This year for my 27th birthday (yes, I’m 27) I decided to complete my own “Eat, Pray, Love” journey with a trip to Bali, Indonesia. For those of you that don’t know, I spent a month studying in India in 2014 and last year I celebrated my birthday in Italy. So, Bali was always on the list for me.
When you think of Bali you probably think of yoga lovers, soul searchers, and tree huggers. Well, they’re there for sure, but there is so much more to Bali. From luxury villas to raw, authentic Balinese culture - it’s all there.
Let me start off by saying that I recommend that you spend more than a week in Bali. Due to work and other trips, that’s all I had. And if all you have is a week, there are some must-dos -- here are my top 9.
1. "Treat Yo Self” to a Private Villa for a Night
I am usually not this bougie, but it was my birthday. If you do a quick Google search of resorts in Bali you will probably see infinity pool after infinity pool. It is kind of a thing there. I follow many different resorts based in Bali on Instagram because they have incredible photos. So, I wanted in on the action. This trip I was in Bali for two days and one night by myself before my dear friend, Frances, joined me. I had read before going to Bali that you should take advantage of the affordable luxury villas while you’re there. So, I figured a villa stay would be best for that first night.
I stayed at Banyan Tree Ungasan at the southern tip of Bali. It did not disappoint. I had my own private villa with an infinity pool. The view in the morning was so magical. I had requested that there be flower petals for me to make a flower bath as well. The tub was huge. There was also an indoor and outdoor shower. Everyone was so pleasant, sweet and helpful.
For breakfast I ordered in and ate by the pool. The watermelon juice was so good. The fruit in Bali is also some of the juiciest I've ever had.
They let me check out late - at 6PM. So, I got to enjoy the villa for over 24 hours with no additional cost. After swimming in the pool and soaking up some rays, I visited the beach. I put my feet in the Indian Ocean for the first time. It was incredible. I highly suggest you give a private villa a try while in Bali.
My own private infinity pool (below). My self-timer game is strong lol
2. Stay in a Unique Airbnb
The villa was awesome, but one - I could not afford it for the whole trip and two - there are so many cool Airbnbs across the island, I would’ve really been missing out if I didn’t try one. I recommend looking and booking one well in advance. The one I booked was an “eco-friendly bamboo house” in Ubud - the cultural center of Bali. This was an indoor/outdoor bamboo house. I am terrified of spiders, so I really didn’t think this through. Luckily, my arachnophobia did not get in the way too much because Frances, being the amazingly understanding woman that she is, did a “spider check” with me every night before bed. I also took a ton of peppermint oil with me. There was a giant golden orb weaving spider, the spider that Bali is known for, that hung out in its web by the pool. Legs and all it was probably the size of my hand. I watched it like a hawk. It was there morning and night.
The cool thing about this Airbnb was that they put the second “b” in Airbnb. They made us breakfast every morning! Our host, Adi, was incredible and was there whenever we needed anything. The experience was cool, but maybe don’t do the indoor/outdoor thing the ENTIRE trip if you’re a arachnophob like me.
3. Take a Full-Day Cultural Tour with a Local
One of the most important things about travel for me is learning about the place I am visiting and about the people that live there. I want to know their history, their beliefs, their way of life, etc. As I said before, people often go to Bali to soul search. That trend didn’t start for no reason, it started because of the culture.
When I was looking at full-day tours to book, I was struggling to decide on which one to pick. The issue was that a lot of the tours had sights that overlapped but then they also offered different things too. I was driving myself crazy with trying to pick and choose. The way I decided on a tour was to just pick one that had the most diverse itinerary. One that would take us to a traditional market, to the Tegallalang Rice Terrace, to see Balinese coffee processing, to a temple, to view a traditional Balinese craft (wood carving in this case), and to a waterfall.
The coffee processing was a lot cooler than I thought it would be. We went around lunch time when Frances and I were incredibly hungry. So, it was perfect that we got to try a ton of samples. We ended up taking home so much that we struggled to close our luggage. We learned about the Luwak coffee process which basically consists of an animal eating good coffee beans, the beans fermenting in the animal's body, and then the collection of the beans off the poo to make the coffee. Sounds gross, right? The coffee was actually very good. Luwak coffee is one of the most expensive coffees in the world. Read more about it here.
There are so many temples in Bali… So, listen, unless you have more than a week there you just have to accept that you can’t see them all. And to be honest, you don’t need to. Most of the temples in Bali are Hindu temples. So, you are going to get a feel for what a Balinese Hindu temple is like by going to any one. This specific tour took us to Pura Tirta Empul (known as the Holy Spring Temple). I really wanted to go to this one, and I’m glad I did. The water in the pool shown below comes from a pond of water the locals believe to be holy. The water comes from the mountain. Each fountain represents something different to help cleanse the body and soul from evils and illnesses. For example, one is for bad dreams (I needed that one). I did not go all the way in as you have to give an offering that I hadn't prepared, but I did dip my feet in. It is important to note that even though it is a Hindu temple - any person of any religion is welcome.
Also, on a separate tour that we took the evening before, we got to witness the traditional Kecak dance after visiting Uluwatu Temple. The temple was not what I had hoped it would be. The cliff views were beautiful, but there wasn't really much to see at the actual temple in comparison to Pura Tirta Empul. The Kecak dance was the highlight of the visit. It was intense and something that I am so glad that we went to. The dance lasted for an hour, maybe an hour and a half. The men chanted "kecak" the entire time. It was a fascinating sight to see.
4. Go on an Herbal Nature Walk Through the Rice Paddy Fields
I was kind of skeptical about this one beforehand. I knew it was only going to cost about $15, but was supposed to last for 3 hours. I didn’t know if it was going to be boring, slow or a waste of money. It was none of the above. It was informative and honestly, very cool. The Balinese could literally get everything they need from nature - medicine, food, household items (broom made from coconut leaves), and so on.
Our tour guide took us on a walk through the rice paddy fields, stopping along the way to talk about the different benefits and uses obtained from things in nature. There was also a stop at a small restaurant where we sipped out of a coconut, cut it open and then ate the meat. It was probably the best coconut I've ever had. The end of the walk included hot tea and a visit to a store which sold all natural products. I love natural products, especially soaps, so I stocked up. It was also a great place to pick up some gifts to take home. You can learn more about the walk and book your own walk here.
5. Island Hop
If you’re only in Bali for one week, most people wouldn’t try to go to another island. However, there are some all day tours that allow you to do so. I only got to go to one other island. I know a lot of people desire to go to the Gili Islands - which I totally do too and would have if I had had more time - but I knew that I had to go to Nusa Penida. The tour agency that we booked through set up a speedboat transfer from Bali to Nusa Penida.
Nusa Penida is often called “the dry island” by the locals. I love dry heat, so I was all about this! The reason I wanted to go to Nusa Penida so badly was because of the beautiful, picturesque natural attractions. The island is not overrun by tourists yet, so it was quite nice. You can enjoy the island without fighting to be able to see or spend time in any one place. The roads to the hot spots are really bumpy, and our guide didn't have 4-wheel drive. Frances and I were bouncing all over! Our tour guide told us that they plan to pave the roads next year. So, I can imagine that these attractions will get much more crowded.
First up was Angel’s Billabong - the natural infinity pool. I bought water shoes before my trip specifically for this. To get down into the pool you have to climb down sharp rocks. It is an adventure! It is also very dangerous. People that have gone there without a local or someone that understands the waves, have been swept out to sea. Some have even lost their lives. So, I did not get close to the edge. Once the waves start coming in, you have a few seconds to get up onto the rocks and hold on. The important thing is to not panic because you could move too fast and get hurt.
While I was waiting for the waves to go down, holding onto the rocks with my feet planted in between them, I saw about 15-20 dolphins out in the ocean. Just, wow. Frances was trying to get a good photo of me and kept telling me to go back in the water. I was trying to tell her it was a lot harder to go up and down those rocks than it looked! She realized how hard when it was her turn (lol). She had just climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan (goals) before coming to Indonesia and was scared to go down the rocks and into the pool! Eventually, after some screams and a lost flip flop, she made it in.
We also visited Broken Beach, Kelingking Cliff, and Crystal Bay (where Frances lost another flip flop, and I had to jump in after it). I had full intentions of climbing down to the beach at Kelingking Cliff. I even packed hiking boots. However, once I got there and saw how steep it was my mind quickly changed, and I was okay with that. The first step down was almost as tall as me. No, thank you. Maybe next trip!
Broken Beach (below)
Kelingking Beach (below)
After ending the trip by relaxing on the beach with a coconut, we boarded a little boat that took us to the big boat. It was low tide, so the big speedboat couldn’t get close enough to the shore for us to get on. The same situation when we reached Bali…except this time there was no little boat to take us to the shore… we had to jump in the water - chest deep - and run! What? I was panicking and refusing to do it. They basically forced us off! So I was running chest deep in water to the shore with my camera bag above my head. What an experience.
If I had had more time I would have stayed longer on Nusa Penida and would have visited some other islands as well.
6. Have a Spa Day
Normally I wouldn’t just schedule a spa day on a trip in a different country that I’m only visiting for a week. I am going to use the birthday trip excuse here once again. Not only was it my birthday, but it also took me two days to get to Bali. I have scoliosis, so a spa day was much needed.
A few months before my trip I booked a five and a half hour spa day at Fivelements in Ubud. The day included a 90-minute massage, an aroma flower bath, a three course lunch and a superfood facial. I also got to relax by the pool before the massage treatment started.
One thing that I thought was really unique was that before the woman massaged me - she meditated with me. It was a great way to start my experience off at Fivelements. The aroma flower bath was beautiful. It was in an indoor/outdoor tub that overlooked the river. The food was top-notch. I was full and happy.
Now, the facial was last. When you think of a facial you probably picture them putting a mask on you and letting you chill until it is time to take it off. NO. This was basically another massage that lasted for two hours. She used all natural items and applied them not only to my face, but also to my neck and upper chest. She used flower petals to wipe my face. She also steamed my face with a bucket of flowers.
The whole experience was just…whoa and wonderful. Those that know me know that it is so hard for me to relax. My mind is always in motion. I fell asleep twice at Fivelements because I was so relaxed. It was very much needed and very well deserved. When I go back to Bali, I will definitely go there again.
7. Take a Yoga Class
Yoga? Working out? On vacation? Questions my grandma asked me when I told her I was on the way to a yoga class in Bali the morning of my 27th birthday. You cannot go to Bali and not do yoga! Bali is THE place for yoga! So, we headed to The Yoga Barn in central Ubud.
The yoga class was 130,000 IDR which is about $9.67. I have been doing yoga once a week, so it was nice to continue it while I was there. It was in a large room with lots of natural light that looked into a garden. My favorite thing about The Yoga Barn was not the just the yoga, however. It was the food, the atmosphere and the energy.
While we ate after the class, it started to rain. It was such a different vibe there. Children were running and dancing in the rain, and the parents did not care and were dancing with them. There was a dance class happening upstairs at the same time that was full of many different characters that were just as wild and just as free as the children. Everyone was wild and free. When you think of why people go to Bali - this is why. The energy was cool. If I had gone earlier in the week instead of on my last day, I would have for sure gone back a couple of times. I plan to on my next trip to Bali.
8. Try Authentic Indonesian Food
For my birthday dinner, Frances made a reservation at Nusantara in Ubud. We had tried to go to Locavore, its big sister restaurant, but there were no reservations available. I suggest making a reservation a month in advance for that one. I was just happy that we were able to get in somewhere, and it did not disappoint! Getting dressed up and going out to eat is one of my favorite things to do. So, I was ready. Nusantara is Indonesian for archipelago - a group of islands. Their menu takes you on a journey through the different islands and their cuisines. The idea is to choose 2-3 small dishes to share and then bigger dishes.
They first brought out a tray for small tastings with these sort of...rice crackers. Everything was filled with flavor and many different spices. My favorite was the fish that was rolled inside of a small leaf. We ordered some cocktails too of course! The three small dishes we decided on were Lele Goreng Sambal Hijau (crispy cat fish from Padang, Sumatra), Cumi Hitam Pekalongan (baby squid cooked in their own ink from Pekalongan), and Empal Gentong (beef shoulder slow cooked in a traditional clay pot over wood fire with different spices from Cirebon/Surabaya, East Java). We also got some rice.
I'll admit - we didn't make it to the bigger dishes. Jet lag was kicking in, and we were tired and full. Frances had told them ahead of time that it was my birthday (literally the sweetest woman on earth). They came out with a beautiful chocolate mousse dessert, singing happy birthday. I want to go again when I can try even more food than before.
9. Relax by the Beach - day and night
No explanation really needed here. The beaches in Bali are beautiful. I said this before, but I'll say it again, the waves of the Indian Ocean in Bali were like none I had ever seen before. It’s no wonder why many surfers go there. We wanted to have a relaxing beach day. So, we traveled from Ubud to Seminyak.
We started off our day by going to Sea Circus for brunch. This place is so aesthetically dreamy. Even the bathroom was cute. It is brightly colored not only on the inside, but also on the outside. The artwork on the side is random but cohesive. It is so colorful and truly reminds you of a circus. This is another place I would frequent if I lived in Bali or if I was staying for a little longer. I couldn't choose just one thing. It all looked amazing. Frances and I ended up spending a little over 3 hours there just talking. It is so nice and easy to talk to her. Time just slips away. It was a beautiful start to the day.
Once we left Sea Circus, we went to Seminyak beach. What was really cool and different about this beach was the big pools of water that were along the sand. The water was warm. We could lay there all day - and we did.
That night, we had drinks and dinner at The Lawn in Canggu by the beach. There is just something about that ocean air and the sound of the waves... My advice is to reserve a table a month ahead of time if possible for The Lawn. We were going to have to stand at the bar the whole night because we didn't. We got very lucky and two nice ladies had a table with two empty seats and allowed us to join them. Shoutout to them (and to the universe of course, always looking out).
There are some other things that I really wanted to do while in Bali but didn’t quite have time to do. The Campuhan Ridge Walk and the Sacred Monkey Forest are two of those things. I am so thankful that Frances met me in Bali too. We met last year when I traveled to Italy. I was going to share a room with a stranger for a week. I am so happy that stranger was Frances. I can't imagine another birthday without her. I know that this was not my last time in Bali. Every time I leave a place it is bittersweet, but there was just something different about Bali. I wasn’t finished there. My soul wasn’t finished. So, I will be back, Bali. That’s a promise.