We stayed in Bali for the full 30 days our visas allowed. It's safe to say, we LOVED Bali. We ventured to Flores for a couple of nights to see the Komodo dragons, and were going to go over to Java to explore a bit more of Indonesia, but the lure of Bali was too strong and we decided to stick to this paradisical island and get to know it better.
When looking for new areas to go, we found that the vast majority of guides we found on the internet were seriously outdated. We went to some areas on the promise of white sandy beaches and were met with litter and brown sea (still don't know how or why that was...) The world needs an updated and honest guide to Bali. So we present to you, our avid followers, our fresh and frank guide to Bali!
In Asia you get hassled a lot by taxi drivers. Bali is the worst that we've experienced. Desperate to offer you their services, they swarm the arrivals area at the airport, line the pavements in towns and jump out of nowhere, full of hope that you need their taxi. Bali takes this to a new level. Calls of 'transport?' accompanied by a steering wheel motion echo from every which way as you try to navigate the street. Each driver looking at you eagerly, determined that his will be the one you say yes to; not at all deterred by your tenth 'no thankyou' through a forced smile that you uttered to the man standing before him.
Taxis are also expensive. Compared to Western standards, they aren't at all. But in terms of Bali, they are a helluvan easy way to get ripped off. We chose to get around by Uber. This is somewhat controversial, but we couldn't quite find out exactly why. It's not illegal, but hugely frowned upon out there because they undercut the taxis so much. When we stepped out of the airport, trying to order an Uber, we were lynched by a mob of taxi drivers telling us Uber was banned and the buses weren't running and we must must MUST take their taxi or be stranded. We smiled and nodded, telling them we were fine. After about 5 minutes the final man gave up and we ordered an Uber from the carpark. It arrived shortly after and for a quarter of the price offered by the taxi man, we were on our way.
We are unsure as to whether we are doing something terribly wrong by using Uber, but for now we are continuing in ignorance for the sheer convenience of a lower price point. If you're on a budget - Uber is allowed in Bali, but there are some areas in which you will see signs forbidding it.
These signs are ignored by most Uber drivers, though they do lower in their seats as they drive through and we have been asked by drivers before to not stand around looking at our phones whilst waiting for the car to arrive, as it highlights to all taxi drivers that we're getting an Uber. Taxi drivers hate Uber drivers - one Uber driver told us that a taxi driver stole his car keys once. Just be smart about it; and if you have to use a taxi insist on a meter or absolutely do not accept the first offer they give you. Walk away - there will be plenty of other offers I assure you.
Whilst we're on the topic of daylight robbery, Bali is one of the worst places we have been in terms of hidden charges. When you're headed off on an adventure to see a waterfall or explore a temple, make sure you ask if you are paying the full cost upon entry. It is extremely common to pay an entry fee, and then have to continue paying smaller fees further inside. For example, we went to Tegenungan waterfall and paid a charge to enter. Once we were down the steps and looking to climb up to the top of the waterfall, we were told it would be a further charge.
It's not so bad if you're expecting these costs, but when you're under the impression that you've paid the full fee, it can put a bit of a dampener on things. What seemed like a good deal originally turns into a more and more expensive activity.
We also experienced another bizarre practice. When looking for things to do, we like to go off the beaten track and not necessarily do the touristy thing (a lot of the time because of the above charges!). In Bali, we found a couple of things that tickled our fancy: an abandoned plane and an abandoned amusement park. Both these things were not official tourist attractions, however they both had people casually sitting by the entrance, asking for a fee to go and look at this 'free' space. A brilliant scam if you ask me, but one we refused to indulge. The plane was hidden behind a huge fence anyway and we decided not to pay to peep at it through a small hole, and for the theme park we continued around the outside and managed to sneak in at the back! We didn't feel bad doing this because it was clearly individuals looking to make a quick buck off of unassuming tourists. Watch out!
Our first and also final stop in Bali. Selling itself as a swanky shopping area, the streets were lined with beautiful boutiques offering delicate jewellery and fancy clothing. Well out of our price range, but very nice to look at. There are trendy restaurants and beach bars galore where you can perch on colourful bean bags, watching the sun go down over the sea whilst sipping a frosty Bintang.
Bedplus Backpacker - a good budget hostel. I wouldn't stay longer than one, maybe two nights though. It was quite far from everything and the bathrooms and kitchen could have been a lot cleaner. The staff were friendly, and we booked our return trip to the Gili islands through them for a good price.
RedDoorz @ Petitenget Street - RedDoorz is a big chain with loads of properties around and we actually went to the wrong one first - where they gave us a room, we made ourselves at home and then realised we were in entirely the wrong place! Oops! Petitenget Street was fine - a basic room with a little balcony. It was quite a good location but probably a little more expensive than it should have been - however, this is Seminyak, so everywhere is a little more expensive especially if you want to be central.
There's plenty of local food - numerous warungs and a few street stalls lurking around. There's a brilliant night market which is not touristy at all, offering up everything from fried chicken to fried banana, to martabak and satay.
If you want to go more upmarket the place is inundated with mid range to michelin star restaurants offering every cuisine you could imagine.
Bo & Bun- A Vietnamese restaurant offering authentic Vietnamese flavours in trendy dishes. I had a fresh noodle salad, others had chicken satay and bahn mi (roasted pork belly sandwich). The food was delicious and had a ££ price tag.
Revolver Espresso- An achingly cool coffee joint, selling all sorts of brews in small glasses. The coffee was brilliant, the serving sizes small and the price tag large. But the place was full (of Westerners) and the food coming out looked beautiful.
Once you manage to find the beach (it's a LONG walk as a lot of resorts don't let you through - meaning you have to walk the very long way round!) you'll see it's fairly clean but it's volcanic sand, so very fine and dark. Good for surfing and you can swim but there are some pretty serious waves. Harry rented a surfboard here and splashed around for a few hours.
And by that I mean snapped his surfboard clean in two.
Lots of bars sprawl out onto the beach, covering it in bean bags and deck chairs. Plenty of people looking to sell you something - beers, surfing lessons, jewellery - you name it, I'm sure they'd procure it for you; for a price.
We had fun in Seminyak and were happy to return at the end of our trip. Be aware that you'll have to fork out more than normal (for Bali) if you visit here, and it's likely that you'll have quite a walk to the beach from wherever you stay unless you are lucky enough to stay in one of the beach front resorts. I'd recommend it for families, or couples who are looking to splash out a bit on a special holiday. It's not really a party place - you can drink on the beach til quite late but it's not a great pick for a 'lads holiday'.
Different from the other areas of Bali, it is a spiritual mecca for yogis and vegans. Healthy restaurants galore, you can get smoothie bowls, vegan ice cream and tempe / tofu wherever you look. It's a beautiful town centred around the Ubud market which sells every trinket you can imagine, scarves in every colour of the rainbow and some less tasteful souvenirs.
I'll be writing another post about things to do in Ubud, as we were incredibly active whilst we were there! But in short, it's beautiful. A real sense of calm and happiness. Lush green trees and rice paddies surrounding you, it's not a beach town but almost jungle-like when you're on the outskirts.
Lagas Hostel: As mentioned in my Mt Batur post. We stayed in a 4 bed dorm which was perfect for us as we were 4 people. The air conditioning is only on between 9pm and 5am which was annoying to us as we were in bed early. The social areas are a bit uncomfortable - no where really to chill properly as a group unless you want to sit on the floor. There is a small pool which is nice, but only one single sun lounger and one double sun lounger - no where else to sit by the pool even on the ground. It's about a 30-35 minute walk into the main part of town but it was lovely to get to see the whole of the city rather than just the centre as a result.
Puji Hostel: We stayed in a 6 bed dorm here and it was fine. It was much more central which was great, and also had a lovely pool overlooking a rice paddy. They closed the pool around 9pm though. Staff weren't very friendly here, but they sell cheap beers and have good transport options to get you to your next destination.
The Melting Wok - run by a French lady, there are only a few dishes on offer with specials that change each day. Mouthwateringly good food for cheap - mid range prices. You need to make a reservation at least a day in advance.
Warung Siam - seriously good Thai food. Authentic curries including our favourite Khao Soi from the north of Thailand. If you ask for spicy beware - it will blow your head off.
Vegan Buffet at Sawobali- we tried the vegan all you can eat buffet for 50,000 rupiah per person (£3). Whilst we are carnivores at heart, we have really enjoyed trying the different food on offer here. I am a tempe convert (crushed soy beans formed into patties, cut into little strips and fried up in a variety of sauces). They also have a massive selection of vegan and non-vegan cakes. We stuffed ourselves silly.
There's a lovely street full to the brim with small restaurants at reasonable prices just off the main strip. I highly recommend you wander up and down a couple of times before settling on somewhere - look for which places are busy, see what smells good and don't be shy about asking to see a menu before you sit down at a place.
Ubud is not a beach town.
I loved Ubud and could have stayed longer. There are so many activities on offer that you won't be bored: trekking, cooking classes, Balinese dancing and yoga to name but a few!
If activities aren't your thing it's very easy to wander around the little streets getting lost among the stalls and shops that line your path.
Again, not really suitable for a 'lads holiday' - it's too calm and beautiful for that! But anyone looking for a slightly alternate experience to the rest of Bali won't be disappointed here. For families, friends and couples, for adrenaline junkies and yogis alike, there's something for everyone.
Sanur was lovely. So lovely that Harry and I went there twice, even though it's on the opposite side of Bali! There was some great food, a pretty lovely beach and a few weird off the beaten path things to do. We visited an abandoned theme park - Taman Festival - legend has it that lightning struck the park whilst it was being built. The government couldn't afford the repairs, and the building work was stopped immediately. Left derelict and half complete, it's totally eerie and an awesome experience to climb through the ruins with no one else around.
Villa Lotos: This was at the south of Sanur. It has 5 rooms and a beautiful pool. Breakfast is included, and every evening you have to mark on the whiteboard what time you would like it and what your order is so that it can be prepared for you! We also got fruit smoothies every morning, and a lime juice by the pool 'just because'. The guy was so friendly. Highly recommended, but a bit of a walk from the main part of town and you have to cross a painfully busy road.
Tjana Homestay: At the north, very near the hustle and bustle. Again, only about 5 rooms I think, and no pool. But super cheap, and a pretty little escape from the madness. The owner was very friendly and we were very happy here. About 15 minutes walk to the beach.
Sanur is home to our favourite restaurant: Warung Baby Monkeys. Delicious and cheap Indonesian food, with a wicked cocktail list to match. Shots of Arak (the local spirit made from palm sugar) for only 10,000 rupiah. It was a very messy night and we got the staff drunk too. Fabulous.
Sanur is also home to our favourite night market. The fried chicken is unrivalled, and we had some amazing desserts that we haven't seen anywhere else. Basically a whole bread loaf smothered in butter, fried, filled with chocolate and caramel and fried some more. As decadent and delicious as it sounds!
The beach is long here. We walked from one end to the other over about 45 minutes. Most of the beach is not as wide as some others in Bali, so quite a lot of beach space is taken up by restaurant seating, deck chairs and beach bars; but there are some good shady spots and wider expanses of clear sandy beach towards the south end. Persevere and you'll find the perfect spot.
It's very clean considering how many resorts there are, and whilst the water is quite seaweedy in places, it's very clear. There are lots of watersports going on if you're that way inclined, and surfing on offer a bit further out on the reef. If you're an adventurous surfer looking for a quiet spot, we stumbled upon a black sand beach next to Tanah Lot theme park where a bunch of young local guys were catching some waves.
Sanur is awesome. Definitely a good place to go if you want a nice beach with the option to do watersports. The hawkers aren't as in your face as other places in Bali, and the whole town has a pretty relaxed vibe.
There are restaurants / warungs to suit all budgets - and that fabulous night market. If you have the time, Sanur should definitely be on your list! There's something for everyone - parties as well as peace and quiet, organised activities or solo adventures and accommodation and dining options for all budgets.
We went to Legian on the promise of golden beaches, crystal clear waters and a balance between the civilised Seminyak to the North and the party-central Kuta to the South. We have since learnt not to trust what a popular hotel booking website says...
Hotel Lumbung Sari - it had a nice pool, but very unfriendly staff. The room was quite basic and very much in need of a touch up but it served it's purpose. We were close to the town centre and enjoyed the pool since the beach was such a let down.
We had a brilliant coffee and breakfast at The Caffeine Coffee Shop. Very cheap prices and the quality was actually really good - both coffee and food.
We had some other okay meals whilst here but nothing really to write home about. Again we stuck to the local places for cheap, tasty food rather than hitting up the overpriced steak restaurants.
The beaches in Legian were sadly disgusting. Litter covered most of the sand, which was far from golden. There was no fear of being stung by a jellyfish here - plastic bags were the closest thing to any sort of living creature in the sea. With every step, a new plastic tentacle would wrap around your ankle. It wasn't very pleasant.
I really can't vouch for Legian I'm afraid. It is hugely catered to Australian tourists. There are what feels like hundreds of Aussie beach bars, Aussie grills, Aussie surf shops every which way you look. Touts and taxi drivers on line every street, and it got very waring very quickly having to say no so much. Normally we're fine about that sort of thing but here it was really irritating - walking along the beach and every step a new guy running down from his shack asking if you want a beer, a lounger, a surf lesson.. anything?! Only to say no three times to him and seeing the next chap running down to speak to you already. Urgh.
It wasn't clean, it wasn't 'Indonesian'.. It was like Magaluf. So if you're wanting that sort of vibe and not in search of the real Bali, go for it! There's not much on offer, aside from the beer promotions!
We were only in Canggu properly for one night so take this section with a pinch of salt.
We stayed at Dr Ding's and again, it was basic but fine. Perhaps a 20 minute walk to the beach. There seemed to be quite a few guest houses in the town and cheap hostels around.
We only ate at a couple of local warungs whilst here so I can't link to them. The food was the standard fare; delicious.
Coffee shop after coffee shop lined the streets, offering drinks in bizarre containers and acai bowls a'plenty. The food on offer from most restaurants was largely Western - avocado toast, gourmet burgers and chips and have I mentioned coffee?
There was a lovely view of the sunset from here and the beach fills up in the evening with people watching the view. There's a few popular bars and the more low key offer of just a bottle of beer on the beach if you didn't fancy remortgaging your home to buy one in the bar.
It's a very popular place for surfing, and there were lots of people sunbathing. One of the cleaner beaches, but by no means an area of solitude.
All I can say is Canggu was very hipster. It didn't feel like Indonesia, more like a suburb of LA. There was a very hipster barber shop, some teeny-weeny bikini shops with not so teeny-weeny price tags, and yet more coffee shops. If that's what you're into then this is certainly a great place for you, but unfortunately once again we were by no means cool enough to feel at home in the metal-grate lined warehouses that write their menus on the wall in chalk and serve you a coffee in a vase.
I didn't dislike Canggu, but it just wasn't our vibe. And we're not huge surfers. We were also only in the city centre for one night so I can't promise that it's like this everywhere!
Uluwatu is pretty much the #1 surfing destination in Bali. We didn't surf here (of course). But the place is full of surfer dudes and scooters whizzing past you with surf boards attached. A lot of places we went to were very hip and trendy, with a price tag to match. The first night, I wasn't too keen on the whole place, but I soon changed my mind.
We stayed at Belong Bunter Homestay (awful name right?) for four nights in Uluwatu. It was incredibly basic - a huge room with a bed and fan (no AC unless you pay extra - we chose not to and the fan was sufficient) - and a little dirty, but a good price. No breakfast included. You can rent scooters here for 60,000 IDR / day which was great as if you want to actually go anywhere in Uluwatu, you're going to need one.
Ayu's Food From the Heart: A stand out place where we had breakfast two days in a row. If you are in the area, go here! Both local and Western offerings, the food was fresh, plentiful and explosive in the flavour department.
Made Warung: A warung specialising in Chinese/Indonesian fusion. We didn't expect much, and were pleasantly surprised when we got some delicious chicken and cashew nut stir fry. There's definitely some hidden gems on the menu with a very fair price tag!
Single Fin: This is the go to cliff top bar overlooking --- with its famous 'Sunday Sessions' and 'ridiculous prices'. We balked at the prices and sat at a cheap place next door instead. Even better, the next day we grabbed a couple of beers and chilled down on the beach in the caves under the cliffs. The brilliant sunsets shouldn't be missed.
There are a multitude of beaches in Uluwatu. You really need to rent a scooter to get around - it's not possible to explore without some mode of transport. You need to pay an entrance fee to the majority of beaches on Uluwatu - I wish we'd known which ones were worth going to before we forked out for some stinkers!
Padang Padang: A very small beach with a very steep staircase down to it. The tide was pretty high when we were there, and we didn't stay long. There were people swimming and the water did look nice, but there wasn't much space to chill out and people all around were looking pretty disappointed with the beach itself. I'd pass on this one.
Bingin Beach: Lots of surfing here. Again, it's a bit of a walk down some steep stairs but there's no entrance fee. You have to pay a small amount for the parking at the top though, which is fine. The sand wasn't the whitest and there was quite a lot of coral in the sea, but it was a nice place to chill out with a lot of restaurants and bars to quench your thirst as you overlook the sea.
Green Bowl Beach: Again, no entrance fee but you do need to pay for parking at the entrance. You should check the tide times before you go, because if it's high tide you won't be able to get down to the beach!
Climb down approximately 300 steps past a few wild monkeys, and you end up on a smallish beach that has a couple of big caves, providing some awesome photo opportunities. Lots of keen surfers here, but it wasn't overly busy when we visited.
Pandawa Beach: Our favourite, and a hidden gem. You pay at a toll booth, and follow a long road down past some abandoned building works before coming to the (free) parking. We were blown away by the beach here - golden sand, glistening waters and somehow not completely overrun with tourists. We headed to the right first of all and sat with some cold drinks for a while, soaking up the surroundings.
We had a swim (waves are pretty strong here, be warned!) and then headed left past a few large rocks, where we stumbled upon our own private beach.
We sat and enjoyed the peace and quiet, watching the beautiful ocean roll in before retiring back to our bike, sandy, golden and happy. If you're looking for perfection - this is the one. Just try and keep it a secret ;) The current is probably too strong for surfing, but great for sunbathing, swimming and enjoying the beautiful views.
By the end of our stay, I really liked Uluwatu. You definitely need to get a scooter, or be willing to pay a load of money on taxis to get around because everywhere is quite secluded, and it's way too far to walk. Even if you're not a keen surfer, give it a chance - you'll find plenty to do! There's the famous Uluwatu sea temple to visit, an abandoned plane to look at (over a fence) and plenty of places to explore on your scooter. And don't forget, check the tide times! Most of the beaches disappear at high tide!
What's your favourite area of Bali? Are any of your experiences different to mine?