Home travel Island of the Gods

Island of the Gods

December 15, 2014

If you’re lucky enough to call Australia your home, then I’m sure you’ve been to Bali and other parts of Indonesia plenty of times. I feel like Australians think of Bali as an easy tropical vacation {similar to the way I think about Puerto Rico} ; whereas, I look at it as a major travel commitment that requires a nice budget of time.

It’s obviously a place I’d like to get to more often; however, if you’re like me and you live in North America – the East Coast in particular, well, it’s certainly no easy trip. To get to Bali from this neck-of-the-woods, you’re looking at a full twenty-four hours of travel. Unfortunately, you’re more likely to to spend upwards of 26-30ish hours traveling.  Don’t forget, you’re (as I like to put it) traveling into the future, so you’ll lose a full day.  If you have a grown-up job, you probably have a specific number of vacation days you’re allowed to take. If Bali is on your bucket list, be sure to save up those days because, if you’re traveling that far, you need AT THE VERY LEAST two full weeks… I still think that’s still pushing it a bit. Three weeks is a more realistic amount of time if you don’t want to spread yourself too thin.

Bali is but a tiny island among the many islands that make up the archipelago of Indonesia.  While  Indonesia is  a Muslim nation, Bali is predominantly Hindu.  This fact is quite evident from the moment one steps off the plane in Denpasar – the fragrant aroma of burning incense from daily religious offerings is palpable and ever-present in the air.

Littered about the streets on sidewalks, in front of shops, restaurants, homes, and at the foot of religious statues and altars,  these offerings are as ubiquitous as motorbikes on the street. And boy-oh-boy are there motorbikes. E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E.  The preferred method of transport on the island is a motorbike. You’ll surely hear horror stories of motorbike accidents, but it’s safe enough if you’re mindful, WEAR A HELMET, and avoid riding in heavy traffic areas (i.e. Denpasar, Kuta, etc).  If it’s your first time in South East Asia, you will initially be surprised/horrified by the number of people one family can cram onto a single motorbike- infants included. But, after a while, you realize it’s just part of daily life.

Motorbike rentals should only cost you a few bucks per day. They’re really the most ideal way to get around, but I’d highly recommend hiring transport to travel in between your destinations – particularly if you’re going far or traveling up north where the roads can be pretty dangerous.

If you are visiting Bali on a surf trip, then your trip will probably be pretty similar to mine.  If you don’t surf, you’ll probably want to visit the myriad other sites throughout the island that are away from the coast. I’ll include a list of these at the end of the post. This blog was still just an idea when we made our trip to Bali, so I really didn’t think to take too many photos. My husband and I are notoriously bad at taking photos when we travel – we typically just can’t be bothered and don’t like to lug the camera around.  The photos we did take are actually pretty crappy, so bear with me!

Logistics

You’ll fly into Denpasar, which is highlighted on the map by a blue square.  Denpasar is close to Kuta, which I would recommend avoiding.  If you want to have a party night or stock up on cheap gifts, by all means enjoy yourself in Kuta, but I really wouldn’t waste precious vacation time there.

Bali is busiest during the dry season, which runs roughly from June through September / October.  These months see the best and largest swells, so surf breaks can be incredibly crowded.  The rainy season is from November through April and sees less consistent surf.  If you travel to Bali during the rainy season you might have sun and waves the entire time; however, you might have days of torrential downpours. It’s a risk, but one that could be rewarded with empty lineups, nice weather, and cheaper off-season rates.

The Bukit Peninsula

The Bukit, the peninsula at the very bottom of the map, is home to beautiful and dramatic limestone cliffs, picturesque beaches, plenty of surf breaks, and lots of hotels, villas, warungs, and homestays. Most people traveling to Bali specifically to surf will spend most of their time here.

Stay:

There are plenty of accommodations to suit every budget on the Bukit Peninsula. You could stay on the water, but keep in mind that all of the beaches and breaks in this area are accessible only by climbing down LOTS of stairs. So, keep this in mind if you don’t want to be lugging your stuff up and down a cliff.  We’ve stayed both on the water and off the main road in the hillside around the Bukit. While staying on the water is lovely for obvious reasons, we almost prefer staying hillside… It’s much more convenient to hop on your motorbike to check different surf breaks, try different restaurants, and see the sites in the area.

Uluwatu Surf Cottage

I will stay here again and again. We booked this spot through Airbnb and really loved it. Tucked in the hillside off a dirt road close to the entrance to Bingin Beach, the Surf Cottage is the smaller accommodation on the property. Suitable for two people, it has a queen bed with clean linens and a mosquito net, fully equipped kitchen, private bath, air conditioning, and an upstairs deck space which I found to be extremely peaceful.  While the cottage is set back from the cliffside and does not boast the sweeping views of the Bukit from the main house, there is an infinity pool open to all guests which is great for relaxing at the end of the day, and provides the stunning view so you don’t feel as though you’re missing out on that. The property owner, Carlos, is lovely to chat with and very welcoming. He’ll be happy to show you his artwork in his studio, which is on the property, and might just offer you some homemade paella, which I had to politely decline (the awkwardness of being vegan, sometimes).

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{view of the main house – photo from listing on Airbnb}

{another view of the property: photo from listing Airbnb}

Laksmi Villa

Also tucked in the hillside and easily accessible by taking the road on the left just before you cross the bridge past Padang-Padang toward Uluwatu, is Laksmi Villa. There are a few villas for rent, and they’re all great if you’re traveling with friends, other couples, or a family.  Our villa had two bedrooms, each with a  bath and outdoor shower, plus an additional queen size bed upstairs in the loft space. The villa also had a private pool and a small fenced in yard, so it feels extra private.

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{last two photos taken from the listing on Airbnb}

Other suggestions:

By Bingin Beach:

Micks Place

Acacia Bungalows

Kellys Warung:  We didn’t stay at Kellys, but we frequented the cafe, which has a great deck overlooking the break. Really delicious vegan options, smoothies, juices, and Pitaya bowls. The accommodation looks like nice, clean, basic oceanside accommodation. I think all share bathrooms.

{photo from Kellys Warung Facebook page}

{inside the cafe area: photo from their Facebook page}

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By Impossibles:

Rock-N-Reef: Comfortable, albeit dimly lit, accommodations right on the water. Breakfast is included, and the deck is a nice place to hang out.

Some budget options:

Kenanga Inn

Padang-Padang Breeze

If you want to stay super cheap and local, there are about one zillion options along the road and tucked into the hillside. You could spend as little as $12USD per night, but it all really depends on your preference and desired amenities.

Eat:

This was my first time visiting Bali as a vegan, so I was a little concerned that it would be difficult. Much to my happy surprise, it was actually quite easy.  The local staples, Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng (friend rice and noodle dishes respectively), typically include egg and some sort of meat, but I had no trouble omitting the egg and substituting tempeh or extra veg for meat.  I’m not sure how easy this would be when traveling to other parts of Indonesia, however.

  • The Cashew Tree Cafe: Owned by the same folks who own Kellys Warung. This is a nice place to hang out, eat some healthy and delicious food, or have a cocktail at night. They have live music on certain nights.
  • Buddha Soul: A bit more expensive, but has some healthy vegan options and some insanely delicious smoothies.
  • Yeye’s Warung: Set on the side of the road in between Padang-Padang beach and Uluwatu, this spot has a HUGE menu and nice ambience. Service can be a little slow, so it’s a good choice if you don’t mind lingering over some beers for a bit.
  • Pizzeria Italiana: You might think it’s weird to travel all the way to Bali and have pizza, but this place is actually quite delicious and super cute.
  • 3-D Warung: A great local spot with typical, but delicious, local fare.
  • **If you want to eat super cheap and local, there are plenty of small road-side warungs that will have cheap meals, in addition to several warungs cliffside at Uluwatu.**

To do:

Surf breaks on the Bukit include:

Balangan (could be good for a beginner on the right day, and great for intermediate surfer – but gets just as crowded as the other breaks on the Bukit),Dreamland (which I would just avoid all together), Bingin, Impossibles, Padang-Padang (there’s a good beginner spot when it’s smaller in between real Padang-Padang and Impossibles), Uluwatu

Non-surf activities:

  • Uluwatu Temple
  • Nyang-Nyang Beach: visit this little overlook and have a drink. You used to be able to walk down to the beach – not sure if you can now- but if you do you’ll probably have the beach to yourself
  • Have a beer and watch the sunset at Rock Bar overlooking Uluwatu
  • Relax at Suluban Beach (at Uluwatu)
  • Party at the Single Fin
  • Get a massage on the beach or at one of the spas

Keramas:

Past Sanur on the East Coast is a right hand reefbreak that, until very recently, was relatively unknown.  Media attention of the last few years has put a bright-blinking spotlight on Keramas, and it’s no longer the place to go if you’re looking to escape crowded line ups. With that said, it doesn’t seem to get as crazy as Uluwatu, and does boast a really beautiful stretch of black sand beach.

Stay and Do:

There aren’t too many accommodation options, and we chose to stay at the fairly new beach resort, Komune. We don’t typically stay at places like this, but we got a pretty good deal and the convenience can’t be beat…There’s definitely a “flashpacker” vibe, but the rooms are nice, clean, and the shower has great pressure.  Also, sometimes you just want to really “feel” like you’re on vacation and this is a perfect place for that: there’s a great pool overlooking the break, a full-service bar/restaurant, a spa, and daily yoga classes. It seems like a great place for a family or to go with friends/spouses who don’t surf.

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{poolside with Keramas breaking in view}
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Eat:

  • The hotel restaurant has pretty good, albeit really expensive food.
  • I cannot, for the life of me, remember the name of the restaurant that is literally just outside the entrance to Komune.. It’s actually to the side of the Komune driveway. This place has INSANELY DELICIOUS FOOD. I would recommend eating there over the hotel if you can. The menu is surprisingly large for such a small place, is locally owned, and has YUMMMMMY vegan options. Plus, it’s in a peaceful setting right beside a rice paddy.  GO THERE, your belly and wallet will thank you.
  • Gianyar night market: There are nightly food markets all over Bali, where local people in that village gather and buy food from one of the many food vendors. Gianyar is about a 20 minute drive from Keramas, so you’ll have to hire a transport. You could take your motorbike, but you’d probably get lost. While language can be a barrier at these type of markets, especially if you’re trying to discern what has meat and what doesn’t,but your patience will pay off because there’s some delicious food to be had.  I had a tasty bean salad that had chili, lime, and coconut.  I also fell in love with these little fried corn fritter things that I now call Crack Fritters because they’re so delicious and addicting.

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{Cruisin’ the night market in Gianyar}  DSC_0049 DSC_0050

{A lovely Balinese woman (and her daughter) preparing our tasty bean salad}

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{The infamous “crack fritters”}

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{Husband enjoying bean salad , crack fritters, and a Bintang}

Canggu

Just north of Seminyak is Canggu.  You’ll hear mixed reviews about Canggu, as, in recent years,  it has become a bit of an enclave for the well-heeled, hip, and tattooed Australian set. Those who don’t like what’s happening in Canggu fear that this type of development is happening at great cost and will due irreversible damage to local culture and heritage.  Artisanal coffee shops, organic cafes, posh shops, art galleries, and bars have been popping up all over the area which was once inhabited mostly by ancestral farm land and rice paddies.  To give you a better idea, I would say that the American equivalent to Canggu would be Brooklyn, NY.  Others, however, have entirely embraced the area and enjoy the budding artistic and creative community.

Do:

  • As mentioned, Canggu is home to plenty of cafes and shopping.
  • There are several sand bottom beach breaks, some of which are suitable for beginners
  • It’s also just fun to cruise around the area on motorbike through the rice paddies
  • Attend a full-moon ceremony right on the beach if you happen to be around during the full moon
  • Have a drink and listen to live music at Old Man’s

Stay:

This time around we stayed at THE DAUN , which is a small, locally owned hotel. Accommodations are pretty modest, yet comfortable, but you can’t really beat $30USD / night with air conditioning and a private bathroom. It’s centrally located to the area and close to shops, cafes, and surf breaks.

Eat:

  • The Dandelion Cafe: One of my favorite places to eat in all of Bali, this low-key restaurant is owned by a brother-and-sister duo who will make you feel right at home. Delicious home cooked meals for both vegan and non-vegan alike. A must go!
  • Betelnut Cafe: Great for breakfast, lunch, or just to enjoy a smoothie and light snack on their lovely covered deck. Plenty of healthy options.
  • Deus ex Machina– Temple of Enthusiasm: This is the spot that is credited with the development of the scene in Canggu as it is right now.  Deus builds custom motorcycles and they also have surfboard shapers from all over the world come shape boards at their compound, some of which are for sale.  They also have an art gallery, event space (where they have live music and movie nights), a cafe, and restaurant. The restaurant has some great cocktails and food, but it is pretty expensive. It’s a good spot for a date night.

Balian

Further up north along the coast. Worth the visit if you want to escape the crowds. There is a beautiful stretch of beach and a beach break here. Plenty of accommodations, some more expensive than others.  There is a small resort right on the beach called Pondak Pitaya, which has a pretty good restaurant, bungalow style accommodation, and yoga classes. This seems like a good option if you have a family in tow.

Medewi

A bit further north from Balian is Medewi.  Medewi is even more mellow than Balian, so it’s much less busy and crowded than areas further south. A sleepy part of the island, there really isn’t much to do unless your content to visit temples, surf, and relax on the beach.  The beach break itself is much mellower than the breaks you’ll find on the Bukit. Medewi is home to a pretty long, softer, fat left point that I personally think is pretty fun. It can get pretty crowded, especially with beginners, but it’s worth the trip up just to get away from the major  crowds down south.  It is in a muslim village, so one should take care to be respectful and cover up appropriately when not at the beach.

If you plan on going to G-land, the ferry isn’t too far from here.

Stay:

We always stay at Bambu House, which is a rental house just a short motorbike from the surf break. There are two bedrooms and two bathrooms, so it can comfortably accommodate four people, or even five if someone slept on the couch.  It’s set in the most peaceful setting surrounded by rice paddies. Wi Win, the property manager, lives on the premises, and will cook you the most fabulous vegan meal. Her food is amaaaaaazing and she is a doll!

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{there is a side porch that wraps around to the back of the house. It’s very peaceful relaxing on the back of the porch and listening to the bugs and frogs chirping at night}

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{My husband, Justin, with Wi Win who is wonderful}

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Medewi is quite beautiful

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OTHER THINGS WORTH DOING IN BALI:

UBUD – located inland, Ubud has become a bit of an ex-pat settlement with TONS of yoga studios, art galleries, and markets. This is the place to go if you want to immerse yourself in an art scene, purchase some Ikat or Batik fabric,  or indulge in spa treatments, as there are many to choose from in Ubud. A walk through  The Sacred Monkey Forest is also something everyone going to Bali should do at least once. Yoga training programs, which are ubiquitous on the island, usually happen in Ubud.

Tanah Lot– a very well-known, beautiful temple. Come here to watch the sunrise.

Go to Mt. Agung

Bali has a truly special place in my heart. I fell in love when I first visited in 2007, and soon knew it is somewhere I’d like to call home one day.

Over the last few years, property value has been rising and construction has been booming.  The rate at which brand new warungs, hotels, shops, and buildings are being built, coupled with an ever increasing influx of tourism, is outpacing the current infrastructure in place to deal with the subsequent crowding, traffic, waste, and usage of resources.

This is obviously a problem for both the environment and people who call Bali home. Luckily, there are concerned individuals who are working together to try to ensure Bali is preserved for generations to come.  One such organization, for example, is  Project Clean Uluwatu.  They are a non-profit working towards installing a liquid and solid waste management system at Uluwatu, in addition to educating the local population about better environmental practices that will benefit the environment and themselves!

So, try to tread lightly and respect the environment, my friends.

Oh! If you missed my post about the wonderful Bali Animal Welfare Association, check it out here

Have you been to Bali? What’s your favorite spot?

xoxo,

MKC

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2 comments

Arielle December 21, 2014 at 12:58 am

Your pictures are so beautiful! It seems such like a charming and fantastic place <3

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My Kind Closet December 21, 2014 at 4:01 am

Thank you! It really is fantastic- It is one of my favorite places!

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