It was a bit ironic that my Trip of Wonders with Wonderful Indonesia meant to showcase that Indonesia has so much more to offer than just Bali because people seem to love Bali, whether they have been or are still dreaming of going. In fact, it seems some even seem to think Bali is a different country altogether or don’t even consider the rest of Indonesia.
However, this is not a post to change that perception (yet), this is about Bali. No only Australians go completely gaga over the island of gods and it is easy to see why. Bali is easy and incredibly beautiful. It is easy to travel and easy to live, offers just the right amount of exotic culture and creature comforts, and regardless of whether you seek spirituality or adventure you will find your eldorado here.
Read more: Facts about the Balinese Culture
So while I adored the other parts of Indonesia we explored I thought I would put together a little list of highlights together, the best things to do in Bali, that you shouldn’t miss whether you are here for the first or the 100th time!
1. Rice Rice Baby
Bali is known for its iconic rice paddies. In fact, the first thing I ever knew about Bali was that my friend fell into a rice paddy during an excursion. While that is not one of the best things to do in Bali, seeing the rice fields definitely is.
These days many rice paddies are being rented out because they make such a nice view rather than their rice harvest and seeing them it is easy to understand why. They are just so picturesque especially when set up as a terrace!
The Tegallalang rice terraces near Ubud are probably the most famous ones but beware – they are also a complete tourist trap/attraction. I was honestly a bit shocked. We were asked to pay covercharge and a donation and it was crowded!
Mind you, they are still really really pretty and make for beautiful pictures. Just don’t expect to find the serenity that other people’s photos make you believe you will find here.
Some say you need to come ridiculously early in order to get a good shot, but I don’t think that is true. We came smack bang in the middle of the afternoon and still managed to find some empty spots amongst the crowds. At the end of the day, everybody wants a nice shot, so it is easy to be mindful of each other and at least try not to walk into people’s shots.
With that said, you will find plenty of deserted rice paddies everywhere in Bali that are the real deal and you won’t need to pay to take pictures. Bear in mind though that these are working fields so dancing amongst the crops is really not appreciated either.
2. Sacred Ground
Where to even start when it comes to religion and temples in Bali? Balinese life is highly impregnated by Hindu religion and culture. You will see offerings being put out twice daily: at homes, on roads, by the rice fields, shops, and of course, the temples. There is no shortcoming of the latter and in most, non-Hindu visitors are allowed too (at least the outer parts).
Women are advised not to visit temples during their period. This stems from the believe that you gather stronger powers during that time of the month and that combined with the presence of the gods’ energy might be too overpowering – for yourself and others around you. Of course, nobody is going to check, it is just one of those cultural niceties one is expected to observe.
In addition, everybody has to wear a sarong or long skirt/pants and a sash, both which you can borrow for free at most temples. While temples are everywhere, highlights include Uluwatu Temple, Tanah Lot and Istana Tampak Siring.
Uluwatu sits on a spectacular cliff overlooking the ocean in the east of Bali. Great for sunset pictures and one of the best places to catch a Kecak dance performance, also one of the best things to do in Bali. Do beware of the monkeys here – as cute as they are, they still steal anything and everything.
Tanah Lot is another great place for a sunset shot. Come here early though (around 4pm) as it gets super busy.
Istana Tampak Siring is the Holy Spring Water Temple near Ubud. Hear believers and tourists alike can wash away their sins and illnesses in the holy waters (or pretend to do it for a picture). Be warned: the water is really cold and you will need to get in fully clothed, so don’t forget to bring a change of clothing.
3. Diver’s/Surfer’s Paradise
I thought if there was one place where surfers and divers could peacefully co-exist it would be Bali. I have told the story of how I missed the opportunity to put this theory to the test, but even without a significant surfing other I can now say – it ain’t that easy.
Bali is great for watersports in general and offers some world class diving and surfing. However, these two live in very different conditions and are found in different parts of the island.
Some of the great surf beaches include Echo Beach in Canggu, Kuta, and Padang-Padang in the south. Most dive centers are located in Tulamben, Sanur or Pandang Bai or will take you even further east towards Nusa Penida and Nusa Lembongan.
Not that this bridge cannot be gaped but it will require some good planning.
With that said, conditions for both are absolutely fantastic here and I think the lifestyle that comes with both surfing and diving makes for a good vibe all around the shores of Bali.
While I vowed to never get on a board again, I did appreciate the effort my instructor put into our class on Kuta beach. I took an intro class with Odyssey Surf School and at least lived to tell the tale and didn’t break my nose either!
As far as diving is concerned I went out with Bali Hai Diving and Geko Dive and can highly recommend both. Obviously, with diving, you will need a bit of luck to see what you came to see (Mantas!!) but both of these companies are super professional and have wonderful staff.
4. Climb that Goddamn Mountain!
As you know I tend to only include things and places into my guides that I have tried and tested myself. I think everything else is…cheating. Well, maybe not quite but I think you come here to get my very subjective opinion.
Yet there is one thing I need to include here and that is climbing Mount Batur. Indonesia is full of volcanos and climbing the likes of Mount Bromo or even getting into the sulfur mines of Mount Ijen are highlights for many. Bali’s very own equivalent is Mount Batur set in the middle of the island. You gotta get up early to catch a sunrise after a short but steep 2-hour hike.
While I had the hike all set up, my friend woke up with the flu and we decided not to go. Yet again, I did not climb that mountain, but you should! It is one of the best things to do in Bali.
People who have done it are raving about the experience (at least after they have come done) and the pictures are breathtaking. For a great account of what the whole trip entails check out this post by Chloe.
5. Pressure Points
Bali is known for massages and its spa culture in general. Balinese women have it down to an art and everything the island has to offer is not only used in its cuisine but also for treatments. Avocados, rice, turmeric, and lemongrass are not only used for cooking but to nourish the body from the outside as well.
You will find little spas and massages places literally on every corner. Prices are low and really good value, even at pretty spas that offer a rose petal bath with their massages.
If you want to truly treat yourself go for a traditional Lulur after your massage at the Kayumanis Ubud Private Villa and Spa. A lulur is a rice and turmeric scrub that is still made by hand here with ingredients from their very own herb garden. I tried to help and realized that you can consider yourself lucky that in this day in age you can use a blender too to make it!
Worth it though (and I had my lovely therapist do the lion share) as your skin will be baby soft afterward and the smell is amazing. Bring a friend and get a massage while you are at it, Kayumanis offers little Alang-Alang roofed jungle huts for all their treatments. No annoying music in the background but all natural jungle sounds will lull you into bliss.
Just like many other places in Bali they don’t believe in importing expensive international product lines but rather make use of their ancestors’ beauty secrets and what they have growing in their own backyard. Looking at the Balinese women everywhere I think that is a worthwhile tradition!
6. Healthy Feasting
I must admit, I was a tad bit disappointed by the Indonesian food. Just a bit. I think I just expected a whole lot more and when I arrived a lot seemed…fried.
Coming to Bali has changed my perception a bit because here you will find just some of the most amazing fresh, vegan and vegetarian food. And of course, seafood galore!
Places like Ubud, Seminyak, Canggu, and Bukit have no shortcomings of healthy local food with an international twang. Start with a Nalu Bowl for breakfast (basically healthy ice-cream!), have Nasi Campur for lunch and end the day with Babi Guleng, the Balinese national dish – suckling pig.
In between, you can feast on some excellent coffee, fruit juices or smoothies. Do skip the Luwak – not only is the famed poo coffee really expensive but there are hardly any free range Luwak farms making the coffee anything but animal-friendly!
For those of you who like me don’t want to go without wine, check out the local wine. A lot of vineyards import grapes from Australia but make the wine in Bali. My favorite so far? Try the Cape Delivery rose – I wouldn’t mind taking a few bottles home!
7. Monkey Business
Admittedly it was more my friend Julia who came with me to Ubud who was super excited to go and play with monkeys. I have had enough after a visit at Uluwatu temple where my friend had her sunglasses stolen and another one her iPhone. Both items were retrieved but it was enough to give me good dose of skepticism towards the local wildlife.
Then we went to the Alila Ubud where the monkeys come out to play every day for tea time and I was hooked. Even after one snuck up on me, emptied my fresh coconut and still came back to steal my coconut rice treats. They were still so fun and after two days I couldn’t wait to finally make my way into the famed monkey forest in Ubud.
Everywhere in Bali, you will see monkeys, but here they will come closer than anywhere and are all around. While I found them to be a lot friendlier than the ones at Uluwatu, do put all your valuables safely away and adhere to the rules that are put up anywhere in the forest. After that, enjoy – after all, it’s meant to be a jungle out there and playing with monkeys is one of the best things to do in Bali!
Okay fair enough if you are saying that you didn’t just come to Bali just for the sunsets. I get that completely. But it would also be a shame not pay particular attention to the sunsets if you are here anyway.
In case you didn’t know, sunsets need some clouds to be truly spectacular. Maybe a weatherman could explain the phenomenon more aptly than I can, but fact is, clouds make the colors better and the overall sunset experience more memorable. True story.
So far Echo Beach takes the cake for best sunsets in Bali. I blame the storminess of the ocean here but the number of evenings when I have seen 50 shades of pink in the sky was astonishing.
Grab an ice-cold Bintang and enjoy because while you may not come specifically for the Balinese sunsets watching them is definitely one of the best things to do in Bali!
9. Beach Bum
And while you are at it – why not come a little earlier and enjoy what the Bali beaches have to offer? The options are endless, after all, you are on an island!
Either black sanded or powdery white, Bali beaches usually come with some great waves to either surf or jump around in. After seeing quite a few I have two clear favorites: one is Bingin Beach on the south peninsula. From my home in Canggu getting there is a bit of a mission and once you are there, there is a steep climb that gets you down to the actual beach, but it is oh so worth it! All that beach is missing is a dive center and I would never ever leave.
Get a snack at Kelly’s Warung and hire an umbrella from Tom Tom’s at the end of the beach and you are set for the day. The water is turquoise, the sand is white and the sunset is also pretty spectacular. For those who don’t care about diving – there are quite a few bungalows to hire – and make for the perfect hideaway spot.
Another of my favorites is the private black beach of the Amankila hotel close to Padang Bai.
Yes, you will need to get a room to access it, but once you do, you will understand why that investment might just be worth it. It is tiny, secluded and beautiful. And of course, it comes with the ultimate comfy little beach huts and butler service!
10. Get Away!
While this is not one of the best things to do in Bali per se, one of the Bali’s best features is how accessible other places are from here. Whether you want some even smaller island seclusion on one of the Gilis or head elsewhere in Indonesia, Bali is well connected. Depensar airport is home to many local carriers that will cheaply take you to other Indonesian hotspots.
Need ideas? How about finding dragons in Komodo, meets some real life sea gypsies in Wakatobi or play with Orangutans in Borneo? Bali may be the island of gods, but Indonesia is the country of over 17.000 islands. With that said, there is no reason to be modest and just stick with one island – you can have them (almost) all!
Oh and I almost forgot one – you can’t come to Bali and not do yoga:
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