If everything you know about Bali is what you read in Eat, Pray, Love, you... actually know quite a few things. Just as in the book (and film), Bali is full of outdoor canopied beds you can stay in, bike-friendly rice paddies, and monkeys and elephants. But there's also so much more to this incredible Indonesian island.
On my recent trip to Bali, I visited three different parts: Ubud, Seminyak, and Gili T (which isn’t technically in Bali, but I’m including it anyway because it's amazing). Ubud is more of a city, Gili T’s beaches have honeymoon written all over it, and Seminyak is a cute combination of the two.
Regardless of your destination of choice, every corner has its own unique charm. Temples to the left of you, roosters at your feet, white sand that will inevitably somehow end up in your suitcase; it's one of those "holy shit pinch me is this real" places that’s well worth the 24-hour-plus flight from America (and the disorienting, jet lag-fueled days that are guaranteed to follow).
It’s also a vacation that’s best experienced without your phone's screen getting between you and the beautiful beaches surrounding you. Yes, it will be tempting to make all your friends jealous with your A-plus Instagram content, but this is one place you want to experience fully, without anything else in the way. Ahead, I'll let you in on some of the places I visited and things I would recommend doing so that you can start planning your own Indonesian odyssey where you're bound to make lots of memories that exist separately from your Instagram feed.
Where To Stay
Indigo Tree Villa: This charming, yet isolated, villa in Ubud is an Airbnb, but rather than being its own residence, it's part of a larger resort, meaning that you get lots of amenities (spa services, three different pools, shuttle service into and out of town), but low prices. I loved the lush greenery and beautiful environment, but be prepared to spend a lot of time figuring out how to get back and forth from the town center if you stay here. The shuttle service doesn't run past 9pm, so you'll need to rely on cabs for traveling back and forth.
Pearl of Trawangan: Look up paradise in the dictionary, and you’ll find a #NoFilter shot of Gili T's Pearl of Trawangan’s beachside getaway. From the drink they present to you on arrival to the outdoor shower, swim-up bar, and exotic wood furnishing, this is likely what people think of when they picture a Bali vacation. There are about 10 different rooms guests can choose from, so the level of luxury you want to experience is up to you.
Tijili: Seminyak is probably the hippest part of Bali I visited, and that’s made very obvious through Tijili. It’s playfully decorated with locally sourced art and has a cozy Eastern meets Western vibe about it. You know that Brooklyn, New York, hipster friend who knows everything before everyone else and isn’t afraid to remind you of that? Well, this is that person in hotel form.
What To Do
Go to the Market: There will be local Indonesians selling their wares pretty much wherever you go, but the local market in Ubud is where you’ll find some of the best goods at the best prices. Well, that depends on how good you are at bargaining. Because, pro tip, you should definitely bargain; it's expected. Don’t be turned off by what seems like a high price in rupiah, either; the exchange rate definitely works out in favor of the dollar. Items like a hand-carved wooden elephant, sarongs featuring traditional Indonesian Batik designs, or natural soap and incense, should only set you back a couple of bucks.
Go to the Monkey Forest: Okay, so you know the memory-making I mentioned earlier? Here is where a lot of that will take place. When you first enter the sacred sanctuary located in Ubud, you're met with a list of rules: (1) Don’t bring water bottles inside (because the monkeys will take them—by any means necessary—and drink them), (2) don’t panic if the monkeys jump on you and (3) don’t look the monkeys in the eye. There were others, but those were the ones that I vividly remember and the ones I would advise you follow strictly when—or if—you plan on going. If you’re a primate fan, you’ll have a blast; you’re able to feed bananas to the monkeys, and they’ll even climb on you to get the food. If you’re not, well, it will be an… experience, nonetheless.
Go to a Temple: Bali is filled with temples, and whether or not you're religious, the holy sites are well worth a visit. Each is unique, with the most popular being the offshore Tanah Lot; the Besakih Temple, which has been around for 1,000 years and is enormous; and Uluwatu Temple, which is located on a cliff facing the Indian Ocean.
Go Snorkeling: There are a ton of beaches in Bali, meaning there are a lot of opportunities to immerse yourself in the true blue waters and see what’s going on underneath it all. Don't take your chances, like I did, and book a cheap snorkeling excursion that will neither provide you with a suitable life jacket or much guidance. Instead, splurge a little more on an organized one, like with Blue Season Bali, so that you can get an experienced guide to point out the many sea turtles, various fish, and coral reefs beneath you.
Get a Massage: In between the many excursions at hand, don’t forget to actually carve out some R&R time. There are spas galore all across the island, but Seminyak has some of the very best. Try out Peppers, the reasonably priced Glo Day Spa, or Jari Menari, known for its "four-hand massage."
Where to Eat and Drink:
Take a cooking class: Bali’s not necessarily known for its rousing cuisine. They do have their signature dishes, like nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) and babi gulung (suckling pig), but the quality varies greatly depending on where you eat. One way to guarantee you're getting great food, though, is by making it yourself—with some help from the locals.
I took a very informative and impressive cooking class run by a couple in their outdoor kitchen (see more here). There were about 30 students in the class that day, and we all rotated chopping, sautéing, and mashing up the ingredients for the buffet style meal. I’d recommend it a thousand times over; it was one of the best meals I had.
The Night Rooster: While this crafty establishment does have food options, its fiery cocktails are the real draw. Cocktail "alchemist" Raka Ambarawan creates unique drinks using local ingredients, like papaya, fresh coconut milk, and pisang mas (a type of banana), which are then mixed with whiskey and rum and topped with homemade lime bitters. These aren't on the menu at your local dive bar that’s for sure.
Cuca: You won’t necessarily find authentic Indonesian food here, but you will find off-kilter tapas (think barbecued octopus, smoked butterfish, and broccoli with whipped coconut) with a Southeast Asian flair that will leave you both satisfied and wanting more. Don’t forget a homemade ginger tonic to chase it all down.
The Bamboo Bar: Built completely from bamboo, this bar is not just aesthetically pleasing, but also environmentally friendly. Perch yourself into one of the bar's swinging seats and drink up.