Editor’s note: This post is peppered with links to other posts (on this blog) and resources about Bali. Click on the bold blue text to explore them.
Boyfriend and I spent 2 full weeks on the island of Bali, and while we travelled as slow as one can possibly get, we still managed to see and do tonnes of things. Here was our itinerary.
We started our holiday in Bingin (Bukit peninsula), and spent three days in a unresorty resort called Mu. We wanted these three days in peace and quiet to get over our jet lag and have time to leave our life in Switzerland behind before plunging into Bali. From Mu we could go down to the beach, but frankly, we were too in love with the ocean view from the top of the cliff to go to the beach too often.
We then went all the way up to Ubud for about 4 days. Here, we explored the monkey forest sanctuary, the monkey forest road with its temples and shops, and also took a rice field tour. We finished off our time in Ubud by using it as a base for a tour of Lake Batur with C-Bali.
After Ubud, we based ourselves in Sanur for the last 6 days of our trip. As we don’t like to constantly move around, we wanted a spot from where it was easy to take day trips, and Sanur fit the bill. With the help of the wonderful manager at Villa Puri Ayu (more about her later), we went on a very affordable and pleasant day trip (with car and driver) to Seminyak beach and the stunning Pura Tanah Lot (temple). Finally, we went for a day trip to Nusa Lembongan, a small island near Bali.
If I could, would I have done it differently? Yes, a bit. I should have taken the opportunity to hire a car and driver and explore the beaches and coast of the Bukit Peninsula when I was at Mu, but at the time I was too concerned with my pre-set budget (which I ended up blowing anyway). It would have been so easy to visit Pura Uluwatu, Nusa Dua (maybe for snorkeling) and Jimbaran for its famous seafood warungs. All this could have been achieved in one day, and the cost of the ride would have been around 400,000 rupiah.
I also wish that I had booked myself on the 2-day C-Bali tour rather than the half day one, as the mountainous region around Lake Batur is simply beautiful and worth spending time in. I also regretted going to Nusa Lembongan, as a day trip there is pretty much a waste of money considering that you only get to spend a few hours on the island itself. I am also not really into deserted islands (Nusa Lembongan is veeeeerrry quiet), so if I could do it again I would have opted for a slightly more expensive trip to the Gili Islands, and spent a couple of days there.
Finally, in an ideal world, I would have added another week to the trip, and used it to explore the North, which, from what I’ve heard, is far less Disney-like than the South, but that’s for another trip.
I can remember quite clearly that I had a pre-fixed budget in mind when I landed on Bali, but it turned out that my Lonely Planet guide was already really out of date and food cost something like three times as much as it was marked on the guide. But what was even more frustrating was that even when I found myself paying about 100,000 rupiah per meal, the food was usually plain awful. Overly salted beef steaks with a weird gooey consistency, boiled potatoes still too hard to chew, rock-hard chunks of beef in a Chinese-style dish, an expensive Bebek Betutu (crispy duck marinated in lots of pungent spices) which frankly had clearly not been marinated in anything and had simply been deep fried…I could go on and on. The bottom line is, with restaurants catering for tourists (and there didn’t seem to be anything BUT these kinds of restaurants in the South, because apparently Balinese are not really into eating out of the house), mid-range establishments were pretty mediocre, and at 100,000 a dish, this was difficult for me to accept. In the end, my best meal was fresh fish at a small unassuming warung in Sanur for about 30,000 rupiah per portion, though the plates were tiny and big eaters would have to order at least two.
For convenience and because we were carrying two big wheeled bags, we opted to use taxis to get around. Here is what it cost (we always booked our taxis from our hotels. While we know that this means we probably paid more than what is standard, we didn’t want to risk getting scammed by taxi drivers picked from the street).
Airport to Bingin: 200,000
Bingin to Ubud: 250,000
Ubud to Sanur: 200,000
Sanur to Aiport: 150,000
A day trip with car and driver cost us 400,000 rupiah for about 8 hours. We were once quotes 700,000 rupiah for 7 hours (!!!!) by the driver who picked us up from the airport when we arrived in Bali. Since we liked him and he was associated with our hotel, we thought he’d be less likely to rip us off if we showed him that we were interested in taking day trips around the island with him. Wrong. Turned out he simply took it as a sign that we had cash and tried to charge us double.
One of the most expensive things we did (and the biggest waste of money) was our trip to Nusa Lembongan. The boat ride cost us 400,000 each return, and the snorkeling trip with the weird and possibly homicidal fisherman around 300,000 for two hours. All in all, it was too rushed for us to enjoy, and it was not money well spent.
As for hotels, since Bali is pretty much the first place we’ve travelled to where we could afford to stay in hotels with pools and not guesthouses, we treated ourselves a little. Mu cost us 50 euros a night, our hotel in Ubud was 50 dollars per night, and the one is Sanur 45 dollars a night. All prices included breakfast, free wifi, and gorgeous pools.
We also discovered that sun cream is pretty expensive in Bali (around 140,000 rupiah for a small bottle) and that the only insect repellent with DEET we could find was not only expensive at also around 140,000, but extremely stinky (it burnt our skin) so if you can and it’s cheaper to do so, stoke up on these two travel essentials back home.
Dangers/annoyances/things to keep in mind
While I hate to say this because it’s such a harsh statement, in Bali always assume that locals who want to sell you something/offer their services are trying to rip you off. It sounds horrible, but this will save you that heavy, sinking feeling of realising that you trusted too much and ended up with less cash than you’re supposed to have.
All the Balinese drivers we used except one tried to get us to stop at pottery/jewellery/insert-consumerist-crap-here shops along the way, making it a point to always drive along roads and streets jam packed full with stores. This is because, should you decide to stop and buy something, the driver gets a commission, which means that you have just paid an inflated price. Since the drivers we used were linked to hotels we stayed at, a polite no was enough, but I have no idea whether an independently hired driver would be more persistent or not. The one and only exception to this was the driver we got from Villa Puri Ayu in Sanur. This was a lovely man who could speak no English and had no interest in getting commission from us. He never suggested anything and, for once, drove along normal, uninteresting roads to get us from A to B.
Moreover, I really need to mention the lovely manager at Villa Puri Ayu in Sanur. Not only was she always helpful, but she also never ever tried to rip us off, even when she obviously could have. We changed money at the hotel and the rate quoted was the same as that in normal exchange offices and shops. The day trips and taxi drives we booked through her were not only the cheapest we had come across, but frankly the best because of the lovely driver. It warmed my heart that there was at least one spot on Bali where getting happy and satisfied clients willing to come back was more important than making a quick buck.
Being my first trip to SE Asia, I must admit I was pretty paranoid about getting some weird tropical disease while on Bali, but it turned out that you only needed common sense to avoid this. Dengue fever, a potentially lethal disease with no treatment and which is transmitted by mosquitoes is a significant risk, but the particular kind of mosquito which carries the disease is only active during the day, and spraying yourself with DEET repellent should keep it at bay (in two weeks I was only bitten once by a mosquito, and this was early in the morning when I went to the outdoor loo scantly clad and before applying repellent). In the evenings (though Malaria is almost non existent on Bali), avoid being bitten by covering up with cool, white, long sleeved cotton clothing.
Rabies: Rabies has been associated with Bali since 2008, but it’s not as bad as the media makes it sound. Read about this issue in a previously published post here.
Food poisoning and Bali Belly: It is relatively easy to avoid food poisoning with a bit of common sense. Restaurants which add a government tax and service charge to your bill should be government regulated, and in such places you generally don’t have to worry about things like contaminated drinking water or salad and raw vegetables. If you’re eating from warungs though, remember that most meat is transported unrefrigerated, and it’s in your best interest to eat meat which has not been sitting around in the sun for hours in transit. It is best only to eat seafood at warungs close to the ocean or a body of water (for example, fresh fish from Lake Batur) and to avoid chicken in anything other than government regulated restaurants. Having said all this, however careful you are with your food, you’ll almost certainly catch the Bali Belly because of the higher content of bacteria in your food. The Bali Belly is not fully fledged food poisoning, but can be characterised by a few diarrhea episodes per day, or more trips to the bathroom than usual. You can get some preventive medication such as bioflor/bioflorine from your pharmacist before landing in Bali and take it for the duration of your trip to help your stomach and guts stay healthy.
My advice if you’re going to visit Bali
It’s the destination of a life time, so be prepared to splash out on several day trips with car and driver to get a good feel of the island. When booking tours, going cheap may be your worst ever decision. Especially for potentially dangerous activities such as volcano trekking and diving, be aware that there are plenty of local companies with very little regard for your safety. Checking that your company is reputable is essential. Be prepared to be constantly hassled to buy things, especially in the South. I think this is essential to understand, as I can think of nothing more horrible than finally finding yourself in font of the stunning Balinese rice fields which are about to be made a UNESCO heritage site, only to have a sarong literally shoved into your face by a local seller. If it’s your first trip to the island, DO make time to head north (something I regret not doing) to see Bali away from a purely touristic context. Do splash out on mid-range hotels which offer some amazing value for money. And Do tell me if you find good food, because I am still disappointed that I didn’t.
When to visit
We visited Bali in October, which for us proved to be the best time possible. Right after what is considered high season, we could get accommodation for almost half the price of the July/August/September months. Right before the rainy season, which usually starts in November, Bali was still dry with few mosquitoes and not as many tourists. Perfect.
-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.theartofslowtravel.com