We moved about Bali seeking a place that would rival the coconut-fringed clean beaches and ancient rainforest we just left behind in Mission Beach. Maybe it’s because we had been so spoiled over the past 6 months, or maybe it’s because Bali is just not the place for us, but we struggled to find paradise in Bali. The closest we came was Sanur, the final destination on this list. It was more relaxed, less pushy and because the beach is cleaned (and raked) daily, it was generally rubbish free. This is only true for the tourist beach though, and as soon as you leave the main area and head north or south of the tourist strip, the white sand turns black (is the white sand brought in to make the tourist strip prettier?) and the beaches fill up with litter. This is Bali though. Be warned.
We moved about Bali in a mixture of local busses, bemos and for longer trips we used Perama busses. We hired motorbikes and bicycles to get around within local areas.
We had intended to stay in hostel dorms to make this trip as cheap as possible, however in our first dorm room we had to listen to drunk girls showering in the middle of the night (screaming and singing), drunk sex, people noisily getting up for 4am pickup to get to sunrise activities as well as our gear getting wet from people coming in out of the pool and dripping everywhere. After that, we chose private rooms. We figured it was worth the extra money to not have to listen to other people having sex – and to get a good night’s sleep every night – but mainly so we didn’t have to listen to drunk early-twenty-somethings trying to woo their one-night-stand.
Our flow through Bali did start out bad and get better. Ubud was more enjoyable than Seminyak. Candi Dasi more pleasant than Ubud and Sanur more relaxing than Candi Dasa. We learnt on our feet and make decisions to try to enjoy our stay more. However I cannot say that we would return to Bali – there is a full article about it here – however that is just our opinion. Please don’t take it as gospel or a travel warning. Everyone needs to have their own experiences and pave their own path. Plus, we are all seeking different experiences from our time abroad.
If you’re planning a trip to Bali for the fist time, here is a brief rundown on where we went, and because I know my articles about Bali have been a bit of a downer, a highlight from each area.
The vibe: busy, noisy, full of fashionistas and bloggers & private beaches blocked by huge resorts.
Our first port of call. We decided on Seminyak as a less jarring and touristy option over Kuta as we arrived late in the night and wanted somewhere close-by to stay. We were very mistaken in thinking that Seminyak was any more serene, green or welcoming than Kuta. The tourism Mecca that is Kuta stretches the whole way into Seminyak, in fact you cannot even tell where one stops and the next starts anymore. Seminyak is however a little more ’upmarket’ and less of a family place, more for romantic getaways and young backpackers who want to feel like they are living in luxury for a portion of what they could at home.
Highlight: talking to the staff at M Boutique Hostel, poking fun at the group of young, very drunk backpackers who forgot there was a security camera and went skinny dipping in the pool the night before. They woke up the whole hostel and gave the staff a show.
We stayed at: M Boutique Hostel. The hostel has no private rooms, so if you’re after that, move along. M Boutique Hostel itself and the staff were fabulous. Staff kind and open for a chat, plus there is a great outside areas with a pool and some communal tables to make the most of the tropical weather. The other guests however sucked. They really sucked. We were the eldest there by about 10 years and it showed.
Overall: If you don’t think you would enjoy Kuta, you will not enjoy Seminyak either. If you want to see nature, avoid Seminyak. If you want to lounge pool-side, have your room cleaned daily and be presented with insta-worthy cocktails, then make your resort reservation now.
The vibe: Surfers, hipsters, moped-driving westerners & Melbourne-style coffee shops.
Highlight: wandering the streets between Seminyak and Canggu without being tooted at, hassled, or solicited.
Overall: I imagine that Canggu is what Kuta was 20 years ago. More peaceful, full of surfers and still with a more beachy chilled-out vibe.
The vibe: Consumerist, gimmicky & (if you seek it out) adventurous
Thanks to Eat, Pray, Love Ubud is full of yogi-wannabes, professional selfie-takers and middle-aged women dressed like Diane Keaton. The centre of Ubud is not particularly worth mentioning, just lines of shops, restaurants, markets and other ways to spend your money. There is also the famed monkey forest, perfect if you want to see what happens to animals who are treated like a tourist attraction where people are allowed to do anything they want. Make sure you have your rabies shots before you visit. The surrounding area however is well worth exploring. Grab yourself a motorbike – only if you know how to ride – or hire a driver for the day and head into the surrounding villages to see wonderful handicrafts, rainforest-clad hills and of course the famous, and very heavily visited rice paddies.
Highlight: Hiring a motorbike for the day and heading out of Ubud and up to Kintamani township and volcano.
We stayed at: Kamandhani Ubud Hostel. This was a nice place. My only issue was it that the website stated that there was a kitchen available and due to my allergy this is a bit of necessity for me when travelling Asia. There was no public kitchen available and there was some discussion about whether I could use the staff kitchen or not. In the end I was able to use the staff kitchen but it was a little uncomfortable as each new staff member asked me why I was in there! The rooms were nice though (hello outdoor bathroom!) and the aesthetic very appealing.
Overall: If you have money to spend then get yourself a resort room out of town and in the rice fields or rainforest. Avoid the town and just spend time in the surrounding areas and you should be able to find some inner (and outer) peace.
The vibe: Retirees, expats and strolls along the paved walkways at the rocky beach
We were recommended Candi Dasa by friends who visit Bali annually. We were miserable in Ubud and Seminyak and wanted to see the ‘real Bali’. Candi Dasa was about as close as we came to that, through daytrips to Amlapura where they don’t really give a shit about tourists. Bliss! Candi Dasa is essentially a strip of shops between the rainforest and the beach. A lovely setting, however still very much a tourist town. Locals do not really live in town, but rather commute in to run the hotels, restaurants and boutiques in town. However there is a lovely little white-sand beach a short bemo drive away called Virgin Beach. It’s very touristy still, but at least nice to spend an hour or so – depending on how long you can handle the salesmen and massage ladies on the beach – even just to say you laid on a clean beach in Bali.
Highlight: Taking a bemo back from Amlapura and chatting with a woman and her daughter the whole way about food, family and life in Bali for them
We stayed at: Bali Palms Resort – booked privately via Airbnb with a last minute discount! The apartment was great however we’re not resort people and being in a resort setting took some getting used to. We much prefer to be able to ask for a mop if we make a mess and not have a housekeeping team running around after us. Eeeekk! Besides that though the pool and view (above) were nice.
Overall: A nice few days spent taking daytrip adventures and watching the sunset. Be warned that the bemos only run until about 2pm, you may find yourself having to hitchhike or walk home if you miss the last bemo back!
The vibe: Long relaxed days on the beach, tanning and book reading, beachside market strolling and cycling.
This is the Bali vibe we expected to find in Seminyak. Chilled-out and everyone dressed in long flowing apparel. Nightclubs are minimal and cafes are plentiful. You can get some great Balinese food here at the night market and if you speak Dutch you will get along with all the other tourists splendidly. Sanur is overflowing with Dutch retirees. Sure you’ve got your usual amount of UK and Aussie tourists too, but the Dutch population is noticeable. Many return year after year for a few months at a time, escaping the European winter and over-tanning their leathery, wrinkled skin on the sun-beds that line the beach. You’re welcome for that mental image.
Highlight: Sunrise bicycle ride south of the main township and in and out of the alleyways running between the highway and the beach
We stayed at: Red Doorz @ Sanur 2. A really nice place. There is a small pool but perfect just to cool off after a big day out (shower first please!). The room was really nice with an outdoor kitchen and a small outdoor seating area. It was quiet as all the other guests were retirees. It is a little difficult to find, so be warned, but once you find it for the first time it’s easy to get to from the main parts of town. Very dark road if you’re returning after the sun sets.
Overall: This was the closest we found to paradise in Bali. It was certainly the most relaxed and relaxing place we found, and one where you can ride a bicycle on the road without risking your life or angering the bus and taxi drivers!
Above all, make sure that you stay safe in Bali. Don’t drink the water from the tap, make sure your cold food is kept cold and hot food is served piping hot If you do not know how to drive a motorbike, Bali is not the place to learn (Monique learnt that the hard way)… and above all, make sure you have travel insurance for your entire stay.