Never Say Never Part 1: How I Ended up in the Rainbow Nomad Mecca of the World – Ubud, Bali

If you know me at all, you know I can have a strong opinion about many things. One of those things is my friends, the rainbow nomads. If you’re new to this blog, a rainbow nomad is a definition I coined, and it’s for people who fit the following description:

A traveler that considers themselves nomadic, even though they stay in one spot for long periods. They’ll live in Bali or Chiang Mai for half a year and spend that time in a complete bubble with their friends. These “nomads” are usually traveling with little to no income, or with funds from an inheritance or some vague savings – not very entrepreneurial or forward-thinking.

Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing with living this way. It all comes down to priorities, and rainbow nomads tend to focus on their spiritual journey rather than the role they play in the world we live in. They’ll spend their time doing yoga and surfing, with what seems to be little regard for the things that don’t affect them directly. Again, this is not a criticism; there is nothing wrong with this lifestyle; I just have a different outlook on life. Moving on.

Bali has been a buzzword to the group mentioned above, which I think is part of the reason I had zero interest in ever setting foot on it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I even went as far as to say I’d never visit.

Well, my friends, this story is all about change; after all, it is the only real constant in this life.

This post is not only about how plans can completely change with no warning, but it is also about how going with the flow and keeping an open mind can actually lead you to experience a shift in ideas and opinions as well.

No, I am not moving to Bali to become a vegan, unicorn-loving yogi, that hasn’t changed – But Bali… Let’s just say I now understand why they call it the Island of the Gods.

Bali 101

Let’s start with the basics. Bali is a province of Indonesia and the westernmost island of the Lesser Sunda Islands. You’ll find it sandwiched between Java and Lombok. The province is made up of the main island with the same name and a few, much smaller neighboring islands.

From my travels, you’ll recognize Nusa Penida as one of these small islands, but there are many more I’ve yet to discover. Denpasar is the provincial capital of Bali, and it has the second largest population in all of the capital cities that make up the Lesser Sunda Islands.

During my time on the island, I found it super interesting that Bali is the only Hindu-majority province in (predominantly Muslim) Indonesia, with 83.5% of the population following Balinese Hinduism. To understand how this exciting civilization came about, it is essential to remember that Bali’s history is as colorful as its culture and landscapes.

Balinese History 101

Let’s start at the beginning, with its ancient history. At the end of the last Ice Age, the melted water rose to create the string of islands known today as Indonesia. This means that at different times throughout history, Java and Bali have been connected by exposed land when water levels have decreased.

For this reason, it would be logical to think that our race has inhabited Bali for as long as the nearby island of Java has had humans on it. However, the oldest human remains found on Java have been dated to be about 1.7 million years old. In Bali, on the other hand, the earliest evidence of human inhabitants seems to be only 200,000 years old.🤔

Fast forward to around 2000 BC, when settlers from as near as Java and as far as Tibet began to occupy Bali. Eventually, stone-age migrations gave way to new trade routes with China and India. There is evidence that strong cultural ties between Bali and China began to emerge at around 500 AD.

By the 7th century, many of the islands in the archipelago were practicing a governmental system adopted from India. When considering this, it makes sense that the first written inscriptions discovered in Bali were Buddhist. Further evidence also suggests that right around the same time, Hinduism was embraced as the main religion in Bali.

Multiple times during its ancient history, Bali was invaded and conquered by Java. Most notably, in 1343 AD, when Gajah Mada seized Bali and forced it under Majapahit control. When the Majapahit dynasty fell to Islam a few hundred years after, Bali became independent again.

At this time, Bali became a place of refuge for the Javanese aristocracy, who fled to the island during the Muslim invasions. With them, they brought artists, musicians, dancers, artisans, and Hindu priests. Today over 95% of Balinese people still practice a unique form of Hinduism that emerged during this time. You can still see the Majapahit influence in the island’s arts and culture today.

For instance, Majapahit architecture is characterized by tall and slender roofed red brick gates, a stable geometrical quality, and a sense of verticality expressed through the creation of many horizontal lines. This is pretty much the architecture you see in most of the Hindu temples on the island today.


By the 16th century, European traders started reaching Bali, the first of which was a Portuguese expedition. From this point on, some of the Balinese kings allowed Europeans to set up trading posts in the country in exchange for support to fight off invaders from nearby islands. Actually, it was one of these types of invasions that split Bali into five different kingdoms in the 17th century.

About a century after the split, the Dutch began a series of military attacks on Bali and Lombok, these conflicts lasted many decades. Even though the Dutch had better military and odds, the Balinese proudly refused to surrender. Instead, they marched right into battle, knowing that death was the only possible outcome.

This was a kind of ritual suicide called ‘puputan’; it basically means “we rather die than face the humiliation of surrender”. Thousands of Balinese people died, and the Dutch ruled Bali for the next century. They eventually developed the tourism industry and marketed the island as a mystical and exotic destination – a reputation that still precedes it today.

In 1942 the Japanese invaded the island and occupied it until the end of WWII. Just days after the Japanese surrendered, Indonesian independence was once again declared.

In October of 2002, members of a violent Islamist group [al-Qaeda] detonated three bombs in the tourist district of Kuta. The attack killed 202 people (including 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians, 23 Brits, and other people from more than 20 different countries).

Shortly after, the authorities found and detained three people connected to the attack. At this time, Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the bombings and stated that they were in direct retaliation for support of the United States’ War on Terror and Australia’s role in the liberation of East Timor.

In November of 2008, the three people who had been arrested in connection to the bombings were executed by firing squad on the island prison of Nusakambangan. In 2010, a suspect believed to be responsible for setting off one of the bombs with a mobile phone – was killed in a shoot-out with Indonesian police in Jakarta.

Bali today

For a little over a decade now, the Balinese people have enjoyed peace and a growing tourist economy. Welcoming expats to explore the culture and the many faces of the island. In fact, since the 1980s, Bali has been the leading tourist destination for anyone visiting Indonesia. On the island, it is easy to see that tourism-related business makes up 80% of its economy, especially if you visit places like Ubud and Canggu.

Every street is lined with western restaurants, shops, and bars, completely catering to foreigners. It’s a shame that foreigners play such an essential role in the country’s economy. As you know, when this happens, the culture of the place often gets diluted to cater to foreigners.

This is particularly sad because Bali is renowned for its highly developed arts, including traditional and modern dance, sculpture, painting, leather and metalworking, and music. Things you don’t really get to witness if you stay in your expat bubble.

Geographically, Bali is part of the Coral Triangle; this is an area of the tropical marine waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. The area contains at least 500 species of reef-building corals… in EACH ecoregion.

For comparison, this is about seven times as many species as there are in the entire Caribbean region. The area has been nicknamed the “Amazon of the Seas” and it is recognized as the global center of marine biodiversity, specifically when concerning fish and turtles.

Bali has insanely diverse landscapes all across the island. There are rolling hills and staggering mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides. All this without mentioning the colorful, deeply spiritual, and unique culture of the whole place.

It is no wonder that the island not only attracts sports enthusiasts with its world-class surfing and diving sites. It also summons a large number of visitors to its cultural, spiritual, historical, and archaeological attractions. This, combined with its enormous range of accommodations and delicious food offerings, truly makes Bali one of the world’s most popular island destinations, continuously winning travel awards.

Yet, I was never interested in any of it. After all, I’ve seen beautiful islands, plenty of them, a lot of them in the same region too. So, what could this rainbow nomad paradise possibly have to offer me?

You see, what I didn’t understand before actually being there is that Bali has something to offer to everyone. From young back-packers and hippies, right through to super-rich entrepreneurs and everything in between.

Never say never

Let’s rewind a bit and talk about how and why I broke my promise of never to visit Bali, and actually spending six days on the island at the beginning of this year (Jan 3rd-9th) instead.

The trip took place right after New Years’ in the Philippines and before my trip to East Timor. The initial plan was to be in Indonesia for six days, three of which I would spend in Bali, and the other three I would hop over to Komodo.

Unfortunately, or maybe even fortunately, I didn’t get to go on the second leg of the trip. Not COVID related, for a change, this time mother nature was the culprit. The weekend I was supposed to travel by boat, there was a big storm. Apparently, a ship had sunk the day before, and boats weren’t being allowed to leave the harbor. So, I had to stay in Bali.

It turns out; it wasn’t such a bad thing, after all. Spending some extra time on the south coast was exactly what I needed to experience a side of the island, I didn’t expect at all. As you know, before this trip, Bali was my special little island perfect for making jokes about rainbow nomads.
But as it turns out, I actually quite like Bali now, and I am not above saying I was too quick to judge.

Oh, and I still want to explore Komodo, I’ve heard fantastic things. Probably next year, not only because it’s supposed to be a beautiful place for snorkeling, but I also really want to see Komodo Dragons. 🤓

At the end of the day, I think it was a combination of things that made my time in Bali special. I got to meet really great people, discovered stunning landscapes, I got to indulge in delicious food, and had the time of my life riding a motorbike around the island… totally eradicating a previous fear of motorcycles I’d developed after a fall in Thailand three years ago.

How did I get to Bali?

As you probably know, I’d spent New Years 2019 with some members of the Citizen Circle in Siquijor, an island in the Philippines. A few days after New Years, I flew to Denpasar with an overnight layover in Manila. My original flight had a much shorter delay, but that flight had been canceled, leaving me having to spend the night in Manila.

Naia International Airport – Decided to work rather than to have fun on my involuntary 8h layover in Manila. Still not finished, but little left to do…

I arrived at DPS early on the morning of the 3rd. After going through customs and exiting the airport, I took a local taxi to Ubud. Note: In Bali, apps like Uber and Grab are actually illegal. You’ll still find drivers in the app, but there is strong opposition from the local taxi mafia, and it can even be dangerous if they catch you riding a Grab.

As soon as we left the airport in Denpasar, I was immediately confronted by the terrible traffic Indonesia is famous for. In Bali, however, it was even worse than I had imagined. To put in perspective, it took us 4-5 hours to drive less than 30 miles. 🤯

Because traffic was so bad, my driver offered to take the scenic route, closer to the coast. He wanted to show me some of the natural beauty of the country. During this drive, I got to see Mount Rinjani and the volcano of Lombok. Even though it was a sizable distance away, it was still superimposing on the landscape; it made the entire ride a little bit more bearable.

Mt Rinjani Volcano of Lombok

Why did I go to Bali in the first place?

I was actually in Bali, and more specifically, Ubud for a very particular reason. The event determined even the hotel I was staying at I was attending. Side note: Did you know that Bali has a significant Russian population? This is because Russian nationals don’t need a visa to go to Bali.

Staying in the outskirts of Ubud

It turns out, there was a pretty big Russian tech conference happening in Ubud, and an old client of mine who is Russian asked me to come and give a talk. When he asked, I thought to myself, Russian conference = lots of hot Russian girls – that my friends, is how I decided that it was time for me to visit Bali. 🤷‍♂️

Not a bad place, especially with 300 Russian ladies around…

Remember, at the beginning of this article, when I mentioned that this trip was all about dealing with change? Well, let me continue that thought by saying that there were a few surprises in store for me when I arrived in Ubud.

For starters, the conference was utterly Russian and in Russian, no English whatsoever. There were less than a handful of foreigners attending. Because there weren’t many foreigners, it was actually pretty easy to find others like me.

Apparently this guy is a celebrity in Russia. He started his talk at 6 pm – now it is almost midnight. 6h talking straight is quite impressive for a Russian. Party was supposed to start after him at 7.30, but appears to be canceled 😀

I even managed to befriend a few non-Russians; one was a Brazilian man, and the other was his friend, a guy from Liechtenstein. This was pretty cool; I had never met anyone from Lichtenstein before.

The Liechtensteinian and I actually became pretty good friends; we may even be traveling together in the near future. He turned out to be quite well versed in the nomad scene and has a home base in Brazil.

There were also some Americans and lots of Russians who couldn’t really speak any English. Basically, the entire Russian community in Bali was there.

Thankfully, I wasn’t expected to give my talk or hold a conversation in Russian (which I can’t speak AT ALL), but I did learn that I would have to work with a translator for my talk.

Essentially, I would say one sentence, pause, to allow for translation, and then continue with the next sentence. I had never done anything like this, and it would’ve been nice to know that this would be the case beforehand.

The conference

The conference itself left much to be desired not only in terms of the content but also in the organization (or lack thereof), including how communications were handled.

SereS Springs Resort & Spa, Singakerta Ubud –
I am really on a Russian speaking conference having someone who translates talks for me as well as my presentation to Russian tomorrow. No better way to learn for another month Russia in July

For instance, they moved my talk, not once but a few times. I had explicitly told them I didn’t have much time in town, and I wanted to be able to explore Ubud. For everything to work out, they simply had to tell me when my talk would take place with enough time for me to plan my schedule around it.

So, after they set a time for my talk and I had some time off, I went to Ubud to walk around. When I got to town, they called me to tell me they wanted me to do my talk at an earlier slot, and if I couldn’t make that happen, it would have to be postponed until the following day.

Never let Russians organize a conference. I won’t tell what I experienced here, but I am strongly disappointed for several reasons. And from loud, crowded, artificial and dirty Ubud as well. Not the place I would go for relaxation and rejuvenation…

Since I was already in town, I told them I couldn’t do it and just stayed in Ubud keeping to my original plans. I walked around the center and got to meet up with a client friend of mine in a local restaurant.

He took me to a vegan place, he is a vegetarian yoga teacher, and he wanted to treat me to a lovely vegan steak. 🙄 The place had a very “detox” vibe to it, and they didn’t even serve beer. So after having a nice vegan meal (which I actually really enjoyed), we went to a proper bar to have some beers.

In the evening, I went back to the hotel (where the conference was being held), and I was told that I wouldn’t be able to do my talk the following day either. The only reason I had come to Bali was to do my talk at this conference, and now there would be no talk. All because they were totally unorganized and not flexible at all – I was pretty pissed.

After all, I had come all this way and basically wasted my time. They didn’t even give me the news in English, they spoke in Russian and had someone translate one sentence at a time. It was infuriating, a complete lack of regard for my time and goodwill.

I decided to cut my losses and enjoy the rest of my time on the island. This meant still attending the afterparty for the conference, which was in a super nice villa just outside of Ubud. There were 500 Russians at this party, and it was a super interesting atmosphere, to say the least.

Eden Estate Ubud – Don’t be unforgiving. And learn Russian! (I now really committed to being able to speak Russian basically until my Transsiberian train Trip in July with Fabi.

After spending some time at the first afterparty, one of the core organizers of the event (a french guy) invited me to a much smaller gathering with only 20 Russians. I said yes, and we drove to the next party on his motorcycle.

It ended up being an almost 2-hour drive to the next destination, and we got there, speeding through the streets in the middle of the night. He was going super fast through curvy roads, and I was totally OK with it. Admittedly, he was a little drunk, and I was really drunk, but it all turned out OK, and we made it to the party safely. I think this moment helped me get rid of a trauma I had surrounding motorbikes.

It also dawned on me that one of the reasons people love Bali is probably because they can just ride freely on their motorcycles everywhere. People on motorbikes can even drive through traffic and around all the cars. The way people drive in Bali would not be allowed anywhere more civilized.

Anyways, the second afterparty had a much more relaxed vibe. People were smoking some kind of particular marijuana, and we just stayed there, chilling for the rest of the night.

Keep in mind you have to be super careful with this stuff in Indonesia. The punishment for drug use, even weed, is pretty severe – lose-your-life type of severe.

Everyone at this party was really high, so we joined in the fun and savored our time in yet another stunning and private villa. At some point, close to the morning, we left the party. My partner for the night took me on the back of his motorcycle back to my hotel in Ubud – I was lucky he was also staying there.

A storm sunk a boat and I got stuck in Bali #meant2be

In the original plans, I was scheduled to leave for Komodo the next day. But as you know, there was a storm. I quickly rolled with the punches and hired a private driver to give me a tour of the island before dropping me off on the southern coast. I had spent my first three days in Bali staying and exploring Ubud. Next, it was time to see what the south had to offer.

Exploring Ubud

So I booked accommodations in three different hotels along the shore, east to west. From those home bases, I would continue to discover the other vibes and landscapes the island had to offer. The woman I hired as my driver was great; she had been recommended by my friend Chris L.

Tangent alert: Chris is an American-libertarian friend of mine who lives in Bali and Guatemala. He is a professor at a libertarian University in Guatemala during the school year and spends his offseason in Bali. I actually visited him in Guatemala a few years back.

Chris and I kept crossing paths at different libertarian conferences around the world, and we eventually became good friends. This man is amazing, he is 70 years old and is a super-fit – marathon runner type of man.

Sadly, he had hurt his leg two days before I arrived in Ubud, and he wasn’t able to go explore with me. Instead, my driver brought me for a visit to his villa before starting the tour. After I visited with Chris, we proceeded to spend the rest of the day, exploring the interior of Bali.

If you’ve heard about Bali, you are probably aware that the island is famous for its luscious green sceneries, the type of tropical nature you find away from the coastline. After all, the island is so much more than beautiful sandy beaches.

If you don’t already know, the main tourist areas in Bali are Canggu and Ubud. Ubud is the hippy rainbow nomad mecca, up in the mountains of central Bali. Canggu is the Aussie/American party boy paradise on the south coast. At least, those were the stereotypes I had heard of. Now, let me tell you a little more about these places, from a less biased perspective.

Ubud 101

As you know, Ubud is located in a mountain range in Central Bali, and it is considered the cultural heart of the island. The area is located amongst rice paddies and steep ravines. Ubud’s population of about 112,490 people is entirely dwarfed by the 3+ million foreign tourists who visit every year.

The area surrounding the town is home to small farms, rice paddies, agroforestry plantations, and tourist accommodations. While the center of Ubud makes it seem to outsiders like it is one small town. When, in fact, it is fourteen villages, each run by its own Banjar (village committee).

Ubud has grown rapidly, and some central parts are creaking under the strain of coping with the number of visitors. That being said, most development is sympathetic to the local culture, if not explicitly designed in the local style.

Even though the place continues to grow very quickly, you will still find some stunning terraced rice fields along the rivers. What’s more, if you move away from the town center, regular, quiet village life carries on relatively undisturbed.

During my tour, my driver took me to the Tegalalang Rice terrace. The place is near Ubud center, and it has a serene natural atmosphere. It is the perfect place for pretty pictures; there is even a swing that is pretty popular among traveling influencers. I have done my fair share of swings, so I skipped it this time around.

For me, the highlight of the area is the stunning overlay of endless rice fields, genuinely spellbinding.

The Natural Terrace Rice Fields – Exploring the more beautiful parts of Bali

After the terrace, we visited a coffee farm, which makes its product in the most bizarre way. Get this; the farm has a bunch of slave cats that eat the coffee beans. The farmers then collect the partially digested beans from the poop and use them to brew their “special” coffee.

This type of coffee is actually popular in other nations in the region, and it’s called Kopi luwak or civet coffee. The people who make this type of coffee argue that the process may improve coffee through two mechanisms, selection – cats choosing to eat only particular cherries – and digestion – biological or chemical mechanisms in the animal’s digestive tract altering the composition of the coffee beans.

Bali Paulina Coffee Plantations – After just 2 hours of sleep, it is nice having some cat poop coffee (Kopi Luwak) from enslaved civet cats. And 8 more coffees and 4 teas to taste from, so I am quite awake again -)

I tried a few of the coffee varieties, and their product was OK, it tasted a bit “earthy”. I should mention that the traditional method of collecting feces from wild cats has given way to an intensive farming method. Even the cats in this “ethically run” farm are definitely not living under the best conditions. According to my tour guide, this farm was actually OK, other farms are known to keep the cats in battery cages and force-feeding the cherries.

The farm was located in a charming property with beautiful and lush nature. During the tour, I learned about the process involved in making this type of coffee. They also showed us different plants and trees like cocoa, coffee, and coconut. There was also a beautiful view of the rice paddies and the valley.

The coolest thing Ubud has to offer

After, we visited multiple temples and other similar sites. The three main temples we visited were all Hindi, and two of them were dedicated to water.

The first temple she took me to is the most sacred temple in Bali, Tirta Empul – which means Holy Spring in Balinese. The temple has a bathing area, which is famous for its holy spring water that comes out from pipes in the walls. The Balinese Hindus come to this temple for ritual purification; the water is considered to have healing properties. A lot of tourists also come here to bathe, but I decided to watch and enjoy it that way only.


The second temple we visited was Taman Saraswati, a temple that honors Saraswati, goddess of literature, knowledge, and art. The place is also known as the Ubud Water Palace, and it is famous for its grand entrance, which is flanked by two lotus ponds filled with water lilies. The place is tiny, yet magnificent – truly no wonder why it is one of the main landmarks in Ubud.

Temple Hour

The third temple was Pura Gunung Kawi (Temple of the Kings). It stands out for its Candis, which are shrine constructions carved into the rocks; these serve as spiritual representations of the tombs of the royal family.

Moreover, this place is entirely surrounded by beautiful rice fields and roads that are totally worth the visit. If you are lucky to be exploring the island during the dry season, the vegetation and rice fields will be an intense green color, creating one of the most beautiful postcard-worthy pictures you will find on the island.

Bali rice field paddies – Ubud

After we were done with all the main sights in Ubud, my lovely driver brought me all the way down to the south coast. This is where I spent my last three days in Bali. Check out my next post to learn a little more about a totally different Bali scene.