As a surfer, I have been plagued by a persistent obsession to hop on a plane to Indonesia and ride Bali’s legendary surf. Last October I finally had the opportunity to visit the jewel of the east, and to my surprise, I found the culture and people just as fascinating as the perfectly formed waves and pristine, translucent ocean water. At my favorite beach, Padang Padang, I encountered a number of Balinese workers busy building the set for the Eat, Pray, Love’s gorgeous beach scenes with Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem.
After I saw the movie last week, I was flooded with memories of beautiful beaches, daily massages and interesting conversations with the locals. As most of you know, the author of this novel found the love of her life in Bali. Unlike Elizabeth Gilbert, I did not find romantic love in Bali, instead, I found a captivating love for the people, the culture and the land. For those of you who would also like to visit Bali, I’ve come up with some suggestions and tips to help you plan your trip.
Lodging in Bali:
Hotels vary in price from place to place. Our first hotel was $30/night in Kuta. We booked a hotel for the first two nights of our trip for the security of knowing we would have a place to sleep when we arrived in Bali at one in the morning. Bali Sorgawi is worth the money and the staff is helpful and friendly so we ended up staying longer than the two nights we had booked online. The price also includes breakfast.
In Southern Bali there are a plethora of cheap places to stay. They can range from bungalows for $10/night to nicer hotels for $55/night. There may be some more expensive lodging, I just never came across them. The Ayu Guna Inn is $8/night and just up the street from Padang-Padang Beach on the main drag. Also on the same street is Kenanga Inn for $15/night. At the time I was there neither of these two places offered a website to book online. If you go during busy season, there is a good chance they will be full.
Beaches in Bali:
Northern Bali is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and Southern Bali (the Bukit peninsula) is surrounded by the Indian Ocean, therefore the beaches in Northern Bali versus Southern Bali are considerably different. Southern Bali is captivating with turquoise, clear water and shallow reefs. Northern Bali occupies more sand bars and the water clarity is slightly more obscured.
Surf Spots in Bali:
For beginner surfers looking to learn on their own, I suggest Kuta Beach. You can spread out and unless there is a big swell, the waves are a bit gentler than other places in Bali. Some spots to check out North-West of Kuta are Changgu, a long boarders wave, and Medewi, one of the longest point breaks in Bali. Watch your step at Medewi, the water is full of Sea Urchins!
In the south, my favorite spots are Padang Padang, Dreamland, Uluwatu, Impossibles, Green Bowl and Bangin. Dreamland is the only one of these spots that has rock below instead of jagged reef. My surf guide would take me here at low tide when the other spots were too dangerous. The others are suggested for intermediate to advanced surfers.
Getting Around Bali:
Rent a scooter in Southern Bali if you feel comfortable driving one ($5/day). There is less traffic in the south than there is in Kuta or Ubud and you will find many tourists driving scooters here. You can get from beach to beach easily aboard a scooter since the roads are narrow and unpaved. Many of the locals also offer rides on the back of their scooters for a cheap price if you don’t feel like driving one yourself.
If you want to experience all of Bali but you don’t feel comfortable driving, you can rent a car and English-speaking driver for $35 for 6 hours, $40 for 8 hours or $45 for 10 hours. This is the way to go if you wish to cover a lot of ground. It will allow you to see all the sights without the stress of driving.
Most hotels offer transport service to and from the airport either for free or at a discounted rate. We stayed at Bali Sorgawi Hotel in Kuta and the transport was included in the price of our room. On our way back to the states, we paid $15 for the ride from Padang Padang to the airport, which I think we could have gotten cheaper if we were in the mood to haggle.
Where to Eat in Bali:
Food is extremely cheap, anywhere from $1 to $5 for a meal. Most meals are in the $2 to $3 range. I splurged one evening and paid $4 for a decent filet mignon, bottled water and fried bananas for dessert. You can find restaurants with cuisines from every Country. German, Australian, American, Japanese, Italian, and Indonesian, of course. I only saw about 6 or 7 different Indonesian dishes in any of the restaurants. A popular Indonesian specialty is the Cap Cay, which consists of lightly sauteed vegetables.
Things to Do in Bali:
Massages are a steal at $5 US per hour. Most of the Massage Therapists I encountered could put a highly paid therapist in the US to shame. I’ve gotten massages in almost every country I have visited and Bali was by far the best quality for the price. I didn’t come across any massage establishments in Southern Bali, but in Kuta there are a great deal to choose from. Sunsets on the ocean are best seen from Uluwatu where you will also find the famous temple, Pura Luhur Uluwatu, on the cliff. The trail down to the beach at Uluwatu leads you through cave-like rock formations with Balinese offerings everywhere you turn.
For a cultural experience, you must watch a Kecak Fire Dance. We sat in the front row and a chunk of palm tree lit on fire flew into the audience and landed on our bag. It wasn’t a big deal, but I was amazed that the Balinese man on stage was jumping on hot chunks of bark with his bare feet!
Looking for a palm reading from Ketut Liyer from the book Eat Pray Love? You can ask a tour guide to take you to see him for a reasonable price, I’m told. The info I have for his address is Pengosekan, Mas, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. Telephone is 0361 974092, however, you will probably want a guide for translation purposes. Other fun things to do in Ubud are shopping and paying a visit to the monkey forest. Just make sure you don’t have any food in your pockets!! Northern Bali is known for it’s huge expanse of rice fields and is definitely worth a visit.
Changing Money in Bali:
Rupiahs are the Indonesian currency. Make sure you request small bills since everything is phenomenally cheap that hardly any vendors had enough change whenever we bought an item or paid for a service. Another thing to watch out for is exchanging a large amount of American dollars at once. It is wise to exchange money in amounts smaller than $100. You will probably be safe exchanging larger amounts at a bank, but if you go to a place on the street that exchanges money, just be careful that you are getting the correct amount of Rupiahs.
Flights to Bali and When to Go:
Denpasar (DPS) is the international airport in Bali. It is located about 10-15 minutes from Kuta and a 20-30 minute drive from the Bukit peninsula. I searched extensively and found a ticket in October for $800 USD.
The best time to visit Bali is June or late September. This is when the weather is at it’s best and you won’t find it to be too crowded. When I went in late October it was in the high nineties (Fahrenheit), which sometimes makes it difficult to hike around in the middle of the day. That being said, October was still a decent time to visit. To avoid the rainy season, go between the months of April to October. Keep in mind that July and August is the peak season and will be more expensive.
Indonesia has 922 inhabited islands. Have you ever dreamed of going to any of these islands or made that dream a reality? We would love to hear your comments!