Things to do in Bali (with the benefit of 4 months’ worth of hindsight)

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Early morning low tide at Kuta beach_02

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This list of things to do in Bali is several months overdue — I was there in early April — but I think the extra time between then and now has actually helped me refine this list. This isn’t the “Top 10 Things To Do in Bali as Decided by Everyone Ever” or the “Things You Must Do in Bali Otherwise You’ll Miss Half of Your Life” or the “You Know You’ve Been To Bali If You’ve…” list. For what it’s worth, I think you should do in Bali whatever you want to do, whether it’s something really touristy or something totally off the map. But if you’re looking for ideas, this is the list of things I’ve done while I was there that, when I look back, I look back on them with the greatest fondness.

  1. Stay in a local’s home. Living with a Balinese family gives you the unique chance to interact with locals of all ages and observe their day-to-day lives without being obtrusive. Homestays are particularly abundant in Ubud and they range from the humble to the hotel-like. We stayed at Narendra Guest House and absolutely loved it. (You can read the SGMT review here.)
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    Bali Ubud Narendra Guest House 11*
  2. Visit Uluwatu. It’s a temple perched on top of towering cliffs in the southern tip of Bali. The temple itself was interesting but what I loved most was the view: a parade of breaking waves at the foot of gorgeous cliffs. Uluwatu is also a great place to watch the sunset and the kecak fire dance.
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    Uluwatu_02*
  3. Eat babi guling and other Balinese food. Babi guling is roast pig — it’s the Indonesian version of the Filipino lechon, and I loved it nearly as much. Ketut Arta, our guide on the first day, recommended the babi guling at Ibu Oka (in Ubud) and we were not disappointed. I also loved the mie goreng at the restaurant beside the Royal Eighteen Resort & Spa in Kuta — it was really tasty and surprisingly cheap.
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  4. Try the ginseng and coconut coffee and the lemongrass and mangosteen tea. Those were my favorites from the coffee and tea tasting that we had at a coffee plantation but there were many other flavors (which you might like better) for sampling at the site. The visit to the plantation was a bit meh, to be honest — you don’t actually see farmers planting or harvesting or whatever else is done on plantations — but the tasting session makes the stop worth it.
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    Bali Golden Tour_Coffee_01*
  5. Witness a Hindu ceremony. There are some ceremonies that only happen every century, while some are annual celebrations. But you don’t have to take part in a lavish, elaborate ritual — even a simple prayer in a local family’s home temple, if you are lucky enough to be invited to witness one, will give you a memorable glimpse into how the Balinese’s faith forms a big part of their day-to-day life.
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  6. Talk to locals. Ask questions, even the ones you think are kinda stupid. In my case, while looking for accommodations, I often wondered, “Does this Gusti guy own every B&B in Ubud??” I actually thought the properties were, like, Ubud’s version of Hotel 81 or Travelodge. But then I noticed that a lot of people were named Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut. So, aware that I might sound silly or seem insensitive, I nevertheless ventured to ask our tour guide what the deal was with the names. (If you don’t know yet, go to Bali and find out. It’s as good an excuse as any to go to Bali.) The unexpected answer confirmed for me the tenet that the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.
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  7. Finally: live the beach life. While the Balinese culture is the island’s most distinctive offering, it’s…well, it’s a vacation, for goodness’ sake. And there’s a beach. Enjoy it! Wake up whenever you like, put on your beach wear, saunter to the seaside, and chill. Surf to your heart’s content or establish residency in a hammock under a tree. You don’t get to do this everyday, so do it while you can.
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    Kuta Beach_01*
    If you’re looking for a hotel that’s just a short walk from the beach in Kuta (and has a rooftop pool and a buffet breakfast), stay where we stayed: at the Royal Eighteen Resort & Spa. (You can read the SGMT review here.)

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There’s a lot of stuff that probably would have made this list, if only I had actually done them, so maybe you can learn from my regrets too:

  1. Climb Mount Batur.
  2. Ride a horse on a beach.
  3. Take surfing lessons.
  4. Stock up on more Ginseng Creamer instant coffee. (Well, maybe this one is just my thing. It’s not the to-die-for local ginseng coffee, but I like it well enough and it makes a nice change from my usual 3-in-1.)

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Extra tip
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Bali is a big island and although you can try to get around on your own, it’s really worth it to engage a tour guide. There’s a wide range of tours to choose from and you can even ask your guide to tweak your itinerary. On our first day we asked Ketut Arta (artaketut[at]hotmail[dot]com | 08123616274) to pick us up from the airport, take us to Uluwatu, then drop us off in Ubud, and he was wonderful. On subsequent days, we went on tours with Bali Golden Tour and Amazing Bali Tour and would recommend them to anyone else going to Bali.

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Where to Stay in Bali: The Royal Eighteen Resort and Spa (Kuta)

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Bali Kuta Royal Eighteen Resort Spa 01

There were several things I looked for when I was searching for accommodations in Kuta:

  • Proximity to the beach – Kuta is famous (or infamous) for its waves and its parties, and though I’m neither a surfer nor a party girl, I thought it would be worth checking out.
  • Proximity to the St. Francis Xavier church – We would be arriving in Kuta on Easter Sunday and wanted to hear Mass. I wasn’t too sure about the availability (and advisability) of public transport around Kuta so I wanted a hotel that was walking distance to the church.
  • Reasonable amenities — at least air conditioning and WiFi
  • Good reviews

The Royal Eighteen Resort and Spa had all that and a buffet breakfast and a rooftop pool. Me = happy.

Bali Kuta Royal Eighteen Resort Spa 02

The hotel staff were great. The receptionist smiled so much, Hershe said she was probably the happiest person she’d ever met. The chef came by our table and briefly chatted with us during our first breakfast. The security officer always greeted us when we came in or went out and asked us where we were going. (That kind of irked me at first, to be honest; I’m not sure it’s any of his business where we were going. And I was kind of wary. But I reflected that, in the Philippines, when we encountered acquaintances on the road, we would often ask “Where have you been?” or “Where are you going?” so it might be the same thing in Bali/Indonesia. Benefit of the doubt.)

The hotel was also just a short walk to the Kuta Art Market (souvenirs galore, if you don’t mind haggling) as well as to the Matahari Department Store, which had a supermarket where we bought stuff like water, snacks, and even packs of coffee to take home.

The beach was, oh, around a 10-minute leisurely walk from the hotel. It was very near, we would often go to the beach, go back to the hotel, then go to the beach again. And whenever we had our fill of the beach, we would go to our room and check Facebook check in with our family, or we would go up to the rooftop and laze around the pool.

Bali Kuta Royal Eighteen Resort Spa 05b

The Royal Eighteen was a great choice, I think, and it wasn’t TOO expensive at IDR 550,000 a night, considering its central location, pool, and buffet breakfast. I would stay there again and I definitely recommend it to anyone planning to stay in Kuta.

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Where to Stay in Bali: The Royal Eighteen Resort and Spa (Kuta)” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

 


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Where to Stay in Bali: Narendra Guest House (Ubud)

Bali Ubud Narendra Guest House 01It was past 10 in the evening when we arrived at Narendra Guest House. Our side trip to Uluwatu had taken longer — much longer — than I’d expected and we hadn’t been able to give notice that we would be checking in late, so I was feeling more than a bit guilty. Our host Made, however, was all smiles when he came out to greet us and help us with our bags. When we entered the family compound — for that is what Narendra is — we saw that his daughter had also stayed in the reception area to await our arrival, and she too was very welcoming. Check in was quick — except for the part when I thought I’d lost my passport and had to frantically dig through my entire bag — and we were then led to the guest houses at the back of the compound.

I almost shouted “Halleluiah!” when we saw our room. We’d spent the previous two nights at a hostel in KL that was, if acceptable, nowhere near heavenly and I hadn’t slept well for two days running. Narendra — cool, comfortable, and homey — felt like a refreshing bath after a hot, sticky day. After checking in with my family in Cebu, I immediately sank into a sound, dreamless sleep.

What did I love about Narendra?

I love that our homestay was an actual home — the members of Made’s family were unobtrusive but visible. A woman guiding a child quietly passed by our balcony, but when I called out “Selamat pagi!” she gave me a bright smile and said good morning right back. (I hadn’t learned how to say good morning in Balinese, I’m afraid, but the Bahasa Indonesian phrase seemed to work just as well.)

I love that the compound, like many compounds in Bali, was so beautifully constructed that it actually looked a bit like a temple. The profuse foliage kept the walkways cool. And yet there was a part that was off-limits to guests, the area where the family said their prayers and made their offerings. I thought that was nice, that they found a way to continue with their way of life and not totally give in to the commercial aspect of running a guest house.

I love that it had the comfort of a hotel, with the requisite amenities, and an attention to design and detail that obviously had all types of guests in mind.

Bali Ubud Narendra Guest House 11

I love the free breakfast. (If you know me, you know I love me a good breakfast!) Every night, we chose what we wanted for breakfast the next day, and what time we wanted it, and it would be laid out for us on our balcony table at the appointed time.

Bali Ubud Narendra Guest House 10And, last but not least, I love the fact that we got all this — the ultimate Ubud homestay experience — for only IDR 300,000 (that’s just PHP 1,000 / USD 23!) a night.

If you’re looking for accommodations in Ubud, look no further. I promise you won’t regret staying in Narendra Guest House.

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Where to Stay in Bali: Narendra Guest House (Ubud)” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

 


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How much does a Bali trip cost?

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Uluwatu_02

The answer depends, of course, on how long you’re staying there, how much you spend for your plane ticket, what sort of lodgings and food you go for, etc. The total cost of your Bali holiday will vary widely based on those factors, but I hope the price list below gives you some idea of how much you should budget for your trip.

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AIRFARE

PHP 3,000 – Cebu – Kuala Lumpur – Cebu
PHP 6,000 – Kuala Lumpur – Bali – Kuala Lumpur

  • Both tickets were booked during an Air Asia “piso sale” mid-2014, back when airlines still imposed fuel surcharges, so it’s highly possible to get tickets for a much lower price these days. (It’s also highly possible to get tickets that are much more expensive if you don’t book during a piso sale.) These prices include 20 kg checked baggage for the Bali-KL and KL-Cebu legs, airport taxes (including the Indonesian airport tax that they used to charge separately), and other fees.

All prices from here on are in Indonesian Rupiah (IDR).
PHP 1 = IDR 300 (ATM rate)


HOTEL

  • Reviews of these hotels can be found here and here, but if you want a quick opinion, I highly recommend both.

FOOD

  • 80,000 – babi guling and veggies set meal at Ibu Oka (Ubud) – delicious
  • 110,000 – satay meal at Nomad (Ubud) – not worth it
  • 150,000 – spare ribs and rice at popular restaurant (I forgot the name) in Ubud – not worth it
  • 30,000 – mie goreng at restaurant beside Royal Eighteen (Kuta) – best mie goreng ever
  • 55,000 – babi guling meal and Coke at beachfront eatery (Kuta)
  • 25,000 – mie ayam at food fair in Lippo Mall (Kuta)
  • 25,000 – curry fried rice at food fair in Lippo Mall (Kuta)
  • 18,400 – big bag of assorted dried fruits at Matahari supermarket in Kuta

DRINKS

  • 5,000 – bottle of water in Padang Padang Beach
  • 7,550 – can of Coke at Matahari supermarket in Kuta
  • 3,500 – small can of coffee at Matahari supermarket in Kuta
  • 15,000 – glass of iced tea at Ulun Danu Beratan
  • 15,000 – glass of iced tea at beachfront restaurant in Lovina
  • 22,000 – bottle of cold milk pandan tea at food fair in Lippo Mall (Kuta)

ENTRANCE FEES

  • 20,000 – Uluwatu temple
  • 100,000 – Kecak fire dance in Uluwatu

TOURS

See:


SOUVENIRS

  • 240,000 – medium luggage (the black and white floral design, bargained from 495,000)
  • 80,000 – small tote bag at a grocery in Ubud
  • 90,000 – small tote bag at a street stall in Ubud
  • 50,000 – shirt and shorts set for toddler

All in all, Bali is relatively cheap

…and if you catch a piso sale, share a room with a friend, eat at warungs, and generally live frugally, a budget of P20,000 should last you a good 4-7 days.

Piso Sale_stravelfund

 


How much does a Bali trip cost?” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

 


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Kecak Fire Dance in Bali

Kecak Dance_01

This is the kecak fire dance, which we were lucky to witness at the end of our visit to Uluwatu. The dance drama is based on a battle in the Ramayana that occurs when Sita gets kidnapped and the monkey king helps Rama rescue her.

Kecak Dance_02

Kecak Dance_03

It’s a fascinating performance, accentuated by the whirling, flying motions of the leads, though I have to admit, at the end of the long day, my mind gravitated towards thoughts like:

Are those dancers trying not to laugh or are they really supposed to look like that?

Why do they use women to portray male characters? (And then in some parts of the world men are used to portray female characters.)

Do the chorus members still have to practice chanting? How do their voices not get hoarse? (Those men sitting on the ground have to chant cak cak cak continuously for AN HOUR. Plus, the cak cak cak kind of sounded like chaka chaka chaka, which made me giggle because chaka in Filipino gay lingo means ugly, so it sometimes seemed like they were saying “ugly ugly ugly.”) (It had been a long day.)

And finally:

What the hell?! –> when a fireball flew towards the audience

Oh, yeah, just in case you were wondering why it’s called a fire dance:

Kecak Dance_08

Kecak Dance_09

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Kecak Fire Dance in Bali” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

Sunset at Tanah Lot

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Bali_Tanah Lot_Sunset_OnePlusOne_11

It’s important not to let first impressions faze you at Tanah Lot or you won’t even want to get out of the car, especially if you’ve had a long day and just want a nice, peaceful spot to watch the sunset. At the parking lot, the atmosphere will make you feel like you’re visiting a market, not a temple, and when you enter the complex you really do find yourself in a market — a maze of booths selling souvenir shirts, shops hawking trinkets, and the odd Ralph Lauren store. The temple, when you finally find it, is just a tad underwhelming, especially when its watery grounds are overrun by hundreds of tourists (such as yourself).

But never mind. You’re there for the sunset. And even if that doesn’t work out…

Bali_Tanah Lot_Sunset_01

…even if the sun is feeling kind of shy, there is still the beautiful procession of waves that slowly, steadily grow more forceful as darkness descends.

Tanah Lot was supposed to be the second stop of the Jatiluwih Tour that we booked through Bali Golden Tour, but I asked Mr. Wayan Adika if we could put it off till the end so we could be there in time for sunset. Mr. Adika, as is his custom, was very accommodating, and we arrived at Tanah Lot after a full day of temples, terraces, coffee, and mangosteen.

Bali_Tanah Lot_Sunset_02

When we went down to the temple, I was immediately drawn to the surrounding cliffs, whose faces were carved by water and time into interesting striations, and the rock pools filled with strangely still water, a marked contrast to the waves just meters away.

Bali_Tanah Lot_Sunset_OnePlusOne_01

Bali_Tanah Lot_Sunset_OnePlusOne_03

Bali_Tanah Lot_Sunset_OnePlusOne_02

I don’t think I even managed to get a decent photo of the Tanah Lot temple itself; the waves fascinated me too much.

Bali_Tanah Lot_Sunset_OnePlusOne_12

We stayed long after the sun had gone down — trying, but not quite succeeding, to capture on camera the tremendous beauty of water throwing itself tirelessly, pridelessly at the feet of fickle land.

Bali_Tanah Lot_Sunset_OnePlusOne_13

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Motion | All photos taken with a OnePlus One phone except for the cliff pic with the gold watermark | “Sunset at Tanah Lot” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

Bali

Planning a trip to Bali? Start here.

Bali_Lovina_Buddhisttemple_03

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Budget

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If you catch a piso sale, share a room with a friend, eat at warungs, and generally live frugally, a budget of P20,000 should last you a good 4-7 days.

Read the details here: How much does a Bali trip cost?
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How to get to Bali

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From the Philippines, there are several options:

  • If you’re in or near Manila, you can take Cebu Pacific or Philippine Airlines, both of which operate direct flights to Bali.
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  • If you’re in or near Cebu, you can go to Manila and fly from there to Bali. Alternatively, you can fly AirAsia from Cebu to Kuala Lumpur, then from Kuala Lumpur to Bali. I like the second option better as it gives me the chance to visit two countries (and I personally find KL easier to navigate than Manila).
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Getting around Bali

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Airport transfer service by Bali Golden Tour

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Where to stay

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UBUD

Narendra Guest House
Jl. Sriwedari 42, Taman Ubud
Ubud, 80571, Indonesia
+628123943943

My friend Hershe posing in front of Narendra Guest House, our incredible homestay

My friend Hershe posing in front of Narendra Guest House, our incredible homestay

KUTA

The Royal Eighteen Resort and Spa
Jl. Singosari, Kuta, Bali
+62 361 763318
reservation@baliroyaleighteen.com

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Suggestions from other Bali visitors:

Any recommendations on where to stay in Bali?
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What to do

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Main article:

Things to Do in Bali (with the benefit of 4 months’ worth of hindsight)

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Take tours around Bali

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Sunset activities

(Other posts in the works)

Bali_Tanah Lot_Sunset_OnePlusOne_11

Tour contacts

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Bali Golden Tour
Contact: Mr. Wayan Adika
(0361) 7966391
+6281558449505
+6281936175556
info@baligoldentour.com
baligoldentour@gmail.com
baligoldentour@outlook.com
http://www.baligoldentour.com/

Amazing Bali Tour
Contact: Mr. Nyoman
+6285100781815
+6281338786415 (WhatsApp)
amazingbalitour@gmail.com
http://www.amazingbalitours.com/index.html

Independent Guide: Ketut Arta
artaketut@hotmail.com
08123616274

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This post will be updated regularly with more information and links to other posts about Bali.

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