Overnight stays: Villa Piyama, Legian (3 nights); Villa Simule, Seminyak (3 nights); Villa Agung Khalia, Ubud (3 nights); Villa Oscar, Lovena (2 nights); Eco Tree House, Amed (2 nights); Sea Bridge Villa Ceningan, Nusa Ceningan (2 nights); Boga Segara Villa and Resto, Nusa Penida (2 nights); The Patra Bali Resort and Villas, South Kuta Beach (4 nights)
Every now and then you need a holiday within a holiday. We have found this on many of our travels over the world, and sometimes you just need to recharge the batteries, especially when you have been living in the limited space of a motorhome.
So in the rainy and quickly cooling weather we were experiencing in our final days on The Coral Coast, we decided it was time; we were at long last going to pop our Bali cherry.
Bali is a place I have never been interested in. Bintang singlets, nightclubs, littered beaches and more alpha males than Tomorrowland has never been on my to-do list. But, despite these hesitations, Bali was never going to be as close or cheap for us, so we went ahead and booked one-way flights and our first three nights’ accommodation, assuming we would probably stay 7-10 days.
The flight over didn’t really dispel my Bali preconceptions, with a ‘yeah the boys’ posse dominating the cabin; their flat-brim caps protecting them from the dangerous on-board, middle-of-the-night UV rays. Thankfully it was only a 3.5hr flight so they didn’t get too sunburnt.
The advice we had from friends was to stay out of Kuta and keep away from the bogans – sounds simple enough.
Loz booked our first three nights with the search criteria of ‘Seminyak’. Turns out AirBnB also search surrounding suburbs and our villa that we thought was in Seminyak was actually in Legian, which is just on the edge of Kuta, oh dear 😬.
Fortunately our villa and Legian were awesome. The 3-bedroom 2-storey villa was shmick. We had our own private plunge pool, stacks of room, and were far enough away from the main road to be totally silent, bar a few random drums from the local temple.
We spent the next few days exploring, bargaining over the smallest of change (Loz loves it, I hate it), drinking some top-notch coffee, cheap beers, and eating enough satay sticks to rebuild a tree. Throw in a massage and foot scrub and your days become pretty full pretty quickly.
Before we knew it our time was up in the super vibrant and non-bogan Legian, and we were wandering up the road to our next accommodation in Seminyak, booked a day prior.
Only a few days prior to our departure to Bali there were a series of devastating earthquakes in the neighbouring island of Lombok. Over 400 people were killed – an absolute tragedy that made us question whether we really should be heading to this part of the world. But, assuming lightning rarely strikes twice, we took our chances…
On our final morning in Legian we each woke in a fright; the house was shaking. Holy shit, this was an earthquake! Surely this couldn’t be it – there had already been two earthquakes in Lombok – what are the chances of a third in Bali?
Turns out it was about 70km out at sea, but wowsers did we feel it, as our hearts jumped into our throats. Thankfully it only lasted a few seconds and there was no damage 😥.
Only a kilometre or so up the road from Legian the vibe starts to change. The street vendors dissipate, replaced by proper shops, and prices for everything start to bump up ever so slightly.
Our villa was another ripper, again with our own pool and a beautiful open-plan modern Balinese design.
Our routine here was pretty consistent with Legian – wake, out for brekkie and coffee, another coffee, a general wander, lunch and beer, a swim back at home, out for beers and dinner, swim, bed. Sounds about as holiday as you could get – it was amazing.
Planching ourselves for sunset
One night we broke our routine for a a sunset at La Plancha on the beach. All the way along the beach at Seminyak there are bars with djs, and bean-bags sprawling all the way down to the waters’ edge (and on an incoming tide, often into the water). The atmosphere is electric as thousands of punters chill, drink beers, swim, boyfriend of Insta, and watch the sun go down over the ocean. You can’t get more Bali than this, and it was really bloody cool. Loz claimed it as one of the best bars she’s ever patroned, and I would have to reluctantly agree. Damn it, Bali is amazing!
Driving to Ubud
The thing we were hoping most to do in Bali was try and get off the tourist route. Turns out there is no such thing – pretty much the entirety of Bali is built for tourism, with different parts catering to different audiences. Aussies tend to love Kuta and Seminyak, Chinese (who now send more annual tourists to Bali than Australia, much to our surprise) migrate to the resorts of Nusa Dua, and Europeans pretty much cover everything else.
Our drive (hiring a driver in Bali is cheap and safe – only the crazy would try and drive with Asian road-rules, or lack thereof) from Seminyak to Ubud, totalling about 30km took several hours – that’s how mental the traffic is in the south. I guess you could compare it to driving from Sydney’s western suburbs to the CBD, with crazy delays.
Falling for Bali
Somewhere between the south and Ubud is an impressive waterfall that draws more punters than the Melbourne Cup. You could hear the tunes pumping on the walk down, as scores of people sunbaked, splashed about, swung over cliffs and Instagrammed like tomorrow wasn’t coming. It was pretty crazy, and gave us a real taste of how bloody popular Bali is globally.
Despite the crowds, I think it was at that moment we realised that we loved Bali.
Our final stop before Ubud was at a restaurant set amongst gorgeous green farmland, where we were given our own private little hootchie to sit on cushions and admire the view for lunch. So classically Asian, and so so good.
Ubud Monkey Forest
Since I visited Dubbo Zoo on my year 4 school excursion I’ve pretty much been obsessed with monkeys. And so pretty much wherever we go in the world, be it Asia or the Americas, monkeys are a must-see for us Wombats.
The Monkey Forest in Ubud isn’t so much a zoo, but an unenclosed area where monkeys can roam free, and are fed by a handful of local staffers. This hand feeding brings what appears to be thousands of monkeys to the area from the surrounding hills, and allows tourists to get up close with wild animals in a reasonably safe environment.
However, much like the Tiger Temple in Krabi, Thailand, the monkeys have become so comfortable with humans that they have learnt to steal food and drink right off their back, or even from their bare hands. It’s comical viewing as unsuspecting tourists have bags unzipped, bodies crawled on, and sometimes hand-to-hand combat with these cute little devils.
This introduction of tourists means the monkeys are taking and consuming pretty much whatever they can get their hands on. On our way in we saw a little fella necking a bottle of hand sanitiser 😮.
We tried to mix it up a bit in Ubud. We figured, if we’re going to be up amongst the rice fields, we might as well go all in and stay on the rice fields, rather than in town.
On arrival the check-in staff questioned us multiple times, triple checking it was just the three of us staying. And when we entered our villa we realised why – the place was mcmassive, it was a palace. Double-storey, 3-bedroom, 4 bathrooms, 3 balconies, with a private pool and massage hootchie. And our view each way was of beautifully terraced green rice fields with those Asian cone hats sparked throughout. This was the exact experience we were looking for in Bali.
With pancakes, french toast, eggs, muesli, fruit salad and coffee served to our by-the-pool balcony every morning, it’s easy to see why we loved this place so much.
The accommodation also offered free rides into town whenever we wanted, which we utilised to check out Ubud and eat lunches and dinner.
Balinese cooking class
We were so pleasantly surprised with the food in Bali that we agreed to do a cooking class while in Ubud. Set at the top of a steep hill, looking into the jungle as the sun descended, we joined groups from Canada, Germany and Australia, learning the basics of Balinese cuisine.
It was great fun and Livvy also participated enthusiastically, making it far more enjoyable for Loz and I. Our favourite dishes were hands down the fried tempe (fermented soybean), Balinese salad, and banana/coconut dessert.
The only weird thing about the cooking school was the owner. She had a potrait of herself above the cooking area, like she was some form of goddess, and when she showed up 80% of the way through the class, she basically shoved the super lovely and helpful lady who had been teaching us the whole time aside, and took over. She then, right in front of the lady, asked us if she had done a good job – it was super awkward 😐.
Welcome to the jungle
Keen to see some more, on our last day in Ubud we hired a driver and took a day trip to suss out some more surrounding sights.
Stopping in the cliffed town of Kintamani, we snagged a stunning view of Mount Batur; the volcano we thought erupts every year or so, causing more Australian sick days than the flu. We later discovered how misinformed we were, and that it is actually the larger volcano, Mount Agung that erupts every now and then 😬. Whatever the case, Mount Batur is an impressive sight.
Cat poo coffee
Wherever you visit in the world, each place has a ‘thing’ to try and give the, an edge, a reason to visit. Exmouth has whale-sharks, El Calefate has breaking glaciers, Japan has sumos, and apparently Bali has Kopi Luwak, which is cat poo coffee.
Civet Cats spread through the jungle (and often caged) apparently eat coffee berries, kind of digest them, and then shit them our whole. Rather than let the beans be or throw them in the bin (like most people would), the Balinese then roast the berries and make their ‘delicacy’ coffee, out of cat poo 😐.
We tried it and didn’t really rate it -needless to say we didn’t need to declare any shit in our suitcase in our return to Australian soil.
One of the most scenic and beautiful things about Bali is the rice fields. They are everywhere around the Ubud area where rainfall is high and there’s plenty of slopes for flood irrigation. I was super impressed with how the rice fields are designed -built into steep hills with gravity fed water running down the side, and guided into each ‘layer’ to flood the razoo out of the plant.
The most famous and one of the steepest rice fields on the island is Rice Terrace, that brings the tourists in by the bucketload everyday. It was beautiful as we expected, and just as pretty much everything in a bali, chockas with foreigners.
Lovena driving day
Most Aussies tend not to go much further north than Ubud, saving it for the Europeans. Knowing we generally don’t return to holiday destinations, we weren’t going to die wondering, so booked a couple of nights in the northern town of Lovena.
The drive this day was all time. We climbed and climbed up the steepest of hills, admiring farms, lakes, monkeys, rice fields, temples, and tiny towns rarely seen by foreigners. It was simply one of the best days in Bali, especially when we wound through towns where we wouldn’t see another car for ages; such a change up from everything we had experienced to-date.
Lovin’ Lovena life
Our Lovena villa was ridiculous. The sort of place dreams are made of. A mcmassive 3-bedroom Balinese open-plan terrace with a private infinity pool and massage hootchie, overlooking the ocean. Too many times Loz and I looked at each, laughed, and agreed that we felt we shouldn’t be here 😀.
To add to one of the nicest places we will ever stay, we had a full-time maid, Sara, who cooked, cleaned and shopped for us, while we sunk beers and swam like royalty. She was an incredible Balinese cook too, making all of our favourites on request including satay sticks, fried tempe, mee goreng, and of course banana pancakes for brekkie. AMAZING!
When you get to stay in a place like this, with a full-time maid, for less than it costs most Sydnysiders to stay in their own place, you can understand why people come to Bali!
Needless to say we didn’t leave the villa for our entire time in Lovena; we had everything we needed, and when we ran out, Sara would duck down to the shops to get it for us 😀.
Transfer days were quickly becoming some of the highlights of the trip, and the drive from Lovena to Amed was no exception. We pretty much left it up to the driver to take us to cool spots on our driving days, as they know the island like the back of their hands.
Driving along the north we noticed a complete lack of tourists. This did surprise us, and it appears we did finally achieve our ambitious goal of getting off the tourist track a bit.
Hidden in the hills of northern Bali is a series of waterfalls called the Secret Garden. Once we finally found our way in, passing the most beautiful rice field and elaborate scarecrows, we started to descend by foot on the waterfall trail.
The waterfalls here were pretty bloody impressive. The main fall was for swimming (we didn’t realise and left our togs in the car), where stacks of Europeans rock-jumped and slid down the waterfall.
The remainder were mostly for viewing only, with Alling Alling Falls being by far the most impressive.
11 dishes for 12 bucks
We stopped for lunch on the old working harbour of Singaraja; one of the island’s largest cities. With four seemingly inseparable restaurants to pick from we opted for the most authentic looking one, ie the one that wasn’t advertising spaghetti bolognaise.
We sat on the floor and i took charge of the ordering, always a dangerous proposition. Not wanting to decide between dishes I proceeded to order everything that looked half appealing, which ended up totally eleven dishes, whoops 😬. We smashed everything, and including two super-sweet iced-tea drinks our bill totalled a pathetic $12.40, sheesh.
We had expected Bali to be cheap, and thus far it had pretty much been as expected. But this was next level cheap, and delicious.
It was hot, and sweatier than a game of squash, so we made one final stop before Amed, for a refreshing swim at the natural cold spring waters of Kolam Renang Air Sanih.
We stood out here like Bill Shorten in a popularity contest, as locals splashed around us, kindly integrating Liv into their activities. It was just the refreshing swim we needed, and the water was beautiful and clear.
Eco Tree House
When we were travelling Brazil in 2012 I became fascinated with the concept of sleeping in a treehouse. Our budget didn’t agree back then so we had to pass on it, leaving an unscratched itch. Our opportunity came again when exploring accommodation options in Amed, on Bali’s east coast.
We had been getting used to 5-star villas so it was always going to be a risk, but we went for it and weren’t disappointed when we arrived.
It was super random and kind of felt like it could have fallen apart at any point, especially given the Bintang and chicken-stick weight I was carrying. What we had assumed was a single room in a tree-house hotel was actually a full 2-bedroom, 2 bathroom, and living area villa in a series of trees, with branches poking out in random spots – it was totally different and exactly what we hoped a treehouse villa would be like.
Our days in Amed were again pretty chilled, spent drinking coffee, getting massages, swimming, and eating too much – this holiday was delivering in spades.
To give an idea of how chilled this town is, on our final night, when we finished our dinner, we ask the waiter if they could arrange a cab for us to get home, roughly a 15 minute drive. Our local driver was on another job so unavailable. The waiter then yelled into the kitchen of a packed restaurant, asking if anyone could drive us home. One of the chefs happily responded, stopped chopping his lemongrass, grabbed his keys and took us home, for a 1/2 hour return trip. Some poor foreign family were probably left waiting for their meal at the restaurant – Europeans eat late anyway, right 😜?
When Loz started doing Bali research, prior to our trip, she found a lot of Bali’s natural beauty actually lies on the accompanying islands of Nusa Lembongan, Ceningan, and Penida. We were already two weeks into our 7-10 day trip, but figured another week couldn’t hurt, so we booked a couple of nights on both Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida.
Our drive to the port of Sanur was another beauty, this time around the impressive and active Mount Agung, through tiny villages and past a disappointing amount of rubbish sprawling everywhere. This was clear evidence to us of over-tourism in Bali – I reckon eventually the smells and stacks of rubbish will be enough to deter people, unless they do something about it. You can hide the sight of rubbish for a while, but until it breaks down like a Run DMC video clip, it’ll eventually catch up and start impacting the water etc.
The short boat ride to Nusa Lembongan took us to a completely different look and vibe, a million miles away. The water was clear and unpolluted, and there were no cars, just scooters.
We were thrown into the back of a truck and had to hold on for dear life as the reckless driver who knew the roads like a Jamaican bobsledder in the bath wound up and down steep slopes and around never ending bends, until we arrived at the Yellow Bridge that connects Lembongan and Ceningan.
Here we were met by a couple of lovely ladies from our motel, who grabbed our bags, slotted them on their scooters, and then proceeded to ask us to jump on the back. Err, what?! The Yellow Bridge is only wide enough for scooters and pedestrians, and they weren’t taking no for an answer. So I reluctantly yet comically, all 95kg of me, jumped on the back of a scooter, while the girls shared the rear of the other one, and we cruised over the bridge to our motel.
Our accommodation here was simple and nice. On these neighbouring islands we didn’t have the luxury of choice like we did on mainland Bali, but it was cheap and we had already overstayed our Balinese welcome, so we can’t complain.
The owner’s daughter was the same age as Liv, and despite not sharing a language they immediately became best buds, drawing, swimming and playing together while other local kids also joined in.
Just up the road we found a series of ripping bars to hang out, swim, drink cocktails, or feel sorry for the Boyfriends of Instagram never able to snap the perfect angle. Our favourite was Sea Breeze, where we a ridiculous amount of time partaking in all of the above activities. What a way to spend Fathers Day 😀!
Scooting for options
Prior to leaving Oz we made the decision we wouldn’t get Bali rash and hire a scooter, just as all Aussies do. Up until this point the thought didn’t even cross our minds; we either walked, got a cab, a driver, or chef to drive us around, but things are different in Lembongan and Ceningan; cars basically don’t exist, let alone drivers and taxis.
With plenty of things to see on the islands and less options than sense, we did exactly what we promised we wouldn’t, and hired a scooter, sorry grandparents 🙈.
Exploring the islands
So we set off on our scooter, excited to see some spots that had brought us to Bali in the first place.
Around Lembongan there are some pretty nice views, beaches, cafes and bars, and there seemed to be basically no one around, which we loved.
Devil’s Tear, back on Ceningan I would barely call an attraction. It’s a water hole where the water rips into the rocks, with a reasonable level of fury. The most entertaining part of it was absolutely the amount of people taking extreme risks for a selfies and the perfect shot.
The Blue Lagoon was mighty impressive. The colour of the water was pretty special, and egging on a couple of rock jumpers was part of the appeal. Liv joined in and had more impact than anyone – who is going to chicken out when a 4yo basically calls you a pussy?!
We finished the day on the Lembongan side, dining with a view back over Ceningan. It was a perfect finish to a super chilled out stay. We reckon if we ever came back to Bali, we’d probably spend most of our time here, relaxing at Sea Breeze.
It’s incredible how different Penida felt, despite being almost a literal stone’s throw from Ceningan. We landed to a vibe less chilled and friendly – it was weird. It was kind of like going to a party where people are listening to Bob Marley and smoking Cape Tribulation, and then leaving to the party right next door, where they’re shooshing you, playing chess and drinking green smoothies.
Soon enough, after checking into our hotel and hiring a scooter (same as Ceningan/Lembongan – lack of options to get from A to B), we found the fun people, at a bar looking back on mainland Bali, cleverly called Penida Colada. They had a great vibe going, served cheap amazing cocktails, and were as close as you would hope on this weird, kind of big and spread out island.
Nusa Penida is deceptively massive. Well, geographically it’s not that big, but the roads are super sketchy in parts, and there really aren’t many of them. It’s basically one big road around the coast, and dicey tracks in between.
We did some exploring on our own on our first day, down the east coast towards Goa Giri Putri Temple, which is built in a cave. The entrance is barely wide enough to fit me, but once you get inside and duck under a few rock beams, it opens it up to a beautiful dark temple.
The following day we booked a driver to help us further explore the island. We had advice that due to the size and quality of roads, a hard-to-find driver was a much smarter option than a scooter. When we turned off the main track it became bleedingly obvious why – these roads were rougher than a One-Nation voter.
Our first stop was Angel’s Billabong, which is a cool looking natural infinity pool overlooking the ocean, another Boyfriend of Insta favourite.
Right next door is the spectacular Broken Beach, with crystal clear water flowing in and out of a beautifully formed hole in the cliffs.
Our next stop, Klingkling Beach was the absolute highlight of the day, and we reckon one of the best views we’ve seen in our entire lives. Simply breathtaking, and worth a trip to Penida one its own. It also looks a bit like the head of a T-Rex 🦖.
This day trip totally changed our opinion of Penida, and was one of our best Bali days.
I mentioned earlier in the post about the advice we had to stay out of Kuta. Given all my instincts about Bali had been wrong so far, we figured we might as well check it out for ourselves and be the judge.
We also had some days to burn, as the WomBatmobile was at the doctor, and we couldn’t pick her up until after the weekend. We booked our flights out of Denpasar for the following Monday, and given our flight was early in the morning we agreed staying near the airport was sensible. Next to the airport just happens to be Kuta.
But, if we were going to stay at a hotel in Kuta we were going to do it properly, so we booked four nights at the swanky Mantra.
For the next few days we did very little, besides sitting by the huge pool. The resort offered a free kids club that Liv loved so much she refused to leave every day. No wonder as there were numerous kids there and more toys than Christmas.
Lazing was the perfect way to end a perfect holiday, and exactly what we needed before getting back into motorhome mode.
Apart from the flights there and back, we never did find the bogans Bali is famed for -does that mean it was us?