Dreaming of blue skies, white sands and tree lined beaches? How about Bali? Melo gives us a guide to the good life in the Asian paradise.
Bali has been one of those places that’s been on my hit list for a long time. A palm tree covered island with beautiful wildlife, stunning beaches and clear waters. Home to yoga, surfing, massage, beautiful silks, coffee, Indonesian food and a good dose of partying, it’s the perfect place to relax, rejuvenate, adventure and enjoy a break from reality for a little while. It really has something for everyone.
I came to Bali with a group of friends, and as a mixture of couples and singles all sharing rooms we were able to get more bang for our buck. Had I been travelling solo I would have stayed in more hostels and spent more time on a moped but having seen some of the hostels here, they look pretty similar to the villas and you can even get some with swimming pools and on site restaurants. I’m sure there are some super cheap alternatives but if you fancy something a little sweeter there are plenty of options.
The tourism industry in Bali is huge and really well catered for. South East Asia still remains one of the cheapest places to travel and if you shop around you can get flights for under £500. We covered a well trodden tourist trail on our travels but Bali is a huge island and if you don’t plan ahead you may find travel times of up to 24 hours if you’re planning to head to the Gilis or Lombok which could easily be done in 4. Maximise your chill time by planning ahead! Surrounding the airport there are plenty of options of beautiful beaches, jungles and rice paddies and bustling towns so take your pick from Uluwatu, Canngu, Seminyak or Ubud.
We started our journey at the picturesque Uluwatu in the south, reachable in 30 minutes from the airport and known for its beautiful greenery, dense jungle, wildlife and stunning surfers paradise beaches. We played it safe and booked into a beautiful villa in a resort called Mu Bali with a private pool, catering, bar and sunset sea view from the infinity pool. A casual start which set us back £65pn each, plus extras (mainly passion fruit mojitos and our first sampling of nasi and mie goreng). We moved on to a local private villa which we found via Villa Bali. This is a great alternative to Airbnb and you can find many of the same places with lower fees. Our villas from Villa Bali were both awesome, with great hosts who helped with transfers, moped hire, taxis and restaurant bookings.
Whilst in Uluwatu we stayed at Villa Zen which was our favourite place of the entire trip; beautiful gardens, with a twin villa next door you can hire for a bigger group, and room to swing a cat. The pictures speak for themselves, and the setting was idyllic, peaceful, so pretty and a short moped ride from the local shop, restaurants and beaches. For the price we were paying we were actually pretty shocked at just how beautiful it was (£25pp/pn – two sharing). We spent our mornings lolling about in the pool and when we were burnt to a crisp we went on moped adventures riding round the backstreets through the jungle and past vibey cafes and surfer shops.
A moped is by far the best, cheapest and most fun way to get around this part of the island. I got my stabilisers off in this area for the first time, but don’t be nervous! As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to anything remotely dangerous, but after a couple of jumpy starts and a slight kerfuffle with a tree (am I selling it?) I got up and running within about 5 minutes of practise on the quiet streets and by the end of the day was addicted to whizzing around the gentle winding roads singing “I’m Every Woman” at the top of my lungs. Be careful singing in the evening though as I managed to catch a few bugs on the way home – yum! The peds even come with surfboard racks so you can beach hop with your board to your heart’s content.
Uluwatu is full of hidden gems, a good hippy surfer vibe, cute cafes with live music and vegan menus (if you’re that way inclined) and authentic Balinese cuisine, good quality hipster coffee and authentic Balinese cuisine. We found a really sweet place which seemed to be the local worst kept secret, super laid back, delicious food, and a good place to go for breakfast, lunch or a few drinks and a bit of atmosphere and live music in the evening. I would recommend beach hopping on the bike but staying around the west coast so you can catch those beautiful Balinese sunsets over the ocean.
Uluwatu was relaxed and chilled, perfect for honeymooners, hippies and surfers alike, but by now we were ready to party so we headed on to Gili T. The most notorious of all the Gili isles for beach parties.
We booked our travel with the Bluewater Express super fast boat company, they arranged transfers, were reliable, and on the water they were really professional which made us feel in safe hands. Oh and they gave us sweets. When you’re in between two volcanic islands the water can get somewhat choppy. Did I mention there was a 6.4 earthquake whilst we were there? It was relatively small one but nonetheless scary! Nature is a powerful force in Bali, which is what makes it so beaut. But I would highly recommend keeping the boat trip as short and safe as possible as it can get a little rough at times! Having known people who have tried to wing it and spent nearly 24 hours trying to get to the Gilis, I cannot stress this recommendation highly enough in order to ensure maximum enjoyment for your trip!
Once you make the crossing to Gili Trawangan, the boat comes in at the south east of the island, there are no cars or mopeds and people get around by push bike or horse and cart, and the horses have bells on – it’s just like Christmas. The south east of the island is bustling and fun but has somewhat of a San Antonio vibe, which there’s a time and a place for but I’d recommend staying in the north where your beautiful peaceful beach haven awaits with far more space, a selection of beachfront hotels and restaurants and our fully staffed Villa with its private beach was there, all for £55pn, sure.
Our villa staff provided us with bikes, cases of beer on request and a delicious breakfast every day, they were just lovely. We cycled west from our villa and discovered a selection of party beaches, beach-front restaurants, happy hours and the most wonderful frozen daiquiris and swim up bars. We had a couple of favourites which we returned to. The Pondok Santi Estate was perfection. Owned by the guy that commercialised bungee jumping. Great for couples and groups alike and the pumpkin curry will change your life. The food is to die for here and the setting is heaven. Happy hour from 3pm and a swim up bar which you can use even if you aren’t a guest here. There is also a crystal clear white sand beach in front of it, which is great for snorkelling and just generally floating around and pontificating about how lucky you are to be alive.
Wilsons deserves a mention as a favourite; beautiful beachfront setting, with tables on the beach and marquee lights in the trees, delicious food and decadent cocktails. The service here was impeccable and the staff who were pretty much all locals were just the nicest people on earth. A mixture of Indonesian and western food, everything was fresh, delicious and well presented.
Gili T is surrounded by a busy coral reef and there is an abundance of scuba diving and snorkelling tours that take you by boat around the islands. I snorkeled for the first time in Gili T and it was an incredibly peaceful and mindful experience, swimming with all the Nemos. The reef is very shallow for a long distance out so if you’re a little nervous in the water, it feels very safe and calming. There are many turtles further out and lots of people reported back on seeing them.
Following Gili T, half of our group went back to Bali and to Seminyak and the others went to Lombok – the untouched Bali. During this time it was Nyepi in Bali which is a Hindu festival followed by a day of silence where everyone must stay indoors with no light, even the airport was closed! Having hit it pretty hard in Gili T it was perfect for us to be in another peaceful villa eating and chilling by the pool. There’s a common theme! The Gilis and Lombok are largely Muslim so they weren’t having the day of silence and lots of restaurants were open so it’s worth checking the religious events calendar in advance, there are many throughout the year and some involve parades and street parties so they’re great fun to see. Worth also being aware that Bali operates on a lunar year, so it’s a 210 day calendar meaning the timings of the festivals will be different each year.
Seminyak was fun and surprisingly westernised, loads of shopping and spas and a good selection of beach bars a ten minute taxi ride away. The shopping is probably the best bit about the town but it’s not as good as Ubud, and definitely not as beautiful. We were recommended to go to La Lucciola on the coast, and although a fair bit pricier than our previous lunches it was still pretty reasonable at £45/head including a couple of bottles of wine. Booking is a must, but it has a palm tree lined view of the sea in a beautiful Balinese beach hut style building.
After hearing the rave reviews about Potato Head Beach Club we headed there for some afternoon cocktails. Sadly, the pool was being refurbed, and the beach is not somewhere you would want to spend any time so we just stayed for one. Potato Head probably comes into its own when they run events and festivals, but as a bar to pop into it seriously lacked any kind of vibe without a pool. Your other options in the area are Ku De Ta further south, or you can head north along the coast to Canggu, a bit of a gem that we almost totally missed.
We ended up at Finn’s beach bar, and despite slightly overpriced, slightly average cocktails, it has a huge bar and a really fun beach party vibe. Following our day of silence we needed vibe! If you can get a bed by the beachfront it’s the perfect place to watch the sunset over the ocean. The music was pretty much just commercial house but if you want a fun beach bar, this is the one! They also have a restaurant and I’m told the food is good. I forgot to eat dinner that day as I was too busy frolicking in the pool and ordering cocktails to the beachfront bed. That evening ended up being one of the blurrier ones and on reviewing the receipts the next day discovered we had spent a million rupiah on tequila. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, City AM.
Our final stop was the beautiful Ubud where we had a stunning villa out of the centre of town with an infinity pool overlooking palm trees and rice paddies. Ubud was just the perfect mix of peace and stillness and vibrant buzz. The main town is brimming with fabric shops and market stalls where you can buy beautiful and reasonable silks and souvenirs. I bought a patterned silk kimono for around £6. The town has a great selection of really good restaurants, I wish we could have stayed longer to try more of them, there’s also a lot of places to go for breakfast, coffee and Indonesian cuisine. Ubud town itself is busy with lots of traffic and mopeds, but only a short walk away lies the greener surrounds. We rented mopeds and took off into the countryside riding through other small towns and through fields visiting the temples in the area. We went to the temple of Gunung Kawi Temple, which was carved into the rock over a thousand years ago. It’s the perfect place to soak up a bit of history and culture and there is so much of it in Ubud.
On our last night a couple of the more adventurous souls in our group took off for a 14 hour round trip to hike up the tallest volcano in Bali – Mt Agunda, which we could see from our villa on a clear day. The hike itself was 4-5 hours each way, with a guide, starting at 2am in order to reach the summit for sunrise. Although I wasn’t brave enough to go with them the day before my flight home, the pictures were just stunning and I’d love to do it next time I’m in Bali.. which will be quite soon!
My first visit to Bali won’t be my last and with its mixture of history, adventure, stunning natural beauty, great food and plenty of partying options it’s able to offer relaxation, adventure and fun and all still for a pretty reasonable price.
Get a moped
Pre book the Bluewater express for the Gilis
Check out the religious festival calendar
Plan your transport
Use Villa Bali
Uluwatu – Best for surfing, mopeds, vegan food and sunsets
Seminyak – Best for shopping and bars
Canggu – Best for beach clubs
Gili T – Best for partying, snorkelling, scuba diving and beachfront dining
Ubud – Best for yoga, markets, food, rice paddies and temples
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Images © Melody Michaud / Villa Zen