Bali with Love
For a number of years, Sarah had wanted for us to head to Bali. However, I was hesitant to go for some reason. For a country as popular as Bali and one that thousands of expats are flocking to in order to set up a new life, naively I presumed that it would be a place that has become so westernised, it would be almost unrecognisable.
How wrong I was.
On ReFLecTiON, I WiSh We HaD GoNe SoONeR.
In preparation for this trip, we decided to plan our route out in depth beforehand; something that we don’t often do. Typically, we have a loose structure and kind of make it up as we go along. This sense of freedom brings many benefits and it almost forces a sense of adventure. However, after ad-libbing our trips around Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, we felt that this time we wanted a plan. We needed some structure. We wanted to know were we were staying and we wanted it all ready and waiting for us when we landed.
Bali is a place that you can do either; make it up and see what happens, rock up to a hotel and say “give me your finest room!” or plan in detail and book everything in advance.
This is the option we went for.
Our 20 Day Bali Guide
Flight time from London to Denpasar – approx 16 hours
Visa required? – only if you’re staying longer than 30 days
After a 16 hour trip from London to Denpasar, via Singapore (you can’t fly direct to Bali from London), we arrived to a very hot Bali. With all of the planning taken care of, we were very happy to be greeted by a man at the airport with a plaque that read ‘Mr Louis!’ (this must have been us!). We jumped into the taxi and headed toward our first stop:
From the airport, the trip to Canngu takes around 45 minutes (around £18 for the taxi). When you arrive in Bali you are immediately greeted by the hustle and bustle of the ever-roaring traffic that never seems to settle. There is a typical South-East Asia feel to the streets, with thousands of scooters mounting the pavement and dodging pedestrians at high speeds.
The first hotel we stayed at was called Udara Yoga Detox Spa Hotel, just outside Caangu. I wasn’t expecting too much from this place, for some unbeknown reason, but it actually turned out to be one of our favourite hotels of the whole trip.
Upon arrival we were greeted by the hotel staff and shown around the property. The Udara Bali is a healing yoga resort that boasts offering a “wellness and detox lifestyle to alleviate the stress of modern living” (perfect – show me the sauna!) This hotel clearly attracted those looking for that typical Balinese nomad/meditation/spiritual experience. We’d only been there for five minutes before we found ourselves taking to a guy who’d clearly meditated himself into a something short of a coma, floating on cloud nine, telling us how the world has lost it’s way (okay mate – but were’s my room!?)
The hotel is made up from an array of Yoga shalas, a spa with a healing pool, a Finnish sauna, herbal steam room, hot Jacuzzi, an ice water plunge and a seriously cool meditation cave – everything one needs to shed themselves of all of their sins! There are a number of Yoga classes of varying styles that take place throughout the day and are included in the price of stay. Although I didn’t take advantage of the classes myself (I was too busy in the healing pool pretending I was Ghandi) Sarah made it to a couple of sessions including the ‘aerial yoga’, suspended from the ceiling which, by all accounts, is not as stressful as it sounds. All of the yoga sessions, sauna experiences and pools are included in the price of the stay, which was great. We couldn’t resist jumping into the ‘healing’ pool and listening to the underwater chill sounds they had playing.
It was a great start after a long trip.
After a good night’s sleep, adjusting to the new time zone, we woke to our first proper day in Bali …in an earthquake! Having never experienced an earthquake before, I was surprised how quickly I made the connection. Although, looking our of the window and watching every member of staff running from the hotel was what probably gave it away. Everyone quickly headed for the beach, situated right next to the complex. Luckily, it was over within the matter of seconds and one that only shook the building ever so slightly. At the point of its’ origin, the earthquake was recorded at magnitude 5.8 earthquake (83km southwest of Nusa Dua) and luckily, as far as I know, no-one was hurt. What didn’t help us that night, was that Bali issued a Tsunami warning on the back of the quake. Going to sleep in this little Yoga Shala, situated right next to the sea with the prospect that there may be a tsunami really wasn’t in keeping with the relaxing, stress-relieving experience the hotel aspired for.
Luckily however, we were fine.
Earthquakes aside, we continued with the day as normal.
We woke up properly with a typically colourful Balinese breakfast. Bali truly is full of colour and each day started for us with a table of rainbow-coloured food and drinks.
In Bali, it’s common knowledge that most tourists hire a scooter at some point during their trip. We did this in most places we stayed. At the cost of around £3 per day to hire, it’s the perfect way to get around – if you’re confident enough to ride a scooter, that is. I shouldn’t laugh, but we did see one guy try to hire a scooter in Ubud. He put the key into the ignition, pulled the accelerator too hard and drove straight into the car next to him. You can only imagine what his face looked like when he got up, took the key back out of the ignition and said to his wife “I think this was a bad idea!” and then walked off. Brilliant!
Scooters can be hired from a range of different places, usually including your hotel or hire places dotted around the streets
Our first stop was in Caangu (around a 15 minute scoot from the hotel) where we pulled over for an ice-cream. As you may already know, Bali is an Instagram haven, full of colour, hipster vibes …and enough Vegan restaurants to make you forget that meat exists. Mad Pops has become seemingly famous through Insta with it’s ‘on-trend’ neon signs, bright colours and delicious ice-creams. Sarah was very happy standing in front of the “Ice Ice Baby’ signage. Hilariously, the venue operates a policy of “please limit your photo taking to a minimum in order to allow other people to do the same” posing the question of ‘are we here for the ice creams or the pictures?’ I’m not sure I even know the answer to that question yet – but luckily the ice-creams really were delicious – so much so – that we went back a number of times (there is an other Mad Pops in Seminyak too). Made from vegan recipes with a range of aesthetically pleasing toppings, they’re right goodens!
Favourite part of being on holiday
– Eating new foods, of course! –
Throughout our stay in Caangu, we headed to an array great bars and restaurants. One thing we quickly noticed about Bali us that you can literally eat any type of cuisine, whether this be a typical Balinese style curry, Italian, Mexican, Incredible Burgers, Vegan food – you name it, they make it …and make it well! One thing that we’ve noticed whilst in places like Sri Lanka or Nepal, naturally they are seriously good at making their own cuisines. However, after eating incredible currys for breakfast lunch and dinner over the period of a few weeks, there are times where you think “do you know what, I’d love to eat a burger or somthing right now”. But when you order a burger (or something typically Western), it’s usually, in my experience, a bit of let down. I remember ordering a cheeseburger in Vietnam and when it arrived, it was literally a slice of cheese between two pieces of bread. The waitress had no idea what I was talking about when I said it’s missing it’s key component . We had a similar experience to this in Nepal where we went to the “best Italian in the town” and the pizza was far from it! Therefore, typically, our expectations of Western foods are quite low when in Asia. However, in Bali this isn’t the case. We can honestly say that whatever cuisine we ordered, every night of our trip, we ate delicious food from all types of cultures.
Top Bars – Caangu
Pretty Poison – A bar with a a skatepark out the back. Very cool.
Black Cat – A secret Speak Easy bar, hidden behind a fridge in a shop.
Shooters bar – full of games: Giant Jenga; Crazy Golf; Bean Bag Toss; Fossball
THe fooD in BaLi is DreAMy
Top Restaurants – Caangu
Lola’s Cantina Mexicana – Seriously yummy Mexican food (we went here twice)
Crate Cafe – Delicious food. Bali Hipster Vibes. Crates everywhere
Kynd Community – a very famous Vegan restaurant – Delicious, trendy – Insta galore!
Caangu and Seminyak are very close to each other (approximately 5/10 minute drive). Having been told by numerous people on separate occasions, we felt we had to succumb to their pressures …of going to Potato Head. Situated in the heart of Seminyak along the beach front, it’s easy to find and a ‘must do!’ activity. Lets not lie here – everyone loves a good beach club, right? This place is seriously cool. From the moment you walk in, the atmosphere grabs your attention and before you know it you’re sitting in the pool at the integrated bar without a care in the world. We loved this place so much we came back on our final day before flying home.
Like Caangu, Seminyak has an abundance of vibrant bars, restaurants and clubs. Upon hearing about Seminyak before flying to Bali, we were actually unsure whether this would be a place of interest to us, but we were pleasantly surprised and wouldn’t rule it out for others. It is quite a busy place, with lots going on but there’s a nice feel to it.
Our Top Bars/Restaurants – Seminyak
Potato Head – Beach Bar/Club – Ibiza vibes
Finns Beach Club – We didn’t actually go here, but heard all about how amazing it is.
Neon Palms – Cocktail bar
Sea Circus – Restaurant, cocktail bar and coffee den
Caangu and Seminyak had treated us well. We spent four days here in total which was enough to see everything that we intended. Our next stop was:
Ubud is one of Bali’s most popular destinations. Unlike most of country’s sunset-filled, sandy beaches, Ubud is the artistic and spiritual hub of Bali. Located in the heart of the island, the town is made up from jungles, wildlife and in many cases, people in search of relaxation and reflection. It was definitely the destination I was most looking forward to from our Bali trip. Many of mine and Sarah’s fondest memories are from various jungle experiences in South East Asia. There’s something quite special about waking up to the sound of wildlife from within the midst of the jungle trees.
Ubud was destined to be a relaxing one.
A taxi from Caangu area to Ubud takes around 1 hour and should cost approximately £20.
Popular tourist attractions in Ubud:
Ubud Monkey Forest
Visiting the rice fields
Various trip to Waterfalls
Ubud Royal Palace
Ubud Art Market
Upon our arrival, we were greeted by that sweet sound of birds in the trees and the fresh, stripped-back feeling of Ubud.
When researching Ubud ourselves, we found that most people recommended that you stay for a good few days, so we had four nights in total which was enough to get everything we wanted from it. We stayed in two hotels, one being a typical Ubud resort, with a swimming pool attached to the room and an open plan living space. This was great, but to be honest, not really us. The Amora Boutique Villa Hotel was clearly a stand out resort, however, we decided we we much prefer something a little bit more stripped-back.
Our second hotel/guest house was something we came across on booking.com that had very recently opened. It was more than half the price of the Amora resort and had received incredible reviews in the short time it had been functioning. Built by the owner and located in the centre of a rice field, it gave us more of the ‘Bali feels’ that you’d get from a homestay. We loved this place and couldn’t recommend it more highly. The owners were lovely and couldn’t do enough for their guests. Important note – The entry to the hotel is quite an adventure! As the accommodation is situated in the middle of a rice field, there’s only one way to reach it – via a long winding path, reachable only via a scooter. When picked up by the owners, we were lumped onto the back of a scooter with all of our bags/suitcases strapped to it, which made quite the spectacle.
We spent the first few days here, sitting on bean bags and relaxing. We played lots of Monopoly Go (which if you don’t know, is a great little card game for two or more people).
Aside from relaxing, there were a few things we wanted to do whilst in Ubud – that I guess most do when visiting the town. This included heading out to one of the many beautiful waterfalls in the surrounding area and also to one of the famous rice terraces which are typically featured in most travel pictures of Bali.
You can book excursions in Ubud from almost anywhere. Strangers aren’t shy to approach you and ask whether you would like to hire them as a driver for the day. Hiring a driver is the most popular choice for tourists. They will take you wherever you want to go for a fee, that usually equates to approximately £25 per person. We hired a guy that was friends with the owner of our guest house. He informed us that there are a few waterfalls around Ubud that are good, however, will be filled with hundreds of tourists all trying to take that perfect Insta shot. Therefore, he recommended another waterfall called – Sekumpul Waterfall – that is “far better than the others” off the beaten track and usually much quieter as it’s a little further out. Naturally, this came at a slightly higher price and made for a longer day. However, he was definitely right. This waterfall was pretty unbelievable …and true to his word, it was very quiet indeed. We were probably two of fifteen people there.
If you’re looking for a great waterfall – Sekumpul – really is the one!
Tegalalang rice terraces & Nungnung waterfall are the most famous in Ubud but, by all accounts are considerably busy due to their popularity.
Our next stop was Jatiluwih rice terraces which were also recorded by our driver as they too are typically quiet in comparison to others. We walked around for around 45 minutes, admiring the views and the unique terraces. On reflection, these weren’t actually as good as we had hoped as, in most cases, they were swamped with muddy water and not as green and pretty as we had hoped them to be. So if you’re looking for something a bit more green, maybe check with your tour guide on the best terraces to head towards, depending on which month you find yourself there.
During our stay in Ubud, WE ATE WELL!! Unbelievably well.
Our top restaurants – Ubud
Vegan restaurant. But hear me out! This place changed the way I feel about Vegan food. If it all tasted as good as it did here then sign me up.
Seriously popular place too!
Lunch Cafe (close to Zest) Really nice smoothies and fancy lattes with Balinese and western food.
We left Ubud for the Gili Isles. You can book a transfer from you hotel in Ubud to the harbour where you catch the ferry to your first Gili Island.
(Ubud – harbour – approximately 2 hours)
The boat itself takes just over an hour and a half and, in our experience, is a considerably bumpy one. We were told about these boat journeys beforehand. If you do suffer from sea sickness, be prepared. That’s all I’ll say about that haha!
Our first Gili experience took place on Gili Trawangan (or known more popularly as Gili T). Upon arriving here, I won’t lie in saying that we were somewhat underwhelmed and a little bit worried. The photos you see online of Gili T conjure up the idea of a paradise island and when we first arrived, it couldn’t feel further from it. As soon as you arrive on Gili T, you are greeted by the hustle and bustle that one might expect from arriving in a busy city.
Horse and cart everywhere.
Noise and chaos.
Luckily, moving away from the harbour area, the noise disappeared.
Gili T is a tropical playground filled with bars, restaurants and dive centres. Known mostly out of the three Gilis as the party island, you can feel this as soon as you arrive. Moving away from the seafront and into the heart of the island, we arrived at our hotel. It was certainly quiet. Great. However, not the tropical images you see in the photos. But we adjusted and began to understand it better as the days went by. It’s an island that has elements of paradise but also pockets of poverty at the same time. It’s a very interesting and diverse place.
We SpEnT fOuR DaYs HeRe ANd THey WeRe GrEaT.
We spent most days on the beach, paddle-boarding and swimming in the crystal clear tropical waters. Honestly, the sea here is like no other. This is one thing that really does live up to the expectation. On top of this, there are TURTLES EVERYWHERE. You can hire snorkels and paddle gear from most points on the beach and by merely swimming around for 10 minutes, you will be sure to find a turtle or two going about their days. This was one of our favourite parts of Gili T.
Unfortunately, whilst paddle boarding (in the picture below), I managed to loose our GoPro, therefore we weren’t able to get a picture of the turtles that we saw 😦
The island is small and it’s easy to see it all. This can be achieved either from walking around or hiring a bicycle – the most popular choice amongst tourists. One of the unique selling points of the Gilis is that there are no motorised vehicles on any of them. However, there are many local people who offer the option to get around via horse and cart which is currently a well-known problem in the Gilis. There are many stories regarding the welfare of these horses and it’s advised to steer clear from this form of transport. From what we saw, the horses didn’t appear to look healthy and in some instances did look malnourished. Whenever we were exploring, it was either on foot or by bicycle.
During the evenings, we jumped on our bikes and headed toward the sunsets. The Gilis draw crowds in from all over the world for many reasons, whether this be the party vibes, the fresh food served in the many restaurants …or the incredible sunsets that take place. These sunsets are genuinely like no other. If you head around to the east of the island, there are a number of chill bars strategically set up in position for the evening sunset. This is where you’ll see a flock of Instagram bloggers all queuing up for that all-important sunset shot …on a swing!
You’ll never see anything quite like it, it’s hilarious!
Top Bars/Restaurants – Gili T
1. Pesona – Shisha and Indian Street Food
2. Malibu Bar – Began Bags and Sunsets
3. Elixir – Live Music – Beach Bar vibes
4. Pearl Bamboo Restaurant – Incredible food – MUST GO (we went twice)
Whilst on Gili T, you will be asked by many whether you would like to do any diving. There are options to complete your PADI, take part in a days guided dive or simply do a little bit of snoreklling. We went on an all-day snorkelling trip and couldn’t recommend it more highly. Visiting surrounding areas of the Gilis throughout the day, you experience the islands from below – and they don’t disappoint. Spotting turtles, admiring the coral and various wrecks, it’s an incredible day for a seriously cheap price (something like £4 for the day).
There are a number of famous sites that are included within the snorkelling trips, including the famous statues at Gili Meno. I will say though, that although the statues are very cool, due to an obscene amount of trips all visiting the same areas throughout the day, the levels of tourists swimming in these areas are pretty unbelievable. Were likened this moment, taking a picture of the statues to that scene in the film Titanic where everyone is thrown into the water. People are everywhere. Legs kicking all of over the place, photos being taken without a care in the world. It wasn’t the most enjoyable of moments and I did actually feel somewhat embarrassed that we were party to this madness, taking our own picture. My advice if you really want to see these statues is, stay on Gili Meno and in the morning (early), you can literally swim to them yourself in the matter of minutes. This will help you to avoid the madness that ensues throughout the day.
Bars stay open until late in Gili T. There are lots of clubs and lot of people. We loved our tike here, but after four days were ready for something a little quieter:
Closest of the Gilis to Lombok, Gili Air blends Gili T’s hustle and bustle with Meno’s minimalist vibe. It’s much quieter here than Gili T and perfect for people who are looking for something a little bit slower. This was our favourite of the two islands. We spent another four days here and loved every minute.
There are a number of incredible restaurants on the island and some stand out hotels. However, if you are heading to Gili Air, YOU MUST STAY where I’m about to recommend (I’ll not accept any excuses ;). Pink Coco is one of the coolest hotels we’ve stayed at and is a firm favourite of many who visit the island. Situated on the east and in direct view of the night’s sunsets, it’s pretty magical.
The hotel is Pink.
It has pink swings in the sea, pink bikes to rent and a lovely swimming pool surrounded by huge palm trees. The service we received here was exceptional. We also took advantage of the spa treatment that is on offer.
The hot-stone massage was pretty amazing!
There are some great restaurants on Gili Air. Mama’s Pizza is quite famous amongst the tourists and even locals. The pizzas here are very tasty and are definitely worth checking out. There’s no wonder theres a queue of people lining to get in each night.
On top of this, there are a number of seafood restaurants scattered along the seafront all serving fish of the day.
After watching four remarkable sunsets, sipping on cocktails, filling our stomachs and sitting around the pool, we felt refreshed, ready for the next destination:
Important note –
you CAN jump on a boat from Gili Air to Nusa Lembongan. Don’t let the locals try and convince you otherwise. It’s a well-known fact that some locals will try and ell you tickets back to the main harbour in order to catch a new boat to Nusa Lembongan, however, they are merely telling you this in order to sell you a more expensive trip.
The trip from Gili Air takes around 3 hours and isn’t as bumpy as the ride in.
Nusa Lembongan is part of a group of three islands that make up the Nusa Penida district, of which it is the most famous. Most tourists tend to stay on this island, using it as a go-between when exploring the neighbouring Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan. Upon arriving, you will be greeted by a number of taxis that transport all tourists to their hotels (this service will be included ind your 900k ticket from Gili Air). After dropping our bags, we Googled the best bars on Nusa Lembongan and stumbled across The Deck. This place was so good, we came here most nights during our stay. Situated within the cliffside and, of course, facing directly into the sunset, it was idillic.
During our stay, we hired a scooter and explored the island. There is a famous bridge known as the “yellow Bridge” that connects Lembongan to Ceningan. A popular activity for tourists is to head over to Ceningan in order to see the Blue Lagoon. The waters here a beautiful.
Kelinking Beach is good. It’s beautiful but it is insanely busy. Not just busy but full of careless people that want that ‘perfect insta shot’ and don’t care what they do to get it. The view is so high up and there’s only a stick rope fence between you and the 200 metre drop. People push past you – one guy tripped on a loose rock and nearly sent me flying over the edge!! There’s a section where there’s no fence, just a sheer drop – and of course that’s where people choose to sit and DANGLE THEIR FEET OVER THE EDGE whilst taking a photo. Aside from the views being great, it actually wasn’t that enjoyable when we got there, but then we moved away from the queues and steps and it was much nicer, a lot less busy higher up, less people and Louis flew his drone.
Nusa Penida is a good place, however it’s a long day and it doesn’t come easy. If you were to take my advice, I wouldn’t worry to much about going. If you do decide to go, make sure that you get there early and see more of the island. If you are only planning on visiting the T-Rex, it’s not really worth it.