What not to do when you’re on an island alone in Bali
At the start of my first travel experience to Asia (by myself too!), I was up to my knees in mud next to my swampy scooter getting hosed down in the backyard of a resort by some Balinese angels. I am sure I saw all the thought bubbles read “Is the girl in the leafy shorts okay?” (I was wearing the leafy shorts)
The girl in those leafy shorts somehow survived her few days in Nusa Lembongan, a beautiful small island just a thirty-minute boat ride from Bali.
Day 1: CONFUSION ON ENTRY
After an excellent day-trip in Singapore, I was riding the travel high. I had conquered an unknown city (well as much as you can in 12 hours) and felt I must be well-suited for my next venture of traveling Bali alone.
After being confused in the Bali visa line, entering and exiting the line twice, I finally received the last passport stamp of the day from the Bali visa staff. Keeping in mind my notes that “you’ll see the official taxi service when you exit customs”, I immediately abandoned my preparations and am coerced away from the official taxi service by enthusiastic women in matching teal shirts. I ended up paying triple what I should have for a taxi to Sanur. C’mon Em.
So after a wild ride to Sanur (the roads here are crazy) I finally arrived at my hostel in Sanur. Thirty hours of traveling put me right to sleep.
Day 2: MIDNIGHT RIDE
The next morning I awoke with a mission to get a SIM card. I googled where to get them and found a store a 24-minute walk away. Turns out walking is nearly a sin in Sanur — every other minute someone begged me to ride in their taxi and every time I politely declined (the declines got less polite with time). They would always ask “okay, tomorrow then?” Yes, sure, tomorrow.
The humid walk somehow took me nearly an hour, and I end up finding a SIM card at a different shop. Turns out SIM cards are everywhere. Don’t know how I missed this (I do, because I suck at finding things).
SIM card in phone, I finally hit up a gorgeous little health cafe “Soul In A Bowl” and treated myself to a $1 coconut (in an effort to avoid drinking the tap water) and poached eggs on avo toast. ~The Balinese dream is all happening.~
After breaky I grabbed my bag to catch a Scoot Cruise to Nusa Lembongan, a beautiful island recommended to me by a friend. I decided to do this first as it would be difficult to get from the island to the airport on my last day, even though this is probably the most remote part of my trip.
Scoot Cruise to Nusa Lembongan (image from Scoot)
Boarding the boat, I noticed on the boat one of their phonetic spellings of English: “Main Your Head”. Hah. (some other spellings were “milkseak” and “hair breading”)
The Scoot Cruise crew transferred me to the resort I found on AirBnb, Poh Manis. It is insanely beautiful but of course I picked the most remote resort on the island—far from all the attractions.
Image from Poh Manis. This is where I stayed!!! (for less that US$40/night)
After settling in my little bungalow, I decided to go to town to get my bearings and check out the Bali Eco Deli, a vegan cafe trailblazing a new but growing recycling program on the island. I told the resort manager I was thinking of going to town for dinner. She said “okay, ride ready in ten minutes? Alright?”
I ran back and put my leafy green shorts on (so Bali) and my fave pink Adidas sneakers, got my camera and money, and I was ready. I waited for our 5pm ride with two other German girls who seem to be going to town as well.
Why didn’t I just eat dinner here? At Poh Manis Detailing like what’s on the mirror was everywhere… pretty
At 5:05pm us three girls climbed in the back of one of the little human wagons the resorts use to transfer guests too afraid (or smart) to scooter around the island. I made a little small talk with the Germans but they were mostly uninterested. Maybe I come off weird??? I’ve heard non-American travellers remark that Americans can come off as super fun or overly friendly. I’m definitely super fun.
All was well as we made our way into town, but suddenly we turned down a little muddy alleyway, which eventually turned into this grand welcoming entrance for another resort, Hai Tide. The driver backed up the little human wagon directly to the path into the resort.
Human wagons Mysterious mud road to another resort…
I became slightly frantic and confused because I didn’t want to go to this resort. Maybe just the Germans were going to this resort? But I was closest to the exit so I had to get out first. After sitting still for too long and making the Germans like me less, I finally jumped out of the human wagon and loitered by it. The driver signalled us to follow him. US?? Did he mean me too? The Germans seemed happy with this resort triangle we were apparently trapped in but I wanted to go to town! I was so bloody confused!
We walked through a scene of Forgetting Sarah Marshall until we arrived at the hostess stand. My mind was turning and my brow furrowed hard (even though I’m trying to stop doing that to prevent a wrinkle).
They asked if we are all together and I busted out a “I don’t want to eat here” which in retrospect was a bit awkward as they were under the impression I made a reservation at their restaurant. “So we’ll take that as you are not all together” and the hostess sat the two German girls at their romantic table.
The bar at the new resort I was trapped at. Not the worst… (image from Citizen Femme)
I awkwardly looked around assessing my new resort. Okay, it was actually pretty cool, I could relax. I resolved to stay for a drink but then committed to going to town. I just wanted to explore and I would have rather eaten at the cool vegan cafe than the resort.
After convincing the staff to let me stay for one drink by the water and not by the dark corner of the patio at my “reserved table” (who reserved this), I enjoyed a Bintang beer (the Balinese beer) alone in the best seat of the house at some random resort during a fiery sunset. Whatever, it was cool and the beer was nice.
They wanted me to sit in the back corner by myself, behind the bar
After finishing the beer and standing around to pay for a while, I used the toilet and jetted off. I needed to get out of this weird web of resorts. Bai, Hai Tide.
Now this is more like it 😛
I started walking to where I thought town should be, since a bunch of tourists seemed to be coming from that way. But slowly the amount of tourists lessened and the amount of locals chilling by their shops watching me suspiciously increased. Damnit. I admitted to myself that I was lost and headed back to the busy area to wander for service so I could hit up Google Maps (the SIM card was essentially useless on the island—figures).
I caught a phone wave and finally got the Bali Eco Deli in my maps. 45 minute walk. No problem.
I did a couple twirls on the side of the road clutching my iPhone, playing with the compass trying to figure out which way to go. A man with a 2 year old boy on the front of his scooter stopped to ask if I need something. I couldn’t really understand his English so I just awkwardly smiled, pointed at my phone and said I am good! He likely didn’t believe me but he laughed and said okay and jetted off.
Just as he took off I realized he asked “do you need a transfer?” A transfer! A RIDE!! Yes I wanted a ride! It would have been a 5 minute scooter ride to town and I could’ve avoided the additional 40 minutes of my solo evening walk in remote Bali. Too late. Nice one.
Time went on and walking continued to seem like a bad idea. I didn’t feel unsafe, per-say, but just a bit nervous as the skies turned grey and darkness was upon us. And I was on some pretty remote roads (remote to this city gal). I just needed to follow my maps and I’d be there soon. I started jogging a little to speed up the process. Maps said I was 20 minutes away.
Suddenly the man on the scooter passed me again! Hah! And he was laughing so I said hi. “Yes, I just realised you said transfer. And I do want a transfer if you are willing to take me to town.” I offered him some money to take me to town (retrospect, I should have said village). We could barely communicate between his broken English and my inability to understand broken English (I am seriously bad at figuring out broken English and/or English in different dialects).
I hopped on board so it’s me, the 2 year old, and my Balinese buddy. I thought, ’10 minutes til I’m finally in town and now I’ll have a fun little hitchhiker story, all before dinner!’
MY TOUR OF NUSA LEMBONGAN IN THE DARK
Well I thought he said he’ll take me to the Lembongan village so I said sweet. I definitely did not understand and apparently agreed to a three hour scooter tour of Bali—my Nusa Lembongan Midnight Ride.
After a while on the scooter we came up to The Yellow Bridge which was only wide enough for a scooter to get across. Why were we at this bridge. This bridge went to the neighbouring island Nusa Ceningan. This bridge also collapsed eight months ago killing 9 people. It was rebuilt but I had already vowed to never go near that bridge. But there we were scootering over the bridge under a brilliant starry sky.
The new bridge in the dark The Yellow Bridge in the light, before it collapsed. Photo from sunshine seekers
We survived the bridge but my troubles seemed far from over. As we scooted through winding roads, I saw less tourists and more locals hanging out by their dimly lit shops. Most of the resorts were dark, and I concluded that I was doomed.
I couldn’t believe I walked into this. It was a nice looking local and he had a cute son—what a decoy. HOW did I fall for this! Was this really how am I going to go—trapped with no service in some dark Indonesian island prison being poked by men half my height. I am pretty strong, I reckoned I could put up a fight. But I didn’t know. Maybe I should have bought that pocket knife from the little boy trying to sell one to me before I boarded my ferry to the island.
I asked, where again are we going? And he said Blue Lagoon. I didn’t do any research on the islands beforehand (surprise) so I was left riding along and hoping for the best.
We pulled up to Blue Lagoon. It was dark but an amazing sight. We walked over to see it and he told me a bit about it. I became less nervous—maybe he was really just showing me the sight!
This is Blue Lagoon during the day. Pretty cool! So Imagine it at night with the moonlight illuminating the lagoon and stars everywhere and the waves roaring a bit more 😛 (Image from Journey Era… cool post on this)
After a few minutes checking it out, we hopped back onto the scooter. We scooted back across the bridge and I was so happy to be on my original island again. Not that I really knew this island either. My driver said hi to a few people on the side of the road. He grew up in Nusa Lembongan so he pretty much knew everyone. I was comforted that he seemed like a popular dude, but I was still sceptical of my chance of survival.
We pulled up to a petrol station and I offered to pay for the gas—12,000 Indonesian Rupiah (about $1.20). Then I gave him all the change from my 100,000 IDR bill and he tried to refuse. I insisted he take it as a thank you for the ride (and a thanks in advance for not killing me?).
He said he’ll give me a tour of the island but first he had to take his son home because he was sleepy. At this point I still didn’t actually know what’s going on but in retrospect that’s what he said. I thought he’d just take me back to my resort because he said he knew where it was.
We pulled up to a temple and he parked. Was this the next stop on the tour? What was I walking into now? He picked up his son and we walked into the temple yard. This was interesting. A dog started barking ferociously at me but then out came his lovely wife. Oh! This was their home! Apparently Balinese families live in compounds, in these little courtyards with temple-looking entrances (and every compound has an template). It was pretty cool and they were a really cute family.
I felt better now that we established that my tour guide was likely a family man. Although I still didn’t know much about Balinese family culture. Is cheating on your wife common here? Was he going to try something on me?
We scooted through all the tourist spots at night, including Lighthouse Beach where he knew some of the younger workers. Lots of jokes were thrown—“Is he your husband? Ooo”. There was more tourists around and good vibes.
Image from Mahagiri Resort
Then we left and went a bit remote again—probably the most remote I’ve ever been in my life. And I was alone with no phone service! We stopped at the Mangrove Forest by the river. He told me this is where you can take a boat through the forest (which I did the next day).
Then we went back to the Yellow Bridge and he asks if I want to cross it again. NO THANKS. This time there were some more locals around the bridge, finishing up their day fishing, putting boats away and such. I couldn’t believe they were still working—it was past 8pm.
One of the beaches we stopped at (but this was during the day)
We went all the way across the island to some other popular beaches. We saw Devil’s Tear which is crazy enough to see during the day, so at night with the big waves, it was scary but cool! We did a bit of off-roading with the scooter—it was impressive how good he was at manoeuvring through without getting us stuck in the mud (which is good because I was wearing my fave shoes).
Image from Harindabama
At last we got to Sandy Bay and sat near a cliff at about 8:30pm. He told me the original name for the beach (I won’t even try to repeat) and I learned a bit more about life growing up on the island. We started to understand each other through broken English a bit more. He also showed me the spots to get magic mushrooms on the island. ?
Sandy Bay during the day. I forgot my camera this day, so this image is from Sunshine Seeker
He offered to take me to one more beach but I was thinking it was time to see if he’d actually return me to my resort. I said I need to get back before dinner ends (9pm) and we zoomed back to Poh Manis.
We came across a snail on our ride home. Biggest snail I’ve ever seen. So I made him stop so I could take a picture of it.
I still didn’t really know where my resort is. We flew through backroads and roads through a forest. I saw one building I recognised from getting dropped off in the morning so I was hopeful. FINALLY we pulled up to Poh Manis! My place! We made it! He really dropped me off! I found another 100,000 IDR to give him and gave him a hug. And it was back to safety. Like nothing happened.
I MADE IT HOME!!! ?
I wandered into the resort kitchen and asked if I could still have food. It’s exactly 9:01pm but I pleaded that even some rice would be amazing. The chef whipped up this amazing veggie fried rice with chicken and a fried egg on top. Nothing had even been so satisfying. I later found out this wasn’t even on the menu when I tried to order it again and I couldn’t! What an angel.
DAY 3: DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME
I woke up satisfied with my adventure on the island. Today I could relax and soak in the beautiful island day. I reluctantly rented a scooter from the resort since it was the only way to get around, and took off to finally try Bali Eco Deli.
OOPS #1: At the first major intersection there were a million scooters around and a human wagon heading towards me. It was honking to try to get me to turn. So I panicked and ran into a wall with the scooter… Tourists laughed and took it as a lesson, an example of what not to do. I shook it off, found my iPhone that fell off in the crash, blotted my little scrapes and continued to town.
V unsure about scootering The fabeled Bali Eco Deli!
I finally made it! The deli was actually just okay compared to other healthy Bali restaurants on the mainland (and considering my effort to come here…), but I had a smoothie there and it was good. And I love their recycling mission as trash on the island was a huge problem.
There were trash dumps like this everywhere ? Trees.
Then I explored all the cool places my Balinese friend showed me the night before. I went on a short boat-ride in the Mangrove forest, and then went back for a swim at Lighthouse Beach.
Boat ride through the Mangrove forest Traffic jam in the Mangrove forest
And then I finally figured out what my Balinese scooter guide meant when he explained what he did for work! He was cleaning the beach at the resort on Lighthouse beach and recognised me. He didn’t remember my name either. We hugged and I met his friend. A group of backpackers laying on the beach nearby were impressed that I knew the locals and asked how I knew them. Hahhhh funny story…
This is the uniform my Bali buddy wore when I ran into him at Lighthouse beach! This isn’t the exact picture but I just found on the resort website and had to post 😛 Image from Mahagiri Resort
Anyways I scooted to the other side of the island to check out some more beaches (and had a pit stop for a US$7 Balinese foot massage). I went to see the last beach on my list, the last beach we visited the night before. I had to manoeuvre through the mud pits just like my buddy from the night before. I successfully did that and saw the crowded tourist spot during the day. Not nearly as cool as being the only two people there under the stars at night. I didn’t stay long and decided to scoot out so I could do a 4pm yoga class (for which they specifically note that you need to be clean to participate in the class).
Little Aussie kids getting massages with me ?
Well I really blew it for yoga because instead I ran the scooter straight into three feet of mud because I panicked when a human wagon came near me. Literally almost up to my hips in mud. IN MY FAVORITE PINK SNEAKERS. I had to drag the heavy scooter out and big chunks of mud were stuck on everything.
There were many concerned tourists around. I scooted away fast to try to find a beach where I could rinse off my mud and my embarrassment. I pulled up to another resort that I thought would be a beach, but instead it had more people. At this point I had to embrace being the idiot tourist. A group of deeply concerned Europeans gave me their wound-cleansing products. Then a group of five Balinese resort workers, who were equally concerned and amused, offered to hose me down. They got a kick out of it and I finally got most of the mud off me.
After hosing down the scooter back at Poh Manis…. ????
After that…. it was time to go back to Poh Manis. I wasn’t clean enough for yoga. And I reckoned I had enough adventure for this island. Why don’t I do what normal people do on resort islands and just relax at the beautiful resort by the pool with a view of the ocean and read a book, or write a story about how I am a strong independent woman who needs a babysitter while traveling.
Back to chill at the resort After my Nusa Lembongan adventures…it was time to C H I L L
So, I can’t say I’ve conquered Bali yet (Nusa Lembongan at least) but I did it the only way I can — the Emily way… no matter how ridiculous it may be.
Travelling alone forces you to confront your strengths and weaknesses head-on. You truly get to know yourself more.
I certainly learned about some of my thought processes that truly lack logic and reason. I learned to be confident on things such as scooters because lack of confidence is what got me into trouble. And I learned that I’m not good at staying at resorts and maybe I need a babysitter. But I also trailblazed my own path. I shared a lot of memories with my temporary island friends, and hopefully they’ll remember me as the funny (really cool?) girl in the leafy shorts… ?