Oh Bali, I love you so. I adored everything about my time in Bali and not only does it make me want to go back, it also makes me want to explore even more of what Indonesia has to offer. I loved the food (from the multitude of healthy organic cafe’s, to the super cheap Nasi Goreng), the weather, the scenery, and the friendly people. I even loved the language, which sounded so beautiful and poetic and just flows off the tongue.
Bali is a fairly sizeable island and there’s loads to do. Many people who go to Bali only stick to one place, and whenever I spoke about Bali to any Australians (for which Bali is a major holiday destination) they would just assume you would only visit Kuta, the main holiday destination frequented by barely legal Aussies ready to indulge in the super-strong and super-cheap alcohol, and tell you not to bother. But there is so much more to Bali than this party-town, even though I think Kuta is definitely worth a visit anyway! Here are my top things to do in and around Bali.
This was my first destination when I got to Bali. Ubud is pretty central and in the highlands, away from the beaches. It may be a lot wetter than the coast, especially during monsoon season. Ubud is considered the cultural hub of Bali – this is where you will discover about the art and spirituality of Bali and can learn about Balinese Hinduism through paintings, dance, and other art forms. It’s also crammed full of yoga studios, health cafe’s, and spas. This is not a party town. There are a few nice bars but they are super expensive and attract more of an older expat crowd rather than backpackers. You could chill with a beer while watching a local band perform, but most people come here for the cultural pursuits.
I really liked Ubud. I stayed in a hostel called In Da Lodge, which was set in a beautiful garden and was perfect for meeting other backpackers. In Ubud I went to the art museum, which had some incredible balinese artwork, which is also super-trippy! Ubud is also pretty scenic too. You can walk through the incredible emerald green rice paddies, and go to visit a local waterfall, which is absolutely stunning.
There were some setbacks to Ubud. It’s very touristy and some of the shops, spas, and restaurants are really expensive. I tried out a yoga class at the famous Yoga Barn, which was an experience I sadly hated. Yet Ubud is still worth a visit as there is loads to see and do. Besides yoga, art, and rice paddy walks, you can also go to the Monkey Forest, go white water rafting, or wake up super early and trek up Mount Batur, two things I decided not to do!
Sanur is a super relaxed beach town. It’s close to the airport and to Kuta so is a great base. It’s also the jumping off point to explore Nusa Lembongan (below). Sanur mainly attracts the package holiday crowd, as posh hotels line the beach, but my stay here at a hostel called The Big Pineapple was such a highlight. The beach isn’t the best but I loved chilling round the pool in the hostel. It’s also a great place for surfers. Whilst the beach is calm and flat, a boat can take you out to some nearby reefs. I took a class with Rip-Curl School of Surf which was great. Most evenings we headed to a reggae bar down the street, watched the live music, and chilled with some beers. Sanur was full of friendly, welcoming faces and I’d definitely go here again just to stay in that hostel.
3. Nusa Lembongan.
This tiny island off the coast of Bali is something many miss off their itinerary, but it is a must see. There are plenty of cheap guesthouses and it is the perfect place to stay for a couple of nights, chill, and explore on a moped. The roads are very bumpy and desperately need renovating, but the island itself is so beautiful and quiet.
When I went here I stayed for two nights, rented a moped from my guesthouse, and set out each day to explore the island. I saw stunning beaches and coastlines, and did some yoga. This is also a really popular place with snorkelers, divers and surfers alike.
Kuta is definitely interesting. The beach is great for surfing, but is crowded and you won’t get far without someone trying to get you to hire a surfboard or buy something. The main town is a mixture of market stalls and shopping malls containing the biggest brands, from Zara to Ralph Lauren. It still feels foreign, yet the familiarity of the western style shops and restaurants won’t give anyone too much of a culture shock.
No, I didn’t love Kuta, I probably wouldn’t go again, but I’m still glad I went. Kuta is well known for it’s nightlife and while there I went to a bar called Alley Cats, which I loved! It was kind of grungy and was playing nineties hip-hop, followed by a huge club I can’t remember the name of. It was definitely a fun night. What made my stay in Kuta great was staying at a hostel called Granny’s. It’s a bit outside of town, and the people are so friendly and will make you feel like family.
No matter where you go in Bali, everyone will have an opinion on Kuta, whether good or bad. This is why I went, so I could decide for myself and form my own opinion. Having said that, don’t get stuck in Kuta as many do as Bali really does have so much else to offer.
5. The Gili Islands.
Technically, these Islands aren’t part of Bali but are part of the next big island along in Indonesia – Lombok. However for the sake of this article I’ve included them as they are increasingly popular with backpackers visiting Bali and are really close and accessible by boat.
The Gili’s consist of three islands – Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, and Gili Meno. Each island is pretty small, with no motorised vehicles – just horse and carriage (whist the lack of pollution is nice I have to admit I was really concerned about the health and welfare of the horses and would encourage walking over taking a ride in a horse drawn carriage).
Gili Trawangan is where most people head. It’s the biggest of the islands and considered the ‘party island’. I did have fun on Gili T and stayed at a great hostel called Gili Backpackers, which had a lovely pool and bar and was loads of fun, but I much preferred Gili Air. Gili Air is a little smaller and much more chilled. There are loads of lovely, inexpensive restaurants, yoga classes, and a great beach. Gili Air still has some good party nights, but they aren’t every night. In fact, maybe because it wasn’t so advertised and in your face, I had the best night partying of my travels in Gili Air, on one of the beaches in the north. A tiny shack with a bar played techno music, offered up extra joss shots, and was just so much fun. We danced until the sun came up.
The Gili’s are great for diving and snorkelling. I went on a snorkelling trip from Gili Air which took us around all three islands and we saw turtles and gorgeous coral. We stopped for lunch on Gili Meno, which is not worth staying on as it’s so small and is considered by many as the honeymoon island.
The Gili’s also had the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever witnessed. The west side of Gili T on the sunset beach even had swings in the ocean, which was super cool and provided a great photo op.
There are so many other places to visit in Bali and I would really like to go back to explore the rest of the island, perhaps the north. I’d also love to hop over to Lombok and climb the stunning Mount Rinjani.
I spent 3 weeks in Bali and the Gili’s. I didn’t rush my time here so you could easily do everything I did in two weeks. Bali is an incredible place and there is so much to see and do, whether you’re a yogi, a fitness freak, or a beach bum. Bali is not a place to miss out on on any trip to South East Asia.