Ernie goes back to Bali (May 2018)

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Bali Weekend

Ashley and I flew down to the island of Bali for a quick getaway in early May – a decision made in relative haste. After coming back from our stunning/terrifying Oman road trip last November, our family got the happy news that we’d soon be a family of three, with the little one due to make their grand entrance at the end of summer. Our travel horizon having shifted significantly forward, we made plans to squeeze in a few last holidays abroad.

There were a couple of family trips in the intervening months – a Chinese New Year holiday in Phuket and an April long weekend in Shanghai – but we were looking to get away by ourselves, just the two of us, one last time. We considered a few different destinations – EuropeThailand again, CambodiaVietnam – but in the end, with time and energy in short supply, we settled on the island of Bali. With direct flights from Hong Kong, affordable accommodations, and a beautiful tropical environment, it wasn’t that hard of a choice in the end.

The last time we were in Bali was almost two years ago, where we tried surfing in Kuta and then spent the rest of our time among the terraced hills of Ubud. This time around, we stayed in the Seminyak area, just north of Kuta, in our own villa with a private pool at Bali Nyuh Gading Villas. We did a minimal amount of planning for this trip, probably the least amount of research we’ve done for any of our holidays, and I think we would have been perfectly content to stay within the confines of our villa for the entire trip, if nothing else worked out.

We were very aware of the presence of the Zika virus in Bali, and the risks involved with traveling there, especially during pregnancy. After reading through countless medical studies, government websites, and online forums, we came to our own conclusions on whether or not we should go ahead with our trip. This is not a recommendation or any sort of travel advice, however – each individual or family should weigh the risk factors themselves and decide on whether or not the exposure is worth it.

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Mexicola and the sunset at the Potatohead

We whiled away our first morning and afternoon in Bali in the cool comforts of our private pool. One of the key factors in our decision to go to Bali is the affordability of luxury-style accommodations. The cost of one night in our 1600 square foot villa with a private pool and outdoor lounge was about as much as our motel bedroom in California, when we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway last summer.

Some time in the mid-afternoon, it became clear that we’d have to eventually wander out into the outside world to get some food. Fortunately for us, the villa operators have a free one-way shuttle into town, and we hopped on board to grab a late afternoon lunch at the funky Motel Mexicola. The restaurant is set up like a 60s-style diner with a Mexican twist, and the open areas leading into the dining space were crowded with tourists conducting their own amateur photoshoots (including us).

Mexicola has more than just interesting aesthetics going for it, though – the food was really good! We split their guacamole with homemade corn chips, we each had a taco de puerco (crispy pork belly, coriander mayo, radish, habanero salsa), and then Ashley had a rollitos chillorio (Sinaloan slow-cooked pork, sour cream, coriander mayo) and I had a pancita guisada (braised pork belly, roasted capsicum, tomato, onion, chilli, toasted peanuts, and rice). Everything was delicious, and certainly better than any Mexican food I’ve ever had in Hong Kong.

By the time we finished everything at Mexicola, it was nearing sunset, and we made our way over to Potato Head, one of Asia’s premier beach clubs and one of the top 50 bars in the region. We don’t usually make a point to check out places like Potato Head, to be honest, but it has such a reputation that we thought we’d swing by just to see what all the fuss was about. The beach club is set up like an amphitheatre, with levels of platforms and lounges leading down towards a central social space facing the ocean. The crowds had already filed in for the late afternoon/evening hours, and we made a beeline through the tanned masses and stepped right out on the beach below. With the crowd and the noise behind us, we watched the sunset in relative tranquility, the golden hour light catching behind cotton candy clouds as furious waves pounded the shoreline.

Potato Head has a pool right at the edge of the beach, and we assumed we’d have to buy a drink or spend some money somewhere to use it. Not so! After the sunset, we walked up from the beach and back into the club, and when we tentatively dipped our toes into the pool, one of the attendants came by with a straw basket to keep our bags dry. There was the usual young party crowd, but there were families with kids playing in the pool as well, and it was an unexpectedly pleasant atmosphere. So that’s how our first evening passed in Bali – wading in the warm, lit-up waters of the beachside pool, enjoying the evening colours that linger after a tropical sunset.

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Pura Tanah Lot

On our second morning on the island, we hired a car and a driver to take us out to see probably the most famous of Bali’s seven sea temples – Pura Tanah Lot. Located in the Tabanan Regency, about a 40-minute drive from our villa, the iconic temple is built on an offshore rock formation accessible by foot during periods of low tide. Local histories date its construction to the 16th Century, attributing the work to Dang Nyang Nirartha, a key figure in Balinese Hinduism. The subcontinental religion remains the dominant system of beliefs on the island, in contrast to the Muslim faith of much of the rest of Indonesia.

We arrived at Pura Tanah Lot at around mid-morning, and the path to the temple overlooking the ocean was already packed with fellow tourists and traveling school groups from Java. The crowd only grew as we approached the temple, with newer visitors pouring in from different gates and pathways lining the cliffside, until we all ended up at a staircase leading down to a small beach facing the structure. The tide was still in that morning, meaning the beach would be as close we’d get to the temple, which meant that all of us crowded onto the narrow strip of sand and rock to get our views in.

Visually speaking, I really enjoy the temple for just existing – the setting and the whole look of the temple on a rock in the sea is quite striking. I don’t usually make it a point to see temples or churches on holidays – though I’ve enjoyed visiting temples in Tokyo and Kyoto, pagodas in Yangon, Bagan, and Kyaiktiyo, and my own ancestral shrine in Chaoshan – but Bali is known as the Island of the Gods and the Island of a Thousand Temples after all.

Personally, I was content to just see it, take a few photos, and leave – there are some religious and spiritual activities and traditions associated with the temple that some tourists choose to do, but that’s not something I’m terribly interested in. Ashley was starting to feel the effects of the heat as well, so after about fifteen minutes on the beach, we began heading back to our driver and the air conditioned car.

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The Bump and the Yellow Dress

As I said earlier, Ashley and I would have been perfectly content if our entire trip was spent lounging by the pool in our villa. The afternoon and evening spent at Potato Head and the morning at Pura Tanah Lot was about as adventurous as we got, and that’s not saying much. The rest of our non-villa time over the next few days was spent in and around Seminyak, whether it was eating fantastic meals at Sardine (great seafood), Nook (famous for their nasi campur), Naughty Nuri’s (the BBQ ribs are a must), and La Lucciola (tasty Italian by the beach), getting massages at Bodyworks, and even doing a yoga class at Seminyak Yoga Shala. Ashley did most of the legwork looking up restaurants and other activities – Pura Tanah Lot was my lone contribution – and we never felt rushed to do one thing or another.

Our home lives back in Hong Kong have been hectic and very nearly overwhelming. With all of the countless tasks and checklists in preparation for impending parenthood, looking for a bigger place in a city with the most intense pricing pressures in the global real estate market, and figuring out how to re-orient our work and personal lives and patterns to make room for a baby, it can be very easy for us to forget to enjoy these moments together. Going to Bali gave us a chance to take our eyes off of the logistics and the planning and focus on one another – to appreciate the simple pleasures of Ashley in a yellow dress, walking in the sunlight with a happy bump past flowering trees, rice paddies, and neighbourhood shrines.

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The End

Every new life stage tends to be described as a new adventure – going to college, moving to a new city, getting married, having children – and I’ve certainly been more than blessed in each of those areas. I’ve enjoyed opportunities to study in two of the top post-secondary institutions in the world, made a life-defining move from the suburbs of Toronto to the heart of dynamic Hong Kong that couldn’t have worked out better, met and entered into a relationship with Ashley that has taught us what it is to love and be loved, and now our first child is on the way.

We’ve also had our share of travel-related adventures, whether it was the mountain hikes and village landscapes of our first trip together to Yunnan, our Christmas travels through five countries in Europe on the European leg of our honeymoon, my dream holiday in Istanbul (still my favourite city in the world, or at least the idea of it) and the cities along the Adriatic (or thereabouts), riding trains through tea hills and watching stunning Indian Ocean sunsets in Sri Lanka, road-tripping in the stunning alien geographies of Iceland, climbing pagodas and ringing in the new year among the thousand temples of Bagan while I was interning in Myanmar a year-and-a-half ago, and hiking the desert gorges and dunes of beautiful, and very underrated, Oman last winter.

Our desire is for both these paths to continue – to always have new life events and stages to celebrate with one another, and to always have a curiosity about the world and all its diversity of environments and cultures and people. The practical reality of changing family circumstances means we’ll have to press pause on the latter path for possibly the rest of the year, but, who knows, we may find ourselves back on the road sooner than we might expect. Until that time comes, though, we’re settling in for the exciting few months ahead, eyes forward as our next great adventure continues.

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