Bali really is as beautiful as everyone says it is. There are endlessly long, beautiful white beaches, lush green forests, a rich cultural heritage, mind-blowing/calming temples, stunning luxury resorts, an endless array of yoga classes, and, of course, the friendly and always welcoming Balinese.
The following are my favourite and the most memorable places I visited, plus recommendations made by my dear friend Emma, who kindly looked after me during my stay.
Bali is also a great place to travel solo, which I did frequently. I never felt unsafe or uncomfortable.
My base in Bali was Sanur. Nothing too special and if you're on a limited time schedule, you don’t have to venture down here. If you do, there is the delicious Three Monkeys. While not the original location, which is in Ubud, I preferred this one, with its lofty, beautiful decor. There is also a Bali Buddha in town, where you can shop delicious local produce. Also try the local food markets, which open at night.
Sanur is also home to the unique Le Mayeur Museum. It showcases Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur's work as well as his collection of traditional Balinese art and local artefacts. The museum is located his home, which is a traditional Balinese home. Unfortunately, the paintings would require better storage, as the Balinese humidity is eating away at the paintings and fading the colours. Yet somehow this adds to the charm of the museum.
For a unique spa experience, visit the Aroma Spa along Sanur Beach and take a Watsu treatment. This is aquatic water therapy where a therapist guides you through the water. Very unusual but definitely an experience that I enjoyed.
I probably spent the majority of my time up in Ubud and loved it. Located in central Bali, the focus here is not so much partying but on culture and yoga. Ubud most certainly has a hippy feel to it, helped along by the numerous Eat, Pray, Love groupies who come here in search of themselves. However, to see Ubud just through that particular lens would be a mistake. There are great restaurants, local artists and artisans to visit, dance troops to admire, and spas and yoga classes to enjoy.
Alchemy. (Jl. Penestanan Klod No. 75) I admit, I am not one easily lured by vegan cuisine. However, I love veggies and so I ventured into Alchemy. I enjoyed their famous peanut butter and avocado sandwich! Great place to cleanse and eat great, healthy food!
Warung Sopa. (Jl.Sugriwa No. 36 Padang Tegal) A vegetarian and vegan Warung where you can enjoy delicious vegetarian, local food.
Kafe. (Jl. Hanoman No. 44B) A favourite among expats and tourists. Usually full, still the food is delicious and it’s worth visiting.
The Bali Buddha (Jl. Jembawan No. 1) also has a location in Ubud. I loved coming by for some baked goods or some of their organic produce.
Bridges. (Jl. Campuhan) This is a recommendation made by Emma who enjoyed coming here because of its delicious food and its beautiful location in the jungle. High-end and named after the bridge it is located next to.
Emma also made several recommendations regarding hotels. Being a landscape architect, she recommends the following both for their stunning natural beauty and their perfect luxury; the Hanging Gardens of Ubud, and Alila. (Alila also has a beautiful location in Uluwatu.)
I stayed in a more humble abode. Santra Putra Guesthouse was a lovely place to come home to at the end of the day of exploring and adventures. The owner, artist Wayan Karja, also showcases his art on the property.
While you’re not eating and sleeping, there is plenty to see and do it in Ubud.
Nur Salon (Jl. Hanoman No 28). For a massage, I enjoyed Nur Salon, because it is a truly unique experience. You are taken into your own bath house, where you are first given a bath and washed and then given the massage of your choice. Note that all of this done with you wearing nothing but your skin, so not for the demure!
Yoga Barn (Jl. Raya Pengosekan). Not a secret and definitely deserving of its reputation. The location is awesome - it really is a large barn in a forest. I admit I was sceptical, classes can accommodate up to 80 persons and that is not a number I associate with calm reflection, but surely the best yoga class I have ever had the pleasure of attending. My suggestion would be to go either to the early or later classes and avoid the busy hours. (Note, that they also have accommodation, simple and clean.)
Neka Art Museum (Jalan Raya Sanggingan Campuhan). This museum is dedicated to Balinese and Indonesian artists and those inspired by the islands. Suteja Neka built the museum to showcase local art. The structure is like that of a traditional home complex, with different houses scattered around the complex. The main house focuses on paintings and the smaller houses each focus on an individual artists or medium. Beautiful!
Also go and enjoy the dances, which are performed daily at the Ubud Palace on Jl. Raya. Make sure you go with the right troupe - I loved the Legong Dance by the Sadha Budaya Troupe. The tourist office has a programme from which you can choose.
There is also the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary with the Pura Dalem Agug temple inside, which is a touristy but full of lovely monkeys who you can watch playing and messing about.
There is also some shopping to do in Ubud. I loved visiting the fabric store Threads of Life (Jl. Kajeng 24), where they showcase local weaving traditions and sell select pieces designed by local designer. Pricey, but beautiful and unique. Then there is Lulu Yasmine, which is produced in Bali and designed and inspired by local culture.
MUNDUK AND LOVINA
Going up into the mountains was another favourite of mine. We stayed a couple of days in the mountains of Munduk. It is calm and quiet up there and you are surrounded by breathtaking views and nature. You can go for a swim in the lakes, take walks and hikes to the many different waterfalls about, and enjoy the peace and quiet.
On your drive up or down to/from Munduk, pass Pura Ulun Danu Bratan temple, a unique water temple. Admittedly, full of tourist but nonetheless a beautiful sight.
When we went up we stayed first at the Puri Lumbung Cottages, which are nestled high up in Munduk. We enjoyed the beautiful, wooden cottages and the stunning views all around. Perfect starting place to explore the region and come home to and relax.
My absolute favourite in all of Bali was the Damai, which is located above the village of Lovina in the mountains. A small retreat with beautiful grounds and luxurious villas. Enjoy taking your shower and bath outside, get pampered with a massage at the small spa and relish the delicious food served. The food is locally sourced and organic, much of it grown in the hotel’s own garden. It was among the best food I had in Bali. Highly recommend it!
On the way down into Lovina, you pass a small buddhist temple, which is absolutely beautiful to look at. Unusual as most temples in Bali are Hindu, so a lovely little treat.
Spending some time in Amed is another perfect retreat - beautifully calm, relaxing, and ideal to go diving and snorkelling.
We spent the weekend at the Kembali Beach Bungalows and had a perfect time. The resort is owned by a dutch family and they have created a beautiful little island of peace and comfort. The bungalows all have a beautiful outside bathrooms and nicely decorated bedrooms. The location is right by the sea, but also has a pool.
On our way home we passed Virgin Beach, just as the sun was setting. It was calmer than it probably is during the day, with beautiful clear water and perfect white sand. It’s what a beach should be!
SEMINYAK, KUTA, AND JIMBARAN BAY
Seminyak and Kuta are where all the tourists flock. Just along the coast, these two towns are lined with grand hotels and an endless array of great restaurants and bars. It is the ideal place to marvel at the awesome hotels that Bali has to offer, featuring striking architecture and beautiful gardens. Perfect place to go out, have a drink, eat delicious food, and party. There is also plenty of stores to shop at and a fantastic mall, where you can eat, shop, or enjoy the cool confines of the movie theatre.
Noteworthy are Metis and the Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak. Metis serves fantastic french food and the location is beautiful nestled in a stunning garden. Note, it is high-end dining and pricey. It also has a beautiful boutique with beautiful Balinese furniture and art. The Potato Head was one of Emma’s favourite and definitely worth your visit - great food and drinks!
On your way to/from Seminyak and Kuta, visit Jimbaran Bay. This is a large bay, which features beautiful white sand, and numerous tourist stalls and restaurants along the beach. It is the perfect place to come in the early evening, enjoy a late swim and then the sunset with a beer. Pick one of the restaurants based on their selection of fish, which is on display at the back of the restaurants, and take your pick. They are different ways of having your fish prepared - fried, steamed, grilled etc. Eat with fingers and enjoy the beautiful scenery and delicious fresh food!
… AND SOME ADDITIONAL TREASURES
So much to see in Bali. The following our my favourite, including some classics as well as a couple places off the beaten track.
Bali is home to some of the most beautiful temples and while all tourists flock there, they are not to be missed.
Besakih Temple on the slopes of Agung is probably the most famous temple in Bali. It also had a darker side, often full of tourists and “guides.” You’re not obliged to take a guide, however, it is almost impossible not to end up with one, as they will tell you that you cannot enter the complex without one. In theory you can, but in practice it is very difficult.
I personally loved the different water temples, Pura Taman Ayun, probably being my favourite. It is smaller and calmer then most and surrounded by a moat. You cannot actually enter the temple, but have to settle for eyeing over the wall. However, the place has a sense of calm and peace that I loved.
I left Karangasem Water Palace with a similar sense of calm and happiness. The complex has several houses and temples, some on water, others on land. It is also a green space, which locals seems to use to jog around in. We spent a restful and peaceful hour, wondering around and lying under the trees.
Tirta Empul is another temple, but it is busy with people and the sound of splashing water. People come to Tirta Empul to cleanse themselves and pray and people are wading through pools of water as part of the ritual.
Not far away, down in a gorge, is Gunung Kawi, which is among the oldest temples in Bali. The majority of temples and statues are carved into the stone walls.
Then there is Tannah Lot, pictured on every postcard, but it really is just as beautiful to admire in person. When the tide is high, the temple is totally surrounded by water.
The temple at Uluwatu has a similarly dramatic location, perched above the cliff coast. Admittedly, there were too many people there when I visited. The views are however stunning. Also, noteworthy is the Kecak Fire Dance showcased at Uluwatu in a huge amphitheatre that seats several hundred people. However, if you don’t mind the crowds, the view and atmosphere are spectacular.
Also, do not miss the Jatiulwih Rice Fields, which are a UNESCO world heritage. The fields are beautiful to look at as they stretch down and across the mountains. If you get a chance, you can walk through the fields. On your way up or down, pass by the National Balinese Monument, which every Balinese school child visits but few tourists do.
Enjoy your visit! It really is a beautiful place!