I’ve been to Bali the last time about 11 years ago – and oh dear, did this island change! What was once a dusty path is now a chic street – So it has become a completely different destination.
Today, the island, especially in the south, is filled with hip ice cream parlors, healthy restaurants, nails salons and retro barber shops (still wondering about this, too). There are parts on the island that are untouched and feel original. But many places feel like a playground for western travellers. Sounds negative, but it is beautiful – you just have to know what to expect. And: no matter how touristy it feels, there is always a spirituality in the air. You can feel a connection to the gods, to the spirit – if you want to.
To to be honest – The spiritual part has become important to me – During my time on Bali, a personal tragedy began and I did some kind of ceremony each day. So wherever you are in your life, a trip to Bali might be the right choice. It’s also safe for solo women travelers and all kind of travel-companion-combos.
But back to my favourite spots:
1. Stay in Canggu
This has been my favourite part of Bali. Close to the beach, filled with small restaurants, charming shops and bars, yet everything is far enough from another so it doesn’t feel crowded. Yes, there are many tourists – But the good kind, like surfers, the laid back design-oriented and ok, hipsters. Aka not the drunk dudes shouting around Kuta. Seminyak is not far, but much more crowded and partly filled with those dudes… If you aim for a little more action, you can just grab a cab and take the 10 minute ride. Many like Udud for staying and if you are more into greenery and rice terrace kind of landscape, this might be right. I would have missed the ocean – and the beach near Canggu is very nice, long and there are some cozy beach bars to hang out. I watched the sunset almost every night. Oh, and don’t believe the guides telling you Ubud is small artist village: It is not. It’s neither small nor less touristy than Seminyak – though what is true it is full of yoga barns and excellent vegan and vegetarian restaurants.
2. Check Airbnb
We had a hard time deciding which of the stunning villas we like to rent – and no we didn`t have a budget as big as a Kardashian butt. For about 100 Euro a night – which is a lot of money on Bali – you get a nice villa for 2-4 people with an own pool, cleaning service, airport pick-up – or a cute bamboo bungalow. Depending on what you want – but I found it a million times better than a hotel because of the privacy and the standard which is usually higher.
3. Go to the spa
I admit it feels wierd paying like 10 Euro for an hourlong massage, or 6 for a full pedicure – and these weren’t even the cheapest prices – more like in the middle of the treatments in luxury resorts and the super cheap salons along the tourist roads. People are incredible friendly so you’ll feel comfortable quickly. Quality differs, of course – but many get trained in Jakarta and do it very professionally. I especially liked The Cottage House near Seminyak. The ladies were adorable and I went there twice, my pedicure lasted four weeks. The massage rooms are not too comfy though – I recommend it for cosmetic stuff. Jalan Batu Belig No.8, Kerobokan Kelod
4. Do a daytrip
For about 35 Euros, you can get a driver for the whole day. Check out temples, rural parts or just diffrent villages – You can often tell them what you want to see (we went to Lake Bratan, rice fields and terraces, Tanah Lot, some small temples) or let him guide you. Yes, at first you might find it weird too, but the guys are super reliable (if you are german, expect them about 30 Minutes earlier – they might think you are that much on time), they just wait in front of the place you are going to or function as a guide too, telling you about it. It’s up to you if you just want a driver or a guide – Make sure before! It’s also great because you can bring food, drinks etc. and leave them in the car, they might try to bring you to a tourist trap but if you say you don’t want to go there, they will never put pressure on you (unlike in many other tourist filled countries).
5. Explore local luxury fashion
I’m not talking sarongs here. There’s more to see – and buy – on Bali. My favourite yet a bit pricey label is Magali Pascal. Her style is romantic, but not kitschy – think floating silk dresses, fine lace pieces, muted colors that’ll match your Bali-tan perfectly. The quality is sublime and the shops are beautiful, too. Want to splurge a bit? Do it here. Jl. Raya Seminyak No.51, Seminyak
6. Eat fish
At Moana – This has been my favorite restaurant, not overly hip, but a cosy bamboo bench-kind of place. The style is polynesian inspired and there’s mostly fish on the menu – Get the one with vanilla sauce like I did. There’s also delicious poké and sashimi. The service is super friendly and very attentive. And you don’t need to spend a lot here. It might get crowded, but it’s definitely worth waiting! Jalan Raya Batu Bolong 28, Canggu
7. Shop Swimwear
Don’t get a bikini before going to Bali. Get it there! The variety is great and there’s one for every price point. One designer I found here is Olenka Olenka (Jl. Kayu Aya, Seminyak) – She’s doing trousers, blouses, skirts and dress, too, but especially her swimwear is so cool, each one is like an art pieces and very unique. Unfortunately, like with many beautiful products, they are not on the cheap side. Then there is Wanderlust (Batu Bolong, Canggu), which is selling swimwear only, very minimalistic and clean but in many beautiful colors (and more affordable).
8. Spend the night right
My favorite kind of evening was just sitting at the beach and watching the sunset, sipping some watermelon juice in a little beach bar near Canggu. Yes, that’s how simple I am, there is not too much needed to feel happy.
If your synapses need a bit more action, Seminyak might be your choice. Yes, many say it’s filled with red skinned and beer filled australians and that might be true when you go to the wrong location, but there are nice ones, too. Motel Mexico (Jalan Kayu Jati No. 9X, Seminyak) is very “stimulating”, like the opposite of minimal. Loud, bursting with colors, lights and people. It’s fine for snacks, too – but definitely not a quite romantic spot, more a place to dance on the table. A little more sleek is Da Maria (Jl. Petitenget No.170, Kerobokan Kelod) – the motto: Pizza and Disco. So simple, so nice. I have to say, I’m not too much into Pizza – but the one I ate here has been the best in my life so far (yup, better than in Milan, sorry!) plus I love some good old disco music. Yes, it’s zero authentic balinese (you can find some little Warungs nearby) – but still fun.
9. Eat healthy
What I love about Bali so much is that you can have healthy and delicious food everywhere. Especially Ubud is a paradise for vegan people – there are plenty of options. I loved Soma Café (Jl. Dewisita, Ubud,) which serves mostly raw food , but also cooked vegan plates – Around Soma are many nice restaurants and cafés, mostly vegan and vegetarian.
My favorite (late of course) breakfast have been bowls: Strawberry Fields (Jalan Batu Belig 79, Gang. Anisa, Kuta Utara, Kerobokan Kelod) between Canggu and Seminyak and Nalu (they have some locations around the island) are your go-to-places. I also loved going to Shelter (Jl. Drupadi, Seminyak) in Seminyak for raw cake and delicious savory, plant-based breakfast dishes.
Note: I’m not a vegan nor vegetarian, but there are very few occasions I eat meat and try to minimize animal products as much as I can. Because of health reasons I eat lactose-free about 99% of the time anyway and only about once a month a bit of meat. My boyfriend doesn’t share my consciousness – most of these place do have some kind of meat/egg on the menu, too – In case you are traveling with a meat eater.
10. Shop handmade
…because there are some amazing artisans on the island. Kou (Jl. Dewisita, Ubud) for example is a lovely soap-store in Ubud. The crappy (sorry) website does it no justice. These scented but organic soaps make nice little souvenirs, also for yourself (who else falls for pretty soaps?). Art Market in Ubud (Jalan Raya Ubud) is nice too, yes, also pretty touristy – but if you fancy basket bags, wooden and shell home accessories, this is the best place to shop. I am one of those people who like to haggle – Not too much, but a bit… So my advice is to never accept the first price here. Maybe I should do an article about 10 tricks to haggle?! Would you be interested? More local specialties: Bali Balance is a local beauty brand (Jalan Batu Belig No.17, Kerobokan Kelod) focusing on coconut oil – the organic mosquito repellant is a must-buy although it sounds not that sexy. But you can get body oil and all kind of hair, face and body care. Kerala (they have two shops, one is Jalan Batubelig, Kerobokan, Kerobokan Kelod) does lovely ceramics, from colorful to simple with being too “exotic” (you know what I mean? This things that look so cool on vacation and never match at home?) and is absolutely worth bringing home. You can also get handmade shoes around Canggu and Seminyak, just watch out for leather shops. They don’t look that chic but will do custom-made slippers, too.
Maybe it’s time to share One Thing Not To Do:
There many tailors on Bali and the island is a spot for fashion and jewellery-production. So I thought about getting a tailor made dress and skirt. I found a very trust-worthy looking shop, brought pictures and a sample dress they should make longer. It all felt very professional until I came back for the fitting. The material was wrong (in fact they lied at me – saying it’s silk but it was synthetic, I can tell the differences), the length was wrong and it was cut differently. It was the wrong dress – I had already paid a bit for it. Same went with the skirt. They wanted to fix it – till the day I had to leave Bali. In the morning they send me an sms saying they ran out of the right material. I came to the shop and had a big fight with the owner about it. I didn’t get back any money, but could keep the (wrong but anyway) skirt which was way overpriced. Long story short: Just don’t do it. I did 11 years ago and it went to well… But this time, it was just stressful. Buy only clothes that are finished already.