We decided on Indonesia as the destination for our summer holiday, more specifically Bali and Gili Trawangan. We only had two weeks (3-17 August), so we wanted to make the most of it. With our previous holiday in Vietnam, we couldn’t fit in any scuba diving, so we planned to make up for that on this trip!
Our itinerary looked like this: start in Kuta – Ubud – Tulamben – Padangbai- Gili Trawangan – Sanur.
What follows in this post is our general feeling of each place, what we did, what we saw, where we stayed, how much we payed for some activities (for those that wants a general idea when budgeting), any tips we can give, and whatever else I feel like adding…
(What should also be kept in mind while reading this – we went in August, i.e. MAIN tourist season…)
We stayed at the Sandat Bali Inn. It was really nice and central – close to Poppies gang, the restaurants and bars in the main road (if that’s what you’re looking for), and about a 15min walk to the beach. It was IDR400,000 per night for a Delux room. The room was big, with a nice bed, sofa, small fridge and aircon. Only complaint – funky smell emanating from the shower drain… This hotel has great service, and the grounds are neat with a lovely swimming pool where you can escape the hubbub from the main street (next to the pool it’s nice and quiet). The included breakfast is basic (nice fruit platter), but alright.
What we did:
– The main idea was to have Kuta as a base from which to travel to the surrounding sights we were interested in. We went to the beach, walked around and did some shopping on our arrival. We went to the Uluwatu temple on the cliffs and also watched the Kecak fire dance during sunset. The views at this site is amazing and the Kecak dance quite entertaining. On our way back we stopped at Jimbaran beach for an amazingly fresh seafood dinner on the beach (we had some snapper and prawns). We booked this tour through Perama and payed IDR175,000 (extra IDR70,000 for the dance); this includes a private car and driver.
– We booked a tour of Seminyak and Tanah Lot through another driver we met on the street. He picked us up at 3pm, we walked around Seminyak to see what it’s like, walked along the beach (nice!) and then proceeded to Tanah Lot for the sunset. Unfortunately it was overcast, so no sunset for us… It was still nice to see though. To escape the crowds, we walked to the adjacent golf course and got a spot with a nice view of the whole Tanah Lot area from which we just took it all in… [Tanah Lot & Seminyak tour with Ketut = IDR350,000; private car and driver]
General impression: (2,5 / 5) did not like it too much. TOO many tourists (felt like little Aus) too much touting, too loud. Sure, if you’re young and want to party, this might be the place for you.
TIP: We used the Perama tour company for (most) of our transportation needs. They seemed like the most reputable company if going on reviews… We booked all our tickets in advance, because we had an already set schedule, and everything worked out well. Don’t expect 1st class though, they’ve been doing this for quite some time!
We stayed at Rona Accommodation. We booked a deluxe room next to the pool (IDR350,000 per night). Facilities were basic, but adequate. When you wake up, you can order breakfast (included) and they bring it to your porch. They have wi-fi, and you can also ask them to book a day trip for you. The service is the best part of living there; Tony (the owner) is really kind and helpful. He even lent me his laptop for backup purposes, and on our check-out he dropped us off at Perama to catch the bus onwards. He also phoned and booked a tour for us that we wanted to do.
What we did:
– Visit the rice paddies. In town there is a side road that leads to the rice paddies. A pleasant walk – not too far and when you get there it is stunning. You might even see some farmers planting the young rice plants manually! (While walking around, a rain storm broke out, and we were forced to take cover under a farmer’s little shack – luckily he wasn’t there. It was beautiful seeing the rain beating down on the fields. It’ll stay a good memory.)
-The sacred monkey forest. This is a huge forested area nestled in the heart of Ubud teeming with monkeys. I don’t like the fact that the monkeys are being fed by people, this is not the way it is in nature. The monkeys have consequently (over the years) associated people with food, and tend to grab hold of anything they can lay their paws on… We did enjoy the grounds though – we walked around the cool interior, down to the stream with its amazing vegetation (some unique trees) and there’s also a temple to visit.
– If you’re looking for a travel hammock (which we really wanted), those with the ‘parachute material’ that folds into a little bag, this is the place to buy them. We bought two for IDR350,000
after some hard bargaining.
– Bali Eco Bike tour. We had breakfast with a beautiful view of the volcano Mt. Batur and the crater lake. We visited a coffee plantation where we learned about the coffee process and also had some Kopi Luwak, which is the most expensive coffee in the world (civets eat the coffee berries, and then excretes the beans, which are then collected and used to make the coffee)! We also tasted various teas. We proceeded to the start point for the downhill biking, where we biked through numerous rice paddies and local villages. We stopped a few times along the way – visited a family compound, walked through rice paddies and saw how the farmers harvest their rice, took a break under one of the biggest trees I’ve seen in my life and also to talk to some kids where they showed us their HUGE ‘pet’ spider.
– Visited a spa. Went to Sedona Spa for a couples massage, scrub and milk bath – so relaxing!
– Marene did some antique shopping…
– On our last night we watched a Legong dance at the Royal Palace.
– Ubud is one of those places where just walking around is ‘something to do’. Go to the traditional market and practice your bargaining skills!
What we ate/drank:
– Try the smoked duck, very good!
– Eat suckling pig at Ibu Oka, very delicious and highly recommended.
– Many places have ‘health drinks’, try them, it is really refreshing after long walks around town.
– I loved eating the Mie Goreng and Nasi Goreng (IDR15,000 – 30,000).
– Beers: IDR18,000 (small Bintang) and 25 – 30,00 (big Bintang). Water is around IDR5,000 (big).
General impression: (4 / 5) really enjoyed our 4 days there. Might have enjoyed it more outside of the busy tourist season (August) though… Great food, a lot of adventure activities, mostly everything in walking distance, diverse dining choices, wide variety of souvenirs in market area.
TIP: when staying a little bit out of the way, hire bikes (+/- IDR20,000/day). Scooters are also up for rent, but we didn’t want to risk it – without a proper license (which most doesn’t have) you can get fined when stopped by cops, and with that crazy traffic, I didn’t want to put ourselves in a position where we could possibly spoil our own holiday if we get into an accident…
We booked a fast boat ferry ticket already in Ubud to get to Gili Trawangan. We payed IDR750,000 for a round trip ticket, which also includes pick-up and drop-off where ever you want.
When shopping at markets, ALWAYS bargain hard. Rule of thumb: never pay more than a third (even a quarter) of the starting price. They overprice their items anyway so that it seem to tourists that they get a nice deal…
Eat at local warungs (if on a budget) – prices are much lower, but the food is still delicious!
We stayed at a little jewel of a place – Liberty Dive Resort. “You got upgraded to a Deluxe Bungalow” – now that’s music to one’s ears after a long trip to get there!
The resort has an amazing swimming pool (and a smaller one higher up) with nice sun loungers surrounding it. The restaurant area overlooks the pool, food was decently priced, and breakfasts (included) was delicious. The resort is also just a short walk away from the USAT Liberty wreck!
What we did:
– Diving, diving, diving. That’s basically the main activity and main reason people come to this part of Bali. We did an early morning dive (6am!) at the Liberty Wreck, mainly so that we can see the Bumphead parrotfish (amazing fish). We did another dive at the Drop-off where we saw numerous fish and critters, and also our first Hawksbill turtle! What we enjoyed a lot, is the fact that the dives are very personalized – you choose the time, the dive site, and you get your own personal dive guide.
– On our first day we also snorkeled around the Liberty Wreck. It is only about 50m offshore, and you can see the whole ship when snorkeling (highest part is 4m from surface).
– We walked along the pebble beach, and found a little cliff from which we had a nice view of the whole bay. This became ‘our spot’ for watching the sunset over the bay every night with a couple of beers.
– We hired a scooter (IDR 60,000 / day) and explored the north-eastern coastline. We rode to Amed and stumbled on another piece of paradise. Amed is absolutely breathtaking, with its black pebble beaches, emerald blue waters and weaving road all along the coastline up and down the hills which always gives you a brilliant view of the next little bay (of which there are many). When we go back, Amed will almost be number 1 on the list – the place where time seems to stand still!
– In Amed, there is a place called Japanese Wreck. You can dine there (slow service), and also snorkel right off the beach to the wreck (nothing too spectacular though).
General impression: (4,5 / 5) jewel of a place. Maybe not Tulamben itself (only scuba diving), but the rest of the north-eastern coast is spectacular (with its unique black sand/pebble beaches). Amed is a must do if you want to kick back with a cold one and get some serious R & R on…
TIP: take your snorkeling gear with you when renting a scooter. When riding around on the scooter you can find many secluded beaches from which to snorkel / sunbathe to your liking!
We stayed at Padangbai Beach Inn 1. It was just for a night, so we literally stumbled into Padangbai without any reservation. We chose a double story ‘bamboo bungalow’ in the middle of the ‘beach road’, close to the beach (cheap @ IDR 150,000). We didn’t expect much – cold shower and toilet downstairs, and no bedding (although you have mosquito net), minimal breakfast also included (lovely jaffles!).
What we did:
– As far as we know, there aint much to do here! It is the main ferry point (in the centre of the island) to leave for the Gili Islands and people go on snorkeling and scuba diving trips from here.
The main attraction is the “Blue Lagoon”. Not much of a lagoon, but more like a small bay. It’s nice for snorkeling, when the water is calm. When we were there the sea was a little rough, and the beach very small (high tide…). What also bothered me was the amount of trash drifting around, which looked totally out of place in this beautiful area.
– You have quite a few dining options along the ‘beach road’ at very decent prices.
General impression: (3.7 / 5) I must confess that I had higher expectations. I don’t know exactly why. We didn’t have enough time I think to properly get the feel for Padangbai. It has a very laid back, relaxing feel to it though.
TIP: if you want a sarong, this is it. Some women walk around with hundreds to choose from. Bargain hard (we bought two for IDR 85,000)! And also buy Marie Biscuit cookies (IDR 8,000) – they’re cheap here 😉
We stayed at Aquaddiction Dive Resort. We booked a bungalow (IDR 200,000/night on diving days – also got discount because we dove more than 5 times…) here as we would also be diving with them during our stay, and this qualified us for a nice discount (on accommodation) on days that you dive… The bungalow was alright for our needs, but nothing spectacular. It had a fan, mosquito net, comfortable double bed and, uhhhm, that’s about it. I should also mention the outdoor bathroom – where everything is done either under the stars or the sun… (definitely a first for us).
What we did:
– SCUBA diving! The main part of our budget went towards this, and we logged some memorable dives. We saw numerous turtles (Hawksbill and Green), Peacock Mantis shrimp (beautiful), cuttlefish, puffers, box fish and more reef fish than I’d ever be able to remember! For us, diving at the Gili’s were bittersweet – there’s an abundance of marine life, but sadly the coral’s and reefs are in a terrible state. We were told that this is due to the damaging fishing methods used by the locals in the past (dynamite / oil-drum fishing). The water is absolutely beautiful though, there is no mistaking that – excellent visibility. All in all, we had a lot of fun diving the Gili’s and we met some interesting people along the way.
– Watching the sunset. If you stay in the ‘main’ area, you have to walk some or ride a bike to get a nice spot from which to watch the sunset. And we were blessed with some awesome sunsets – top this off with a nice cold beer from a beach bar, priceless memory right there!
– Snorkel right off the beach. There’s quite an array of marine life to see just off of the beach (we even saw turtles). General consensus seems to be that the north-eastern part of the island is the best for snorkeling. Be careful of the current – it flows rather strongly parallel to the island, and before you know you are much further away from where you left your stuff on the beach!
– Sunbathing. This seems to be the most common pastime (especially for the ladies) on the island.
– Visit the local food market at night (one of our favorite things we did)! You can get a wide variety of local (and not so local…) foods and desserts here. There’s an abundance of fresh seafood from which to choose, and they grill it right there and then for you. Ask the price first though (there’s no set price, they make one up on the spot). The food was so delicious, and affordable (at around IDR 40 – 60,0000 per plate) that we ended up dining there every night!
General impression: (4,2 / 5) Not a bad place by any means, but you can see that it’s been around the block (all the bars, all the shops and other touristy things…) Good times are definitely still to be had here. Loved the beaches, loved the general laid-back island feel, loved the few quaint, small restaurants with awesome views over the sea…
What you should brace yourself for: I think there are 2 mosques, and you WILL hear them. There’s no escaping this eventuality.
TIP: for those that want to surf – it’s all happening at the southern point of the island, beyond the reef. Waves aren’t that big, but still good fun.
Moving around on the island you have 3 choices, by foot, by bicycle or by horse-drawn carts (cidomo).
Don’t buy toiletries, and especially sun-screen, on the island, it is way more expensive (for obvious reasons…) than mainland Bali.
Close to the harbour area, there is a little stall right on the street that sells awesome, fresh smoothies for around IDR10,000.
Do lunch at Manta Cafe – you can’t go wrong with their freakin delicious baguettes (various fillings to choose). We had lunch there almost every day after coming back from our diving. Kick back with your baguette on the oversized bean bags right next to the beach…
Try to avoid the main tourist season (August), you’ll have more of the island to yourself…
After our torturous ferry ride back from the Gili’s to the mainland (2,5 hours late, rough seas, overheating of most of the engines en route, resulting in us cruising the last part with only one engine…) we were dropped off in Sanur for our last night before heading back to Korea.
We stayed in Puri Sading, a cute little boutique hotel, and had a very nice time there (unfortunately so short because of the damn fast boat issues!)
What we did: (with our limited time)
– We walked along the beach walkway (many nice restaurants along the way)
– We went to Hardy’s Mall for some last minute souvenir shopping (you’ll kick yourself if you see how cheap most of the stuff is, that you might have bought at a way higher price at markets or other vendors).
– Went for our 10 year anniversary dinner at the lovely 3 Monkey’s restaurant, accompanied with some live jazz music.
General impression: (3,7 / 5) not exactly the place we’ll want to stay for long. It was nice to stay in a more upscale place as a treat before heading home. Sanur gave us the feeling of being a place with more class (compared to Kuta), where the richer folk would come for vacation. There are almost no touts, less tourists in sight and the atmosphere in general just less ‘busy’ (read: not as crazy and hectic as Kuta and others…).
I can see why everybody speaks so highly of Bali – it is indeed an amazing place to visit. We had an amazing time with some unforgettable memories. Between the lovely food, unique culture, beautiful sights, adventure activities and beaches, you get swept away and are left with a feeling of deep content…