Bali is easy to say, it’s two syllables and chances are you have heard of it. The popular location in Indonesia is a tourist hub and Australians will often travel to this location year in year out. It is filled with European travellers and people who often have done a working visa in Australia looking to holiday in a cheap and different location. You will probably bump into more British, Australian and Dutch tourists then locals, so what is the appeal of the island called Bali then?
There are plenty of hostels, hotels and also homestays. A homestay is a cross between a hostel and Airbnb. They are normally quite cheap and you are staying in someones property (like an airbnb) but sometimes you stay with a local family who are renting out a room. My advice would be to look and book on booking.com as you don’t have to put down a deposit, however once you reach a hostel or accommodation they will often give you a cheaper rate because you pay them in cash.
Figuring out an Itinerary
Bali – Kuta
Ubud – Denpasar
Padangbai or Amed
Nusa Lembongan & Penida
You will probably start your journey landing in Ngurai Rah airport and make your way either to Kuta or Denpasar which are both fairly close to the airport. Kuta itself is a tourist hotspot and Legian is heavy with Australian tourists. There wasn’t much to do here except visit the famous Kuta beach and catch some waves, I actually stayed in Legian and apart from visiting some bars like Sky Garden, it was really just a place to eat and chill. There is a built up section of the area where you will find big chains like Hard rock café and retailers, definitely a place to do some shopping towards the end of your trip.
However if you fancy it, you can rent a scooter and ride up to the famous Potato head bar and get a cocktail or two but they will be pricey!
This is another extremely famous hotspot. The amount of tourists in the area is heavy and you will see yoga and healthy food signposted everywhere, from vegan ice cream to soul bowls. This area is all about relaxing, mindfulness and health. If you decide to go to a vegetarian or vegan restaurant then expect to pay high prices for Indonesia but cheap for “quality vegan food”.
This is probably the best area to see some sites like the Monkey sanctuary, Goa Gajah temple, Besakih Mother temple, Tirta Empul water temple, tegalungang rice fields, tegunugan waterfalls, Mt Batur and some yoga retreats. I would highly recommend renting a scooter rather than paying sky high prices for a tour.
I didn’t really enjoy the monkey sanctuary that much because it literally is a forest full of monkeys! Also combined with the rainstorms we had, it made the experience less enjoyable. The benang kelambu waterfall in Lombok had a forest with monkeys which offered the same experience. I believe the entrance fee was 30K Rupiah but they also have a free shuttle service going to and from Ubud centre.
Goa Gajah temple is quite cool as there is an ornate stone carved shrine and a water temple in the middle of the grounds. A lot of women will try to sell you a sarong but you can actually get a free sarong at the temple which you return, so I would hold out and see if you can borrow one.
Another temple to mention is the mother temple or Besakih temple, it is said there are over 25 temples within its grounds. The famous grand split gates are probably the most worth seeing but you will see this type of architecture all over Bali.
Tirta Empul is a water temple, you can enter and even bathe in its holy spring waters as an act of cleansing. Me and a fellow traveller tried this and even though the water was cold, I felt so refreshed and clean afterwards, it was definitely a great experience and I would recommend it. Again you can borrow a sarong to enter but to go into the pools you must either rent a sarong or bring your own.
The Tegalungang rice fields are one of the most famous images of Bali but unfortunately it has become a huge tourist trap now. We were lucky enough to be greeted by an owner of a local café who invited us for a free tea tasting session and a discount on the swing over the rice fields. He said the swing is usually 150K for 20 rides but said we could have it for 100K (per person). He said entry from his side of the café was free and we could avoid the 20K entrance fee but then the donation checkpoints hit. We went through one checkpoint and gave 5K each and I believe the minimum donation may be 2K. However there were probably 3-5 checkpoints and you must make a donation. If you buy an entrance ticket for 20K then it really adds up and deters from the experience.
What I would recommend is to go to the Kecang rice terraces which are similar to the famous tegalungang fields and not a tourist trap, yet.
Another popular activity is to hike Mt. Batur and the sunrise treks. Basically you wake up around 2am and then make your north towards the Kintamani area. There are stops for breakfast and coffee and you make your way to Mt. Batur during your 2 hour hike. There are chances of rain or cloud so choose your trek day carefully but it is definitely worth it as the sunrise from the top is amazing. We managed to pay 270K each for the tour which we thought was a fair price. Some travellers may attempt to go up the mountain by themselves but may find difficulty as the tours are mafia operated and so locals will discourage from doing a solo tour but it can be done.
I also want to mention Gianyar night markets which is a local food market and the food was not only delicious but really cheap – much cheaper than tourist warungs.
We stopped off in Padangbai to get the fast boat to Gili Trawangan. However you can also get the boat from Sanur or Amed. Padangbai was a small coastal town and a popular dive spot and snorkelling area but there wasn’t much to do there apart from this. Unless you plan on doing diving here and Amed then shoot off to the famous Gili islands.
Gili Trawangan, Meno and Air
So Gili T is one of the most famous spots. Gili Meno and Air are the two smaller less known areas and I would recommend either doing a snorkel or diving trip around them. These islands are quieter but there isn’t much to do on them. I enjoyed Gili T because it was lively, there are a lot of tourists here but it adds to the atmosphere. The island comes alive at night with multi-coloured lights, a busy night market and the various bars dotted across the harbour. If you fancy watching the sunset then you can go to the other side of the island and watch amazing orange sunsets while swinging on those famous swings you see on social media all the time.
Some travellers indulged in a mushroom shake which is not illegal on the Gili islands and adds another layer to the Gili experience if you are into that sort of thing.
I didn’t visit Meno or Air but another traveller said he didn’t like it as there wasn’t much to see or do and it was too quiet. Some of you may prefer this but you can actually snorkel around this islands if you fancy doing an activity or you may want to get away from the crowds and boat across to Meno or air.
Of course snorkelling and diving is popular on Gili T and I would highly recommend doing it, you will see manta rays, turtles and so many different kinds of tropical fish. It is pricey but worth the cost, I would recommend getting PADI certified then you can just go on fun dives at a discounted price. I know I will be getting PADI certified once I return to the UK and take more diving holidays for the future!
A lot of blogs I read mentioned visiting Lombok and I thought, must be a cool place. Yes it is a place but more importantly it is a huge island. The Gili islands are part of Lombok and the Nusa islands are part of Bali, so if you are wondering where to visit in Lombok then I have answers for you.
Lombok is most well known for surfing and also hikes up Mt Rinjani. It is also a gateway to go to the UNESCO recognised Komodo island (one of the new seven wonders of the world). After this you may choose to head to Flores and explore another Indonesian island. There are numerous boat tours which take you across the islands and to Labuan Bajo, which you can base yourself at and organise a diving boat to take you out for some dives. I would highly recommend researching good tour companies and booking beforehand or just going to the office and negotiating a price – nothing is fixed, you can always get a deal.
All the boats will usually dock at Bansal but you may have slower boats which dock in South Lombok. However most boats will go to Bansal. The prices to get on and off Lombok can be extortionately high 500K+ for a one way trip but you can bargain or even ask a local (like a homestay host) to help you out. When I was travelling in Lombok, I decided to head to Kuta Lombok where most of the famous beaches are found like Mawi, Sengaran, Tanjung Aan beach and Senggol beach. These beaches aren’t overcrowded but you will find plenty of Europeans holidaying here.
If you fancy visiting some waterfalls then locals will recommend Benang Sotokol and Kelambu. However you will have to pay an entry fee unless you go with a tour company, which will likely be expensive. If you don’t fancy the beach then you may trek up Mt Rinjani for a 3 night tour or head East to stare at the beauty of pink beach.
These islands known as Lembongan, Ceningan and Penida are quieter than the Gili islands and larger. I enjoyed its tranquillity much more than Gili and the snorkelling here was immense, me and my friend paid 150K and went to four different snorkelling points and one of them included Manta point where we did indeed see black mantas. Not one to miss! I liked Ceningan as it had a lot of restaurants along the harbour and riding through yellow bridge was always fun, it is a complete contrast to the busy streets of Ubud and a much more chilled out place.
Other places to mention
Uluwatu is another popular destination where you can visit a the Uluwatu temple which is another sea temple and I was told the beach was nice too. I also read that Jimbaran was a cool hangout spot but not a place I visited. Finally a lot of travellers agreed Canggu was a nice place to surf and chill but almost everyone agreed Seminyak was far too busy for them.
My suggestion where you should definitely visit in your trip to Bali would be:
- Kuta – chillout and orientate yourself for a night or two
- Ubud – a lot of yoga hotspots and sightseeing can be done from here so consider spending 3-4 nights here
- Canggu – another chillout spot, surf and visit Tanah lot temple from here as it is closest
- Amed or Padangbai – spend a night in one of these East coast towns and you can dive or snorkel here. It is relatively quiet and you won’t be disturbed by many other tourists
- Gili Trawangan – although very touristy, the night time vibe is great and always interesting. The outdoor cinemas, sunset beach and night market are well worth visiting. Also a good spot to do your diving and snorkelling
- Kuta Lombok or Senggigi – Lombok itself has a big beach scene and popular for surfing, it was quiet and in terms of activities outside surfing there wasn’t much else to do
- Nusa Lembongan – I really liked Lembongan and Ceningan, the restaurants were nice and there were some cool places to grab a drink. The island isn’t overrun by tourists and riding a scooter around these islands were easy. A lot of people will want to visit Penida because of some its famous photo shots but I would say it was overall an underwhelming experience. However if you don’t do snorkelling or diving on Lembongan then you can do it on Penida but it was much easier to find a company on Lembongan then Penida.
The food in Bali is a mixture of Indonesian and Balinese. The prices are so cheap and you usually get some quality food. The islands will charge a higher price for the food but it is still cheap by western standards, expect to pay anywhere from 25K-50K for local food but if you head into western restaurant then expect to pay at least 60K+.
- Nasi Goreng: translated as fried rice, it is very similar to Chinese fried rice except that it is made with the Indonesian soy sauce kecap manis and with a little sambal chili sauce. It is usually topped with a fried egg and typically you will pay 25-35K for a plate.
- Mie Goreng: also known as fried noodles, again similar to Chinese fried noodles but normally instant noodles are used. In some warungs, they will use better quality noodles and you can tell but regardless it is still delicious.
- Ikan Goreng : a unique Balinese dish where local fish is fried and then served with sambal, usually very fresh and really good for seafood lovers, expect to pay 50K+.
- Ayam Lalapan: this is usually a fried piece of chicken served with sambal and rice, the chicken is marinated in spices and usually is very tender.
- Nasi Campur: mixed rice is probably my favourite dish, you get a bit of everything and every Warung does it differently. Normally you get rice, vegetables, crackers, sambal, tempe, chicken and egg. There are slight variations where you may get sate or tofu but it is always interesting! Expect to pay 30-35K.
- Babi guling: this is a famous Balinese dish and it is similar to Filipino lechon. It is a suckling pig which has been marinated and roasted. It comes with pieces of pork, a crispy piece of pork, vegetables, rice and a hot broth on the side. Usually costs around 30-50K
- Sate: Definitely one of the most well known dishes, sate can be any meat which is marinated and then cooked over charcoal. It is then served with a sate peanut sauce which is slightly sweet and spicy. If you get it from a roadside warung then it can be as cheap as 20K for 10 skewers but if you are in a restaurant then you may pay 35-40K
- Soto Ayam: chicken soup usually with vegetables and glass noodles in its broth is a nice hearty dish and really tasty if you fancy a liquid dish.
- Bakso: you will see a lot of street stalls serving hot bakso. It is kind of like an Indonesian version of pho. A hot broth is poured over glass noodles and chicken meatballs with sambal is served with it, a really tasty dinner or snack and expect to pay 15-30K.
- Ayam Betutu: you can get this Balinese dish with chicken or duck and it is typically a meat stuffed with Balinese spices and then roasted. A lot of restaurants will ask you to request it the day before ordering and you can share it with friends. I only tried the duck version of this dish and it wasn’t great because we ended up in a tourist restaurant and the food lacked!
- Martabak Manis: another street food which is best described as an omelette pancake. The vendor will fry a piece of pastry, pour in an omelette mixture and then top it with another piece of pastry before frying it to golden perfection. A really great snack and normally very cheap – 15K.
- Terang bulan: normally you will find this with a martabak vendor and it is essentially a sweet pancake. It is a topped with chocolate bits or spread, coconut shavings and then condensed milk – it is ridiculously sweet but heaven for those with a sweet tooth.
- Tempe and Tofu: tempe is a type of pressed soy bean and has amazing texture and soaks up marinates very well. It is a great vegetarian/vegan food but also a popular dish in Bali.
- Coconut salad: this is a great side dish and consists of long beans, beansprouts, sambal, coconut shavings and sometimes bits of tempe.
- Luwak coffee: Indonesia is also known for producing the most expensive coffee in the world and you can find many vendors serving it. However research whether you are actually trying true Luwak coffee.
- Eat at the Warungs – they are local restaurants, incredibly cheap and amazing value for money. The locals also put twists on the Indonesian food you find, for example I got a nasi goreng but it was a fusion of ayam lalapan (fried chicken) and nasi goreng which I found interesting
- Try Nasi campur – this literally is mixed rice and you will get so many variations on it. Normally its rice, vegetables, spicy tempeh, meat (usually chicken) and some sambal. Some restaurants put coconut salad or a beansprout minced chicken salad with it but in all cases, it was delicious. However sometimes the salads and meats are cold as they may be prepared early in the morning, so if you have a light stomach then wait to acclimatise before trying the local foods
- Watch the sunsets – Lombok, Gili and Nusa islands all have amazing sunsets.
- Rent a scooter- I loved renting scooters and they were cheap, on average you spend 50K per day and fuel is usually 8-10K for 1 liter. If you are uncomfortable riding then you can ride with someone else, hire a taxi or use the Grab app.
- Splurge in one location, some of the resorts are amazing and you will still pay a low relative price compared to the Western world