Getting lost among emerald green rice fields, standing at the mouth of an ancient elephant cave, watching the Indian ocean crash against the rugged curves of Pura Luhur Uluwatu while monkeys run amok around your ankles – these are just some of the things I love about Bali (well, let’s be honest, maybe not the monkeys).
It’s funny because a few years ago, like a lot of people, I couldn’t think of anything worse than stepping into a country that had flooded Australian media for years due to its association with drugs-in-boogie-boards – but Indonesia’s proximity to Australia, beautiful climate and reasonable airfares were what eventually lured my family a couple of years ago and we have been fans ever since.
My love of the island of Bali grew deeper on a recent holiday there late last year. My travel companions (some of my family and crazy but wonderful partner) and I split our time between the hip waterside jaunt of Seminyak and the cultural home of Eat Pray Love – Ubud (my all time favourite corner of Bali). Here are eleven highlights from my recent trip and must-have experiences if you’re planning to visit for the first time or the fifteenth!
1. Immerse yourself in the green rice fields of Ubud
If you take the wrong turn off the chaotic main street of Ubud – have no fear – you’ll likely wind up lost in a maze of green rice terraces with locals harvesting their fields and picturesque accommodation, art galleries and yoga retreats dotting the horizon. It’s hard to imagine how an industrial street could transform into such a magical setting. This is a great place to watch the sunrise or enjoy a refreshing Bintang in an open-aired Warung. My favourite experience in Bali was an interaction we had with a local man tending to his rice fields & selling coconuts – although he didn’t speak English, he still managed to grasp my hand and sew together the words – You are beautiful. It was an unforgettable travel moment.
2. Enjoy cocktail hopping at the laidback beach clubs of Seminyak
I love a good beach club and some of the most fun we had in Bali was spent by the poolside at the famous Potato Head Beach Club or drinking in the humidity at sunset at Ku De Ta. Later in the evening my partner and I managed to get the pool to ourselves at Potato Head beach club which was perfect for our synchronised swimming that shocked a few fellow tourists. If you only have time to visit one, I would highly recommend Ku De Ta – avoid the restaurant if you’re on a budget (despite the food being amazing) and sip on a glass of wine while you listen to laidback music and watch the sun sink romantically below the horizon. Sigh. Take me back.
3. Relax by the pool & make the most of the weather
Bali has the kind of climate that makes you feel like you’re permanently floating around in a spa. The mornings or late afternoons are the best times to venture out and about to explore (especially in Seminyak) & the middle of the day is ideal for jumping in the pool, cooling off and floating the afternoon away. We stayed at beautiful accommodation called Nyaman Villas just 5 minutes walk to the beach and the main street of Seminyak.
4. Hire a driver and experience the local culture
In my experience hiring a driver is the best way to see Bali. Ask anyone who has visited before and I’m sure they’ll have recommendations for who to get in touch with. We hired a driver to visit the breathtaking temples dotted around Bali and to drive us from Seminyak to Ubud (just over an hour’s drive). A driver will take you wherever you want to go for anywhere between $50 to $80 AUD per day. They’ll also take you to off the beaten track destinations and give you a greater understanding of what it’s like to live as a Balinese local. The highlights of our driving trip were visiting Pura Lahur Uluwatu, exploring the Tegalalang Rice terraces, standing at the mouth of sacred Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) and Gunung Kawi.
5. Stay like royalty at Warwick Ibah Luxury Hotel
Set on the grounds of a palace and owned by royalty, the grounds and accommodation at Warwick Ibah Luxury Hotel are something to behold. For the ultimate hotel experience, park yourself by the main pool for a day and admire your historic surroundings while enjoying a cocktail or two… or three. The popular Karsa Café track is just next door to the hotel and will take you past an impressive temple, through lush green rice fields, spas and art galleries to the idyllic café.
6. Eat as much mushroom ravioli as you can cram into your mouth at Bridges
After only just arriving in Ubud, my partner and I were pretty hungry (as we always are) and in search of somewhere nice to eat. Our driver – a great guy called Kadek – recommended Bridges, conveniently named after its location tucked away at the corner of the bridge just a 5 minute walk from our hotel. The restaurant itself was beautiful with an open deck overlooking the river and candles illuminating rustic wooden tables and chairs. We opted to have the degustation in which I tasted The Best Mushroom Ravioli in The World. My partner and I still reminisce about that ravioli to this day and are looking forward to going back there to have it again!
7. Get up & dance on the tables at Motel Mexicola
On our first night in Bali we were all pretty excited to be there. My mum’s partner had conveniently met the owner of a popular local restaurant called Motel Mexicola on the plane trip over and had secured a reservation for the 7 of us. The inside of the restaurant is a vibrant red replica of a Mexican eatery and offers amazing food (think burritos, tacos, all your favourite Mexican things) and margaritas. Later in the evening the restaurant transforms into a thriving night club with tourists climbing over each other to dance on the tables. As I threw off my thongs and started dancing on the tables I half expected to be kicked out by a bouncer but I soon came to find that this kind of behaviour is welcome in Bali! Enjoy!
8. Spend your well earned $$$ at Kim Soo
This would have to be my favourite shopping destination in Bali. Kim Soo is a bohemian homewares store set in a beautiful old Dutch colonial building in Seminyak with a Santorini- like feel and sells stunning homewares – everything you can think of from marble chopping boards to lanterns and rustic furniture. Even if you don’t have any money to spend, it’s worth going in to have a look at the building and scraping some coins together to have a coffee at the adjoined café with all the other hipsters.
9. Enjoy Tuesday, Thursday or Friday at Sundays! (Any day really…)
Sundays Beach Club is the relaxation-lovers dream and is set on the white sand of the Bukit Peninsula (which is a couple of hours drive from Seminyak). The best part of visiting this exclusive beach club is arguably the cable car ride down which, while a little daunting, showcases pristine waters and the impressive Balinese architecture of the club. Admittedly it’s an expensive day out so make sure you buy a day pass and stay as long as you can to get your money’s worth!
10. Indulge in Vegetarian & Vegan Heaven at Earth Café & Market
Vegetarians – Imagine a place where you can eat absolutely everything on the menu! This place will send any vegetarian’s head into a spin thanks to its multitude of delicious meat free offerings. On both occasions that I’ve visited Bali I’ve raced to my favourite local eatery – Earth Café and Market and ordered way too much food. If you don’t know what to have, order a few things and indulge a little. The burrito comes highly recommended and don’t forget to sample one of their bespoke juices and smoothies.
11. Swim like a fish at Jungle Fish
Perched in beautiful surrounds, Jungle Fish is the jungle’s answer to a beach club and offers pure relaxation just outside of the main stretch of Ubud. Get in early to secure yourself a poolside deck chair and spend the day flicking through the pages of a book and ordering cocktails. Don’t forget to float around in the pool listening to the hum of The Girl from Ipanema and practising your Latin dance moves under water (trust us, it’s fun!).
That’s it from me – I’m looking forward to returning to Bali to expand my list for next time! What do you love about Bali?