The Bali Experience: Budget to Luxury Travel Advice

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Bali is a small piece of paradise in the Indian sea. It is filled with volcanic mountains, scenic rice paddies, beautiful beaches if you go off the beaten path and of course food to die for. When I asked around for advice on whether to go to Bali, people either loved it or hated it. Similar to what I would hear about Phuket or the typical places most of us expats have been to, I would hear that Bali was overrun with tourists; that it wasn’t worth going to for a honeymoon or even just a trip. I am so glad I listened to those few who have fallen in love with the place, but you need to go off the beaten path to truly get lost in its mystical charm.

Cooking Class for Royalty

We caught a red eye from Korea last December, arriving pretty late in Denpasar. Wanting to sleep for at least a few hours, we came prepared and booked a 6-hour hotel room at the transit hotel 5 minutes from the airport. Unbeknownst to us, the cooking class was just 5 minutes away at the Anika Guesthouse. Make sure you do your research ahead of time to avoid this silly blunder. The class itself was one of my favorite experiences in Bali. We had a morning market tour, where all spices and ingredients were explained. Then we headed back to the guesthouse to start our class. We made tofu fritters, beef in Balinese sauce, roasted eggplant sambal and a whole array of other dishes. The guesthouse offers 3 different menus depending on what day you take the class. We ate like kings, and I was utterly satisfied when we finished. This being the first experience of Balinese food, it was hard not to compare it to every other meal we had on our trip. The food was just utterly divine.

Peaceful Beaches

We planned our trip taking into consideration that some of these activities or tours would drive you back to your hotel. The Anika Guesthouse did not disappoint and took us half an hour away to Sanur, where we had booked the safest but more expensive Rocky Fast speedboat to Nusa Lembongan Island. The main reason we were arriving there was to visit my husband’s old college friend who was a diving instructor on the island. Lembongan is little haven for divers, a mix of expats who live to dive and to relax on a peaceful beach once the work is done. This was the beach I was searching for; not the noisy, busy and dirty beaches of Kuta and Seminyak. Lembongan was small enough and easy-going enough that we rented a moped from the same place we were staying in and rode around the island, exploring on our own. The staff even gave us the local events to check out if we so desired – the traditional burial that was happening at 1pm and the cockfight that was happening at 3pm.

I am not a huge beach person but really enjoyed Lembongan. I recommend staying there a few days to relax by the beach, mix in with the locals and the local expats who continue to come back to teach at the diving school year after year. They are in the know and can give you other small island recommendations to you. I did enjoy the hut we stayed in, though there was one thing to take note of. If you are right by the beach, don’t bother staying at a hotel with a pool if money is an issue. It’s not worth it. It looks pretty, but we barely stayed in to even look at it.

Sightseeing the smart way

When planning this trip, I obsessed over making the most of my money while not breaking bank. So that’s how we ended up in Seminyak, partly out of curiosity for this “upscale” shopping area and partly to use up our free ride from Rocky Fast speedboat. Seminyak was crowded and a bit pricey. There were great live bands playing in restaurants and bars every few meters; our own hotel had one, which was a neat surprise. One place I wish I had gone to was Frankenstein’s Laboratory, Bali’s first and only Halloween Themed Restaurant and Cabaret.

We knew the trip from Seminyak was at least an hour drive to Ubud. Ubud was to be our last and final destination. The hotel in Ubud had a pickup service for a ridiculous fee. Hiring a driver for the day would cost a third of the price, and it was highly recommended by a friend. For about $50, you can hire a driver for about 12 hours to take you anywhere you want. Taking advantage of it, we went sightseeing to the famous Tanah Lot temple and to the Tegalalang Rice Terrace. It was utterly delightful having a driver, and asking him to stop whenever we wanted, hearing trip suggestions from him and just being stress-free about transportation in general.

Ubud – Pool Villas, Yoga Nirvana and Monkeys Galore

Ubud has no beaches, but it makes up for it with its serene beauty. Ubud is full of rice paddies, bright green foliage and a yoga lover’s paradise. Our pool villa was our biggest splurge, but it was a once in a lifetime experience. The really sweet staff had no idea it was our honeymoon. When they realized it, they surprised us with a rose petal bath and honeymoon décor one night. In town, I fell in love with the Monkey Forest. I could have stayed there for hours, enjoying the antics of these free-roaming monkeys and this place that reminded me of Indian Jones or Nathan Drake. Ubud is also an art lovers dream as well, where you can shop for locally made jewelry and paintings.

Bali is a really special place. The people, the religion, the food was something really interesting to experience. Read up on it before you go, knowing a little history enriches the experience. Or perhaps a few expat memoirs will help you find those hole in the wall places you are looking for. Hopefully, my own recommendations will help you decide on where to step into this beautiful island of wonders.

Written and photographed by Alex A-che

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