The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Lesbians in Bali

All at once these things happened:

+ My girlfriend’s friend got married in Bali.

+ We were given an opportunity to travel to Istanbul at a sharp discount.

+ My friend got engaged, and when she offered to have the wedding in either Toledo or France, we obviously voted for France.

Consequently, we were looking at an epic travel schedule this summer and were both very excited. But, when seeking advice about gay travel in all of those places we could only find a lot of general “it-will-probably-be-fine” boy-centric advice. This didn’t stop us from going but I figured while I was there, I’d try to personally fill in these gaps. Autostraddle has graciously agreed to be the platform for me to post my travel stories so that queermo lady-identified types have access to more applicable, specific information. Also, it was just a really exciting trip!

So I’ll be sharing my journeys with you in a three-part post. First up was our trip to Bali in May. I’m not going to bury the lead here: Bali was awesome, and we should all probably go there right now. It’s inexpensive, beautiful and culturally rich. It isn’t the gay-friendliest place in the world, especially if you’re Balinese, and the limited nightlife and gay travel opportunities are dedicated to men. Nevertheless, my girlfriend and I always felt welcome and safe on this trip.

Except for when I lost my passport in Hong Kong.

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1. All The Secret Spaces of the Airport

Traveling to Bali from the U.S. is kind of epic, especially if you buy your tickets on the late side. When we got off the 14-hour flight from LAX to Hong Kong, I discovered that my passport was missing. I flagged down multiple Cathay Pacific employees until finally one of them let me look for it on the plane. When we didn’t find it, I was told that I would probably have to go back to Los Angeles.

You know how travel books and blogs and whatnot always tell you to carry a photocopy of your passport and you never do it? Fucking do it, guys. Because when my girlfriend pulled out the copy of my passport, there was no more talk of Los Angeles.

Also, you know how people say you should just keep asking when dealing with a company bureaucracy? Do that too. We had to talk to four different people in two countries before American Airlines confirmed it was company policy to rebook us for free, not the $1,000-$1,800 each that we’d been quoted.

We spent the rest of the morning touring all the secret rooms of the airport. Chinese immigration made me sign a form that basically said they didn’t want me in their country, but were letting me in just this one time, okay? We spent the afternoon at the American Consulate, where everyone was friendly and moved slowly. For dinner we ate congee so hot it burnt our mouths, fell asleep sitting up at the hotel bar, and collapsed in our bed.

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2. Staring at the Ocean and Reading Books is Even More Fun Than It Sounds


We wanted to spend at least a few days at the beach, but Bali has many different kinds of beach. There are the touristy party beaches in the south, which were not so much our style (see section header). There are also a large number of beautiful surfing beaches, but we don’t surf. We scanned our guidebooks until we found Lovina, which was described as “a good place to work on your journal,” as if that were a bad thing.

We got to our hotel after dark and to be honest, we felt a little wary. For one, the entire staff came out to meet us because we were the only people there. They gave us a room with twin beds, causing us to abashedly ask five Balinese women for a room with a double bed.

Nonetheless, once the sun came up we realized that actually we were in the best place ever. Our room was bright and sunny, there were flowering trees in the courtyard, and the dining patio was about six feet from the ocean. The greatest part, however, was a little room they’d built above the breakfast patio.

The beach was on a little stretch between two fishing villages, and many vendors came by to try to sell us things. They were really nice about it, and I have nothing against carved wooden dolphins, but I definitely was not interested in buying one, really, I swear.

After we got our fill of the water and sun, we snuck upstairs and sat and read all day. My girlfriend, who owns 2,000 books and shuns sunlight, had never been happier.

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3. In the Night Market


One of the best meals we had in Bali was at the night market in Singaraja, the town closest to our hotel. We wandered through a maze of fruit stalls until we came out into a long row of beautiful, glowing food carts. This is where many Balinese people go to get a quick bite to eat — we saw whole families seated on mopeds, eating together. The vendors cooked our satay, stuffed crepes, and a dish of rice cakes and tofu right before our eyes. The sauces were sweet and spicy, with a hint of peanut. I didn’t try the crepes because I can’t eat gluten, but the satay was tender and fatty in exactly the right way, and there was a wonderful contrast between the soft texture of the rice cakes and the chewiness of the tofu. We sat on benches behind a satay cart and watched people and mopeds pass by.

While I think it was totally safe to eat from food carts, I also made the mistake of sampling the fruit. See, a week earlier I had watched that show on the Travel Channel where the guy eats crazy things, and he happened to be in a Balinese fruit market. He took a bite out of this plum-like fruit and declared it the best thing ever. But it’s that guy’s job to a) have guts of steel and b) exaggerate about how good things taste for television. Suffice to say: the fruit was only OK, and the next day I felt sick. Though, really, all I had to do was eat rice and drink tea for 24 hours. It was worth it.

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4. Tourist Time


We were sad to leave Lovina, but we’d already made reservations in Ubud, where the wedding was. Ubud is touted as “the real Bali,” but I’m guessing that’s only in contrast to the touristy beach towns of the south. There were restaurants offering every cuisine, lots of museums and dance performances, ten million spas, and a terrifying amount of shopping.

My girlfriend had just finished reading the Ramayana, so we went to see a dance performance of that ballet. Both Rama and Sita are danced by women, which lent a veneer of queerness to the whole experience, though I’m guessing that’s my Western homo perspective talking. We also went to a yoga class and drank tiny, expensive smoothies afterwards, both of which were very spiritual experiences.

One of the best things we did, tourist-wise, was get massages, which are inexpensive in Bali. On the massage list it said, “Please indicate if you do or do not want breast massage.” We didn’t indicate anything, which turned out to mean we do get a breast massage, which was actually just an upper-body massage and kind of great because chest muscles get tense too.

After the massage they dumped cold yogurt on us and scrubbed us down with something gritty, then had us stand by the shower to get rinsed off. This involved both of us, stark naked, having water dumped on us like we were two years old and having a bath. The masseuses left us alone to soak in a bath full of flowers, which would have been awesome if the water and the air were not the same temperature: hot. When I lingered on the edge of the bath trying not to snuggle up to my girlfriend in a way I feared might embarrass them as we were, like, naked, one of the women was like, “Get in! It’s OK!” Did they know we were a couple? I have no idea.

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5. Village Time


In Ubud, we stayed in a complex of little houses that had been built in the village of Lodtunduh. They were “eco-houses,” which I think is a nice way of saying “no air conditioning,” which we never missed since the houses were fan-cooled and affordable.

At dawn, so many roosters crowed that I thought it was a huge crowd of people shouting “AWOO! AWOO!”

Around sunset, we walked past soccer games, kite flying, river-bathing — everyone in the village was extremely friendly and very patient with our terrible, broken Indonesian. People always asked us where we were going, so the one phrase we mastered was “jalan-jalan,” which means (I hope) “wandering around.”

The house we stayed in billed itself as the “real” Bali, which was ridiculous. It was a house that no one Balinese would ever build, completely cloistered from the village with a pool that overlooked the rice fields where people, you know, worked.

On the other end of that scale was the wedding we went to at a big resort, where we passed through several security gates and had our car bomb-checked by a golden retriever that was definitely not related to the Bali dogs who came to steal our breakfast earlier.

Neither is “authentic,” because my identity as a tourist fucks that from the get-go, but I have to say, I’m glad we chose to stay in the village instead of a hotel. It was lovely drinking a Singapore Sling in a fancy bar styled like an 80’s Bond villain mansion, but the hotel felt like a fantasy world for tourists divorced from the culture. I’d rather be in the village and have my nose in the contradictions: the roosters and the pool.

Of course, I feel weird about being a tourist at all, but if you chose to visit a place where 50% of the economy is tourism, it seems dishonest to pretend you are anything else.

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6. Nothing Gay Happened to Us

Most of Indonesia is Muslim, but Bali is 83% Hindu, and their version of Hinduism is relatively tolerant and open. In general, public displays of affection are frowned upon in Balinese culture, so out of respect for the culture rather than discomfort, we weren’t super “out” in public.

We stayed at the Villa Agung Beach Inn in Lovina and the Bali T Houses in Ubud. We felt completely welcome in both places, and the accommodations were incredible for the price we paid ($38/night and $50-$75/night, respectively). We also discovered Bali Friendly, which is male-oriented but offers discounts at various “gay-friendly” hotels. We ended up not going with them, however, it’s pretty awesome to be offered a discount for being gay.

I tried, and failed, to find gay stuff to do, other than some gay diving companies and some big clubs in the south. For the most part, while we were in Bali, we felt perfectly safe, but also perfectly alone. We didn’t see another queer-seeming couple the whole time we were there, even in Ubud. I saw one woman who set off my gaydar, but she might have just been Australian.

Back in the U.S., our first airport stop was San Francisco. We surprisingly didn’t see any queers there, either, but we did get to eat some raw gluten-free crackers with artisanal goat cheese. Also, the guy who saw us through customs ripped on Texas and declared that New Jersey had the best food in the country, which made us feel like we really were home.

Next up is Istanbul, provided I get my new passport back in time!

Profile photo of Meghan M

Meghan has written 3 articles for us.

41 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    I grew up in Indonesia! Yeah, Bali is awesome, and it’s nice you didn’t just go to Kuta beach and call it a day. Terima kasih for this post.

    (by the way, “jalan-jalan” *does* mean ‘walking around’, so you were probably fine)

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    “We sat on benches behind a satay cart and watched people and mopeds pass by.”

    Were there people ON the mopeds, or were there just herds of mopeds ambling through the village?

    Also, great post :) I love all things queer and well-travelled (like myself!) or relating to travel, so I am very excited to read things like this.

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    Yay, traveling queers! I’ve got a blog up that is dedicated to exactly that- travel tips and stories from queer ladies. Please check it out and share your ideas/tips!

    flybydyke.blogspot.com

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    Please be careful eating food from stalls – I have a friend who died that way. :( Although her case was probably more the exception than the rule. At the end of the day you have to follow your gut, and if something looks particularly unsanitary… I’d probably steer clear.

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    Indonesian hereee…!
    Currently in the states, and I miss the sounds of roosters in the morning! :D

    Yeah, Bali is a must visit… I miss the culture of my country. I’m glad to read your experience there.

    If you want to find queer clubs, there’s an area called Seminyak. Gay bars are there, but yeah, most are for males. Hard to find for the females.

    This year I’ll go back to my country, and thinking to move to Bali (I live in Jakarta, the capital… really crowded, there… -eeeks) Wish can meet any AS readers that wanna come there…? Please lemme know if anyone need tour guide…! :D

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    I love when AS knows exactly what I need.
    I’m reading this in my hotel room in Ubud. And despite the commercialization of the “Bali experience” the sunsets are still beyond beautiful and everything is truly magical. And I got some really lovely jewelry. : )
    On the plane I was talking to one of the flight attendants, and she said that Bali seems to cast a spell on people that makes everyone want to go back. It’s totally true.

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      I love that you’re in Bali right now! Yeah, I mean, as much as I was a little weirded out by Ubud, it was also awesome. We got massages at a place called Bodyworks, and did yoga at The Yoga Barn. I recommend both! Oh, and that Japanese restaurant that’s there is actually really good if you decide to take a break from Balinese food. Miso soup was a godsend when I was food poisoned.

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    “but she might have been Australian” haha I love it! Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi! It’s true, though… So many of our straight women look so goddamn QUEER. and Bali is overrun with us lol

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    I’m Indonesian and I’ve never gotten bored of Bali. I mean the mix of traditional culture, leisure, and open-minded society is just awkwardly perfect to me!

    And if you’re seeking of gay friendly place there’s an island near Bali called Gili Island. Most of the visitors are foreigners. I was there last month and i saw lesbian couples holding hands, leaning on each other watching sunset. How sweet!

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    I love that I was planning a trip to Bali, thought, why not search ‘autostraddle bali’ for some cool funky places to go and…. it WORKED!

    But would like to point out the religion bit is wrong – Bali is 90% Muslim according to everywhere else on the web. Fixable?

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    I am trying to get my girlfriend to entertain the idea of living in Bali for a year or two. I have lived in Fiji for a year and had a hard time with the homophobic culture and the lack of PDA even with straight couples. Can anyone give me some insight on how a longer stay might be? Staying somewhere for more than a few days seems to change the dynamic a bit and makes it a lot more out in the open that you are a couple.

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    I am going to Bali next week! I live in another part of Indonesia right now (which seems to have no gay scene whatsoever for guys OR ladies), and I would love to see/meet/be amongst fellow LGBTQ females, even if it’s just to not feel like the only homo in the country. If anyone’s on my side of the planet, reply and let me know!

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    dear meghan, 1st of all I’d like to thank you 4your brilliant report. we’re not really prepared but we are excited :) in september my girlfriend and I are going to Bali. I can’t wait to be there. We’re planing to rent a motorbike to discover the island. Our hotel is located in sanur. Have you any ideas what is a must-do-visit-have which is not standing already in travelguides?

    ps sorry 4 all the typos

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