Why We Decided to Leave Bali

Before Christmas arrived and we set off for Malaysia and Bali, we spent a week in a cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with my family. It was the first time since we initially moved to Thailand in 2013 that both of my brothers and I had all been together at the same time. It was great to have the whole family together for our first Christmas home in 3 years!

Christmas in Gatlinburg, TN

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Since it was still in the 80’s in Florida with high humidity and feeling nothing like Christmas, Tennessee was the perfect escape for some cooler weather and an abundance of holiday festivities. We spent our days driving through the mountains, shopping and hiking while the evenings were spent playing games and soaking in the hot tub under the stars (and one night in the midst of a meteor shower). It was one of those relaxing holidays where there was no schedule and no itinerary.

 

We celebrated Christmas in Florida with both of our families together, totally Florida-style with shorts and flip flops and a crab boil for Christmas dinner. It was absolutely perfect.

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Two days later we were packing our bags and saying goodbye (again) to our family and friends. We met Whitney and Robert at the airport and spent the next two days making our way to Kuala Lumpur (and sleeping in the Toronto airport). It was an exhausting journey! Or maybe this is what traveling in your thirties is like??

Celebrating New Years in Kuala Lumpur

It felt good to be back in Kuala Lumpur, a city that Charlie and I knew pretty well and knew how to navigate from spending our first house sit there the previous Christmas. We were excited to show Whitney and Robert to some of our favorite places, including the Heli-Lounge for an epic sunset and views of the city.

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After ringing in the  New Year in KL, it was time to head to Bali and finally settle down, find a place to live for the next few months and get back to work. After all, not much work had been done over the holidays at home. We booked a guest house in Ubud for a week so we could explore the area and figure out where we wanted to be.

 

First Impressions of Bali

Our first impression of Bali was that it was hot…like, really hot. We arrived to the airport at 10pm at night and we were breaking a sweat just getting to the car at the airport. The hotel, which looked so nice online, was a pretty big let down. We didn’t arrive until almost midnight and they had just left our keys for us allowing us to check in the next morning. It was immediately clear that the rooms hadn’t been cleaned properly. The sheets were all stained, the floors were dirty, the bathroom drain was out of tub laying on the middle of the bathroom floor leaving a big gaping hole in the tub and the stench coming from the bathroom was overwhelming. However, at that point it was midnight, we were all exhausted and there wasn’t much we could do.

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We complained the next morning and they gave the room a good cleaning. It still wasn’t great but it was much better than what it was and we decided it was easier to just stay where we were at rather than move hotels. And at least the view was pretty. We spent the next few days checking out the co-working spaces in town, checking out the Wifi at various coffee shops, visiting property rental offices and driving around looking for houses for rent. One day we even made a long motorbike journey to Kuta and Seminyak beach to check out the scene there to see how it compared to Ubud.

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After about 4 days in, we all started getting the feeling that Bali wasn’t what we had hoped it would be. Although it was a beautiful place to visit, it didn’t seem to be a practical place to stay long term. For one, the heat had a big thing to do with it. It was so uncomfortable that nobody wanted to do anything during the day except sit in the hotel with the air conditioning on full blast. None of the coffee shops or restaurants we visited had air conditioning so it felt impossible to escape the heat. Was it realistic we could sit in a coffee shop all day and work on our laptop when we were that uncomfortable?

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When we started looking at places to live, most places seemed to have an open air concept where the living area and kitchen were open to the elements and the air conditioning was only in the bedrooms. The houses were really cool, and had it not felt like 100 degrees every day, that would have been great. But it just didn’t seem practical. We didn’t want to be somewhere where we couldn’t get motivated to leave the room. Every single time we left the hotel, even if just for 5 minutes, we would be drenched in sweat. Additionally, the options that we had to look at were all at least a 5-10 minute motorbike ride from town and me and Whitney didn’t want to have to depend on the guys for everything. And public transportation seemed to be nonexistent there. Lastly, the Wifi we encountered was less than stellar and it was hard to imagine ever getting anything done efficiently.

Bali vs Chiang Mai

This may sound like first world problems, but we started doing what we always do…comparing it to Thailand and everything we missed about Chiang Mai. And per the usual, it just didn’t hold a candle. We missed our favorite coffee shops and working spaces. We missed the delicious and cheap Thai food. We missed the ease of finding a monthly serviced apartment with modern amenities. And when we checked the weather in Chiang Mai and saw temperatures in the 50’s at night, all we wanted to do was get back to Chiang Mai! But our visas had been denied and that didn’t seem like an option. So we started considering just going back home. Back to the States. We were spending all of our time frantically running around hoping to find a reason to want to stay, but stressing because we were falling further behind in our work and we were missing out on really seeing and enjoying Bali. We didn’t want to go somewhere else only to find ourselves in the same situation as we did in Bali, wasting more time.

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And then I started seeing some posts in the Chiang Mai forums on Facebook of other digital nomads that had their visas denied too. I kept following and found that even though their visas had been denied, they still received their 30 days on arrival without a visa and didn’t have any trouble. When we heard that, we knew that was our ticket. We didn’t waste any time booking a flight from Bali to Chiang Mai, crossing our fingers the whole that they didn’t give us any trouble at immigration. When we made it to the other side, I can’t even explain the relief.

Fortunately we got into an apartment right on the first day and got our motorbike rentals for the month. Unfortunately, we woke up on day 2 incredibly sick. A sickness that left us in bed for the first week and we are still trying to recover from it. Eventually we will get to enjoy ourselves on this trip…right?! We have three weeks left on our visa and then we will be heading back to the States. That doesn’t mean our travels are over though. We have some exciting things to look forward to this year, including a little wedding planning of course 😉 We’ll keep you posted on what’s to come…

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  1. Thankyou for sharing this. After exploring & living in India later this year, I was planning on working from Bali for a while as a digital nomad. Of course everyone has there own perspective on things, but this is not the first time I have heard that Bali is not the island people imagine, for a number of reasons. I have never been so I don’t have an opinion, however taking your experience into consideration, I will definetly consider a few different places to work from now! Thanks, Caroline Alice (&congratulations!)

    • Charlie and Brittany January 19, 2016 at 5:52 am · ·

      Thanks for the comment! I do want to say that Bali really was beautiful and I wish we hadn’t been under so much pressure with figuring out our next move so that we could have really enjoyed it and seen more of it. Its definitely worth a visit. And we did see many others working away on their laptops. It may work for some, just didn’t for us. I wouldn’t totally rule it out but I have to say Chiang Mai is a much easier place to “digital nomad” 😉

  2. Oh no!! Bummer about your Bali experience, but glad you got back into Thailand! Chiang Mai sounds absolutely amazing. Enjoy the rest of your time there!

    • Charlie and Brittany January 19, 2016 at 5:53 am · ·

      It really is! Its like our home away from home. So great to be back, even if just for a short time 😉

  3. Hey Brittany and Charlie- Sorry to hear Bali didn’t work out! We loved Ubud so much but it was much cooler during the time of year we lived there. Glad to see you made it back to Chiang Mai after all though. Enjoy your time and eat all the Thai food you can get your hands on!

    • Charlie and Brittany January 19, 2016 at 5:55 am · ·

      Hey Alana! I definitely think we picked the wrong time of year to visit. If it hadn’t been so hot, I don’t think we would have been so quick to rule it out. I do wish we hadn’t been under so much pressure to figure out our next move so we could have enjoyed it a little more. It really was beautiful and they have some great food! Totally enjoying being back in CM though 😉 Khao soi for daaaaaysss!

  4. Hello Brittany and Charlie, so sorry to hear that your experience in Bali isn’t going to plan. I lived in Indonesia, Surabaya to be exact, for about 8 years and went to Bali regularly. I wouldn’t recommend Ubud as a base to work from because of its location. Yes, it is touristy and nice but you would have been better off in Kereobokan or even Nusa Dua since they are near the coast and have a breeze. Both are near Kuta which is a tourist hole – avoid at all costs. I know several expatriates living in those areas and they have beautiful houses with the open air design that you are talking about. I am also from Tennessee and really had to acclimatize to the humidity and heat of East Java and Bali but you get used to it after a while. If you can manage, eat spicy food as this is a way of cooling down believe it or not. If you and Charlie decide to go back to Bali for a second chance, feel free to send me an email and I will put you in contact with some locals and expats that might help you guys out.

    • Charlie and Brittany January 26, 2016 at 4:24 am · ·

      Hey John, thanks for the message and the tips! We will definitely take you up on that if we make it back to Bali, or Indonesia in general. We still have a lot to see there and definitely would love to explore more. Really appreciate the offer!

  5. From the little time I spent in Chiang Mai, I imagine it would be a wonderful place to live for a while. I always had this romantic image of Bali (hopefully I’ll actually be headed there next month) but it is always good to keep expectations in check. I can totally understand how the unrelenting heat can be an issue if you are looking to stay somewhere long-term!

    • Charlie and Brittany April 27, 2016 at 12:42 pm · ·

      I would love to give Bali another chance under different circumstances. Truth is, we were stressed about finding a place to live so it took away from just being able to enjoy ourselves. I hope you have a great time when you visit!

  6. Pico PICOLOMININ June 28, 2016 at 2:34 am · ·

    Hi,
    I´m living in Thailand since over 13 years. Some 5 years in Phuket and explored the country with our motorbike with a sidecar riding 140,000 km. (Honda Silverwing 600cc, sidecar, a must have toy, imported by airfreight from Britain. ) But in the end Phuket was no longer Thailand, too ..well everything. We liked Chiang Mai, spent 6 months in nice, non-plush hotel at the Ping River, pool, tranquility. From there exploring the North on many rides, great nature, mountains, always going off the beaten track. In Chiang Mai, found a 30 year old house again directly at the Ping RIver, again tranquility pure, now in year 6 or so, time doesn’t really matter.
    Yes, we have been to Ubud, charming guest house overlooking the gorgeous rice paddies. It was nice for a week. The overall impression: too manicured, for us.

    Pico

    • Charlie and Brittany June 28, 2016 at 4:03 pm · ·

      Motorbike with a sidecar? That sounds awesome! Brittany needs one of those!

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