RELAX, SURF, HAVE FUN
Close your eyes and try to picture Bali. What do you see? Countless temples? Rice fields as far as your eyes can see? Yoga practices? Color and tasteful food? How do you feel? Zen? Relaxed? Yes, you will find all of this as Bali is indeed a very special place. But Bali is much more than just that green, spiritual place with encens and flowers all over the place. Bali is the kind of place you are scared of coming back to because you fear it will change too much. The kind of place where opposites live one next to another all the time and yet manage to find a graceful balance. It is dirty outside and spotless inside. It is noisy and it is silent. It is touristic and it is traditional. It is chaotic and it is peaceful.
So what are our top things to love in Bali in 2 weeks? Relaxing in Ubud, surfing in Canggu and indulging in Gili Trawangan.
RELAX: DISCONNECTING FROM THE WORLD AND CONNECTING TO THE SOUL OF BALI, UBUD (5-7 DAYS)
If you have read Eat, Pray, Love from Elizabeth Gilbert then you know what I am talking about. If not, let me give you a few indications on Ubud. YES, almost everything here is made for tourists, but it is another kind of tourism that is being promoted here. A tourism about Balinese traditions, arts, spiritual retreats, relaxation, yoga, gastronomy and nature. In other words you come to Ubud to feel good in your mind and in your body. We have spent 9 days in Ubud: this is how much we have loved it. Additionally, as Ubud is set in the center of the island, it is a strategic spot to explore Bali through daily excursions. If you need help to organize your excursions and transportation in Bali with a good price, I would warmly suggest the help of our buddy Budi who you contact via Facebook (sorry for the bad joke but I couldn’t resist it).
TEMPLES, WATERFALLS, RICE TERRACES & MONKEYS: GET A ONE DAY TOUR
Yes, one day tours are very touristy, but last time I have checked I was tourist, so why not making the best out of it? It is ideal if you only have a few days in the city and it also allows you to get back to the car aircon after each visit (and trust me, you will want aircon after each one of them):
– Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary: more than 200 monkeys will be around. Watch out for your stuff, really. They are particularly fond of food (if you are carrying a banana they will jump on you), water bottles (they know how to drink from a bottle, no kidding) and phones and sunglasses (I am sure they have some sort of mafia going on there). So please do not leave your belongings unattended as small pickpockets are hanging out
– Tegalalang Rice Terrace: very touristy at the beginning but when you start going up the terraces it is really beautiful and something most of us are not used to see everyday
– Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave): yeahhhh! I have managed to take a picture of the Elephant Cave without a tourist in front of it! I really enjoyed the pond down the stairs as well as the walk that goes from there on a trek (but watch out it can be slippery and hard to find)
– Tegenungan Waterfall: this one is really spectacular and a lot of people go there to have a swim. It would be even more beautiful if there weren’t empty water bottles and trash around
HOSPITALITY: THE BALINESE DO IT BETTER
Bali is quite spectacular in its way of receiving you, and Ubud is the best in it. It starts by the way people smile. The way they salute you. The way they will always remember your name and say “Hello, Mrs Nathalie”. The welcome drink (each hotel has its own specialty) and the small cold towel to refresh you after your journey. The floral art on your bed (especially if you are on a honeymoon). The impeccable cleanliness and the fact that they redo your bedroom 2 or 3 times a day. If I worked in a hotel in Paris I would be quickly organizing a training in Bali for my staff. I am sure they could pick one thing or two. A smile perhaps?
If you are coming to Ubud and do not have 300$ per night to spend on a hotel, I can only recommend you one place: Puri Payogan Villa. I have traveled a lot, but I have never experienced this level of care and attention. The beautiful 5 bedrooms villa is set in a calm luxurious green garden close to a small river. Decorated with great taste, it is administered by Ari, the manager whose sole ambition (and his team’s) is offering you a flawless stay. From floral arrangements every day, breakfast on the terrace, massage in our room, activities and transportation organized, everything was perfect. So if you are going to Ubud, try to get a room there because it is an amazing value for money. But anticipate because they are often fully booked. Oh, and if you are coming on the honeymoon package, it gets even better!!!
YOUR BODY IS YOUR TEMPLE: 4 THINGS TO TRY OUT
I honestly did not expect doing so much physical activity as I did in Bali. Again: I am not a super athlete, clearly not a good yogi and definitely not an expert surfer. And yet, in Bali you discover muscles in your body you had noooo idea were there. In Balinese beliefs, your body is your temple and you should be thanking (the universe?) for it. A good reminder if you ask me.
#1 – ENJOY BREATHTAKING WALKS: MOUNT BATUR SUNRISE TREKKING & CAMPUHAN RIDGE WALK
See the sunrise from the top of the Mount Batur. You are picked up in Ubud at 2AM (that’s tough), you have a quick breakfast and at 4AM you start climbing up (that’s tougher). Ascending a volcano in total darkness is a unique experience. But don’t worry you will not be alone as hundreds of tourists will be trying the same thing. How to make it? Well, start by avoiding what we have seen on the parking lot, and do not wear your flip-flops and a Louis Vuitton handbag as you won’t make the first 100m (you will be walking on volcanic rock and slippery dust so put your tennis shoes on). Make sure you have water (your drivers will give you some but it might not be enough). I would advise you to wear trousers a shirt and have an additional sweater in case it gets too cold up there. Try to use the latest 2015 fashion accessory: the head-lamp. The guides will give you a lamp torch, but trust me, a headlamp is much more practical. Especially when you slip. And of course, bring your camera or smartphone. If you are a selfie stick fan you will be able to take amazing new profile pictures. If you are not, well… you will be able to take amazing pictures of the original reason why you have been walking for 2 hours in the dark and sweating: the sunrise (as well as funny pictures of all the selfies being taken around you).
Try the Campuhan Ridge Walk. Not a hard walk in Ubud but watch out for the sun (don’t forget to take a 2 liters water bottle and a hat). Anya from the blog Live Love Raw gives you very precise indications on how to get there and how to get out of there in a great post just here!
#2 – DISCOVER THE YOGI THAT LIES WITHIN AT THE YOGA BARN
Apparently, the Yoga Barn is one of the best yoga studios in the world. Stepping inside it might be intimidating: everyone seems “yoga-dressed”, “yoga-fit”, “yoga-geared” and “yoga-fed”. Don’t be too impressed though, there are a lot of beginners classes with very good teachers (and yes gentlemen, there are plenty of men so don’t worry). The truth is that for years I have found yoga to be deeply boring and really wondered why people liked it. Now I can say that I finally got it. If you are wondering (which you are probably not) I tried Iyengar, Intro to Vinyasa Flow (with a great teacher called Greg), Intro to Yoga and Pilates (level 1/2 with Gypsy who knows what she is talking about and made me realize I wasn’t actually doing Pilates for the past 2 years… thank you super expensive fitness clubs… ). Of course the Yoga Barn is not the only option as you will find a lot of places offering yoga classes as well as yoga and healing retreats around, but you won’t regret trying this one.
#3 – MASSAGE… MASSAGE… MASSAGE… WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
You will hear every 20 seconds on the streets: “massage?”, “massage?”, “massage?”. You cannot leave Ubud without it. Just take your pick. One VERY good option is to ask your hotel to order you a massage in your room. Simply amazing. I could also recommend you to go to Fresh Spa, a more “Westernized” concept but with the Balinese care and know-how (the foot treatments are great!).
4# – THE FOOD: HEALTHY, TASTEFUL AND IN THE RIGHT QUANTITY
After 2 weeks and a half I realized I hadn’t eaten cheese, had a burger or drank a Coke. I had been drinking mineral water, coconut water and pineapple, watermelon and papaya juices. I ate fresh fruits for breakfast everyday. To my friends and family: I promise I am OK. As for food, all is incredibly tasty and yet healthy and quite light. So if you are going to Bali enjoy some local dishes like the Nasi Goreng, Mie Goreng, Gado Gado… There are so many options in Ubud, but I would really recommend Cinta on Monkey Forest Road. My favorite dish there? Tongseng Sapi Solo (I have eaten that one 4 times… beef in a coconut and Java soy sauce, simple and delicious). To finish the food paragraph here, if you read TripAdvisor hotel reviews you will see that people often complain about the breakfast being too small. I will just leave you with this question: are the portions too small, or are we used to eat too much? I only know that I have learned in 2 weeks to clearly eat better (see? miracles do happen).
GET INSPIRED: YOU CAN ENJOY THE ART… OR YOU CAN LEARN IT. OR BOTH.
In Ubud you can fill your time only by discovering the artistic patrimoine of the city. From the museums (Don Antonio Blanco Museum, Neka Art Museum or Museum Puri Lukisan), the uncountable art galleries, to the Legong demonstrations and omnipresent craftsmanship, art is everywhere. But in Bali art is not only there to be seen, but also to be made. You can actually learn art techniques by taking a batik class, a woodcarving one or even learning how to make silver jewelry. Be aware that you might feel surprisingly inspired. That your true destiny is to become a great fiction writer. But don’t quit your job just yet. You might have another opinion of what you though would be an international masterpiece when you get back in the plane… I did. And I am jobless. Hum.
SURF: ENJOY THE WAVES OR LEARN THE ART OF SURFING IN THE UBER COOL CANGGU & ECHO BEACH (5-7 DAYS)
After leaving New-Zealand’s cold Autumn we were dreaming of going to the beach. And why not learning how to surf? The question was: where? Super-busy-with-tourists Kuta was out of the question. And then, fate did what it had to do. We met this amazing American couple from Aspen while hiking Mount Batur who invited us to Canggu. Only a 15-20 min drive from Kuta this is a true surf town, with real surfers (the cliché is almost ridiculous: everybody is good-looking, has long blond hair and cool tattoos), great food and a nice party scene for those who want one. If you want to learn how to surf take at least 4 to 5 days. We have stayed at The Kirana Hotel Resto & Spa and we really recommend it as it is a very good service for a reasonable price.
CANGGU: THE PERFECT BEACH TO LEARN HOW TO SURF AND TO IMPROVE YOURSELF
You have 2 options here: either you book a lesson with an established surf school, or you try a lesson with local teachers. You will find them at the beginning of the beach in the huts renting the boards for those who already know how to ride a wave. The advantage of booking with them is that you have an individual teacher only for you for 2 hours (350,000 IDR). The disadvantage is that some teachers are not as good as others. If you want a great teacher, ask for Agus. He was my teacher and was absolutely great. He made me stand on my very first wave and was extreeeeemely patient with me. And trust me, when it is your first time surfing, you really want someone patient! Mom, dad, if you are reading these lines: why didn’t you put me in a surf school when I was 6??? We lived in Brazil!!!
Surfing = amazing feeling of freedom + best gym ever + muscular soreness + drinking a lot of salty water.
ECHO BEACH: THE PERFECT SPOT FOR SUNBATHING AND CHECKING OUT PEOPLE WHO REALLY KNOW HOW TO SURF
Canggu is great for surfing but not awesome for bathing or sightseeing (the beach is often dirty – as many beaches in Bali – and there are rocks so you might hurt your feet). I would suggest you to turn right when you are in front of the beach and pass the big rock. You will be walking towards Echo Beach. The walk is really nice and you will be passing through a beautiful temple nested on the coast facing the sea. Once you get to Echo Beach, you will see a much prettier beach, amazing waves for expert surfers, bars with beach beds. It is quite empty, there are no rocks, but there are very strong currents. So watch out.
CANGGU: GREAT FOOD & GREAT BARS
You cannot say you have been to Canggu without having been to Old Man’s. Not because it is the place-to-be (even if it is), but because the Canggu beach scene is there. This huge space set a few meters from the beach has great food, drinks, ice cream, DJ, live music and for the younger ones… Beer Pong. You can actually spend a whole day there. Although everything is really good I would like to give a special mention to the Ceasar Salad which might be the best I have ever had. We have also tried the quesadillas and tacos from Lacalita. Verdict? Approved! If you miss French food, you can enjoy a good bread and pastries in Monsieur Spoon.
SEEING THE SUNSET IN TANAH LOT & HAVING DINNER AT JIMBARAN BAY
From Canggu we went to Tanah Lot to see the famous scene of the sun setting behind the temple. I would suggest you to go up the hill and chose a table in a cafe where you can enjoy the spectacular view. After a couple of Bintangs and a great photo session it is time to head to Jimbaran Bay and get a table facing the sea. It will be a beautiful evening and the seafood is definitely worth the trip. However, be aware that prices are much more expensive than what you are used to in Bali.
HAVE FUN AT GILI TRAWANGAN: A HEAVEN FOR DIVING, SNORKELING, SUNBATHING AND PARTYING (3-4 DAYS)
The first question is: which Gili Island should I choose: Trawangan a.k.a “Gili T” (more infrastructures, bigger party scene), Gili Air (more hippie and with more local character) or Gili Meno (much wilder)? We chose the “Gili T” option with bigger infrastructures (and you can easily do a day trip to Gili Air if needed for 200,000 IDR return). In this island of white-sand beaches, turquoise sea and coral reefs there are 2 regions: the East – a.k.a. Center (next to the market and jetty) – and the North West region. If you are a party fan, you like music and happy hours with your toes in the sand, the East should be your pick (another point is that hotels are cheaper over there). If you want to indulge yourself in a nice hotel with a beautiful swimming pool facing the sea and a calm and romantic scenario this should be your choice. We have picked the calm option and stayed at Wilson’s retreat, a great hotel, completely out of our budget, but soooooo good (we figured that Bali might be the last place in our itinerary where we could almost afford some good comfort). However, keep in mind that it is a 30minutes walk to the city center so you have 3 options for dinner: dine at your hotel restaurant, walk by night to the city center (it can be dark sometimes so use your phone lamp or your fashionable head lamp) or rent a bike (hotels usually have bikes for rent). Please note that there are no motorized taxis in the island. Only horse coaches.
DIVING & SNORKELING IN GILI
Do not leave Gili Trawangan before having tried either diving or snorkeling. Being people traveling around the world (which in Bali we tended to forget…) our “extras” budget is quite limited. We have opted for the surfing instead of the diving. However we had a lot of fun with the snorkeling (which is free in some hotels, otherwise you can rent it for 50,000 IDR) and saw tons of beautiful colored fishes. You almost expect Nemo and Dory popping up to say hello. You might see sea turtles and perhaps even some sharks. The reef is fragile so please don’t be a bad tourist: try not to walk on it, don’t throw anything on the beach and do your part. If you want to learn to dive there is a plethora of schools around the island. Go online and pick your favorite.
WHAT ABOUT THE KUTA-SEMINYAK-LEGIAN AREA?
We have spent only 1 day / 1 night there and we have no regrets of staying that short of a time. This conurbation could be described as a sort of Indonesian Disneyland beach resort for tourists looking for a place under the sun where they will get great value for their money. Despite their closeness there are some difference between them. Kuta is the crowded “trashy” party scene where novice surfers can learn a few tricks. Seminyak is the chic part of the costal conurbation with good shopping and beautiful restaurants. Legian is a good mix between the two. So if you want to find a steady touristic infrastructure, good food, shopping, surfing and partying this is the place to go.
TOP THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO BALI: SOME FRIENDLY TIPS
ALTHOUGH YOU MIGHT WANT TO STAY YOU WILL BE NEEDING A RETURN TICKET… Indonesian government asks you to have a return ticket. If you are travelling around the world, or around South-East Asia make sure you have a ticket that gets you out of the country. Perhaps your airline will not ask for one, but in Auckland (Virgin Australia) we could not check-in without a ticket out of Bali.
VISA: CARRY US DOLLARS WITH YOU TO AVOID LINING UP TWICE. Friendly reminder: do not forget to check if you need a visa according to your nationality. If you can get a visa at the airport try to carry with you 35USD in cash per person. That way you do not need to take cash from a local cash point and you will get out of the airport faster. We all like to leave any airport as quickly as possible.
TAXI: YOUR CHALLENGE IS TO FIND A CAB WITH A TAXI METER. As soon as you step out of the arrival gate you will see dozens of people approaching you asking if you need a “taxi, taaaaxi”. If you want to make sure to get a cab that actually has a taxi meter, I would suggest you to take the elevator up to the departures level and wait for a blue cab from Blue Bird Group dropping someone there (don’t ask me why but apparently they do not pick you up from the airport). To go to Seminyak we have paid 70,000 IDR (it might be more according to the intense traffic jams).
ALWAYS NEGOTIATE. Settle the price before doing anything: taxi, day trips, etc… You will also hear traders telling you: “you can bargain”. So do. But also be a reasonable tourist. Think how much you do have and how much you are trying to gain from them.
WATCH OUT WHEN RENTING A SCOOTER. Scooters are part of the Balinese traveling experience. However be smart, you are not used to their way of driving, and don’t feel too much confident by not using a helmet. The proof? Count the number of tourists with bandages and clutches around you. We did rent one, we loved it, but we were very careful.
I hope this article was helpful and if you are going to Bali a small question: how large is your suitcase? I am only 1,58m and I am sure I can fit in it!
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