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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