Of all the places I visited in South East Asia, I remember being the most excited about Bali. But it turns out my excitement wasn’t exactly for the blue water and white sandy beaches (because most of those turned out to be a little underwhelming). What I did fall in love with was the Balinese culture and everything else this beautiful country had to offer. I spent my days learning how to surf, hiking a volcano at sunrise, sipping green smoothies, exploring temples, wandering through rice fields and drinking copious amounts of cocktails at Potato Head Beach Club (where apparently all the cool kids hang out).
WHAT TO DO
Learn how to surf: Kuta might not be famous for it’s beaches, which are pretty dirty and littered with trash, but it is known for it’s epic waves, making it the perfect place to learn how to surf. We found an instructor through the hostel we were staying at in Kuta, but there are tons of little stands on the beach offering surf lessons. After a quick 30 minute lesson on the beach, we were armed with boards and wetsuits and went straight into the water. I’m not going to lie, surfing is not easy (and it’s really tiring) but we all managed to get up at least once and ride a wave into shore so it made the whole experience worth it!
Lounge around at Potato Head Beach Club: Bali is full of ballers and we just wanted to fit in (on a backpackers budget) so we went to Potato Head with all the other mid twenty somethings to spend the day lounging, drinking and swimming. Poolside seats fill up fast so make sure you get there a few minutes before opening so you can snag a spot. The food and drinks are pricey, but as soon as you get your buzz on you’ll forget how quickly you’re emptying your wallet.
Cocktails and hookah: The W Hotel is one of the best places to grab a cocktail and watch the sunset. They also have an amazing hookah bar on their outdoor patio. We tried the mint flavor infused with chocolate milk!
Have a beer at Single Fin: Nestled in the cliffs of Uluwatu, Single Fin has become a go-to destination while in Bali. It has a huge outdoor patio that overlooks the Indian Ocean. Grab a Bintang, chill out to some great music and watch the surfers disappear behind the waves.
Go shopping: If you need a break from the sun, Seminyak is the place to go for some great shopping. You can find everything from Australian swimwear brands and surfboards to local souvenirs and handmade jewelry.
WHERE TO EAT/DRINK
The Bistrot: Located on the popular ‘Eat Street’ of Seminyak, this place has a very New York loft feel to it with warm and rustic interiors. The large indoor balcony overlooks an entire wall of windows and everything on the menu is outstanding.
La Favela: Tucked away behind a lush courtyard, you might easily pass La Favela without even noticing it. Every room in the this restaurant feels like a magical hideaway and wild plants grow everywhere you look. If you stop by for lunch, try the chicken wings in wa-yen sauce and the tuna carpaccio. After dark, this place turns into a club, which somewhat resembles a very cool private house party.
Starfish Bloo: If you’re in the mood for something fancy, head to Starfish Bloo at The W Hotel. Sit beachside and enjoy fresh seafood with a Pan-Asian twist. They also have a really great Sunday brunch buffet.
Ultimo: The interior of this place kind of reminds me of a wedding venue, but after you get over the cheesy decor, you’ll soon come to appreciate the authentic food being served at Ultimo. Grab a seat in the open air garden and indulge in some true Italian style pizza and pasta.
Sushi Tei: Located in the Beachwalk Mall, this place is a nice change from traditional Indonesian food. The sushi is really fresh and the service is fast and friendly. The restaurant is an open kitchen concept so you can watch the chef prepare your meal.
Monokrom Coffee & Bar: This place was located right across from our hostel in Kuta so we ended up having lunch here a few times. It has a bit of everything on the menu - American, Asian, Italian, Mexican and Australian, so you’ll definitely find something you like. If you’re in the mood for some food from home, try the all day American breakfast or buttermilk pancakes.
WHERE TO STAY
Hostel in Kuta: If you’re visiting Kuta I suggest staying at Kayun hostel. We booked a private room with an attached bathroom. It had free wifi, tours bookings, a cafe, air conditioning in every room and a swimming pool. It’s also close to the beach, restaurants and shopping.
Villa in Seminyak: We were in need of a break from hostel living so we splurged on an Airbnb for a week in Seminyak. Jean Luc’s villa was half indoor, half outdoor with 3 bedrooms, a full modern kitchen and living room and a huge pool in the center of the grounds. It was located a few minutes walk from the main street and came with a daily maid service. This place is perfect if you want to stay put for a few days and just chill.
WEEKEND AND DAY TRIPS
Ubud: It only takes about an hour to drive from Seminyak to Ubud, but because there is so much to do here it’s best to stay for a weekend. If you’re spending the day in town, start your morning with a sweaty workout at Yoga Barn. Bring some bananas to Monkey Forest, but be careful not to get attacked, some of these little guys are pretty vicious! For lunch, stop by Kafe for healthy dishes and cold drinks and then head to the art market for an array of trinkets including buddha heads, painted masks and decorative fans. Other places to eat: Onion Collective for locally grown organic food and live music and Taco Casa for a taste of true Mexican. If you want to explore outside the city, head to the popular Tegalalang Rice Terraces for a photo op and stop at Cantik for a taste of Bali’s famous Luwak coffee, made from the droppings of these cute furry creatures. At the end of your stay (because you won’t be able to move the next day) try the hike up Mount Batur. One of Bali’s active volcanos, the trek takes about 2 hours and you arrive just in time to watch the sunrise. Tip: wear lots of layers and bring a headlamp.
Gili Trawangan: The largest of the three islands, Gili T is absolute paradise. Surrounded by blue water and white sandy beaches, you’ll never want to leave and although the island is small there’s lots to do to keep you busy. Go snorkeling, rent bikes and cruise around the island, visit Ombak Hotel and take a photo at the famous swing during sunset and chill out at a reggae bar and smoke flavored shisha. Where to eat: Reginas for authentic wood-fired oven pizza, Pearl Lounge for fresh seafood beachside (try the prawn red lentil dal), Kayu Cafe for healthy options and green smoothies and Roast House for a hole-in-the-wall local experience (try their house speciality - the 1/4 chicken).
Uluwatu Temple + Padang Padang beach: Hire a driver for the day and head to the South of Bali. For a taste of true Balinese culture, visit Uluwatu Temple nestled on a cliff approximately 250 feet above sea level. If you forget to cover up, the temple with provide you with a sarong. Next, make your way to Padang Padang and spend the day in the water. This beach is famous for its epic surf and long stretch of white sand. If you want a change in scenery, you can also try Jimbaran Beach. Hungry? Grab a roasted corn on the cob from any of the vendors along the sand. End your day at Single Fin beach club with a cold beer and stunning sunset views of the Indian Ocean.