We’ve been to Bali twice now and both trips have been complete mirror images of each other. The first trip was awful. We got stuck in the cesspit of Kuta and couldn’t seem to find our way out. We scootered up and down the swarming streets, were disillusioned by the thick traffic and turned down offers of marijuana and magic mushrooms literally every seven metres. Literally.
The biggest let down was that we couldn’t find a beach clean enough to sit and swim at. Eventually when we could take it no more Lauren’s brother and I plunged into the filth that was washing up on Kuta Beach. Lauren made it knee-deep before gagging and turning around. Jethro and I made it up to our shoulders, but when a baby diaper hit me square in the chest I could take it no longer and began to wade my way back out. That was our first trip. And nearly our last.
But as much as we’d like to blame Bali for not living up to the postcard images (on that specific trip,) we made some big mistakes too and this article is about what you can learn from them and what you can do to ensure that your trip to Bali is not a disillusioned disaster.
I’ve broken it up into two sections – Mistakes and Tips
MISTAKES TO AVOID:
GOING TO BALI IN LATE DECEMBER.
Three things are guaranteed to happen when you visit Bali in December.
- Rain, rain and more rain. December is smack bang in the middle of Bali’s monsoon season (October to April) and monsoon (the rains & change of ocean currents etc.) has a major effect on this tropical paradise. The rain brings the filth from upriver down to the beaches and the change of currents wash a lot (like A LOT) of rubbish and debris up onto the shores.
- Australians, or rather, young Australians. Bali is relatively close to Australia (3-5 hour flight) and as a result, the island is a regular and popular tourist destination for them. Which is great. However, in December the normal amount of Australians swells considerably thanks to the end of school celebrations. This causes absolute and unadulterated chaos. Where they lack for it in rugby, the Australians certainly make up for it in beer guzzling. (Sorry for the dig Aussie friends, but you know I’m a proud South African rugby supporter!)
- Traffic. Even though we severely underestimated the size of Bali (it’s much bigger than you think) the traffic in December increases your travel time exponentially. Each time we left our villa to do an activity it would take us a minimum of 2 hours just to get there and watching Bali go by from the inside of a car is no fun.
We know December is a popular holiday period, and that for many people going at another time is not always possible. But read on.
WE WERE THERE LESS THAN A WEEK.
This, admittedly, was stupid. Our Bali trip came at the end of a two week jaunt around Malaysia and we really should have scheduled more time for the Indonesian island, but we thought it was a lot smaller than it was.
We likened it to Koh Samui in Thailand, where we had previously lived. It is certainly nowhere near as small as Koh Samui, which is one of Thailand’s largest islands.
WE FLEW ONTO LOMBOK AND CAUGHT THE FAST-BOAT (4.5 HOURS) ACROSS TO BALI ON THE SAME DAY.
Our departure airport (Senai, Johor Bahru, Malaysia) only flew to Lombok so we figured we’d just catch the boat across. FAIL. We should have just bought air tickets from Lombok to Bali as:
- The flight is actually cheaper than the boat and,
- it’s only a 30min flight versus a 1.5 drive to the boat, 4.5 hour boat ride and 2 hour taxi ride to Kuta. (30min vs 8 hour journey!)
- Just to reiterate – FLY across if you are in the same position. I think the taxi fare from the airport to the fast boat ferry was the same price as the flight. So we paid severely for this mistake.
One good thing that came out of though this was getting to see Lombok – an absolutely stunning Island. They compare Lombok to the Bali of the 1980’s.
APART FROM OUR ACCOMMODATION, WE DIDN’T PLAN OUR TRIP AT ALL.
Because we figured Bali was going to be all small and “islandy,” and because we’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time on small tropical islands we just assumed we knew the drill.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
Also because we were there for such a short time we never really got a handle on the size, distances etc. Unless you stay at a beach resort you are going to find it difficult (in four days of mostly rain) to get that beach holiday you’re looking for.
The above, all said and done, we learnt a lot and were determined to return, find the “real Bali” and “do it right.”
So a few months later that’s exactly what we did and it was everything that we dreamed of.
This next section contains our advice for your trip to Bali so that you can avoid some of our pitfalls and have a magnificent time.
TIPS AND ADVICE:
Going to Bali to spend all your time in Kuta is like going to gym to spend all your time with the sweaty underwear in someone else’s gym bag.”
SORT YOUR TRANSPORT OUT AHEAD OF TIME OR HAVE A PLAN.
- Know what you want and what you’re capable of when heading to Bali. Transport is cheap and plentiful there. If you are like us then you’ll want to explore. So we generally rent a scooter when travelling through Southeast Asia, they have always given us the freedom to explore on our own time. But Bali is pretty big and if you’re moving from place to place every few days finding new scooter shops can get old quickly. But I can still recommend it.
- We rented a Suzuki Jeep in Kuta for 125 000 Rupiah ($11) per day and it was the perfect solution for us. We took that bad boy all over the island and the night before we flew out someone came and fetched it from us. It was AWESOME. Truly.
- If you are not comfortable driving around a foreign country or don’t have an international licence – hire a driver for day trips. We know a guy (who was recommended to us during our first trip) & who is a total LEGEND and we have made friends with him since. He actually saved our first trip for us. His name is Nanang (pronounced Anang) and charges hopelessly too little for his incredible service. You can get hold of him on Facebook here (his personal profile) but I’ll put a picture of his card up too. He also has a contact that hires out vehicles.
DON’T STAY IN ONE PLACE.
This is definitely one of those “different strokes for different folks” kind of things but we like exploring and seeing as much as possible (but at the same time don’t sleep in a new bed every night.) We find that right now we try do 3 nights in one location and then move to another when on holiday. This might change when our baby boy is born in November!
Bali is SO BIG and so diverse that you really do limit your experience by staying in one place and travelling from there. Day trips are cool but they can get tiring. Anang, the guy I mentioned above also offers trips around the island that extend over a few days, a week or more.
GET OUT OF THE CITY.
Going to Bali to spend all your time in Kuta is like going to gym to spend all your time with the sweaty underwear in someone else’s gym bag. So please don’t spend all of your time in or around Kuta! Unless partying is all you’ve come to do, it is a serious waste of time and money. Bali is out there and there are so many stunning places to go and extraordinary people to meet. Here are a few brief suggestions.
- Ubud is getting crowded but is still an awesome place to stay for a few days, great coffee shops, yogis, fun people to meet, a surprising amount of gelato shops. The city is fast becoming a hub for entrepreneurs and digital freelancers too. It really has it all (including a T5 internet connection.) You should definitely check out the Sacred monkey forest (be careful because some monkeys bite) and the Campuhan Ridge walk. Being “yogi-ville” Ubud also has lots of organic restaurants and shops.
- Get to the mountains! We can’t recommend it highly enough. On our last trip to Bali we stayed on a farm-stay up on the slopes of BatuKaru, Bali’s 2nd highest volcano. The villagers were the gentlest and friendliest people I have ever met. We ate from the earth and drank coffee from the coffee trees planted all around us. The temperature was crisp and cool in the evenings and the mornings. The vegetation and surroundings are pristine, every bend in the road on the way up heralded views that literally took our breath away. Pure magic.
- Head out west and find the small town of Medewi, here surfers will find Bali’s longest left hand (and least crowded) break – a wave that peels into eternity. Yogi’s will find Lowtide Yoga’s beach side yoga studio placed beside a coconut grove and over looking the ocean. We loved the strong local community here and hung out with them at the beach daily. All the hotels here are pretty much in one short road – Jalan Pantai Medewi.
GO FOR A MINIMUM OF TWO WEEKS AND TRY SKETCH OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO BEFORE GETTING THERE.
We live in Southeast Asia, or at least we do for now and because of our close proximity to Bali, and all the other incredible places in this part of the world, we can afford to take short trips here and there. Our travel time and costs are relatively low in comparison to those visiting from Southern Africa, Europe, the America’s etc.
So if you are travelling from afar, I definitely recommend a minimum of two weeks here (longer if you can.) Bali is big and diverse. There are plenty of volcanoes to hike, waves to surf, dive sites to dive and activities to do. But they are all located fairly far away from each other, so give yourself time to explore the island, the culture and time to meet the people.
If you had a month I’d say it’s fine to flit from one place to another, back and forth, as you wish, but if you have two weeks or less I’d definitely recommend having a rough plan of what you want to do, where you are going and how you are going to get from one place to the next.
I’m just throwing this out there, but again – Jeep it.
That’s all I have to say for now. I hope these tips have been helpful and I hope that you enjoy your time in Bali as much as we did!