There’s no sugarcoating it – the thought of flying 18 hours with children is intimidating. My advice: don’t let it be! My nine-year-old daughter and I recently traveled to Bali, hoping the trip would be something special. But it was more than that – it was magical.
Bali has a deep, rich culture in which you can truly immerse yourself. We spent most of our time in Ubud, the cultural center of Bali. The city is full of local artists eager to share their craft. Everywhere you turn, there’s something new to explore. Here are some of my favorite adventures in Bali with kids:
Our cooking class with Payuk Bali Cooking Class was one of our first activities in Bali. I’m so happy it was an early experience, as this hands-on activity sparked my daughter’s interest in Balinese cuisine. After this point, she was far more adventurous with food throughout the trip. Plus, it was FUN!
We started the morning at the markets, where Ketut — possibly the happiest person on the planet — gave us a quick tour. We tasted local fruit (how could something called “snake fruit” taste so delicious?!) and smelled the traditional Balinese spices. We were in and out of the markets within 45 minutes – just enough time to keep my daughter engaged, without getting bored.
We then headed back to Ketut’s family compound to start cooking. When I first saw the menu, I groaned given the size of the cooking plan (seven dishes), as I thought we’d be there for days. But Ketut was well prepared. He had a kitchen full of helpers who kept us organized and the process moving.
But don’t get me wrong – we did all the chopping, grinding, sautéing, and grilling. By noon, our feast was complete, and we sat down with our new friends and devoured it. Bellies full, we were back at the hotel by the early afternoon to enjoy the rest of the day.
While my daughter loved Ketut’s cooking class, elephants will trump most anything! Visiting the Elephant Safari Park Lodge seemed a bit touristy, but we couldn’t pass up the chance to get up close and personal with these amazing creatures. And that’s exactly what we did.
There are more than two dozen elephants at the park, and there are countless opportunities to touch, hand-feed and take pictures with the them. You can also ride them, which we did, but I’m not convinced that is a “must.” We enjoyed touching them and feeding them so much more.
Before visiting the elephant park, I had a few reservations. Selfishly, I wanted to give my daughter this once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I struggled with concerns that interacting with elephants isn’t natural for them. I felt better about the situation after learning that the elephants aren’t just there to entertain us — they were rescued from Sumatra, after man destroyed their habitat. These elephants were brought to Bali where they live on eight-acres of tropical forest and botanical gardens.
The park is pristine clean, tucked inside a national forest, and the elephants appear to be treated extremely well. I can’t imagine taking kids to Bali without treating them to this adventure.
Speaking of animals, another favorite spot was the Monkey Forest. This isn’t an enclosed park – it just happens to be a place where hundreds of monkeys have gravitated. For just a buck or two you can buy a stash of plantains outside the forest. This will guarantee you that monkeys will approach you; in fact, they will snatch the plantains right out of your hand. They’ll also hop on your shoulders – even your head – to eat their favorite fruit. To my daughter’s delight, we saw plenty of mama monkeys and their babies.
Hopping on a bike is a great way to explore Bali. We started our tour with Bali Go Bike overlooking Mt. Batur, an active volcano. Since we drove up, up, up to get there, that meant our bike ride was mostly downhill (good news for the kiddos … but full disclosure, there were still a couple small climbs).
The tour mostly snaked though back roads. We pedaled through rural villages, where children ran into the streets to greet us by saying, “Hello! Where are you from? Ah, America? Arnold Schwarzenegger!,” and wound our way through rice paddy fields.
Our tour ended at our guide’s family compound. They served us lunch and gave us a short music lesson on the gamelon, which my daughter loved.
There are so many other activities we enjoyed in the Ubud area – we took a silver jewelry making a class, we learned batik, we toured temples, we explored the markets and the crafts of the local artisans. I will end on what I think was the deepest experience: simply being with the Balinese people.
I encourage you to be open to any experience that comes your way. The Balinese are the kindest, most loving people. Their culture takes priority over all else, and they will enthusiastically share it with you and your children. They will invite you into their homes, they will thrust their babies into your arms, they will douse you in their sacred healing waters.
If you enter Bali will open arms and an open heart – you will come back changed for the better. Your kids will too.
Christine Roher is a freelance writer in San Francisco. She has always loved an adventure — whether it’s camping in the Redwoods or touring the Taj Mahal. Her favorite travel companion is her daughter.
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Editor’s Note: Photos by Christine Roher
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We loved our bike tour as well around the Bali countryside with the kids! So much fun and the kids still talk about it now