I’m starting this category with Bali although I know it’s a place that is totally overdone in every possible way. Most visited, most blogged, most reviewed, most exploited, most — fill in the blank. The thing is, it’s one of those places that I have the most record of in my laptop as I’ve visited it probably about six times as a tourist. So I can approach a discussion about it with a little bit confidence and spontaneity and without spending too much time on planning what to write. I won’t really go into so much detail about the A-Z of Bali, google ‘Travel Bali Blog’ and you will be inundated with travel trips and stunning photography by Bali buffs. I will keep it simple with my recommendations and experiences.
For those who have never been and are thinking of going there, then I really do recommend it. You may love it or loathe it, but you should definitely see it to decide. It’s Indonesia’s most popular holiday destination and possibly one of the most popular in the South East Asian region. For me personally, it’s still one of my favourite places in the region and if you have more than a week to spend then I would urge you to visit the islands of Lombok too (the Gilli islands). Bali is an island which has different strokes for different folks. So partying and shopping, secluded retreats overlooking the sea, cultured art and rice plains and just a place to wind down for earth shattering massages are all possible in one island. In the south east region, I also have a strong affection of the people of Indonesia. I find them warm, genuine and calm. I lived in Jakarta for one year and felt like it was one of the places where I understood and respected the people the most. Soulful place, soulful people.
As an adolescent one of the things that really impressed me about Bali was their passion for art and beauty. I remembered even the dustbin at the petrol station had wood carvings on it. So-called village houses had beautifully elaborate entryways and roof tops. And the hotels, whether 3 or 5 stars, never left a single corner untouched from their artistic hand. I love coming to Bali with people who are not familiar with the region and watching their eyes marvel in delight as they absorb the culture of the island. My last trip was a few months ago in March, 2018 with a very special friend (A) whom I had not met since my wedding in 2013. A and I go way back to the Geneva days (where we both felt were not our finest hour in life) and lived together for about six months in Ankara. The one week trip with A was the longest vacation I had on the island and I think possibly the most indulgent one (as being just us two ladies, our daily schedule comprised mostly of massages, shopping, good food and beach lounging).
My favourite place in Bali has to be Ubud. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else. While beaches in Bali are OK, I wouldn’t recommend it as the best in the region. For that, I think the waters of Gilli Trawangan are purer. I have been to Nusa Dua, Jimbaran, Candidasa and Seminyak and I find it decent but not visually breathtaking (i.e waters are not a startling blue, sand is not pure white). If you don’t want to travel out to the Lombok islands for your beach fix, I would recommend a day trip to Nusa Lembongan instead.
Ubud – Where I’ve stayed
It usually takes about 1 1/2 hours to reach Ubud from Denpasar Airport. We usually get the Bluebird, which my office has always recommended as the more trusted taxi company in Indonesia.
Puri Sebali Resort
The first place I stayed in Ubud is called Puri Sebali Resort; http://purisebaliresort.com It’s not in the heart of Ubud and is probably a 15-20 minute drive outside of the centre. I chose it because I wanted to find a place that had rooms overlooking a rice field with a private pool but which were not at unattainable prices. We were celebrating my mother in law’s birthday and I wanted her to be wowed by Bali as she had never been here before and had heard so much about it. In our journey from Denpasar Airport to the resort, my husband befriended the taxi driver and made an informal arrangement for him to take us around the following day so he pretty much became our ‘Ubud driver’. These type of arrangements are extremely common in Bali. Because I was traveling as a family, I was comfortable with that but I am not a fan of this arrangement if I was alone or with a girlfriend – in those circumstances I would advice that the hotel make the arrangements for you.
We were all extremely delighted with the resort. As always, the exquisite Balinese eye for detail took precedence. I think Bali’s service industry is so good that I will only write about it if it’s actually bad. No comment just means top quality as usual. We took a 2 bedroom villa with a private pool which was located on a height, with the open space of the kitchen, pool and sitting room anchored between the 2 bedrooms. We realised there was also a 3rd bedroom across from the 2nd bedroom which they kept locked unless we booked for a 3 bedroom villa and then upon closer inspection apparently there is also a 4th bedroom if we stepped down the elevation which is more secluded than the other bedrooms. The hotel also has 1 bedroom private pool villas if you plan to go alone or with a spouse/ friend. We were at Villa 888, an auspicious number indeed.
The rice field view was so magnetic. We spent most of the mornings and afternoons simply gazing out onto the cooling colour, as we soaked in the pool, listening to the harmony of nature and feeling thoroughly relaxed. I remembered I had just left an 8 month stint from Jakarta where I was cooped up in a Hotel room, so this felt like a piece of Heaven.
We also had a choice to have breakfast served in the villa and a complementary tea and local cakes service daily. Charming Balinese ladies would come into our villa dressed in the most beautiful traditional kebayas as they served us our meals. Talking about food however, back when we visited (2016) this wasn’t the resort’s strength. I don’t expect a Michelin star experience and am barely a food connoisseur but even I noticed that some of their a la carte offerings were a little uninspiring and tasted equally mediocre. Because we loved the resort so much though, we let this pass.
The resort also offered a complementary morning rice field walk of its grounds (24 acres) which we found really enjoyable. I did however struggle at the ledges and eventually broke my fit flop in one of the falls. Please wear proper walking shoes if you want to have a less clumsy experience of this gorgeous morning walk.
Overall, we would recommend Puri Sebali for those who want to enjoy a tasteful, boutique resort overlooking a lush green rice terrace with a private pool and spend days being lazy and getting massages (which you can also have done in your villa). While I wouldn’t describe the 2 bedroom villa as cheap (at least not for us, anyway), I would say it is definitely not in the Ritz Carlton category.
Alaya Resort Ubud
I stayed here with A this year http://www.alayahotels.com. The resort is located on Jalan Hanoman, which is pretty much in the heart of Ubud and the shopping, supermarket, Monkey Forest and trendy cafes are within walking distance. It still has that boutique vibe of Puri Sebali but it’s not on an elevation with 24 acres of rice terrace to admire every day nor does it have the private pool villa options. We took a room on the Ground floor (we have to walk down after the lobby) which was very pretty and had a cozy terrace but the bathroom is not quite in a separate enclosure but rather shares the same space as the bed area and segregated by a curtain. Fine if you are with your spouse or family member but potentially awkward with friends. (Me and A were fine – we sort of prepped each other up about giving each other space in the break when required.) The resort does still have a rice field, it’s just on flat land and you don’t get a panoramic view of it.
The pros about this resort is its location. I was particularly chuffed with the next door supermarket which had everything at a normal price (not hotel price). Sunscreen, charger, earphones for the iPhone etc. The spa is also out of this world. I recommend this place if you want to be close to Ubud town, sights, eateries and shopping. It is also reasonably priced.
Ubud – One classic must see (out of the 30 others)
Because of the terrain, most of the famous rice fields in Bali are located in Ubud. I have heard that there are also notable ones in Canggu but I have not visited it yet so I can’t comment. However the ones in Canggu are likely to be on flat land on not a tiered formation such as the ones in Ubud. We visited the one in Tegalalang as it was closes to where we are based at.
Unfortunately it was raining badly on that day and we couldn’t spend too much time there. Another unfortunate situation for me was my heights phobia. I realised that I found the steep formation actually quite daunting and because it was raining so much, I was nervous about walking down the steps in case I slipped. So this was the main photo I could take. A however was much braver and roamed around the place looking to get on the famous swing for an Instagram moment but it was temporarily discontinued because of the rain.
Of all the Tripadvisor recommendations on what to see in Ubud, I would say that even if you are only going to be there for a short time, try not to miss this.
Ubud – Recommended Massages
I found the massage in Puri Sebali resort absolutely fantastic and my favourite masseuse was named Dayu whose artful hands were able to really dig deep and unlock the knots on my upper back, particularly at the shoulder-wings. I slept like a log every time she massaged me. You can check the menu here http://purisebaliresort.com/spa.html
I was also super delighted by the interiors of the place.
My waiting area at the spa!
The Dala Spa
The Dala Spa at Alaya Resort is one of the more well known award winning ones and it also didn’t disappoint. If you stay in the centre of Ubud then I suggest you try this as opposed to the Puri Sebali one. You can book or look at the menu here https://dalaspa.com/alaya-ubud/gallery-item/calla-lily/
I would say it is on the pricier side (more Western prices) but the whole set up, treatment, and massage itself is of very high quality. Both A and I wanted to go every night but were afraid of finishing all our pocket money before traveling to our next stop and we thought we would get just as good a massage in Seminyak (we didn’t). The design was less Balinese I have to say but rather more classic European (am not sure why!).
Ubud – What I shopped
My main purchase from Ubud was this divine indigo-white Ikat batik print fabric.
It’s now a wall hanging at home. You can purchase this at a shop named Ikat Batik http://www.ikatbatik.com which is at Monkey Forest street. Some complain that the shop sells at Western prices but I do need to point out that Ubud and most of Bali isn’t cheap. Mega tourism has jacked up the prices and local artisans are selling at a higher currency. However, I did find everything in this store to be exquisite, handcrafted, unique and really well made. I didn’t feel that it was a rip off or thought ‘ooof I could have gotten the same thing, cheaper somewhere else’. No I wouldn’t know where I could get the very same product elsewhere at a cheaper price. So I was satisfied with this purchase.
I’ll put an end to my first Bali post here. In later posts on Bali, I’ll go through my accommodation, shopping and eating favourites in Seminyak, my Airbnb choices in Candidasa and Jimbaran and our day trip to Nusa Lembongan from Jimbaran.
For now, I hope those who visit Ubud will love it as much as I did!