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

Early morning low tide at Kuta beach_02

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.)

    Alternatively, go for the full Bali experience and treat yourself to a gloriously relaxing stay in any one of these top 7 Best Value Hotels to Relax in Bali listed by HotelsCombined.
    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.
  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.

  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.
    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.

  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.

  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.
    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.)


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 not just from my experience but 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.)

Extra tip
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.

© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.




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Airport transfer service by Bali Golden Tour

Our sunset visit to Tanah Lot was also facilitated by Mr. Wayan Adika of Bali Golden Tour

Our sunset visit to Tanah Lot was also facilitated by Mr. Wayan Adika of Bali Golden Tour

On the day before our departure from Bali, we remembered that we hadn’t arranged transportation to the airport from our hotel in Kuta. We’d had such a pleasant and professional experience dealing with Bali Golden Tour that we emailed them at around 8 PM to inquire about their airport transfer services. Mr. Wayan Adika responded to our query within the hour and very soon everything was arranged. (Their usual promptness is really very commendable!)

Rates for Bali Golden Tour's airport transfer services (as of 15 April 2015)

Rates for Bali Golden Tour’s airport transfer services (as of 15 April 2015)

Our driver Bagus arrived around 10 minutes before our arranged pick-up time. He was very courteous and friendly, with a very professional manner, and the ride to the airport went very smoothly. If you find yourself in Bali and need airport transfer or a tour to anywhere in the island, I highly recommend Bali Golden Tour.

“Airport transfer service by Bali Golden Tour” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

Our Jatiluwih Tour with Bali Golden Tour was just lovely!

It’s been a long and full day, but before I turn in, I just have to share with you the awesome Jatiluwih Tour we had today. Mr. Wayan Adika of Bali Golden Tour entrusted us to Dudy, our friendly and helpful guide/driver, who treated us like princesses during the tour. We had a wonderful, wonderful time and would not hesitate to recommend Bali Golden Tour to anyone visiting Bali.

Bali Golden Tour_Taman Ayun_01

The Taman Ayun temple was our first stop and it was lucky we arrived early, as we got to enjoy strolling through the temple without too many tourists obstructing the view. We passed through a tree-lined walkway first, with a well-tended grassy lawn and flowering shrubs on either side. We entered the first gate into the middle courtyard then walked along the perimeter of the inner courtyard. We learned a lot about temple life from Dudy, and as we went out, the leader of the temple himself, eye-catching in a black and white sarong, passed us by in his motorcycle.

Bali Golden Tour_Coffee_01

A visit to a coffee plantation was next. We were shown the process — coffee beans being roasted, pounded and sifted. We were also shown one of the resident civet cats but they are nocturnal creatures by nature and our new acquaintance ignored us in sound sleep. Kopi luwak — cat-poop-ccino — was the house specialty but we got to try many other coffee and tea flavors. My favorites were the ginseng and coconut coffee, as well as the lemongrass and mangosteen tea.

On our way to Lake Beratan, we passed by a village celebrating a ceremony that only occurred every 32 years. According to Dudy, it was a ceremony for recharging the energy of the village, and it was a rather big celebration, causing a bit of a traffic jam in the mountain. Every 32 years might sound too long an interval, but there are more infrequent ones. The Besakih Temple has a ceremony that is celebrated only once every 100 years; people could go a whole lifetime without witnessing it.

Bali Golden Tour_Ulun Danu Beratan_01

Ulun Danu Beratan was our third stop and it was where we recharged our own energy via a delicious buffet lunch. (Many, many thanks Mr. Adika!) Before that, though, we spent nearly an hour marveling at the beautiful lakeside temple. We were privileged to be there at a time when the ashes of a departed villager were being taken around the temple in a procession of formally dressed kith and kin. There were many tourists there as well, many of whom were local visitors from within Indonesia. (You can tell by the way they count when they take pictures: satu…dua…tiga.) The weather by Lake Beratan was cooler than in Ubud; we were told fog is not uncommon in the area.

Bali Golden Tour_Jatiluwih_01

Next: the breathtaking Jatiluwih rice terraces. We actually have rice terraces in the Philippines, but in Luzon, not in Cebu, and I’ve never seen them in person before. I’ve seen many pictures, of course, but it’s still something else to see them in real life: multiple levels of lush, green abundance.

It was raining — hard — when we arrived in Batukaru Temple, but I think the rain actually added a unique charm to the complex. At any rate, the people at the temple offered us umbrellas AND fruits from a recent ceremony. In addition to the temple courtyards, we went down to see the area where people washed before going inside the temple. There was also a pond with a small island in the center, home of a spring used to provide holy water for temple use. To get to the middle of the pond, there were stone steps just below the surface of water, easily navigated with the help of a guide rope.

Bali Golden Tour_Batukaru_01

Before our last stop, we got a special treat: a short detour to Dudy’s compound, where his mother prepared the most delicious coffee for us and served us mangosteen and lanzones freshly picked from the trees in their backyard. We were also introduced to Dudy’s daughter and her friend, and as we were about to pull out of the compound, Dudy’s wife arrived in her motorcycle. They were all gracious to us and their hospitality was a welcome, unexpected bonus from the tour.

Tanah Lot was the perfect way to cap the day. We arrived at the beachside temple half an hour before sunset and seized the opportunity to take photos of rock pools reflecting the sky. Hundreds of people had the same idea and it took a bit of maneuvering to make sure we weren’t in anyone’s camera’s way and that no one was in ours, but apart from that, it didn’t take too much effort to take good photos; the view was that beautiful. It helped that the tide was coming in and the waves were growing stronger, often slapping against the rocks with furious force. In the end we stayed in the beach long after the sun had set, feeling we just had to take one more picture, then one more, then one more.

Bali Golden Tour_Tanah Lot_01

Our Jatiluwih Tour with Bali Golden Tour was just lovely!” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

Bali Golden Tours

Ulun Danu Beratan | Image by Jimmy McIntyre | CC BY-SA 2.0

Ulun Danu Beratan | Image by Jimmy McIntyre | CC BY-SA 2.0

Tomorrow we are going on the Jatiluwih Tour with Bali Golden Tour, and I’ll make sure to write about our experiences on that tour as soon as I can. In the meantime, I thought I’d write a bit about the tours that are available here in Bali. There are many tours, most of which follow a standard itinerary, so I’ll base this post on the tours that are available from Bali Golden Tour.

It’s important to note that most tours are priced in two different ways. You can pay per car — this is cheaper as the cost of the car hire, petrol and guide fee can be shared by all the persons in the car, but you will have to pay for your own entrance fees, lunch, etc. You can also pay per person — this is already inclusive of the car, petrol, guide fee, lunch/dinner, and entrance fees. It is your choice which mode of payment to select, so with a bit of research and computation, you can figure out which way will work out best for you.

Full Day Tours

Including the Jatiluwih Tour — which I wrote about in my previous post Temples, Temples, Temples —  Bali Golden Tour offers 15 full-day tours. The tours usually start at 8:30 in the morning (unless they are sunset + dinner tours) and last for 10-14 hours. Prices range from 45 to 99 USD per person for the all-inclusive tours, depending on how many places you are squeezing into the itinerary.

The full-day tours offered by Bali Golden Tour include:

Half Day Tours

These tours last from 6-8 hours and cost USD 36-65 (all-inclusive). Most start in the morning and end mid-afternoon, but those that include stops at beautiful sunset-watching points may leave in the afternoon and extend to mid-evening. Bali Golden Tour offers the following half-day choices:

Activities Tours

These are pretty self-explanatory:

Spoilt for Choice

As you can see, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to the tours you can take in Bali, with different combinations of attractions and activities, depending on what appeals most to you. Bali Golden Tour also offers a combination of these tours in their Combination Tours Package (attraction + activity), Double Activities Tours Package, Triple Activities Tours Package, and Round Trip Tours Package. They also offer Private Car Charter.

Bali Golden Tours” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 


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