My Trip to Bali!
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
The idea to go to Bali first came to us about a year ago, when my friend (who's my current roommate) and I were dreaming of things to do for our first college winter break. At the time, we were completing our last few months of high school and were thinking about our upcoming year in college and, with that, came the topic of traveling over breaks. According to the calendar our university gave us, we saw that we would have a whole month off to enjoy winter break. Initially, I proposed traveling to Greece as it has been, and still is, one of the top destinations on my travel wish list. However, my friend then proposed Bali as her top choice. Knowing how unique and desirable Bali has been, I couldn't help but say yes! Honestly, when it comes to traveling, I am always down to say yes to a new destination, and, on top of this, I felt it would be good timing to visit Bali during the month of January since it was going to be summertime for the Southern Hemisphere.
From that point forward, throughout the summer and fall months of 2018, we slowly but surely planned our trip. All the while, I worked and saved up all the funds necessary in order to make it happen! I now, finally, was able to compile this travel diary/guide to share with you all some of the details of our vacation. Hope you enjoy it.......
NEW YORK CITY TO BALI, INDONESIA
We woke up at around 3am to start packing. It was Wednesday, January 9th, and we had to catch a 9am flight to Doha, Qatar (where our layover would be) from JFK. Of course, us being us, we didn't start packing until 2 hours before we had to catch an Uber to the airport. On top of the time crunch, before leaving our home, I decided to squeeze in a quick stretching session using my Alo Yoga Warrior Mat. I focused on my back and neck flexibility as those areas tense up the most while traveling for long periods of time.
For this trip to Bali, we flew via Qatar Airways. This was my first time flying through this airlines and I was so impressed by the service and overall experience. The staff, airplane amenities, and cuisine was very sophisticated, elegant, and well-organized. For both the departure and return flights, we had to stop at DOH (Hamad International Airport; Doha, Qatar) for a layover. Thankfully, however, it was a really pleasant experience as DOH is a huge hub for international travelers and, therefore, offers high-tech amenities and services for those who may have layovers. Our total travel schedule, for the departure fight was approximately 24 hours. Because Bali is so far from NYC, I think it worked out perfectly that we had a layover because it gave us the opportunity to stretch, move around, and catch up on some sleep (we found these cool sections at the Doha airport that was dedicated solely to lounge chairs and quite room).
We arrived to Bali at around 11pm. It felt unreal to be there. This was not my first time traveling abroad, but it was my friend's first time leaving the U.S. so that really amped up the air of excitement. We both were definitely checking off some pretty cool "firsts" from our travel list such as: going to the Southern Hemisphere, crossing the equator, traveling to the Asian continent, going on vacation without any parents around, and (for me) financing the trip solely by myself! These little factors made the trip all the more special for us, especially considering that we made it happen during freshman year.
The Balinese customs and baggage claim area was pretty straight forward, but cramped, at this time of the night. In unison with our first Airbnb host, we had scheduled a driver to pick us up from the airport at 11:30pm. We, unexpectedly, came across two extremely long customs lines, which held up our schedule quite a bit. Therefore, if you plan on scheduling a driver for airport pick up, I recommend that you book the time at least one hour after your expected arrival time. This will give you enough time to go through customs, security, baggage claim, and convert your home currency into Indonesian Rupiah. I am so glad that we had booked the driver in advance because it saved us so much more hassle time, and, besides, we were quite tired and just wanted to hop into the car haha! Our driver was so sweet, patient, and helpful that we decided to exchange contact info with him just in case we needed to schedule another pre-paid driving time later on in the trip.
Being an Economics major, I feel it's worth taking a moment to talk about the currency exchange we encountered to better help you all prepare for your possible travel plans to Bali. On average, the currency value between the Indonesian Rupiah and the USD seems to slightly change every few days. However, the standard equivalency is: 1 USD = 14,000 Rupiah. When we first arrived, I recall it being 1 USD = 14, 270 Rupiah. Five days into our trip, the equivalency had already changed and dropped to 1 USD = 13, 500 (approximately). Overall, the currency difference is quite large so you'll be carrying a substantial amount of Rupiah (bring a small wallet or money holder; preferably waterproof).
Though cards are used, most transactions (this can include any form of shopping, car rides, dining, etcetera) are done in cash. ATMs can be found all over Bali; I'd recommend trying to cash out enough money while at the airport, however, because Bank Bri (for example) won't charge you a conversion fee and that can help save on costs. Coins aren't used too much as the red 100,000 Rupiah bill is the most popular to use.
For the sake of this trip, we used the XE Currency app to help us with our on-the-go transactions. This app was literally our best friend. I couldn't recommend it more! It's free, non-wifi based, is not limited to specific countries, and runs only on live rates.
Throughout our time in Bali we stayed in two different villas, both booked through Airbnb. The first villa was called Abian Biu and was located in Mengwi, Bali, a city-like area surrounded by other nearby lively towns. By the time we arrived in Mengwi and checked into the villa it was about four in the morning. The calm sound of the infinity pool in combination with the humid air and star filled sky made for the perfect opportunity to take a nighttime swim. In general, the Indonesian government has been doing an excellent job in preserving the natural roots of the island, all the while allowing for Bali’s southwest touristic area to grow and enhance as an international hub. Because of this natural preservation, Bali isn’t overwhelmed with harsh, artificial lights, allowing for one to view and enjoy the stars at night. Though I wouldn’t recommend for anyone to take a night swim in the ocean, I would advise for one to take advantage of the opportunity to swim at one of the many pools that exist within the hotels or private properties. After our pool dip, we went straight to bed and called it a night, as we were drained from our travels and the huge time difference.
Abian Biu is actually a shared villa with a hotel feel. The building structure is two stories high with outdoor access to each of the eight rooms. Additionally, Abian Biu has a 24 hour security/front desk service alongside a restaurant, which is opened for the majority of the day. Our villa, in particular, was on the first floor and faced the infinity pool. Therefore, we woke up to the view of greenery and fresh flowers surrounding the sunlit, still blue pool.
The first thing we did was grab some breakfast at the villa’s restaurant. We both ordered a simple pastry platter with fresh guava juice and Balinese coffee. From there, we prepared to head out and explore the surrounding city area of Seminyak. For this trip, we relied on a Balinese app called GRAB, which is the equivalent to UBER or LYFT, rather than taking the local blue taxi. Though this application was very convenient for us to use, it is important to keep in mind that most Grab drivers only stick to the touristic areas of southwest Bali (which includes Seminyak, Canggu, Kuta Beach, and Denpasar) and central Bali (which mostly includes Ubud). For the sake of our trip to Seminyak, though, Grab was an ideal form of transportation as it quickly took us to Seminyak Village, an outdoor shopping mall filled with both local market shops and high end, foreign businesses. This is a great spot to browse by foot because of the variety of shops, offering clothes, delicious eatery, spa services, and nighttime bar scenes. We spent most of our afternoon at Seminyak Village and ended the night at Char Char Bar & Grill, which has an open aired, escalated seating area that faces the streets of Seminyak. Char Char is dimly lit with natural vines encompassing the walls; it is a great spot to have a quick dinner and enjoy a tropical drink.
After breakfast, we found a driver to take us westward to Lumbung Sari House of Luwak Coffee. Here, we had a private tour of the coffee, tea, and plant fields. Though tea is a favorite amongst locals and visitors, coffee cultivation is widespread amongst the island. The cultivation and exportation of coffee in Bali began during the late 1600s and has grown over the centuries, due in part by the island’s well-suited climate that’s heavily effected by its distance to the equator. We were walked through the garden and were shown how particular herbs, such as lemongrass and hibiscus, are harvested. Additionally, our guide led us through the journey of explaining how the coffee is grown, broken down, and prepared for release into the marketplace. It is through this process that one realizes how unique Balinese coffee is. The process begins by having the Kopi Luwak, also known as the Asian Palm Civet, digest the coffee beans. This mammal is native to tropical Asia and is specifically used by coffee cultivators for this process. Once the beans have been digested, the Kopi Luwak releases the remains in the form of feces. This very feces then hardens and is broken down into smaller pieces. The next step is to roast the digested beans above an open fire to prepare for the crushing of the beans, which is done manually by using a wooden stick and sifter. Finally, the grinded coffee beans is packaged up and prepared to be sold to consumers.
The tour ended with a sample tasting of all the teas and coffees that are harvested at Lumbung Sari House of Luwak Coffee. The flavors ranged from mangosteen tea and lemongrass tea to vanilla coffee and ginger coffee. The sample platter also came with a bowl of plantain chips, a cup of hot water and lemon, and a tropical flower for decor.
From there, we ventured out to the famous Monkey Forest in Ubud. In general, the experience was definitely more on the touristy end as visitors are attracted by the forest and river terrain that the monkeys are free to roam through. Though the monkeys are heavily watched and checked upon by Balinese and international universities for cases of Rabies, it is advised that visitors don’t look the monkeys in the eyes because, in doing so, one can entice the monkey into jumping on you and, potentially, biting you, depending on the emotional state of the monkey at the time of interaction.
Our final location for the day was at a viewing spot overlooking the Ubud rice fields. It began to heavily rain, however, which led us to end the day a little bit earlier than anticipated. With that said, it is important to note that Bali has a tropical monsoon climate, divided into two seasons: the dry (May to September) and wet (October to April) periods.
After a night of rain, we woke up to clear skies and strong, sunny weather. Therefore, we decided to spend our morning hours by the pool. We ordered breakfast and ate while we soaked up every bit of the Balinese summer sun.
Towards the early afternoon hours, we took a GRAB to an outdoor shopping center in Canggu. Here, we went on a hunt for bikinis and ended up purchasing a few items from Billabong.
In that same area, we came across Cafe Organic, a restaurant specializing in fresh, healthy cuisine. For lunch, my friend and I had ordered ginger lemon water, a dragon fruit bowl, toast with pumpkin spread, salad, goat cheese, and sunflower seeds, truffle fries, and a Mediterranean salad. This cafe is optimal during the daytime and is great for winding down/cooling off. The clientele are mostly foreigners from Australia and Europe, which gives the cafe a much more international atmosphere.
We then took a GRAB to nearby Kuta Beach for sunset hour. At the entrance of the beach, there’s an extensive outdoor market to pick up unique small goods. Access to the beach from the main road was under construction, so we resorted to climbing down the terrain manually. Kuta Beach, alongside other beaches like Legian and Lovina Beach, is one of the most ideal spots to enjoy watching the sun set as both locals and tourists surround the area, and the sound of the distant music from the nearby beach clubs excites the mood for the rest of the night.
That night we had to vacate our first villa and commute over to east Bali to check in to the second Airbnb, called Rumah Kelapa (also known by the owners as Coconut House). On the way over, our GRAB driver was kind enough to pull over to Indomaret, a boutique local grocery, so that we could purchase several liters of bottled water. We did so because, generally, it isn’t safe for foreigners to drink or consume any items containing non-bottled water while in Bali because it can lead to traveler’s diarrhea and vomiting. With that said, upon arriving to Rumah Kelapa, our hosts greeted us with a fruity “welcome drink” and a bowl of traditional fresh flowers (known as Canang Sari, which is used daily as a form of offering in the Hindu religion).
One thing to keep in mind, when traveling to Bali is that transportation across the island can be time consuming, costly, and difficult to arrange. Thus, it is important to do some research on the location of the main activities you may want to do. Even if your desired activity list may not all be in the same area, at least you can mentally prepare ahead of time for having to find a driver to take you around. As mentioned previously, GRAB is most efficient when in areas with high levels of tourist populations. Most of North, East, and Southeast Bali are dominated with the local population who typically have their own transportation vehicles, that being in the form of a scooter or Vespa. The local areas of Bali are referred to as villages and, when at home, are engulfed by the sound of birds chirping, roosters crowing, and the distant sound of scooters driving by on the main road.
Rumah Kelapa is a property on the east end of Bali, specifically in Karangasem, Bali, that is walking distance to Jasri Beach. The property is owned by an Australian couple but is run by a Balinese manager and his employees. The staff at Rumah Kelapa is very friendly and helpful as they can advise you on what's best to do around the area and can answer any questions you may have about Bali and Indonesia. Additionally, the property consists of four villas and includes a dining area which serves breakfast and dinner daily.
Our villa is called Villa Senang and was a perfect size for two people to occupy. Each villa comes with an outdoor seating area, but our villa, in particular, came with an open aired outdoor shower, a locally carved and painted wooden entrance door, and complimentary daily breakfast.
The property was surrounded by lush greenery and there is a free flowing stream at the entrance. Additionally, right next door to Rumah Kelapa is a farm holding a few domestic cows and roosters.
The daily complimentary breakfast generally included: hot water, ginger, and lemon or Balinese coffee to drink, a fresh fruit platter, and your choice of either homemade banana pancakes (that came with a homemade dragon fruit jam) or a plate of eggs. My personal favorite were the homemade banana pancakes because the bananas came from local farms and the dragon fruit jam added an extra layer of sweetness. For the remainder of this trip, I had decided to only drink hot water, lemon, and ginger as I wanted to take advantage of the laid back mood that came with being on vacation. However, my friend continued to drink the Balinese coffee as she felt she quickly fell in love with the fresh delicacy.
During our first full day at the new villa, we used the beach bags and turquoise cover ups that our host provided us with to go to the nearby Jasri Beach. Jasri Beach is known to be a local’s beach and is iconic because of its black sand feature. The shoreline is mostly covered with large rocks but there is a patch of land that is purely made of volcanic sand and small pebbles. That day, the weather was on the cloudy side so the dark, stormy weather in combination with the black sand beach made for a very dramatic and moody feel. Jasri beach is right in between the Bali Sea (to the northeast) and the Indian Sea (to the southwest); the waters are quite dark, making it difficult to sea through it. Also, there are no lifeguards and there’s only a limited amount of beachgoers, thus, it is best to not swim too deep into the waters as it would be difficult to get assistance, in the event that an emergency takes place.
While at Jasri Beach, it ended up raining so we called it a day and spent the rest of our time at the villa. That evening, we had dinner at Rumah Kelapa’s restaurant where I ordered a platter of freshly caught mahi mahi, white rice, and sautéed vegetables.
For any yogis or meditators, Bali is an ideal location to bring these practices to the forefront as many are inspired by the island’s natural landscape and historical ties with Hinduism. Thus, we began this morning by doing a yoga session followed by an intensive full body stretch. We then had our breakfast at the villa and decided we would spend the day exploring Virgin Beach. The employees at Rumah Kelapa were so kind that they offered to drive us, via their scooters, to Virgin Beach, which was only accessible by journeying through a nearby mountainous village. The views from a top the mountain were one of a kind as you could see the red rooftops of all the homes, the lush palm trees and the white sand beach in which we were headed to. Along the way, cows roamed alongside the road and held such a calm disposition that it was safe enough for me to pet and be in close proximity to some of the adult ones. This beach spot is called Virgin Beach due to its white sand fixture and pristine location just below the mountain. The beach is made up of both locals, selling fresh fruits and small handmade goods, and tourists; the local Balinese dog also roams freely along the shoreline. There is no wifi on the beach, nor is there any in the surrounding area, so be sure to have your transportation set up ahead of time so that you can exit the beach without having to climb up the entire mountain in order to reach the village area. Lastly, towards the southwest end of the beach is a cave that can be accessed by climbing a series of rocks. If you would like to attempt to do so, it would be best to wear proper water shoes to safely climb the rock and be attentive of all the crabs that lay around as you get closer and closer to the cave. Fisherman surround the entrance of the cave as waters are clear and filled with wildlife. By the time we got back to the villa, we were very hungry and ordered a rice and vegetable platter from the cook at Rumah Kelapa.
The rain forecast was at a high on this day, leaving us with a minimal amount of choices of activities to do. So, we decided to stay in and spend the day relaxing at the villa. For anybody coming from a big city, a day in doors in the warmth of your bed is well appreciated! We originally intended to spend all of our days in Bali doing outdoor activities so that we can make the most of our time. However, we ended up really enjoying this rainy day as it forced us to slow down and soak in the calm energy that this part of the island evoked. We ate our meals in bed, read the books we brought along with us, and caught up on some sleep. Depending on how long you are staying in Bali, I would try to squeeze in one “at home day” for those who come from busy, hectic lifestyles.
After breakfast, our manager organized a driver to take us around Bali for the day. The first stop on our itinerary was Tegenungan Waterfall. This location requires an entry fee and is mostly visited by tourists. There are outdoor shops and restaurants that align the walkway that leads towards the waterfall. The only way to access the waterfall is by climbing a series of manmade steps. The view from these steps provides different levels of elevation in which one can see the waterfall and accompanying river. It is best to visit this spot on a sunny day as the fresh river water can be quite chilly to swim in.
The next stop was the Holy Spring Water Temple. The landscape of this location was vast and the temples held a classic Balinese form with worn out coral paint. There was also a section dedicated to cleansing through the Holy Spring ceremonial waters. The only thing to keep in mind for this site is that one, regardless of gender, must use a coverup in order to enter the temple grounds.
Half way through the day, we decide to stop by a street grocery store to purchase some snacks. We then moved forward to the third location. Here, we were in the area of Ubud and we visited the famous rice fields with the accompanying swing. Though it began to rain, we borrowed the umbrellas that the company hosting the swing rides had. In regards to the swing, there are two different levels of intensity that one can choose from: regular or extreme. Both levels allow for about 14 swings in total, giving you more than enough time to take in the views of the hills, rice fields, and river that surround you.
Finally, we ended the day in Ubud at a spa called Gisella Spa. All around Bali, spas can be found and prices vary, allowing for most visitors to be able to explore all the options. At Gisella Spa, we both purchased a package deal which included a full body massage, an ear candle waxing treatment, and a manicure/pedicure (no polish included). The deal was totally worth it and left us feeling so pampered!
The following morning, I had some quiet time to read my book and sit atop a big outdoor daybed that Rumah Kelapa had. Later in the early afternoon hours, my friend and I visited the nearby Sensatia Botanicals. I purchased three different items: a sea salt scrub called Cleopatra's Rose, a charcoal toothpaste and a cinnamon mint toothpaste. We both ordered a seafood based meal that night at the villa.
Knowing that the next day was going to be our final day, we decided to spend the day once again at Jasri Beach as we felt it was worth taking advantage of the fact that we were so close to a volcanic black sand beach. Towards the afternoon hours, we hired a driver to take us back towards the city-like area of southwest Bali. Our driver dropped us off at Yeh Gangga Beach for a sunset our four wheeler ATV tour hosted by an Australian company called Quad Biking Bali. This one hour tour was an intimate and exhilarating experience. Each of us got to ride our own ATV's and were led by a local who brought us along the shoreline, through the streets of the town, and paused to take our photos. I highly recommend this activity as it is fun and perfect to enjoy views of the sunset.
We then had dinner at Echo Beach Club. This beach club was directly in front of the ocean and was so close that the waves were crashing along some of the tables that were most near it. That night, we both ordered virgin tropical drinks and ate from the salad and rice buffet. I, individually, also ate a fresh seafood platter and a shrimp cocktail, while my friend ate clams and a veggie kebab. This was our final dinner in Bali and was so special for us as we got to reflect upon how much we enjoyed the trip thus far.
Sadly, our final day in Bali had approached and we were hours away from our afternoon flight. In the morning, I showered under the warm sun and then walked towards a nearby resort that was on the same road which led us to Jasri Beach. It was a gorgeous sunny day and was great for staying outdoors for our final few hours in Bali. While at Aashaya Jasri Resort, we both had a one hour full body massage. The massage area was right in front of the ocean and was decorated in all light blue and seashell bed sheet covers. The small fountain and sound of the nearby waves really added to the soothing atmosphere. The masseuse did an excellent job and literally massaged our bodies from head to toe (including the face and chest)!
After our massage appointment, we had one hour remaining to quickly pack up our luggage before our driver came to pick us up. We had to leave east Bali substantially early because the commute from east Bali to the airport in Denpasar was about 2 hours. During the long drive over, we got to drive through many towns and villages in South Bali, causing us to think about and appreciate all that we got to experience while we were there. Bali is a place filled with history, peace, rich culture, and adventure. I look forward to going back again in the near future and exploring the other parts of the island that I didn't get to visit during this 10 day trip.
Love always and forever,