Postcard from Paradise (A journey to Bali)

By on August 27, 2008
When people think of Bali, they conjure up images of paradise, lush tropical beaches, rice terraces, and an exotic native culture. Bali is all of that, and more: a great place for a family escape!

Before we had children, we would spend weeks there at a time, not in extravagance by any means, but one of many appealing things about Bali is that one can live quite nicely for little money. This trip, however, was the first time we went as a family: kids, ages 3 and 7, and grandma and grandpa along for the adventure.I can’t speak for all parents, but traveling with our kids is easier if we make wherever we go feel like a home. Therefore, our past accommodations—a romantic little love-cottage on the beach–would not suffice this time. We needed amenities, a nearby grocery store, a kitchen, a refrigerator, some outdoor romp-around space, and grandma and grandpa needed their own bathroom.

After a little research and a few suggestions, we ended up renting a bungalow, or what the locals call a “villa” at the Vila Lumbung, a small out-of-the-way complex near Seminyak, 5 kms. north of the congested Kuta, and Legian tourist areas. A decade ago Seminyak was a small village surrounded by rice fields. Nowadays, many of the rice fields have been developed into hotels and upscale housing, mostly for westerners. Seminyak now adjoins the other villages in the area like Legian and Kuta, but has still managed to retain that away-from-the-crowds atmosphere.

With the exception of a few drawbacks, the Vila Lumbung ended up being the right one for the six of us. Our villa was of the typical Balinese style of the lumbung. A three- story, grass roofed structure with a large and open bottom floor was a comfortable seating area for the family. In the front was a shaded porch with tables and chairs that overlooked an expansive green lawn and tropical garden. There was plenty of outdoor space for the kids to play in and explore, but not get lost.The Lumbung restaurant was relaxed and comfortable,  and served a wide variety of delicious Western and Eastern style cuisine. If fact, we only ventured out a few times for dinner anywhere else. That may sound crazy in a place like Bali where you find an astounding variety of restaurants serving up everything from Italian to the traditional Indonesian or Balinese style dishes. For us, after a day of being out and about in the heat and humidity, we were happy to walk the few steps from our villa to the cool of the poolside restaurant. The boys and grandparents were especially happy with this set-up.

The Vila Lumbung became our home away from home immediately and the staff took a liking to the boys right away. A traveling family cannot find a more child-friendly place than Bali. The Balinese have great affection for children. To them, a child comes straight from God, and the younger the child, the closer to God. Therefore, to them, a child’s needs are as important as the adults. Our children quickly become accustomed to being cuddled and hugged by happy, smiling, people they did not know. It was not unusual for our youngest boy to be swept away by a smiling Balinese waitress, eager to play a game, or show him the day’s live seafood catch. In heavy tourist areas, this “the child is king” treatment is less likely, but in out-of-the way-places, it is still very much the norm.

There are so many things to do in Bali with or without children. We had decided early on that our vacation would be slow-paced and without a strict agenda. We wanted the kids and grandparents to absorb the taste and feel of Bali by experiencing daily life as the Balinese do, slowly and spontaneously, without a daily rush to a new attraction. We did go on a few outings,  but we were happy to spend several lazy days at the beach.

Our favorite beach was Nusa Dua, on the southeastern end of the island. Beaches in the tourist areas of Kuta and Legian can get very crowded. The water can be rough and there are always several rip tides. About 40 minutes from Seminyak, Nusa Dua requires some driving, but as a result, the beaches are not as crowded. There are several luxury, high-end resorts in the area such as the Sheraton Nusa Indah, and the Grand Hyatt Nusa Dua, but because they are isolated from each other, the area has been less impacted by development unlike than the congested Kuta Beach area. At Nusa Dua, the water is warm, clear, and shallow. The kids loved being able to walk far out into the water and not worry about waves.

One  day, we hired a driver to take us to the holy sea temple of Pura Ulu Watu on the southwestern tip of Bali. There are many beautiful temples in Bali to visit, but this one is extraordinary because it sits high on a cliff with sweeping views of blue, clear, rolling waves. On one of my two previous visits to the temple, I spotted a giant sea turtle and several dolphins swimming near the shore from atop one of the look-out points.

The temple is also known for its many thieving, gluttonous monkeys that roam the temple grounds, ready to steal anything that is not glued to your body. I knew the boys would get a kick out of this – and they did. Over the years the monkeys have learned that they can trade whatever they have stolen from you–for peanuts, which of course are sold at the temple entrance. I personally observed that over the years the monkeys have gotten greedy—and very fat. No longer can you get your hat or glasses back for a single peanut, some hold out for a whole bag.  Another sad fact, the monkeys have also taken to drinking Coca Cola, which the boys found hilarious, and I found rather sad.

We spent a few hours wondering the grounds of the temple and I remember feeling a little sad that day. I knew we were leaving Bali soon. It was hard to see our trip come to an end. It was the realization that our family had traveled so far to be there, and that Bali was indeed worlds away from our home.

Our trip had been all we had hoped for and more. We knew that our Bali experience had made life-long lasting impressions on our young children, and that we would return as a family.

About Rebecca Koppenhaver