Back in April 2022, I had a Zoom call with clients Marloes and Niels from Haarlem and we talked about their plans to do six months in Bali in 2023 with the family. They had been to Bali before but understsood this time it would be very different as they were now with children. In the initial call, I gave them some advice about choosing the right school and area and we talked about Bali expat life. Fast forward to today, and they have loved living in Ubud for the last three months and share this wonderful interview with us.
Meet: Niels & Marloes + kids Isa (10) & Fedde (8)
Home country: The Netherlands
Arrived in Bali: October 2022
What experience did you have with Our Year in Bali and Simone assisting you?
Having been to Bali for two months in 2010, we kind of knew what to expect. Yet lots have changed in Bali since then (so we heard) and this time around we wanted to stay for a longer period of time. Since we have kids now, we wanted a proper preparation in order to have a soft landing when arriving in Bali. Thanks to Simone’s assistance we knew better what to expect of family life in Bali and how to tackle certain challenges that are part of life as a foreigner here.
What made you move to Bali?
Since we are staying in Bali only temporarily, we don’t like to call it a move. We are very happy with our life in The Netherlands, yet we wanted a family experience abroad, being away from the usual hustle and bustle of our regular lives for a while.
Actually the kids initially came up with the idea to live abroad for some time, since they wanted to learn better English and experience a different way of life. Niels and I liked their idea a lot and together with the kids we brainstormed about the potential location. I suggested Bali since it ticks many boxes of what we wanted out of our time abroad, and more. Also, since we have been in Bali before and more or less knew what to expect, it didn’t feel as too big of an adventure to us, we like to keep things comfortable.
Where is home in Bali and why did you decide to live there?
We stay in Ubud. We loved it back in 2010 and we still do. It is a busy town, but there is a lot of green in and surrounding Ubud. The restaurant scene here is very good as well as the yoga and spiritual scene. And the school of our kids is just outside Ubud.
We are very lucky to have found an amazing place to live near the center of Ubud, just a bit north from the main road. The house we are renting is located on a Balinese family compound. The grandfather and grandmother are living there together with their two sons and their wives and kids. Our house is based next to the family temple. We have our own gate so we have enough privacy, yet when we leave the house to go somewhere, we walk through the compound to the front gate before entering the street. There is always someone around, so it feels very safe and cozy and they are very helpful in case we have any questions concerning Bali life.
I didn’t really have any expectations in terms of our housing situation before arriving in Bali, I was just very curious how it would turn out and if we would be able to find a nice family house and not stay in holiday rentals all the time. I never imagined living so close to a Balinese family. It is such a wonderful experience, especially for our kids. They quickly became friends with the Balinese children of the family, who have similar ages. After school they love to play here on the compound with them. They make drawings together, play Uno, badminton or hide and seek. No better place to hide than somewhere in the temple. They find it very special to have made friends with kids from the other side of the world. The pool is not that interesting anymore to them, Niels and I are in the pool more often than our kids!
On the weekends the kids often prefer to stay home and play with their friends instead of hanging out in one of the wonderful pool bars that are surrounding Ubud. We don’t mind since it gives us a lot of time to relax, read books, sunbathe, enjoy our own pool or go for a massage. Of course we still regularly go out and explore Bali during the weekends, but they are always happy to go home again.
How long do you plan to stay?
We are staying in Bali for six months. We basically skip the Dutch winter for once. It was a bit strange to celebrate Christmas with these high temperatures, it did not feel like Christmas at all despite the trees and other decorations that are put up in tourist areas. It did not matter to us, we enjoyed not having to prepare a lavish family dinner this time around and we did not miss Mariah Carey either.
What does school life look like and life raising your children?
Our kids go to the Wood School, alternative international school just outside of Ubud. It is a pretty small school with kids from all over the world, yet the teachers are all Indonesian or even Balinese. They love it there and picked up the English language pretty quickly, which is great since our journey began with their desire to learn better English. It definitely turns out to be the experience they – and we – hoped for!
What are the biggest challenges you find living in Bali?
Despite the challenging housing market in Ubud we found a house to our liking pretty quickly. Two days after arriving in Ubud we already secured a house, but we had to wait five weeks before we were able to move in. In the meantime we stayed in several holiday rentals, which did not always meet our standards in terms of safety, cleanness and comfort. The pandemic hit Bali hard, being so dependent on tourism. There was – and often still is – no money for maintenance while hotels and houses certainly do need a lot of maintenance constantly due to the tropical climate with lots of bugs and high humidity. Finding proper family rooms was especially difficult, yet we did not want to stay in two separate hotel rooms instead.
How do you find healthcare? Do you feel safe?
We feel great about healthcare in Ubud, after having a first-hand experience when our son got sick after almost a month of being in Bali. He had a pretty high fever and was not feeling well at all. Because we just got here and didn’t really manage to avoid mosquito bites in those first weeks (it is just impossible even with DEET repellent), we were afraid he might have caught dengue fever. So we contacted one of the medical clinics here in Ubud and we were impressed by their service and professionalism. They even came to our house twice, which was relatively far away from the clinic. Luckily it turned out not to be dengue but just a ‘school fever’ or something like that. Even in tropical climates kids are not immune to those kind of viruses going around, we just didn’t realise that before.
What does your daily routine look like?
During weekdays, when the kids go to school, we have more or less the same schedule as back home. However, their school days here start a bit later and we do wake up somewhat earlier, without needing an alarm clock. So the mornings are a lot more relaxed than we are used to, I will certainly miss that once we are back in Holland. Niels is usually dropping the kids off in the morning with a driver and I pick them up in the afternoon. When they are at school we both work from home. We have a dining room that functions as office space during the day. I also regularly go to a yoga class in the mornings or take a massage in the afternoons. And we often go out for lunch together.
When home from school, the kids love to play with their Balinese friends and I read something or enjoy the pool until it is time to order food. I only cooked once in the last three months but it wasn’t a big success: the pasta sauce I bought had too much sugar in it. And now my family doesn’t ‘allow’ me to experiment anymore. I easily surrendered since groceries are pretty expensive here anyway and delivery meals are relatively cheap and easy to get.
On the weekends we love to go out for lunch and explore different restaurants in Ubud. Sometimes we visit one of the lovely pool bars around Ubud, we found a few small ones where a lot of locals hang out and the vibe there is very cheerful. Lots of family fun! And sometimes we go away for the weekend to explore other parts of Bali.
How do you get around Bali?
We don’t drive motorbikes so we get around either walking, with a driver or with the GoJek taxi service. And Niels bought a mountain bike so he cycles when he goes grocery shopping or goes into town. We don’t need a full time driver, we just have one to bring the kids to school and pick them up again with one of us. I have got an international driving license and sometimes I am a bit in doubt if I should rent a motorbike or not, but then I read about another terrible motorbike accident again and I know why I am not driving one. I once drove a car in Australia, driving on the left side of the road totally freaks me out!
What is the best thing about living in Bali?
Many things combined make Bali a great place to be: nice weather, great food, lovely people, lots of beautiful nature, the family friendly environment, the colourful ceremonies of the locals, great yoga schools, massage salons on every street corner and the list goes on. The best thing for us is actually not having to deal with many of the obligations of our regular lives in Holland and to spend a lot of quality time together as a family. And I personally love doing yoga in this climate!
What advice do you have for other families making the move to Bali?
As an ex-Nike employee I would say: Just do it! However, don’t let Instagram fool you since it doesn’t give you the full picture at all. Although Bali can be very comfortable in many ways, be prepared to leave your comfort zone, to challenge all your senses, be open and flexible and last but not least be humble to the Balinese people to whom this great island truly belongs.
Do your homework so you more or less know what to expect when you arrive in Bali (here Simone comes in). Don’t complain if certain things are different than at home, since that is why you chose an adventure in the first place, right?
Also, unless you are willing to pay a very high rent or buy your own property, you probably have to compromise on your ideal housing situation. The house we stay in has an outdoor kitchen, certainly not what I was looking for but it turns out to be not an issue at all, we hardly have ants or other creatures visiting our kitchen.
And if you doubt about getting the Rabies vaccines before traveling to Bali, please get them. There are so many dogs everywhere in Bali and you will be a lot more at ease walking or driving past them when you have got the Rabies shots upfront. That feeling only is already totally worth the high costs of the vaccines itself.