You probably know by now that I’ve got a thing for adventure and make a major life move every few years. This time, I quit my banking job and took off for Asia on a one-way ticket. My first stop was Bali, Indonesia. Yes, the same gorgeous island where Eat, Pray, Love‘s Liz Gilbert found herself and a sexy Brazilian man. I didn’t come here looking for either of those things. I came to chill in a tropical paradise with a staggeringly unique culture and live like a king on a backpacker budget. Here’s how to do Bali right the first time – all tips & tricks have been tried by yours truly. (Skip to end of the page for some quick FAQ)
After a 40-hour long flight with a few close calls, my travel buddy Evan and I landed in Denpasar. We saw Uluwatu, Canggu, Seminyak and Ubud in that order. I decided to go for the shock right off the bat, so we dove into the island’s southern-most point – Uluwatu.
Dirty, tight roads, jungle, mad traffic, sweet scent of sandalwood and grilled meat in the air – welcome to the south of Bali. It’s hot and super humid (as is the rest of Bali in May), and stepping out of your taksi will make you feel like you’re melting right on to the pavement. Scooters wooshing an inch away from your elbows as you hold on for dear life is both terrifying and thrilling at the same time. I never got a driver’s license, so after obtaining a bike for $6 for the day, I threw the keys into Evan’s lap and said “let’s go.”
Uluwatu is a charming chaos.
Now famous as an international surf mecca, the area used to be a remote fishing village, “remote” being a spot-on description. Waking up to the sound of roosters and a blood red sunset at 5:30 am feels like you’ve been dropped off at the edge of the world for a survival-type reality show. The humid air breathes heavily on your skin, full of the scent of rose, incense and a few other pleasant yet distinct smells that you wouldn’t recognize as a first-timer. And that’s totally fine. Embrace the smell of charcoal and grilled pork, don’t be afraid to jog up and down the steep hills and don’t worry about the barking dogs – they may follow for a few feet but they’ll leave you alone soon. After all, they are just as laid-back as the general vibe here. Get up early in Uluwatu for some peace and quiet and to beat the crowd at Pura Luhur (Uluwatu Temple).
Descending the steep steps to the crevasse between Uluwatu surf villas and the vast ocean just as the sun rises, you’ll find yourself in the company of a sole surfer, eager to tame the early waves. Hungry? Take your time at brunch at Nirmala Bakery and melt into the cozy chair as you jet off to nirvana with a glass of honey iced coffee and a plate of pancakes topped with fresh fruit and ice cream.
Hop on your scooter and head up towards Jimbaran in the evening. A myriad of tiny warungs line the road on both sides, so your only problem would be choosing where to eat. Bring cash and order what mom’s serving. Chances are, it will involve the famous nasi goreng (fried rice) with some type of meat and spices. Must see’s here are the Uluwatu temple, Uluwatu beach and then traditional Balinese dance at the Garuda Wisnu Cultural Center, offering a genuine peak into the islands folklore. If you don’t like being surrounded by many tourists, this is your spot.
Where I slept: The Hill Ungasan House – it was decent, but I wouldn’t repeat it. I booked through Agoda, $10 per night on a sale for 2 nights. Bathroom wasn’t good and the bed was hard as fuq. The Wifi worked some of the time, generally spotty. There was a cool sitting area and a pool outside and 24 hour reception service.
Where I ate: Nirmala Bakery – get the honey iced coffee!
Kat’s Kitchen – good Thai food, nice restaurant atmosphere.
Warungs along the road.
Residential, clean, hip. Right after Uluwatu, Canggu (pronounced Chan-gu) will seem like a fancy resort. Boasting an impressive number of spas, Canggu has a strong vacation vibe to it. You’ll see “healthy” eateries around, including the massively popular Cafe Organic and Nalu Bowls, as well as tanned surf gods warung-hopping at Echo beach. Unlike Uluwatu beach with its top notch waves and scarce land, the black sand Echo has a large sand strip, making it ideal for tanning and relaxing. You can rent a chair and umbrella (for 25K) or bring your own towel and splash around all day. Chairs are free after 5pm, so grab a beer and lounge. Hang around for the sunset if you want some outrageous Insta shots. The beach gets bumpin’ after sunset, too – it’s a chill party vibe, great for meeting fellow travelers and eating fried fish.
Catch of the day – the beach is vacation fun for some and a source of living for others. 🎏 • • • #natgeoyourshot #canggu #bali #beach #sunset #travelblogger #bbg #photography #healthy #outdoorliving #indonesia #adventurista #indonesiantraveler #thebalibible #cannon #wanderlust #viajar #vscotravel #fitness #letsgoeverywhere #travelstoke #surf #gadventures #natgeoyourshot #asia #explore #girlslovetravel #lonelyplanet #indonesiantraveler #natgeotraveller #adventure #theplaidzebra
You’ll see many Westerners walking and jogging around here, going against the scooter monopoly. (Me to Evan: “I will not be bullied into riding a scooter, I’m telling you!”) You can stay at a high-end villa, but if you’re on a backpacker budget like me, go for Air Bnb. I stayed at a local family’s vila about a half a mile away from Echo beach, who was incredibly friendly and rented us their scooter cheaper. Head over to Tanah Lot and hop from rock to rock, as you watch the sun set down on the floating temple. Don’t bother waiting in the line for the “holy spring,” it’s not worth it.
Tanah Lot sunset 🌗 • • #adventure #canggu #bali #tanahlot #travelblogger #bbg #photography #healthy #outdoorliving #indonesia #adventurista #photography #wanderlust #viajar #vscotravel #discoveryourworld #fitness #letsgoeverywhere #travelstoke #surf #goodmorning #thebalibible #asia #explore #dametraveler #girlslovetravel #lonelyplanet #natgeoyourshot #theplaidzebra #indonesiantraveler #traveletting
At dinner head over to Warung Bu Mi – a small family-run shack of 5 long tables and a buffet with a wide assortment of local Indonesian delicacies. I ate there 3 times in the span of 24 hours, it was that good. Before leaving Canggu, make sure to spoil yourself a little with an hour-long Balinese massage at Happyness spa, on the way to Echo beach, where an incredibly invigorating full-body run would cost you only $8 USD. I immediately vibed with Canggu, so Evan and I ended up coming back here for the remainder of our 2 weeks on the island.
Where I slept: Vila Lima, Jl. Nelayan – cozy, quiet and clean. Great hosts.
Vila D’Natah – I could live here. Super high ceiling, air conditioned, outdoor shower with hot water, indoor kitchen and a nice backyard. Definitely a winner.
Where I ate: Warung Bu Mi – buffet style, a ton of options from vegetables to chicken liver, fresh fish, tofu, tempeh, nasi goreng (obviously), noodles and satay. This place is always full of frequent customers, because it’s really good, but if you give it a few minutes a table will clear up, so you can sit down. They also do takeout.
Monsieur Spoon – French-style bakery with many healthy options and good coffee (mmm, salmon and creme cheese toast)
What $4.05USD buys in Bali. I'm getting spoiled with these delicious brunches 🍳 • • #brunch #bbg #bali #cleaneating #healthyeats #breakfast #menwithcuisines #natural #wholefoods #buzzfeast #eatclean #wellness #plantbased #flatlay #eatwell #glutenfree #dairyfree #vegan #toast #teamself #eeeeeats #organic #beautifulhealth #beautifulcuisines #feedfeed #f52grams #running #foodie #foodporn #coffee
Love Anchor – great pizza.
Nalu Bowls – get ’em after your morning run. The Teahupoo is super popular and deemed “cleansing,” because it has spinach and ginger. I didn’t care too much about that, I just woofed it down because it was delicious.
Seminyak – or “spa” central is where local hustlers offer anything from massage to pedicure and pirate ship kites around every corner, prices much higher than other regions. The tiny food warungs on the side of the street are replaced by “fancy” clothing and jewelry shops as well as overpriced restaurants. The hectic traffic is now coordinated not by drivers’ common sense, but by street police with whistles around their necks. Speaking of traffic, there is a clear main street, and two sidewalks, making Seminyak suitable for the wheel-less visitor. The hustle and bustle of the area is perfect for city rats, contrasting the serenity of the ocean or the rice fields. Unlike Canggu’s predominantly young, beach bum vibe, Seminyak is where older Speedo-rocking gentlemen spend their vacation, shelling out for Bintang three times as expensive as normally in all-inclusive posh hotels, rolling their eyes when the beach bar Dj blasts Tiesto at sunset. Overall, Seminyak is a big tourist trap to me. If you’re a traveler as opposed to a tourist looking to lazy it up, you’ll be disappointed here. How’s Seminyak beach? Eh. It’s nestled with bars and tourists. It’s good for tanning and drinking. Here’s my blunt verdict on this spot: don’t go. If you want to see it, hop on a bike from Canggu and make it a day trip.
Where I slept: Oh, God, you don’t even want to know. It was an Air Bnb house right across from the Sacred Ground coffee shop, listed as “rustic” and “charming.” Unfortunately, it was neither. It was an old house with no towels, deplorable bathroom, dirty, torn sheets and super buggy. I woke up there with a rash and hurried out. Not even the Wifi worked. The only good thing about it was that it was a 4-minute walk from the beach.
Where I ate: Sacred Ground coffee shop – honestly, brunch at this spot made my entire stay in Seminyak somewhat enjoyable. They have good coffee and awesome Untu (green coconut crepes).
Travel isn't all fun and games. I'm gonna be straight with you and admit that I felt very sick this morning, turned out it was all dehydration, so as soon as I chugged a giant bottle of 💧, I rewarded myself with delicious UNTU – fluffy coconut & suji leaf crêpes and kopi (Balinese coffee). All is right in the world again ☕️ @sacredgroundbali is definitely the move in Seminyak. • • • #crepes #coffee #seminyak #bali #beach #travelblogger #bbg #fittravel #fit #indonesia #photography #acaibowls #wanderlust #viajar #vscotravel #discoveryourworld #fitness #letsgoeverywhere #travelstoke #surf #vegan #instagood #healthy #asia #explore #foodie #girlslovetravel #foodporn #brunch #eatmoreplants
Away from the beaches and deep into the rice fields of the island, Ubud is the charming town you lusted after in Eat, Pray, Love. Check out Ubud market for some local swag and don’t be shy to negotiate prices. Here’s how:
You: How much for this dress?Lady: 200,000 Rupiah.
Ubud Market has some cool little souvenirs, but looks like it’s on its way to becoming a major tourist trap, so don’t worry if you don’t buy any “antiques” there. You’d be able to find the same things along the road throughout the island. Bargaining comes in handy though. Ubud is more expensive than both Uluwatu and Canggu, because it’s super popular with tourists. Don’t be an idiot and pay 10,000 Rupiah for a bottle of water. Get them to accept 5,000 or leave. Before coming to Ubud, I had read that this was where Bali’s “heartbeat” could really be felt, so expectations were set high. The monkey forest sure is a lush and whimsical sight (do not walk in with any sort of food unless you’re up for a 30-second battle with a ferocious chimp) as are the quiet, precisely irrigated rice terraces of Tegallalang.
TheTegenungan waterfall about 5miles out of the village is a real treat, so go for those experiences as opposed to the spa services you get offered 14 times in the span of 5 minutes. There’s plenty of foreigners here, many of who actually live in the area, and have fully embraced the hair au naturelle, beads and bare feet existence. “Trip Advisor rated” stickers grace doors and windows of local eateries and are regarded as highly as Michelin stars in the west.
I like the Balinese way 😛 • • #adventure #ubud #bali #travelblogger #bbg #stoketravel #healthy #indonesia #adventurista #photography #wanderlust #viajar #discoveryourworld #fitness #letsgoeverywhere #travelstoke #thebalibible #asia #explore #dametraveler #girlslovetravel #lonelyplanet #wearetravelgirls #indonesiantraveler #traveletting #beautifuldestinations #timeoutsociety #earthporn #travelgram #places_wow
Coffee in the heart of Ubud ☕️ • • #adventure #ubud #bali #travelblogger #bbg #yoga #healthy #outdoorliving #indonesia #adventurista #photography #wanderlust #viajar #vscotravel #fitness #letsgoeverywhere #travelstoke #surf #thebalibible #asia #explore #dametraveler #girlslovetravel #lonelyplanet #wearetravelgirls #indonesiantraveler #traveletting #places_wow #travelgram #laikatravel
TIPS + FAQ
*If you’re new to AirBnb, send me a message/comment below with your name + e-mail and I’ll send you my coupon code for a discount (you may even get a whole night free)
I asked a local and she explained that these are little offerings residents put out for the gods. They vary in size and design, but normally have flower, rice, candy, incense and a cigarette. Try not to step on them, it’s disrespectful.
Laundry – there are laundry shops on every street, normally open 9-6pm. Some measure clothes by kilogram, while others count items. I got ripped off in Ubud, paying 65K, while in Canggu it was 22K. You can negotiate here. I’d say 10K for 1 kilo is pretty good.
Scooters – Rental prices vary from 50K to 70K. It’s worth it to get a better scooter for 60K than an old one for 50. Safety first. Make sure to wear your helmet. By the way, traffic is the opposite of Europe and North America here. You’ll be driving in the “wrong” lane.
Exercise – swimming/surfing are the obvious options. I can’t do either, so I jog. It’s best to go super early in the morning (6am) to avoid traffic. Jogging is not a thing for the locals, so be very careful and make sure to drink a ton of water after to stay hydrated. There’s no particular tracks or trails, so pick a street and follow along.
Pharmacies (Apotik) – yes, they are around (usually in more concentrated areas) and are pretty sufficiently stocked at Western prices (a bit cheaper maybe).
Travel partners – if a boy and a girl travel together, they’d be asked if they’re married a lot. Just go with it. It’s cool both ways.
Religion – while Indonesia is Muslim, the island of Bali Hindu en large.
Monkeys/dogs/bugs – monkeys are cute but vicious and steal, so don’t get too close or you may get bitten. Dogs sleep on the road, try not to step on them. Mosquitoes are abundant. Do wear protective spray.
Temples – are everywhere; kind of charming actually. If you lived on an island and a disaster struck, you’d be utterly f*cked, so believing in a higher power is helpful, don’t you think?
Why do the locals wear long sleeve and pants in a 90 degree (35C) weather? – those are made of fabrics that keep them cool. They wear gloves, too.
What to drink? – Bintang. Bottled. That’s the local beer, which comes in regular or Radler (lemon flavor).
What to eat? – anything you see an older lady cooking. Nasi goreng (fried rice) is THE specialty and so is babi guling (sucking pig).
Are the Balinese friendly? – yes, extremely.
Is it safe for solo female traveler? – yes.
Is it expensive? – unless you’re ballin’ out at a 5-star resort, no. The flight is the most expensive part. You can get a meal for $3 USD, laundry done for $2, motorbike for $5 a day, water for $0,48, massage for $6.
When should I go? – there’s 2 seasons: dry – April/May-September and wet – September-April.
Is it accommodating for smokers? – yes, very.
Is there Netflix on Bali? – no. Go play outside.
Are there vegetarian options? – plenty.
Thank you – Terimah Kasih (three-ma ka-seeh)
How to address a woman – ibu/bu (ee-boo) Literally means “mom.”
How to address a man – bapak/pak (ba-pack) Literally means “dad.”
Yes – ya
No – tidak (tee-dack)
*If you care to learn more,go to this link for free lessons http://learningindonesian.com
WHAT TO PACK
Jack Wolfskin backpack – sterdy and comfortable
North Face backpack – same^
Here’s list of what I ended up using for 2 and a half weeks:
2 pairs of bathing suits (got them at Zaful for $10 each – that’s top AND bottom)
1 pair of shorts
2 pairs of running shorts
Teva athletic sandals (good for all terrain – grass, rocks, mud; I went into the waterfall with them)
Off! mosquito spray
These are the products I travel with. I get no commission for recommending them. They work – plain and simple.
Clean and Clear face wash
Moroccan oil Sea salt Spray,
Kerastase travel size shampoo
Maybelline tinted moisturizer
Bobbi Brown lipstick and concealer
Anastasia eyebrow tint