Bali has never been on my list of destinations aside from the fact that I love Indonesian food. Beaches never appealed to me so the island aspect of it I don't really have a care for. But, as you know, I work in luxury travel and there was an opportunity to check out some wonderful hotels in the area, I did.
Ceci and I flew in from Kuala Lumpur and stayed in two areas in Bali: Nusa Dua and Ubud. For our first evening in Bali we stayed at the marvelous Ritz-Carlton Bali. A massive and majestic property sitting on the peninsula of Bali. Very resort-y and side-by-side to many major hotels. I'm glad we only stayed here the one evening as there really wasn't much around! I am not exaggerating when I state that the resort was ginormous - it was. You always needed a buggy to get around. Size aside, service was impeccable with fresh fruit, turn down, complimentary yoga and Indonesian and Balinese language lessons - the latter proved to be SO helpful during my trip. Highly recommend taking a short Balinese/Indonesian lesson!
On the flip side, we also stayed at the Viceroy Bali in the Ubud area. I had a number of other hotels I could of stayed at but I'm glad I fought hard for this one because the location couldn't be beat! It was just a stone's throw away from the heart of Ubud - art market, monkey forest, temples, tons of restaurants, waterfalls and a mere 10 minutes drive from stunning rice terraces. Each room has their own infinity pool and deck overlooking the lush jungle and breakfast was pretty good, especially the fresh fruit shakes. Room amenities could be a bit better (ie. upgraded TV and bath/body products) but service was impeccable. It is a boutique hotel - owner was very nice to chat with! Balinese hospitality at its finest.
I would highly recommend eating and exploring local establishments. Don't be afraid to go off the beaten track! The warungs (small restaurant) are SO good - can't get more authentic than that. Bali is vast but I'll try my best at tackling every aspect of it, based on my own experience!
Getting around Bali:
Driver - I cannot express this enough. GET A DRIVER! A personal driver for the entire day didn't cost more than $30 USD + price of gas a day. One of our Indonesian friends from Vancouver hooked us up with one of her drivers and although there was a language barrier, he was great! He really enjoyed the fact that I was able to adopt some Indonesian/Balinese - super helpful when communicating. And no matter how crazy the crowds and parking lots are or no matter how long we took at each attraction, he was always able to find us. Thanks bepah!
Things to do in Bali:
- Uluwatu - The temple at sunset and the traditional kecap fire dance is a must see! It's rather long but it's quite the spectacle. The sunset alone is worth seeing - best spot in Bali to watch the fiery red sun go down.
- Sacred Monkey Forest - Literally a forest run by monkeys. Monkeys run freely here and the forest is quite large! Careful with your belongings - they are not shy! For a couple dollars, you can pay some of the locals for bananas and fruit to feed the monkeys and take pictures with them - DO NOT DO THIS IF YOU ARE TERRIFIED OF THEM (like I was). Atleast it was worth the photo!
- Ubud Market - Ubud is so artsy! There are great finds here from artwork, teak wood furniture, clothes and souvenirs. I bargained for a gold wooden pineapple in bahasa Balinese - so proud of myself!
- Campuhan Ridge - Quick little hike...in the BLAZING HOT SUN. There is literally one lonesome palm tree here but it's great if you want to sweat it out a bit!
- Mount Batur - It was our last day in Bali and I was still figuring out things to do. Luckily, I had had heard about this sunrise mountain trek which departs at 3:00AM. With a little negotiation, I was able to do the trek and have them drop me off earlier. Amazing views...and so many great people I had met on my hike! It's definitely cooler temperatures over there so bring layers!
- Coffee plantation - Bali is known for their kopi luwak coffee. Delicious but I would do your research beforehand. The "poop" coffee is a huge hype nowadays and I have learned after that these animals are force fed and caged in order to produce this coffee. If I had known this beforehand, I would have never gone. I did enjoy the coffees and teas but I do not support the business as it's super unethical.
- Temples - There are so many temples to visit in Bali! I had a bad experience at one but I won't bother going into the details. So many choose from. Once you seen one of them, you've seen 'em all. I did visit Goa Gajah, which is the oldest temple in Bali. Not overly mind-blowing but it is a place of worship so best to keep that in mind.
- Tellagalang Rice Terraces - The rice terraces were one of the highlights of my trip! Absolutely stunning...words cannot describe. I am saddened to see that so many hotels are being built thus destroying what nature has built for us. Also disappointed at the amount of "tips wanted" signs there are - not just in the terraces but all over Bali. I am all for the maintenance and preservation of nature and to boost tourism but when it is constantly blasted in your face, it really leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.
- Teganungan - There are SO many waterfalls in Bali! This is the largest one on the island and it was pretty (prettier ones in Iceland and Hawaii!). Lots of cute little Instagram-worthy spots over here as well.
- Beji Guwan Hidden Canyon - My FAVOURITE part in visiting Bali. Literally a hidden canyon in the far east side of the island. There were NO tourists here at all. Take a guide - you'll need it. They literally swam to the bottom of the canyon to fetch my Prada sunglasses and pretty much saved my girlfriend from drowning. Water is deep here - be careful! But it is the most scenic place in all of Bali, in my opinion. I wish I took pictures!
- Art Markets - There are a lot of art markets to visit in Bali! I visited the Ubud Market as well as the Sukawati Art Market. Lots of wooden art crafts, typical souvenirs, sculptures, paintings.... you name it! I successfully bargained down a beautiful golden wood pineapple at the latter market - the only one of its kind now sits on my bookshelf. Great place to pick up something cultural.
Things to eat in Bali:
New to Balinese or Indonesian food? Fret no further. You can often find many of the items below at any local warung (street side food stall). The words are similar and once you get the hang of it, menus become easy to navigate!
- Nasi goreng - Indonesian fried rice. Do it. I ate LOTS of this. (Nasi = rice, goreng = fried).
- Mee goreng - Fried noodles. Do it and do it again. (Mee = noodles).
- Nasi campur - A mixed plate of different Indonesian delicacies - chicken, tempeh, satay, tofu, veg... Delish!
- Ayam lalapan - Fried chicken! (Ayam = chicken).
- Ikan laut goring - Fried fish! Our Indonesian friend highly recommend that we get this. Go to Warung Mak Beng by the water - usually packed and with a line but just swoop in once you see a spot open! Fried fish, soup, and rice for $4 CAD.
- Beef rendang - A creamy coconut beef stew with a little heat. Perfect with rice!
- Babi guling - Indonesian roast pork. SO GOOD. Lots of places serve this - find one that specializes in it!
Not sure where to eat in Bali? A couple restaurants that we checked out (yes, not street food for once!) that were recommended to us by our Indonesian friend were Bebek Tepi Sawah and Bebek Bengil. Highly recommend the latter - the space was GORGEOUS and the restaurant was huge!!! You can even go out in the back to reveal a huge rice patty on the premise. You must get the crispy duck and banana leaf-steamed fish.
All in all, Bali was a treat! Although some bits and pieces left a bitter taste in my mouth, I still have very fond memories of this lovely little island and its exceptionally warm people. Until next time!