Since I have started working as a UX designer at Byteout changing places and working remotely easily became my lifestyle. But going to Bali with a group of 15 other remote workers who randomly gathered and organized the whole trip on their own was enough to believe it was going to be anything but predictable.
I am going to tell the story of how we organized this adventure, how we experienced Indonesian culture and how it all affected our productivity and motivation.
Bali changes your state of mind from the very first encounter with its unexpected contrasts.
Beautiful sandy beaches and overpopulated cities, green rice fields and crowded streets, vehicles on the left side of the road with a whole family of four on a motorbike, wide variety of tropical fruits and spicy cuisine, luxurious resorts and villagers bathing in the same river where they wash the dishes and clothes like in an old black and white movie.
How to organize remote work in Bali
The idea of working from Bali appeared suddenly and then it was hard to get rid of it. Pictures of us working from the paradise beaches and meditating in the nature nested so deep into our brains that we just went around spreading the positive energy. The vibe was so contagious that we easily got a list of 16 people from 4 different firms that wanted to join.
Finding accommodation was the hardest part. We easily got impressed by luxurious villas in Bali and didn’t want to give up on comfort. On the other hand, houses on Airbnb for a larger number of people were more expensive. We ended up splitting the group into two houses.
Then the internet came into question. The best one you can find in Bali is up to 10mb and not all the houses had that one. All the agents communicating with us were apologizing explaining that Bali is not yet that developed and that for most remote workers this was just fine. We didn’t have major problems while staying in Seminyak, but when a part of the group moved to the eastern part of the island in the second week they experienced some issues with the connection.
When the cultural shock hits you hard
Maybe not all of us were well prepared for this trip. I had this picture from movies in my head about the paradise island with untouched nature, bike rides through the rice fields and cute wooden houses where you can practice yoga and meditate. I guess most of it comes from the movie Eat, pray, love, with Julia Roberts. But that was just a part of the reality.
After two full days of traveling, we landed on the crowded airport where hundreds of Balinese were waiting for tourists with their names written on papers. I remember we just stood there for a couple of minutes surprised. Even after finding the driver from our villa and following him to the car, so many other drivers were still trying to reach for our suitcases and convince us to go with them. We stood in a giant people soup.
Eventually, we arrived in a luxurious villa with a swimming pool and our host welcomed us with cocktails and wet towels. We just smiled at each other realizing the adventure was to begin.
Next morning we woke up excited to start exploring and put on our swimsuits to head straight to the beach. With a picture of green fields in my mind, I stepped on the busy street full of motorbikes with no idea how to cross to the other side of the road. Then a friend explained we just had to start walking and although the bikers won’t stop, they’ll go around us. On that first day the traffic seemed like horror, but after a while, we got used to it.
The whole street leading to the beach was crowded with sad old half-ruined houses and shops. We were surrounded by noise and humidity of a tropical island. The picture of peaceful green fields disappeared from my head. I had to transfer to a different state of mind.
Seeing a beautiful sand beach after a while, I realized that Bali was a place of contrast on each step. All around us were colorful lazy bags, each bar on the beach had this leisurely atmosphere. Huge waves were stopping us from going deeper into the water but at least we could play in them, jump and roll, unable to predict where they would throw us. The coast was full of surfers, some of them still learning to stand on a board for a few minutes.
Living a Balinese way of life
Imagine you wake up in a beautiful villa with high ceilings and a wooden roof. You are lying in your comfortable bed thinking whether to start the day with a tropical breakfast of some interesting fruit you tried for the first time in your life or to relax in the swimming pool. You already hear the background sound of the water, the only sound in the peaceful zen morning.
Then another decision comes along. Will I be more productive working from a beach bar and enjoying the smell of the sea water or if I just sit on the edge of a swimming pool with a laptop on my knees and feet in the water…
On some days when we were just too lazy to start the day working, we would visit some temple, have a long breakfast in some nice setting and then walk back home down the beach.
We mostly ate the traditional cuisine made in the small street stalls where Balinese people were buying their food too. Maybe it seemed a bit dirty on a dusty road but it was very tasty and meals were around one dollar. Not to mention all the fun we had trying to talk to locals gesticulating and pointing to the food. They were really nice, trying hard to remember a few words in English so they could give their recommendations and learn more about the country we came from. In the beginning, we didn’t always know what we were ordering, but soon we started recognizing the food and having our favorite dishes.
Most tourists would go to restaurants which resembled the familiar European places, clean and attractive, but this was so much more fun. This was what life in Indonesia looked liked and it wasn’t bad at all. I was taking probiotics in the first days and I won’t say I didn’t have any problems with my stomach, but it was worth the experience. Nasi goreng was my favorite.
One night we went out to a bar La Favela, quite popular on Foursquare. It was full of foreigners from all over the world with good music and atmosphere. Everybody was dancing. The place looked like a stylish old house lost in the jungle. All around were planting hanging from the walls and ceiling, and it had a beautiful inner garden and a fountain.
The weekend is the time for exploration
My roommate Lela, who came up with a whole idea of moving to the island for a couple of weeks, made a curated map of famous Bali attractions for us. On the first weekend we wanted to see more of nature, so we booked a biking tour. First, we went to Tegalalang to see the most famous terrace rice field. I’m always impressed by nature and how different it can be on each continent. This view was amazing and for a moment I really felt like I stepped on some movie screen.
Breakfast was organized in a restaurant on top of the hill so that the balcony where we ate seemed like it was hanging from the edge overlooking the valley with a still active volcano. When we finally jumped on bikes, the first part of the tour was through peaceful Indonesian villages. Traditional houses were covered with flowers, each having their own little Hindu temple where the family prayed.
The ride through the bamboo forest was easy and peaceful, but then we reached a narrow path on the steep hill surrounding the terrace rice fields. The views were amazing once again, but even though we had helmets the ride was everything but safe. I laughed thinking of US laws and safety procedures.
With adrenalin still high we booked rafting for the next day. Having no idea what to expect we were surprised when we started going down the stairs through the jungle. We couldn’t see the end of it. After a few hundreds of steps, we stopped counting. The river was in the canyon surrounded by tall walls of tropical vegetation. There was a chance to swim under the waterfall and order beer from the bar on the river. For some reason, instead of just relaxing and floating through that amazing scenery, we started competing with all the other boats. We were trying to come up with a good technique for rowing so that we could win our imagined race. After losing all the energy we remembered hundreds of stairs that were waiting for us on the way back.
Monkey forest is a must-see tourist attraction in Ubud. Those funny animals are really fearless and will come to you only if you pull out some food, preferably bananas. I found them really cute until one of the monkeys peed on my shoulder after finishing his banana.
That adventurous Sunday ended with a famous Indonesian dance, Kecak. I recommend reading the plot of the play if you want to understand anything. I made a mistake not to prepare in advance and didn’t enjoy it so much. Otherwise, I guess it would have been interesting as it featured episodes from the famous Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Now I regret we didn’t spend more time in Ubud. Although it’s not really close to the coast, it’s the main hub for remote workers, full of Indonesian culture and remote offices that unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to check out. All the rice fields around are easily reachable by bike.
The most beautiful and dangerous beaches in Kuta
On the last weekend, we left our beautiful villas and moved to a hotel in southern Kuta so we got closer to the most famous beaches in Bali. During the whole trip, we used Uber which is really hated by the taxi drivers. We had a problem once our car arrived to get inside because if other taxi drivers were around they would try to stop us. Uber was so much cheaper and thus an unfair competition. The best alternative would be to rent a scooter, but seeing their crazy driving and the fact that Balinese drive on the left side of the road made us give up the almost perfect idea.
Most likely we were not even experienced enough as they could put the whole family of four on one scooter and have no problems riding around.
Suluban beach was hidden in between rocks with a tiny staircase where surfers had to step aside with their huge boards to let us pass. There was a narrow passage between the rocks and waves were crashing on its walls scaring us off of going deeper.
On top of the rock was a cozy bar with an amazing view of the ocean and all the experienced surfers catching huge waves. You could get lost in space and time in such place reading a book or just enjoying the view.
Dreamland beach was maybe my favorite one. It has a few sand beaches cut with rocks so you have to swim from one to another. Waves were crashing close to the shore making it hard to get into the water, but once you got away from them it was easy to swim further into the perfect turquoise ocean. Few hundred meters from the beach we just floated on the huge waves letting them carry us around. This was definitely one of my favorite days, even though I almost drowned. I truly believed I was an experienced swimmer able to cope with waves, but at one point I went into the water to wash off the sand and got completely trapped. One wave pushed me down and by the time I was able to get up and start running back to the coast, the next one started pulling me deeper so that my legs got stuck in the sand and I couldn’t move. Then the water covered me again. At one point a hand caught mine and pulled out. One Indonesian realized what was happening. It was such an awful experience and I think it taught me a good lesson about the unpredictability of the sea.
How productive can you actually be on a paradise island
Although Bali turned out to be completely different from what I expected, I couldn’t be more in love with the island and people living on it. Even while living in New York I’d never seen such a mess and crowd before. Add some heat and humidity to it and one can hardly imagine it as a zen place where you can meditate, but it’s exactly how it makes you feel. Maybe it’s because of the always smiling faces around you enjoying life even if it’s not so easy for them. Maybe because of the vegetation and amazing beaches. Maybe because of the good vibe we developed while being there. I would definitely recommend it as a place to visit, either for a vacation or remote work. It also might be considered a sort of a spiritual trip where you go alone to think and get to know yourself better.
When it comes to working, I think places like Bali can really positively affect creativity and imagination.
Such environment definitely makes you think differently. The only issue I had is that I went there without an earlier defined schedule and maybe at that moment I didn’t have a tough deadline approaching, so it was easy for me to work fewer hours and make an excuse to escape to the beach or just walk around. All my colleagues claimed to be a lot more productive than in Belgrade, some even working around 12 hours a day. The important thing if you’re not going alone is to have a good crew or join some of the coworking places in Ubud where you will meet cool people to explore the island together. Actually, meeting people who visit places like Bali might be an interesting addition to any kind of trip.
For more practical advice on prices, safety and housing I recommend this overview. In case you are already planning your own trip the whole guide on various topics about living and working from Bali could be useful too.
After those two amazing weeks, most of the group went back to Serbia, but the three of us took a vacation and went on to explore Gili Trawangan and Java for the next 15 days. Hopefully, this story left you curious to read the next posts about this more leisurely part of the adventure.