If we had to pick one word to describe Bali, it would be magical. Visually, it’s stunning. The people are some of the sweetest, most welcoming folks we’ve ever encountered. You know that feeling you get sometimes when you visit a location that’s considered a tourist destination and the locals seem like they’re just sort of tolerating you and/or putting on the tourist-friendly act, because they rely on the tourist industry for their living? We experienced none of that. Every local we met gave us the feeling they were genuinely interested in talking with us and seemed to have an inner peace and an outer glow. Maybe it’s the Hinduism (Bali is the only Hindu island in the mostly Muslim Indonesia), which is evident in all of the lovely floral daily offerings lining the sidewalks and majestic temples that take your breath away. But whatever it is, it was the perfect vibe for us to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary, which was the occasion for this trip.
On a side note, while this was a romantic couple trip, and would be an ideal honeymoon destination, Bali is actually very, very family-friendly. There were so many times we said to each other, “Foster would love this. We have to bring him back here.” There’s a plethora of kid-friendly activities, the hotels and restaurants were all very accommodating to families, and the locals seemed to have a true enjoyment of kids. It was the norm to see an entire local family riding together on one scooter (mom, dad, and at least 2 kids).
Ubud > Amed > Lovina Beach > Munduk > Canggu
We avoided the very touristy Kuta beach (a starting point for many because it’s close to the airport), and instead started in Ubud and did a loop around the island, staying in the slightly more off-the-beaten-path towns. One of the things that made Bali so appealing to us is its manageable size. We were easily able to fit in gorgeous beaches, cultural hubs, mountains, volcanos and the idyllic rice fields without feeling rushed.
GETTING THERE & AROUND
I’m not going to sugar coat it, getting to Bali from the east coast is not fast or cheap (airfare specifically, once there accommodations and food are VERY affordable). For that reason, I’d recommend at least a 2-week minimum to make the travel worthwhile. We opted to fly out of JFK on Cathay Pacific instead of Philly, because that meant fewer stops (and some $ saved). In hindsight, we would actually welcome a longer layover if we did it again, like a 24-hr layover in a cool city to break up the flight time. As it was, we went JFK > Vancouver > Hong Kong > Denpasar (Bali), with only about an hour for transfers between flights. So we were basically on a plane for 25+ hours straight, each way. To say our muscles were stiff by the time we arrived would be an understatement.
Once there, it’s very easy and affordable to hire a private driver to take you from one location to the next. In fact, it’s a really fun way to get to spend a couple hours getting to know a local. Plus, they all had great tips on fun stops to make along the way.
Ubud: Green Field
This wasn’t initially our first choice of places to stay in Ubud, but it’s where we ended up due to availability and the budget we were working with (there are some ridiculously gorgeous places to stay in Ubud for the slightly-higher-budget-traveller). But we were actually very happy with this place. They immediately made us a meal at the onsite restaurant upon our arrival, even though it was a weird arrival time, and the breakfasts that were delivered to our porch every morning were a highlight. The room was tastefully sparse, with a nice Balinese flavor, but the porch overlooking the rice field was AMAZING.
Diving is really the only reason to visit Amed. There’s not much else going on there and it’s not particularly picturesque, so we were pleased to find this seemingly charming boutique hotel with adorable design-conscious cottages. Our open air bathroom, tiled completely in river stone, was GORGEOUS. Our cottage had a broken air conditioner, which they did try to fix, but apparently needed to get a part which didn’t end up happening while we were there. The heat wasn’t really the problem so much as the humidity – every thing in the cottage including bedding and our clothes was damp as a result. Add in some relentless biting/stinging horse fly-type insects both poolside and beachside, and we didn’t end up loving this place as much as we’d hoped. So design-wise, we’d give this place an “A”, but they’ve got some kinks to work out operationally.
Lovina Beach: Frangipani Beach Hotel
This 8-room hotel is owned by a French woman, with a very friendly Balinese staff, and is only a 5-min beach walk to downtown Lovina. The grounds and rooms were beautifully designed. In fact, we found this place to be so lovely and tranquil that we really only felt the desire to go downtown for meals a couple times. The landscaped yard, with its outdoor beds, lure you into relaxing the day away poolside with a good book and a cocktail. Dinner is by special request only, so we did do that one night, which involved a delicious meal made by a local chef and a Balinese dance demonstration. The only hiccup of our stay here was when the owner’s puppy found her way onto our porch and chewed up the strap on my Merrell leather sandal (you leave your shoes outside, as per the Balinese tradition). But one of the Balinese women quickly found a needle and thread and stitched them up well enough to get me through the rest of the trip, until I was able to get the strap replaced at home.
Munduk: Puri Lumbung Cottages
Munduk is a tiny little village in the mountains of central Bali, and this is an eco-resort with traditional Balinese cottages built on stilts. This is a mosquito-net around the bed, no AC, one-step up from camping kind of situation, but so very charming. The hotel is right near the entrance to a 40-min hiking trail through the rainforest to a gorgeous waterfall. It’s very hilly, surrounded by the greenest rice fields, with a cool mountain breeze. The restaurant was pretty tasty, which is good, because there aren’t really any other local options. According to a sign on the property, David Bowie and his wife Iman stopped there in 1996.
Canggu: Desa Seni
This place was our 2-night finale splurge hotel (at $150/nt back in 2010). It’s predominantly a yoga retreat, and we aren’t really yoga folks, but we were all about the adorably designed cottages and lushly landscaped grounds. If the Anthropologie stores decided to open up a hotel, this is what it would look like. Each wooden cottage is unique and was transported from different islands throughout Indonesia. The restaurant was organic and very health-conscious. We really didn’t leave this hotel to do much exploring (other than a day trip to Tanah Lot, which was stunning, although very commercialized) because the immediate area felt very touristy and inauthentic to us, particularly coming off of our stay in Munduk. But it was the kind of pampering we were looking for to end our trip, knowing we had 25+ hrs of plane travel ahead of us with a very healthy dose of jet lag.
Whitewater rafting the Ayung River near Ubud
The Art Market in Ubud
Stopping at the Tirtangaa water garden on the way from Ubud to Amed
Diving the wreck of the USS Liberty, Bunutan and the Amed Pyramids with Ecodive in Amed
Pura Besakih (Mother Temple) on the slopes of Mount Agung
Trekking through Munduk village to the coffee and spice plantation
Hiring Putu to drive us in his VW Thing to the 700-yr old giant Banyan tree in Gesing village near Munduk