Travel

Bali is back: My post-COVID backpacking adventure

Dawn on Mt. Batur (Photo by Willeke van Doorn)

Under a pitch black sky, lit up only by a string of small flash lights, I slowly climb my way up to the top of Mount Batur, a 1,717-meter high volcano in the north of Bali. It’s barely five in the morning, but I am far from alone. Ahead of me on the trail are dozens, if not hundreds, of other tourists who got out of bed early to complete the rather steep two hour hike to catch the sunrise.

After a couple of years of no tourism thanks to the COVID pandemic, Bali is clearly back in business.

It’s time to put on a helmet, get on a motorbike and explore the long stretches of beaches, active volcanos, lush green rice fields and the fantastic cuisine of Bali. The Indonesian island is as busy as ever and the perfect mix of adventure and relaxing with a touch of affordable luxury. The Indonesian island has been a popular destination for years, and it’s not hard to see why.

From sunrise volcano hikes to lush green rice fields, dreamy white beaches, interesting temples and the incredible food; Bali’s diversity is a big draw for tourism.

From young backpackers making their way around South East Asia to older travelers looking for a luxurious vacation with a sprinkle of adventure; everyone has found their way back to Bali.

Gili Air Beach near Bali on Lombok, the essential Bali experience

Discover Bali by motorbike

All of this also means Bali is busy. Very busy. Traffic in popular destination such as Canggu, Seminyak and Ubud is hectic, but if you are brave enough, a motorbike is the best way to get around the island. It offers you the freedom and flexibility to discover Bali at your own pace. You can also easily steer away from the crowds in the most touristy areas.

Take a couple of turns away from the main streets and you might just find yourself alone in the middle of a green rice field.

If driving a motorbike isn’t your cup of tea, there are other ways to beat the crowds. When in Ubud, make sure to walk the Campuhan Ridge Walk. The easy 2-kilometer hike (one-way) starts in the middle of town, but makes you feel like you are miles away from the hustle and bustle of Bali’s cultural center.

After just a few minutes of walking, you are surrounded by green jungle and stunning views of rice fields. At the hike’s turning point, stop for a drink or lunch at Kastara Resort & Spa which has a beautiful infinity pool you can take a refreshing swim in.

More infinity pools can be found at day clubs such as Cretya Ubud and at the many private villas you can rent around the island. While Bali is an affordable destination for budget travelers – I have had fantastic meals including a starter, main and a beer for just 5 euros – you can also splurge on a bit of luxury. Treat yourself to a day of lounging with some cocktails at one of the fancy beach clubs in Canggu or stay at a beautiful Airbnb with your own infinity pool near Ubud.

Tegalalang Rice Terrace

Must-sees in Bali: from green rice fields to the perfect waves

While it’s fun to take your scooter off the beaten tracks, the popular sights are well known for a reason and still worth the visit. Get up early in the morning to beat the crowds at Tegalalang Rice Terrace, get your perfect Instagram photo taken at one of the swings overlooking the green scenery or go for a tour along the many waterfalls around Bali.

Fancy a surf? Canggu and Uluwatu are the beach towns with the best waves. I spent most of my time on the south side of the island, but if you have more time, it’s worth travelling to the north where you’ll find fewer tourists than in the busy south.

However, my favorite stop on my 3-week trip around Bali is not actually found on the island itself,
but located about 90 kilometers east. Here you’ll find the Gili Islands, three picture-perfect tropical islands with the type of white beaches you dream of during a rainy day at the office in Europe.

Life on the islands moves a bit slower than on Bali. There are no cars or motorbikes, but you can rent a bike to cycle along the coastline. It’s a welcome relieve from hectic Bali, which can be overwhelming at times. I spent a couple of nights at Captain Coconuts, a lovely hostel with great private rooms, situated just a 2-minute walk away from Gili Air beach.

Activities on the Gili Islands include a lot of snorkeling, diving, stand-up paddling or simply lounging on the white sand with a good book. If you cycle away from the harbor, it’s quite easy to find a stretch of beach all to yourself.

Blue waves stretching out in front of me, white sand between my toes and a swinging palm tree offering some shade, this is exactly what I have been dreaming of during those many days working from home over the last few years.

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See more of Willeke’s posts here in Dispatches’ archives.

About the author: Willeke van Doorn is a Dutch journalist and graduate of Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Tilburg, Netherlands. Her experience includes an internship at National Geographic Traveler in Amsterdam.

Willeke has lived in the U.S. and Australia and loves to travel the world.

Willeke van Doorn
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