Last August, between moving from New York to California, we stopped for a month in Indonesia with our then 13-month-old. The movers came to pack up our apartment on the first of the month, and we boarded a plane on the fourth. We thought the promise of flying around the world to a beautiful place might dull the sting of leaving New York—and it did, especially the part where we slept on an air mattress in an empty apartment for three nights.
If you ever need a little extra encouragement to start a multi-leg, forty-hour stint of air travel with a toddler, just move everything practical out of your apartment for a few days.
We had ample supplies, however, in our piles of baggage to help us make due. Along with the usual clothing and such, we brought along a car seat (on a GoGo Babyz trolley), an Ergo, a sling, a travel crib, a few toys, a few books, dollar-store-esque distractions for the plane, and a newly purchased collapsible, wheeling duffle bag full of diapers and such (not knowing whether we’d have any trouble finding the equivalent in Bali).
We hadn’t done as much research as one might expect—the simultaneous cross-country move proved so distracting!—but we felt ready. What we didn’t account for, however, was that Hudson would suddenly fall sick and spike a temperature of 105 the day we were supposed to leave! As I was doing a final walk-through of our apartment and watching the hours tick off all-too-quickly, Aron was jumping into a cab to the doctor’s office for an emergency visit. Hudson, we discovered, had a virus called Hand-foot-mouth disease. Lovely.
We debated holding off, but were encouraged by the doctor’s assurance that symptoms (malaise, low appetite, sore throat) usually only persist a few days. But as you can imagine, it was a harrowing start to the trip.
The upside was that Hudson was amazing on the flights. He mostly wanted to be held, and he slept a lot. We flew 8 hours from Newark to Frankfurt, 11 hours on to Bangkok, and 4-1/2 to Bali with about 10 hours of layover time total. The most challenging leg was Frankfurt to Bali: we left at 2:45pm Frankfurt time and arrived 6:30am Bangkok time, so the personnel treated it like a red-eye and dimmed all of the lights right away. We were all wide-awake and I felt much more conspicuous when Hudson cried and everyone around us was trying to pretend it was the middle of the night. But even that passed, and the steward even offered to let Aron walk Hudson up and down the stairs between economy and business class a few times.
The other thing that made this leg hardest, however, was that I started feeling sick. It’s very common for young children to get the virus, but rare for adults, so I was trying to be optimistic. But pretty soon it became clear that I had caught it, too. I practically collapsed on a bench in the Bangkok airport while Aron kept trying to get Hudson to drink fluids and bounced him in the Ergo. Again: lovely.
I have to admit, that first day was sort of a blur. I remember arriving and feeling that wonderful, warm air hit my skin. I remember being embarrassed that we had so much luggage for a family of three. I remember meeting our driver, Nyoman, and thinking he had such a friendly smile. I remember noticing how thick, and full of mopeds, the lanes of traffic were around us as we slowly made our way from the airport in Seminyak to the villa in Ubud. (Aron told me that the drive took a little over an hour, but that Hudson and I were in and out of sleep.)
And I remember how nice it was to have arrived at one of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever stayed in.
I’m sorry to admit that I virtually slept through our entire first day, and that the sun was setting again as I woke up.
But the light was incredible and it was then that I really got a chance to appreciate the incredible setting we were in. And I appreciated it every day from then on.
Harvest Moon is one of five homes in a communal enclave called Desa Bulan, in the village of Lodtunduh—just outside the center of Ubud.
We discovered it completely thanks to Kate Challis, a fellow blogger who divides her time between her native Australia and Bali. It was sort of unbelievable and yet it’s exactly the sort of wonderful openness I’ve been met with time and time again online: Kate wrote to me about a year prior to inquire about house-swapping our apartment in New York for her vacation home in Bali. Our jaws dropped at the photos she sent of her home, River Moon Villa (which is also for rent in the Desa Bulan complex) and we wondered what she’d think when she arrived to our little studio. Of course, at the time, we had no plans of traveling to Bali. We had just had a baby, said “wish we could!” and sort of forgot about it. Many, many months later, after deciding on Bali as the best far-flung place to spend our days, I looked up that email and reached out to Kate.
As luck would have it, we were to be there at the same time, but she put me in touch with Russell, the owner of Harvest Moon. (She was also an invaluable reference for our months of planning, particularly as she visits all the time with their young son.) It really was incredibly generous how much she and Russell helped us with our plans and Harvest Moon was as beautiful as anything I could have conjured. (In fact, those of you who have seen our home may recognize a few pieces of furniture that we had made in Seminyak after staying there.)
The home is two-stories, with the upper loft completely open to the elements. We slept up there all but the first two nights (when we stayed in the climate-controled downstairs room with Hudson, until he had adjusted to the time). There were tons of hazards for a newly-walking toddler, so we did have to be even more vigilant than ever: He loved to rush out to the pool, then take a circuit close to the edge of the unfenced deck, swing by the fish ponds saying “hi” to the fishes, before coming back inside to climb up onto the couch or practice going down the single step to the kitchen. I wouldn’t have traded in that infinity pool or the unfenced view of rice fields but thank goodness there were two of us, to give better peace-of-mind.
Every morning, one of the shared staff would come in to make breakfast. Bali-time is pretty lax and we found out that “starting at 8,” meant that he started cooking at 8—which can be late for toddler, especially when you have a hungry toddler and each dice of the onion is performed in a methodical, slow manner. So while he was happy to make us crepes or omelets, we usually opted for the speedier smoothies and scrambled eggs.
In fact, the abundance of colorful, delicious fruits meant that Hudson had a smoothie or two (or three) every day. We had bought a box of cheerios and packed fruit squeezes just in case, but it was never very difficult to find something Hudson would enjoy. And thankfully, prices are so reasonable for westerners that we would never have been very upset if we ordered something only to have him turn up his nose.
The villa backed out to the rice fields, and it wasn’t uncomong to see people working to clear them for the following cycle–sometimes machette in hand. That took some getting used to, but it was clear that everyone had them, and everyone seemed very friendly.
Kate helped us find a wonderful driver with whose help we got around so easily. Nyoman, who met us at the airport, gave us a mobile phone to reach him whenever we wanted to set up an excursion. It was so nice to have someone else taking care of all of the navigation, and it felt as though Nyoman became a friend. He answered all of our questions as best he could, told us about his home life and traditions, and I felt like we learned a tremendous amount about what we were seeing everyday.
He’d generally meet us around 9am to take us into town or on a side-trip. Hudson would nap on the go in the Ergo while we were out and then we’d meet Nyoman again after lunch. Then, for his second nap, Hudson developed a great pattern of falling asleep on the way back to the villa, in the car, and then we’d literally carry him, car seat and all, and put him down into his mosquito-netted travel crib. (These days, I’d take him out of his chair–but, oh, the quirks of being new parents.) Traffic gets quite heavy in central Ubud in the afternoons, so we were happy to time our days earlier rather than later.
While he napped, we would read or go for a swim or—and this was the most amazing part—have a massage therapist come to our place and give us massages. (!) Aron and I took turns taking Hudson for a walk or swim while the other would get a massage upstairs. It quickly became a favorite routine. On multiple occasions, a man from Iman Spa came, table hoisted on his back. It was incredible! The style of massage seemed somewhere in between Thai and Sweedish (in my limited massage experience), with more kneading like a Sweedish massage, but also some of the stretching you might find in Thai.
And here’s where I should probably add a note on prices. The relatively low cost of traveling in Bali was one of our main considerations when choosing it as a destination. I loved that we would be able to do everything we wanted and yet have the luxury of flexibility with a toddler. We would be able to have a very comfortable trip.
Once you figure out your airfare (it can be very, very expensive, but this is an ideal trip for which to use miles if you have them), you can spend anywhere from 10 US$ per night to, well, sky’s the limit, for lodging. Services and food are also highly variable, but you could have a very nice trip on a total food/sleep/activity budget as low as $50/day with a little effort. We certainly spent far more for our family of three, but still found everything to be far less expensive than it would have been anywhere else. We tended to use the savings to increase comfort. A driver for a full day, including fuel and the vehicle, tends to run between $30 and $50/day. As with any travel destination, certain regions (the most popular resort areas) have higher prices than others.
Each afternoon elicited renewed “oohs” and “ahhs” from Aron and I as the sun would set the rice fields aglow. And each evening, young children would come out to fly kites: the youngest came to fly small kites while their parents worked, and the older came in groups to fly enormous ones that we later realized took up the whole bed of a pick-up truck. Kite-flying is something of a national pastime and it made for such a beautiful vista as the kites rose along the horizon, as far as the eye could see.
Not knowing for certain how Hudson would take to the travel or time change, and having a babysitter only a handful of time in New York during his first year, we didn’t ever arrange for one in Bali. I think that’s something we’d do differently now; we would have loved to have tried more of the restaurants that were recommended to us in the evenings, and to have taken in a few more performances at night, but this is one of the reasons we were especially appreciative to have found a setting to stay in that we loved so much.
And although we had a kitchen, we ordered most of our meals in–prefering to get to sample more local foods. We had some uninspring foods, clearly designed for Western palates, at first but soon figured out what to order when encountering menus. And twice we had a lovely woman from the local village come to the villa and make a dinner for us there. Her food was amongst the best that we had in Bali.
The Nasi Campur (above) from Bali Buddha was one of our favorites. Nasi Campur is a dish that’s available in virtually every restaurant but always differs a bit, depending on the cook. It tends to consist of rice (nasi) and small amounts of vegetables and protein. You can combine all of the flavors with rice (they’d send the prized Balinese red rice–so wonderful and nutty) as you wish, or enjoy them separately. I was amazed at how bright the flavors were, with the fresh lime and lemongrass, and at the difference it made to have fresh coconut shaving in many dishes (as opposed to the desiccated variety that’s available stateside).
We often turned to Kate for advice, so I would also recommend her guide to Ubud for DesignSponge.
One night we had dinner (prepared by the amazing local cook I just mentioned) at Kate’s home. It was fascinating to learn more about how they’d created this second home in Bali, and to meet her family as well as their beloved babysitter and her daughter. I feel like it more fully opened our eyes to the pleasures that come with returning to one place over and over again.
There were enough things to do and see in and around Ubud, that although we spent almost 10 days there, we didn’t feel like we had enough time just relaxing at the villa. The beautiful outdoor, oversized bathtub (set among live fish!), got used only two or three times. If we had the chance to go back to Bali, we both agreed that Ubud would be an ideal home base (the island is really rather small, extending less than 150km at its widest point), and that we’d love to stay at Harvest Moon again.
Next up: posts on things to do and see, in and around Ubud.