Bali is a magical place and it’s called the ‘island of gods’ for a good reason. As soon as you place your feet on the island you feel something special in the air. It is not only Bali’s beautiful people, the culture, the sunset bars with the colorful bean bags and umbrellas, the amazing beaches and the tasty food. Above all that there is the spirituality which attracts people to the island like an invisible magnet.
A very close friend is about to go back on a little spiritual trip to Bali. She came for a visit while I was spending my time in Bali two years ago and fell as much in love with the island as I did, getting inspiration for yoga, spirituality and a healthier way of live. Back then it was about her health and energy, this time it’s about her heart and love questions.
While writing her a list with places to visit, shop, eat & drink, recharge your batteries and do something for your soul, this post was born…
The beauty of Bali is omnipresent. You see temples everywhere, smell flowers and scents and hear the unique calming Balinese music (even in commercial places like supermarkets). When you walk down the streets you have to be careful not to stand in the little baskets filled with flowers – offerings to the gods and spirits. The good relationship with the spirits is very important to the Balinese people. Flowers are not only a nice gift to the spirits but also a popular decoration for houses, shops and courtyards. The frangipani, called by many people simply the ‚Bali-flower’, is basicaly everywhere – as a flower, as a scent and used in cosmetics.
Bali has become very popular to many western expatriates. Creative and spiritual people from all over the globe find their homes among the beautiful villas and the evergreen gardens. There is a variety on western restaurants and cute little bars in a mixed style of ‚western word meets Bali’ – mostly open air or only half covered. Yoga and meditation is here like every day bread. Organic food is the new trend and surfing almost a requirement. Many designers and digital nomads made Bali their home. I also got under Bali’s charm and felt at home here.
You can read my personal Bea Bali story here.
Below you will find some useful information and a listing I prepared with places I think are worth popping into when in Bali.
When landing in Denpasar you basically land in Kuta. Be prepared to have some Indonesian Rupiah because the cash machine does not always work. You can easily get into Indonesia for 30 days if you have an European Passport. Since June 2015 the Visa on arrival fee of 35USD has been waved.
I would recommend having a pre-organized transfer and a driver waiting for you at arrival. That way you avoid having to bargain with the tons of drivers clinging to you like moths to the light, especially since you will probably be tired after a long flight from another continent.
Should you prefer to go for this adventure, a drive to the main areas of Kuta & Seminyak is around 150.000 IDR (ca.10 EUR)
The agglomeration in Bali is the strip of land above the airport, on the west cost. In the North of Kuta there are the following ‘villages’ (they basically overlap each other): Legian, then Seminyak going over into Petitinget, Batu Belig, Umalas up to Canggu etc.
When looking for parties and socializing (especially backpackers) Kuta is the place to be. You will find all sort of bars, clubs and going out possibilities. There are many diving schools and affordable hostels. This is the popular party place for Australians. It’s a bit what Arenal in Mallorca is for the Germans (or one particular kind of German at least).
I personally would recommend to look at staying north of Kuta in the quieter Seminyak area. Many expats chose to live and work there, so you will find a good choice of ‘western style’ establishments – restaurants/ boutiques / beach clubs etc. Seminyak is definitively the chill-out option.
North of Seminyak is Canggu – the surfer community and home to creative souls and designers among the expats.
If you are into yoga or meditation the area between Seminyak – Canggu – Umalas would be more suitable than Kuta.
An absolute MUST see when visiting Bali is Ubud – Bali’s cultural hub. This artistic village is well known for its Balinese Hindu culture, the warmth of its people, art and hand craft shopping, organic food, and a peaceful easy-going lifestyle. Many people seeking a quiet spiritual place come and spend some time here. It the Mecca for all Yogis and a vibrant expat community.
No matter what you are looking for you will find your place in Bali.
My personal tips:
Desa Seni is an eco yoga center and a must for every yoga addict. Its a lovely place in Canggu, a beautiful village for everyone who is seeking a bit of peace and relaxation. They organize long term yoga retreats and individual yoga classes of all kinds. After your yoga session you can enjoy a jasmine tea with a little organic power bar, chilling in the beautiful garden.
Yoga Barn is a beautiful full service yoga studio and a holistic healing retreat center in Ubud. Located amidst rice paddies, an organic farm and a jungle ravine.
Its offers daily classes and workshops, Ayurvedic Rejuvenation, cleansing and detox retreats, Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and many spiritual events, readings and happenings (i.e. the ones I was lucky enough to take part in were ‚Sound Healing’, ‚Healing the Wounds of Love’). The center has a big garden with a café and a guesthouse on site.
Tanah Lot is a beautiful temple north of Canggu where you can get to on your scooter from the Seminyak area. I recommend spending the sunset there. You sit in a bar on the cliff tops overlooking the sea drinking a fresh coconut. Amazing!
Uluwatu Temple is situated in the South of Bali. A larger temple, charismatic and famous for the monkeys living there. Just be careful with your belongings, the monkeys love to steel filp-flops and sunglasses and exchange them for bananas. Don’t hesitate too long because your things might be damaged quickly. Somehow the clever animals know which brands to steal first: they love Hawaianas and Ray Ban’s.
You can also visit a performance of Kecak in Uluwatu (a typical balinese dance).
The best (but not cheapest) is Jari Menari. Here you can enjoy massages called, for instance ‚dancing fingers’ or ‚four hand massage’. Jari Menai won awards for the ‚magic fingers’ of its staff and advertises itself as ‚Bali’s best massage’. Worth trying!
Otherwise you can just walk in in any place you like and ask if you can check the place out first and see if you like it. If you think it looks filthy I wouldn’t stay, there are plenty of massage places in Bali to choose from.
If you are looking for souvenirs, you can find them in basically every corner but should you want to ‚get it done’ and buy all kinds of typical balinese products in a rather commercial way, I would suggest going to the department store Matahari in Kuta. Also the supermarket Bintang in Seminyak offers you a range of little cute oil bottles and other cosmetics, hand crafted cigar boxes and divers ornaments.
As for the fashion you find all kind of brands in the shopping mall Beachwalk in Kuta, a modern, beautiful shopping space in an open air style. It is a bit ‚fancier’ though and you find western brands there rather than local fashion.
I would recommend to have a peek at the little boutiques along the Jalan Legian, Jalan Raya Seminyak or Jalan Kayu Aya (Oberoy). It’s in the little cute boutiques around Seminyak with all those lovely colorful blouses in Bali style where I found my happiness.
At a fashion show I met Connie Kim who represents the brand Ciao Bella and I fell in love with some black snake skin high heels with red soles (reminding me of ‚Louboutins’). I decided I had to have them, so I got Connie’s contact details and she invited me to visit her in her boutique in Jalan Batu Belig.
Batu Belig is a hip, winding street just outside of Seminyak with an expanding mix of cute cafes, funky stores and anti-aging spas. Amongst all that is Connie’s boutique and her own café next door.
The cute little shop was full of beauties – lovely snake skin made accessories, shoes and handbags…and among them, there they were: ‚MY’ shoes! After a few amendments on them, a coffee together and an invitation to a special celebration of the boutique anniversary, Connie and I were friends and I was a proud owner of a special pair of high heels.
Another accessory (or accessories, strictly speaking) I brought from Bali which I love to wear is a buddha necklace in rosary style. I got them in different colors and styles and made my girlfriends very happy with these little presents, you can buy practically everywhere in Bali, but ideally from a wholesaler. Here you can buy bigger quantities and negotiate the price.
Denis Import Shop (DIS) in Jl. Werkudara 508 (Legian-Kuta) or Jl. Ray Legian 401 (Kuta) is an example of a wholesaler.
In Bali you can also find beautiful home décor and furniture at a bargain. Pretty shell chandeliers, colorful textiles and cushions, bean-bags, pottery and terra-cotta products, amazing colorful baskets, wooden hand crafts, paintings, trunks, pretty Batik on wood products or painted wood ornaments and other treasures of interior design…
You will find home decor shops all over Bali but probably the highest concentration of them in Jalan Kerokoban which stretches from Seminyak to Kuta.
You can even personalize and customize the furniture for a reasonable price and get them shipped anywhere in the world.
Naughty Nuri’s (Seminyak and Ubud): Warung and Grill. Amazing for pork ribs and Margaritas
Warung Europa (Kerobokan): you should try their crispy duck
Bebek Bengil – Dirty Duck Diner (Ubud): original crispy duck in a beautiful garden atmosphere
Babi Guling Pak Malen (Seminyak): best sucking pig in Bali
Warung Mina (Ubud): delicious seafood in a lovely setting of a beautiful garden
Sari Organik or Cafe Pomegranate (Ubud): organic food in an amazing setting on the rice fields
Nook (Umalas): charming cafe with a view over a rice field, serves local and western food
Watercress (Batu Belig): great place for breakfast and lunch. Western dishes like omelettes or bruschetta served with healthy juices.
Sacred Ground (Jl. Aruya): delicious coffee & breakfast
Mamasan (Seminyak): upscale and expensive but worth it. Delicious Dim Sum dumplings, curries, and other Asian bites (Thai and Vietnamese cuisine)
Ginger Moon (Oberoi): modern canteen, Asian fusion
If you miss ‚home’, here a choice of International restaurants:
Zibiru (Jl. Drupadi): special little restaurant with Italian cuisine
Ultimo (Oberoi ): delicious Italian food
The Bistrot (Oberoi ): funky setting, French & Spanish (and Indonesian) cuisine
La Sal (Jl. Drupadi): Spanish tapas in a pretty garden
Lacalaca Cantina Mexicana or Motel Mexicola: Mexican food in a colorful ambiance
The best and most authentic experience however when in Bali is to eat at the local Warungs. There are numerous Warungs where you can get amazing fresh food variation by weight for a bargain. Just to name two in the Seminyak area:
Warung KZU (Jl. Drupadi): healthy and tasty food with a nice atmosphere
Warung Murah (Jl. Double Six): delicious, unpretentious and cheap.
When you want fish, the best place to be is the seafront of Jimbaran – also known as the ‘seafood bay’ (on the opposite side of the airport, south from Kuta). Pick any of the wide range of seafood restaurants located directly on the beach and you wont be disappointed.
La Favela (Oberoi): restaurant turning into a club on weekends), beautiful decor inspired by the Favelas in Rio de Janeiro
Balijoe (Seminyak): fun gay bar with amazing shows and performances (drag queens)
A local daily ritual is the sunset beer. No matter if on a sun-bed in a beach club, in a bean bag in one of the beach bars listening to live music or just sitting on your sarong in the sand – always a lovely experience!
One important advice: You NEED a scooter! (be prepared and get an international driving license from your home country if you don’t want any trouble with the local police)
When in Ubud, book a jewelry making class at Studio Perak and visit the Monkey Forest and the ARMA Museum
Make an excursion to Uluwatu. Go to Blue Point Beach and have a drink in a nice bar on the cliff while watching surfers dance with the waves. Have lunch at the hidden Spanish oasis El Kabron. The restaurant and club is positioned on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Order some tapas and ‘Sangria de Cava’ and enjoy the infinity pool until sunset. Amazing!
Going back in the evening, stop at Jimbaran for seafood on the beach.
If you have enough time in Bali you should absolutely go to Gili Islands!
There are tree islands: Gili Trawangan (called Gili T), Gili Meno and Gili Air.
Gili T is the biggest one. Some years ago it was an untouched diving paradise and now it’s quite full of backpackers. I think however it is still a nice place. There are no cars, just bicycles, horses and carts. There is only one sandy road going around the island. You can circle the island in about an hours walk. The north/west side is quite untouched and the south/east (where you get off the boat) full of bars, bungalows, restaurants, hotels… It can be pretty noisy at night. If you want chill out time, stay either on the quieter west side or go to one of the two smaller islands.
Gili Meno is quiet and untouched. I recommend a stop of a few hours and a nice walk around the island. Here there are some nice chill out bars with hammocks and bean bags. You find quirky spiritual places and little yoga studios here.
The smallest island of the three is Gili Air and it’s very sweet. On ‚Air’ you will also find only one main road around the island. I would recommend staying here for a few nights. Gili Air is a compromise between the noisy Gili T and the slightly boring Gili Meno. Amazing snorkeling straight off the beach, beautiful sunsets and fun bars await you here. Probably best sunset bar is Mowie’s on the beach. A Lovely bar and bungalow run by Polish couple Marta and Radek. Radek is a chef and serves you all kind of international delicacies from Pierogi (polish dumplings) to Eggs Benedict. Enjoy a relaxed vibe with chill-out music during sunset.
Other useful Information:
– Get a local SIM card. They’re very cheap and you can top up (you just ask for ‚pulsa’) in any shop or even at the laundry places you see ‚on every corner’.
– Always keep small change in your pocket when riding the scooter for parking (usually 200 IDR).
– When filling up the tank of your scooter it’s better to use the petrol station but should you not manage to get to the next one you can always use the service on the street (local guys with petrol in ‘vodka bottles’, you’ll see them everywhere).
– Beware of pickpockets and when riding a scooter place all your belongings into the compartment under your seat – Unfortunately Bali is ‘famous’ for bag snatching which can be very dangerous if you fall from the scooter at high speed.
– Public transport is not very developed in Bali, the best option to travel is to hire a private driver (ask any taxi driver and negotiate the rate or check with people you meet, there is always ‘someone who knows someone’ who has a car and would be happy to drive you around).
– No need to wash your clothes by yourself, the laundry service is quick and cheap
– Supermarkets: Bintang, Coco
– Check out here some nice appartements and villas in Kuta and Seminyak