Say ‘Bali’ to most people and they’ll immediately picture a sun-drenched beach with bamboo huts and hammocks lining the palm fringed coastline, chilled locals supping on fresh coconuts as they meander by. While there is absolutely no doubt that if you want it, you can wile away weeks or months living this postcard-perfect lifestyle, there is also so much more to be discovered on Bali if you’re feeling adventurous.
From left: countryside surrounding Ubud, the beach at Padangbai and local monkeys
Places To Stay
Kuta is the ultimate backpacker hangout. Think surfing, bars, cheap booze, fast-food restaurants – great for a party but get out fast if you want to experience the real Bali. It is however, where you will find the cheapest backpacker digs.
Sanur is Kuta’s next door neighbor and a much sleepier place to stay… often nicknamed ‘Snore’ in contrast to Kuta’s pumping nightlife. Further up the coast Seminyak is also a lively place, a favorite amongst expats with trendy bars, restaurants and resorts.
Padangbai offers a chilled out small seaside town with some lively backpackers’ places and a small but pleasant beach (the only downside is the sand is pretty course). It also has the advantage of being the main port for boats heading to other islands in Indonesia.
Stay at Topi Inn, situated at the furthest end of the beachfront road. A typically colorful bar and restaurant area downstairs, upstairs there are a selection of private rooms and ‘dorm’ beds- comfortable mattresses under mozzie-nets on the covered upper terrace, which are a great budget option. The boys working behind the bar are great fun- order an Amak cocktail (the local spirit) and challenge them to a game of chess or Connect 4. Staff can also arrange boat tickets on to other islands for just about the cheapest price going.
Amed and Tulemban, along the north of the island, are quiet old-fishing villages, catering to travellers and holiday makers alike. There are plenty of cheap digs and cheap eats, plus a few slightly larger hotels that appeal to an older and more family-orientated crowd.
Geri Giria Shanti – (you almost certainly will need to book in advance!) An absolute haven of a guest house, run by the beautiful and oh-so-helpful Lise, Geri Giria offers beautiful bungalows with free breakfast, and free tea and coffee all day. Lise and her partner David also run Adventure Divers on the same site, if you’re feeling adventurous. Bungalows with private bathrooms start at 20 Euros a night for a double bed, but they’re happy to add an extra mattress if you ask to make the room a triple.
Three Brothers (Bobby’s Villas)- beach front bungalows and great service from the staff, plus a beautiful pool overlooking the beach- drink a cold beer in the pool while the sun sets over the ocean and locals play guitar on the beach! Double room is around $18 a night depending on the time of year, the family bungalows (sleeps up to four people) is approx. $30.
Ubud, away from the coast and up in the mountains, is a beautiful and artistic town, with a thriving tourism industry. There are plenty of cheap eats alongside the touristy restaurants, and the landscape is stunning. A must-see for fans of the novel ‘Eat, Pray, Love’.
There are plenty of homestays and cheap guesthouses just off Monkey Forest Road, as well as more expensive hotels. Ubud Terrace is a decent middle-budget option, for $20 a night you get a family room (sleeps up to four people if you ask for an extra mattress) free breakfast and they have a pool set in beautiful leafy grounds.
Nusa Lembongan, one of the small islands just off Bali’s mainland, is a beautiful, quiet island, with serene beaches as well as the famous ‘Manta Point’ dive site and great breaks on the north of the island, if you feel like getting wet.
Stay at Secret Garden Villas, a series of cute bungalows hidden amongst the trees. It has its own pool and yoga centre on site, as well as being home to Big Fish Diving.
Traditional farming in the Ubud countryside, Bali
Things To Do
- Padangbai: Although there are lots of dive shops here, save your diving for elsewhere! Instead, try out one of the cultural classes or courses on offer- learn to batik, create silver jewelry, dance to traditional music or play the drums like a local. (Topi Inn can help arrange most cultural classes)
- Amed and Tulemban: Dive the famous Liberty Wreck, a US cargo ship sunk during the Second World War. Set your alarms and go for an early morning dive (most dive shops will be happy to arrange a 6.30am dive) to avoid the crowds and see the huge family of bump head fish that swim through the remains.
- Ubud: Lots to do, although Ubud is extremely touristy and popular with families, so be prepared. Visit the Monkey Forest for an hour or two wandering through the trees and trying to avoid being pickpocketed by the furry critters, or check out a ‘traditional’ dance performance, on every evening at about 7.30pm- there are a couple of venues that host these, all near the football field at the top of Monkey Forest Road. If you want to indulge, there are plenty of good-but-cheap spas offering massages, reflexology and various body scrub treatments. Rent a motorbike or bicycle and enjoy the countryside surrounding the town center- it takes only minutes to get away from the tourist attractions and lost amongst rice paddies and rolling mountainsides.
- Nusa Lembongan: Go diving off Nusa Lembongan and you will almost certainly see huge Manta rays. Big Fish Diving offer competitive rates. It is also possible to surf on the island, although some of the more popular beaches for surfing suit experienced surfers best.
Food and Drink
You are spoilt for choice in most places on Bali when it comes to food. From local rice and satay dishes at markets, to foods (cooked well) from all over the world, you should find something to suit all taste buds.
As should be expected, western-style dishes and established restaurants are more expensive than eating in markets or warungs (local restaurants). If you eat locally, you can usually ask for dishes like Nasi Goran (a spicy fried rice) to come at the price you want- tell them you want a 15000IR (roughly $1.50) meal and they should be able to make it for you!
Most people fly into Bali (DPS) airport, which is in the town of Denpensar. At the airport, there are fixed rate taxis to just about anywhere on Bali you want to go.
From other islands nearby in Indonesia, you can arrange a boat to Bali (most landing in Amed or Padangbai).
Where To Go Next?
The Gili Islands: When you’ve had enough of mainland Bali, hop on one of the fast boats from Padangbai or Amed and make the trip out to the Gili Islands, where ‘something for everyone’ couldn’t be more accurate.
The fast boat takes around 2 hours, and you shouldn’t pay more than 250000IR (most places start the bargaining at 600000IR for a single trip- please don’t be fooled, the agencies only pay 200000IR themselves, anything above this is commission)
Lombok: Or head over to Lombok, roughly 1 ½ by fast boat from Bali, ticket prices the same.
Agencies also offer ‘slow boat’ tickets for approximately 100000IR, but the journey to Lombok takes 4-5 hours from Padangbai and the total journey to the Gili Islands, about 8 hours, including an hour bus journey from the ferry terminal in Lombok to the fast boat that will take you the final part of the crossing. It’s definitely worth the additional cost (roughly $15) to go direct from Bali to Lombok/ the Gilis.
Words by Laura Richards & photos by Simon Rogers