A row of mopeds crawl along the busy streets of Bali like ants carrying precious cargo. Some hold as many as four people, kids wearing flip flops, cages with piglets inside and a man carrying his entire souvenir stand on his back. Tourists stand out wearing helmets, clinging onto their taxi drivers. The less brave wait for their hotel shuttle buses, but the moped drivers sit by the road with their cards, remaining hopeful. “Thank you for smiling!” The response as I politely decline their offer of a ride home. I first encounter the true kindness of the Balinese people whilst walking around Ubud on my own. Despite the constant buzz of mopeds, the place has a calming aura, and it’s not the kind of place you could feel lonely as a solo traveller. The kindness and friendliness of the Balinese people is what makes Bali reach into your soul and fill it with warmth.
Ketut the Music Man
Ketut sits cross legged playing the Tingklik, the sound gently filling the almost empty gardens of the Museum Puri Lukisan. It feels like another world away from the main road of Jl. Raya upon which it sits. Spotting me filming him, Ketut smiles and nods as he plays, looking humbled and relaxed. I drop a tip in the bowl sat near to him as I walk past into the gallery. A few minutes later, the music stops and Ketut appears beside me, asking apologetically if I could give him my admission ticket. With the little English he speaks, he asks me about my trip, about my life in England, and tells me a little about himself. I then get my first marriage proposal of the trip (yes, there was more than one!), and he nods understandingly as I politely decline. He heads back to his Tingklik and the music once again fills the gardens.
Sam the Tour Guide
Walking into the hotel reception, Sam greets me with a giant smile and seems genuinely excited about showing me around Ubud. My initial concerns that it could be awkward with it being just him and I on an all day tour are quickly quashed with his cheeky sense of humour. As we drive around Bali, Sam explains the life of the Balinese to me. As we drive past a large paper structure on the street, he explains this is for a funeral procession, an important Balinese tradition in which the large, extravagant structures are carried by the family before being burned. We visit a temple Sam has never been to before, and he excitedly picks out the sarongs we must wear before entering any sacred buildings. We make a few additional stops, including the Pura Samuan Temple, which he doesn’t charge any extra for. As we step inside the palace, as he has done throughout the day, Sam acts as my personal photographer, making sure I get those photos for the gram. He gives me directions, where to stand, takes shots from different angles before he announces, ‘Done!’ and giggles when I tell him to pose for a photograph as well. We stop at a local stand selling the popular “rattan roundie” bag, which he assures me will be much cheaper than the Ubud market, and helps me pick the one with the nicest lining. The day flies over, and the final stop is the Tegallalang Rice Fields. Walking along the street, there are several gift shops, with some rather risque wooden bottle openers. Sam nudges me and points to them, giggling like a school kid with his hands over his face. ‘Not one to take home for Mum, is it?’ I say, which makes him giggle even more.
The Y Resort Staff
Arriving in Bali, the tiredness makes me hallucinate in the back of the taxi to the hotel, and the kind receptionist Komang Sri has nothing but patience as I try to find my documents and check in late at night. It’s raining heavily, but a young boy takes my heavy cases and runs with them to my room whilst I hide under a huge umbrella, drinking the fresh fruit juice I have been given. He shows me around my room and I try to give him a tip. Not yet used to the currency, I offer the smallest note I have, 50,000 Indonesian rupiah. Wide eyed, he shakes his head, ‘no miss.’ when asked if it’s a lot of money, he replies, ‘Yes miss.’ I promise to find him the next day when I have change. After he leaves, I google the amount. It’s the equivalent to £2.74. A lot of money in Bali, I was touched by his honestly and humility. The following day, as I handed him 2000 rupiah, equivalent to about 11p, his face lit up with gratitude and he thanked me enthusiastically. Throughout my stay, I get to know several of the hotel staff, and they make me feel like part of their family, cutting a fresh coconut from the tree for me and presenting it with frangipani as I chat to them during my Balinese offerings lesson. Staying in a small resort gives a sense of being at home, and the familiarity and friendliness of the staff reinforces that feeling.
The Balinese Dancer
Walking through the streets of Bali, you will notice small trays made from palm leaf, filled with vibrant flowers and incense sticks. Being careful not to step on or over them is important, particularly whilst the incense is still burning. The different colours represent the Hindu gods, something you can learn about by taking a class on how to make Canang Sari. I took a lesson at my hotel, the Y Resort in Ubud. The two girls teaching me giggled as I nervously took the large knife and attempted to cut the palm leaf without chopping off one of my fingers. It definitely takes patience and skill to create Canang Sari, and it was explained to me that it is a form of mindfulness for Balinese women. One of the girls, Emik, was bubbly and excited to learn about me as much as I was to learn abut her and the Balinese culture. We took photos and followed each other on Instagram, and I discovered Emik was also a Balinese dancer. After I left Bali, I received lovely messages from Emik, offering to teach me Balinese dance if I was ever to visit again.
I met so many other lovely people throughout my trip, from the man who worked in the coffee shop and remembered my iced latte order after my first visit, serving it with a smile; the elderly man with cataracts trying to sell wooden boxes to make money for his sick wife, to the guide who ensured I made it to the top of Mt.Batur and told me how he taught himself English purely by speaking to tourists, the man who stands holding an extremely heavy basket full of rice plants waiting for tourists to have their photo taken with him and shows each and every person the same respect and kindness, and the waitress at the Honeymoon bakery who promised to keep behind four doughnuts for me to collect after my mountain trek (they sell out VERY quickly on Sundays!) and true to her word, they were set aside for me in a box to collect later in the day.
Even on my way to the airport to fly home, my taxi driver tells me about his life and how he became a taxi driver. He comes from the mountain villages, where they have less money due to lack of tourism, and his father worked on the rice fields doing extremely difficult and exhausting work. He moved away from his home village to make more money but explains how he still visits his home village to buy food as it’s much cheaper. He tells me about his recent wedding, and eager to know more about the traditions of a Balinese wedding, he happily lets me look through the wedding photos on his phone. He invites me to visit his home next time I visit for a more authentic experience, where his wife would dress me in traditional Balinese clothing, teach me how to cook local recipes, and take me to the temple where they pray. I heard from Eka recently, he messaged just to ask how I am, and it reminded me how I felt when I was in Bali, surrounded by the kindest of people.
If you have travelled to Bali, or plan to travel to Bali soon, let me know your stories about the lovely people you meet!