GoNOMAD Destination Guide: Bali
By Cyril Fievet
Why Go there
Bali, Indonesia, is one of the most visited places around the world. A small island (140 km by 80 km) (87 mi by 50 mi) often referred as “the island with 1000 gods”, Bali has a lot to offer to visitors.
If you’re interested in Asian culture, you’ll probably enjoy watching ceremonies at some of the hundreds Hindu temples that can be found anywhere, not mentioning the world famous Balinese dances.
If you’re keen on nature and big spaces, you can easily do unforgettable treks in tropical forests, greener-than-life rice fields, or impressive volcanoes.
Addicted to sport? You’ll find there dozens of diving clubs that will drive you through incredible underwater trips, including the visit of a very well preserved wreck. And if you dare, you can try the surf spots, amongst the most renowned – yet dangerous – on Earth.
And, at last, if you’re only looking for fun, you will probably not be disappointed by the incredible amount of night bars, clubs or beach parties that will help you understand why Bali is sometimes called “the Ibiza of South East Asia”.
When To Go
The wet season takes place from October to April, with heavy rains in January and February. The very high touristic season occurs in July/August, as well as during Christmas holidays (from December 15th to January 15th). The best period is May-June, which are both the coolest months (28°C) and a not too crowded time to enjoy the place.
How to Get There
There are plenty of flights connecting the International Airport of Denpasar to the rest of the world. From Europe, the most direct flights are provided by Qantas and Singapore Airlines, both via Singapore. From the US, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines propose daily flights, via Hong-Kong, Singapore or Taipei.
Bali’s southern end is the most touristed part of the island. Yet it’s a good way to start your vacation, as most facilities (banks, car rentals or fashion shops) are here, and sometimes hard to find elsewhere. Kuta, on the south west coast, is an Australian surfers favorite but, apart for its endless beach, can seem crowded and annoying to visitors. A few kilometers north of Kuta, also on the west coast, Seminyak is quiter and offers a wide range of accomodations.
Almost at the center of the island, Ubud is a charming small town, famous for being the preferred place of Indonesian or expat artists. Now, the village has become very touristy, but it remains pleasant and peaceful (especially at night), and offers the best traditional dance shows.
On the East coast, Sanur can be avoided, but Padangbai and Candidasa, 30 Km east, are quite cool and attract people that want to rest. On the North shore, Lovina is a small seaside town, cheaper and quieter than Kuta. There is not a lot to do there, apart from watching the groups of dolphins that gather every morning about 200 meters from the beach, but the place is fine.
The two most famous temples are located at Tanah Lot (a few km north of Seminyak, on the west coast) and at Besakih (in the mountain, east of Bali).
Best Unusual Attractions
Balinese people have strong traditions and Hindu ceremonies take place nearly all the time, in every village. It’s still possible for tourists to attend to most of them. For instance, watching a cremation can be a memorable part of your trip, while attending to Matatah, where young Balinese have their teeth cut (actually, only small parts of the teeth are removed) will probably change the way you look at your dentist.
There are a lot a free publications about Bali, in English or Japanese, available in most places around Kuta, Seminyak or Ubud. Among them, Bali Plus can a be a useful pocket guide, with good advices and a calendar of main ceremonies. For parties and entertainment, The Beat, despite its poor quality, gives the full list of bars, clubs and parties that will light your nights.
If you have time and need to rent a house, buy something or find pals, it’s a good idea to get, also for free, Bali Advertiser or Bali On Touch, two newspapers providing classified ads and full with local advertisings. To stay informed about what’s happening, The Jakarta Post is one of the very few English language newspapers available, it can be purchased in most supermarkets.
There are hundreds of accomodations in Bali, from the cheapest losemen (less than $5 a night) to top luxury palaces (more than $500 per night). Most expensive hotels and resorts (including Hotel Nikko, Sheraton, Grand Hyatt or Club Mediterranée are situated in Nusa Dua, on the east-southern part of the island. In Kuta, the cheapest places can be found in the small streets surrounding Gang Poppies, which provide plenty of small rooms, usually packed with Australian surfers, while more expensive hotels spread out on the beach.
If you’re looking for something more personal, it’s easy to rent furnished houses for short-term periods. The quietest places for that are on the West coast, in Seminyak, Kerobokan or Canggu. Prices ranges from $300/month for the simplest bungalows to $1000/month for a house with a swimming pool. Don’t forget that bargaining there is not only mandatory, it’s a state of mind!
Apart from sunbathing, surfing or treking, there are not a lot of entertainment here. Waterbom, on Jalan Kartika Plaza in Kuta is a cool amusement park, although very expensive for Bali, with half a dozen of pools, good waterslides, and a nice tropical garden (entry ticket: $33/adult; $21/child). Also, just before Ubud on the road coming from Kuta, Bali Bird Park presents an amazing collection of exotic birds, coming from all over Asia and Australia, in a beautiful forest with hidden aviaries.
At night, things are different. A two-week holiday in Bali is too short to try all the places there… Anyway, things begin to happen around midnight. You can choose to head for Paddy’s, on Jalan Raya – Kuta, a big club with two dance floors, usually packed by twenty-somethings.
But serious party-goers will prefer to walk through Jalan Dyana Pura in Seminyak, THE street for night bars in Bali. There is a new bar opened nearly every month there, but the most famous are still the Q-Bar (very gay, big, and good house/techno music), the Santa-Fé (rock and reggae, with live bands, open 24h), the Café Del Mar (cozy and Mediterranean, with live DJs playing progressive and trance) or the trendy Spy Bar (trendy, really). Most bars – and Paddy’s – will close around 2 o’clock in the morning, which is roughly when the night begins to start.
Most people will rush to Club 66, on Jalan Double Six – Seminyak, for techno and trance music till dawn, unless there is a trance party elsewhere on the beach or at Euro Club, also on Jalan Double Six. After Club 66, which generally closes at 5, the choice is more limited. The Scandal, on Jalan Dyana Pura, will allow you to finish the endurance race. It opens at 4:30 and will close at 8 in the morning. Don’t forget your sunglasses.
Best Local Haunts
Not surprisingly, there are also a lot of restaurants in Bali, from the smallest warungs (food for local people, cheap and often very good, but spicy as hell) to the 4-stars restaurants for foreigners. The best places, both for food and atmosphere are located in Seminyak or Ubud. Although cheap, food in Kuta is often less than second-rate.
One of the most enchanting place around there is The Living Room, which mixes Asian and Western tastes in a romantic atmosphere, with candles, sweet music and a very nice atmosphere. If you want to avoid “Western-oriented” places, just drive to Denpasar (20 minutes from Seminyak). Out there, no more foreigners, but many good places, especially on Jalan Teuku Umar, full with Chinese, Balinese or Javanese restaurants. Some of them (those with AC, to make it short) are expensive, but they’re all quite good and, above all, authentic.
Made on Jalan Raya is one of the most popular. Food is not delightful there, but it’s big, crowed and quite nice. The menu offers many Western and Indonesian delights. Very different, more cozy but very small, Bale Bali, at the beginning of Jalan Kunti, offers affordable and delicious Indonesian and Chinese food.
For an unforgettable – and original – evening, you should go at least once at Jimbaran, a small fishing village, just south of the airport. About 20 very simple restaurants serve fresh fish on the beach. There is no menu, you only have to choose your fish, and wait for it to be grilled, before enjoying the piece on the beach, under a starry sky.
The best way to discover Bali is to rent a car or a motorbike, which can be easily done in Kuta or Seminyak. This solution is sometimes frightening to visitors, as roads are not all very good, and Indonesian people have a very “special” way of driving.
Anyway, if you’re not afraid and want to see things from the inside, you should get an international driving license. It’s better to get it before arriving in Bali, but you can still buy a temporary one in Denpasar ($10, valid one month). Prices for rentals can vary, so comparing and bargaining is recommended. Expect something about $10/day for a car (Suzuki Jimmy) or a 200cc motorbike (Honda Tiger), without insurance.
For short moves on the south of the island, taxis are fine, numerous and cheap (a typical ride from Kuta to Seminyak is about $2). Just ask for the meter to be on, or agree on the price before getting inside the car. To make longer trips, public or private buses can be a solution. It’s cheap, but can sometimes take you a very long time to make small routes.
Money and Communications
Indonesian moneyThere are many ATMs, but only in the south and in Ubud. Don’t forget that if you plan to go north of Denpasar! You can also find many money changers (sometimes, it seems as if anyone with a shop is a money changer), but the biggest ones, that only do money-changing, are recommended. Ask before if the indicated price is without commission, or you’ll have (bad) surprises. It’s not difficult to find public phones either. They are indicated by the official label “Wartel”, and generally work fine.
All the South of the island is populated with more cyber-cafes than you can probably imagine. They will charge you about $2/hour, but don’t expect a typical western Internet experience. High bandwith, cable or DSL are unknown words in this part of the world, so forget about downloading latest Eminem songs, and just read your email.
Health and Safety
As far as health is concerned, you have to remember that this is Asia. There are mosquitoes (but no Malaria, if you stay in Bali), snakes (not too many, though) and sharks (OK, small ones). In case of problems, there are many public or private hospitals and clinics.
Basically, you’ll have the choice between Rumah Sakit Sanglah, the biggest public Hospital, in Denpasar (cheap and “trash”) and private clinics, such as Kasih Ibu (Jalan Teuku Umar, Denpasar), BIMC (Simpang Siur, Kuta) or Bali Clinic (in Seminyak, Jalan Dyana Pura or in Kuta, Gang Poppies), all targeted to foreigners and thus (very) expensive.
In terms of security, you have to know that Bali is not as safe as it used to be, and robbers or burglars are now common. Keep your important belongings (passport, credit cards, mobile phones…) on you or in safety boxes at the hotel.
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