothing to fear, Bali lived up to my dreams of what a vacation