Before I visited Bali, I’d heard mixed reviews. On the one hand, it has an incredible variety of attractions and exciting activities, and you’re never short of things to do. On the other, it appears to be for Australians what Magaluf is for Brits…a mecca for excessive drinking, all-night partying and disrespectful behaviour.
The secret to enjoying your time in Bali is to do your research and to make sure you’ll be staying in a part of the island that offers the type of getaway you’re looking for. The clichéd phrase ‘there’s something for everyone’ really does apply here. So, in the interest of helping you out, here are some ideas of where to stay and things to do in Bali.
WHERE TO STAY
The first question you need to ask yourself is ‘Where should I stay?’. Bali can quite easily be divided into areas that would appeal to different crowds of people.
For the party scene, you’re best off heading directly to Central Kuta. This area is a busy metropolis of night clubs, bars, budget accommodation, restaurants, tattoo studios, souvenir shops and tourism agencies. There are pros and cons to this part of town. It provides easy access to facilities and activities, as well as the beach and some of the main transport hubs. It’s also close to the airport. On the other hand, you can’t walk far without being harassed by aggressive touts.
To escape the crowds, you might prefer to consider an area such as North Kuta or Sanur. A little out of town, these offer more peace and solitude. In place of gridlocked traffic, you might find yourself in a rice field or on your own deserted patch of beach, and the good news is that you can still hop in a reasonably cheap taxi for a taste of the Bali nightlife.
A good party hostel in central Kuta with the bonus of free all-day pancakes is Captain Goose. For more of a relaxed vibe away from the main street, try Mirah Hostel. The dorm beds have curtains and huge lockers, and the shower facilities are great too. Just don’t order the food there! Rumah Samba is a gorgeous mid-range homestay in Sanur with huge private rooms and en suite outdoor bathrooms. My favourite, though, was Abian Biu Mansion, with its spacious rooms, comfortable beds and peaceful grounds. Almost any accommodation you can find will have a swimming pool, which is just as well given the smothering heat of Indonesia.
THINGS TO DO IN BALI
The great thing about Bali is that, no matter what you’re into, you can find activities to suit your tastes. Jl Legian is the main highstreet in central Kuta and a great place to head for inspiration if you’re short on ideas.
Culture fans will be impressed with the huge number of temples and villages on Bali, and there are plenty of companies offering cooking classes, coffee plantation tours, lessons in local farming techniques, rice field treks, homestays, art gallery visits and traditional dance shows.
Wildlife enthusiasts will be attracted by the Bird Park near Ubud, which houses 250 native and international species, or Lovina Beach – a popular meeting poing for dawn dolphin-watching tours. Scuba diving is very popular too, especially in Nusa Lembongan, which is famous for its unusual-looking sun fish.
The Sacred Monkey Sanctuary in Ubud is another hit with tourists. While scaremongering has garnered the monkeys a reputation for being theiving, aggressive monsters, they rarely approach unless you dangle a banana in their faces. The forest walk is surprisingly beautiful, especially if you make your way past the temple and down to the mystical hanging bridge.–
All of the main tourist towns on Bali have a huge variety of spa facilities, from basic streetside parlours to traditional day spas offering scrubs, hair and nail treatments, and massages. Yoga centres and meditation retreats are incredibly popular too.
On the days when your hangovers aren’t seriously debilitating, there are a huge number of exciting things to do in Bali.
Water sports include surfing, snorkelling, diving, banana boats, parasailing, windsurfing and jet ski rides. In fact, you’re likely to never have heard of many of the activities. Sea breachers, jetovators, flyboards and jet-propelled surf boards are among the adventures you could try that will make your friends back home green with envy.
If you can cope with the incessant sunshine, land-based excursions include horseriding, ATV tours, dirt bikes and trekking.
The Indonesian visa system is a minefield. If you’re staying longer than one month, you will probably have to go through the laborious process of applying for a visa extension. The good news is that there are companies that can make your life a lot easier – as long as you’re prepared to fork out a bit extra. I’m as thrifty as they come, and I can tell you it’s worth it. The alternative is visiting immigration multiple times, and you would probably wrack up a taxi bill just as big in the process. Visa4Bali comes highly recommended. They can find you local sponsorship, they send a courier to your hotel to collect and drop off your passport, and they’re available pretty much 24/7 via email, phone and even WhatsApp.
You might arrive in Bali with the intention of saving money by using public transport, but after a while the effort just doesn’t seem worth it. I waited almost 45 minutes for a bus from the airport to Sanur and it cost just IDR 3,500. The same journey in a taxi would have been around IDR 100,000. That’s a big discrepancy, but we’re still talking peanuts. By all means save your pennies, but consider your time and comfort too. It’s not easy to find information on public bus services and metered taxis like the Blue Bird chain are actually quite reasonable.
If you’re heading to another city, you’d be best off booking a minibus transfer through a local travel agency or your accommodation. They usually pick you up from your hotel, but they rarely drop you off at your door on arrival. For this reason, you might want to consider the location of your accommodation at your next destination to avoid more than doubling the cost of your journey as you complete the final leg. Also, don’t expect your van to be air conditioned unless you tip your driver extra.
One of the slight annoyances I encountered while planning my fortnight on Bali was that virtually every tour company only runs private tours. This is bad news for solo travellers because it means you have to pay a single supplement and you miss one of your best opportunities to meet likeminded travellers. For this reason, it’s best to stay in sociable-looking hostels. Chances are they’ll arrange group excursions at reception, but if not, you can set about getting your own group together and playing tour guide.
Most visitors to Bali don’t encounter any problems, but a few common scams do occur, including credit card fraud, pick-pocketing and drink spiking. There’s no reason to be alarmed or paranoid, but it’s a good idea to take the usual precautions such as locking your valuables in a safe and keeping an eye on your belongings.
Bali is a haven for travellers – and it’s well connected too – but that’s no reason to sack off the rest of Indonesia. With thousands of islands to choose from, you could spend your entire life exploring the country and still barely make a dent. There’s much more in the way of natural beauty, extraordinary wildlife and unparalleled scenery elsewhere. My advice would be to use it as a place to unwind, socialise, have some fun, or stock up on mall items that are hard to find in the more remote locations – and then to venture into less-well-explored territories like Komodo National Park.
COMPARE ACCOMMODATION DEALS
HotelsCombined aggregates the results of hotel searches from over 40 travel sites to bring you the best deals in the quickest time.