Bali Travel: Recommendations & Review

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Bali is one of the top travel destinations for many people, for good reason. This island in Indonesia is home to beautiful beaches, gorgeous landscapes, and a distinctive culture.

While the majority of Indonesia is Muslim, most Balinese residents practice their own form of Hinduism, aptly named Balinese Hinduism. Bali is well-known for its art, dance, and music. Some forms of architecture on Bali are also famous, notably the split gateways (candi bentar).

But is Bali worth visiting? This Bali travel review will help you decide for yourself and your own plans.

Split gateway at Tirta Empul in Bali

A split gateway at Gunung Kawi Temple

I spent six days in Bali in 2017 with my friend as part of a longer month-long trip around Southeast Asia. Because the island is so big and has so many places to visit, we were only able to see a portion of all that Bali has to offer. However, I still think that we were able to cover a good range of sites in our time there.

The first thing you should know about traveling around Bali is that it is a sizeable island: it’s 2,230 square miles/5,780 square kilometers. Driving between the south and north of the island will take over 3 hours, and driving between the east and west coasts will take 4-5 hours (or more depending on traffic, weather, and so on). This affects travel time and how you should plan your itinerary.

This post reviews my Bali trip, going over the itinerary and featuring tips and recommendations of where to go and what to do, as well as tons of photos of each spot.

Day 1: Ubud Monkey Forest

We stayed in Ubud, which is more towards the middle of the island, while the airport is in Denpasar, around Kuta in the south. Taking a taxi from the airport to our accommodation took about an hour and a half.

Our accommodation had a decent location within Ubud, as there were a number of restaurants, cafes, and a supermarket (which we visited almost daily for snacks and water) within close walking distance. Our accommodation provided breakfast, but had no hot water in the bathroom. Can’t win them all, I guess.

TIP: If you are going to avoid drinking the tap water (which is probably advisable if you’re not from the area, as you could feel ill doing so), it’s quite helpful if your accommodation is near some kind of store so that you can buy water for the next day on your way back to the hotel.

In addition, at every restaurant we went to, we had to purchase bottled water if we wanted to have any. So make sure to always have some water handy!

After arriving and freshening up (gotta love overnight flights and trying to sleep on layover in the Manila Airport in the wee hours of the morning), we ate lunch at the restaurant of a nearby hotel.

Our lunch view

After eating, we walked to the Ubud Monkey Forest. The normal entrance price is 80,000 Indonesian rupiah (about $5.50 USD). It is a sanctuary for the long-tailed macaques that live there, and features three Hindu temples.

Now, the monkey forest was an experience. As soon as we walked slightly past the ticket office, a monkey came from out of nowhere, landed on my friend’s back, and stole the hand sanitizer dangling from her backpack. It disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Shortly after that, another monkey tried to take her water bottle from the side pocket of her bag, but it was full of water and thus too heavy for the little thief.

Caught-in-the-act thief

Non-thief monkeys

TIP: The macaques around Bali are not afraid of humans, and will not hesitate to swipe anything hanging, dangling, or otherwise available on your person. As such, it is advisable to put any sunglasses, long earrings, keychains, and so on safely away in a bag. Hold on tight to your cameras and phones. One monkey teleported onto me and tried to pilfer my phone.

As we walked deeper into the forest, we could not always see the monkeys, but we could hear them rustling and moving amongst the trees. The fact that we could hear them but not see them, and one could leap out onto us at any time was a bit bizarre. It almost felt like being in a B-horror movie about tourists getting mobbed by monkeys. However, any macaques that landed on us didn’t hurt us. Even so, you probably won’t want to visit if you have a fear of monkeys.

A macaque with some fruit

There were people around the sanctuary that you could buy food like bananas from to feed the macaques. We saw plenty of people posing for photos with a monkey on their shoulder, head, et cetera while surrounded by a swarm of other monkeys. We decided against this, as the macaques could accost you if they think or know you have food.

The grounds of the Ubud Monkey Forest were absolutely gorgeous. The entire complex was lush with huge trees and other vegetation. While we could not go into the three Hindu temples on the premises, they were still fantastic to see from a bit further away.

One of the Hindu temples (thanks, zoom function!), some statues outside the temple

Deep in the forest is the Dragon Bridge, an ornate bridge spanning a sizeable ravine. Surrounded by thickets of vines, this bridge is an impressive sight. Definitely don’t miss this spot in the sanctuary!

The Dragon Bridge from different angles

It was super cool to be able to get so close to and see the macaques, especially the moms who had younglings hanging off of them. At one point, we saw a group of mothers with their babies, but one mom had a naughty kid who kept trying to run off, so she had to hold onto him by his tail.

Various macaques around the sanctuary

I would definitely recommend checking out the monkey forest if you have the time.

Day 2: Tanah Lot Temple, Kuta, and Uluwatu Temple

On our second day, we wanted to go see sights south of Ubud. One of the most common ways to get around Bali is by motorbike, but neither of us felt comfortable doing that. So we hired a driver to take us around. The reception at our hotel helped us find and hire a driver for the day. Payment to him included all the gas and his time, and cost around 600,000 rupiah (~$42.50 USD), plus tips from us.

Obviously, taking a motorbike would have been significantly cheaper. We still didn’t think the price of the driver and car was too terrible, especially if it could be split between a couple of people. We didn’t have to worry about motorbike safety, we got to travel in air conditioning and protection if it rained, and we could go exactly where we wanted, and the driver would simply wait for us until we were ready to move onto the next place.

TIP: You can save some money on transportation by minimizing the number of days you have to rent a motorbike or hire a driver. If you plan out your destinations (and even accommodation) a bit, you can cluster activities that are close together on the days you do need transportation; this is what we did.

Before leaving, we had breakfast on the little terrace for our room, a very enjoyable setting, then we set out for our first destination: Tanah Lot.

I mean, look at these views on the way to our first stop! Absolutely breathtaking. The relatively clear weather obviously made for some great photos. There were other temples in the area, including Batu Bolong Temple (pictured on the right), as well as stalls, restaurants, and other buildings.

Some buildings along the way

Tanah Lot is a famous rock formation perched in the water, with the famous sea temple on top (aptly named Tanah Lot Temple). It was a gorgeous setting for a temple. We could only see it from afar, as we went during high tide, with no good way to reach the temple.

It is also a famous spot to watch the sun set. The entrance fee to get into the temple is around 60,000 IDR (~$4.15 USD) for foreigners.

Tanah Lot Temple

Channeling my inner Ariel

We perused some stalls somewhere around Tanah Lot, all peddling souvenirs, snacks, or refreshments. We got some drinks at a stall on the way back to the car, and then drove to Kuta. We had lunch at a restaurant near the beach. I had chicken satay (chicken skewers usually paired with a peanut sauce), which came with rice and prawn crackers. It’s one of my favorite things to eat in Southeast Asia.

Some stalls, chicken satay lunch

After eating, we walked along Kuta Beach a bit, as that was all we had time for. However, the beach was quite underwhelming, especially compared to the beach we would visit the next day.

The main advantage of the beach at Kuta or the nearby Seminyak is that they are close to town, so there are many hotels, restaurants, and the like in the area. If you want a place to stay in Bali with easy access to beaches, shops, restaurants, and so on, you could consider staying in these areas, but they will also be pretty touristy.

Kuta Beach

Finally, we went to Uluwatu Temple, on the very southern tip of the island, to see the sun set. I’m not sure what we paid as an entrance fee at the time, but it cost around 30,000 IDR (~$2.00 USD) more recently. First, we explored the temple a bit, which was quite nice. There were numerous monkeys milling around; we saw one that had stolen someone’s sunglasses

More photographic proof of thievery

It is possible to watch a kecak dance show around 6 PM at the temple for an additional fee. We opted not to, but I will say that the amphitheater the show is performed in gives a very nice view of the sunset as well. You can see the amphitheater from far away in the picture below.

Gorgeous cliff views from many parts of Uluwatu Temple

Some of the decorations around the grounds of the temple

Uluwatu Temple offered us an absolutely stunning sunset. The setting itself was very striking, especially as the colors of the sky kept shifting, reflected in the endless expanse of water below it. It was truly one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen. The cliffs also looked great at golden hour. Highly recommend.

Sunset scenes

It was a long haul back to Ubud, about a two and a half hour drive, because of traffic. With many popular tourist sites in the south and us needing to get back to central Bali, we spent a good amount of time waiting for our car to even move. In the end, we hit a lot of the major sites in the south of the island, but it was definitely a long day.

Definitely visit Tanah Lot and Uluwatu Temple if you are in the south of the island at all, but skip Kuta Beach if you can get to a better beach.

Day 3: Padang Padang Beach

As we ate breakfast at the hotel, we looked into options for getting to our next destination: Padang Padang Beach (also known as Pantai Labuan Sait). This beach is on the southern tip of Bali, a few miles from Uluwatu Temple. It is a popular surf spot, but was also famously featured in the movie Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts. In the end, we decided to hire a driver again, as it was pretty far from Ubud, and a driver was more economical than two one-way taxis.

Breakfast on the terrace

It is a relatively small beach that requires going through a cool rock formation and down some steps to reach. We paid 10,000 IDR (~$0.70 USD) as an entrance fee.

The entrance to Padang Padang Beach

There were a few people offering a small selection of drinks and food at the beach, but we opted to eat lunch at a nearby restaurant down the road before settling down for the day at the beach. I had nasi goreng, a classic Indonesian fried rice dish that usually comes with a fried egg and prawn crackers.

Nasi goreng’s sister dish is mie goreng, a popular fried noodle meal. You can find both nasi goreng and mie goreng everywhere in Indonesia.

Nasi goreng

The beach throughout the day

Despite its small size, the scenery is very striking, with interesting rock formations and caves along the beach and water. The water was very clear and blue.

I loved taking photos of the water, moss-covered rocks, cliffs, and caves.

Some of the scenery at Padang Padang Beach

We stayed at the beach until the sun had almost set, and then made the long drive back to Ubud. The sunset was nice, but not as nice as the one we saw the day before.

[Did you know that East Asia has beaches that rival those of Indonesia?]

TIP: If you are going to stay at a beach all day like we did, especially if it’s a bit remote, hit up a store and grab some snacks and water before you go. Food could be harder to come by and/or more expensive at these kinds of locations.

Sunset lighting

Padang Padang Beach is worth a visit if you would like to spend time at a picturesque beach in an interesting setting.

Day 4: Ubud (Tegenungan Waterfall, Gunung Kawi Temple, Tirta Empul Temple, and Tegallalong Rice Terraces)

Another packed day, this time in the Ubud area. We hired the driver from the day before to take us around.

First, we visited Tegenungan Waterfall. A lot of steps to get down to the waterfall, but it was quite beautiful. Great view of the waterfall from the top. The cliffs on both sides of the waterfall were emerald with vegetation from top to bottom. The waterfall itself was massive; those dots near the waterfall on the photo below on the left are people!

There was a sign in the water that read “Don’t worry, be sexy, but no naked.”

Scenes around the Tegenungan Waterfall

Next, we went to Gunung Kawi Temple, which was a very sizeable complex. This temple’s unique feature is the massive funerary monuments carved into the side of the cliff. The entrance fee is about 50,000 IDR (~$3.50 USD). Undoubtedly, this was one of the most memorable temples that we visited.

The funerary shrines of Gunung Kawi

Gunung Kawi Temple definitely felt distinctive among all the temples we visited due to the size of the grounds and the ancient shrines. There were numerous gateways, statues, and other temple features throughout the complex. There were even these very aged, worn-down buildings and doorways near the carved monuments.

Some of the temple ornamentation

We spent some time sitting by the small stream, eating some snacks we had brought along and enjoying the nature surrounding us.

The stream

We went up the stairs from the temple and needed to eat lunch. The only nearby restaurant was a bit of a haul through some rice terraces, a green and peaceful walk for us.

On the way to lunch

After that, we went to Tirta Empul, a temple with holy springs that people bathe in. The temple area was a bit small, but still offered many things to see. As we visited on the weekend, there were many people bathing, though we did not do so. The entrance fee was about 15,000 IDR (~$1.00 USD).

Tirta Empul Temple had a small pond with a rainbow of koi fish. It also had a number of cool shrines, statues, doorways, and other temple features. It was quite pretty to walk around.

Tirta Empul

Finally, we went to the Tegallalong Rice Terraces. We paid an entrance fee of 10,000 or 15,000 IDR (not sure which). Some people also wanted donations for passing by them.

We wandered up, down, and around the verdant slopes for a while and took a lot of photos.

The rice terraces were one of my favorite places in Bali. So many picture-perfect views!

Some views along the terraces

Of the day’s sites, I would recommend the Tegallalong Rice Terraces the most, followed by Gunung Kawi, and then Tegenungan Waterfall and Tirta Empul. All the places we visited were quite cool, but I thought that the rice terraces and Gunung Kawi were more impressive or unique. The waterfall and Tirta Empul are definitely worth visits as well though!

Day 5: Ubud Art Market and Kecak Show

As we had just had a long day, we stayed around Ubud, sleeping in and reading a bit in the morning. After getting lunch, we walked to the Ubud Art Market and did some browsing. We ended up buying tickets for a kecak show and fire dance at a nearby temple that evening. I’m not sure how much we paid though.

Outside Ubud Art Market

After eating dinner, we went to the show. The temple was a nice backdrop for the show, and the costumes were quite cool. We also had some Bintang, a very popular beer in Indonesia, before the show.

Our Bintang bottles

Kecak is a dance usually performed by men, based on the epic Ramayana, during which the men encircling the other performers all continually chant “chak.” As I was not familiar with Ramayana, the story was a little hard to follow. But we were given little leaflets that summarized the story.

Various performers of the kecak show

The fire dance involved a guy kicking around embers with a kind of bird costume, which was a bird head and tail on a stick held in-between his legs and over his shoulder. The show was definitely interesting to see.

The fire dance

Definitely take in a kecak show if you have some time and want to see a cool part of Balinese culture.

Day 6: Ubud Market and Palace

On our last full day in Bali, we also remained in Ubud. We had to spend part of the morning figuring out the ferry to the Gili Islands, our next destination.

We headed towards Ubud Palace and did some last-minute shopping at Ubud Art Market. I filled out postcards while we drank and ate dessert.

Inside Ubud Market

We saw a bit of Ubud Palace, and got some coffee afterwards. Ubud Palace was a pretty small complex, but free to look around. It features a number of ornate doorways and statues. It’s a great place to take some photos of traditional architecture.

Some of the doors around Ubud Palace

We bought snacks at the supermarket for our trip the next day, ate dinner, and packed up to leave early in the morning for the Gili Islands. Not a very eventful day, but not every day is when traveling for a month.

If you are visiting only Bali on your trip, you could easily fit seeing Ubud Palace into the previous day’s itinerary, and use your last day to visit another area.

Some of the other sights of Ubud Palace

If you are in Ubud, the market and palace are definitely worth a stroll through.

Overall Thoughts

So is Bali worth visiting?

Overall, I really liked Bali and would say it is worth a trip. It is obvious why it has become such a hot spot: lovely beaches with turquoise waters, great scenery, beautiful temples, and a unique culture. I would really enjoy going back for a few days to visit some parts of the island that we didn’t get to visit during this trip.

Some areas will definitely be overrun with tourists (looking at you, Kuta). You might still be able to find some places and times with fewer people (early morning? the off season? more remote areas?), but definitely don’t go to Bali expecting that everywhere will just be you, the ocean, and the palm trees.

That’s not the reality of Bali travel, so temper your expectations. If you are looking for a total off-the-beaten-path experience in Indonesia, it might be best for you to try another island.

Then again, the tourist infrastructure being so developed (e.g., the airport, transportation, tours, restaurants) might be an advantage for some people and types of travel. For example, Bali is very easy to get in and out of, even internationally, through Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar.

For travelers with limited time or no desire to take many forms of transport to reach their final destination, Bali is a more accessible place to visit.

In addition, while the beaches of Bali were nice, I liked the beaches we visited on the Gili Islands and Lombok more. But there are many more beaches on Bali that we didn’t have a chance to get to, many of which I’m sure are totally lovely.

Bali is also so much more than its beaches, and I believe that Balinese culture alone can be worth the trip.

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