Bali. The island of scooters and friendly people. The island of unmatched beauty and diversity. The island of the gods.
Let me begin by saying, no two areas in Bali are alike so when planning your holiday here, keep this in mind. It is hard to understand how an island this size can differ so much from one area to the next. Also, never be in a rush. The closest destination could take the longest time simply due to the unending sea of traffic.
Yet, away from all of the hustle and bustle of the busy streets, you will find solitude in the first area we stayed in, Ubud. I lost my heart here, in the middle of the rice paddies, where the fire flies seem to twinkle like stars at night and the croak of frogs outside create an orchestra.
Life in Ubud certainly seems to move a lot slower than anywhere else in Bali. Villagers are deeply rooted in their faith and take pride in their culture. Families care for one another, from the oldest member right down to the youngest.
And possibly one of the best ways to experience this culture is on a bicycle tour. Even if you are not a cyclist, this tour gives you the chance to see the beauty that is Bali with the wind blowing in your hair (plus a little exercise). See first hand how the Balinese live and how revered their temples are. You can also experience the coffee plantation and try some very interesting flavors of coffee…including the Kopi Luwak - the most expensive coffee. It’s made with poop. Don’t ask me why anyone thought to try this method but they feed the Luwak coffee beans and the result is, poop coffee. Obviously the beans have been cleaned and roasted and roasted again, but I’m just not sure.
We booked our tour with Ubud Cycling and absolutely loved it; even the kids! Komang, our tour guide takes so much pride in what he does, and seems to go the extra mile for his guests.
The other part of Ubud that we fell in love with were the markets and the street cafes. Bustling, loud and filled with all sorts of weird and wonderful things, you could get lost in the streets for ages. Be ready to haggle the price, to try new foods and perhaps come home with a piece of artwork.
If you are heading into this area with little ones, especially in prams / strollers, I would recommend rather leaving these at home. The sidewalks are unevenly paved and narrow which makes it difficult to navigate. Also, trying to meander your way through the markets will for sure be easier without one. Rather pop baby into a carrier and off you go!
But really, what is an island destination with the beach? And in Bali, there are a lot of beaches to choose from. I recommend:
While they all offer private beach access, loungers, pool bars and great vibes, each one is very different.
Perhaps in my opinion one of the best beach clubs. But, be sure to get there early if you want loungers, deck chairs or just a spot close to the pools. There is a different minimum spend at each spot so basically you select where you want to sit, based on the daily spend (it can be anything from R2000 - R5000), and you can order as much as you want as long as your minimum spend for your time there equates to the amount.
Are you thinking, you’re mad? There is no way?
Well, take into consideration the exchange rate (at the time of me writing this blog, R1 = Rp 977,12) and with a view like this one, believe me when I say, you can :) Add to that, an ice cold Bintang Beer and I guarantee you’ll be there all day.
Next beach club is Finns and this time, we got there early and snagged a lounger right next to the pool. Finns though, is a bit ‘smaller’ than Potato Head so when it gets full, it definitely starts to feel a bit overcrowded. But, an incredible vibe awaits you and even if you have small kids with you, you will never feel “left out”.
The pool is also not as big as Potato Head’s, and you also don’t have an unobstructed view of the sea. But it’s still a great place to hang out for the day. The same rule applies here for a minimum spend.
Beach clubs are great with kids and if the little ones are small enough, chances are they will simply pass out on the loungers after all the fun they’ve been having (key to getting there early!) The menus cater a wide range of palettes so nobody will go hungry (my kids absolutely loved the chicken satay with rice).
There are a number of other Beach Clubs in Bali that we simply did not get around to visiting but visit https://www.rollingalongwithkids.com/sundays-beach-club-bali for a review on Sundays Beach Club - next time, I am totally going there!
But of course, looking at a map and trying to decide where to stay in Bali can be overwhelming. Speak to friends who have been. And research, research, research. I would steer away from an all inclusive resort as you want to get out and explore Bali and not feel like you are doing yourself in by not eating at the resort.
Where to stay:
Book hotels or villas that cater to you needs (and budget) as a family. Spa, gym, restaurant, transport, private villas, private pools, self catering, breakfast only, beach access, beachfront etc etc
There is something for everyone but do read reviews on Trip Advisor and booking.com. The other factor to consider is location. So while things are not impossible to get too, if you are lugging bags and strollers around, you don’t want to have to be getting in and out of taxis every 5 minutes. Also, what is there to do around your hotel or villa, or book your accommodation close to the sights you want to visit such as beach clubs, water parks, or places to eat at.
We stayed in the following areas for 2-3 nights each: Ubud, Nusa Dua, Jimbaran, & Legian/Seminyak
What is there to do?
We did not even scratch the surface of what there is to do in Bali, but we did do most of the “Must See” things.
1) Coffee Tasting - this formed part of our Bike Tour with Ubud Cycling and was so interesting.
2) Boat trip to Nusa Lembongan (the island) - If I ever got the chance to go back to Bali, I would stay over night on Nusa Lembongan. Only accessible by boat, this small island is about a 30 - 45 minute trip off of mainland Bali and is a lot smaller in size (we drove around the island on scooters in about 2 hours).
Important note: make sure you book your trip with a reputable company. We booked with Rocky Fast Cruise and they were extremely helpful and well priced. You can book a more exclusive trip but this will cost you.
3) Visit the Rice Paddies - there is possibly nothing more serene that the Rice Paddies in Bali. There a number of ones to visit but we visited Tegallalang. The emerald-green rice terraces in the river gorge north of Tegallalang village (sometimes also spelled as Tegalalang), span around 9 kilometres from Ubud centre, are photography-wise probably the most famous rice fields in Bali. The cool and breezy area has a vista that spreads out in front of you in the form of rice terraces all over the slopes across the timeless valley.
4) Visit the beach (not a beach club) - We happened to stumble upon this beach on a walk we had taken looking for the “blow hole” while staying in Nusa Dua and I am so glad we did. White beaches, warm water and cold beer! So, if you don’t want to spend the money on Beach Clubs, do search for public beaches - you’re on an island - you will find them!
You probably will have to hire towels ( if you didn’t bring like us) or deck chairs but it’s way cheaper than at the B.C.
5) Eat somewhere different - while we ate at so many different places, the one that absolutely stood out for us was Bubu, Seafood & Chinese Restaurant. Honestly, one of my best dining experiences to date - anywhere!
There is live seafood in containers as you walk in. Seated in a traditional Japanese / Chinese seating, cross legged around a man-made pond, you select what seafood you want from the menu - how you want it cooked and they go and pick one out of the tanks to cook for you. And it tastes amazing. Fresher than that i’m not sure you’re going to get unless you eat it raw!
6) Visit the temple at Uluwatu - if only for the views. Warning, it is a very popular spot and there will be crowds of people but if you can allow yourself to get lose in the view, it is so worth it!
Our trip through Bali came to an end too soon (we went for 2 weeks). There is still so much more I would like to explore and discover and experience. I would also like to thank all of the Balinese people we encountered on our journey. Your friendliness amazed me and will never be forgotten.
Bali is magical. I am not surprised Julia Roberts went there on her journey of discovery and why this was her ‘Pray.’ Should I ever return to Bali, I would do so willingly and without trepidation because I honestly feel like I lost a little bit of my heart there.
Matur Suksma, Bali
*** I traveled to Bali with my husband and 2 children, aged 3 & 1 at the time. It was challenging with the little ones at this age. I would recommend going when they are older - but it is possible and I am sure you will still love it!