I’m currently sat in my kitchen, wearing multiple layers, heat pump pumping. My house is buried beneath an avalanche of crispy brown leaves (as if I needed another reminder it was well and truly autumn), so I’m basically leafed in for the weekend. What better time than now to reminisce about that time I went to Bali and drank too much cheap beer in the beautiful blistering heat…
What started off as a weekend in Sydney to visit a friend quickly transformed into ten days in Bali, after I discovered she was heading over there to eat, yoga, tan for a week. I took advantage of a much needed escape from Auckland, inviting myself along and using the Easter/Anzac holidays to get ten days off in a row for the cost of just three days annual leave. Mean!
Summer was quickly disappearing in Auckland and the days were getting shorter, so the thought of 32 degrees heat and lazy beach days had me fizzing.
This was my first trip to Bali, so in classic Katie Buck fashion I threw myself into researching, list making and grilling friends for recommendations to plan out our itinerary, finally deciding on three nights each in Ubud, Gili Air and Nusa Lembongan. Here’s how that went…
I landed in Denpasar around midday after two flights and 13 hours of air travel. It takes a while to get through customs and baggage, but free wi-fi at the airport makes the process easier. After being told how cheap it was, I’d pre-arranged drivers (via a guy called Komang who runs his own company – highly recommend) to cart us from the airport and around Bali.
My first intro into Bali’s spiritual side was my awesome driver Nala, who told me all about his ‘indigo child’, who could transform his face to look like other people and communicate with higher beings. Trippy. We headed into Sanur to pick up my mate from her guesthouse, who I hadn’t seen in a good couple of years, and spent the two hour ride to Ubud having non-stop yarns and catching up on life.
Ubud wasn’t at all as I had expected. It’s famously known as Bali’s spiritual centre, but it’s also a bustle of crowded streets, trendy cafes, boutique stores and spas. It was a sweet relief to arrive at our tranquil little guesthouse, which was an oasis of calm away from the swarms of people, who it turns out were gathering for a royal cremation. We were greeted by our host Kadek, plus a wolf whistling bird who had learnt a few cheeky phrases (including ‘fuck you’), which was endless entertainment.
What we did
We also followed the well worn tourist path to some of Ubud’s most popular attractions – the Tegalalang Rice Terrace and the infamous Monkey Forest.
The rice terraces were around a 20-minute drive outside of the centre of Ubud. It’s a breathtaking spot, with it’s vivid green hues and perfectly manicured fields – a scene straight out of a movie set. It’s also very busy – they’ve set up jungle swings, Bali signs and other tourist traps to keep the influencers happy. It was quite entertaining watching all the “Instagram models” totter around in the sweltering heat in their best outfits, getting their boyfriends to take photos of them. You don’t need to pay an entry fee but you’re encouraged to make a donation, so bring some small change with you.
I was a little apprehensive about the Monkey Forest because I’d just read Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant and wasn’t too keen on getting rabies. I only took my bumbag and camera into the sanctuary and wore them across my body so there was zero chance of monkey thievery. Turns out this was a wise choice, as I saw plenty of stupid tourists breaking all the rules and having monkeys jump on them and take their stuff. The monkeys were (mostly) super cute, especially the ones that had babies hanging off them. Quite a few fights broke out between the monkeys, but for the most part they leave you alone and seem to co-exist in harmony with the crowds of people that visit them every day.
Where we ate and drank
- Mudra – beautiful, sustainable, laid bake vibes
- Good Mantra Cafe – organic bites and refreshing happy hour cocktails
- Watercress Cafe – fresh, healthy, rooftop dining
- Milk and Madu – where we sat a couple of tables away from MIA – So dope!
- Warung Pondok Madu – filthy cheap and super tasty
- Bycafe – a plant based cafe opposite the rice fields
- Also a lot of vegan gelato, it’s everywhere (the pistachio is another level)
Ubud is a foodie paradise and food is massively cheap, so we indulged at every possible moment. There are heaps of good options for vegans and vegetarians, and not enough hours in the day to sample everything on offer. The food scene alone is reason enough to come back for another visit.
We caught the Ekajaya Fast Boat from Padang Bai to the Gili Islands which, despite a lot of terrible online reviews, was a smooth and seamless process. Padang Bai is a bit scammy, so when you arrive head straight to the Ekajaya office in town to check-in. They’ll give you a boarding pass, label your luggage and walk you directly down to the boat you need to get on. There are plenty of people hanging around, being unhelpful by trying to sell you fake tickets, so give them all a wide berth to save yourself hassle.
Gili Air’s modes of transport include bicycles and horse and carts, which was a welcome sight after spending three days trying not to be mowed down by mopeds in Ubud. We stayed in a guesthouse on the north of the island, which was super cheap and ocean-front. The team running the bar were awesome and we had some great yarns during our stay there.
What we did
We discovered the H20 Yoga and Meditation Centre on our first day and visited daily for morning vinyasa classes, as well as a pretty magical sunset, candle lit yin class. Apart from that our days were mostly spent lounging by the ocean, swimming and snorkelling, enjoying this little slice of paradise after a pretty busy few days in Ubud. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any turtles but there were a fair few fish and some gnarly looking urchins under da sea.
The island also delivers some pretty smashing sunsets, with rumbling mountains overlooking the ocean.
Where we ate and drank
- Pachamama – we came here twice for lunch as the food was unreal and the place was very aesthetically pleasing. Their raw banoffee cheesecake deserves a standing ovation
- Musa Cookery – another amazing find as all the food was vegan/vegetarian – the jackfruit gyros is delicious
- Good Earth Cafe – this was attached to the yoga studio so we went most days for the banana bread/coconut water combo that was on special. They also have a water tank so you can refill your reusable bottle rather than buying plastic bottles
- The Mexican Kitchen – this was right next to our guesthouse, so we ran here one night when it was stormy and turns out they had a vegan menu + salsa classes
- Legend Bar – we pulled up a bean bag on the beach one evening, had a drink and watched some bug eyed people enjoy a late afternoon techno session
- Pura Vida – less hectic than Legend Bar but still has a vibe. Live music, Spanish food, rad staff
My friend had left to go back to Aussie the day before so I was heading over to Nusa L for the final chapter of my odyssey, riding solo.
The journey to Nusa L was pretty smooth, apart from having a raging hangover and very little sleep. My boat ride involved a 2 hour trip to Padang Bai, a 45 minute wait, and then another 30 minute ride to Nusa L. Thankfully, I made friends with a romance novelist on the journey who was celebrating her 65th birthday. She kept me entertained, filling me in on her trip – she had been staying on Gili Air to get inspired by the romance of the island for her latest book. I carried her bag on and off the boat and she shared her ferry snacks with me.
Taxi’s aren’t really a thing on Nusa L, so I’d pre-arranged a shuttle with The Lembongan Traveller to take me to my guesthouse on the north west of the island, close to Jungut Batu beach. My cottage was super cute, and the pool and gardens were dreamy – the perfect setting to unwind before heading back to New Zealand.
By the time I arrived I was feeling pretty jaded, so went in search of some nourishing hangover food and discovered the Bali Eco Deli, which was just a stones throw away from where I was staying. Their menu is mainly smoothie bowls, juices and curries – with heaps of vegan options. They’re also super sustainable and let you fill up your water bottle to save buying plastic bottles. You can even take your plastic waste to them and they’ll deliver it back to mainland Bali, so it can get recycled properly. Mega cool. Definitely check them out if you’re visiting.
What I did
I went exploring on my first day to find the beach and a local yoga studio – these were the only two things on my agenda for my time on Nusa L. I quickly discovered that pavements aren’t really a thing on the island, so there’s a lot of dodging of mopeds and trucks when you’re walking around, which is pretty hectic, especially after being on Gili where neither of these exist.
I escaped the main road and headed down an alley which led to Jungut Batu beach, a pretty stretch of golden sand, lined with resorts, cafes and restaurants, plus heaps of cute pups! A welcome site after being on dog-free Gili.
I spent most of my days lounging on the beach, swimming, reading, napping, listening to music and podcasts. The beach also boasts some of the best sunsets on the island, which go nicely with a cold Bintang and beanbag. The sea shore is filled with boats but you can still swim out in between them, just watch your feet on the coral.
When I wasn’t lounging on the beach, I was lounging by the pool, which offered some shady respite from the sun and quiet reflection time (except when two English northern girls showed up and started blasting out Calvin Harris and other shit music).
Cons about travelling solo – no matter how stretchy yoga makes you, there is still a spot on the centre of your back where you can’t quite reach the sunscreen. Also, I couldn’t stay in the ocean for too long as I was conscious about my bag sitting unattended on the beach.
I found a studio called Yoga Shack, a little wooden hut set among pretty peaceful gardens, so went to some vinyasa and hatha classes every day, which was faster paced than the Ubud and Gili classes, but a good challenge in the heat.
I didn’t have much cash left by the time I got to Nusa L, so didn’t sign up to any tours, but I scrapped together what money I had left to get a one hour body massage on my last night at Kayana Spa. I thought an evening massage would be a good idea, but turns out there’s a live music bar up the road, so don’t make that mistake! Regardless, it was a good, cheap massage and sent me off to sleep pretty quickly.
Where I ate and drank
- Ginger and Jamu – I went here multiple times as it was on the beachfront and had heaps of good vegan options. Also a nice spot to catch the dreamy sunsets. The pumpkin tacos were super tasty.
- Bali Eco Deli – As mentioned above, loved this spot, went every day. The date smoothie bowl is delightful!
- Green Garden Restaurant – This place is hidden a few roads back from the beach and is attached to a yoga retreat. I had ‘the best curry ever’ according to their menu – a green tofu curry with a side helping of spicey sambal. Pretty damn good actually. This place also has a water tank for refilling your water container. Two thumbs up!
My fast boat ride back to Bali was choppy as fuck and it literally felt like the boat was going to be sucked under a wave at some points. So that was interesting. Luckily I’d taken some sea legs tablets, so was able to enjoy the ride. I was at the airport about four hours before my flight, but there are heaps of cafes and bars to keep you entertained, so I found a comfy spot and had a few Bintangs for the road.
Things worth knowing about Bali
If you’re going to Nusa L, learn to ride a scooter before you go, otherwise you’ll be limited to what you can do over there as public transport isn’t really a thing.
If you’re boating between islands, you’re better off carrying a backpack and wearing sliders/sandals, as there will be points where you’re walking through water when you get on and off the boats.
The Balinese make daily offerings in front of their homes – usually in the form of banana leaf, rice, flowers and an incense stick to show gratitude and blessings, so avoid walking on these when you pass them in the street.
The people of Bali are wonderfully friendly and funny. But this guy was my favourite.
You don’t really need to bother with a SIM card as free wi-fi is everywhere you go (except when there are power cuts!). But do download local area maps on Google and save them offline – mega handy.
I read everywhere to avoid ice cubes, but we had no problems at all. We asked a bunch of wait staff and they said they were made with mineral water. So I guess it’s fine in the more touristy popular areas of Bali.
Bali was much cheaper than I expected, the biggest cost is the flight but accommodation, food, beer, massages, spa treatments, yoga – crazy cheap! Tips are usually added to the bill, but remember to tip your drivers and accommodation hosts, and pretty much anyone else who goes out of their way to help you.
You need longer than ten days in Bali. There’s so many different places to visit and boat trips can sometimes fill your day with travel. In retrospect, I’d probably just go to two places in ten days – Ubud and a beach resort to unwind.
One final shout out to my wonderful friend Jodie for letting me gate crash her trip. Love you long time xx