Thoughts about our time in Bali

Our time in Bali is coming to a close. Soon we’ll be on a plane heading to Australia, by way of Malaysia. We’ve spent 3 weeks on the Island of Gods. Someone shared the following quote on Twitter, and I felt like it really summed our stay well.

“Travel is very subjective. What one person loves, another loathes.” – Robin Leach

Before we headed to Bali most of the information I had read and heard from others was quite glowing. I kept thinking Really? because it sounded so incredibly touristy to me. But a couple of travelers I know and respect really liked it, and I decided to go and find out for myself.

time in Bali

Ubud

We decided to begin our journey here because it is appropriately referred to as the art and culture capital of Bali. One of my main goals was to take a painting class while there.

I really enjoyed all the sculptures and carvings that are virtually everywhere around Ubud. We also enjoyed the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. It was really fun to see monkeys close up and not have to be looking through a cage.

We had a little bit of excitement during our second visit when one of the monkeys decided to climb up my leg and back. He thoroughly searched my camera for any signs of food before settling down on my shoulder. It was a bit nerve wracking as they tell you not to make any sudden movements or get excited if a monkey climbs on you. “Their behavior can be unpredictable.” Not encouraging!

Things got even more interesting when a second monkey decided to join his friend where they promptly had a bit of a disagreement. When they finally decided to move on, I was no worse for the wear. Although I wasn’t too fond of the parting fecal gift they left on my shirt.

After 3-4 days, though, I was completely over Ubud.

I kept trying to find the hidden charm, but, well. . . I couldn’t find it. Sure, the countryside is quite beautiful with the rice paddies and small villages, but that’s nothing special to southeast Asia. Ubud seems mostly for people who are yoga nuts, on an alternative spiritual path, or people who want to live like royalty while paying very little.

Besides that not being a way of life I enjoy, I have all kinds of ethical issues with that kind of lifestyle in less-developed areas. Don’t get me started.

Overall, the Ubud area felt . . . “put on” to me. I will say, though, their touts are some of the least annoying. Generally, a shake of the head or a no thank you is all it takes.

If you do go to Ubud, I’d recommend Gunung Merta Bungalows. It’s one of the best places we’ve ever stayed. Ask for an upstairs room. They’re absolutely wonderful.

time in Bali

Padang Padang Beach/Uluwatu

Tigger wanted to surf, and we were both ready for some beach time. We headed here on a friend’s recommendation. The beach was lovely, and the waves were perfect for a beginning surfer like my son. Unfortunately, it’s an area that really requires motorized transportation for any stay more than a few days.

time in Bali

Legian

We headed to the tourist-packed beaches of the Kuta area next. Mostly we came here so Tigger could spend more time on the waves while being within walking distance of more food options and areas to explore.

Since we had arrived prior to high season, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, but OH MY! The beach and waves are pretty decent, but the touts are incredibly annoying. Laying on the sand with your eyes closed will not stop them. They don’t accept the word “no,” and the same people will come back 5000 times to try to sell you the same thing.

Walking around town is even worse.

This area has the most aggressive touts I’ve come across yet. They will grab onto you and/or your kid, follow you, and will even try to block the narrow sidewalk so that you can’t get past them. Thankfully, I’m a big guy. When my pace didn’t alter, they thought it wise to move out of my way.

I understand they’re trying to make a living, but at least be respectful. Had this just been a peculiar part of Balinese culture, I could’ve handled it more, but we hadn’t experienced this type of behavior anywhere else in Bali. It got to the point where I had to clench my jaws when walking through the unavoidable tout gauntlet to keep from yelling I SAID NO! or body slamming the next person who tried to block the way.

time in Bali

Sanur

Having heard that the tourists were easier to escape here, and that the general vibe was better, we headed to Sanur with high hopes. We found a place that was outside of the tourist zone but still within walking distance of the beaches. This area has a lovely boardwalk along the beach, and it was really fun to walk along it.

Until the time we decided to head in the other direction on the boardwalk and ended up in the resort area. While the touts weren’t as aggressive as those in Legian, they were only a step below.

The night market is wonderful! This was probably the best food we’ve had during our whole time in Bali. We also found a nice Japanese restaurant with a great ambiance. The food was really good, even for my finicky child. He even asked to go back!

We stayed at Dewi Dewi Villas and really liked it. It’s very quiet, and there is a cultural center just down the street where they have frequent performances and is all locals. The room is large, has a refrigerator, hot water with good pressure, and the pool is literally 2 steps from your door. They serve a nice breakfast in the morning, and their WiFi was the best we’ve experienced in Bali.

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Bottom line

Generally speaking, the food in Bali is nothing special. Especially after spending time in Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. I found it to be pretty boring.

I basically can’t encourage people to come to the island. Indonesia has some truly amazing areas, and I think a person’s time and money are better spent exploring other parts of the country.

If you do plan on spending time in Bali, I would recommend only planning on 3-5 days. Alternatively, head away from the southern part of the island. All the locals I spoke to recommended going up north to Amed and Munduk where you’ll more likely get a better experience of all that is the Island of Gods.

Have you spent time in Bali? What are your recommendations?

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29 Comments

  1. I have the most amazing reason for visiting Bali as often as I can (and living in Ireland makes this difficult) I have the most beautiful Grand-daughter there! But seriously I loved the Northern parts of Bali, and Sanur.

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  2. Yes, as I believe I mentioned when you were here at Ami Talon, my Bali experience was exceptional, but only because I avoided Ubud altogether (save for a single, half-day cooking class) and headed straight for the northern coast of Bali. Lucked into meeting a local who invited me to his village for a festival and avoided the whole EPL nonsense.

    And yes, though I’ve still got much to see in Indonesia – Sumatra is truly untamed and highly recommended (especially the orangutans at Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba).

    Safe travels, and all the best DownUnder!

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    • I’ll definitely go back to Indonesia to explore more and will probably get a longer visa. Just need more time for sure.

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  3. So true about travel being subjective. Loved certain parts of Vietnam and couldn’t care less about Thailand. Found it to be too touristy and disliked it for all the reasons you listed about Bali. I went to Phuket even though I was told to avoid it. Stayed in Kata surfed and avoided places like Patong. Befriended a local surf crew and had the best time even though I still am not a fan of Phuket. But I found my haven in Chiang Mai. Would I go back to Thailand? Only to visit friends in BKK.

    I love Bali for many reasons. I personally loved the food. I love hot food, so I love sambal. I love tempeh even though I’m not a vegan. I love kare ayam and nasi goreng. I also found the people to be amazing. I was not fond of Ubud and left after a day. I’m not fond of monkeys close up (one at the monkey forest bit my friend and we had to take him to the hospital) and I’m not into yoga or everything overpriced. I wasn’t keen on looking at people who are on their Eat Pray Love trips trying to find something whether it be the healer from the movie or love. Haha. Wasn’t a fan of the book either (I wish my publisher paid for a year to go travel).

    One key thing for me in Bali is get out of the tourist areas and explore more than the ones the books and typical blogs post. I befriended locals and asked their opinions of what to eat, what to do, where to surf. I rented a scooter. I know it’s not an option for all but perhaps hire locals to be your own personal guides and not the tourist guide touts. I bet someone will do it. Most people make less than $150US a month there so that is why it can get pretty hectic. My favourite place is Canggu, north of Legian and Seminyak and down in the Bukit where you do need a scooter. My friends I hired a surf guide who took us out of the busy breaks and to places where it was quieter. I’m a crap surfer so he helped me more and let my friends do their own thing. He hung out with us like a friend. It was worth the money ($7 each) to follow him on scooters, avoid the cops, him tell us which food vendors are better and for him to tell the touts to leave us alone. Another local friend told us a phrase in Bahasa that says we have no money. Befriending locals is the best way to get tips about how to enjoy their home and have a special connection. I’m Asian and tan so perhaps I had it easy when I was in Bali. Everyone thought I was Balinese. But I found it difficult in Vietnam where the touts would hassle me and even had a gang of young guys follow me for an hour in hopes to rob me.

    It’s very true, what one loves another loathes. I doubt you’d go back but I’d say befriend some locals and your perspective may change. Don’t discount the whole island. There’s so much more to Bali than Sanur, Legian, Seminyak, Kuta, and Ubud.

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    • As I stated above, if people go to Bali, I recommend heading up north where the experience will most likely be better. But compared to the other wonderful places in Indonesia, I personally don’t feel Bali offers anything so special as to warrant a special trip. Too many other great parts to explore in Indonesia.

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  4. Interesting. So many people seem to wax lyrical about Bali and what a paradise it is. It’s refreshing to see a different perspective.

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  5. I’m in Bali at the moment and am absolutely loving it. I did a lot of research before I left to try and avoid the touts and tourist traps that I had heard about before I came (which is what turned me off Bali for years). The research definitely paid off. I managed to find some nice “quiet spots” near Ubud and in Sanur and Jimbaran. We did a bit of sight seeing one day and were a little over it after that experience. Since then I’ve just been relaxing and soaking up some rays by the pool and it has made me appreciate the place more.

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    • That’s kind of my point, though. You can do soak up rays by the pools and relax anywhere, and there are many places that are much more enjoyable, prettier, and have better food to do it in. 🙂

      We do like Sanur, though. Much easier to avoid the tourist area, and the local area and culture seems to shine through a bit more.

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  6. I’ve been dreaming of the paradisaical shores of Bali for some time so thanks for the reality check. Sometimes the grass isn’t greener!

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  7. To be honest, were it not for the free tickets we scored with Air Asia, Tony & I probably wouldn’t even be going to Bali in a month’s time! We had started to think that a trip to Indonesia would be worthwhile, but had both felt that we could skip Bali & Jakarta and have no regrets… of course, it didn’t work out that way, as we land in Bali & fly out of Jakarta. However, as we’ve got a 2-month visa, I’m thinking we’ll spend 1 week tops on Bali (and we plan to spend at least 3-4 days diving on Nusa Lombongan rather than Bali proper), and will stay away from the south portion, save for maybe 1 day poking around the famous sights. There are things that I do want to see in Bali, but I think we’ll probably enjoy our time there most if we approach it like tourists, rather than hoping to get stuck into traditional life; I think there will probably be other parts of Indo that are better for that.

    As for Jakarta, I’m thinking we’ll just show up the night prior to our flight, much like we did with Manila in the Philippines! 😀

    Out of curiosity, given that Bali is just a stone’s throw from Lombok did you guys ever think of heading over there? I’ve heard most people vastly prefer it to Bali.

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    • We discussed going to Lombok, but since his main priority was to do some surfing, and in the face of our Australia visit coming up, we didn’t go. I wanted to go to Lombok and Komodo, but it just didn’t work out. I think you’ll like it a lot more if you head north. You guys going to do your advanced while you’re in NL?

      Wise decision about Jakarta. We only went because we have friends there. After being there, I’m convinced it isn’t worth even a day. LOL Unless you have kids. There is some fun stuff for them, but there is even better stuff elsewhere.

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      • Yes, I think we will do our AOW on NL… I’ve been looking at prices and I think we can do it for about $290 per person, which is some of the cheapest cert fees I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Plus, we’ll be there during the perfect season to see Mola Mola & manta rays so I am SUPER EXCITED! 😀

        I guess you didn’t do any diving while in Indo?

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        • No, we didn’t. I really wanted to do one of the Komodo trips because they were diving with manta rays which is something I would LOVE to do, but with Australia looming, I needed to save that money.

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  8. I’m sorry you didn’t have a good time in Bali – it’s one of my favorite places. However, my advice to all people heading that way is to rent a scooter and ride around the island. You get such a much better picture of the people and places. My favorite places were the little towns along the way that no one talks about. Ubud, for me, was a bit disappointing as well until you get off the main roads and into the surrounding areas. Pemuteran is one of the nicest little places and is found in the northwest. We stayed at a small place named Pondok Sari which was easily one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever been to. The Balinese people are so sweet and kind but, as is the case with most touristy places, you don’t get to see the softer side until you get off the beaten track. Better luck next time! 🙂

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    • Staying away from Ubud and the areas down south most likely greatly enhances one’s experience of Bali. I think up north would be a completely different story, although I still think Indonesia has a LOT more wonderful places to visit and would still advise people focus more of their time in those areas. It’s really hard to give Indonesia justice with a 30-day visa.

      And for the most part, Balinese people are really wonderful. But so are the Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysians, and Filipinos I’ve met. 🙂

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  9. I agree with Amy…we loved Bali, and felt it was the highlight of our travels in Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Vietnam! Then again…we probably value different things. For us…we just enjoyed the peacefulness of a quiet rental home on the outskirts of Ubud, playing and swimming with friends almost daily, and enjoying the awesome yoga and health food restaurants 🙂 One man’s trash is another man’s treasures! Hahaa!!

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    • What you described could’ve happened anywhere, though. So to me it wasn’t Bali per se that you loved but the experiences you had while here. 🙂

      But yes, just like the Leach quote I shared in the opening. It’s all subjective. For someone who isn’t into yoga and touristy locales, the main attractions of Bali will probably not be appreciated.

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  10. We loved Bali but only spent our time in Ubud. I am into the whole yoga, alternative healing, raw food thing though so that was a real draw for me. We also loved the culture and tradition we witnessed there.

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  11. Well, we love Ubud, last time we went we spent most of our time there, Kuta/Legian are absolute holes, not for us. Sanur, we thought, was dreadful, full of more mature package tourists, overwintering on a very boring beach from Europe. Ubud was lovely though, despite the horrible monkeys ( hate them!). And I liked most of the food. Nothing is as good as Thai, Vietnamese or Indian, but we found some great satay type dishes, the salad with the satay sauce was my favourite, can’t remember the name. I would highly recommend Ubud and we hope to go back soon. I think maybe we were there out of season, in February, maybe it’s better then. But, horses for courses, we love Hanoi, too, touts have never really bothered me anywhere, although I haven’t been to Hanoi for 12 years now., things may have changed for the worse.

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    • That’s why I shared that quote in the opening. I’m not a fan of very touristy places, and Ubud most definitely falls into that category. With Sanur, we just stayed out of the tourist zone and found the rest of to be quite lovely.

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    • That salad is called gado-gado.

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  12. So… what you’re saying is it’s not all “Eat, Pray, Love” perfect?! ;o)

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  13. Bali and Vietnam are the two places that have made me realise quite how subjective travel is. We had a similar experience with Bali and had highs hopes that were dashed. Vietnam scared the hell out of me as everyone we met had bad things to say, we ended up loving it more than anywhere else in SE Asia! We visited Sumatra when in Indonesia and were blown away by it yet there were so few visitors… maybe why we liked it!

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    • I had the SAME experience! After hearing people’s comments about Vietnam, I was really kind of concerned about going there. Didn’t like Hanoi, but the rest of the country I just completely fell in love with!

      We almost went to Sumatra first. Really wish we had. At least we can come back.

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