This summer we made a decision. A spontaneous decision to visit one of my most longed for destinations half the world away. A place where sun and sea meet lush mountains and lengthy rivers and the harmony-filled jungle haze intersperses with horn crescendos from the city streets. 10 days in Bali were never going to be enough to satisfy closing a whole travel chapter, but they were certainly the perfect place to begin writing a new page.
We travelled at the end of June and returned mid-July. A flurry of initial excitement was followed by the reality of actually having to take those flights that far which was soon replaced by sheer joy and a huge sense of accomplishment on my part after achieving a pain (and panic) free travel experience. Technically, we were away for 13 days but two and a bit of those were spent travelling and any other extra hours were spent in a sleep deprived haze. Let’s call it 10 and proceed.
First things first, getting there. Coming from London meant we would be subjected to a minimum of 17 hours of travel which we chose to break up via stops in Doha each time. Now outbound we had a leisurely 10-hour layover and having missed out on the free city tours offered by Qatar Airways, we spent the majority of our time blissfully wiling the hours away at Hamad airport’s very own spa. Yes, they have a spa and yes it’s the best $40 you can spend within otherwise uninspiring (yet very shiny) confines. Gazing down at the gates from above, we swam, slept, worked out (not me) and enjoyed spa treatments (definitely me) until it was time to leave. Not only did it make for some of the swankiest time I’ve ever spent in an airport, it also enabled us to feel rejuvenated before our next night flight into Bali.
Ubud and surrounds
The first of our 10 days in Bali were spent in Ubud, the spiritual centre of the island that’s as full of raw food cafes and yoga studios as it is gelato shops and market stalls. Armed with bug spray and my new favourite travel companion, Felicia the Flamingo, we checked in to our base – the Payogan Villa Resort and Spa. It was, in fact, such a completely wonderful base that I’ll be writing a separate blog post about it in due course. In summary, a secluded villa with unspoilt jungle views complete with private pool and first class service. I fear no other hotels rooms will ever compare.
As this was our first time in not only Indonesia but Asia, we spent as much time soaking in the surroundings and embracing the culture as we could. Temples and ornate carvings lined the roads while women created dainty, daily offerings. The incense was rife and the coffee strong. Dogs roamed free and particularly skinny chickens cross roads with little inclination for revealing why. Litter is an issue, as is street maintenance and we spend our car journeys wondering what exactly, if anything, the Balinese driving test consists of. This aside, the radiation of warmth from not only the sun but also the residents is felt island wide and there’s a real sense that tourism is taking the opportunities for life on Bali to whole new heights.
A staple of any visit to Ubud is the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary; a place where primates meet prime photo opportunities in amongst the expansive forest. There’s a whole Monkey Forest post coming soon but for now, let it be said that it’s an unmissable opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the locals.
While in Ubud, spend some time swinging the rain(forest) at Bali Swing – an attraction that takes you high above the jungle and sends you positively soaring and flying through life. Part with more money than you’ve probably spent in Bali so far ($20 when we went although they seem to have added new package options since) and enjoy sampling their swings of varying heights and safety requirements. This is one I found on Instagram (sue me) and it was such a highlight of the trip. Yes, it’s for the tourists but it is absolutely worth it. I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole time we were there. Watch the river rafts float downstream below and try not to squeal as you get pushed off the edge on the “big” swing. There’s no need to book, it’s easily searchable on Google Maps and all the drivers will be able to escort you. Like most places in Bali, travel via car is the only way to get there and you can expect to spend up to a couple of hours on site, depending on the crowds, taking it all in.
Following a morning in the air, it was time for our feet to firmly hit the ground as we walked along the Campuhan Ridge. Taking in the sights of the Ubud countryside, the paved path winds alongside forests and rice paddies, passing through small villages and trailing alongside locals going about their daily routine. It’s a beautiful walk that begins just outside of the Ubud centre and carries on for around 3km. I think we ended up walking further into the villages without realising but either way it’s a perfect, free way to spend a few hours. Just be aware that it gets very hot in summer and is exposed most of the way.
When we weren’t floating around the pool and befriending lizards, we filled the rest of our time in Ubud with some of our favourite things; eating, shopping and exercise. We spent a day learning how to cook the Balinese way with Paon Bali (full blog to follow) before taking in the sights and sounds of the markets. Renowned for art, the Ubud Markets make for a bustling epicentre to the town. Vendors are eager to gain your interest and haggling is essential with many a bargain to be had as a reward for persistence. A tip we had from the cooking guide was to ask for the “local, morning price” when buying fresh produce. Evidently, unbeknown to us, come midday the “tourist, afternoon” prices kick in. You can buy coffee beans much cheaper than in supermarkets and the spice selection is definitely worth exploring. We found peanut sauce cubes (simply add hot water to the cube to create a perfect, peanutty paste) to be a great investment and will be very sad to see the end of our stash deplete now we’re home. I was also enamoured by all the bamboo/coconut they utilise to make things such as kitchen utensils and straws so naturally, they found their way into the suitcase as well.
Whether you’re a yoga expert or simply full of intrigue, no trip to Bali is complete without at least one practice. We joined one of the drop-in classes at The Yoga Barn – the most magical hideaway, just off one of the main streets in Ubud. The whole experience was one of complete calm and joy. On our way down to find the studio we passed people meditating under trees and groups happily sipping on health drinks (not a Bintang in sight here) at the cafe. Fresh flower petals adorned the floor welcoming new students and the impressive use of natural materials seamlessly blended the outside world with the studios within. We took a general/beginners class with a teacher who had the most soothing Canadian accent and thoroughly enjoyed our 90-minute experience. I had taken infrequent yoga classes before but it was Tom’s first time and he loved it, much to my delight/desire for a yogi buddy.
Joyously, the Bali food and drink scene could rival that of any major city and the evident Australian influence in not only style but substance means they take all things edible seriously. From vegan and raw food to fresh fish and local cuisine, there’s truly something for everyone. Within Ubud centre, our favourites were boutique feeling Watercress (where I ate an incredible Mahi Mahi burger filled to the brim with tempting toppings), Laughing Buddha Bar (for live music and drinks), the rustic Tukies Coconut Shop (for creamy coconut ice cream and fresh juices) and the relaxed yet chic Clear Cafe (just the best, fresh food and one of those vegetarian menus I now refer back to when looking for something to cook. Their mylk shakes are a must). Lest us forget that everything in Bali is so wonderfully cheap. Good meals out, with multiple courses (obviously) for two with drinks, would seldom cost more than £20. Eat all the foods. It’s a requirement.
Slightly out of town but perfect for post-Campuhan Ridge walk lies Cafe Pomegranate which currently ranks as one of my favourite restaurants worldwide. Walk off the beaten track along the path into the rice fields, leave your shoes at the door and lose your mind to the view. The food is delicious (I initially felt terrible ordering a pizza but I’m so glad I did. Who knew I’d find one quite so good in the middle of an Ubud field?) and the homemade Sangria is something I would pay large amounts of money to have shipped over to me. It’s not a fancy place, but the ambience was so blissfully Bali and the setting so unique to the island that it made for that real “umami” dining experience that leaves you with the fondest of memories. A must visit.
Nusa Dua and The South
When the time finally came to bid farewell to the jungle and all the charm, ease and zen-like calm that went with it, we made the hour-long drive south to our next port of call, Hotel Ayodya in Nusa Dua; the immaculate, gated beachside resort that couldn’t be further from the rustic realms of Ubud and the North. With direct access to a selection of swimming pools and its own private beach and bars, The Ayodya encapsulated the best of Indonesian beach life with all the perks of a luxury hotel experience. There was no shortage of beach bean bags to choose from or waiters to tend to any (frequent) snack needs. Hotel-run street food style carts pitch up alongside the beach and fresh, young coconuts are served from a boat on shore. Tropical living has never tasted so good. With breakfast included and positively overflowing with options, going hungry was never going to be an issue and I’m pleased to report the thirsty among us are catered for too with a daily happy hour and an impressive selection of cocktails. Genuinely still dreaming of the mojitos which were unlike any I’ve ever tasted and the passion fruit foam concoction that was blissfully sipped under a blanket of fairy lights and star-dotted sky. With frequent events including full moon parties (arguably of the more civilised variety) and live entertainment, the Ayodya makes for a very enjoyable beach-side base.
The location of Nusa Dua makes it ideal for exploration of the southern part of the island so we hired a driver and did exactly that. In the 10 hours we had booked our willing chauffeur for, we ventured to Pandawa Beach which certainly has a more local feel than many of Bali’s beaches before heading to explore Uluwatu. Initially, we were just heading to the temple but we noticed the beach below the cliffs had great reviews so made a stop off there. You know how sometimes it’s the unplanned decisions that lead to the best experiences? This was one of those. I absolutely fell in love with Uluwatu Beach. From the surf shacks and bars that tower over the shoreline to the expansive waves and rock formations below. An absolute must visit, there really was no better way to spend an afternoon than with a Bintang firmly in hand as legs dangled over the edge of the rooftop surroundings. Food is plentiful and our experience at Cafe Suryan was a great one; they served one of the best Vegetable Gado Gados I had throughout my time in Bali. Uluwatu Temple didn’t quite provide the sunset we were longing for but despite the rain, we had a wonderful time watching the traditional Kecak Dance at the amphitheatre high above the sea. A spectacular location for a spectacular event.
The next day trip we did was to Seminyak – the beach chic location that’s home to boutique shops and bustling cafes by day and an abundance of atmospheric restaurants and bars by night. I wish we could have spent more time here to really explore but I loved the places we did get to frequent during our day of Seminyak fun.
Starting in blogger favourite Cafe Organic, we worked our way through the menu that’s as pleasing aesthetically as it is to the palate before wandering the streets and eventually ending up in Potato Head Beach Club. Here we had an afternoon/evening of luxury aboard our own private beach bed, dipping in and out of the beach-side infinity pool and ordering a cocktail or two here and there. It felt so opulent (and granted, probably isn’t one for a tight budget) but again, that blissful Bali exchange rate comes on in and reminds you of all that’s good in the world. We finished the night at Motel Mexicola – a beautifully decorated Seminyak institution which serves amazing food and provides plenty of music to dance the night away. Close your eyes and you could be in a Walkabout bar. Open them and you’re quickly reminded that this is, in fact, the real tropical, Australian-filled deal. A fun night definitely worth venturing out for.
To finish off the Bali break in style, our last day was spent rafting down the Telaga Waja River with Bukit Cilli Rafting – an excellent, safe and affordable choice when it comes to the many companies to choose from. This was the perfect way to get back in amongst the Indonesian nature and although the rafting was definitely rockier than any we’ve done before (Slovenia suddenly looked like a swimming pool in comparison) it was still doable and completely enjoyable for non-experts.
From here we headed to Kuta for one reason and one reason only– to release baby sea turtles. You’ll have to wait for the full write up of this but believe me when I say there couldn’t have been a more magical way to bring the first Bali adventure to a close.
Itinerary and thoughts
I truly loved Bali. The rise in tourism is noticeable but with that, the standards are changing and luxury living is ridiculously affordable for Western travellers. Transport is a downside; taxis are an essential mode of transport and services such as Uber are available, but really disliked by locals, especially in Ubud. Bali’s own answer to Uber is BlueBird (download their app, it’s really useful) but beware of fake imitations in places like Seminyak and Kuta. Unfortunately, the taxi mafia is real and as a tourist, frustratingly there isn’t much you can do. Research prices as best you can before agreeing to a fare and don’t be afraid to walk away and try another driver. Don’t book taxis through hotels where possible as they will again over charge you. Getting around in metred cabs using apps is definitely doable in the South, it just requires a little persistence and discretion.
Another thing to note is that all drivers will try and take you to coffee plantations, ours did this as we arrived before I had even realised what was happening. The regular coffee itself is fine, great in fact, but I would implore everyone to research Luwak Coffee and form educated options before supporting the trade and purchasing any product from the farms.
One more downside to this part of the world is the infamous Bali Belly which I, unfortunately, felt the wrath of. You can be as careful as possible with your food choices and still succumb but be extra wary of buffet foods and salads. I have no idea where mine was picked up from but I know that I would never like to experience it again thanks very much.
As a final thought for this not so concise roundup, here’s some inspiration itinerary wise (excluding travel days). In retrospect, I would have added an extra day in Seminyak and/or Canggu but unfortunately afore mentioned Bali Belly took over and in fairness, there are worse places to be stuck than a lovely beach hotel. With an extra few days, I definitely would have headed to the Gillis but for now that classic phrase “always leave them wanting more” rings true and they remain at the top of my list for the next visit.
Day One Monkey Forest, exploring Ubud, Dinner at Watercress, Drinks at Laughing Buddha
Day Two Bali Swing, Campuhan Ridge Walk & Rice Paddies, Cafe Pomegranate, Massage
Day Three Cooking Class, Ubud Markets
Day Four Pool time, Yoga Barn, Dinner at Clear Cafe
Day Five Travel to Nusa Dua
Day Six Nusa Dua Beach, Nusa Dua Collection
Day Seven Beach/pool
Day Eight Pandawa Beach, Uluwatu Beach, Uluwatu Cafes/Shops, Uluwatu Temple & Kacak Dance
Day Nine Seminyak (Cafe Organic, Potato Head Beach Club, Motel Mexicola)
Day Ten Rafting on Telaga Waja River, Kuta Beach for Sea Turtle release and sunset
I really hope this post provides inspiration for future trips. I know I was so thankful for bloggers and their experiences when having to quickly research our visit as best as I could before leaving. I’ll be getting all the in depth posts live over the coming weeks so please keep checking back if you’re looking for those.
Bali is definitely somewhere I’m already longing to go back to and I’d love to hear about any of your hints and tips for future visits. As an ever expanding island, I’m excited to see where the future takes it. I sincerely hope it remains true to its core while still allowing for visitors to come away feeling as rejuvenated and inspired as I know we did.
Eat, pray, love indeed.