Bali is Indonesia’s most-visited island. Long a popular holiday destination with Australians, its natural beauty is beginning to draw visitors from further afield.
From its emerald green rice fields, to its mystical temples guarded by stone dragons and the colourful gifts for the gods that, laced in incense, adorn every doorstep, Bali is an exciting assault on the senses.
You can stay for up to a month in Bali with the holiday visa, which costs around $35USD on arrival. In one month my sister and I managed to see a fair bit of Bali, Gili T (Gili Trawangan, one of three Gili islands) and some of Lombok, another Indonesian island to the right of Bali. All of this was on a very limited budget, but accommodation in Bali is cheap.
The hostels in Bali are more like guest houses, and we stayed in double rooms the majority of the time for around $10USD a night, often including breakfast. Of course, if you want to stay somewhere really nice you can, and often still at a reasonable price.
Transport in Bali is dodgy to say the least, though there are a few reputable bus companies. One minibus broke down halfway between Kuta and Ubud. We had to wait for another to arrive, which did provide us with the chance to bond with our fellow passengers. Other buses were over-packed with people (we were sitting on each other’s laps) and incredibly hot.
The public ferry to Lombok was a money-saver, but it took all day and was unbearably, stickily, sweatily hot for hours and hours on end. The fast boat is a bit more expensive, you need to haggle a good price, but it’s nice and you stand the chance of spotting dolphins on the way. The most successful transportation experience we had was when we took a guided tour around the island. One very nice guide drove us in his car, it was a lovely way to see a lot of the island in a short amount of time. We did it on one of our last days and visited a range of historical sites, temples and rice fields.
We flew into Denpasar International Airport, which is a relatively short taxi-journey from Kuta. But be aware, both the cash exchanges and the taxi drivers may attempt to shortchange you. Two girls we met were scammed by airport officials who took their luggage and refused to give it back without a bribe. Corruption is unfortunately rife in Bali. Prepare by finding out roughly how much you should be paying for taxis, by changing your money before arriving at the airport if possible and by keeping your bags and belongings close by.
We happened to arrive the night before Nyepi, the Balinese ‘Day of Silence’, so the taxi driver couldn’t drive right into town due to the celebrations and parades. We stayed in Poppies Gang and, due to our badly-timed arrival, were unable to leave our hostel or even have electric lights on the following day. This would probably not be an issue if you were staying in a large hotel that caters mainly to tourists, from what we heard they still put on hotel entertainment for the foreigners. As it was, we were staying in a sweet and very cheap little hostel, but once it got dark we were laying around with nothing but a torch to read books by.
For the rest of the year, Kuta is Bali’s party town. It’s a popular destination for Aussies on holiday, who also visit for the area’s surf. You can lie on the beach in Kuta but expect to be continuously hassled. The clubs are big and full of prostitutes, cheap (sometimes spiked) drinks and pickpockets. But if you want to get wild, Kuta is the place!
Ubud is a totally different scene. It’s mostly inhabited by hippie expats who have filled it with coffee shops, galleries and workshops. The area is beautiful, and the biggest attraction for me was easily the Sacred Monkey Forest. It’s a gorgeous rainforest with a temple nestled inside and, of course, monkeys everywhere. I wouldn’t recommend buying the bananas, these macaques aren’t shy and they’ll have them off you the moment you step inside.
As I was taking a photo one monkey climbed onto my lap, which was awesome but a little scary as you aren’t supposed to touch them. It was quite friendly and just held on to me, then he started playing with my clothes and jewellery. After a while I tried to prise my necklace out of his little, hairy hands, which he didn’t like. He sprung up, slapped me and bared his teeth, so I retreated as fast as I could!
You can walk all around the forest, a gorge with a little stream runs through it. Peppered around are magical-looking, moss-covered statues, which always remind me of the Lara Croft games.
Ubud has a lot of cultural attractions. We decided to see some traditional Balinese dancing, which was a really fun and authentic way to spend the evening. We also got massages for the equivalent of around $6USD. You can choose from a range of treatments and spas, there are plenty in the area and all over Bali. There’s also a big market in Ubud and a whole range of tours that leave from the town.
The whole of Ubud is quite small and you can walk right around it. It’s surrounded by rice fields and there are lots of cute little bars and restaurants with live music. Some of the local restaurants look out over the captivating, green rice paddies. However, the pavements are not in great condition and there are a lot of stray dogs. This did cause a bit of a problem when we stayed at a place in an alleyway. The dogs got quite territorial when we walked past them during the evenings.
Sanur is definitely an ex-pat region for an older generation, but because of that it is quite relaxed and there is less hassle as you walk down the street. You can walk about and even lie on the beach without too much bother. There are also a lot of nice cafes and restaurants to choose from and Bob Marley references all over the place. Bob Marley and Balinese Hinduism are the two constant influences wherever you are in Bali.
Have you been to Bali? Where? What’s your favourite memory?