For part one of TGB’s Definitive Bali Travel Guide, we looked at the various options for areas to stay in Bali. For part two, we’ll have a look at some of the many activities that are worth experiencing.
1) Visit a temple. At least one.
Two temples that are easily accessible from the southern resort areas are listed here. Tanah Lot is the most famous temple on Bali, known for its stunning location on a rock formation out in the sea. It is also very crowded and touristy. Uluwatu is another option in a spectacular setting, hugging the top of a rugged cliff; its location also allows for spectacular sunset views and a tie-in to visit the nearby surf break (see below) as well. Beware of the monkeys here, however. They will absolutely take anything off you. Put any jewellery away, especially ear rings. Sunglasses, glasses, bags, leave them all in your parked car. I’ve seen a monkey steal someone’s pen and bite into it. Poor bugger got ink all over himself and looked confused. These monkeys aren’t for cuddling. They have sharp teeth and are angry. I’ve also seen this:
If you are looking for something quieter or more “off the beaten path” in other parts of Bali, have a look at this list.
2) Go surf. Or at least watch.
Surfers from around the world make the pilgrimage to Bali to surf. Thanks to the island’s shape and location, there is almost always some surf somewhere in Bali, although there are times when the swells are epic, and other times when the trade winds switch and most breaks aren’t as clean. I won’t bog you down with too much detail; surfers of decent ability will know where to go anyway, and there are just too many spots to list in a post such as this. However, for beginners, there are a ton of surf schools on the southwest part of the island, mostly around Kuta Beach. Just make sure you’re not heading out to Uluwatu, for example, on your first time out. Stick to the beach breaks and not the big reef breaks full of experienced surfers. It’s not about bravery, it’s about safety and you’re not going to have any fun anyway as the expert surfers will just find you in their way and will be on every wave before you. Also, don’t force it. My first time out in Bali, I was at Dreamland in 10-12ft waves; most of the time I spent paddling and trying not to get wrecked or drown. I caught one wave in two sessions. Just one. Still maybe one of my top three waves ever, though.
So, maybe you’re not feeling adventurous, or conditions are simply too big for you. Don’t let that stop you from going to watch some surfers. In my opinion, the best spot for this is in Uluwatu around sunset. As you drive up towards Uluwatu, the road splits into two. The left takes you up to the temple, the right to a parking lot at the top of the path that leads you down to the water. Right in front of you is one of the world’s most famous left breaks (as you’re facing the water, the waves will begin to break from your left and go to your right). Again, if you haven’t heard of “Ulus” you probably shouldn’t be surfing it. If you turn and look up at the cliff above you, you will see a collection of bars hugging the cliff face all the way up. Take your pick and go sit down with an ice cold Bintang and watch some terrific surfers and a stunning sunset. The nicest option is the famous Single Fin, but you can keep it cheap and cheerful at some of the other spots, too. This lovely post by Laura McWhinnie at This Island Life explains things nicely in more detail. Do note there are a few more mosquitoes in Uluwatu than in, say, Seminyak, so bring a bit of repellent with you!
3) Head out for some drinks at a swank beach club in Seminyak.
Miami Beach, it’s not quite, but it’s close. And the drinks are cheaper (marginally). The original Bali institution when it comes to beach clubs was Ku De Ta, not to be confused with the one sky high atop the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. It’s a time-tested classic, now approaching 15 years old, but is still a great spot in Seminyak, with convenient walking access from many villas and hotels. It’s still one of my favorite spots in Bali for a sunset cocktail with friends before dinner out somewhere (we’ll talk about that in Part Three).
Newer to the game is Potato Head, an equally impressive spot with a unique design and layout. These days, it’s the hotter spot, with an interesting mix of DJs, live music, etc.
4) Go to a spa. Yes, men, too (Or try) a Balinese “herbal” drink.
You didn’t come all the way to Southeast Asia, land of the spa for nothing! Spas in Bali range from cheap as chips to obscenely luxurious, like the Royal Kirana, for example, popular with affluent Japanese due to its ties to Shiseido once upon a time. Many villas offer a package where a massage and spa treatment is included with your stay for nominally more money than just accommodations. Big resorts almost all have their own spas; most treatments there will be pricy, but still much cheaper than similar such treatments as in the West. I’d say on average you’ll be saving 30~50%. There are also many day spas, especially in and around Ubud, that are very affordable. As always, the Lonely Planet has a list of their top picks for you.
If being pampered for hours at the spa is not for you, and you’re looking for something very different, you can try out a Balinese herbal drink. In a relaxed, comfortable environment, these “fungal shakes” can be quite enjoyable, according to many. But do not drive afterwards under any circumstances, and enjoy them with a friend in a safe environment because you may go for a little bit of a wander and you’re going to want a familiar face to bring you home.
5) Speaking of Ubud, go visit.
Ubud, the famous artistic “heart” of Bali, sits inland on higher elevation about an hour and a half north of the beach towns of the south. This is the perfect place to visit on either a rainy day, or when you’ve had a little too much sun exposure on the beaches and need a cooler, calmer day. Temperatures tend to be little cooler here. There are dozens of wonderful spas to visit and get that cucumber-aloe body wrap to soothe those sunburns, and many art galleries for you to window shop in. It is also where the Monkey Forest is located, if that’s your thing (after Uluwatu it may no longer be your thing). Don’t forget to stay for dinner at my favorite restaurant in Bali, Mozaic, which I will cover in more detail in Part 3 (Dining Guide).
6) Have a sunset BBQ in Jimbaran Bay.
Arrive before 5PM to fully enjoy the sunset. The restaurants here place tables directly onto the sand; it’s a wonderful place to dine on a date or with friends. It gets smoky at night when the wind usually dies down, and it smells a bit thanks to all the barbecued fish, so don’t dress up too nicely here, or else your nice clothes will smell like fish as well.
7) Go see a Kecak dance.
There are many, many options to see Kecak dance shows in Bali. Some of them are very commercial (if you’ve ever been to a luau in Hawaii, it’s a bit like that–dinner included, bit pricy), some are quieter. I prefer the latter, but it’s up to you. Trip Advisor is probably a good place to read up on what makes sense for you.
8) Sign up for yoga, or just lounge around in your pool villa and enjoy the good life, Bali style.
More to come, with dining tips in Part Three
To read part one, click here.
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