Ah Bali. The land of endless smoothie bowls, extreme traffic and a surprising number of Australians. I can’t believe its been over 2 weeks since I got back from Indonesia, my tan is already fading and I’ve just about gotten back into the routine of home life but I still wanted to write a bit about the trip. We spent 8 days in Java, 16 in Bali and 5 in Lombok. Each island was amazing and it may be because we were there for the longest but its Bali I have the most to say about.
I know Bali is having a bit of a ‘moment’ right now. It’s all over people’s social media (mine included), Brits are taking the long-haul flight for a relatively short stay and on multiple occasions when I told people I was going they said ‘me too’. That being said, it was different to what I was expecting. Perhaps the attention it’s getting and some of the incredible photos I’d seen didn’t provide an accurate portrayal of the island or, I’d forgotten the difference money makes to a holiday. Either way, I felt some parts of the island were (and I don’t want to say overrated because that makes it sound too negative) not what I thought they’d be. It was busy and far more western than I was prepared for, the abundance of brunch places is ridiculous and I hadn’t realised that, unlike other destinations in Asia where you only see other travellers, there would be so many families. That being said, I thought I’d share some of the things we got up to and a few recommendations. There is plenty of information out there online but I think it would’ve been helpful to hear more of a first hand realistic account before we went, hence this post. If you have no interest in what I got up to (which is completely fair enough) I finish with a few more general thoughts on travel so skip away to the end. Also be warned there are lots of photos.
We arrived in Bali a couple of days ahead of schedule and, on the recommendation of someone we’d met in Java, decided to start off in Munduk. Starting there meant we weren’t quite prepared for the busyness of the rest of the island, the quiet northern village still feels very local and had very few other tourists. We stayed in a family run hotel called Swar Bali Lodge which was really nice, the brothers working there were so helpful, happy to give us lifts on the back of their motorbikes and recommend places to visit.
That being said, there isn’t loads to do in Munduk but there is a beautiful waterfall hike. The 5k route starts at Red Coral (Munduk) waterfall and didn’t take long. The three waterfalls en route were incredible, even more so because there were so few other people there. We also visited the Munduk Moding coffee plantation where we were talked through the process and got to try some of the coffee grown on site (for free which was a bonus).
Arriving in Canggu was very different. We were immediately aware of the number of tourists in the area. We had 4 days there which we essentially spent sunbathing and eating, some stand out spots being Crate cafe, Bali bowls and Quince. However, food prices were definitely much higher than what you might expect travelling, closer to a good value meal in the UK. The town is definitely an ideal spot for surfers but unfortunately and unsurprisingly, I don’t surf, so worth bearing in mind the beach is very windy with huge waves that can knock you right out. We did venture outside of Canggu one day to visit the Tanah Lot sea temple which was nice but there were bus loads of tourists there too and because you can’t actually go in the temple, there isn’t lots to do once you’ve seen it. Canggu was lovely but slow paced, just something to be aware of.
We thought Canggu was touristy but Seminyak was another level. Traffic was terrible and the streets were overflowing with people and shops. However, the food here was very good, we went to a place called Shelter for lunch, had brunch at Coffee Cartel and went to Dough Darlings (twice) for the most amazing doughnuts. Seminyak beach is windy too but we did see some baby turtles being released so that was pretty cool. We only had 2 days in Seminyak but because it was so busy it almost felt too overwhelming to explore, we spent most of the time on our motorbike going from beach to restaurant and even though you see things, it all goes past pretty quickly. It’s definitely a part of the island I think I found a bit much but would’ve liked to experience when it was quieter.
Ubud was far more chilled, a good mix of tourists and local culture, it felt like we were experiencing Bali again rather than a western beach town. The Monkey Forest is obviously touristy but a must do, likewise with the nearby waterfalls. The two we went to were very busy and I think if we hadn’t been to Munduk I would’ve been disappointed. The Tirta Emple water temple we went to where we bathed in the fresh spring water and the Tegalalang rice terraces were definitely both worth it despite being busy. We also did a bike tour with a company called Bali Breeze and a cooking class with Paon. Both were great and a chance to learn a bit more by chatting to locals and do something a bit different, the bike tour was downhill (ideal) and the food we made in the class was amazing.
Wandering around Ubud was nice too, we had the most amazing chocolate coconut banana bread at Tukies and managed to get all our souvenir shopping done at the market. I also did some classes at the Yoga Barn while we were there which was really nice but safe to say I haven’t kept it up…yoga in my room in Bedford is not quite the same as in a windowed studio in the jungle with the most ‘zen’ instructor I’ve ever met.
We didn’t do the main Gili Islands but Nusa Lembongan, about an hours boat trip from Bali, was amazing. A beautiful island with a relaxed and beachy vibe, it was almost what I expected Canggu and Seminyak to be like and I wished we’d spent more than a night there. The beaches were beautiful and we went over to the Blue Lagoon on Nusa Cenida which was amazing. Definitely worth the slightly damp boat journey there and back. However, be warned that the ‘roads’ marked on google maps are more like rocky steep crumbling tracks that a motorbike probably can’t handle…we may have learnt that the hard way.
Our final (and potentially my favourite) destination in Bali was Uluwatu. The area is far from crowded with plenty of space between everything, beautiful scenery and a good mix of locals and visitors. There were some beautiful beaches including Bingin beach and Padang-Padang (which features in the Eat Pray Love film) but be warned that quite a few of the beaches in the area are only accessible at low tide. We stayed in a basic but lovely hostel called the Bingin Inn and ate at the Cashew Tree, Loft and Drifter, all of which I’d recommend. The Kecak fire dance at Uluwatu Temple made our final temple experience a bit different, something that is again worth doing, but be prepared for lots of other people.
A final thing I’d say about Bali is do your research, but realise you can’t do everything. There physically aren’t enough meals in the day to eat at every nice place on the island or enough nights to spend at every beautiful hotel you see (I guess you could stay longer but my finances definitely didn’t allow it). Perhaps because it is such a popular destination at the moment I found it so easy to compare my experience of the island to other people’s…yes, I went on the trip of a lifetime and I was still there wondering if I was doing it ‘well’ enough…comparison is very clearly something I need to work on. Travel is tricky, its something that should be for personal reasons (relaxation, quality time, recovery) and yet I find it something people want to share the most, whether that’s posting pictures online or recounting stories to friends for weeks to come (or writing a blog post about it). It’s definitely something I’m guilty of, but maybe guilty is the wrong word, is there actually anything wrong with wanting to share what you’re doing, to let people know you’re enjoying yourself? Indonesia was a long time coming after a very long year and if I’m being honest, I had a bloody great time.