Every year for the past three years, one of my best friend's and I have gone on a travel adventure. Last year we went to Norway, and the year before that we spent traveling Japan. This year we ventured to Bali. We spent almost two weeks exploring the magical island, but like every other place I have been to, there is never enough time to see it all. This is my personal top 10 Bali list, which will hopefully help you if you find yourself planning a Balinese adventure!
1. Tirta Empul
Bali is a predominantly Hindu island within the predominantly Muslim nation of Indonesia. There are Balinese temples everywhere. I was explained that there were levels of temples, family temples that are usually on family compounds, then village temples, and public temples. Each of these temples are uniquely beautiful and done in the very unique Balinese style. My favorite of these temples was Tirta Empul. Tirta Empul means holy spring in Balinese, and is famous for its ritual purification. The temple pond has a spring which gives out fresh water regularly, which Balinese Hindus consider to be holy. There are two pools with a number of chutes pouring the holy water into the pools.
My friend and I decided to take part in the ritual thanks to a recommendation from another one of my friends that stated she left feeling like a newborn baby. We wrapped ourself in our sarongs and then went through the ritual, bathing under each chute one after another, letting things go and making a wish. You have to start from the very first chute on the left and make it to the third chute in the second pool. There are two chutes that you don't use as they are used for the deceased or for babies. It can get busy, so I recommend to go at sunset, like we did. We didn't have to wait long to bathe under the springs. I also recommend you take a change of clothes with you or be prepared to buy something from the vendors once you leave. We opted to buy something, and just as my friend had said, we left feeling brand new.
To get to Tirta Empul, you can take a taxi from Ubud, where we were staying, or you can go on a tour. We decided to rent a driver for half the day and saw two other temples worth noting. Pura Gunung Kawa and Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) are both very beautiful and very unique. Entrance to each of the temples is 15,000 rupiah (a little more than $1). We saved Tirta Empul for last as we knew we would be wet. At the very most, a half day driver rental should be around $30. Also make sure that your shoulders are covered and take a sarong that goes past your knees, this is standard temple etiquette. These temples do loan out sarongs, but a Balinese sarong makes a great souvenir as well.
2. Tanah Lot
Another one of Bali's iconic temples, Tanah Lot is located on the southwest coast of Bali. It is best seen at sunset, which is also probably its busiest time. The sunset can be amazing as long as the weather is cooperating. The tide is also a factor, as you can only walk out the temple during low tide. Many people prefer Tanah Lot at high tide, but I didn't get to experience that. The area around Tanah Lot is beautiful with dark sand beaches and cliffs. You can also get blessings from the temple when it is low tide. They will ask for a donation after you are blessed.
3. Monkey Forest
At pretty much the center of Ubud you can find the Monkey Forest. Entry to the park costs 15,000 rupiah. You can walk around the park that has temples, bridges and over 600 monkeys roaming around. They are very cute and we were able to see some cute babies. Just don't look at them in the eyes, as they find that a sign of aggression. We saw a tourist do that, and one of the monkeys went crazy. If you are lucky, maybe one might jump on you, but it is still a beautiful place to explore even if the monkeys are hiding.
4. Cycling Tegalalang with Campuhan Ridge Walk
This is one of the activities that we had purchased as a tour. We were picked up at our hotel and then driven to Tegalalang (north of Ubud), where all the rice terraces are. Once we were there we were welcomed into a home and given tea and sweets. We also did a short trek to a new area that will have more rice terraces and an infinity pool. The place should be done in 2019 and will be amazing for sure.
After the short trek, we hopped on a couple of bikes and rode around the village and rice fields. It was AMAZING, and was probably the time I felt most like Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. After we finished our two hour bike ride, we ate lunch at a cute stall near the beginning of the Campuhan Ridge Walk. The ridge walk is a short 2km, and ends up back in the center of Ubud. It ends where two rivers meet at the Campuhan Temple.
5. Spa Treatments
While in Bali I received 4 massages, one fish pedicure, and a facial. Like other Southeast Asian countries, massages are very affordable. My recommendation would be for the Balinese massage, which is like a Thai massage but with less stretching. If you want to splurge, go for the Balinese Boreh package which includes a heating wrap/scrub. You can find spas on every corner in every area of Bali, I personally found the Sheraton in Kuta to have a really great Spa, even though it is a little more expensive than spas on the street. But you can even get a massage on the beach by the many "mamas" walking around.
Ubud is very popular. It is very much the center of tourism. It has arts, rice fields, lush jungle, and a budding yoga scene. The Ubud Market is great to find souvenirs, and you have to bargain with the stall owners for the best price. There are tons of restaurants and shops to choose from and the streets can keep you busy for days. But if you are looking to get away from the crowds, this is not the place. On weekends there are even more people in crowding the streets of Ubud. Getting to Ubud from the airport is also about a 1 hour and 30 minute journey.
Ubud also offers chances to ride on the famous Bali swings and tasting coffees and teas. I did not ride the Bali Swing, but I did do a coffee tasting. More on that in #8.
7. Silver Making
Jewelry is very popular in Bali. Although they don't mine silver, and actually import it from Borneo, the Balinese are expert craftsmen in silver jewelry making. I was able to watch some of these craftsmen make some exquisite pieces of jewelry. Then, I was lucky enough to book a class with a silver smith and make a piece of jewelry myself. I chose to make a ring. The experience was amazing and very hands on. I did almost everything myself with the exception of soldering. Anyone can book this class which includes making a 10 gram piece of jewelry. If your piece ends up being heavier than that, you just pay the difference. There was an Australian family taking the class for the second day in a row making some really great pieces of jewelry. You can bring your own stones or shells to add to your jewelry. I highly recommend this experience, and you can book them at www.chezmoniquejewelry.com
The food in Bali is AMAZING. You can't leave without trying both the nasi goreng (fried rice) or mie goreng (fried noodles). As I am a vegetarian, I had both with tempeh skewers, but my friend loved the chicken. Bali is also very famous for its suckling pig, something I can't give my opinion on. However, I do recommend these four places to eat in Ubud. One is a vegan restaurant and the other three have vegetarian options for those of you who are like me.
1. Sayuri Healing House - This restaurant is vegan and mostly raw, and is absolutely delicious. I had some Malaysian style jackfruit and my friend had the Pad Thai. We also had fresh juices and raw vegan cakes for dessert. The desserts were so good I went back the next night for JUST dessert.
2. Warung Laba Laba - This was recommended by my friend who travels to Bali often. I had the yellow rice and was amazed with the flavor. I got both tempeh and tofu with the rice and a bunch of little spices and extras. This restaurant has all the typical Indonesian dishes you desire. I ate the black rice pudding for dessert, and it was worth the wait!
3. Atman Kafe - This is a great place for breakfast, you can look over a beautiful rice field as you eat. They have great eggs benedict and breakfast burritos along with smoothies and snacks you can take for your adventures.
4. Clear Cafe - A Ubud favorite with tourists, this place not only has a large variety of food but also has a spa. You can find healthy and delicious versions of almost any kind of dish. Their pancakes are extremely fluffy and tasty, I recommend the chocolate banana pancakes with their homemade peanut butter.
Lastly, you need to drink coffee in Bali. I am partial to the Balinese coffee as it reminds me of my favorite potent styles of coffee like Greek, Lebanese, Turkish, and Cuban coffee. If you go to a Coffee plantation, you can try a mix of coffees and teas and even try the famous Luwak coffee made from the poop of the civet. Warning, the Luwak coffee is more expensive and is only 2% caffeine. So for a hard coffee drinker like myself, it did not do the trick.
Bali is full of all kinds of activities. One of the most popular is renting ATVS and riding them around the perimeter of rice fields. We did that one afternoon, and it was so much fun. You weave in and out and go up and down various hills. At the end was a muddy curve course that was just a dream for my inner child and was like bumper boats meets race cars. The ATV adventure also included a buffet lunch, which wasn't too bad. There are many companies to choose from, and don't think that one is better than the other, as it is a pretty standard activity. Most of these companies also offer rafting trips. I did not go rafting, but was told that the rapids in Bali are pretty tame. And many people book both activities on the same day, which I would recommend if you have the time.
10. Kuta Beach
Kuta is probably the most popular tourist beach in Bali. It is full of nightlife and shops and restaurants. When staying in Kuta, be careful where you book to stay as it is the mecca of night life. We actually were staying next to a club that played right into our hotel room before we changed room. Kuta also offers a chance to learn to surf at a very reasonable price. The beach is quite busy, and if you aren't ready to be approached by people selling stuff, I would stay at your hotel pool. However, it is a great beach to see the sunset.
If you are looking for quiet pristine beaches I would recommend making your way to the Gili Islands or Lombok Island. But you need to plan accordingly with the ferry schedules.
I enjoyed my time in Bali and the mini adventures I was able to partake in. Next time I might add the sunrise trek on Mt. Batur, but until then, I hope this list helps with any future plans to Bali and a little insight into the island itself. Adventure is out there!