As I left the beautiful wildlife of Borneo behind and headed to Indonesia, I was excited to join up with my friends again and explore the nation’s many volcanic islands.
Indonesia was my last stop before my pre-booked flight to Australia. Even though I was looking forward to exploring down-under, I was running out of money fast and knew that I would be putting my Australian work visa to good use as soon as I landed… Indonesia was therefore my last backpacker destination where I could be care-free and impulsive (Bring it on!)
Indonesia is rich with different cultures, languages, volcanoes, beaches and wildlife. My flight touched down in Bali and I once again embraced the familiar buzz of anticipation and wonder of a new place to explore. I wanted to surf. I wanted to swim with turtles. I wanted to walk through the iconic rice paddies. And I wanted to see if a certain Canadian boy had missed me while I was away…
So if you’re planning on heading to Indonesia, there are definitely too many islands and places to run through in a single blog post – These are my Top 3!
Well you definitely didn’t see this coming…
Bali is an absolute MUST-VISIT when venturing through Indonesia. One day, you can be partying in a huge nightclub and the next you can be trekking past monkeys around a forested volcanic mountain. Backpackers have permanently carved the island onto their destination wish-lists, resulting in Bali’s vibe becoming very similar to Thailand’s (cue reggae music and backpacker-filled beachfront bars…)
It makes sense to visit Kuta as soon as you land as it is just a 20 min cab ride from Denpasar airport. Despite the convenience, I wouldn’t recommend staying any longer than a night or two. Kuta was one of Bali’s first tourist developments and the crowded sidewalks and beaches are far from the relaxing paradise that photos may fool you into believing.
We decided to embrace the busy nightlife and spent the night at the infamous ‘Sky Garden’. For just $10 at the door, visitors can take advantage of a huge buffet dinner, unlimited alcoholic drinks (!) and wristband entry to the various nightclub floors of the building. Definitely an awesome way to reunite with my friends…
Approximately an hour north of Kuta, you can arrive in picturesque Ubud and completely transform your surroundings!
Famed for its yoga and meditation resorts, the theme carries its way throughout all the cafes and restaurants, so be prepared for maximum incense, cute coffee shops and overpriced boutique stores.
If you’re a coffee fan, book yourself in for a visit to the Kopi Luwak Coffee Farm where the most expensive coffee in the world is made (from the literal poop of tree cats but you can learn more about the production there…)
If adrenaline activities is more your thing, we booked a cheap white water rafting trip at our hostel. Despite there being very little white water during the day, I absolutely loved gliding past the luxurious yoga resorts booked regularly by honeymooners (…one day maybe?)
If you have extra time, rent a scooter and drive the 20 minutes south of Ubud to the beautiful Tegenungan Waterfall! The flow of the water is so powerful it was exhilarating to be so tiny in the pools below and swim underneath the crash of the falls.
(Tip: Don’t bring your scooter keys with you in your swim shorts… you may be walking home! Our friend found out this out the hard way…)
Surf surf surf surf surf.
Many tourists think Kuta is the best destination for first-time surfers – However, Canggu is a hidden treasure! We absolutely loved it here and kept extending our stay. Locals drink with you in the laid-back bars, Bob Marley is on repeat and the sunsets are probably the best I saw in my whole time in South-East Asia. Not only this, you can book a beginners surfing class so cheap that it’s practically free!
We spent the day with the most hilarious group of Balinese boys who live for the perfect waves of Canggu. They provide you with the boards and stay out with you to push you as each wave comes. This means you avoid the challenging ‘arm-paddling’ stage and stand up pretty much every time! Surfing was a lot harder than I expected but their teaching methods and interactions made learning so much fun.
I had always planned to head across to the Gili Islands as my friend from home had raved about the paradise beaches for months before I had left England. Her recommendation didn’t disappoint! As soon as we unloaded from the boats, we could tell Gili Trawangan was a uniquely beautiful place.
There is no transport around the island other than by horses. However, please avoid using them to cart your luggage as they looked extremely thirsty and abused. The island is small, so instead, we carried our own bags and walked everywhere we needed to go. It was so refreshing to be somewhere without roads and not have to avoid the scream of scooters or cars around us.
Iconic South-East Asian long boats are moored along the shoreline and the bars offer delicious buffets and cocktails at all hours. Paired with as many palm trees as you can imagine, bright white sand and pristine turquoise ocean, the island really is straight out of a vacation magazine.
There are shacks all along the seafront offering diving and snorkelling gear to rent. The boys put their PADI certificates to use and went deep-sea diving and ended up coming back to shore telling stories of the sharks and sting rays they swam along with!
I opted for my snorkel and paid a little extra for a local to come along with us in a group. I wanted to be sure we would find a turtle… It ended up being completely worth it, as the guide quickly spotted a turtle gliding along the seabed and we spent some time respectfully swimming at a distance from the most amazing gnarley creatures on earth! Unforgettable.
*Warning: We had to change accommodation after the first night due to unavailability. The island is small so consider pre-booking at your favourite hostel in advance!
When you’ve had enough of partying and socialising with travellers, head across to Lombok to experience local island living.
This was my favourite place in Indonesia and probably one of my top 5 destinations I have ever travelled to!
Rolling green hills call for you to climb them and see a new viewpoint of the island each day.
It was on this island that I truly realised my feelings for the Canadian I had been travelling with on and off for the last month. We rented scooters and trekked as a couple to the top of one of the hills from which we spotted local children herding a line of cattle across a river.
We felt as though we had been provided a secret window to observe how simple life can be. People on Lombok Island are still largely unaffected by tourism and it was such a magical place to finish my backpacking experience. I was lucky enough to start the experience alone, and find somebody along the way to share it with. And despite my backpacking adventure ending, it was on this peaceful hilltop that I realised I wanted to share all my future adventures with him.
So thanks Lombok. I owe you one.