Featured Blog: Azedo
Blogger: Jessica Johnston - @backpackwithme
Bali is the closest thing to paradise i have ever experienced.
You see it blasted all over Instagram and probably have rolled your eyes once or twice when you scroll past yet another photo of the Gili Island beach swings for the millionth time, but it has a certain draw to it.
Personally, I was drawn in by the colors.
Every single photo I saw, Bali looked like the greenest, bluest, and most tropical place i have ever seen, and of course I was hooked.
In August, I decided to book a 10-day solo backpacking trip to the tropical region of Bali, Indonesia.
I was determined to do things as inexpensively as possible while also making it the trip of a lifetime, because after all, how many times in your life do you get to visit paradise?!
I gave myself a budget of $400 for my 10 day trip, and ended up spending less than half that amount!
My first stop on my Bali trip was the city of Kuta, one of the busiest places in all of Bali.
Kuta and Seminyak
Situated just a short 10 minute drive from the airport, Kuta was my first destination after hopping off the plane from Australia.
I learned very quickly, that bartering is an absolute necessity, as I had taxi drivers yelling prices at me from every which way.
After heading to an official looking taxi booth and paying a steep $20 for a ride to my hostel, I did a quick google search and discovered that the average taxi price is just a couple bucks, so I had unknowingly fallen into the tourist trap of trusting the first price I was given. After that, I made a vow to become a pro bargainer.
Arriving into Kuta was much different than what I had expected Bali to look like.
Kuta is a lively area most famous for its beach clubs and nightlife, so there was endless traffic, blaring music, and people everywhere. I’m more of a laid-back jungle and beach gal myself, so I was worried whether i’d feel at ease in this bustling area.
On my first morning, however, I realized that despite being in a busy city, there are always peaceful areas if you search for them.
That first morning, I naturally wanted to head straight to the beach to do some swimming and sunbathing. I grabbed my towel, sunscreen, GoPro, and set out towards the direction of Kuta Beach.
The beach was far from the tropical white-sand beach like I had envisioned, but instead was choppy water with flags indicating where it was unsafe to swim – which turned out to bepretty much everywhere.
I couldn’t help but feel disappointed, wondering if the beautiful Bali I had read about was simply over-exaggerated by the media.
I ended up doing a simple beach walk towards another popular town called Seminyak, and found myself much more in my element.
The beaches were cleaner, the sand was softer, and I stumbled upon the amazing Potato Head Beach Club. Potato Head Beach Club features two restaurants, three bars and a lounge area with a stunning infinity pool overlooking the ocean. Not to mention one of the bars is a swim-up bar in the middle of the pool. Does it get any better than that?! Probably not.
Although it was 100% geared towards tourists, it also featured some traditional Balinese food as well as ah-mazing cocktails.
I ordered a strawberry daiquiri, snagged the perfect spot by the pool, and people-watched over the beach where there were tourists taking surfing lessons – a truly hilarious sight to see.
If you enjoy watching people fall, then you’ll have the time of your life watching the tourists attempt to stand up on their surfboards and wipe out hard!
I’ve also heard from tons of travelers that surfing is one of the best things to do in Kuta, so if you’re feeling adventurous, sign yourself up for some lessons!
Where I Stayed in Kuta
While in Kuta, I decided to stay at a hostel called Bali Caps which turned out to be beyond amazing for my first few nights.
Bali Caps is located about a 10 minute walk from the beach and was central to everything I needed – food, shopping, and the ocean!
I had my own in-the-wall style bed with curtains, a locker, and power outlets (so necessary!), and it even featured free breakfast which I took full advantage of.
It was there that I also made a ton of new friends, some of which I would end up traveling with throughout Bali!
On day two of my time in Kuta I was determined to see more of the natural beauty of Bali, so I decided to head on down to Uluwatu.
Uluwatu is an area on the south-western tip of Bali, famously known for being the number four surfing destination in the world.
Lined with jaw-dropping limestone cliffs and incredible waves, it’s an impressive sight to see.
While staying in Kuta, my new hostel friends and I got together and shared an Uber down to Uluwatu Temple to see what all the fuss was about. Upon arrival, we paid 20,000 IDR ($1.50 USD), and each got to pick out a brightly-coloredsarong to wear.
It’s customary and a sign of respect to have your legs covered while visiting a Balinese temple, but for us we just loved twirling around in our new vibrant blue and purple sarongs.
I also developed an obsession with sarongs after that Uluwatu visit, and I am now the proud owner of at least five!
After paying the entrance fee and figuring out how to tie our sarongs properly (major fail!), we walked along the pathway leading towards the temple.
Each side of the path was lined with Balinese monkeys who looked a little too aggressive for my liking, but made for some entertaining photos as one of them stole a bottle of baby formula and made a run for it!
The monkeys were clearly on the lookout for anything to steal, so I clutched my bag and GoPro to me as if my life depended on it.
After making our way safely through the sneaky monkeys we approached the cliffs, and I was instantly mesmerized.
Uluwatu Temple is one of six temples considered to be Bali’s spiritual pillars, and is most famously known for it’s amazing location atop the high seaside cliffs of Uluwatu.
Most tourists come for the views but end up staying for the sunsets, as it’s in the perfect location to see those famous island sunsets light up the sky.
The temple’s path winds its way around the huge cliffs where wildflowers grow on each side of the walkway.
It’s hard to put into words how beautiful of a place Uluwatu really is. I was lucky enough to even see a pod of dolphins making their way across the ocean!
To say it was the experience of a lifetime is an understatement.
After spending a couple hours wandering the beautiful seaside cliffs of Uluwatu Temple, we made our way over to Single Fin, a cliff-top bar featuring amazing views of the surf and sunset.
We spent the rest of the night watching the surfers, both professional and amateur, glide across the waves while we snacked on Nalu Bowls.
It was a great end to my stay in Kuta, and I went back to my hostel happy as ever knowing that there is so much natural beauty in Bali after all!
The next morning I packed up my stuff and caught an Uber 1 hour north to the paradise jungle town of Ubud.
After just 3 days in Ubud, I quickly came to the conclusion that it was my new #1 favorite place on the planet.
I rocked up thinking it was going to be a tourist-filled nightmare, but despite the masses of tour groups with their selfie sticks, Ubud still blew me away and left me in awe.
Ubud is a town in central Bali, famously known for its tropical rainforests, lush green rice paddies, and incredibly designed temples.
Driving into Ubud, I sped past endless rice fields and watched out the window completely fascinated as the locals worked the paddies in their straw-brimmed hats.
Ubud really is a little slice of heaven.
I’ve traveled enough in my life to know that it’s impossible to escape the tourists – because after all, i’m a tourist myself.
There are certain tricks i’ve learned, however, that make each experience more personal and allow you to appreciate the real beauty of a destination.
I know it sounds rough, but if you want the best experience possible (and the best photos), you need to be waking up before the sun.
Who likes waking up at the crack of dawn? Nobody, that’s who!
So if you’re looking for some epic photography without crowds of tourist groups ruining your pics, then you have two choices: photoshop them all out of your photos (not recommended), or wake up early.
When it came to Ubud, I wanted to fully experience the natural beauty, so I decided to set out to see the infamous Tegallalang Rice Terraces as early as possible.
Things to Do
Tegallalang Rice Terraces
The Tegallalang Rice Terraces are located a little north from the heart of Ubud and are an absolute MUST SEE when visiting Ubud.
If you’re confident on a scooter, then that’s definitely the best and easiest method of transportation to get there.
If you’re clumsy and uncoordinated on two wheels like me, however, you might have better luck with a scooter taxi driver which will only cost you $5 USD.
The drive will take you past hundreds of glimmering bright green rice paddies, making it physically impossible not to stop for photos at least 3 times before even making it to the terraces.
And if you tip your taxi driver extra, he’ll happily turn it into a full-on photoshoot for you!
The rice paddies are impressive, but Tegallalang will render you speechless. The layers upon layers of rice fields form a type of staggered cliff, and is truly a sight to see.
According to my Balinese guide, the terraces are designed in steep layers because they form a natural irrigation system.
This irrigation system involves water running from its main source through temples, before flowing downhill into the rice terraces.
In Balinese culture, rice is seen as a gift of God, which is why the maintenance and care of the paddies and terraces is such an important job.
I spent a good hour or two just wandering through the different terraces before the tourists started rolling in, and it was definitely the most at-peace i have ever felt.
There’s something calming about being alone in nature, especially nature as beautiful as Tegallalang.
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary was just a hop skip and a step away from my hostel, so there was no way I could pass up a monkey photo opportunity.
The forest is home to an estimated 600 Balinese long-tailed monkeys, and these aren’t just any old monkeys.
These are the smartest, most cunning little monkey thieves in the world, so before you go, make sure to leave any loose jewelry or sunglasses behind, because they will be stolen!
The monkey forest is something truly indescribable.
You enter the forest through the main gates, stroll around with sunlight peeking through the trees, and make your way across bridges and
stairways to get to the main monkey areas.
I saw baby monkeys playing in front of me, monkeys with stolen water bottles, and other monkeys just chilling on the path waiting for food.
I got to one of the main areas and decided to buy the extra large bunch of bananas because I wanted to feed the maximum number of monkeys possible.
I naturally figured 10 bananas would mean 10 monkeys… but boy, was I naive.
Within just seconds of holding the bananas, I had monkeys springing at me from every which way.
Over half of the bananas were taken right from my hands by the very first monkey before I could even process what was going on.
These monkeys will not just wait to be fed.
If they see bananas (or food in general), trust me: they will get them from you!
The monkeys are also very skilled climbers, so climbing a human body is no feat for them!
Thankfully I had my GoPro filming, so I got tons of footage of monkeys lunging at me and just 1 video of a monkey sitting calmly and happily on my shoulder.
Tirta Empul Holy Water Temple
The Tirta Empul Holy Water Temple was something my friends and I somehow stumbled upon while we were searching for Ubud’s waterfalls.
We got a little lost along the way, and decided to follow the signs to the Holy Water Temple instead.
Tirta Empul is one of the largest and busiest Hindu water temples in Indonesia, famously known for its holy spring water.
The temple is dedicated to Vishnu, the Hindu God of water, and the water in these pools is believed to have magical powers.
The local Balinese people, as well as many tourists, come here to purify themselves beneath the water spouts of the holy purification pools, so it turned out to be an incredible cultural experience.
Upon entering, you see people fully dressed, entering the water, and forming lines in front of each spout.
Although I would have loved the experience of purifying myself in traditional Balinese style, I just couldn’t fathom the idea of being soaking wet for the rest of the day, so I skipped bathing in those magical waters!
Where I Stayed
For my first night in Ubud I wanted to treat myself, so I booked an Airbnb with only one requirement: an infinity pool.
I paid $30 USD, and what I got was way more than I could have ever dreamed of.
I arrived to a private 5-star villa with my own infinity pool, pool-side air-conditioned bungalow, an open-style shower facing the jungle, and the most incredible service by my Airbnb hosts.
While lounging by the pool, I remember thinking, “Life seriously can’t get any better than this”.
My next few nights in Ubud I moved over to the Kememai Hostel, just minutes away from the Monkey Forest.
It was definitely a step-down from my luxurious private villa, but still nice nonetheless and a quarter of the price at just $8 USD per night.
It even featured free breakfast on the rooftop lounge where I had a pretty incredible sunrise view over the forests of Ubud.
After exploring as much of Ubud as I could possibly fit into three days, I caught a bus and then a boat over to my next tropical destination.
The Gili Islands were my last stop in Bali, and upon arrival it was clear I saved one of the bests for last.
A two hour boat ride from the mainland of Bali takes you to the Gilis, a string of three tropical islands that seem to transport you back in time.
These islands are paradise in every sense of the word.
Despite the heavy rise in tourism, the islands have still kept their unique charm with dirt roads, horse-drawn carriages, and incredible smells wafting from every direction you turn.
There are also no cars or motorized scooters on the island which is a pleasant change from the hustle and bustle of the streets in Bali.
If you like peace and tranquility, Gili Air and Gili Meno are the more honeymoon-esque islands of the three.
Gili Trawangan, however, is the largest island and a backpacker haven, which is where I chose to spend my 3 days.
Although it’s a small island, there are endless things to do on Gili T.
I went with an open mind and really only had three main things I wanted to do: see a turtle, sit on a beach swing, and bike around the island.
Things to do
The turquoise waters surrounding the Gili Islands are crystal clear and filled with angelfish, butterfly fish, and the ever-so-majestic sea turtles.
If you want the experience of a lifetime, you don’t need to pay for one of the hundreds of tours offered.
Simply rent a snorkel and some fins from a beach stand and head over to Gili T’s northeast beaches.
I could have easily spent the whole day floating through the warm waters, and within the first 10 minutes I had even spotted my first sea turtle gliding through the coral!
Bike Ride Around the Island
The eastern coast of Gili Trawangan is where 95% of the hostels, hotels, bars, and clubs are.
It’s a great area to explore, but I wanted to see more of the natural untouched island.
I decided to rent a bike for the day and set out to see the western side.
Riding around the perimeter of the island only takes under 1 hour (or a couple hours if you make a few stops along the way), but is a must-do activity in my opinion.
The beaches are more and more secluded as you ride farther west, and you really get a good feel of the natural island life.
Just make sure to bring plenty of water, because after just 20 minutes on the bike I was sweating bullets!
Watch the Sunset
Gili T gets the majority of its fame from its picturesque beach swings.
You see them all over instagram these days, and they look like the most magical place on earth.
Scattered all across the shallow beaches of the Gili Islands, these huge swings are uniquely constructed out of wood or metal, and are one of the most photographed places in Bali.
My hostel friends and I were pumped to get an insta-worthy sunset shot on the infamous swings, so we headed to the beach well before sunset to find the perfect spot.
It turned out to be way more strategic than we had thought, because there were LINES.
Lines of 10-20 tourists formed across the beach in front of each swing, patiently waiting for their turn for a photo.
I should have known we wouldn’t be the only ones wanting to get our dream photo.
I’m not patient enough to wait an hour in line just for a photo, so instead I sat and watched the swing while each tourist did pose after pose, most often choosing a “dramatic look-away into the distance” shot.
The next morning, we decided to go back to the same area to lay on the beach, and low and behold the swings were completely empty!
We actually got to enjoy swinging out over the ocean rather than having the pressure to get photos and then get off.
We didn’t get those beautiful sunset shots, but we did get the swings all to ourselves and still got some pretty incredible photos – including the photo of my “dramatic look away into the distance” shot.
Yes, i’m a typical girl sometimes!
Where I Stayed in Gili Trawangan
Gili T has limited accommodation because of its size, so the prices of hostels are 2-3x higherthan everywhere else in Bali.
I booked early and still paid a high price of $20 per night for a bed in the Gili La Boheme Hostel.
Upon arriving, I felt like I had walked into mass disorganized chaos.
I waited 5 hours for the staff to find me a room since they had overbooked by 15+ people, and watched as the staff had to turn away other backpackers who had booked legit reservations.
I felt so bad for them thinking that they would have to sleep out on the beach, but after a few nights at the hostel, I actually envied them.
If you’re planning a Gili T trip, I’d recommend shelling out the extra cash to stay somewhere with four walls and no snakes.
Yes, I literally had a giant snake in my room on my last night there!
What I Ate in Gili T
Since I was doing Bali in the cheapest way possible, it meant I couldn’t afford to spend my money on those luxurious beach-side restaurants that looked like they were straight out of a magazine.
Instead, I chose to do things the more authentic way by eating at the street market.
I was pretty wary at first, because I had heard horror stories from other travelers about them getting food poisoning in southeast asia, but I faced my fears and hit up the night market on Gili T.
Every night, the boardwalk area fills with pop-up stands selling foods like fish, crab, noodles, fried chicken, and every type of Balinese food imaginable.
The smells are impossible to resist, but the prices are what made me go back night after night.
For a full plate of food, you pay anywhere for $1-4 depending on your choices, and the food is out of this world amazing.
I did not envy those beach-side restaurants in the slightest, because the night market had me head over heels in love.
Back To Kuta
My last hostel, TZ Party Hostel, was back in Kuta the night before my flight out, and was a very different vibe to my first hostel.
It was located right in the heart of the “party area” of Kuta, so I should have known better than to book a room on a weekend.
I arrived at midnight with music blasting from the neighboring club, and cursed myself for booking somewhere with “Party Hostel” in the name.
I was sure I would be getting no sleep that night.
Rather than the typical 8, 16, or even 24-person hostel dorms, I was brought to a traditional Balinese bungalow with only one other girl in my room and NO BUNK BEDS!
Oh, how I had begun to hate bunk beds!
Despite the loud pumping music until 4 am, I still managed to get some sleep… big shoutout to whoever invented earplugs.
The next morning after waking up, I walked out to a completely different atmosphere than the night before.
I left my bungalow and was instantly struck by the beauty of the hostel.
There was a huge beautiful pool with bungalows surrounding it on each side, tropical palmtrees everywhere, and complete peaceful silence!
I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that my last morning in Bali would be a good one, and sat beside the pool until it was time to head to the airport.
What I Packed
If I could do Bali all over again, I would only do one thing different: packing.
I was the idiot who went to the Gili Islands with a suitcase.
Let me tell you something… there’s nothing more embarrassing than dragging your suitcase across the sand to get to your boat.
Have you ever dragged a suitcase through sand before?
Not easy… not easy at all.
Not to mention 100% of my hostels in Bali had 2+ floors, so lugging my suitcase up the stairs in sweltering humidity had me sweating like a wildebeest.
Despite my suitcase dilemma, I did manage to pack like a pro with all the essentials for the tropical life.
The weather in Bali rotates between two temperatures: hot and unbearably hot, so it was necessary to pack some things I wouldn’t usually think about.
If you’re planning a Bali backpacking trip, the following list was my guideline for packing:
- Aloe vera (and lots of it!)
- Insect repellant
- Mini first aid kit
- Microfiber quick-drying towel
- Flip flops AND walking shoes
- Tissues as you may often encounter bathrooms without toilet paper!
- Lightweight clothes: dresses, tank tops, shorts, socks, underwear, swimsuit
- Toiletries: Shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, hand sanitizer
- Medicine: Imodium, electrolyte packets, sea sickness tablets, paracetamol
- Chargers, power adapters, and a converter if needed
Although you can always buy these things in Bali, the cost for some are extremely high and you’re better off bringing them from home.
Packing light is definitely a necessity if you’re moving around a lot from place to place, so if you’re struggling for space, i’d recommend leaving a few things behind.
Bali is an island and chances are you will be doing some swimming at one point or another, but bringing a beach towel is definitely unnecessary.
A sarong doubles as a beach towel and clothing, so it’s my new go-to item for traveling (and definitely saves a ton of packing space!).
You also will have little to no use for travel guidebooks. I made the mistake of bringing one Bali guidebook with me, and I left it behind at my very first hostel because it made my bag ridiculously heavy!
All in all, Bali had such a big impact on me both culturally and spiritually, and became one of my favorite places in the world.
I was lucky enough to experience some of the most beautiful locations and natural beauty that i’ve ever seen, and those ten days left me with a deep connection to the island that i have never felt before.