A rustic retreat

Research and relaxation in Bali

Back in October I jetted off yet again to South East Asia for a month-long combined holiday, volunteering and business trip across Indonesia and Singapore. Little did I know with the coronavirus raging across the world, this was to be my last overseas trip for some time to come. Here’s a recap of the first part of my trip as I visited the volcanic island of Bali in Indonesia.

I headed over to Heathrow after work for a long evening flight with Malaysia Airlines to Kuala Lumpur, where I was treated to a free upgrade to Premium Economy (it always pays to ask and be friendly with the check in staff!). It was my first time flying on the A350 and it was probably the best non-business class flight I’ve ever taken; the aircraft is incredibly quiet and I managed to sleep almost the entire flight. After some snacks and a shower in KL, I jumped on a pretty bog-standard flight to Denpasar in Bali. The queues at immigration and for the solitary ATM were painfully long, but the latter was entirely my fault for not being prepared. After finally reaching my budget hotel beside the beach in Seminyak, it turned out I’d lost the key for my suitcase. It ended up being 2AM before getting into bed.

As I explored Seminyak the following morning, it was obvious that the vicinity was more commercialised than pretty much anywhere I’d been in SE Asia, and I was glad to be leaving after less than 12 hours. Having said that, I did enjoy a (admittedly not particularly authentic) falafel mezze breakfast and one of the best full-body massages I’d had in years at Spa Bali Drupadi. Massage treatments are an important aspect of Balinese culture and are inexpensive but very relaxing.

The beaches around Seminyak are world famous for surfing

Just before leaving town, a shopkeeper sneakily tried to rip me off by inflating the price of a SIM card which I luckily manage to point out in time. I was then subject to an earache over the phone from the taxi driver who I’d originally agreed to travel with before finding a more responsive/cheaper alternative driver. I felt guilty that I didn’t commit to the agreement which ruined the day somewhat.

I arrived late in the afternoon at Tanah Lot, an ancient Hindu temple set on a rock formation set just off the island and one of many temples located on the island. This particular temple, while situated with a beautiful backdrop, ended up also being excessively commercialised and in retrospect I wouldn’t have bothered visiting. I guess after all these years I just don’t get a kick out of visiting overcrowded old monuments anymore.

Tanah Lot, an ancient Hindu temple. Hinduisim is the predominant religion in Bali

As I jumped into the taxi enroute to my next destination, I reflected on how underwhelming my first day had been, thinking that I’d make a mistake in visiting the country and regretting that I’d not listened to the negative stories I’d heard beforehand. Luckily, that was about to change.

Bali Eco Stay

It was a long bumpy drive to get to Bali Eco Stay in the Tabanan regency, situated in the foothills of the mountains.  When I finally reached, it was like being in heaven on earth. The handful of bamboo bungalows are nestled amidst rice terraces and sleepy villages far away from the urban sprawl of Denpasar.

One of my standout memories of Bali Eco Stay is authentic design of the bungalows. Each one is uniquely designed and semi-open to the gardens, with traditional Balinese embroidered design and an outdoor bathroom. The first bungalow I stayed in was situated beside a stream and the trickle of water sent me to sleep in no time.

My bungalow

Snapping some design cues for my own home-furnishings…

Each morning I’d enjoy a delicious fresh fruity porridge while watching local villagers working in the rice fields. I’d typically spend the afternoons sitting in the pool beneath various waterfalls while reading a few of my book, listening to the sound of nature in all four directions. The warm water, thunderous sound of the water hitting stone and vines hanging from the tall surround trees felt like a scene out of The Jungle Book.

A very welcome change from my regular peanut-butter-on-toast breakfasts

The duration of my trip meant that I’d exhausted my annual leave allocation, so I was working in the evenings for a few hours. This ended up being handy as there wasn’t too much to do after dark and the eight-hour time difference gave me a suitable overlap to talk with my colleagues. I’d join my work meetings staring up at the moon with a subtly smug “you wouldn’t believe where I am” smile on my face, with the chorus of insects behind me and wafting smoke of the incense to keep them away. The only downer was the incessant itching and swotting of mosquitos who made their presence very much felt.

On my first morning, I went for a tour of the organic garden to see and learn how the food is grown for the guests. Meals are as fresh as they get at the lodge, they need to be ordered a few hours in advance so the various fruits and vegetables can be harvested and prepared. There’s even a coop for chickens to produce compost for the garden.




Another morning I joined a walking tour around the local villages and rice paddies. The streets were quiet, likely because the area is so cut off from other urban centres through rough roads. It was fascinating to admire the Hindu temples in front of each house, with the deities slightly different in appearance to the ones I’m familiar with. One unfortunate observation was the amount of plastic pollution lining the streets. I hope the government can provide more education to these remote villages to understand the impact of improper waste disposal.

Cacao being dried for export as chocolate

On a tour around the rice terraces

Researching eco lodges

One of my goals in visiting Bali was to research further the concept of eco lodges, having visited several in the past and very much on my bucket list to set up and manage one in the future. Eco lodges are typically very low density accommodation, minimalist, rural and are constructed with strong consideration for the environment.

My research started on the back of one of the staff’s motorbike as we rode through the nearby countryside to assess available plots of land. One plot in particular caught my eye and I headed back there the next day trudging through the rice fields and forests. I quickly realised how soggy rice terraces are as I walked with my feet through the mud, and was sunburned as I completely overlooked the blistering power of the sun near the equator. Luckily the friendly owner of another eco lodge, Clove Tree Hill, offered me a drink to recover from my sweltering trek.

Walking through barren scraps of land

After viewing plots and talking with the staff at Bali Eco Stay, my research on the eco lodge concept left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the land ownership rights in Indonesia and other countries in the region would mean I’d have no choice but to partner with an Indonesian resident who would be entrusted with the assets, which is obviously risky business. On the other, the sheer tranquillity of the environment has increased my resolve to work further embark on a project to ‘re-wild’ a patch of degraded land to serve the local community and delight overseas tourists.

Furthermore, it was clear that constructing any kind of building will almost certainly have negative repercussions to the natural environment. A genuinely eco-friendly project that is environmentally and socially positive needs to be extraordinarily well conceived, and the likelihood is that it would be a complete money sink (especially considering the cyclical nature of tourism).

There’s nothing like showering under a waterfall to re-connect with nature

Research aside, my stay at Bali Eco Stay was one of the most memorable of my life, perhaps only behind the Nguyen Shack in Vietnam because it’s significantly pricier and lacked a social buzz. But the serene surroundings, warm hospitality and rustic architecture made Bali Eco Stay feel like a home away from home. The long journey away from the crowded backpacker towns was worthwhile to appreciate the Balinese culture in all its richness.

The next stop for me was to Balikpapan in Borneo to kick off a volunteering experience with rescued orangutans.


About the Author

1 Comment

Write Your Comment

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>