Working & graduating in Paradise! Discovering Northwest Bali in Six Months

Working & graduating in Paradise! Discovering Northwest Bali in Six Months

My tips and experiences 🙂

There I was, alone at the top of the airport escalator, waving at my boyfriend. While taking a deep breath, I thought, ‘This is it – No going back now.’ My heart pounded as I felt a mixture of feelings – I felt really nervous but also incredibly excited. And with that, I took my first steps into my solo six-month adventure to northwest of Bali.

During the final weeks when COVID still played an active role in our everyday lives, and travel was complicated due to the numerous restrictions and ‘red, orange, and yellow zones,’ I tried to hold on to my dream: graduating abroad. Through connections/friends from my boyfriend’s family, I had found an incredible assignment: developing a website for Northwest Bali. The focus was on providing information and highlighting this beautiful, ‘hidden treasure.’ Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions, I couldn’t start my internship in Bali right away. I had to wait to see if the rules would ease up, so I found myself checking the news updates every hour.

And finally… okay, perhaps now picture this: a girl literally dancing and bouncing around the room while reading “Travel restrictions are lifted for traveling to Indonesia”. I was so happy to finally find out that I could travel to Bali and do my internship there physically. I immediately booked a ticket, even though it felt incredibly surreal:
Me, going to Bali, alone, and to one of the most beautiful places e v e r – Sumberkima Hill.

When most people think of Bali, they usually picture the southern part of the island – A paradise filled with countless little shops, cafes, beaches and surfers. Yet, this vibe comes with its downsides – like endless waves of scooters and heavy traffic..  In contrast, Northwest Bali is relatively undiscovered, offering a quieter, pristine experience. It truly feels like the ‘other side’ of Bali, a ‘hidden treasure’ – and that’s precisely what makes it so special – It’s the kind of place I love.

In my experience, Northwest Bali represents an oasis of purity (well, aside from the plastics). It’s a place with lush nature, happy and friendly people and beautiful scenery. At times, I felt as if I’d stepped into my own personal version of Jungle Book, surrounded by beautiful birds, tropical sounds, butterflies and flourishing flowers and plants. Endless fields of palm trees, green mountains, volcanoes, fresh and juicy fruits, crystal-clear waters where you can see starfish lying on the ocean floor, and beautifully clear skies, bright blue by day and star-filled by night. Every day started and ended with the most amazing sunrises and sunsets.

After a 4-hour drive, I finally arrived in Sumberkima, located in Northwest Bali. As soon as I stepped out of the car, a warm and peaceful atmosphere welcomed me. My scenes instantly created a feeling I’ll never forget. Even though it was already dark and I couldn’t see much, I could already feel there was so much nature around me. With an enormous smile on my face, I fell asleep to the soft sound of crickets and geckos. (I didn’t even need my usual meditation/relaxing music! 😉

Returning to the primary reason for me being here – my (graduation) assignment 🙂 It was my task over the next six months to quite literally put this region on the map. My responsibilities included gathering data regarding the activities, dining options, and accommodations in the area. As well as designing the website and providing up-to-date information. As a graduate in graphic design with a passion for responsible travel, this felt like an amazing opportunity, the perfect combination!

For me, this also was a unique chance to be part of an inspiring sustainable initiative. Bernard, the owner of Sumberkima Hill and also my client, has a deep connection with the region and the local community. Over the past years, Bernard has initiated various sustainable projects, closely collaborating with the locals through the Sumberkima Hill Retreat. This includes reforestation efforts, restoring the bay at the foot of the hill, planting new coral, and improving water quality. Moreover, the resort has created a beautiful spot on top of the hill where the local community can perform ceremonies and traditional dances, thereby preserving their cultural heritage. The view from here is simply breathtaking!

Throughout my studies, I was always fascinated by topics like community-based tourism and slow tourism, always feeling that collaboration is the key to success. Working together leads to a win-win situation benefiting both the community and its visitors. By interacting with nature, culture, and each other in a sustainable and respectful manner, there is room for growth and flourishing. I firmly believe that what Bernard and the Sumberkima Hill Retreat are doing here is not only valuable for the local community but also serves as an inspiration for others around the globe. I am incredibly grateful to have played a modest role in the development of this place and perhaps helped spark other sustainable initiatives.

My favorites on ‘the card’:

Whenever I go out to eat, whether at a restaurant or ordering take-out food, I almost always ask the staff what their favorite dish or drink on the menu is. My boyfriend initially thought this was a little crazy, but I think he eventually began to see the added value. It always creates an interesting, fun and enjoyable conversation, but more importantly, it often becomes clear what the overall favorites on the menu are. The people who work there usually have some great insights, and know from others, and themselves what the favorites are. Of course, it’s always important to consider what you’re in the mood for, and that choice is ultimately the most important thing! 

Now, think of this article as if I were the waiter, sharing my favorites from the ‘card’ with you. But in this case, the ‘card’ is actually the map of Northwest Bali. Given that I’ve been here for a fairly long time, have done research, and have visited most places, you could call me some sort of expert on the region ;).

In this article I will share my favorite discoveries with you.

Where to stay:

Sumberkima Hill Retreat:

Sumberkima Hill Retreat is a resort in Sumberkima that has intertwined itself with the very elements that surround it. You’ll find unique, luxurious accommodations that blend harmoniously with the culture and nature around it. Because of their hilltop location, the villas have stunning views over mountains, the sea and volcanoes. There are several community pools and there is a gym. I loved the surroundings here, you can easily do different and beautiful hikes from here, should you be a fan of walking. They also offer a shuttle service that will take you from A to B. I didn’t make much use of this as I loved walking here.

Due to Sumberkima Hill’s strong local engagement, guests can experience the authentic Balinese lifestyle and traditions. The Villas are located in a local village. Because of that, I always really enjoyed walking here, it truly allows you to get a glimpse of the Balinese culture.

 As an example, during my morning walk to the gym (6 am), I just loved seeing the local people getting active. They would start early, using their sickles to collect grass, which they would then transport in piles on the backs of their scooters to their homes. Along the way, everyone who passed by would greet you with a warm and friendly smile, saying ‘Pagi!’ Pleasant scents filled the streets as women lit incense in the morning and carried ‘canang sari,’ small offerings made in reverence to their gods, to their temples or doorways. After gym o’clock or morning hikes, I really enjoyed swimming at one of the community pools.

The pool located above the gym has the morning sun, so this was my favorite pool for morning swims. Both these pools have beautiful views and are truly a wonderful place to end the day; the sunsets and stars are stunning from here!

Sumberkima Hill offers options for every budget, which I think is really great. I would highly recommend staying here for at least a few nights to experience the peace and tranquility. They have beautiful private villas complete with their own (infinity)pool, but they also offer smaller accommodations. For example the ‘tiny houses’ on the mountain, furnished with just a bed and a hammock. All of the places have truly have beautiful views.. 

Villa Madoe:

During my stay I had the opportunity to stay at Villa Madoe for a while. This place truly embodies my definition of paradise! I don’t have many words that can describe the feeling of being there. Villa Madoe has a large, almost fairy-tale-like garden, full of flowers, butterflies, birds, and some fruit trees. It has a gorgeous swimming pool that overlooks the sea and mountains – best of all – you can see the sunrise from here. I’ve loved walking through the garden, picking and smelling flowers from the grass. The feeling of the space, energy and serenity here is very special.

One of my favorite memories at Villa Madoe was swimming underneath the stars. The pool maintains a very nice temperature throughout the day, even in the evening it is very pleasant. During the evening it becomes dark quickly and properly. At night the Villa looked very fairy-like because of all the lights. From the swimming pool you could see beautiful stars at night, you could truly see a galaxy of stars. The Moon just made this picture complete.

Mangroove Bay Hostel:

Oh my, how lovely this place is! During my stay in Bali, I was fortunate enough to stay at Mangroove Bay for about two months, and the place truly felt like home. This hostel was opening for the first time during my stay, making the experience even more special as I got to witness its remarkable growth in just a few weeks. I really loved the staff who work here; they form a very friendly team. They especially love to sing – the song ‘2002’ by Anne Marie was a particular one that we would sing a lot. 

Everything around the hostel is within walking distance; you can get to a small, idyllic beach, the bay, local mini-shops, and warungs by the harbor in just a few minutes. The hostel itself is not only incredibly beautiful but also highly efficient! It offers various areas where you can either work, chill alone, or socialize with others. The hostel features a well-equipped kitchen, complete with a large fridge and much storage space. Note: I once stocked up on a bunch of yummy fruits from the local market and left it in the kitchen. When I returned, (really eager for a banana) all of the fruit was gone. So, be careful with what you leave behind. This however only happened once 😉

In the same area as the kitchen, there’s also a large couch and a big screen to which you can connect your laptop. One feature that I particularly loved was the option to link your phone to the sound system in the room, making it possible to cook while listening to your own music. Okay, yes there is more; the hostel had a lovely bar, games, a dedicated area for pétanque (jeu de boules), table tennis, and a yoga shala. I often found myself in the yoga shala, located on the roof. It’s simply stunning up there. I’d love to come here everyday to enjoy both the sunrise and sunset.

Plus, the hostel is well-prepared for ‘digital nomads’, offering many workspaces. I personally preferred to work in the restaurant and in the area above the reception.

Since Mangroove Bay is part of Sumberkima Hill, you can take advantage of the free shuttle service to go up to the hill. Pickup can be requested at either the restaurant or the reception, providing easy access to the community pools, restaurants, and other amenities located on the hill.


Villa Semadhi:

One of the most special places where I’ve ever stayed is Villa Semadhi. Located on the beach in Pemuteran, this beautiful accommodation has several bedrooms in the ‘main villa’. And, in addition to this, there is a detached house/room, a truly exceptional space with unparalleled views of both the ocean and mountains. You can literally open all the shutters and gaze out at the ocean right from your bed. The bed itself has a ‘starry sky’ effect of sorts, as well as a lovely private bathroom. Now, this ‘detached house’ was where I could stay, lucky me! What I found most special was the soft sound of the sea you could hear while laying in bed. On several occasions, I slept with the shutters open, allowing a refreshing sea breeze to flow through the room.

During the day you can spend time relaxing at the beach or pool, also they have a kayak that you can take out and explore. Villa Samadhi has this beautiful and extensive garden. Near the beach they have a few chairs where you can sit for hours, gazing at the sea. In the evening, this becomes a lovely spot to watch local people gather on the beach, fly kites, or do some fishing.

Where to eat:

In the first weeks of my stay, I usually ate at Suma Restaurant. There, I could order anything my heart desired, and I also really enjoyed working there. After a while, my curiosity led me to explore other restaurants in the area. I remember being amazed by the prices; for the cost of a simple coffee in the Netherlands, you can have a huge, delicious meal in Bali, including a drink.

Some restaurants offer delicious, freshly-caught local fish, which is also quite an experience to try/taste. While I always aim to live as sustainably as possible, I occasionally tried some local fresh fish. The herbs and fresh local ingredients truly elevate the pure and delicious flavors. I generally avoided restaurants that used many sweeteners, salt etc. (most often these were Warungs).

If you find yourself in northwestern Bali, these restaurants will have you doing a little happy dance with every bite – believe me, I’ve been there, and done that haha 🙂

Restaurants and warungs:

Suma:

My favorite restaurant in northwest Bali has to be Suma. This restaurant’s setting is absolutely beautiful, the staff exudes warmth and love, and the food is amazing. Their daily specials never disappoint. They make their own sourdough bread, kombucha and coconut yogurt – all highly recommended if you are ever in the area!

Although it’s hard to pick a favorite dish, as everything was so delicious. For breakfast, I especially enjoyed the porridge & chia party. I often either ordered fruit with coconut yogurt or went for the moringa pancakes to satisfy my sweet tooth. Now I have to say that really everything on the menu is delicious, even all the savory dishes are great. For lunch I always loved the pumpkin soup, I loved adding some extra ABC sauce or chopped chili for a kick. For dinner, I preferred the Moroccan bowl, and I replaced the couscous with cauliflower rice.


Mangroove Bay Restaurant:

Hallelujah! Another fantastic restaurant. Mangroove’s menu consists of pure, fresh, beautifully prepared dishes, and there’s definitely something for everybody. Since I stayed at Mangroove (hostel) for quite a while, I also ate a looooot – and what a gift! Some dishes, like the terong bakar and the banana blossom soup, are among the most delicious dishes I’ve ever eaten. I usually ordered the porridge with extra (homemade) peanut butter, the matcha smoothie, and a ginger shot. Almost every day, I ate the terong bakar and the banana blossom soup; I just couldn’t get enough of them, haha.

I tried everything on the menu and believe me – everything is really good! I even got the chance to collaborate a bit with Alex, the owner of Mangroove, to incorporate some of my ideas into the menu. I can truly say, with all my heart, that this is one of the very best restaurants i have ever been to :). I must add that the staff in the restaurant and kitchen were  always tremendously pleasant, which made the experience all the more enjoyable.


The Sage:

Wow, the food at this place is amazing. The ambiance here is really welcoming and the staff extremely friendly. And the food… oh my, the food was truly amazing! I only discovered The Sage during one of the last few weeks of my stay in Bali, but we have been going almost every day since then. The fish and curries were simply amazing. The portions were always freshly picked, well-seasoned, quite large, and simply delicious. The value for money was very good for this reason.

Warung Taruna:

This warung is a little further from all the other restaurants in Pemuteran, but oh, how glad we were to discover this romantic little restaurant. We had wonderful dinners here on several nights. The staff were immensely friendly and kind. Because of COVID, they reduced the menu here a little and now focused on some core dishes – the quality is just so high; they offer an excellent value for the price, and you can have a wonderful, romantic dinner here for a fairly low price. We were huge fans of Warung Taruna and especially of all the desserts, a favorite were the pancakes (dadar gulung), which we would order quite often, since it was SO good!


Ehm, yes – that’s me – twice posing with the dadar gulung. (I never really ask my boyfriend to take pictures of me, but he really had to capture this moment of pure happiness haha!)


Senja Restaurant:

This restaurant mainly focuses on Indonesian food in the evenings and has also been open for breakfast (not just Indonesian) for a while now—and man, is it delicious! During sunset, this is a great place to eat; they offer delicious cocktails, making it definitely a spot for a fun night ‘out’. What I liked here is that you could share dishes with each other, allowing you to try a variety of typical Indonesian dishes.

Warung Setia:

My boyfriend just loved this restaurant, wanting to eat here every night haha. We both enjoyed the fresh soups and the fish dishes. It was often crowded, so it’s good to keep that in mind.

Bali Balance:

I have been here several times with my laptop to work, they have a very nice garden/backyard where you can enjoy a good cup of coffee. Tip: Try the chia pudding here, it is so good!

Eco Taste:

Mmm, the food here was delicious! It had a nice atmosphere, good menu and great coffee. Also really great falafel, one of the best I’ve ever had! 🙂

Warung D’Bucu:

Delicious soups, lots of fresh food and a nice, cozy atmosphere.

Lawaki:

The place to be for delicious (vegan) coconut ice creams, one of the best in all of Bali! 

Dynasty Resort:

Had a nice breakfast here several times. The location is so beautiful it’s really close to a beautiful snorkel spot. (I did think it was a little pricey though).

What to do:

First and foremost, take the time to simply enjoy and absorb the beauty surrounding you. North West Bali is truly a stunning and relaxing place!

During my stay in North West Bali, I was working a lot every day because of my assignment and graduation project. Because of this, I have not done as many activities – but by doing a lot of research, chatting with local people and visitors I did get a good idea of what there was to do. 🙂

There are a number of wonderful activities in this region, these were some of my favorites things to do:

Swimming and snorkeling @ Pemuteran Beach

Sunrise hike @ Batu Kursi

Snorkeling @ Menjangan Island

Snorkeling @ Gili Putih 

Releasing a baby turtle @ Gili Putih

Yoga sessions @ Yoga Shala – Mangroove Bay & Sumberkima Hill Retreat

Massages @ Sumberkima Hill Retreat (the healing massage is highly recommended!).

The Hot Spring @ Mimpi Resort

Swimming @ Pasir Putih

Visiting Local Hot Spring

Visiting local markets @ Pejarakan and Sumberkima (best time at 6:00 AM).

Going to the Gym @ Sumberkima or the Wastu gym in Pemuteran

Shopping @ the Taman Sari boutique, Art Shop Sinar Mulia and Puri Ganesha.


Should you wish to search for more activities, this link will help you find many more things to do!

Way of life:

One word that often crossed my mind was the word ‘pure’. I found that not only the nature and food here were very pure, but also the local people and their way of life. Balinese religion plays a central role in daily life. On every corner and street you can find a holy temple. The Balinese are extremely devoted to their religion, and this is expressed mainly during their ceremonies. In the past six months, I have attended some very special ceremonies, and I was the only “buleh” (non-Balinese person) at one of them. 

Many people found it very special to see such a ‘white’ and incredibly tall girl. Some locals here did not actually leave their neighborhood, for example there were ladies who had never been to the other ‘village’, so for them such an outsider was something very special. They had the idea that my skin was so light and almost ‘pink’, as if I actually had no skin at all. Once when I was at a ceremony where a baby was allowed to put its feet on the ground after three months, there were also many people here who had never seen anyone else from another culture. So they all stood around me and did nothing but smile, grin and look at me in a tremendously friendly way.


I loved the way the locals expressed themselves during their ceremonies. Witnessing this was incredible; it truly felt special to become a part of their community and way of life. At most ceremonies, some people already knew me and a few spoke excellent English. They were really eager to include me in the entire process. I felt especially welcome when they invited me to sit next to them and gently guided me through each ritual – indicating the right time to hold a specific flower or when to place rice on my forehead.

During my stay in Sumberkima Hill, I was really inspired to live in a healthy and holistic way. After my working hours I loved to study Ayurveda and got to meet very many  interesting people who were also into living a balanced lifestyle. Each day, I either practiced yoga, went on hikes, or did other activities to move my body and mind. Both during my time there, and now that I’m back in the Netherlands, North West Bali has inspired me to develop my own holistic and sustainable way of life.

The Digital Nomad life:

So, how did I find this (graduate) internship? Spoiler alert: with a lot of luck! During the lockdown, I spent much time at the house of my boyfriend’s parents. They own a house in Sumberkima (Villa Madoe) and occasionally mentioned Bali. I was *blush* never very interested in going there myself. Of course, I found it very nice, cool and special that they had their own house there, but Bali itself was never really at the top of my list.

At the table, they once talked about someone named ‘Alex,’ who had started his own organic garden with some locals. The food grown there would also be used in the restaurant. I found this very interesting, and one thing led to another. I eventually discovered that on that ‘mountain’ my boyfriend’s parents were talking about, there were tremendous initiatives. For instance, they told me about the role community-based tourism plays there. From the moment I began my studies, I loved these subjects. I relished learning about different cultures and became fascinated by the delicate balance between economic growth and preserving culture, norms, and values.

Working spaces:

During my internship, I often found myself working at either Suma or Mangroove Bay restaurants. These locations were simply perfect for me. The shade, gentle breeze, the pretty reliable WIFI and the ambient soft noise of people passing by or chatting made these spots an ideal setting for me to get productive. Both restaurants had spots with power outlets, so I could comfortably work all day. If I needed a break, I would take a little stroll through the organic garden near Suma or wander over to the beach by Mangroove. When I was at Mangroove, I also loved taking quick dips in the pool to cool off, or sometimes I’d just take a cold shower (next to the pool) to feel extra refreshed.


What I really liked, especially at Mangroove, was seeing other digital nomads getting their work done too. It was really nice to occasionally get inspired or motivated just by seeing other people focused on their tasks. A lot of times, I’d end up sitting at the same table with others who were working. We’d grab a coffee, chat a bit, and keep each other motivated. And if I needed some feedback, I’d often ask the restaurant staff, who were usually more than happy to help.

Northwest Bali has truly captured my heart 🙂

After 2.5 weeks of motorcycling primarily through the southern regions of Bali together with my boyfriend, we were (to be quite honest) reaaally happy to be back in the northwest region.

Everything just feels right here. It was like coming home, and interestingly, I noticed that others who were new to the area felt the same way. Many had mentioned this ‘feeling’ to me before my little trip to the south, and now I’ve experienced it myself. 

So, whether you’re an adventurer at heart, someone seeking relaxation, a culture enthusiast, or someone who is looking for a deeper connection with yourself, nature, or what’s around you, Northwest Bali is your go-to destination. Okay, searching for something entirely different? Trust me, Northwest Bali won’t disappoint. This isn’t just another travel destination; it’s a beautiful, pure paradise where you can genuinely (re)connect, rejuvenate, and (re)discover…

I hope the Northwest of Bali continues to flourish in a sustainable way, and I sincerely wish for you to experience it too! <3

Terima kasih, Northwest Bali
And of course, a special thanks to Bernard @ Sumberkima Hill.

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