Adventure in Bali

I was reading Kevin Kelly's 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice and came across two of them talking about vacations and adventure.

  1. On vacation go to the most remote place on your itinerary first, bypassing the cities. You’ll maximise the shock of otherness in the remote, and then later you’ll welcome the familiar comforts of a city on the way back.
  2. A vacation + a disaster = an adventure

These immediately made me think back to my 2018 vacation in Bali. Until today, it remains one of the best vacations I’ve ever had in my life. Granted, it was the first ever vacation overseas with just my friends, but I still felt an overwhelming amount of satisfaction even after I returned home.

Maybe the reason why I found so much joy in going for the trip was because we somehow managed to nail both of the pieces of advice above without any intention to.

Kawah Ijen as our first stop

Leading up to the trip, I tried to strategise our itinerary for each day to minimise our travelling time and maximise our time spent on activities. However, I eventually got lazy and just threw everything in a random order, which scheduled our overnight trip to Kawah Ijen for the first day!

The first day we arrived in Bali, we headed to our hotel to drop our bags off, but didn’t check in. We went for a quick massage and then straight into an ~6 hour long overnight drive from Bali to East Java. We travelled far away from the bustling streets and busy atmosphere of Bali, into the wilderness that was the volcano.

Prior research from various websites told us that the walk from the parking lot to the crater would be barely a kilometer, short and straightforward. It was not. The pathway, though carved out quite nicely for tourists, was pitch black, with our small headlights being the only sources of light. By the time we reached the halfway point, my friends and I were panting hard and we knew we had been misled.

When we arrived at the top, we were greeted with yet another surprise: the journey down to the crater lake to catch a glimpse of those blue flames would require climbing down 600 metres. Well done.

This arduous journey up and down the volcano really did a number on us. When we finally checked in to our hotel back in Bali the next day, I felt so relieved to be back in the city and doing normal tourist activities. The rest of the trip felt so comfortable and was a good recovery from the shock of the first two days.

Disaster strikes

But a long, tiring walk wasn't the only reason we were exhausted after the trip to Kawah Ijen. While we hanging out near the edge of the crater lake, we suddenly heard a loud crash. Turning towards the sound, we saw a plume of smoke start rising from the crater lake.

We weren't exactly sure whether it was normal to see that, so we turned to our guide and asked him about it. As I was asking the question, we suddenly heard some of the miners shouting in Indonesian in the background. Our guide widened his eyes and turned towards the shore of the lake. Turning back, he said one word, in a tone I'll never forget.


All hell broke loose. We heard screaming and felt panic surround us. Our guide quickly ushered up back up towards the summit, but as one can expect, climbing up 600 meters was no easy feat. We were already struggling to climb down to the bottom of the crater lake. It would be a perilous journey up.

Long queues started to form where the paths got more narrow. To make matters worse, the initial plume of smoke had turned into a broiling cloud of sulfuric gas, and the wind was blowing it our way. We had our gas masks on, but they were incredibly hard to breathe in, and even more so for my asthmatic friend. Thankfully, a kind tourist offered him some water, and that somewhat helped to stablise him.

We were completely out of breath by the time we were halfway up, so we decided to take a breather (lol) at an open area. We noticed a Korean film crew desperately trying to interview a tourist, and also trying to report the whole situation live before the gas cloud caught up to us. Looking back, I'm pretty grateful to them, as their antics helped bring us out of the panic we were experiencing.

A precendent for future vacations

We managed to make it out unscathed, although by then my clothes smelled so bad they had to be thrown out. And I went on to experience one of the best vacations I ever had. Kevin Kelly's advice really does ring true.

I think this Bali vacation sets a precedent for my future holiday trips. Experience disaster in the most remote location first, then recover and enjoy the rest of it in comfort.