The best vacation advice I’ve received isn’t ‘don’t drink the water’.
It is: ‘take pictures of people’.
This approach to photography and travel opens doors that you might be scared to knock on, but the experience on the other side is priceless.
Just over two weeks ago, I traversed the island of Bali with the intention of taking as many pictures of people as possible.
I ended up with photos of elephants and spiders, sunsets and strangers. But as the menu of my favorite restaurant in Bali read: ‘There are no strangers, just friends you haven’t met yet’.
This, my friends, is the second half of my top-picks for things to do in Bali.
Antonio Blanco Museum – Ubud
The Antonio Blanco museum explains why Bali started as a tourist-favorite retreat: breasts. Prior to 1945 when Bali gained independence, Balinese women roamed the island topless. When a German doctor returned to the mainland with hundreds of photographs of topless Balinese women, men around the world quickly launched on their own missions to visit the island.
Artist Antonio Blanco gained fame in Bali for his own artistic rendition of Balinese women. Though photography isn’t allowed inside the museum, the surrounding grounds and the museum itself are spectacular. Be sure to head to the roof of the museum for the 360-degree view of Ubud, and say hello to the menagerie of birds at the entrance. And like the monkeys, they do bite.
Rice paddies – everywhere
In Bali, you can count on seeing a lot of two things: offerings and rice paddies.
Offerings are littered on every road and pavement. The small square baskets made of banana leaves hold offerings of food, flowers and burning incense meant to please the gods and attract good energy.
The rice paddies are terraces of earth and bright green rice shoots that slope for as far as the eye can see. The irrigation system, called subak, was created by the Balinese as a means of communal irrigation, ensuring that each field gets enough water so each community gets enough rice.
For a truly breathtaking view, I recommend going to the Jatiluwih rice terraces, an area protected by UNESCO not just for its valuable harvest but also its surreal panorama. When you’re there, be sure to give a moment of thanks that man and nature can sometimes coexist.
Elephant safari – Taro
The Elephant Safari Park Lodge rescues Sumatran elephants and gives them a home in Bali. The elephants of Sumatra are losing their natural habitat to deforestation. Asian elephants are much smaller than African elephants, but that still doesn’t take away from the experience of interacting with these gentle giants. At the park you can feed them bamboo, let them wrap their trunks around you, and go for an elephant ride in the jungle.
Ibu Oka – Ubud
Bali has an abundance of vegetarian restaurants and menu options, but the carnivore in me could not resist the opportunity to stop by Ibu Oka. Around the corner from the water palace in Ubud, this meat-heavy eatery is easily spotted by the queue of people waiting for steaming piles of pork, beef and chicken. The open-air establishment has low tables and no chairs, adding to the experience of eating the most succulent pork dish I’ve tasted. Again, complement your meal with a Bintang and take it easy on the spicy sauce.
THE beach – I’m not telling
The last beach we visited is so gorgeous, so untainted by the noise and trash of tourists that I am keeping the name and location of the beach a secret between my boyfriend and me. Our villa opened out onto an infinity pool that poured into a black-sand beach. The black-sand was so fine, it was perfect for rubbing on my skin to get rid of my post-sunning flakes. I even woke up before six in the morning to witness a sunrise that I will never forget.
The proprietors of the villas directed us to a white-sand beach nearby that only has one sign proving its existence. When you think of Bali, when you look at calendars and postcards, this beach is what you see. This beach is where we spent our last day in Bali.
Check out my website for more pictures so you can understand why I love this beach, and this island, more than my luggage.