Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bali Hai!

Well, we're back, and it's about 20 degrees colder in Hong Kong than it was in Denpasar so we're struggling a little. I've just been introduced to a new blog ( and coincidentally the author was also travelling to Bali this week. She wrote about not blogging for a couple of weeks and confessed that it would feel like she was leaving something behind. I have to admit I felt the same way. I left my laptop at home (which felt like going away without one of my limbs) so I wouldn't be tempted to blog but I was thinking about it all the time; what I was going to write about, clever spins on things, tips I wanted to mention - I'm definitely addicted! Anyway, here's the rundown on our fabulous week in paradise (and a few of the lessons we learned about travelling with a toddler, some of which may be obvious to the rest of you, but we're novices)...

First I have to say that J was brilliant, as I had hoped. The flight down (4.5 hrs plus about 1/2 an hour delay on the ground) was pretty horrendous but he coped so well with the change of scene. He slept well, ate well and didn't make a fuss when we dragged him from one place to the other. Instead he got excited each time we walked out the door or got into a car, taking it in his stride as part of the adventure. We were thrilled and loved watching him loving every minute of it. We have been to Bali three times now and have loved it every time. This time was different, and I think if it's even possible, we now love it even more. I can't describe the feeling I get walking out of the terminal at Ngurah Rai airport and taking a deep breath of that warm, frangipani scented air; I instantly feel lighter. However, before being granted that lightness of being, we had to learn Lesson Number One: When travelling with a toddler, it pays to buy your visas in advance. Even though an immigration guy helped us out, the whole visa process still took almost an hour. Not a welcome delay when you've had to contain a toddler on an aircraft for 4.5 hours already.

We had booked two nights in Nusa Dua at the low-budget, but very nice, Matahari Terbit Bungalows (the website doesn't do it justice... 

We took a gamble, based on reviews on Trip Advisor, and fortunately it paid off. The rooms were huge, comfortable and clean, and being a small resort, there weren't too many other guests. We had the pool to ourselves (at the very unsocial hour of 8am) every morning, and the beach was ours too. The staff were amazing and would swoop in whenever we were eating and take J for a walk around the grounds or into the kitchen. Lesson Number Two: The Balinese LOVE children! Take advantage of this and let them be your pseudo-babysitters if you have any hope of eating a meal in relative peace. 

The weeks leading up to the trip were pretty hectic so we were pretty exhausted and very ready to unwind. We reverted to the old "sleep when the baby sleeps," napping during the day and crashing for the night at 8pm. We did still try to take advantage of our surroundings and the perfect weather, and one of the highlights of the trip was taking J for his first ever swim in the sea. We stayed in the water for so long that he fell asleep in my arms, lulled by the gentle waves. A gorgeous, unforgettable afternoon.

We also put J's tastebuds to the test on this trip. Lately he's been more keen to eat what we're eating so I've stopped cooking separate meals for him. Travelling proved a challenge and we struggled to find suitable meals at times. To his credit, he was willing to try everything we put in front of him, including fish and chips, sate, nasi goreng, noodles and all sorts of unusual fruits and vegetables (and stuff like ice cream and pringles that I would never feed him at home!). There were nights, however, when he wouldn't eat anything other than a safely packaged bowl of pre-made pureed vegies. Supermarkets were hard to come by and in Nusa Dua we had to rely on the UHT milk from the local Circle K, and the hotel's daily fruit basket for J's banana supply. Herein lies Lesson Number Three: No matter how confident you are that your child is a good eater, don't assume that he will be as willing as you are to indulge in the local cuisine: always take food with you!

After two blissful nights we travelled on to Ubud. We booked our accommodation on short notice so there wasn't much in our price range available. Luckily (again thanks to Trip Advisor) we came across the Warwick Ibah Luxury Villas and Spa. I hesitated when I read reviews from couples who had honeymooned there and wondered if we'd be kicked out for bringing a toddler into such a place but I needn't have worried. We were upgraded from a suite to a self-contained villa, and once again the staff could not have been more helpful. The villa was private and secluded, ensuring we didn't bother any unsuspecting honeymooners, but it wasn't so luxurious that we felt out of place with a child (we just wish we'd discovered it before we had a baby!). 

The Balinese massage at the spa was well worth the trip and the staff in the restaurant made such a fuss of J that we felt like we were amongst family. We ate out at one of our favourite restaurants in Ubud on our first night and even managed a lychee martini (heaven in a glass), but J was looking for what we came to call his "backstage pass" and wouldn't settle until one of the waitresses took him to the kitchen. Lesson Number Four: A hungry, tired toddler does not equate to a relaxing night out. The rest of the time we got takeaway or ordered room service and made the most of the outdoor dining area in our villa, when J was already in bed. J ate before us, strapped into his portable highchair, with his Wiggles DVD playing on the laptop. Taking that along was a decision we did not regret once!

When we did venture out with the little guy he surprised us by dancing along to the traditional Balinese gamelan playing in many places. He also developed a penchant for mocktails and fruity juices. Whenever D or I ordered one he'd practically leap from the table shouting "Ta! Ta!" and pointing hysterically at the glass. Poor guy looked like he'd been deprived of drink for days! At least it ensured that we stayed alcohol free for most of the trip...

Apart from missing a nightly mojito on the beach, we also failed to do anything remotely cultural. No temples, no traditional dancing, not even a minute spent running away from monkeys. We were glad we'd already been to Bali and done all that because we would not have had much fun if we'd gone along expecting a cultural tour of Ubud. J is notoriously restless (and a little boisterous), and he doesn't cope well being out in the heat. So we figured, rightly so, that we'd all have more fun in the pool. Lesson Number Five: On your first holiday with a toddler, visit somewhere you've already been so you don't feel the urge to explore every inch of the local area (unless your child has been backpacking since birth...)

One of our days in Ubud we hiked along the Tjampuhan Ridge as far as we could go with a 12kg sleeping baby; our Ergo proving invaluable once again. He woke as we were enjoying an iced tea overlooking some rice paddies at the top of the ridge. It was about as close to a sightseeing trip as we got on this holiday.

I did sneak out on my own one morning to the local market, just to feel like I'd "gotten in amongst it" just a little. My husband compensated for the lack of culture by engaging everyone he met in a conversation. A lot of people approached us and asked about J, how old he was etc, so D turned the tables and asked them about their kids, where they were from, how far they travelled to work. He had some really interesting exchanges with local Balinese people and found this more rewarding than any of the usual tourist traps.

For most of the time we lay by the pool, napped, chased J around the villa, ate copious quantities of mie goreng, and I even managed to read a book, a whole book! It all sounds idyllic, and truth be told, it was, but we did learn one other thing; travel takes on a whole new dimension when you have a baby. We'd been to Bali twice before but visiting the country for the first time with J we saw a different side to the place. It was still one of the best holidays I've ever had but when we arrived at Hong Kong airport at the end of it my husband and I turned to each other and asked "so how was your holiday?" We took it in turns to look after the little guy and didn't get a whole lot of time together; it really felt like we had separate holidays! We have a lot of photos of J and I, and a lot of photos of D and J, but not a single one of the three of us together. I guess if that's the only complaint I have, I'm not doing too bad. Bali is an awesome place and the people are incredibly warm and genuine, and we can't wait to go back.

PS: Regular readers will notice I've changed the look of the blog yet again. I'm having a hard time finding a background that fits, much like shopping for clothes in HK! So I've gone with lanterns in honour of Chinese New Year. Part of my attempt to accept that I do in fact live here...

1 comment:

  1. So nice to read all about your trip to Bali! Shame about the lack of sun eh? Had a great time though. Thanks so much for linking to my blog too! Snuggle up to that heater....