Bali – A Beautiful Mixed Bag

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We had very high expectations for our two weeks in Bali. The town of Canggu has been #1 on Nomadlist, a website we use to help us estimate costs for places and get ideas on where to go, since before we left on our trip over a year ago. Over and over we’ve heard wonderful things about Bali – that it is paradise, that it is cheap, that life is good there. And we found all those things to be true. But honestly, we didn’t love Bali they way we’d expected to. For all the wonderful things there were a few deal-breakers for us. But we had a great two weeks there and we’d definitely return in the future. Just maybe not for a longer-term stay.

Arrival in Bali

Bali is now visa-free for stays of less than 30 days for most passports, so we hoped for an easy arrivals process. Unfortunately, despite the fact that our flight arrived at 1 in the morning, we had to wait in line for over an hour to go through border control. Because of the late-night arrival, I booked us an airport hotel for our first night and figured we could easily get a taxi. But that too was a big challenge, and we found the airport taxi drivers very aggressive and overpriced. We managed to hire a Grab (Uber’s in Asian version) but because the Grab drivers have to avoid being seen by the taxi drivers, it was a little complicated to meet him. But it worked out and our hotel was very welcoming and nice (and cheap!). Review below.

The next day, after sleeping in and enjoying the hotel breakfast before our noon check out, we went to Ubud via a private driver I found recommended on the internet. Getting around from city to city is another challenge in Bali. It is fairly easy to hire a driver, and feels like a good value for the money (we spent 350k rupiahs or $25 to get from the airport area to Ubud), but it takes a fair bit of back-and-forth over email or WhatsApp to negotiate and organize each trip and the cost adds up quickly if you’re visiting several towns in Bali.

Ubud

our beautiful pool

We really enjoyed our week in Ubud, which is in the central part of the island. We managed a good mix of work and sightseeing and figured out how to access the small back roads through the rice paddies for most of our walking, and how to negotiate with the drivers at the taxi stand near our Airbnb. Our lodging was beautiful and had a great pool that we used most days. The grounds were practically like living in a temple and the kitchen worked out well for our meals at home. Review below.

The main attraction in Ubud (for us at least) is the Sacred Monkey Forest and it did not disappoint. We went with the twin goals of Chad being able to have a monkey on him at some point and me never having a monkey on me and achieved both. We got great photos and besides the monkeys, the park itself is really beautiful and fun to wander around in. We went right at the 8:30 a.m. opening time and that was smart for beating the crowds that were there by the time we left at 10. We also really enjoyed walking on the paths through the rice paddies (though we didn’t love the famed Ridge Walk). For our last night in Ubud we went to the Kecak Fire and Trance Dance at Pura Dalem Temple, which was really fun and interesting.

dinner at Warung Gauri

One of the best things about Bali is the many warungs, inexpensive casual restaurants that serve amazing Indonesian food. In addition to eating out three nights, we ate two lunches out in Ubud as well at the warungs along our rice paddy walks. I highly recommend the warungs we ate at: Sweet Blossom, Joglo Organik, Made’s, and Gauri. The food in Bali is phenomenal and exceeded expectations.

Canggu

We hired a taxi driver to take us to Canggu, which is about 90 minutes from Ubud and on the west coast of Bali. Our Airbnb here was just so-so. We’d had to book something pretty far from the beach to stay on budget and Canggu is not a pedestrian-friendly city. And the beach is not great for swimming (lots of waves, so better for surfing) and is crowded with loud bars and loud tourists (at least to our taste). We did find a couple of nice rice paddy walks in Canggu, but other than that, it is hard for me to think of much we liked about it. This was a huge disappointment considering it’s been number 1 on Nomadlist for so long. But that list tends to prioritize things we don’t really care about (like nightlife and co-working spaces) so it isn’t too surprising.

Luckily at the last minute, we planned an overnight trip away from Canggu to serve as my splurge Christmas present (we didn’t have time to go on the originally planned splurge to the Kumano Kodo trail in Japan) so that we could go snorkeling in Amed. This was a great decision and we ended up extending our time in Amed by a second night.

Amed

Amed is on the other side of the island from Canggu, more toward the northeast, so the splurge part of the trip was on the private driver to take us each way. We used Moyo Transport and had a great experience. Our driver from Canggu to Amed even had pocket wifi so we could be online during the trip! We paid 600k rupiah or $35 each way, but it was worth it. In choosing our accommodations (which we booked from Ubud), we prioritized being right on the beach and ended up with an inexpensive guest house room that looked out on the water. It was wonderful and we could hear the waves from the bed and had a fantastic view from our porch. Review below.

Amed is essentially a fishing village that has become an international destination for divers, especially the French. It has rocky black sand beaches and just one main road that follows the coastline. We really liked the laid-back vibe and friendly spirit, although Amed was particularly bad for one of our other dislikes about Bali, feeling constantly solicited, usually by drivers (“Taxi? How about tomorrow?) but also by children selling bracelets “for school.” Perhaps the best thing about Amed is that it is at the base of one of the two main volcanoes on the island, Mount Agung, and you can see the perfectly-shaped mountain from most places along the shore, which is especially nice during the beautiful sunset.

Our snorkeling experience in Amed started out only so-so. We easily rented gear from a dive shop behind our guesthouse and went out to the top recommended place Chad found online, in front of the Pyramid Warung. But, the water was fairly murky with sediment, so while we found a few spots to see the coral and some very nice fish, the snorkeling wasn’t great. The next morning, however, we went to Jamalek Bay and had great snorkeling there. The coral in Bali is quite pretty and we saw all sorts of colorful fish. On our last morning in Amed, we took a private car down to a famed snorkeling spot where there’s a Japanese shipwreck close to shore. There is nice little establishment there on shore that charges an inexpensive flat fee for use of their facilities (chairs, bathroom, security) and a fresh juice. We were the only ones there when we arrived and really enjoyed snorkeling around the shipwreck. We had a really great time in Amed and I couldn’t ask for a nicer Christmas gift (all-in the trip to Amed cost us about $200 with transportation, two nights lodging and snorkel rental, not counting some meals that were just part of our regular weekly budget). If we go back to Bali we definitely see ourselves someplace more like Amed in the northeast part of the island.

Summary

I’m so glad we spent two weeks in Bali, even though we didn’t fall in love with it as we expected. It is a beautiful island (truly paradise) with amazingly inexpensive delicious food and lovely people (though most places have lovely people I think). I have a feeling we’ll be back to Bali before too long to give it another try.

Lodging Reviews

Ubud Airbnb – We had a wonderful one-week stay. The grounds are so pretty, it feels like living in a temple. Wifi worked very well, the kitchen was equipped well enough for light cooking and it was really nice having both a dining table and a desk. The hot water always worked well and the pool was great. For a nicer walk toward town, you can access the back paths through the rice paddies behind the lot next to the Mini Mart. We liked the location, especially being so close to the Bintang Supermarket. It was easy to take a taxi to and from as well – most drivers knew Toko Toko. And, we felt quite spoiled whenever Nyoman came to care for the apartment. Highly recommend!

Canggu Airbnb – We enjoyed our stay at Yan and Kristyna’s place and found it to be as advertised. Nice to have Pepito Supermarket right up the road and several good places to eat nearby. It is not a very pedestrian-friendly part of town, but I understand it is easy to rent a scooter. We recommend this place.

Amed Hotel – Tambun Sari Beach Homestay Great place to stay right on the beach.  We loved our stay here. It was so nice to have the waves right outside our door. The host is so nice and welcoming, as was his helper who checked us in. Everything about the room is very comfortable and clean.

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