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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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

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

First day in Bali: A personalized Uluwatu tour with Ketut Arta (plus a few tips for anyone traveling to Bali)

Our flight to Bali was at midday, a bit too late to make the most of any of the standard tours offered around the island, except for the sunset tours that included a seafood dinner at Jimbaran, and I didn’t want to do that because I have an on-off allergy to crustaceans. On the recommendation of Alison and Don of Adventures in Wonderland — who are such great people and who have such immersive travel experiences, I knew I could count on anything they suggest — I got in touch with Mr. Ketut Arta (artaketut[at]hotmail[dot]com) and arranged for him to pick us up at the airport, take us on a brief tour, then drop us off at our homestay in Ubud.

The plan worked out wonderfully. Our first stop was at central Kuta, where we picked up a few supplies.

Tip 1: Seriously, haggling tires me out, but it’s true: offer below half of the first asking price. I got a bag initially priced at IDR 495,000 for IDR 240,000 — and I suspect I paid much more than the lowest, lowest, lowest price the seller would have accepted.

We also stopped by an ATM where I became an instant millionaire.

Tip 2: The Bangko Sentral exchange rate for PHP 1 is IDR 0.0034. In Cebu (at Ayala), I got an exchange rate of 0.0049. Withdrawing cash over the ATM, the exchange rate was 0.00358, and that includes the bank’s service charge. When you travel, tell your bank you’re going out of the country, have them activate your international ATM access, then use the ATM to get local currency. (If that’s not possible, convert your PHP to USD then use the USD to buy local currency. It almost always works out better that way, second to withdrawing from ATMs.)

At my request, we stopped by Padang Padang Beach, a well-known surf spot that became even more famous because of Eat, Pray, Love. I haven’t seen the movie or read the book, but I thought it would be worth a stop, as it was along the way to Uluwatu. From the roadside, we climbed down a narrow staircase under the watchful eyes of a monkey drinking out of a plastic mineral water bottle. We were still in our flying clothes and were severely overdressed but we just had to satisfy our curiosity about the beach. We took a few photos then climbed back up, huffing and puffing a bit (and realizing we made the right choice not to climb Mount Batur in our current state of physical fitness).

Tip 3: If you’re from the Philippines, there’s a very good chance Padang Padang Beach will underwhelm. Not really a must-see unless you’re a surfer or an EPL devotee.


And then: Uluwatu. We paid IDR 20,000 to enter the temple and IDR 100,000 to watch the Kecak Fire Dance. The temple was beautiful and the fire dance was interesting, but what blew me away? The impossibly high cliffs. The endless parade of waves. And the sun, gracefully sinking lower and lower until it disappeared below the darkening horizon.

Tip 4: Uluwatu is best viewed at sunset but if you can’t go there on a sunset, go there whenever you can. The temple, cliffs, and waves are by themselves worth the long drive.

It was a 2-hour drive to Ubud after that, and a valiant fight to stave off sleep, but it was a good day. All throughout the tour, Ketut explained the Balinese Hindu culture and arts to us and answered all of our questions kindly and knowledgeably. When asked, he also gave us great recommendations on where to eat, where to have money exchanged, and what to do in Ubud.

Tip 5: If you’re looking for a guide in Bali, I would wholeheartedly echo Alison and Don’s recommendation of Ketut Arta. (There are many Ketuts in Bali — the explanation of which I accidentally discovered and will share to you later — so make sure it’s Ketut Arta. His email address is above, and his contact number is 08123616274.)

More of Bali in the next few days. xx


First day in Bali: A personalized Uluwatu tour with Ketut Arta (plus a few tips for anyone traveling to Bali)” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 


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