Bali: A peaceful madhouse

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Bali is at once both a peaceful haven and a chaotic hive. Known as the “Island of the Gods,” there’s no shortage of religion. Just visit one of the island’s 20,000 Hindu temples or try not to step on the tiny shrines set outside of local homes and businesses. But travel down the winding roads through bustling villages and you’re suddenly overwhelmed by activity: Families squeezed onto motorbikes crowd the streets, dodging old women carrying loads of goods on their heads, each village specializing in handcrafted goods from kites, to silver to woodcarvings and more.

In the artsy inland town of Ubud, where I stayed, there’s an overall feeling of wellbeing in the air. There’s a wispy rainforest breeze, smiling locals and you’re just a short walk from being at one with nature (and monkeys) in Monkey Forest. Not to mention that hourly massages are offered for as low as $6. Seriously. It may cost a fortune to get Bali from the U.S., but once you’re there, you can eat and relax for dirt-cheap. Still, you won’t find many Americans there. The majority of tourists are European and Australian, mostly due to their proximity to the Indonesian island. It was fun asking locals where they thought I was from. I got Germany once, because of how pale I am — insert “not amused” face here.

Bali is not known for its pristine beaches, but it is a surfing mecca, and Kuta Beach is where you’ll find hoards of surfers flocking to the shoreline. The locals are eager to teach beginners for close to nothing. On a nearby beach, kites litter the air as kids prepare for an upcoming competition. Sometimes you see kites hoisted onto the tops of cars while being transported, some bigger than the cars themselves. It’s definitely more of a touristy area than the quieter Ubud, but it just goes to show how many different faces Bali has. Travel to the north side of the island and you can hike up active volcanoes or wander through endless stacks of rice fields.

Whether you’re a honeymooning couple or a group of backpacking young adults, you could stay in Bali for weeks without ever running out of things to do. The Balinese people are some of the friendliest and most fascinating, eager to tell you anything you want about the island as well as learn about your foreign way of life. I could probably go on for hours about what a crazy interesting place Bali is, or we can all go see for ourselves. Backpacking trip, anyone?