To Bali or not to Bali

I’ve been to Bali twice over the last 3 years and I have mixed feelings about this heavily touristed exotic island.

The first time I went to Bali in 2015, I had quit my job and bought a one-way ticket after seeing a picture of Tanah Lot on my computer screen in New York City on a gloomy day. After doing a little bit of research,  I didn’t hesitate much and packed my bag and flew to Bali with a one-way ticket. I believe the universe knew it could lure me to  move to Asia with just one picture and it succeeded. As it was going to be my first time in South East Asia and a beginning of a new chapter of my life,  I was beyond excited. After all, Bali was one of the best places on earth to reset, rejuvenate, explore, and grow.

Rice paddies around Ubud
My goal was to enroll in a Yoga Teacher Training Program in Bali but the wind blew in a different a direction and I ended up becoming a Yoga instructor and living in Thailand  (but that’s in another article).
I must say, after the cold and dark winter of New York City, Bali’s tropical weather and spectacular nature took my breath away. They felt like the fresh breath I’d been longing for all my life. But after a couple of weeks in and around Ubud, the magic started wearing off and the heavy traffic and crowded streets tired me out, so I decided to cut my trip short to search for more quiet places in Indonesia.
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Tanah Lot. The magical temple that changed my life!
On my second visit in 2018, I spent most of my time around Ubud with my boyfriend and we were able to enjoy the island by staying outside the center.
A Balinese friend told me the drastic change of Bali came with  “Eat, Pray, Love” that has brought  millions of people to this magical island since its release. In a short time, the roads became insufficient to handle the heavy traffic, sidewalks scarce for people to walk on, the beaches dirty, nature got disturbed by never ending constructions of luxury resorts, shops, and restaurants, and the prices went up with the increasing demand.
Frangipani flowers are making life beautiful in Bali

 I don’t know how many people who go to Bali intend to learn and understand the religion, culture and rituals.  Sadly, most I’ve witnessed during my visits was consumerism and yoga selfies.

OK, let’s focus on the positive since this island of Gods has amazing things to offer especially if you’re visiting for a short time and not looking for your new home like I did.

Here are the things that make Bali a sweetheart:

Abundant nature

Bali is gorgeous period. Tall tropical trees, colorful flowers spilling over walls, lush green rice fields, wild forests, waterfalls, majestic volcanos, tropical birds, sea turtles, geckos…  I can’t describe how happy the nature in Bali makes me! You just need to stay away from the heavily touristed towns like Ubud, Kuta, and Seminyak to be able to soak in the magic of nature. Rural areas are spectacular especially if you seek peace (or solitude) among nature.

As for the beaches, the sea is super wavy hence it makes it ideal for surfing for thousands of surfers crowding the waters of Bali. I wasn’t able to find a quiet white sand beach to chill and swim and can’t recommend Bali for its beaches. Regardless, it was super fun to watch the surfers at Bingin Beach and Uluwatu especially during the sunset.

Bali has the most stunning and authentic resorts. I’m sure you have seen those dreamy resorts in lush nature in your Instagram feed. Well I certainly have and drove around to see them in person too.
An amazing resort pool overlooking the jungle, which is not an unusual scene in Bali.
Unless the resort is located outside the busy area of the town, you go through a small entrance on a busy street and boom! You are teleported to a scene in a fantasy movie. The buildings built in unique Balinese style, you are surrounded by stunning tropical flowers and singing birds, and  you are welcomed by a beautiful Balinese man or woman offering you a huge smile and a warm welcome. I’ve spent a lot of time at Maya Ubud since I used their gym for a ridiculous monthly fee ($20 or so).

People and culture

The Balinese are the friendliest people I’ve met who managed to remain kind and pure despite of the flood of tourism and rapid change. They were able to protect their culture, rituals and traditional clothes and most of them spoke English! I loved that we could make friends easily and do activities together. They are genuinely interested in you, they stop on the road to ask you how you are doing, where you are going, if they can help, etc. This was pretty surprising for me after living in Thailand for 3 years where interaction with locals is at minimum due to the language barrier. Since I’ve started learning Thai, I realized how sweet the Thais are so the problem was the language. Kuddos to the Balinese education system that teaches sufficient English in schools.

A couple of times a week, the Balinese ladies in our village got together with their baskets and prepared for  something.. I still couldn’t figure out what that was actually but they looked so happy and beautiful together. This is how the real women circles must be like 💕

Bali is a foodie heaven

There are plenty of dining options ranging from a casual cafe brunch, organic vegan food, raw food, quality local coffee, tempting patisseries and fresh seafood. It’s easy to find authentic cheap local fare and discover something different and exciting every meal.

I had no idea about how amazing the Balinese cuisine was before visiting Bali.  They have a lot of meat in their dishes but for vegetarians they would replace meat with tofu in most cases and they didn’t go nuts with hot spices  (unlike India and Thailand). I was able to eat my first non-spicy curry in Bali and discovered that I actually loved curry!

You must try Nasi Kampur (white rice and mixture of small Balinese dishes), Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and salads.

Foreigner-friendly

Bali has a lot of Western influence, from diverse restaurants to yoga classes, and is the most “foreigner-friendly” island in Indonesia.

This the reason why you can find a lot of digital nomads, photographers and yogis who chose this island as their home. There is good wifi, cheap housing, lots of co-working spaces, and it’s fairly easy to get a proper visa to stay long-term.

Co-working

Since Bali has become a huge hub for ‘Destination Working’, more and more shared/ co-working spaces are popping up. Hubud in Ubud and Dojo in Canggu are the most popular ones I heard of but you can find more info on specialized blogs like this if you’re planning to work out of Bali. I preferred to work from my beautiful  home with fast wifi to avoid riding in the heavy traffic.

Housing

Thanks to several Facebook groups, in Ubud you can find a beautiful house with a private pool and cleaning service for about $300-400/month.  Due to the heavy traffic inside Ubud town and the popular area Penestanan, I opted to stay in a quiet area of Jalan Suweta, 15 mins north of the town.

With the super cute scooter I rented for $30/month, it was pleasant to ride through villages and rice fields to get to the madness of Ubud every once in a while for dinner dates or supermarket shopping.

Bali is affordable 

You can find something for every budget.  If you’re tight with money, it’s easy to find local restaurants (warung) with half of the price.  If you’d like to try a fancy vegan dish, there are plenty of beautiful restaurants to choose from. The same applies to clothing. You can find expensive stuff in the boutiques in the touristic areas or you can go to the local market and find super cheap dresses and tops that are also hip! Don’t forget to negotiate. The Balinese are open to negotiation and the best part, they don’t get upset if you don’t buy (Thais have a lot to learn from them).
Pyramid, a unique place to visit to experience Sound Baths in these pyramids

It’s the Land of Gods

The influence of the predominant religion of Hinduism in the daily life is hard to miss.  You can see everywhere Balinese houses (kuren) that consist of a number of related families living within one compound, praying at a common family temple, with one gate and sharing a common kitchen. Their doors are usually open and we’ve been invited many times to come in and chat with them. They showed us around, offered fruits and sometimes showed us the products they sold. But it was clear that their intention was not to sell stuff and they were coming from a pure heart. Such an awesome experience!
You can also witness everywhere the daily ceremonies in which Balinese women give offerings to Gods twice a day.

 

Spas and Yoga  

Besides its stunning nature and beautiful people, another amazing thing about Bali is its spectacular spas everywhere! You can indulge yourself in an upscale resort spa or at a regular spa you can find all around. They all are so clean, smell nice, and you’re treated kindly. You can take a shower before going back to the real world.

I’m not a spa type of gal (wasn’t) but I couldn’t resist a treatment with a body massage followed by a fragrant scrub made of blended herbs and spices. Then a refreshing yoghurt moisturizer finished with a soothing fresh-flower bath. Oh they also offered fruits while I was in the bath tub. All for $15! Not joking. You’ve got to try Venezia Spa near Monkey Forest.

Yoga in Ubud:

To be honest, after having traveled in India and Thailand for 3 years, I found Ubud’s yogi/spiritual scene very superficial. I often thought of  J.P. Sears’  videos that must have been inspired by what’s going on in the yoga and vegan scene in Bali 🙂

No offense, I’m sure there are amazing retreats and places I have missed. But since the purpose of my journey was  (and is) to stay away from the cookie cutter world, I was amazed to see how spirituality and healthy living became a trend and consumerism took them over. I had left the Western world and all its programming behind expecting the people who escaped earlier had realized something different.  While running from a rat race, I felt like I found myself in another one but the masks looked prettier here. As my father would put it “same shit different smell”.

I chose to continue my daily home practice and discovered Anand Ashram , which I was so happy to have found a bit outside of Ubud. During our 2 month stay in 2018, my boyfriend and I joined their kirtans (devotional signing), satsangs (spirtual discourse with their founder/guru) and community dinners on donation. No fuss, no ego type of place and a proof that spiritual practice doesn’t need to cost a fortune.

What to do, where to eat

You can find plenty of websites listing the basic must-do touristic activities, temple visits, surfing spots, etc. so I will skip them and will highlight what I enjoyed most during my stay.

  • 9 Angels, UbudI love the concept of this place as well as its chill atmosphere.
    You pay for what you eat and no one questions you. They have suggested the price for each dish and you drop the money in a glass jar. They trust your generosity.
    You wash your own dishes when you’re done, like you’re home! There are open mic nights and random live music jams.
  • Atman Nourish, Ubud – Have to try vegan nasi goreng!
  • Warung Bintang Bali, Ubud – Quiet setting and good food outside the Ubud maze, overlooking a rice field.
  • Sayuri, Ubud – A hip vegan restaurant with a great atmosphere.
  • Bali Buda, Ubud – A large veg/non-veg menu to choose from, in a central location and they have a health store.
  • Warung Sopa, Ubud: A humble yet beautiful spot where you can make your own plate by selecting from yummy vegetarian options in the display.
  • Sweet Orange Warung, Ubud. Take a walk around the rice paddies and stop to eat at Sweet Orange.
  • Bambu Indah, Ubud. A beautiful resort/restaurant set in a beautiful serene setting a bit outside of Ubud. The best part? they make the food from the freshly sourced vegetables coming straight out of their in-house organic farm.
  • The Shady Shack, Canggu – great place to eat, chat, relax..a large selection of vegan, GF, conscious yummy food and drinks.
  • Campuhan Ridge Walk, Ubud – Good way to spend an hour or two away from bustle of Ubud. An easy scenic walk with great views and the reward is the restaurants at the end perched among rice fields. We did it closer to sunset due to the heat and walking in flip flops wasn’t a problem. You can enjoy one of these rewards at the end of your walk:
    • Dragonfly Village, Ubud. A beautiful retreat center, cafe, and herbal steam sauna set in the midst of one of the most beautiful rice fields).
    • Sari Organic (restaurant)
    • Karma Cafe (restaurant)
    • Yugi Warung (restaurant)
  • Pyramids of Chi, Ubud – Experience the power of sound inside the two Pyramids. Make sure to make a reservation for the session you’d like to join.
  • Venezia Spa, Ubud – a perfect day to spend in Bali indulging yourself.
  • Kecak Fire & Trance Dance (Pura Dalem Taman Kaja)
  • Angelo Store, Ubud: You can buy products made from natural ingredients – e.g coconut oil, leaves, flowers, spices bark, seeds etc. at reasonable prices.  I bought a bunch of stuff for my travels, deodorant, shampoo, body lotion, eye cream, etc.

    Natural products from Angelo Store
  • 8 hour biking tour around Ubud. I highly recommend this tour to everyone. It cost 300,000 RP ($25 USD). Besides including a breakfast and lunch, our guide took us to a coffee farm and I tried luwak, also called cat-poo-chino, world’s most expensive coffee. The way this coffee is made is pretty interesting. Check this out: A shy cat-like wild creature wanders out of the Sumatran jungle at night onto a coffee plantation and selects only the finest, ripest coffee cherries to eat. Only it can’t digest the stone (the coffee bean) and craps them out, its anal glands imparting an elusive musky smoothness to the resultant roasted coffee. Then the farm workers look for the poop in the morning among the trees,  remove the coffee beans from the other possible dirty things, roast them and sell them to us.

During the super fun trip, we rode our bikes from the northern part of the island all the way down to Ubud. Along the way, we passed by tiny villages, beautiful homes, glamorous temples, young girls and their babies waving their hands yelling cheerful hellos to us, older ladies balancing large objects on their heads, endless rice paddies, cute stray dogs, and breathtaking green scenery. It was a real intimate experience with the Balinese people and their colorful culture.

  • Cafe Lotus, Ubud is a very touristic spot in the middle of the market but a fruit shake break with this view was a good call. The most appealing part was I left behind the crowded street noise upon entering this place and I found myself in a zen garden.
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Fruit smoothie, a lotus pond and Ubud Palace all in one place.

Kuta/Seminyak

Seminyak is a popular beach town that offers posh  spas, restaurants, cafes, high end restaurants and resorts targeting rich tourists and a younger crowd who wanted to get drunk. It reminded me of the Hamptons with its little boutiques but it was a much bigger version. Kuta is more popular among surfers and partiers but I wasn’t interested in that scene hence I skipped it. However, if you like to have a long night, you can still stay in Seminyak and reach Kuta with a quick taxi ride.

Some places you can check out: W Hotel, Potato Head (most popular beach club) or Ku De Ta (another hip club). I mostly used these places to access the beach and enjoy a refreshing mid-day cocktail. Apparently sunset parties in these places were pretty popular and I realized that when hundreds of ppl started popping up around 5 pm. It was a pretty fun experience and the pictures below would speak for themselves.
Later I learned that there were more local alternatives to these clubs along the beach and could avoid the posh crowd.
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Potato Head Beach Club
Sunset at Ku Da Te
Sunset watching at Ku De Ta

Canggu

Canggu is located between Seminyak and Tanah Lot and it’s more low key than Seminyak. It is a great place if you’re interested in learning to surf due to the size of its waves and surf schools aiming beginners. I like Canggu because it’s on the beach, surrounded by beautiful rice paddies and has a surf shack groove. Someone also said it’s like Brooklyn on the beach. You can find healthy restaurants, cool coffeeshops, green-juice bars and cute little boutiques. It’s not as crowded as Semiyak and Kuta and draws a more hippie/conscious type of crowd.

Tanah Lot:

After looking at its pictures on a computer screen in NYC, seeing this temple in real life was a great experience for me. To get there, I rented a taxi for the day that took me to a few temples on the same day. I was hoping to walk to the little island where the temple was located on but found out you could only walk up to it at low tide and it was a day with a high tide to my luck. Since there were just too many people pushing and gawking at the time of my visit, I climbed up a bit and sat at an empty restaurant and watched it along an ice cold beer and fried rice.

Taman Ayun: 

This beautiful temple was included in the day trip I booked with a taxi and was 1 hr away from Seminyak.
It took me 20 mins to walk among the different courtyards of the temple and I hopped back in the car to get back to Ubud in the heavy traffic.
Tanah Ayun
Taman Ayun. The sign at the entrance advised women on their menstrual cycle to refrain from entering

Uluwatu

This popular spot at the southern tip of Bali has a temple and a fantastic view of the sunset. I understand why this sunset activity in Uluwatu is one of the top things to do in Bali! It can be done without being trapped in the tourist trail. Just rent a 🛵 , drive up the hill, pick a spot and voila!

In summary: Bali is beautiful and has a great energy. Every time I left Bali,  I felt so grateful for its beauty, kindness, and hospitality. But I know for now, I prefer to live in a less developed, less manicured, less commercialized place so I can focus inwards. See you next time, Bali!

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. Nice photos!! I was just in Ubud 🙂 and am thinking of going to Seminyak. Thanks so much for the detailed post!

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    1. Thank you! Enjoy the rest of your trip and the beautiful sunset in Seminyak 🙂

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    2. Glad you liked it. Enjoy the sunset in Seminyak for me 🙂 cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. cris says:

    Hi asli, i love reading you’re story!! I went to ta lodge but it was booked full hihi. And i also went to lotus!! Tnx for the usefull tips!

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    1. Hi Chris, glad you tried them 😊 I’ll add Jakarta and Sumatra soon. If you haven’t already been in Sumatra, here’s my favorite in Indonesia! Enjoy the rest of your trip!

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  3. nesli says:

    Great tips + fun reading and very tempting photos 😉 ! I’m sure your blog would be a great help when I’m ready to plan my trip there.. Thanks much!

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    1. Thanks Neslim😊 I’d love to give you first hand info once you are ready to head here!! ❤️

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  4. Christopher says:

    Love your words and pic’s brings back great memories of my trip to Bali last year!

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  5. Your detailed post gives the real picture of the bali. It’s beautiful but is suffering from the impact of over-tourism. Well composed 👏

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