During this world tour, we stepped for the first time in Asia. Indonesia is a huge country (over 17,500 islands). Each island and region has a different culture and environment. We could easily have spent six months exploring this country. However, the free tourist visa is limiting to one month. We decided to only visit the Bali and Java islands. It is possible to pay for a two-month Visa, but it must still be renewed after one month. This is not possible anywhere and can get complicated.
Coming from Australia, we landed in Bali at Denpasar Airport after a few hours direct flight.
On the Bali island, to discover its special culture and Hinduism and its beautiful seabed, we visited: the south (Kuta, Seminyak, Canggu and Sanur), the center with Ubud and north of the island (Munduk and Pemuteran) as well as the adjacent Nusa Penida island.
There are also activities for everyone on the island, we have tried: diving, visiting temples, a massage, releasing baby turtles into the sea, a yoga class, a cultural tour by bike, traditional dance show, and delicious meals.
Near the airport, the beaches of South Bali are the most touristic part of the island. This region also has the bad reputation of being full of Australians coming to party for cheap. There are so many people on site and the traffic is so hellish, it is hard to get around on foot. However, there are some places to visit and this is definitely the best place for shopping and going out.
The southernmost point of the island, the Bukit Peninsula, is a part we have not visited but we have heard from other travelers it is very pretty and quieter.
The cities of Kuta and Legian are extremely crowded with tourists. It also means very pushy sellers offering tours, massages or taxis.
Releasing baby turtles with Bali Sea Turtles Society
We went to Kuta Beach to take part in the release of baby turtles with the Bali Sea Turtles Society.
From April to October, it is possible to help this charity to release into the ocean the turtles from the nests they saved. As a matter of fact, turtle eggs are almost always eaten by predators (animals and humans).
To be involved, you have to pick up your ticket at 16:00 from Kuta beach and at 16:30 each retrieves your turtle in a small container (it is forbidden to touch them) and then monitor if your turtle has successfully reach the water. It is a free activity but the charity works thanks to donations. Some days there are not enough turtles ready to go to the ocean, so watch out for their posts on their Facebook and Instagram page.
It is an absolutely amazing experience!
Seminyak is now the most popular tourist destination in Bali. It was in this area that we spent our first two days on the island. We found this place to be a good introduction to Bali. Seminyak is more central than Canggu and still less crowded than Kuta. Indeed, it is possible to walk there despite the heavy traffic.
Our hotel in Seminyak
First of all, we loved our stay in this area at the Raja Gardens Hotel. It is a perfect compromise between a luxury hotel and a more traditional bungalow. The garden (with a large pool) is beautiful and relaxing. It is incredibly quiet and yet so close to the entertainment in the area. Moreover, the beach is only a few steps away. Our room had a four poster bed and a balcony with wooden furniture, typical of Balinese interiors. This hotel, which has been in operation for about 40 years, reflects the accommodation style before the tourism boom led to the destruction of traditional gardens in favor of more housing. Consequently, this is one of the last hotel in the area with a large Balinese garden.
You can contact the owner directly by email for your reservation: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For our first day on the island, it seemed natural to start with a famous Balinese massage. Indeed, in Bali it is possible to afford a luxury spa without breaking the bank. Thus, we decided to test for you the “Bali Best Massage” at Jari Menari! We were not disappointed. A relaxing experience definitely worth a try.
The Jari Menari Massage we received was a fusion session, blending Traditional Indonesian Massage with Swedish, Thai, Esalen and Breema Shiatsu techniques. What made the session so different was the way the whole body is addressed at one time, with long flowing strokes, and an intuitive sense that kept going back to the tension in the neck, back and shoulders again and again. We decided to have the “The Perfect Massage” which lasts 90 minutes. Afterwards we were deeply relaxed, rejuvenated and ready to explore once again. The staff was very friendly and professional. The reception, massage and changing rooms are very well decorated and super clean. You will be given a sarong and, once changed, your personal belongings are stored in a secured locker. Before and after the massage, you can shower and enjoy the pleasant soaps. In addition, you can choose to have your massage alone or with your loved one in the double rooms. Both options offer big, lovely rooms, open to fresh air, natural light as well as a waterfall and music in the background.
Canggu is the new fashionable village for expats and tourists. It is also very popular with surfers. Relatively close to popular places, the village is in a more natural setting and it is possible to rent a villa overlooking the rice fields (for now …). However it is impossible to walk there, there are not even sidewalks. This was really off-putting for us who do not feel comfortable driving here.
There are nice restaurants and cafe where you can stay a few hours to work or write, we liked the atmosphere and the rice fields view from Milu by Nook (but the drinks and desserts tasted better than the dishes).
Sunset on the beach, a tradition in Bali
On the beach bordering Kuta, Seminyak and Canggu, the tradition for locals, expats and tourists alike is to head over there late afternoon and watch the sunset. This can be enjoyed feet in the sand with a drink or a dish from one of the many affordable small restaurants on the beach. However, be careful not to have one of the many dogs lying around urinating on your back!
There, you will also be able to observe the locals’ homemade kites and the children’s dexterity who make them fly so high in the sky! Kite flying is an art and a real institution in Bali. Indeed, according to Hindu belief, flying kites is the gods’ favourite sport.
Located on the other side of Denpasar, we much preferred the city of Sanur. The location is strategic, close to the airport and boats to Nusa Penida, Lombok and the Gilli Islands. To begin with, we had a negative experience waiting for our boat to Nusa Penida as sellers and taxis are very insistent. But we stayed in the area for two nights and found this city quieter than the other South cities. We enjoyed the beach in particular: it is very beautiful, possible to walk around, there are few people and the sea which is protected from the waves is more appealing for swimming and activities such as kayaking and paddle-boarding.
To eat, we recommend the beachside restaurant Nelayan Sanur Bay which offers a delicious “seafood crab curry” (a bit expensive but worth the cost).
It was also from Sanur that we dived on the USAT Liberty wreck with Crystal Divers. Note this shallow wreck is also accessible for snorkeling. After being picked up by the team and being driven in a van to the northern beaches (through beautiful landscapes) we had our two dives starting directly on foot from the beach (our first shore dives). It is also possible with Crystal Divers to depart directly from Sanur for dive or snorkeling day trips around Nusa Penida.
Yoga classes in Bali
Bali is a perfect place to practice yoga, whether you are an expert or a beginner.
We attended a class at Power of Now Oasis. First of all, the setting is superb: on the beach from the upper floor of a bamboo structure overlooking the ocean. The class was very good, suitable for all levels and the teacher was very attentive. The price is also very affordable. Finally, in the relaxing garden there is a sacred cow who has the title of meditation master.
Bali Centre – Ubud
Ubud is the most famous place in Bali to get immersed in the intriguing Balinese culture. In this city you can observe Balinese dances, visit temples, enter a sacred monkey forest, enjoy the markets, attend yoga and meditation classes or have excellent meals.
It is also one of the most touristic places on the island. There are so many people and the traffic is hellish, it is quite far from the relaxing place we had in mind.
What to visit in Ubud
- Temples: do not miss visiting Hindu temples in Ubud. The palace of Ubud was enjoyable but very touristy. We preferred the atmosphere of the Pura Gunung Lebah temple which overlooks two rivers or the Pura Dalem Ubud temple and its impressive door. Be careful it is necessary to wear a sarong for both male and female to enter the temples.
- The Campuhan Ridge Walk is very nice: plan a few hours to give you time to cool off with a coconut in the small cafes at the edge of the rice fields on the way.
- The Sacred Monkey Forest: we have mixed feelings about the Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana visit. Nicolas found this visit fascinating and Clémentine didn’t had a great time. The monkeys were very interested in the contents of our backpacks. They did not hesitate to climb on Nicolas to try to search in his bag, some even had a fight on his back which was quite stressful. We had, however, strictly followed the instructions and had absolutely no food on us. We met less cautious tourists who were all bitten because a family member pulled out a chocolate bar from his pocket. The entry price is quite high and now we are a little apprehensive towards every monkeys we come across.
- A few kilometers outside the city (we stopped on our way to Sanur) are the majestic Tegalalang Rice Terrace . The landscapes are sumptuous but it is unfortunately another very touristy place where you have to pay for everything.
Bike tour in the countryside around Ubud: getting closer to the authentic local culture
By far our favourite activity in Ubud, we highly recommend the Banyan Tree bike tour.
We spent a magical day cycling through peaceful villages and rice fields (away from the city chaos). We were very well supervised and safe. We cut rice, walked in rice fields, impressed by the children’s dexterity with their kites, went on a mini-walk through beautiful landscapes, crossed rivers on bamboo bridges , visited a traditional Balinese home and learned a lot about the culture. All of this without seeing a single other tourist! The tour ended with a delicious meal at Bagi’s, the owner.
Some travelers avoid organised tours at all costs, but we find some are really worth the cost. This tour was one of them, we will never forget this incredible experience. This usually allows us to reach places we could never have visited on our own and learn a lot.
Balinese dance shows
Every night of the week in Ubud, three styles of Balinese dance are performed. You can attend a show every night for seven days without ever seeing the same thing. The prices vary between 80,000 and 100,000 rupees and just the scenery of the temples at night is worth going. We attended two performances including one with fire, they were completely different and super interesting. We really recommend this activity.
Eating out in Ubud
There are plenty of option to eat in the city centre and lots of restaurants with great atmospheres, from small traditional warungs to chic international cuisine.
Accommodation in Ubud
To avoid the madness of the city centre we recommend to stay outside of the city. Ubud has very peaceful areas and superb hotels with rice fields view.
For the sake of saving money but also because we were in Ubud to discover the local culture we opted for a homestay in a traditional house, Ume Sita Homestay. This accommodation is good value for money and is close to the city while being more in the countryside. The owner, who is very accommodating, offers a free shuttle to the centre. It is also possible to rent scooters on site to explore outside the city.
We loved North Bali and wished we had more time to explore. This region seemed more authentic and definitely less touristy. The landscapes are absolutely incredible. We would have also liked to visit the Amed village which we have heard a lot of praise about from other travelers. Thus, we explored only the Northwest and did a quick trip to the Northeast for our dive on the USAT Liberty wreck with Crystal Divers (we travelled from Sanur).
To begin with, on the beautiful road from South Bali to the village of Munduk we did a few stops:
- The Taman Ayun Temple
- The temple on the water Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, which was terribly crowded early afternoon and which, in view of the high entrance fee, disappointed us.
- The Twin Lake viewpoint, where it was very difficult to find a point of view whose access was free… We were also shocked by the many animals brought there to be manipulated for tourists’ photos. For us, this beautiful panorama is ruined by tourists activities.
The Munduk village, in the mountains, is really a nice stop for a day or two. The landscapes are very pretty with rice fields on one side and the sunset on the sea in the distance on the other. The main activity is a walk from the village through four impressive waterfalls. On the way to the waterfalls, we had a delicious lunch in a small shop / warung. Be aware, as everywhere in Bali, you have to pay to access the waterfalls (but it is cheap).
Be careful when choosing your accommodation in Munduk, the main street is very noisy with passing vehicles. We didn’t slept in our hotel directly facing this street, which is a real shame in such a peaceful place!
Our favorite place in Bali was the coastal village of Pemuteran. It is such a peaceful place surrounded by nature. You will find cows and calves in almost every garden, as well as hens running freely in town.
The main road being more frequented and touristy, we advise you to stay in the small unpaved side streets. We stayed at the lovely Hotel Hibisucus House. From there, we were only steps away from great restaurants, the beautiful beach, walks and the hill from which to see spectacular sunsets. Our hotel room was super spacious, with an outdoor bathroom and a terrace overlooking the beautiful garden. The room being contiguous to a kitchen and a living room terrace it was like having our own villa.
For food, we recommend the Warung Tirta Sari.
From Pemuteran, it is possible to dive or snorkel around the beautiful Menjangan island. It was one of our best dives so far, we saw so many fish and the coral was beautiful. We left for the day with Dive Oceans Dreams. Weather permitting, the lunch break is on this uninhabited island where majestic deers live freely.
Pemuteran was also an opportunity to support another turtle protection program (one of our favorite animal). We released a baby turtle to the ocean at the Turtle Hatchery Project, this is situated in the Reef Seen resort and the releases are between 9 am and 10 am. We advise you to bring your swim suit to follow your turtle into the sea and enjoy the beautiful beach on site.
Be careful when entering the sea around Pemuteran as we saw sea urchins and do not miss to snorkel directly from the beaches to observe the rare corals and Biorocks.
We would have liked to stay a few more days in Pemuteran and visit the pearl farm, the temples around, hike in the national park of Bali or go on a tour to see dolphins.
Pemuteran was our last stop in Bali before taking the ferry to Java (a very convenient departure point for the crossing). Find here our article on the Java island.
The three islands of Nusa Lembongan, Ceningan and Penida are very easily accessible from Bali. We decided to explore the largest of the islands, Nusa Penida. Compared to South Bali, the island is very peaceful and the scenery is absolutely beautiful!
Transportation to Nusa Penida
To get to Nusa Penida, we took the small fast boats from Sanur. The journey time is only thirty minutes, but we have heard horror stories from travelers who made the trip while the sea was rough. In addition, we were a bit worried about our belongings having to get in the water to climb into the boat in Sanur with our suitcases and backpacks while the water was almost up to our waist with the waves. There is however an alternative which is also much cheaper, it is to take the public ferry from Padangbai.
Explore Nusa Penida
To explore the island it is necessary to rent a car (or a driver for the day) or a scooter. We rented a scooter from our accommodation. We were more confident driving in Bali as the traffic was more reasonable but we had frights on the roads which are more like motocross tracks. If you have the capacity to drive one, we would advise to rent a motocross.
- Have a drink and watch the incredible sunset at Amok Sunset
- Swim and snorkel in Crystal Bay
- Take a ride to Kelingking Beach. Our advice is to arrive early to avoid hordes of tourists. If you have time and courage, you can go down to the beautiful beach.
- Observe the gigantic manta rays from the cliff to Manta Point.
- Get down to the Pura Segara Kidul temple at the edge of the cliff and enjoy the natural pools. Do not forget your sarong and do not even think about it if you are afraid of heights.
We have clearly run out of time to tour the island and enjoy the less touristy Southwest side. You have to plan two or three full days to fully explore the island. Moreover, as the state of the roads makes the journeys very long, we recommend to stay at two different places to facilitate the exploration of each side.
Bungalows in Nusa Penida
We loved staying in a wooden bungalow on Nusa Penida. Ingrid, the smiling and dynamic owner of the Tanah Penida Bungalows also offers a catering service. All our meals on site were excellent. It is also possible to rent scooters and Ingrid can arrange transportation from Sanur for you. She also gave us very good recommendations on places to visit on the island.
Diving and swimming manta rays
Nusa Penida is a privilege place where it is possible to observe the majestic manta rays which are between five and seven meters. In addition to seeing them from the cliffs at Manta Point we highly recommend diving or snorkelling among them. Clémentine was a little worried about swimming so close to these imposing creatures but once in the water she felt reassured and enjoyed the show.
Our tips for visiting Bali
Route and transport
Do not behave like us, think about your itinerary in Bali. The distances are short but the journeys are long and expensive. We made round trips which we could have avoided, especially to go to Nusa Penida or Munduk. This is worth the cost of properly listing your points of interest and establishing your itinerary before your departure.
With respect to public transportation, we had a lot of trouble getting information. Unfortunately when asking tourists are always turned to private drivers or at best private shuttles. Private drivers are great if you can share the ride with other people or if you want to stop on the way and securely leave your stuff inside the car.
Only in Pemuteran were we able to take a public bus to the ferry to Java. We waited a while and then we managed to stop the bus by waving. Of course the driver charged us more than the locals.
Phone and application
In Indonesia, as in other Asian countries, Grab and Go-Jek applications will be very useful. This is the equivalent of Uber, but here you can also order a taxi scooter to avoid traffic jams or have everything and anything delivered to you.
Access to Internet will be very useful during your trip, if only for Google Maps. It is incredibly easy to buy a SIM card with internet data, no need to even give your name. There are many vendors on the streets. In the South of Bali you will find it in kiosks offering tours to tourists. Be aware people have tried to sell us very expensive and dubious cards. Inquire a minimum before the purchase. We opted for simPATI from Telecomcel and paid 300,000 RP for 6GB. The seller installed the card in our phone and we checked together everything was working before paying. You can recharge your package the same way later on if needed. If you visit more than one island, check your package includes global internet. Indeed, the local internet of your package will only work on the island where you bought it while the global internet works everywhere in Indonesia.
Indonesian cuisine is very interesting. Each island or region has its own culinary specialties. Do not miss to taste the Balinese delights which available in many restaurants.
The precautionary principles to be followed in South East Asia also apply to Bali (although the fact that it is more touristy can give a false appearance of security). Be careful not to drink tap water without filtering it and be aware with fruits and raw vegetables. However do not become paranoid, after a month in Indonesia we had no problems and we did not meet any sick travelers.
Moreover, Bali is known for its Kopi Luwak coffee wich is a very rare and expensive coffee. This coffee comes from grains digested by civets, small mammals similar to cats. Basically it is coffee ground from grain recovered in excrement. This practice nevertheless gives rise to bad treatment of these adorable animals…
Indeed, you will see many civets in tiny cages which are there just to defecate beans for this expensive coffee. If you love coffee and are really curious to taste it look out for a certified producer who produces from excrement found in the wild (as in Munduk).
Civets are unfortunately not the only animals to suffer in Bali. On the roadsides and tourist attractions you can see animals exhibited in the sun whose only purpose is to pose on tourists’ selfies such as bats held open or owls in broad daylight as well as snakes, lizards, etc. In Bali it is even possible to ride elephants, even though they have never naturally been on the island… A real shame and we strongly encourage you not to contribute to this sad tourism.
In the streets, you will also meet a lot of stray dogs, some of them in poor condition.
What to pack?
- A sarong (a large scarf that you can tie to be covered from the waist to the ankle): necessary for both men and women, no matter if you are wearing pants, to enter the temples. If you do not have one you will have to rent it at each visit so we advise you to buy a nice one upon your arrival.
- Mosquito repellent! All the more necessary as mosquitoes in Bali carry diseases.
Some useful words in Indonesian Bahasa
With more than 700 languages spoken in Indonesia, everyone yet understands the official language: Bahasa Indonesian. As we visited other islands in Bali, we focused on this language rather than the local languages.
Here are some useful words:
- Terima Kasih : Thank you
- Nasi : rice
- Mie : noodles
- Goreng : fried food
- Ayam : chicken
- Bebek : duck
- Kafe : coffee
Going to Java from Bali
If you have time do not miss to visit the neighbouring island of Java, just 30 minutes by ferry from Bali. A superb discovery for us, with landscapes similar to Bali but much less touristy and with a different culture.
Other options near Bali which we have not explored but we have heard praises about from other travelers are Lombok, Gili, Flores or Komodo.
Clémentine’s Bali reading list
- The Lonely Planet Indonesia guide (more convenient as we visited several islands, but the part about Bali is very complete)
- Elizabeth Pisani’s book: Indonesia etc. exploring the improbable nation
- Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love is very popular about Bali, but most of the story takes place in other countries.
Despite the fact that Bali has become an incredibly touristy destination it remains an incredible journey. Going to meet the rich Balinese culture and exploring the seabed was very pleasant and rewarding for us. In addition, we advise you to enjoy a stay in Bali to discover another part of Indonesia. There are still places spared from the tourist over-activity in Bali, and by looking for a bit you can experience an authentic experience.
Thank you for your reading, do not hesitate to leave us recommendations or questions in comments.