Yes, it is.
In my earlier travel days, I avoided Bali due to its bad reputation. I realise this was a grave error, as I have since discovered Bali and come to understand there is a reason why it is so popular. There is much more to Bali than drunken Australian louts.
Why go to Bali?
Bali is a special island. It is a Hindu island, whereas the rest of Indonesia is primarily Muslim. It is a unique flavour of Hinduism, quite distinct from Hinduism in India.
The people are super friendly and there is a festival almost every day of the year.
Food is awesome and super cheap by European/Australia/New Zealand standards.
The nature is beautiful. There are fantastic beaches, active volanoes and waterfalls.
There are temples all over the island and most private houses have temples (to protect from evil spirits, etc). The bigger the temple, the more prestigious.
Where to stay on Bali
The capital city, Denpasar, is in the south of the island and near the airport. It’s a bustling city with terrible traffic and large shopping malls. There is nothing here for tourists.
Kuta is the infamous hangout for Australian “bogans”, or rifraff. It is the nearest resort to the airport and Denpasar. It has horrible tasteless bars and large western style shopping malls. Avoid this area.
North of Kuta on the west coast is Seminyak. It is a pricey and upmarket neighbourhood with some good restaurants.
Further north on the west coast is Canggu (pronounced Chang-goo). This is digital nomad central, full of surf shops, vegan cafes and yoga studios. There is also some pretty cool street art. It’s a bit of a scene, but still laid back compared to the hussle and bustle of Kuta and Denpasar.
I stayed a month here. One thing I really liked about the place is, if you can look past the influencer posiness, there are a lot of people wanting to improve themselves through living a healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, fresh air, following a mindfulness practice, etc), and this tends to rub off on you. I spend my whole time training my mind and body and abstaining from unhealthy activities like consuming drugs (i.e. alcohol).
East of Canggu is Ubud. After Kuta, it’s the most popular tourist destination in Bali made famous in the book “Eat, pray, love”. A beautiful town full of temples and surrounded by lush rice fields, Ubud is the yoga capital of south-east Asia. Located in the hills, it is slightly cooler at night. Expect crowds.
Sanur/Nusa Penida/Nusa Lembongan/Nusa Ceningan
On the east coast from Denpasar, another popular option is Sanur. From Sanur you can take a boat to one of three smaller islands – Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. These islands are spectacularly beautiful and were (unbelievably) up until quite recently relatively unknown. Unfortunately, the islands are now well and truly discovered, expecially by day-tripping Chinese tourists. The islands have their own unique culture and the temples here are a different colour to Bali – white and red, instead of black.
Further along the east coast, you have quieter resorts of Candidasa, Padang Bai and Amed. Padang Bai is the departure point for fast boats to the Gili Islands and Lombok. Amed is located near Mt Agung, an active volcano, which regularly erupts forcing evacuations.
In the north of Bali is another quieter option, Lavina, which has a black sand beach.
The west of Bali does not have any resorts of note and is primarily known as a transit point for local traffic to Java – the road is notorious for fatal traffic accidents.
Finally, the peninsula south of Denpasar, Uluwatu, is known for traditional Balinese dance, upmarket clubs and the best surfing on the island (for advanced surfers only).
What to do in Bali?
There are so many things to see and do in Bali.
Bali is full of amazing temples. The most famous are:
- Ubud has a lot of nice (but crowded) temples including a monkey forest.
- Tanah Lot, a temple on a rock in the sea.
- Besakih, a temple complex in east Bali.
- Luhur Lempuyang, which has a gate framing a view of Mt Agung
- Ulun Danu Bratan, a temple on the shores of Lake Bratan and probably the most photographed site in Bali.
There seems to be a festival almost every single day of the year. There are many staged tourist events featuring traditional Balinese music and dance, the most famous of which is the fire dance at Uluwatu. However, if you get off the beaten track, you will run into random local festivals all over the countryside. One day, there was a random festival on at my hotel and they dressed me up in traditional costume (see photos below).
Bali is a premier surfing destination. Beginners will find gentle waves in Kuta, with the beaches further north in Canggu more suited to intermediate surfers. Uluwata is renowned for its big waves and surfing competitions.
When in Canggu, be sure to check out the Australian chain surf shop and custom motorcycle store, Deus Ex-Machina. They also have some pretty cool threads at Australian prices and a nice cafe.
Bali has 2 active volcanoes: Mt Agung and Mt Batur. You can ascend both to see the sunrise. Trips leave in the early hours of the morning. At Batur, you can walk up or get a lift on a motorbike.
There are many amazing waterfalls all over Bali. Some are very crowded, but in other less accessible, remote ones you can find peace and tranquility.
You can really get off the beaten track and explore rice fields in the rolling hills north of Ubud.
Ubud is the premier yoga destination in South East Asia. Every year in May, they have a big festival with yoga, meditation, ecstatic dance, etc. You can also find many yoga studios in Canggu.
The diving is Bali is excellent and suitable for all levels. The most famous dive site is a wreck of the east coast near Amed, the USAT Liberty cargo ship, which was sunk by the Japanese in WW2. It was towed to Bali and later an eruption of Mt Agund sank it again, meaning it is accessible as a shore dive.
Another highlight is diving/snorkeling with giant mantas off the coast of Nusa Penida. Read about my experience with these beautiful and graceful creatures in the Komodo National Park.
There are some expensive and posh clubs in Semanyak and Uluwatu. International DJs play from time to time. Expect mainstream crowd-pleasing music, boring people, and expensive entry and drink prices
What about drugs?
Alcohol is legal and freely available. As for illegal drugs, you can get pretty much anything in Bali if you know the right people. It is highly advisable, however, to steer clear of all drugs in Bali. Penalties are very steep and setups, where dealers work together with police, are common. The authorities also like to make an example of tourists from time to time to give a strong message of zero tolerance. There have been many cases of tourists being caught trying to smuggle drugs out of Bali at the airport and sentenced to long prison terms or even death! Don’t even think about it. It’s not worth it.
Although Bali is a Hindu island and not Muslim, it is still a very conservative place, so dress conservatively when not on the beach. That means, for women, don’t wear a bikini in the village and guys, please wear a shirt in restaurants and cafes. You can’t go topless in cafes and bars in Melbourne – what makes you think that it is ok here? I spoke to locals about this and they are offended, but don’t want to say anything for fear of scaring away tourists. What many ignorant tourists don’t realise, is that in Asia, people don’t show their emotions or get angry in public when something offends them. This does not mean they are not offended!
Another really irritating habit of moron tourists is to train bareback in the gym and sweat all over the equipment without using a towel. Gross! Training bareback is strictly prohibited in every gym all over the world! What makes you think it is ok here?
Bali is a pretty safe place and violence/theft is pretty rare.
The biggest danger is traffic accidents. Deaths and serious injuries involving motorcylces are a daily occurance. Traffic can be horrendous and many idiot tourists rent scooters, drink and ride, and don’t wear helmets. Just ask yourself this basic question – do you ride a motorcycle back home in your country? If the answer is no, then why do you think you suddenly have the skills and experience to operate a dangerous motor vehicle in a foreign country in very challenging conditions? Even if you do have experience, you cannot control the driving of others, which is frequently reckless.
One important thing to note also, in addition to the pain and suffering from injuries sustained in an accident, your pocket will also take a hit because you will not be covered by your travel insurance unless you have an international driver’s licence to ride a motorbike. This means that if you don’t have a motorcycle licence in your home country, you will not legally be entitled to ride a bike in Indonesia (or anywhere else for that matter) and this invalidates your insurance. I met one British guy who had an accident and injured his shoulder. He was taken to a private hospital in Bali and had to pay over 10K GBP for the operation. And he got off lightly – some medical expenses can run up to six figures.
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