My reverse bucket list

What’s on your travel bucket list? Volunteering in Africa, teaching English in Prague, eating pasta in Rome? We dream of the next adventure, the next achievement, the next thing… but what about reflecting on the life we have lived?

Here’s my reverse bucket list – my top 10 most unforgettable travel moments in Asia.

1. Watching sunrise over the Ganges in Varanasi, India’s oldest living city, with dolphins diving around our tiny boat and pilgrims descending on the water’s edge to begin their ritual morning dips.

2. Snuggling under a rug at dawn, surrounded by Tibetan monks chanting mantras to celebrate Buddha’s birthday, in Dharamsala.

3. Walking past an Indian slum during monsoon and seeing a mother and daughter leaving their poles-and-plastic home, with a puddle for carpet and mud for a bed, with grins on their faces, laughing together.

4. Sitting on a bus travelling to Ladakh, climbing the last peak to reach the Tibetan Plateau, and suddenly the Himalayan mountains are rising abruptly behind us and a vast desert is stretching out before us.

5. Lazing in the refreshing mint-green pool at Potato Head watching the sunset over Seminyak Beach in Bali.

6. Sitting in the open doorway of an Indian train, with the wind blowing in my face and camels galloping in the distance, crossing the deserts of Rajasthan.

7. Huddling in a sleeping bag around an open fire with a Nepalese family, drinking hot pepper chai, with a blizzard raging outside and Mount Everest in the distance.

8. Singing on a hill-top on Gili Trawangon, with Indonesian men playing guitar, admiring the view of Gili Air and Gili Meno forming stepping stones in an expanse of turquoise sea to the lush coastline of Lombok.

9. Meeting the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala and being awe-struck by the presence of this physically tiny man with a beaming smile and an immense glow, as if lit up from the inside.

10. Dancing in a sari at my future brother-in-law’s wedding, in the remote village of a Himalayan hill tribe, surrounded by the picturesque snow-covered mountains of Nepal, seemingly so close you could reach out and touch them.


Eat, pray, love Bali

I visited Bali last year for the first time in two decades. I travelled with my new partner (at the time) and our four teenagers (one mine, three his). It was wonderful to escape the bleak Melbourne winter in June for 10 days of tropical heat.

Bali has changed in some surprising ways during the last 20 years. One delightful change is how the dogs are treated now. When I was there in 1993, sick mangy dogs were everywhere. Now the Balinese care for them as pets. We’d go for an early walk along Seminyak Beach before the kids woke up and it was reminiscent of Australia, the sand dotted with owners and dogs enjoying a morning walk.

I understand this significant change is due to the hard work of I Love Bali Dogs.

As a typical Melburnian (read: coffee connoisseur) I was pleased to discover you can now get a decent flat white! Last time only Balinese coffee was available – strong, granular, black coffee in a glass. If you asked for milk, you got sweetened condensed milk floating on the top. Now virtually every cafe has a coffee machine and the quality is (gulp) almost as good as Melbourne.

I was also surprised by the absence of Bali belly. You couldn’t drink fruit juice or eat salads outside five-star hotels 20 years ago. Now you can eat fresh food without fear – purified water is used everywhere. The variety of cuisine is amazing. We ate beautiful food every night, but one of the more memorable venues was Biku Restaurant. With its book store, antiques and beautiful cake selection, it seemed more fitting of France than Bali. But the down-side of all this international cuisine? I only found Gado Gado, my favourite traditional Indonesian meal, at one cafe in Seminyak.

The shopping in Seminyak is famous, but clothes that translate into Melbourne attire are limited and expensive. I did buy a cute black-and-white shift dress from Mister Zimi that I wear often with tights and boots. I also bought some high-quality silver jewellery from Kapal-Laut.

We spent a week in Seminyak and three days in Ubud, with a road trip every other day to explore the island. We visited the Bukit Peninsula starting at Ulu Watu – Padang Padang and Balangan Beach are both lovely – and ending with fresh seafood at Jimbaran Bay. We went to Elephant Safari Park Taro (highly recommended) and caught a boat to Nusa Lembongan, spending the day swimming at beautiful Mushroom Bay. Ubud has grown tremendously in 20 years, but has retained its charm and I would have liked to spend more time there.

But the ultimate highlight for all of us? Potato Head Beach Club. It was so good, we went twice. Picture this … lazing in an eternity pool overlooking Seminyak Beach all afternoon, watching the sunset from a pool-side lounge bed while sipping mocktails, then eating dinner at one of three international restaurants. This is the Bali experience of your holiday dreams. Simply perfect.