I’ve heard so many great things about Bali, I had to make a stop over. On my way to Singapore for work, I took a little weekend trip to Dubai (read about it here) then shot off to the little pre-dominantly Hindu island in an otherwise Muslim nation named Bali. I was there nearly a week and it felt like I needed more time.
There’s are essentially 2 parts of Bali most tourists go to and rightfully so; the cultural side and the beachy more resort style. Let’s start off with the former.
This is basically the epicenter of Bali tourism. Ask anyone who’s been to Bali and they’ll tell you, you must go to Ubud. Why – it’s cultural, natural, it’s more inland, known for the spas, yoga and relaxation. Not to mention some of the nicest people.
My flight got in late or super-early morning (depending on your definition) and I had requested a taxi / driver to pick me up from my hotel in Ubud. **Highly Recommended** After about an hour drive, I got to my hotel, the Gajah Biru Bungalows. I’ve read a lot of places don’t have 24 hour check-in or they close the front desk so you might just be hanging or sleeping in the lobby for a few hours before you find someone to help you get checked in. So the driver worked out since they were anticipating a late arrival.
Hotels are typically cheap in Bali and in Ubud, I met a few elder gents that were paying somewhere like $20/night. I paid roughly $60/night which is on the higher end of the cheap accommodations. Why? I researched TripAdvisor like crazy and wanted to make sure the room I’m staying in has no insect / bug / rodent problems – you may read on some hotel rooms that were nice but at night you hear rats in the ceiling or in between walls. I wanted none of that. I want clean and pest free. Being in Ubud, you’re closer to the rice paddies and more rural so it’s a little more common here.
The place I stayed at was Gajah Biru – a nice place, has a cool vibe but a bit rundown. Still nice, clean, great staff and centrally located. It’s only a 10-15 minute walk to the Ubud Market and Monkey Forest. Staff is great and very helpful when needing suggestions on where to go / tour or even hiring a driver for the day (which you MUST DO), it’s only $60 usd for an all day driver to take you to wherever you want to go.
They provide you with a free traditional breakfast every morning and the bed has a mosquito net which is a nice feature. The website obviously makes it look a lot nicer than it was but don’t get me wrong, I was pretty content with the property. When I arrived (around 1am), they had a sandwich ready for me in my room as a snack and welcome gift. It’s about a 15 minute walk from here to the center of town, where you can go shopping, hit the spas, see a few temples, etc… They do provide transportation on rotation. If you’re looking for cheaper places – you can easily get a decent hotel room for $15/night.
I avoided the Monkey Forest. I’m Indian, been to India and seen enough monkeys. These monkeys are trained to steal your camera and stuff. One of the guys I met when I went biking said the monkey jumped on his back, reached for his water bottle which he held away so the monkey bit him. I don’t care for any of it.
SPA’s / Massages
I’ve never gotten a massage at a spa or whatever before coming to Bali. I was told by some of my female colleagues, “You Must Get a Massage, it’s soo great and cheap!” So like a good man does, I did what I was told.
I thought the women yelling “massage, massage’ on the streets were going to take me to some shady ass place so I avoided them and came across one that looked clean and legit. I honestly based the shadiness level on if I saw any white girls in there. $6 for a full hour and damn did that feel good; I went twice.
Temples and Waterfalls
As I stated previously I hired a driver. It’s a must. I told him I wanted to check out 2 temples and a few others spots. We went to the Elephant Cave Temple and Tirta Empul (above).
The Elephant Cave Temple is quite unique in that it’s both, a Hindu and Buddhist temple. Tirta Empul is a Natural Springs temple where people can bathe; you will be asked to wear a sarang and will be charged a nominal fee.
There are quite a few waterfalls in Bali. The one I went to I believe is called Tegenungan Waterfall. While not the most impressive waterfall, it’s still pretty cool to see. A bit of a tourist trap but luckily the day I went it wasn’t packed. There are steps to get down to the waterfall or back up, so definitely be mindful. When my friends went, it must’ve rained heavily the day before because they said the waterfall itself was brown, looked pretty disgusting.
Other Areas in Ubud
I wanted to check out some of the amazing wood carvings Bali is known for so asked the driver. He took me to an area called MAS. This area is known for hand carving murti’s (statues for my non-Gujarati friends). Really amazing work, but I haven’t won the lottery and can’t really afford a $16,000USD statue of Krishna.
One of my friends stayed at a place called Villa Awang Awang and loved it. She said it overlooked the jungle and was super remote. If you’re into Yoga, Yoga Barn in UBUD Is highly recommended as is Padi Organic Cooking class (I didn’t do either)
Things to do
Outside of temples, shopping, relaxing and all. If you want to be active you can do what I did. I booked a 3 hour tour that starts at the top of Mt. Batur and you bike 3 hours downhill on pretty much paved roads. They lied however, it’s not just downhill, there are some steep uphill climbs. Steep enough that our guide that does this tour several times a week had to get off the bike and slowly painfully walk it up.
It is totally worth doing. I met this couple at breakfast that did the same ride the day before. They said it’s worth it but it rained the entire day they were there. The sky looked clear this morning, so here’s hoping.
The tour group picks you up from your hotel, on the drive to the top (or starting point), you make a pit stop on the side of the road to take a look at the Tegalalang Rice Paddies. Worth the stop. Once you reach the starting point, you get breakfast with a view of more mountain peaks.
As if right on queue, it started pouring as soon as we finished breakfast and yes, we still had to ride all the way down on shitty ass bikes with weak ass brakes. Buy a poncho. It’s a bit worrying when you’re about to start downhill, look to your left and see a stream of rushing (not gushing), rushing water speeding it’s way downhill. Great. So you say a little prayer and go. My bike had a little issue, the brake wasn’t working, so I was squeezing the shit out of the front and rear brake and still speeding downhill that I had to put my foot down, hit and angle and slide to try to stop. We couldn’t fix the brake so I swapped bikes with one of the guides who was on the rear duty – not much better.
Once downhill you go through smaller towns and villages. You’ll hear some stories about the architecture and all the family temples, see kids coming back from school just waving at you riding through. You stop at another rice paddy for a few minutes to get a closer look. You’re fed lunch and on the way back to your hotel, you stop by a Luwak Coffee Plantation and learn about the cat like creature that eats and shits the beans.
Legian / Seminyak are coastal regions of Bali.
I stayed at the AQ-VA hotel which is a really cool condo/hotel in the center of town so you’re literally in the middle of the shopping areas and a short walk to the beaches. I went to the beach area one night for drinks at the Cocoon Club and there’s also a rooftop hotel nearby. Drink prices are equivalent of what you’d pay in Chicago. Pretty trendy but cool nonetheless. Beaches aren’t exactly clean in this area, but it’s still nice to be on the beach or at the rooftop bar hanging out.
Not much to do here except bars and nightlife. Still a nice change from the cultural side.
You can go up north a bit and hit up Potato Head Beach which we went to and it started raining so really didn’t get to enjoy it much.
KUTA – avoid this area, even though Legian / Seminyak are within the greater Kuta area they’re a bit nicer than Kuta itself. A lot of druggies and the Australians just destroyed that city with their madness. As a friend said, “Do Not Go To Kuta! Don’t even look out the window there, you’ll see women holding drugged babies. It is sad. Too many drunk Australians, they ruined Bali.”
One place I really wanted to go but didn’t make it was Uluwatu. I heard from multiple people that it was probably the highlight. You can avoid the shows there but walk around, check out the temples and then stay for the best sunset on the island.
My colleagues met me here for 2 days. We booked a tour, a sunrise hike up Mt. Batur. I went biking down the mountain but now it’s time to hike 3 hours up the damn mountain.
The car picks you up at midnight, takes 2 hours to get the base. No bathroom breaks on the mountain so once you arrive, you’re told to go pee first. You start hiking at 2 am and want to reach the top by 5 to catch the sunrise.
You get a flashlight and walking stick and a personal guide just for your tour. At that time of morning, you can’t even see your hand in front of you. Total darkness. Make sure you have hiking shoes. Tour says it’s for all levels, and we were struggling. I have torn ligaments in my knee so really wasn’t the smartest idea for me and I was reallllllly struggling on the last leg up. Had to take breaks every few minutes.
Once you reach the top you’re awarded with an amazing view of the sunrise (if the clouds don’t fk that up). You also get breakfast at the top. There’s a chef up there making you breakfast.
I will say it’s the most challenging thing I’ve done yet the most rewarding. Although I’ll never do it again.
This tour wouldn’t be allowed in the US, because there are no safety ropes or anything. If you slip, good bye. The walk down wasn’t much better. Now that the sun is out, you see how high you are, how one close you are to the edge and the morning dew has made these stones like slippery wet marble.
In the end, Bali was amazing. Some of the nicest people can be found in Bali. From children waving at you as you ride through their town to people ready to answer your questions about their culture and those that want to help (or provide a service, such as a taxi). A week spent really breezed by, a lot to see and do and the smiles and laughs from the people you meet really make it worthwhile. I definitely look forward to returning at some point in the future. You can leave Bali but a part of Bali stays with you.
- To convert money, stay away from those shops that offer extremely high exchange rates, look for venues with the green billboard (PT. Diraghayu Valuta Prima) and / or ask your hotel front desk
- Book a taxi for your ride from the airport with your hotel you’re staying at, it’s only about $10 more and they won’t try to rip you off or unnecessarily drive you around. Do this especially if you’re arriving into Bali late.