18 Oct Tips for Planning a Trip to Bali
Bali is an incredibly popular travel destination and my post about things to do in Bali is one of my #1 most read posts on this site. I’m always getting emails with questions about visiting the island so I thought I’d put together some of my top tips to help plan your visit. Having lived there for the best part of a year back in 2009, I got to know the island extremely well, although a lot has changed since then. Parts that were relatively quiet have now become more developed and the popularity of the island with tourists has caused prices to rise. However it’s still an interesting place to visit, so well worth visiting.
Make sure you have insurance
I can’t stress enough – make sure you have international travel insurance as you never know what will happen. You might get a bad case of Bali Belly and need medical help or you may lose your wallet…anything can happen on a trip. Many guides will tell you to hire a scooter in Bali but unfortunately I actually fell off and had serious wounds to my legs. I didn’t have travel insurance at the time and was paying for medical bills out of my own pocket, so let my story be a lesson to never travel without insurance!
Avoid the tourist traps
Kuta is the island’s main tourist trap and I was shocked at how unattractive the beach was – not at all like the idyllic island I expected. The plus side of visiting this town is that you’ll find a lot of cheap guesthouses, souvenir shops, hostels and bars, but that’s the only plus. It’s tacky and fairly dirty, so you’re better off getting out of Kuta and exploring the beautiful green rice paddy fields that you’ve spotted on your Instagram feed. I used to live in the expat town of Seminyak, which is more upmarket, but it has now been overdeveloped and is filled with hotels, beach bars and property developments, so if you want to explore the real Bali you’ll need to travel further afield.
Since we’re moving towards a cashless society in the UK I pay for everything on card here but over in Bali, cash is king. The local currency is the Rupiah, so you can exchange some money before you go and then withdraw from the ATM if you need money while you are there. Business owners used to accept USD but they are now not allowed to do so.
Where to eat
While you are there you must try some of the local foods, particularly Nasi Goreng (fried rice with an egg on top). The island is also home to lots of international restaurants and Australian cafes serving healthy juices and salads, so you’ll never have a problem finding something to eat. Everything has changed since I last visited with all sorts of gastronomic restaurants opening but here are some of my favourite places to eat in Bali:
Babi Guling Pak Malen, Seminyak – Babi Guling is basically roasted pork, swerved with rice and condiments in a banana leaf. I love the crispy crackling and the soft, tenderness of the pork here but beware, it’s incredibly spicy! This place in Seminyak is no-frills but the food is local and tasty.
Corner House, Seminyak – This modern restaurant is located on the corner of Jalan Laksmana in Seminyak. Great for brunch, serving eggs, pancakes, bircher muesli, salads, burgers etc.
Sea Circus, Seminyak – Sea Circus is a healthy cafe on Jalan Oberoi, serving awesome breakfast dishes including acai bowls, chilli scrambled eggs and breakfast burritos. For lunch they also serve tasty tacos, healthy salad bowls and cocktails if you plan to get into the holiday spirit.
Made’s Warung, Seminyak – for a fix of Balinese food I used to go to Made’s Warung, which serves classics such as Nasi Campur, Nasi Goreng, Gado Gado and Sate.
Echo Beach Club, Canggu – After I lived in Seminyak I moved to Canggu and used to head down to Echo Beach in the evening because it overlooks the ocean. The nightlife is low key around here but Echo Beach was usually quite busy, offering up a seafood BBQ in the evenings.
Where to stay
Nowadays you can find some really incredible places to stay in Bali on AirBnB. Just use my link to get free credit when you sign up. For example, this amazing house in Ubud is currently around $100 per night:
Back when I lived there AirBnB didn’t exist so I had to just walk around and book a guesthouse when I got there. If you prefer to stay in a hotel then there are lots to choose from online. Popular areas for luxury hotels are Seminyak, Canggu, Ubud and Nusa Dua. Personally I feel like Nusa Dua is too remote so I’d pick Seminyak or Canggu for a few nights at the beach, then visit Ubud for a couple of nights.
My favourite places to visit in Bali
Canggu – Known for its surf and black sand beaches, Canggu is on the west coast, just north of Seminyak. Things are more peaceful here and there are a handful of great restaurants too.
Ubud – Ubud is the place you’ve seen in the Eat Pray Love movies – just don’t visit Ketut Liyer, as he cannot tell your future. Located inland, Ubud isn’t close to the beach but it does boast stunning, green rice fields. The town is a spiritual place with boutique hotels, yoga studios and healthy cafes.
Uluwatu – Located on the Bukit Peninsula, Uluwatu is famous for its beautiful sunsets and monkey temple. Just beware, the monkeys will try to steal your sunglasses and any food you may have! For me the best part about Uluwatu is the cliff views and sandy cove, which is popular with surfers because of its reef breaks.
Tanah Lot – Tanah Lot is a rock formation off the coast of Bali, which is home to the Hindu temple Pura Tanah Lot. Definitely a must-see of the island, especially at sunset with the waves crashing against it.
Bingin – Bingin is another popular surf spot with lots of simple guesthouses and warungs (eateries) built into the cliff face. Definitely a great place to stay if you want to get away from it all or surf out on the reef.
Balangan – Balangan is my favourite beach on the island – a long stretch of sandy beach with sun loungers and a a few restaurants. The beach is clean and picturesque – definitely a far cry from the litter-ridden beaches you would find in Kuta or Seminyak.
Padangbai – All the way out east you have the sandy beach of Padangbai, which is incredibly idyllic with palm trees and super white sand. You could easily combine a visit to Padangbai with a trip to the Gilli Islands, as this is where the fast boat goes from.
You can easily rent a scooter in Bali and that is how many people get around but be warned, they can be dangerous. Yes the Balinese people ride them everywhere but they are used to it and you’ll notice they are usually fully clothed from head to toe. The traffic is crazy and some traffic lights are turned off at night so if you’re not super confident at driving one, don’t! If you do choose to rent one just make sure you wear a helmet – not only is it safer but you can also be pulled over by the police and have to pay them money if you’re not wearing one. Rental cars are affordable and there are plenty of local rental shops everywhere you go in Kuta, Seminyak and Ubud, so there’s no need to rent one from the airport.
If you don’t want to drive, take a taxi – ask for the meter to be put on so you don’t have to haggle for a price. You can also hire a driver for the day from one of the rental shops – prices can be quite affordable if you’re splitting between a few people. You can also use an Indonesian transport app called GO-JEK, which allows you to order a scooter taxi a bit like Uber. Apparently Uber is actually available in Bali, but since there is taxi mafia and it’s still a bit controversial, so you shouldn’t make it obvious you’re getting in an Uber.
I hope these tips help in some way. A trip to Bali can be a bit daunting if you’ve never been before, especially if travelling solo. However, once you’re there it’s quite easy for a tourist as the whole island pretty much lives off tourism. Whatever you need, just ask for help and the Balinese people are super friendly.