{getaway} Best of Bali

Some friends are heading to Bali for their honeymoon–and while I’m incredibly jealous, I had to share some of my very favorite recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and activities. Bali is one of my most beloved places in the whole world. There are many places that I visit and think, “this is great, but now that I’ve seen it, I don’t have to come back.” Bali is not one of those places.

So what do I love about Bali? What’s not to love? The people are incredibly friendly, it’s beautiful and lush, there is wonderful food and drink from the low end to the high end, and you can have luxurious experiences at ridiculously cheap prices. Often times when you travel somewhere that’s really inexpensive, it comes with a side order of hassling and haggling. This is one of my favorite things about Bali–especially the inland paradise of Ubud–there is no one tugging on your sleeve begging you to buy something or waving necklaces in your face, as in Mexico, Egypt, etc. So, to sum up: nice+cheap+beautiful+delicious-hassle = BALI. That is the formula for a great vacation.

When you think Bali, you are probably picturing a beautiful white sandy beach. There are many of those, to be sure, but interestingly enough, the inland town of Ubud is the island’s greatest treasure. In Ubud, we stayed at Alam Indah, which was fantastic. They have a couple of small properties near to each other: Indah, Shanti, and Jiwah. Alam Indah offered extremely excellent hospitality and a beautiful setting. Each property has a small number of big private rooms (really, like your own little house) and private patios replete with Hindu carvings and so forth. It was so shockingly cheap and felt totally luxurious and private, around $60 US for a whole house overlooking the jungle.

This hotel group also has cooking classes if you’re into that. We walked over to Alam Shanti to take a look, it’s a little fancier than Alam Indah, but slightly less atmospheric as it’s not as nestled into the trees… although their pool does overlook a rice paddy, which is pretty darn nice. We did not check out Alam Jiwah in person so I can’t speak to how it compares to the other two.

These inns are in a good location too, as they are secluded but just a short walk through the Monkey Forest to town. That’s right, MONKEY FOREST! Full of fun little MONKEYS! That was my favorite part of each day… getting up close and personal with a whole barrel of monkeys. But be sure to have no food in your pockets or purse as it’s nice to look at the monkeys, but you may not want them to climb all over you. Even if they are adorable little babies like this one.

If you want to pay more and go way all out- I recommend checking the Ubud properties at Tablet Hotels as there are some really amazing ones there that make me swoon. But for my money, I wholeheartedly recommend staying at Alam Indah or Alam Shanti, and I don’t think that paying a whole bunch more will actually get you a whole bunch more. (Also: when you get down farther in this post, to the part where I recommend renting a whole colonial mansion in Jimbaran, you might see why it’s to your benefit to spend less in Ubud.)

Now that you have a place to stay, where are you going to eat? There are lots of street stands or warungs (casual restaurants) that sell nasi goreng, a common Indonesian rice and vegetable dish. These casual spots usually hit the spot for about a buck a plate.

Our favorite place hands down was Naughty Nuri’s Warung. We went there multiple times and loved it. We couldn’t quit it! It’s owned by a husband/wife team–she’s Balinese, and he’s from New Jersey. This warung mashes up the best of both worlds, so they have excellent Balinese food on the menu alongside barbecued ribs, sashimi, martinis, and more in a casual indoor/outdoor setting. At the communal tables, you can meet old Balinese guys talking politics, wanderlusting Australian expat hippies, buttoned-up NGO workers, and a whole host of other interesting folks. Naughty Nuri’s is on my list of top 5 favorite restaurants in the whole world. In fact, I wish I were eating there right now!

Throughout Indonesia, when you see a sign that says “Babi Guling” that means they roast one whole pig each morning and sell hunks of it until they run out, usually around 2 PM. The best Babi Guling in Ubud is in the center of town, called Ibu Oka. You’ll get a basket of delectable pig meat, crispy pig skin, rice, a spicy sauce, and a beer for about 2 bucks. Delicious!

Now let’s talk fancy shmancy- you have to do that in Bali because the prices are so incredibly low. Mozaic and Nomad are the most well-known and renowned. You will need a reservation.

Besides eating, the best things to do are to hang out in the Monkey Forest, see a Balinese dance show, and go shopping. I’m not a huge shopper, but there is also great shopping in Ubud–with lots of crafty jewelry, clothes, pottery, and more, in styles that range from the very primitive to really modern. You can also rent a scooter and take a 20 minute drive out of town to see some smaller villages and rice paddies. They are very picturesque, but it is the one place near Ubud where you will be hassled to buy things from people.

Most of all, most most MOST of all, while in Ubud, you must get a 4 handed massage at Spa Hati. That’s right: 2 people massaging you at the same time. Best. Massage. EVER. Even better, the money goes to their community education program, so your massage payment is actually a charitable donation!

Now, it’s time to leave the lush green forests of Ubud and head out to the beach. In the main beachgoing area of Bali, near Kuta and the airport, there are several connecting little towns with different vibes. Depending on where you stay, you can rent a Vespa for a couple bucks (literally, like $2 to $5 for the whole day) and get between the towns. Kuta is more college-y, hippie, spring break-y, it’s the most touristy, and it’s overall the least appealing. Legian is much nicer. Seminyak is the bougiest. (is that how you spell that?!) The little town of Jimbaran is a bit farther south– perhaps 15-20 minutes by scooter from Seminyak, and worth a visit as well. Depending on how much time you have, you might want to split your beach time between, say, half the time in Seminyak and half the time in Jimbaran.

We stayed in Jimbaran and traveled about the area on the aforementioned Vespa, which our hotel arranged for us for next to nothing. We absolutely adored the place we stayed in Jimbaran, called The Shaba. There are 2 parts on the property, one is like a normal boutique hotel with a couple of rooms and the other is this totally baller colonial mansion with butlers, a private pool, free retro scooters, and the whole thing is just totally over the top and incredibly fabulous. Next time, I’d be tempted to inquire about renting the whole mansion and living like kings for a couple of nights at least. Everything else is really cheap in Bali so it just might be worth it…

But if not, just staying in the boutique hotel is fantastic, as it’s very small and stylish. They make you breakfast on the patio, and even though it’s just a few rooms, they can do cocktails, lunch, and dinner by the pool or on the patio if you want.The location of The Shaba is terrific, because you are just across from the InterContinental and a short drive from the Ritz Carlton, so you get the seclusion and chillness of a small hotel, but if you want big hotel things they are always close at hand.

Also, you can walk to the Jimbaran seafood warungs or fish huts–a must-do in Bali no matter where you stay. There are restaurants that set up tables on the beach at sunset, and you get to pick out what fresh fish you’d like to eat and they make it for you just to your liking. It is lovely to see all of the families playing on the beach and it truly feels like you are in paradise.. Go at sunset!

In Seminyak there is an epically cool beach club called Ku De Ta. In the day, it’s like a place you can swim on the private beach, rent chairs, get drinks/food, etc. then at night it turns into a super chichi club. I highly recommend you don’t miss it–but to set expectations, it’s one of the only places in Bali that has USA price points–and as such, it can be a shock when you’re used to paying $2 for lunch.

As well, there’s an excellent Belgian brewery and restaurant in Seminyak also called Mannekepis. After weeks of Asian food, the steak tartare and perfect frites were like heaven.

The Ritz Carlton/Bulgari Hotel also has some good restaurants, naturally, especially the Italian one there if you’re sick of Balinese food by this point.

One very important note regarding beer in Bali: you can get the ubiquitous cheap Indonesian swill, Bintang, everywhere you go. Here’s a secret a local taught us: there is a microbrew made on Bali that is in such small production it never gets exported off the island. It’s called Storm and there are 4 varieties, from light to dark. Skip the Bintang and ask for Storm. They won’t have it everywhere, but when they do, your taste buds will thank you. All four varieties are super delicious!

Now that I have equipped you to plan your trip to paradise… can you please fit me in your suitcase?

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2 comments

1 camille { 09.12.10 at 5:57 pm }

I miss Bali – haven’t been there in 10 years – and while I know that in reality, Kuta is full of the kind of people who you don’t want to see on your paradisical island vacation, I will always have a soft spot for it because my family kind of has a history with Poppies there. And a little lassi shop further down Poppies Lane, towards the beach. We lived in Indonesia for a couple of years, and when we went to Bali, that’s where we went. We would go up to Ubud as well, but we didn’t always stay in the same place, so I have more associations with the monkey forest there than anything else.

I want to go back now!

2 Bali and Lombok, Indonesia | Mrs D { 01.29.14 at 8:51 am }

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