7 Nights in Bali, Indonesia- Your Ultimate Guide, Part 1
Once upon a time, two best friends were face-timing from different states and they both mentioned that they wanted to go on a magical trip... far, far away.
One friend suggested Bali, and the other replied "DONE!". Their flights were booked for Valentine's Day (no they were not lovers) and their trip looked a little something like this:
OK I'll be honest here... I've been typing and deleting, and then typing and deleting for the past few hours trying to start this post. Reason being, I have no clue how to even attempt to put this trip into words for you guys.
I'm going to let the pictures do most of the talking because honestly, I have a lot of content to dish out and I want to get to the good stuff.
...and lets be real, my words will pale in comparison to what these places were really like- which is why we hired a photographer to come along with us on this trip. Jake Matthews // @jakevisuals.
I decided to bring Jake along because not only is he a talented photographer, he has such a unique eye for beauty, and really knows how to capture the essence of an experience. (Jake don't let that get to your head). I wanted you guys to feel like you were right there with us.
So whether you’re planning your trip to Bali or simply have dreamed of going one day, my goal here is for you to really get a taste of what it’s like- and to add a few activities to your bucket list.
OK so before this trip, I did EXTENSIVE research on where to go, what cities to visit, what to do, where to stay... all that good stuff.
I'm talking like, HOURS every night reading blog posts, stalking Pinterest and souring Bali Instagram accounts *with massive heart eyes*.
We didn't want to have a set itinerary, because I've found with my travel that some of the best spots and activities are sporadic, suggested by the locals, and discovered once you're already over there...
However for Bali, the main thing you kinda DO need to have planned out is what towns you'll be staying in, and how long in each.
We only had 7 nights (the absolute minimum you should spend over there) and we broke our trip down into 2 main towns:
Ubud (4 nights)
Seminyak (3 nights)
Nusa Penida Island (day trip)
Before I break down WHAT we did and where (I'll get to the elephants and monkeys soon I promise)...
Lets start with the flight:
yes, it's f*cking long. 23 hours from NY to be exact.
Flight tips: Try to get only 1 connection, with at least a 2 hour layover. It lessens the chances of your bag, or your connecting flight, being delayed. IDK about you but the last thing Lauren and I wanted was to be stuck in a country that we couldn't pronounce.
We got a roundtrip from NYC and connected in DOHA for 2 hours. Doha is a beautiful airport and super safe (we were worried about this)!
If you're traveling with a friend, 100% sit next to each other on the plane. Being able to chat, (and having a shoulder to lean on, literally) will keep you sane during the long stretch.
You'll most likely sleep for the majority of the first or second flight, depending on when you take off. It was actually a quite enjoyable flight over! You just watch movies, sleep, and get fed the entire time. Oh and free booze-- the red wine put Lauren and I riiight to sleep every time. Doesn't sound so bad right?
We were landing at Ngurah Rai International Airport before we knew it.
Arriving in Bali and getting around- driver or cab?:
Many of the hotels and airbnbs have shuttles OR offer airport pickup, some with a small fee. When you arrive out of baggage claim, you'll see (what seems like) hundreds of local drivers holding signs with surnames and/or the hotel name on it. Lauren and I luckily spotted ours right away, ready for us with a huge smile on his face. We hopped in the car and buckled up for our hour drive to Ubud.
Getting around Bali: we had the same driver the whole time which our Airbnb arranged for an additional fee.
I HIGHLY recommend having a driver- we wouldn't have experienced half of what we did if it weren't for him taking back-roads, translating for us, and knowing all the local spots. He made our trip.
Oh and the cost of a private driver? An entirely full day of driving us around to different spots cost us about $20.00
**driving around was one of my favorite ways to take in the town**
Warning: all the drivers over there are psycho, so buckle up.
If you do take a taxi at any point: only take the BLUE ones! These are the ones you can "trust".
The People and Their Culture:
The first thing I noticed upon arriving to Bali is the PEOPLE. They are some of the most genuine, kind and HAPPY people I've ever come across.
Many times we found ourselves driving and walking down what looks like borderline 3rd-world-country'ish streets, but never once were we scared. Everyone would just smile and wave at us like we were one of their neighbors.
I think a big part of this comes down to how spiritual and religious they are- everything to them is holy and sacred. The temples, their homes, the sidewalks... even the air they breath. Everything to them has meaning and depth and life.
Religion is the soul of their community.
They are stripped from almost everything materialistic which leaves them with what's really important- their family, their faith... being kind people.
I honestly felt stupid wearing makeup and carrying around anything designer, because at the end of the day none of it matters- and this is something the Balinese people really get. I so admire this about them.
Side note: Throughout Bali, you'll come across these little trays everywhere. To save you the confusion, I'll explain it ahead of time:
When I first spotted one on the ground, I thought it was a little tray of food for an animal, but then I saw another one with incense on it- and I thought "hmmm OK, maybe they put the incense on it to keep the bugs away from eating it?". (lol)
Then I saw another, and another... in front of every store, statue, sidewalk. Sometimes I would see piles of these little trays stacked on top of each other. There was even one in front of my oven at my airbnb. They were EVERYWHERE.
Finally I asked a local about these mysterious little trays, and he said the trays are called"Canang Sari", which are daily offerings to the God. All of the offerings differ, but they are usually small quadratic baskets woven from palm or banana leaves and include: flowers, oils, rice, money and cookies.
These baskets take them an enormous amount of time, energy and money to make- but their offering is considered an act of selflessness to God.
Just shows you the daily dedication and love they put into their religion!
What I learned from the Balinese people: when you have basic needs, and an abundance of love and health from family and friends- how could you not be happy?
Oh Ubud, hands down my favorite place in the entire world.
- Ubud is located in the center of the island, about an hour away from the airport.
- Ubud is known as Bali's spiritual capital of Bali, and boy was it.
- This is where Julia Roberts went in the movie Eat, Pray, Love! (p.s read the book on your way over, it'll get you excited).
- Spend at LEAST 2-3 nights here! This is where you really get that Balinese cultural experience, AND where most of the activities are.
Where to stay in Ubud:
There is a "downtown Ubud", but that's only about a days worth of exploring... after that, most of the popular activities are spread out! So don't worry so much about staying directly downtown. Most of the hotels and airbnbs are a short cab ride away anyways.
With Ubud being the "spiritual capital" of Bali, we wanted to get an authentic Balinese home experience. I can get beautiful, modern and contemporary accommodation anywhere in the US, give me Bali feels you know? I didn't really know what that meant, but surely I'd know it when I saw it.
And then I came across this listing on airbnb and booked IMMEDIATELY. This is it.
We arrived LATE at night after our 24 hour flight over, so we didn't get to explore much of the place. We passed out immediately.
The next morning, I get woken up by Lauren screaming "JEN JEN! WAKE UP! MONKEYS!"
First thoughts: where am I, what time is it, what day is it. Monkeys?
But then I peer out my window to what looks like a beautiful jungle (am I in a tree house?), and sure enough there are monkeys swinging from the trees.
SO yes, our first morning in Bali, we got woken up by monkeys. NBD.
If that's not enough of a selling point, I'll continue...
- This house is HUGE: 3 bedrooms, with massive living spaces. It could comfortably fit 10 people.
- Good AC in all the bedrooms (necessary).
- They will coordinate reservations, car service, in-house massages... anything you need, really.
- They make you breakfast daily- order their BANANA PANCAKES. They are more like banana crepes, but God damn, I inhaled these.
- Private pool.
- So affordable.
If you have never booked accommodation on Airbnb before, it's an awesome alternative to hotels when traveling. You get so much more for your money than at a hotel. If you use my link to sign up, and you'll get $40 off your booking!
Again, here is the direct listing.
What to do in Ubud:
1. Downtown Ubud
You only really need a few hours/to a day in downtown Ubud. Downtown is a main street lined with restaurants and shops.
You will see little markets everywhere selling these ever-so popular, hand woven basket bags. Buy one! They are quadruple the price here in the states. (talk them down a bit on the price though, it's all negotiable). I may or may not have purchased 3 to bring back home.
There's an adorable little ice-cream shop we stumbled upon on the main drag called "Gelato Secrets". Do not pass this up!
Lauren and I were on an eat-pray-love kinda voyage while in Bali... heavy emphasis on the "eat".
Another incredible oh-what's-this!? stumble upon in downtown is the Saraswati Temple- which is dedicated to honor the Hindu Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of learning, literature and art.
Everything about it is very instagram'mable, if that's your thing.
In front of the temple is a water garden and lotus pond... I mean just LOOK at these flowers. I refused to believe they were real.
If you're looking for a healthy, organic lunch spot with a really cool atmosphere- head to "Clear Cafe" in downtown Ubud.
With shoes left at the door, and an impressive ambiance... the only stress you'll feel is deciding what to pick from the incredible menu.
Just a little floor reminder on your way to the bathroom...
2. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
The Sacred Monkey Forest is basically what the name says. It's an insanely beautiful forest (jungle?) where thousands of monkeys are eagerly waiting to steal your bananas.
A few things to note before you go:
- You can purchase bananas there (have cash on you).
- Keep the banana's in a closed purse/backpack until you're ready to have a monkey climb on you. Once they see a banana, they will pounce.
- Don't wear loose jewelry or sunglasses, the monkeys might take them.
- Avoid the bigger ones, they are fucking scary and aggressive.
- Don't make eye contact, they see this as a threat.
- The little ones are nice! Hold up a banana towards the sky and they will climb up your body and grab the banana. OR decided to chill out on your head (or shoulder) while eating it.
3. Bali Elephant Ride
Location: Jalan Raya Sangeh, Carangsari, Abiansemal, Sangeh, Abiansemal, Kabupaten Badung, Bali 80352, Indonesia
(aka just ask a local lol)
Ok it's called "The Bali Elephant Ride", but you don't HAVE to ride the elephants if you're against that! I totally understand.
Alternatively, you can opt to feed them a basket of fruit and simply interact with them!
Seeing these creatures up close and personal is nothing short of breathtaking.
At first I tried to get a photo with one, but I was standing about 7 feet away because I was so scared! I mean hello, these are MASSIVE and intimidating creatures at first encounter!-- but look into their eyes, and you can literally see what gentle souls they are.
We became best friends instantly and his trunk was wrapped around me in no time (don't ever take that out of context).
Oh and fun fact: elephants find humans "cute" the same way we feel about puppies.
3. The Rice Fields:
You'll probably come across a few rice fields while driving around Ubud. There's actually a little one right next to our airbnb!
However the most incredible one, worthy of a 25 minutes drive out, is the "Teggallalang Rice Terrace".
4. Tegenungan Waterfall
Tegenungan. Say that 10 times.
A few things to note before you go:
- Cash only entry (it's super cheap, equivalent of about $2-3)
- Be prepared to walk down a shitload of stairs. Wear sneakers!
- There are two waterfalls along the same path, both shown below. You can only get under the first one (the second one is too intense).
- Be careful! Even the first waterfall is very powerful and the rocks around it are so slippery! We tried to get cute photos and it was a struggle. I fell a couple times.
5. Pura Tirta Empul / The Water Temple
Tirta Empul: "Holy Water Spring"
I thought this was going to be a tourist trap, but when we arrived I was shocked to find ourselves in the middle of such an active cultural heritage site .
This was one of the coolest experiences while in Bali.
The Pura Tirta Water Temple is where the Balinese & Hindu worshipers go for spiritual purification.
At the central courtyard/pool, you'll notice the devotees following a purification ritual which involves waiting in long snaking lines to dunk their head under the water spouts. They start on the left and dip themselves under the first water spout. Once they have cleansed themselves under the first spout, they join in on the next line.
They continue this process until they've cleansed themselves under all 30 waterspouts.
I was fully planning on going into the water beforehand, but seeing all the locals going about their routine, it almost felt like we were invading on something so special.
However watching this ritual from the side was still really amazing to see!
6. Visit a Spiritual Healer
Hey, when in Rome right? IF you saw Eat, Pray, Love... you're familiar with Ketut, the spiritual healer that Julia Roberts went to. Well lets just say we wanted our Ketut experience as well. Our driver told us about a well known one named Tjokorda Gede Rai.
Before you go:
- He will ask why you're there, so don't be shy and tell him any emotional/physical issues so he can get healin'!
- You must hand him an offering with a fee tucked into it. I think it was around 50,000IDR
- Expect a little pain- he may poke at your toes.
He gave me one look-over and said I was young, vibrant, and had a very bright face, a bright energy...
I told him it was probably my Becca highlighter. He didn't get it.
7. The Giant Bali Swing
Oh yes, yes, yes. Not only is this an insane Instagram shot, it is the most exhilarating feeling to swing into the abyss. I couldn't stop laughing.
A couple things to note before you go:
- It's pricey- well, pricey compared to everything else in Bali, at about $35 per person. This includes unlimited swinging on all 3 swings, open bar, buffet... and access to their other awesome photo opp's.
- You're strapped in with a seat belt, so it isn't as reckless as it looks.
8. Luwak Coffee Farm
I'm putting this last because we stopped here on our way OUT of Ubud while headed down to Seminyak. It's not worth a trip out there by itself, but definitely worth stopping by on your way down South to the coastal towns.
At the Luwak coffee farm, you'll get a little tour of the grounds, and see first hand what Luwak coffee really is and how it's made (you might be surprised). At the end, you get to taste test a bunch of yummy teas and coffees, and can purchase bags of your favorite to bring back home.