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sunset dinner in Jimbaran

People keep asking me about Bali. Here’s what I did, what I didn’t do, and what I want to do…

I spent months planning my first trip to Bali.When I first chose Bali as my destination, I was thinking about doing a yoga retreat. But I knew I wanted to surf, and wanted time to travel around as well. So, I built my own hybrid surf/yoga adventure.

I had almost every day planned out, leaving myself a few pockets here and there for exploration. I think I had at lest five different hotels booked, as well as a few flights. The entire trip allocated time in Seminyak, Rapture Surf Camp, Gili Islands, Ubud, Singapore, and finally Sydney.

I spent countless hours planning and finding the best accommodations and flights for the trip…it was a beautiful, detailed, well planned itinerary…that got completely scrapped within about an hour of me being at Rapture Surf Camp. Oops! While I could likely write a book about how incredible the Bukit Peninsula and Rapture are, it would be a shame to let the months of research and review reading and planning go to waste. You can read more about the planning here.

As much as I enjoyed planning my trip, i think the best advice I can give, especially when it comes to Bali, is keep your options and your mind OPEN.

I mostly use Agoda to book hotels. While it can be overwhelming, I find it very easy to use and they provide solid customer service. I had no problem moving things around and canceling hotels from my surf camp bungalow. A lot of hotels will allow you to book in advance without charging your card, and offer discounts for paying in full up front.

How long to stay? Whatever you’re currently planning, add on a few more days. Yea. And then add some more. Stay as long as humanly possible. Sorry, but its true. Bali is a BIG island and has tons to do and see. oh, and you’re going to meet really awesome people, so they’ll take up some of your time as well.   My first trip was 2.5 weeks, my second was 4 days. Both were too short…but if all you have are a few days, go anyways, and make them count!

What did I bring? I bought a Patagonia Black Hole 90L convertible backpack. I love this bag. I used cheap bag organizers to keep everything in its place, as this bag is HUGE inside. When I left for my first Bali trip, this bag weighed in at only 28.5Lbs – that’s a record low for me. I went through a lot of gym clothes but bought beach towels and cover ups there. All I really needed were some shorts, a dress or two, and bikinis.See that stupid pair of wedges in the picture below? Leave that shit at home.

Bali has all types of places to stay. Whether you want a resort, hotel, hostel, villa, home stay, or surf camp…there’s something in your budget. Money goes far in Bali. I’ve had incredible service at both high end and low end places…so don’t freak out if you can’t afford to stay in a massive cliffside resort with seven pools. You’ll be ok.

Ok, so here are my Bali recommendations, by region:

Kuta/ Legian:

Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak are super busy areas near the airport. They’re easy to get to, very crowded, and have TONS to do. This post merely scratches the surface of all the awesomeness here.11099172_10102173412301139_2365235423462558054_n

Kuta: cheap, crowded, a little rough. If you’re looking for wild night clubs with stupid cheap drink specials, mushrooms, insanely cheap shopping, and drunk young tourists, go there. Did I mention that it’s cheap?

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Ok, I’m not going to hate on Kuta too much. I love Kuta. I went a few times – a group of us did an epic Sunday Funday in Kuta, I’ve surfed there, shopped there, and enjoyed the craziness that is Kuta.

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super cold bintang at Kuta beach!

Surfing in Kuta: I loved it. Great beginner spot, nice sandy bottom, good size, consistent waves. Rent a cheap board and don’t leave valuables on the beach. The beach is not as dirty as people may warn, but it does get crowded, and you’ll be offered food and crap to buy over and over and over. But seriously…fun spot to surf!

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Staying in Kuta: Like i said, I never stayed there, but I did look at hotels there. If you want to be super tourist and pay too much for a room, stay at the Hard Rock. It’s nice and close to Poppies Lane (SHOPPING, SHOPPING, HOLY SHOPPING). But honestly, you can do better. If you’re looking for a little luxury i’d go with the Alaya Resort . It’s brand new but not overpriced, and you’ll be sure to get fantastic service. I’m also a fan of Mercure hotels, and there’s definitely a Kuta location. Satriya Cottages is another affordable option with a bit more of a “bali” feel than your standard hotel. Maharani Beach Hotel is another great option, as well as dekuta.

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that anyone actually stay in Kuta. If you want to be close to Kuta and all the craziness it has to offer, I’d say stay in Seminyak, or if that’s too pricey, Legian, as it is in between the two. When I was considering Legian, I liked the Ananta Legian , Bliss Surfer Hotel and Villa Diana. Or if you’re looking to go in the other direction, head down to Jimbaran and stay at The Open House.

Shopping, eating & drinking in Kuta:

Whatever you could possibly want to buy, eat, or drink, you can find in Kuta.  For cheap souvenirs, sarongs, Bintang singlets, and knock off handbags, go to Poppies Lane. Narrow streets full of vendors selling everything at “very good price.” Bring cash and don’t be afraid to haggle. It can actually be quite fun to see how little you can pay for something you don’t even want.

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Be careful! The streets are narrow. I got my “bali tattoo” on Poppies lane. Most people get burn marks from mopeds on the inside of their calves…but mine is on the outside. I was shopping on Poppies when a woman riding a bike with a massive cart full of crap came barreling through. I stepped back to get out of her way and leaned against a recently parked moped. I got a massive burn that didn’t hurt…at first. Once the pain set in I ran to nearby Fat Chow and iced it, while drinking 4-6 mojitos. They were on special that day.

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I really like this guide. I haven’t spent enough time in Kuta to advise too much more.

Seminyak

Seminyak is nice & trendy. You’re going to spend more here than other parts of Bali, but you’re going to get a high level of service and quality. I found several adorable boutiques, unique bars, creative restaurants, and nice hotels. I’d absolutely go back, and recommend it to almost anyone traveling to Bali.

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espresso martinis at potato head

I booked (and cancelled) two hotels in Seminyak during my first stay. Originally I was supposed to stay at the U Paasha for my first two nights, but ended up down at the Semara Luxury Resort near Uluwatu. When I finally went to Seminyak for a day, I saw the U Paasha and was a little sad that I didn’t stay a night there. It is in an excellent location, close to Potato Head Beach Club and several other restaurants and boutiques.

Other great Seminyak hotels:

  •  The Haven
  • Ize Hotel
  • The L Hotel
  • The Legian
  • Double Six Hotel

My favorite Seminyak bars & restaurants:

If you only eat at one place and have only one drink in Seminyak, have dinner at La Favela and a drink at Potato Head. Please.

Canggu

I never made it to this part of the island, but have heard great things, and researched it extensively. I have considered staying at The Chill House, and think it would be a fantastic way to spend time in Bali. They have surfing, yoga, healthy food, and even SUP YOGA training on site. Nearby, there’s deus ex machina, Echo Beach, and a spa that uses gold in their treatments.

Check out @standup_training and @thechillhouse on insta!

Jimbaran

Located between Kuta and the Bukit Peninsula, Jimbaran is a busy area with a lot of big hotels. I considered staying there, and as mentioned earlier, I really loved the look of the The Open House hotel. I only spent one evening in Jimbaran, but it was a great one. Whether you’re traveling with a group, significant other, or even alone, get down there one night for sunset dinner on the beach. You’ll find an endless selection of beach front seating, and restaurants offering the freshest, most delicious seafood. The food is as good as the scenery and it is an experience not to be missed.

this.

Oh, and maybe check out Rock Bar at the Ayana Resort. ROCK BAR

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Ubud

I originally had 5 days allocated to Ubud. I booked 4 nights at the Alaya Resort and planned on doing yoga at The Yoga Barn every day. Upon further research, I decided that I probably didn’t need to spend as much as I was on Alaya, and swapped my standard room at Alaya for a Deluxe Villa at Sri Ratih Cottages for half the price. While I was in Bali I had the opportunity to stay at Hanging Gardens, but I chose to extend my stay down at Rapture Surf Camp instead. yes, that is how much I loved it down there.

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I ended up hiring a driver I met at Padang Padang Mart to take me up to Ubud for a day, so i didn’t get to stay in either place. I found Ubud to be much more “touristy” than I anticipated, but I still enjoyed it. The Alaya in Ubud is in a central location close to all of the shopping and dining, and of course the infamous monkey forest. I would definitely consider Alaya for a future stay in Ubud.

My driver, 17 year old Ketut, was wonderful. For about $40USD, he drove me about an hour up to Ubud and waited around while I shopped and explored the town. At first he tried to drop me off at the Monkey Forest, but by that point in my trip, I had encountered enough monkeys, and didn’t feel like paying to have my sunglasses stolen…I could get that for free at an early morning surf session at Padang Padang. Next!

I wandered around the market and noticed that souvenirs were much more expensive up there than they were in Kuta. I will say the quality of many items seemed a bit better, and there was a lot of art and jewelry that I didn’t see elsewhere on the island. I got coffee and juice and wandered the streets, eventually getting a pedicure before it was time to meet Ketut. That afternoon we wandered through the rice terraces and stopped at a coffee plantation, as I wanted to try Luwak coffee. I wasn’t a huge fan, but it was a fun experience, and I appreciated Ketut’s patience while I drank all the coffee and tea.

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Ketut took me to a little local place for lunch so I can’t really advise on any food in Ubud – I have no idea what the name of this place was, but I ate suckling pig and enjoyed every second of it. Fortunately I didn’t notice the mouse hanging out by my foot until after I had devoured my meal. Whatever.

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I’d love to get back to Ubud, primarily to see the surrounding areas and hit some yoga classes up there. I’ve always wanted to stay in an Ashram and I think that would be a great place to do it. Or a yoga teacher training!

Check ’em out:

 

The Bukit: Padang Padang, Uluwatu, Nusa Dua

Ah, my favorite. This is where this post gets good. Like, really good.

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The gondola down to Finns

I spent the first two days of my first Bali trip at Semara Luxury Resort. It was fantastic, and a great way to ease into my  adventure. I arrived late on a Friday night after spending almost 8 hours at the Sydney Airport (although I spent most of that time at the Rydges Hotel fitness center…thanks again guys!)

I was tired and jet lagged and needed some serious relaxation. Semara did not disappoint.  A driver picked me up from the airport and brought me directly to my luxury villa, where I found my own private plunge pool and a beautifully appointed room. I immediately put on my luxurious bathrobe, ordered a bunch of room service (including champagne) and got in the pool. The bed was massive and comfortable and it was exactly what I needed.

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my private plunge pool

The grounds of the hotel are incredible, and the views are to die for. I think I saw 3-4 weddings taking place over the one weekend that I was there. Semara is also home to Finn’s Beach Club, which is a Bali “must-do.”

For hotel guests, access is free, but for visitors it costs 300,00Rp to take a gondola down the cliff (think: monkeys & stunning ocean views) to an expansive beach bar, fully loaded with water sports, a DJ, excellent food (I highly recommend the fish tacos) and big comfy bean bag chairs on the beach. Oh, and they also have nightly beach bonfires. You can take out paddle boards and kayaks, go snorkeling, or just relax in a bean bag with a Bintang. It truly is paradise.

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After Semara I headed to Rapture Surf Camp. For my first 5 days, I stayed in the Surf Shack, which ended up being a quaint little bungalow with a lot of character. I had a massive outdoor bathroom, nice king size bed, cold air con, and a cute little front porch. It was perfect. When I decided to extend my stay at Rapture, I bounced around a bit and stayed in the fan dorm and the deluxe air con dorm. Both were fine, although I preferred the air con. The shared bathrooms at the camp are super nice, and the outdoor showers are to die for. Breakfast and dinner were included in the cost of the room. I paid extra for surf lessons which proved to be life changing, however, my favorite part about the entire experience was the people that I met there. Even if you don’t like surfing, don’t think you can or will ever be able to surf, I’d still recommend trying out Rapture. The surfing was incredible, but the overall experience was something I will never forget.

Rapture is situated near Padang Padang Beach, close to Uluwatu,and other incredible surf spots and beaches. This is what my typical day at Rapture looked like: up early, some yoga while the kitchen was preparing for breakfast. Breakfast (usually crepes, scrambled eggs and toast) and coffee while we wait to find out where we’re surfing. Finish breakfast, load up the vans, head out to surf for most of the day. Have an awesome lunch between sessions, head back to the camp for a lazy afternoon. Early evening yoga, followed by dinner with everyone at the camp. Possibly grab a beer at a local bar or mart, or just relax at the camp. Head to bed early, exhausted, and pumped to do it all again the next day.

This particular area of Bali has a lot of character. There’s a great mix of local warungs and trendy bars and restaurants, tucked in between luxury resorts and surf camps. So here are the highlights:

Single Fin

I like bars. I have spent a lot of time in bars. I have been to a lot of bars- many exotic, awesome bars, all over the world. Single Fin *might* be my favorite bar in the world. It’s a huge bar built on a cliff, overlooking Uluwatu. Sunsets here are unbelievable and always draw a crowd. The food is good, there’s tons of seating, and great music.There’s a huge party every Sunday night that draws everyone out of the surf camps and mini marts and onto a sweaty deck turned dance floor. Honestly, I’ve had a blast at Single Fin on Sundays, but I much prefer it when its calm.  If you happen to be there when a surf contest is going off, head up to the deck and grab a pitcher of mojitos and share some food with your new friends. You can thank me later. Oh, and stop by the surf shop.

The Edge

If Single Fin is too packed out, or you just want a cold bintang in a slightly quieter atmosphere, head down the steps to The Edge. Its a slightly more “local” bar that provides the same sweeping views as SF. Don’t be alarmed when a little old lady comes around and offers to massage your shoulders (simply by doing so) and don’t be ashamed if you end up buying a bunch of Uluwatu Hats and bracelets that you don’t need. I’ve been there.

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Sticking in this region, let’s talk about Blue Point Villas. If you make it to Single Fin, you’ll see a hotel with an AWESOME pool overlooking the bar and Ulu’s. You’ll be tempted to stay there. I’m going to advise against it, unless you like overpaying for decrepit hotel rooms that are almost always loud. Walk down the street and stay in a different villa. I would suggest heading up near Padang Padang Beach and staying at either Pink Coco or The Brothers. Both are within walking distance of Buddha Soul, OmBurger, the best “marts,” and are just a quick ride to Uluwatu. Finding “transport” is unbelievably easy, just start walking and someone will offer you a cheap ride on their bike. Its safe…really. No, really…(sorry mom!)

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OmBurger & Buddha Soul

I love indonesian food. I love fried noodles and rice and chicken and could eat it almost every day. But if you need a break from local food, or just unhealthy food, stop by Buddha Soul and/or OmBurger (same owners). Ok, OmBurger is a burger place, but they have healthy, high quality food and an awesome ocean view. Live music is a common occurrence and they make a mean mojito.

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Buddha Soul is fantastic.The coffee, juices, and food are all great, but there’s something about the atmosphere that I just love. I have spent A LOT of time there and can’t wait to go back.

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Cashew Tree

Awesome bar, especially when there’s a party going on. All outdoors, various seating options, and live music. Do it! 

Randomness:

There are a lot of little local, random restaurants in this area. I don’t know their names. I’ve eaten at several of them. There’s a place between Pink Coco/The Brothers and Rapture that I fondly refer to as “The Brazilian Place.” NO, it is not Brazilian food. It is Indonesian. I call it the Brazilian place because, two sweet, well behaved young women who shall remain unnamed said it was the restaurant where “those hot Brazilians go.” So yea, it’s the Brazilian place. Near the brazilian place, there’s a juice place. That’s good too, but far fewer brazilians. Ok, i’ll get back on track now…

Magini’s Bikinis

Stop by a Rapture camp and get some gear. Bikinis and surf gear made on site. If they don’t have what you want ready, they’ll make it for you while you’re out surfing. IMG_0729

The Marts.

This area of Bali can be a little sleepy. Most of the people  there are there to surf, so they’re likely getting up and going to bed early. Bars have parties on varying nights, but if you’re looking for people to drink with, or a place to go to for an after party, hit up your local mini mart. My personal favorite is Padang Padang Mart, but don’t discredit R Mart, Angel Mart, or S Mart. Seriously though, it’s fun. Travelers and surfers and locals buy cheap beer and sit outside at picnic tables, very similar to what you would do in a bar. But cheaper. And with endless snack options! Challenge: do a “mart dart.” Yes, its a bar crawl. but between marts. You will not be disappointed.

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el kabron

Feeling fancy, but don’t want to leave the area? Go to el kabron. It’s a bit overpriced, but has awesome views and really cool pool. I loved their sangria, but the atmosphere is the best part. The food wasn’t particularly memorable but it was a great place for tapas and drinks. They have some pretty good pool parties so be sure to check those out, or do sunset with a significant other. Can’t go wrong.

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Let’s talk BEACHES.

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DREAMLAND.

Dreamland: stunning. excellent sunsets. popular surf spot. some food options.

Bingin: another surf spot, absolutely gorgeous as well.

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Balangan: my favorite surf spot, lots of little warungs lining the beach, great music, and a photographer on site to catch all those epic waves you’ll be catching.

 

Padang Padang: it’s like, really f’ing gorgeous. It gets crowded in the afternoon and really hot, so get out there early. There are vendors and food and its the best stand up paddling i’ve ever experienced. If you go super early there will be monkeys everywhere, so watch where you put your stuff. I highly recommend a sunrise surf session here…its unreal. (you can also access impossibles surf break from here).

Oh, and they have bonfires on Saturday nights.

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Padang Padang Beach (labuan sait)

 

Nusa Dua

Nusa Dua is a big resort area, but has some great surfing, and pretty beaches. There’s a giant shopping center right next to Mushroom Rock and Blackstone surf spots if you need a break from the sun. Rapture has recently opened their Bali Cliff camp nearby.

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Uluwatu

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Awesome surf break with great options to watch the surfers and the sunset. Try the corn from the man with the cart in the parking lot of Single Fin.

 Uluwatu Temple

Definitely go to the temple, preferably at sunset. Watch out for the monkeys, wear the sarong, respect the culture, and take it all in. Surreal.

Uluwatu Surf Villas

I didn’t stay here, but i’d love to. I went to a sunset vinyasa yoga class, and it was awesome. They provide nice manduka mats, a dog, and a breathtaking sunset. It’s a little far but worth the trip. If you’re looking for a yoga retreat that’s NOT in ubud, keep up with this place- they have them all the time. And let me know if you go, i may tag along. 🙂

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Where to stay:

There are tons of villas down here. You can’t really go wrong – all i’d say is ask to see your room before you fully check in, you may want to be moved towards the front of the property or upgrade your room a notch. I’ve only experienced excellent service and hospitality down here.

  • Rapture Surf Camp  Padang Padang & Nusa Dua locations
  • Pink Coco – I love this place. Stay near the front, I recommend deluxe seaview or the penthouse!
  • The Brothers – across the street from Pink Coco, next to omburger and padang padang mart. nice, clean, all you need!
  • Bingin Inn – “surf, eat, and sleep!” those two sweet, unnamed girls stayed here & loved it. budget friendly!
  • Rich Prada Hotel – Stay here if you want people to know you have money. I actually don’t know anything about this hotel, other than it’s close to Balangan and has a ridiculous name!
  • Semara
  • Hidden Valley Resort (not affiliated with ranch dressing 😦 )
  • De Sapphire – new & nice
  • Medori Putih – this is where i stayed after rapture, cheap, clean, close to rapture. and that brazilian place 😉
  • Uluwatu Surf Villas – perfect for a yoga retreat or girls trip. a bit out of the way, but gorgeous. At least go up there for a sunset yoga class.

 

 

The Stuff I haven’t done, but must do:

  • Gili Islands. I was going to stay at Gili Yoga on Gili Trawangan, but have heard that Gili Air is the way to go.
  • Le Pirate Beach Club: I love the little pill box houses, and just the simplicity of this place. There’s a location on Gili Trawangan and Nusa Ceningan.
  • The North! there’s a volcano, and Amed, and so much more to do.
  • Rapture’s new bali cliff camp. It’s gorgeous, and I must stay there.
  • Tirta Empul Temple
  • Tanah lot temple

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  • Lombok/ Mt Rinjani
  • Mt. Rinjani Trek I looked into this when I was planning my first Bali trip, but decided against it. The trip would definitely require some serious commitment, but would be incredible. If the park opens back up!
  • Borobudur. Anyone up for Yogjakarta? I’m dying to get to this place.

 

If you’re going to Bali, let me know where you end up, and what you think of it. If you’re not going to Bali, well, you should.

As always, thanks for reading. Cheers!

 

 

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