A Day on Bali

Ok, most people spend more than a day on Bali, but we had just spent a week on Nusa Lembongan and had an evening flight out of Bali returning home. Needing a day to fill, we decided to schedule a few hours in Ubud. Those few hours ended up being one of the best parts of our trip. We went whitewater rafting, drank ca-poo-chinos, and hit up some shops for “much needed” souvenirs.


How we did it  

We booked a half-day tour with a company called Good Bali Driver. Since this was a last minute addition to our trip, I relied on TripAdvisor reviews. Good Bali Driver had stellar reviews and offered many different types of tours. They were easy to work with, reasonably priced, and I would highly recommend them. Our driver offered an interesting insight into Balinese life and took good care of us during the day. He even went to great lengths to make sure we were able to do all we wanted while still getting us to the airport on time. If you need a tour on Bali, I would start with this company. One note, before you go set up a WhatsApp account as this is the best method to get in touch with the company and many others on the island.

What we did


Whitewater rafting on the Ayung River


All I can say is, it was incredible! We had never been whitewater rafting before, and we all had the best time. There seem to be a lot of companies in the area that offer rafting, but our driver took us to Graha Adventure. They were great. Very friendly staff who took excellent care of us. Elijah fell getting into the boat and cut his knee up pretty badly (much to his extreme embarrassment, especially when someone from the back of the group yelled, “oh shit!”). When we returned, the staff took him to their doctor who provided some basic medical care for the wound. Our rafting adventure lasted two hours and the time flew by. The views were amazing; from lush jungle to waterfalls, and carvings on the side of cliffs. The water was a bit cold, but we got used to it. One thing to consider, Graha offers the use of bathrooms and showers upon your return. However, the bathrooms had a lot to be desired. Half didn’t have toilet seats or toilet paper (and I thought Chinese bathrooms were bad). Also, although they offer showers, don’t plan on anything fancy. I waited in line for about 30 minutes for a shower. Once I got in, the water didn’t even work, so I gave up. Also, you will be doing A LOT of stairs to get to and from the river. When I say a lot, I’m not kidding. Really. Trust me. So maybe go to the gym and get some stair climbing in before you go, and bring some water shoes as there are a lot of rocks to walk over both in and out of the water.

Let’s do this!


Luwak Coffee education and tour


I have heard distant tales of a particular type coffee considered a delicacy. Why you may wonder? Well, because of the long journey it takes in order to be poured, piping hot into your cup. The coffee begins as all coffee does, as fruit. When the fruit ripens, along comes a mongoose (or Balinese Luwak), and eats the yummy morsels.

Forget the coffee, can I take this little guy home?

Into its digestive tract, the fruit goes. While there, the seeds of the fruit ferment and soon, the Luwak poops out the seeds, intact. Somewhere in time, some very adventurous (or completely crazy) person thought, “I wonder what these little seeds would taste like if I wash off the poop, roast them, grind them up, and drink them.” How this person ever even thought of such a thing eludes me. However, he did, and as a result, we have Luwak coffee. We learned all about the preparation process at the Merta Harum Agroo Plantation. They offered a fantastic education in the coffee making process (or proop-cess…sorry, I couldn’t resist. I know, I am such a child), as well as in other herbs and spices they grow for their teas. We were offered samples to try and even drank a “ca-poo-chino” as our driver called it. It wasn’t bad! Didn’t taste at all like poop. 😉

From poop to coffee. That is a job I would not want!

Alright, alright, enough with the poop jokes. I’ll clean things up a bit. I swear, this is where I am after having three boys. Potty humor. Ok, I digress, here we go. Back on track…


We didn’t have a lot of shopping opportunities on Nusa Lembongan, so we were excited to load up on souvenirs. Our driver had a repertoire with some of the shop owners (and probably gets a kick-back from sucker tourists like us). So we went to a painter and bought some Balinese art, a woodcarver for a mahogany tray, and a silver shop for some special momentos for me. 🙂  All the shop owners were very friendly and helpful. I was a bit surprised to find the prices to be higher than I expected. However, coming from China, we aren’t afraid to bargain. It’s a challenge Brett enjoys thoroughly. The painter asked $100 for a small piece, and we were able to talk him down to $50. Still high, but it was a nice piece.IMG_4763

So if you only have a day in Bali, don’t overcomplicate it. Fill it with a little bit of adventure, culture, and shopping. You never know, it may end up being your best day yet! And if nothing else, you will be able to return home with a few more poop jokes under your belt. Sorry, I had to throw it in there one more time. Just remember, three boys!


Get Lost! (in Nusa Lembongan)

When I told people we were taking a trip to Nusa Lembongan, the first response was always, “where??”. Inevitably I would explain, “it’s an island off of Bali. We would go to Bali, but don’t want to be surrounded by tourists on our vacation (as if we aren’t tourists ourselves, right?), so we always try to choose a location that is off the beaten path.”. Well, off the beaten path is certainly what we got with this trip.

This trip was very different than any we have ever taken before. We were truly on our own, planning how to get around, where to eat, and what to see. Granted, we have done this before, but always had an option for hiring a car to get us around or paying a tour company to show us the sights. We liked having the freedom to explore as we desired, but it took effort and a sense of adventure with a healthy side of danger thrown in just to make things more interesting. The island has an emerging tourism market. They are still trying to figure out how best to cater to visitors. With the tourism market being in its infancy, they still have a lot to learn. I see Nusa Lembongan evolving very quickly in the coming years which will be nice in some respects but may loose some of its remote charm. Overall, if you are looking for a family adventure trip, or you are a 20-year-old tanned surfer, I would highly recommend a trip to Nusa Lembongan. It’s stunning beauty, aquamarine water, and relaxed vibe are worth experiencing. However, if you are the type who likes to be pampered and treated to 5-star luxury, stay on Bali and take a trip over to the island for the day. Either way, our visit to Nusa Lembongan was one we will never forget. We had a fantastic time, survived our harrowing scooter rides, and enjoyed relaxing under the Indonesian sun.IMG_3783

Getting to the Island
fast boat

  • about a 35-minute ride
  • wear shorts and flip-flops. You have to wade through knee-deep water to get to/from the boat.
  • bring a bag if you are prone to seasickness. It can get pretty rocky. When our boat first took off, Jack yelled, “this is like a roller coaster times 100!” Ten minutes later, a sudden bout of seasickness hit him, and he was throwing up all over himself. Of course, in anticipation of this trip being so remote, I packed everything but the kitchen sink…or a barf bag…sigh.

Rocky Fast Boat

  • there are many fast boat options. This is the company we chose, and they were ok.
  • will accept cash or credit card with a 3% fee.
  • offered airport transport. Arrived late but still got us to the boat on time.
  • they carried our luggage to the boat departing Bali, but only to the beach when we arrived on Nusa Lembongan, so we had to carry our luggage from the beach to an awaiting buggy, over sand and uneven road. Something to think about if you have heavy bags. My bag got wet on the boat.
  • Shuttle from the boat was tight. Strapped suitcases to roof.

Where we stayed
Villa Tranquilla
A lovely open concept three-bedroom villa with a private pool and stunning cliff-top views. Check it out on TripAdvisor.

Your sunset view

Getting around
Super sketchy roads. Part dirt, part paved. Narrow and sandy. Steep hills and lots of potholes. Don’t even think about driving in the rain. The roads become treacherous mud baths. Also, there are very few street signs so expect to make quite a few wrong turns. Oh, and just to make things a bit more interesting, they drive on the left side of the road. My tally for almost killing Jack and me by turning onto the wrong side of the road capped at 3.

Ready to roll.


  • rent for 90,000 per day
  • no helmets. Seriously, don’t even ask. You will be laughed out of the store.
  • gas powered
  • no license required for rental

rent a shuttle buggy

  • about 100,000 pp for pick up and drop off
  • the best idea at night
  • most restaurants and spas offer free shuttle service

Things to do
water activities: take care when swimming in the water. The currents are very strong.
visit local surf spots: Playgrounds, Lacerations, and Shipwrecks.
surfing, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, banana boat rides.

A view of Playgrounds surf spot and Bali from The Deck restaurant.

spend time in a spa
We became regulars at Harumaya Spa. The friendly owner, Widi will greet you with a warm smile. She taught us a bit about life on the island and about Balinese culture. Make sure you try the Balinese massage. it was the best!IMG_4583
take turns swinging on the beachside swing at Dream Beach
There are a lot of day trippers at Dream Beach. Best to go late afternoon.

scooter to the mangrove forest
you can rent a boat, kayak, or stand up paddle board to work your way through the forest.IMG_3938

visit the Gala Gala Underground House
A bit underwhelming, but fascinating to wonder why someone would spend 15 years digging out a house underground with nothing but a pickax. To each his own.

Indiana Jack on his way to another adventure.

scooter across the yellow bridge to Cennigan (pronounced Chinnigan)
Ok, so the bridge collapsed last year and 9 people died, but they rebuilt it stronger than before so you should be fine. You can swim, right?
drive by the seaweed farms. Now abandoned but still really pretty.
drive to the top of the island for a sweeping view of Lembongan and Bali.
visit Blue Lagoon. The name says it all. It is spectacular!

cliff dive at Blue Lagoon. Umm, no thank you.

Zipline across the water between two cliffs.
hire a boat to Nusa Penida
the largest of the Nusas (which by the way are all part of Bali).

  • Broken Beach: a stunning cliff-top view of a sinkhole into the swirling aquamarine ocean.
  • Crystal Bay: great snorkeling spot. Even better than the Gili Islands and we did not think that to be possible.

Where to eat
Dining on Nusa Lembongan was rather lackluster. We found the food to be bland. In fact, our best meal was prepared by our villa staff. It had bold, rich Indonesian flavors melding into the prawn, rice, and noodle dishes we were served. My advice for eating on the island, don’t look at TripAdvisor or an online site for recommendations. Instead, ask the locals and dine on some local fare.

Helpful Details

  • don’t be afraid to explore. People don’t question you, and it is one of the best aspects of the island.
  • prices are reasonable but not as cheap as places like Lombok and Cambodia.
  • be prepared to pay with cash. Some places accept USD, and many restaurants accept credit cards with an additional 3% fee.
  • mosquitos weren’t bad but be prepared the encounter lots of bugs and critters. My list grew as the week went on. A gecko a foot long hung out in our bathroom nightly, we had frogs in another bathroom, the occasional ant under our toilet seats, a cockroach on my hairbrush, and a spider in my toothbrush. EWW!!
  • no visa required for U.S. citizens.
  • fly into Denpasar, Bali.
  • bring flip flops and some good walking/hiking shoes. We wore tennis shoes for scootering and exploring cliffs as they were super sharp and rocky.
  • buy converters. Our villa did not provide them, and they are the weird round hole plugs so many of our converters did not fit. 220V.
  • tipping is not common unless it is a car driver, then a small tip is sufficient. We did end up providing a tip to our villa staff and Penida transport.
  • there is only one doctor on the island so make sure to bring medicine and first aid supplies.
  • there are no grocery stores on the island. If you want something specific, it’s best to bring it with you.
  • the electricity, water, and wifi were sporadic at times in our villa. Be prepared to wait, especially if trying to surf the web.
  • the exchange rate at the airport is poor. Also, finding places to exchange money on the island may prove to be challenging. There are ATM’s, but you can’t always count on them working or even having money in them.
  • set up a WhatsApp account before you go. Many people in Bali use this method of communication.

Thoughts and things

  • A large portion of the visitors were tanned, backpacking 20-somethings who were seeking some surf, sun, and a party. When out and about, our family of four packed onto two scooters and careened shakily down the road with our bodies slathered in sunscreen, tennis shoes on for safety, and hats to protect our delicate faces. So, the island is probably not the best location to try and feel cool unless you fit the aforementioned demographic.
  • You are going to be sweaty and dirty get over it. This is not a posh fru-fru trip.
  • Scheduling any sort of tour on Nusa Lembongan is not difficult once you arrive on the island. Almost all the locals know or are related to someone who owns a boat, a car, or a scooter and can help you schedule activities you may want to do. Before we left for our trip, we were thinking about scheduling a tour of another island through an online tour company but were able to hire a boat and car driver through our villa staff at a fourth of the price. If you are a planner like me, it may drive you crazy to not have every detail of your trip planned before you arrive, but it’s ok. Island life offers a completely different way of getting things accomplished, but it always works out one way or another.
  • Don’t be afraid to get lost. Some of our best discoveries and most beautiful scenery were found when we went off the beaten path.IMG_4513


Nusa Lembongan

Family Time

They say practice makes perfect.

We have practiced vacationing a lot over the past 22 months, and I think we have finally found the perfect way to travel. Don’t get me wrong, all of our trips have been absolutely amazing. I have no complaints about any of them. However, our latest trip wins the prize for one reason: time. We had 8 glorious days on the island of Nusa Lembongan in Bali, and the thing I appreciate most is watching a transformation take place throughout our family.IMG_4425

When we first arrived, we were still very much a part of our hectic world back in Shanghai. Each of us living under one roof but at the same time, living our own individual lives. Work, school commitments, cooking meals, time with friends…you know how it goes, everyone constantly going in different directions. So we arrived on the island a harried family who were close but disconnected. I’ll admit I was a bit panicked about how the heck we would fill 8 days on a 7-kilometer island that offers little in the form of activities. Would we be bored out of our minds? Annoyed by each other?

To avoid the possibility of wanting to kill each other right off the bat, we filled our first few days with activities. Swimming, scootering, and exploring. When we didn’t have anything scheduled, we spent our time in the villa going in different directions. The boys to their rooms and Brett and I on our respective devices. Spending time together under the same roof but certainly not connecting.

We were quickly running out of things to do on the island, so we began to slow down, doing one activity per day instead of three or four. As a result, we had a lot of downtime. This was where I was worried. I usually plan every minute of a trip with activities to avoid downtime and the possibility of arguing or annoyance. But surprisingly, we didn’t go crazy. The boys didn’t complain about having nothing to do, and none of us got bored. I think we all appreciated slowing down. We needed it.

Then a funny thing happened. We all naturally started gravitating towards one another. Sitting together in the same room, talking, and getting along really well. Elijah, who refused to go in the pool when we first arrived went swimming. At first, it was the obligatory, “I’ll go in because I have to” attitude, but then he started going in on his own. Soon after that, he stopped being annoyed by everything Jack said or did and started playing with him in the pool. This in and of itself is a monumental feat for a 15-year-old. Jack who usually has to be entertained 24/7 began making up games to play on his own. I never knew there could be so many games to play in a pool and was impressed by his ingenuity.

As for Brett and I, we had time to talk and just be with one another. A huge blessing, in and of itself.

A scooter date

As a family, we played games of Uno, swam in the pool, talked, and connected. Best of all, we just slowed down. A shorter vacation would not have afforded such a luxury. We needed time to learn how to connect with one another. That skill seems to get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

When I think back on our trip to Nusa Lembongan, I will remember the beautiful blue jewel water, stunning sunsets, and harrowing scooter rides. But most of all I will remember how we perfected the family vacation through the gift of time, togetherness, and doing a whole lot of nothing.IMG_4569


Loving Lombok

Day 289

Getting to and from Lombok, Indonesia is an interesting adventure. However, once you arrive you realize it is well worth the trip. Beautiful beaches, tropical jungles, epic waterfalls, volcanos, and more types of marine life than you can ever imagine don’t even begin to scratch the surface of all Lombok has to offer. We had the privilege of enjoying the island for six glorious days and found it difficult to leave.

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