How Bali won my heart
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March 13, 2020 | Interests

How Bali won my heart

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Charlie Thurston is our Senior Market Development Manager here at EF Ultimate Break. He travels the world to track down and create unexpected adventures for our travelers. Pretty good gig, we’d say. He’s recently returned from exploring Bali and this is the first in a 3 part series on all that surprised and mesmerized him there.

A cold coconut water and the tropical fragrance of a lei made from real flowers picked earlier that day greeted me upon arrival in Bali after 24 long, weary hours of transit. This was my first taste of the hospitality of the Indonesian people. Everyone I encountered at Denpasar airport welcomed me with a big smile and some version of “Welcome to our island, we are happy you are here.” This attitude persisted throughout my stay in Bali, but the people I met at the airport stuck with me. Compare those warm smiles to the usual experience when arriving back in the USA – most TSA employees seem to have a personal, longstanding vendetta against each and every passenger. You would think that the Balinese locals working somewhere so closely tied to commercialism and tourists as the airport would be the first to tire of the constant influx of foreigners – and yet, their smiles beamed the brightest.

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My guide, Tour Director Sudarma, and me hiking Campuhan Ridge after a tropical rainstorm

Bali is one of those places that exploded on to the travel scene over the past few years, and now everyone knows someone who has visited recently. Maybe your favorite colleague and her husband honeymooned there. Or your friend from college who quit his nine to five to become a digital nomad. Thanks to social media, these days it feels like everyone’s grass is greener, everyone else’s beach a bit more Bali.

The popularity of the island and its inundation of Instagram posts worried me ahead of my trip. I was eager to see what all the fuss was about, but skeptical that Bali could live up to the hype as “Island of the Gods,” a tropical paradise with a spiritual heart. Of course, the beaches will be beautiful, but our trips are supposed to be more than that. As a tour designer for EF Ultimate Break, it’s my mission to shape journeys that deliver authentic experiences to our travelers and expose them to local culture. Will that really be possible on an island so trendy with international vacationers?

My first two nights were spent in Seminyak, one of the beach towns that line the coast to the north and south of the airport. “Beach town” isn’t the right term, as each one runs into the next as part of the urban sprawl of Denpasar and it’s almost impossible to distinguish when you’ve crossed from one district to the other. But that doesn’t mean you feel trapped in the city. In fact, Bali has a law that no building construction can be higher than the coconut trees. That way the island will always maintain its lush greenness when viewed from above and people on the ground will never feel the crush of skyscraper hotels or massive condominium buildings, despite Bali’s popularity.

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A crowd of tourists prepares for sunset at a beach bar on Seminyak Beach

The beach at Seminyak is where Bali fully won my heart. Much like the urban streets a few blocks behind where storefronts and restaurants stretch from the airport to the base of the mountains, the beach itself runs uninterrupted for miles. Each stretch has its own label and a slightly different vibe, but the beauty remains the same. A wide beach with soft sand, populated with swimmers and surfers in some areas and by bean bags and lounge chairs from the various beach bars and clubs in others, I delighted in simply strolling the beach alone. Most of the establishments built along the beachfront are geared towards one specific knock-your-flip-flops-off moment each day—the sunset. The wide horizon, warm breeze, broad beach, and floating tunes from the live bands that emerge from each beach bar in the late afternoon all contribute to a spectacular daily event. This overwhelming feeling of specialness surrounding an otherwise routine occurrence would come to embody my experience in such a popular and remarkable destination as Bali.

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Me on the summit of Mt. Batur shortly after sunrise: wake-up call for the pre-dawn hike is 2am, but 100% worth it