Here I start my blog with Bali and Gili Islands which amazed me in just 9 days with its extremely friendly people, nature, temples, rice terraces, monkeys, spa saloons, greenery, turtles and magnificent underground and the peace it offers to its visitors.
The weather is generally rainy between November and March, however, it was still humid when we were there in February. Bali showers are not a problem at all, and it doesn’t seem to affect the daily life. Everyone ride their motorcycles around the town and nobody seems to be bothered by the rain. If you visit Bali during these times, don’t forget to take your umbrella with you, or borrow one from your hotel.
Denpasar Airport is on the south of the island, and not really in the central Bali. You can take a taxi from the airport but make sure to ask how much you are willing to pay forehand as drivers are keen on asking for more – just like anywhere else in the world.
When you go up to the north, you will see dark coloured sands on the beach as the volcanic Batur Mountain is located there. The Mount Batur is known as a sacred mountain and stands at 1,717 m above the sea level. We didn’t have a chance to see it but I’ve heard it’s good for trekking and for those who seek to push their physical limits.
Kuta has lively bars, while Seminyak, Jimbaran and Nusa Dua are popular resort towns. On the east, you will see three small islands — Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air which are very close to Lombok. I will write about these later on.
The most common food is Nasi Goreng (fried rice), all kinds of seafood and pork. For sure, you’ll have lots of spices and vegetables within your meal. Speaking of pork, almost 100% of Balinese people are Hindu while Indonesia is a Muslim country. All houses have their own temples, and religious celebrations are very common. There are lots of temple ceremonies, and you can see offerings in front of all shops, restaurants and even beaches. Offerings consist of rice, flowers, drinks placed on a banana leaf. So better watch where you step.
Temples are very colourful. The animal figures in front of temple entrances represent Hindu gods, covered by black and white cotton. Here, black represents the bad, and white reprdents the good as Hindus pray for both bad and good. They believe if they prey for both, then the bad wouldn’t harm them.
Names in Bali have some system as well – the first child of a family is called ‘Wayan’ (just like the woman in Eat, Pray, Love movie), second called “Made” and the third as “Komang”.
Where to Stay
We spent a few nights in Ubud, a few nights in Seminyak and a few nights in Gili Islands. To be honest, Kuta and Seminyak were not very enjoyable as we couldn’t swim. The area was dirty, crowded and chaotic. On the other hand, we loved our stay in Hanging Gardens of Bali in Ubud. It was a totally different Bali experience. Staying in one of the private villas with an infinity pool, feeding the monkeys in our balcony or hearing them walking on top of our roof was fun.
When it comes to shopping, you will find amazing art galleries in Ubud while there are amazing design boutique stores in Seminyak. Also, hippie clothes, spa materials, soaps, candles and stone/wood carvings are very common on the island. Don’t forget to bargain though, as they tend to do huge discounts. We’ve seen prices falling from 600 IDRs to 50 IDRs!
After a piece of general information about the island, here is what we’ve done in 9 days:
Gili Islands (Lombok)
We arrived at the airport late afternoon on a Friday and took the shuttle to Padang Bai as it is where the fast boats leave and naturally the closest point to Gili Islands. If you stay in Kuta or Seminyak, you will need to take a shuttle to Padang Bai early in the morning so this option definitely saved us some time and we could avoid the traffic stress.
Tip: Arrange the boat when you arrive there! Fast boat prices almost double when you book online. We paid 450K IDR for a return trip to the islands, and all we needed to do was to ask for the reception of the hotel.
There are 3 Gili islands, and think about what you want beforehand if you are planning to visit one of them. Seeing the crowd going to Gili Trawangan, we’ve decided to go to Gili Air at the last minute, and guess what it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made there! The fast boat goes to Gili T. And Gili Air only. If you’d like to go to Gili Meno, you will have to take the fast boat to Gili T. and arrange a local boat to Gili M.
As we didn’t book a hotel in any of the islands, we started walking on the coast of Gili Air from the harbour. Good that we asked an Indonesian guy about where the central area is, we decided to stay at Chill Out Bungalows. Bungalows were a few steps away from the beach bar and crystal waters. What else would be better than having 3 meals of the day just above the sand and sipping cocktails at the sunset, watching the mountains of Lombok and the sea? The hotel replaces sun beds with dinner tables and candles around 5pm and you get to eat the BBQ actually on the beach all night long.
If you’re not sure which island to visit:
Gili Trawangan: The biggest and the crowdest island. Full of young tourists, backpackers and party people. If you want to meet new people and party, this island is for you.
Gili Meno: The most difficult one to get to. The beaches are supposed to be the best among the three and it is supposed to be the deserted one. You may actually find a place to stay right on the beach here.
Gili Air: Easy to get to and quite peaceful. No bungalows or resorts on the beach but there are plenty of beach bars and diving centres. A relaxed island where you can chill, dive and even find drugs if you dare to try.
Looking for a hotel in Gili Air? Click here to see the accommodation options and book.
We used Seminyak as a pitstop to see temples and to do the other touristic sights. However, our hotel – Aroma Exclusive Villas was a bit far from the city centre and crowded beaches. We had a private villa with a private swimming pool and it was extremely spoiling. As we didn’t buy any tours, we arranged a driver from the hotel for the next day. We had a list of places to go, so the driver took us to all those even though it was raining all day. If you’d like to follow our route, here it is:
1- Pura Taman Ayun Temple: A temple in a small jungle, surrounded by a river. Lotus plants in the lake at the entrance are worth to see.
2- Tegal Sarı Coffee Plantatıon: I wasn’t impressed with this plantation but we had a chance to see the animal Luwak – which helps coffeemakers to produce the world’s most expensive coffee. Also, we tasted different kinds of teas and coffees for free. You need to pay extra for Luwak tasting though.
3- Pura Ulun Danu Beratan Temple: The most beautiful temple that I’ve seen in Bali. It is also surrounded by a river, but a bigger one and you can actually see people fishing, or cruising on the river. You may also have lunch at the temple’s restaurant.
4- Alas Kedaton Monkey Forest: One of the monkey forests in Bali. We were guided by a woman who helped us to see around and feed monkeys. She also warned us to be careful with the little ones as they may not have manners.
5- Jatiluwih Rice Terraces: A UNESCO rice terrace. It was raining cats and dogs, so we only had a chance to stay out for a bit and take pictures. The view was amazing.
6- Tanah Lot Temple: Another temple which amazed me. Surrounded by a few other temples, this area is full of people, especially at the sunset. We were not lucky to see the sunset clearly but it was a good place to have dinner, watching the temple from the top.
We spent our second day on the beach. We walked towards the centre from the beach and decided to lay on one of the sun beds. The beach is not really for swimming but to learn surfing. After an hour of laying on the beach in front of the Spanish Bar La Plancha, it started raining and we spent a half day at the bar, drinking. It was a happy moment – sitting outside, watching the rain and sipping our drinks. As the rain didn’t stop, we decided to walk towards the central area and passed by a champagne bar to change our wet clothes and drink more. It was almost sunset time, so we had to walk towards the KuDeTa where I heard sunsets are amazing. And yes, it was indeed! The place was packed, but we were lucky to find seats and have dinner. It was the most expensive restaurant/bar we’ve been in Bali but the atmosphere was worth it.
We wanted to finish the holiday in our very best mood, so Ubud was our last stop. Ubud and staying at The Hanging Gardens of Bali was my dream. Waking up in the woods, watching monkeys around our private villa and swimming in our panoramic pool which was literally inside the greenery was a real experience. The Spa which we had a chance to get a massage at was another unforgettable experience.
Even though we had to change our villa after the 1st day (due to the hotel‘s incapability of handling reservations), both villas were amazing. If you ever plan to visit this hotel, I would definitely recommend panoramic villas – either it is a family villa or a normal one. Even though we paid around 750 euros for two nights, the spa experience and the dinner which was complimentary after the reservation failure of the hotel made it totally worthwhile. (not to mention we had to pay an extra million IDR for a bottle of wine and got sick). The bar didn‘t have cigarettes, and it was impossible to obtain unless we decided to take the shuttle to the centre. The staff could have been better at the service but at least they were very friendly with us.
The hotel is 30 minutes away from Ubud centre, so there was a free shuttle every two hours until 5.30pm. Full of honeymooners, it was a quiet place with only a bar playing club music and a restaurant. We had monkey visitors in our balcony – at some point we had around 10 monkeys playing with each other. Be careful though, they are there to steal and eat. If you feed them, they award you with things that they stole from others! The main pool of the hotel was awarded as the best pool of the world and a lot of models had photo shootings there, so couples were queueing to have their photos taken as well. The breakfast was ok, nothing special but again the view was amazing!
Nights were dark, and there is not much to do, so we decided to stay in Ubud centre the next evening to watch Kecak dance and trance show at a temple. It was not the plan as we walked around Ubud the whole day, looking at art galleries, visiting Neka Art Museum and the Ubud Market under the rain, but it was so tempting to stay a bit more. Kecak dance was also spontaneous – we went to the temple we saw during the day and the old man brought us to the show area, sold tickets for 80K IDR and we found ourselves watching men singing ‘chak, chak, chak‘, making vocals around a fire with a few other dancers with colourful dresses. The religious performance is about the war between good and bad. Interesting but it was actually created by a German man in 1930s and based on a famous Hindu story. If you plan to watch this performance and don‘t know where to, the best shows are at Uluwatu Temple, right after the sun sets.
On the last day, we headed to the spa to have our 90 minutes massage just before our flight back to Doha. We just couldn’t describe how amazing it was – right next to the river, with the sound of birds and relaxing spa music.
Edit: During our second visit to Bali, we have decided to discover the south and stayed in Jimbaran as well as Uluwatu area. In terms of the beach, I would definitely recommend Sunday’s Beach Club in the Uluwatu area. Ayana Jimbaran Resort is a nice big luxurious hotel, however, the sea was not very enjoyable as in the northern parts of Bali.