- Ubud Accommodation: Gayatri Bungalows 2 (250,000 rupiah/night fan only, private bathroom). Gayatri is centrally located (right off Monkey Forest Rd), quiet, has free wifi, has beautiful grounds (even a swimming pool!) but I thought it was a little overpriced even for Bali. The room was quite dark and the bathroom was a bit dank, but I still recommend it given all the other positives. Also I think every room there is very different so maybe we just got shafted and the other ones are nicer. Ask for Asti at reception, she’s really nice and can help you book things.
- Bukit Accommodation: Padang Padang Inn (150,000 rupiah/night fan only, private bathroom). Padang Padang Inn is about a 5 minute walk from Padang Padang beach. I think it’s technically located in Pecatu. There are a couple of restaurants within walking distance otherwise you need to rent a motorbike to get to other beaches and restaurants (but this is the case for virtually all the lodging in the bukit). The rooms are very simple but clean. The only downside was the lack of a sink in the bathroom; it was kind of gross having to spit into the shower drain to brush your teeth! But at least it was inexpensive.
- Restaurants: Keep in mind that Bali is much more expensive than the rest of Indonesia.
- Ubud – Three Monkeys: Good pizza and patio looks out over a rice field, very pretty
- Ubud – Nomad: Fresh indo/asian fare, really good chicken satay and fruit salads
- Bukit – Single Fin: Awesome views over Uluwatu, great place to get a drink and watch the amazing sunsets!
- Bukit – YeYe’s Warung (a warung is an Indonesian café): 10 min walk from Padang Padang Inn (walk past Padang Padang Beach going towards Uluwatu), good indo/asian fare and half the price of meals we got in Ubud
- Bukit – Sunset Grill: Pizza place right next to our inn, convenient and good pizza but overpriced, also don’t let them convince you to order their margaritas, they aren’t good – stick to Bintang!
- Bukit – Mango Tree Café: A great breakfast café across the street from our inn, good pancakes, coffee and free wifi (the password is cheesecake, I remember this because when I asked the waiter for the wifi password he said cheesecake 10 times but his accent was so heavy that I had no idea what he was saying. Finally he had to bring a menu over and point to a picture of a cheesecake, I felt so bad!)
- Jimbaran – Café Bagus: one of the BBQ seafood restaurants on the beach, located close to the intercontinental hotel, great food and reasonably priced for Bali ($15 each for a huge seafood combo and beers), plus it’s good people watching and has great sunset views
Bali was a great place to start our trip. It’s tropical, exotic, beautiful, yet it still has some western amenities to ease you into SEA backpacking life. Plus the weather felt amazing coming out of a cold New England winter! Of course there is a very touristy and trashy side to Bali, particularly the Kuta area, but as long as you stay away from those then I’m sure you will love Bali just as much as we did. We took a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Denpasar, Bali that took about 4 hours. When we arrived at the airport it was crowded and the immigration line was really long. First we had to get our visas on arrival, which gives you a single entry 30-day tourist visa for Indonesia. It cost $20 USD payable in many currencies. As we were waiting in line to go through immigration there was a huge poster that said, “Drug smuggling is punishable by execution”, which was a little scary and reminded me of Brokedown Palace. Not that I planned on smuggling in drugs but it was just a reminder to always remain vigilant with your belongings!
Anyways, as soon as we collected our bags we took a pre-paid taxi from the airport to Ubud. I think we got a little ripped off because they charged us 250,000 rupiah, which seemed like a lot but it is over an hour drive so I didn’t know any better. The taxi dropped us off at Gayatri Bungalows 2 where we decided to spend a few nights while exploring Ubud. We decided to go to Ubud first, and then head south to the surfing beaches after a couple of days. Ubud is the artistic and cultural center of Bali, and although it definitely has a lot of tourists, it still manages to retain its local charm. We did some great hikes among the beautiful rice paddies outside of town. The most well known walk is the Campuhan Ridge Walk (which is pretty difficult to find, the entrance is near the Ipeh hotel, stop into the tourist information center at the corner of Monkey Forest Rd & Raya Ubud Rd to get a map). However, we preferred a walk among the rice terraces that began before the Campuhan walk, although I couldn’t begin to explain how we found it considering none of the side roads have names. I’m sure if you just go off exploring outside of town you’ll stumble upon some pretty amazing views on your own. Even after having been to Sapa in Vietnam and Inle Lake in Burma I still think Bali has some of the most beautiful rice paddies in the world.
One night we went to a famous traditional Balinese dance performance at the Ubud Palace (80,000 rupiah/each). They were performing a Legong dance that night and the costumes were amazing. It was a bit long and confusing (especially the part when a person dressed as a monkey crawled on the stage while cackling for a solid 15 minutes, I’m pretty sure nobody in the audience had any idea what was going on). It was pretty entertaining nonetheless. We also went to the Monkey Forest one afternoon, which is a large monkey sanctuary in Ubud. It was here that I realized how much I dislike monkeys, at least these kinds of monkeys. They were disgusting, dirty and so aggressive. At one point I whispered to Rosie not to make eye contact with them so they would let us pass. They were jumping on people, stealing their sunglasses, climbing up their legs, being little terrors. Of course this is partially certain tourists’ fault who think it’s cute to feed them bananas. After spending 20 minutes trying to pass these little devils on the walkways, we had enough and decided to leave.
After spending 2 days/3 nights in Ubud, we took a taxi to the Padang Padang Inn in the Bukit area of Bali, which is on the peninsula south of the airport that has a lot of beautiful surfing beaches and is less developed than its neighbors to the north. I should mention that we didn’t book either Gayatri or PP Inn ahead of time, we just showed up and they fortunately both had availability, in fact neither seemed full. I’m sure that also has to do with the fact that we were there in the off-season. One of the guys at PP Inn told us that April begins the high season because that’s when the surfers come into town for the big swells.
Anyways, if you stay in this area of Bali it’s basically imperative to rent a motorbike because nothing is within walking distance and taxis are so expensive and it’s rare you’ll even see one. You can rent motorbikes from most guesthouses/hotels; a 12 hour rental at PP Inn was 50,000 rupiah. We decided to just rent one motorbike, I drove and Rosie sat on the back. I’d never driven a motorbike before but I figured how hard could it really be? In retrospect, Asia is probably the worst place in the world to learn how to ride a motorbike, with the lack of traffic rules and paved roads, but we’re still alive so I consider that a success! They never even asked me if I had driven a motorbike before. They simply handed me the keys (no deposit) and I walked over to the bike while everybody who worked there was watching me. Of course I had no idea what I was doing – I didn’t even know how to start the ignition! Luckily Rosie knew how the throttle worked so we kind of improvised from there. As I started to pull out of the driveway and go up the hill onto the main road I turned the throttle a little too hard and we made a very fast, wobbly turn in front of all the guys who worked there, but we did manage to make it onto the main road. After witnessing my ineptitude I’m sure all the employees had a bet going on how long it would take for me to crash. Fortunately I got the hang of it after a little while, but it was kind of scary trying to make left turns without any traffic lights!
After spending a few days in the Bukit we visited:
- Padang Padang Beach: Go only when the tide is out, otherwise there is literally no room to sit. It’s a great beach for swimming because the water is very calm. There is also plenty of shade under the cliff when the tide is out. There’s also some vendors selling beach towels at the entrance if you need to purchase one. You can definitely haggle with them about the price, but they usually won’t budge under $3 or $4.
- Balagan Beach: About a 30 minute drive from Padang Padang. It’s not very far on a map, but there’s no direct road so you have to go out to the main road and then cut in towards the water again. The beach is spectacular and a hidden gem. There were hardly any people on it with the exception of some surfers. Again, try to visit when the tide is going out or else there is little room to sit. Surprisingly there are umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent, which are imperative if you don’t want to get really burned. The waves are pretty big at high tide, but it’s still safe to swim.
- Uluwatu Beach: Uluwatu is a pretty unique place and a famous surfing spot. There actually isn’t any beach, it’s just a big beautiful bay and there are a bunch of restaurants and inns built into the cliff overlooking the water. It’s possible to swim in the little pools when the tide is out. It’s also a great place to watch the sunset.
- Jimbaran Beach: Jimbaran is a very long beach that is also home to the Intercontinental Hotel and the Four Seasons Hotel. We didn’t go here during the day so I’m not sure what it’s like then, but at night it’s really beautiful and has a lot of outdoor seafood restaurants with tables and chairs on the beach. We had an amazing BBQ seafood meal one night while we watched the sunset.
We had a great time in Bali and I was pleasantly surprised by the natural beauty of the island. I just hope it doesn’t become any more developed than it already is, although that’s probably unlikely. We also had awesome weather, which I wasn’t expecting because we were technically there in the rainy season. But make sure to keep reapplying sunblock because the sun is really strong and you can get very burned in a hurry! I will definitely go back to Bali in the future and next time I want to explore the eastern part of the island around Amed. I also want to explore the other less developed Indonesian islands to the east of Bali, like Lombok, Komodo, Flores and the Gili islands. But Bali was an excellent introduction to Indonesia, and now I have another reason to come back!