Swastyastu Om swastyastu. Rahajengrauh.
Hello and welcome! Nama saya Matt (my name is Matt, in Balinese).
Where do we even begin!? Bali is a magical place and remains a favourite destination for many people around the world. From the friendly Balinese people to the stunning sunsets to the fun modes of transport – we loved the entire experience. The weather was consistently hot (some may say too hot!) with the exception of a few heavy rain showers. A typical day would be 29-35 degrees C with 100% humidity. Most Airbnb’s have shared or private pools which are a welcome respite from the heat. Many beachside restaurants and bars also contain elaborate pools for guests. Bottled water is also provided for a small fee, or for free in some places (the tap water in Bali is NOT drinkable).
Let’s start with the must-know information, before discussing our favourite spots.
If you plan on being in Indonesia less than 30 days, a visa is not necessary. Anything longer warrants a 60-day tourist visa. Obtaining such a visa is quite simple and we found easiest to do before departure.
Another important piece of admin is your vaccination requirements. Ensure all of your vaccinations are up to date (e.g. hepatitis, polio, and meningitis), in addition to Dukoral, an oral vaccine for food poisoning. For the cavers and speleologists out there, rabies is an important consideration for the exceptionally rare event you are bitten by a bat (monkeys and street dogs do not carry rabies in Bali).
The currency used in Bali (and other Indonesian islands) is the Rupiah. We did exchange some money to have with us, but it was very simple to use the ATMs of the larger name banks throughout the entire island. Unfortunately, it’s important to watch your bank statements as some of these steal your information. Apparently, it’s not something that happens often, but definitely something we thought important to watch for! Use your credit card so that your purchases are protected by bank insurance. Theft on debit cards is NOT typically refundable.
Transportation was very easy to use throughout all of our travels. The apps Grab and Gojek allowed us to take single journey trips by car or motorbike/scooter just as we use Uber elsewhere in the world. The fees for the journeys we took were anywhere from 50 cents to 20 dollars Canadian. There are some places that don’t allow these resources as the local community has their own taxi ‘mafia’ (e.g. Uluwatu and Ubud). There are lots of trusted drivers that will take you on day tours or personally drive you long distances (e.g. South to North Bali).
The food scene is INCREDIBLE! The highlight of every day was finding new restaurants to try. We were told Bali was a very cheap place to eat… and while you can eat rather cheaply (local warungs), we found that it is definitely worth the extra dollars to try something different than the standard 1-3 meals offered at those places (nasi goreng, mie goreng etc). I’m sure the term “Bali belly” is not new to most travelers, and we can assure you it is the real deal! 99% of the restaurants are extra careful when it comes to water contamination and proper food storage etc, but there is always a slight chance this bug might find you. Our only suggestion to combat this is be smart – if the restaurant or food looks a bit dodgy, it probably is! Don’t risk it, especially street food. This will put you out for a few days minimum and isn’t fun. No one wants to miss out of precious travel time!
We began our trip in Canggu, a rapidly changing area in Bali which caters to ‘instagram culture’. You won’t find a café or store that has not been carefully thought out for the discerning tourist. Bars are less touristy and kitschy than in Seminyak and there is a prevailing yoga and surfer vibe here. For this small area, it has a high density of colourful foods, fun shops, unbeatable beach bars and surfing. La Brisa (a treehouse, bar, and pool with sunset beach views), Deux Ex Machina, Mason, Honey, and the Sunday market are must-sees. With our belly’s full, we went down the road (15-20mins on motorbike) to Seminyak.
Seminyak is the tourist hub of Bali. All the major luxury hotel chains such as The W have resorts here. For younger crowds, some of the best clubs and night life are featured in Seminyak, such as Potato Head and La Favela. The greatest highlight was Lingling – a restaurant with the best Asian food in Bali for unreal prices. The menu was colourful, fun, with a variety of sushi and drink options. Bikini was a special meal for a special occasion, featuring a chef from New Zealand who spoils guests with an incredible degustation which rivaled Vancouver’s best eats. If food, drinks, crowded streets, and nightlife are not your idea of holiday, however, Seminyak is might not be for you.
Uluwatu is the southernmost district in Bali. It is known for its sweeping cliffside views and romantic restaurants (e.g. Rock Bar at the Ayana Resort, or Single Fin’s as an affordable option). The Uluwatu temple can be walked in 30mins with wide views of the ocean. Consider also visiting GWK, which is the largest freestanding statue in the Southern Hemisphere. We noticed it on the airplane flying in, and it can be seen from many places on the island. It is coupled with a cultural centre which is purifying for tourists coming from Seminyak (or its poorer cousin, Kuta). Once you have checked in to your resort or AirBnb, consider renting motorbikes as the streets are quieter than Seminyak and Ubud. Affordable transportation (e.g. Gojek and Grab) is banned in Uluwatu so expect to pay 5 times the price (e.g. $15-$30 per journey). We visited during February and March, where beach and ocean garbage was so rife that we were unable to swim or visit the beach. It is a sad reality of Indonesia’s struggle with pollution. After two days in Uluwatu, we were keen to escape to Ubud.
Despite the fact Ubud doesn’t offer any beaches (it is located inland), there is no shortage of fun or culture here. We would recommend at least 3 days and wished we had stayed here longer asit was ourfavourite spot! It is in the heart of the tropical jungle paradise of Bali, exemplifying the best of Bali’s natural wonders. Our highlights were the Campuhan Ridge Walk to Bamboo Kitchen (see picture below) and our private day-tour. We visitedAirBnb Experiences and booked a private tour for the day with Putu: “Bali Highlights Instagram Spot”. We were not interested in posing for photos, but this tour highlighted the best of Ubud: Tibumana Waterfall, TukadCepung (absolute must-see – a unique canyon waterfall nestled deep in the jungle), coffee plantations with Kopi Luwak on offer, Holy Water Temple (TirtaEmpul), D’AlasWarung (a restaurant suspended above the trees with elaborate bamboo walkways and sweeping jungle views), rice terrace swing, and Tegalalang rice field (the most picturesque and tourist-accessible in Bali). One of the most famous yoga spots in all of Indonesia is located in Ubud at The Yoga Barn. Even if you are not a ‘yogi’ it is another must-see.
If you visit the sacred monkey forest in Ubud central, ensure all of your valuables are locked up. These monkeys are clever enough to know how to use zippers and if you are ambushed, they will even try to take an earring out of your ear. This was a great experience, however, and highly recommended despite travel warnings.
In Ubud itself (Ubudcentre), we enjoyed walking amongst the quaint shops (great jewelry, gifts, and Balinese clothing), in addition to unrivaled food, once again. M An incredible experience was at La Pacha Mama, the best modern Mexican and live music we had ever had. Cocktails were smoked in glass domes, nachoes were individually dressed on a tree-trunk cross section, and the ambiance was in a jungle greenhouse, romantically lit for nightfall.
The Gili Islands are an absolute must-do in Indonesia. They are accessible by fast boat (we recommend the Blue Water Express (probably the best based on our research and experience with them) or Ekejaya (if Blue Water Express is sold out) from Padang Bai, a bay on the east part of Bali, roughly 2-3-hour drive from Canggu or Seminyak or 1.5 hours from Ubud. Gili T comes alive at night and is unrivaled for cheap drinks and beachside parties. Escape the bar scene on the quiet east part of the island, or just south at the Pearl Beach Lounge (an architectural masterpiece made entirely of bamboo, as featured on Apple TV). During the day, there is incredible snorkeling and romantic beachside walks, untouched by pollution with little to no garbage on the beaches. Gili Air is an even smaller island for honeymooners or if you would like a truly quaint island escape. All of the Gili islands are blessed with clear turquoise water.
For scuba divers, Nusa Penida cannot be missed. The manta rays (or Sun Fish during cold water months of July-October) are unique in this area for their numbers. The coral reefs are yet to experience bleaching and the diversity is unreal. I booked with Aquamarine Diving Company, which is a 5 star PADI establishment. For up to 8 hours of travel per day and 3 dives, they charged me $150-200 USD per day depending on dive site and equipment.
Komodo National Park
For the dedicated travelers, Komodo National Park (especially the Island of Flores) is the best way to extend your Indonesian holiday. Komodo has some of the best diving in the world and Lombok is your gateway there from the Gili Islands.
Overall, Bali was our most memorable holiday. There is enough for many months of activities and we actually have a few friends who stayed behind after a yoga retreat to live there for the rest of the year. It is a tropical paradise with something for everyone. However, be sure to do your research before going to ensure you make the most out of your accommodation and travels.