PARADISE IS WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT
Bali is a place of intense contrasts. You will see 5-star hotels, prime surf spots, and yoga studios side by side with 5am open air markets, active volcanoes, and a deep devotion to Hinduism. What you want out of Bali, which side of it you want to experience is totally up to you. It is a mashup of ancient and modern, of humble and luxurious, of religion and diversity, but welcomes you all the same to sample as you please.
What brought us here is the simple, communal lifestyle, the tropical vibes and the bold spicy food. Our trip included 4 nights in Ubud and 1 day in Lovina. We loved every minute of it and want to share our experience and recommendations with you. Below is a snippet of this paradise through our eyes.
GOOD TO KNOW
Our first order of business after landing in Denpansar was buying sim cards to secure our means of communication. You should do the same. After customs, we found a Telkomsel booth (a very reliable phone service in Bali) on the right hand side outside of the main exit door. They offered several different voice and data packages, depending on the duration of your stay.
We took a taxi from Denpansar airport to Ubud, which was about 1 hour away. Now, if you've been to any 3rd world country, you probably know what this next scene looks like. If you aren't prepared, you should be. It was an absolute zoo. There were 50-100 taxi drivers either independent or from a resort, swarming the frazzled, tired arrivals. They are not afraid to hustle you relentlessly because they know that you are so exhausted you'd pay whatever to get to your hotel already. Be prepared or be strong, friends. Also, anyone who's carrying your bags for you is expecting a tip, so make sure you have cash handy.
We highly recommend getting a personal driver while you are here. Public transportation is very unreliable, not to mention limited. The drivers are usually English-speaking and can act as stand in tour guides. Ours gave us really good recommendations for new destinations and restaurants. Hotel staff can usually set you up with a trusted one if needed.
Make sure to confirm every tour you've booked a day in advance. Even though we loved all of our tours, 2 of them definitely forgot to pick us up. We ended up rescheduling one and were super late to the other. Your hotel staff can help you call to confirm your booking if needed.
Babi guling aka Balinese suckling pigs! I don't even know where to start describing how deeply this dish has touched me and how it has changed me for the better.
Let's break it down: whole pigs, stuffed with a traditional Balinese marination called basa gede, rubbed with turmeric, basted with coconut water every 30 minutes while spit roasted over an open fire for 6-8 hours.
Ibu Oka is known to have the best babi guling in Ubud and was also recommended by our driver our first day there. We ordered the Special Plate; which came with roasted pork, fried pork, blood sausage, pork skin, rice and mixed vegetables.
Anthony Bourdain once claimed that this was the best pig he ever had. And I tend to agree with everything Mr. Bourdain says. The pork was juicy, tender and busting with clean buttery flavor. The fried pork was perfectly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. But the pork skin, oh the pork skin, shiny salty caramelized skin that shatters into pieces of deliciousness right when you bite into it. Too much meat? The spicy veggies will help reset your taste buds. I wouldn't mind having this dish every meal everyday until I die.
Recommended to us by the owner of our cooking class when we asked him for a place where locals eat. This place serves working folks style lunch of nasi ayam, which literally means chicken rice. The to-go boxes come with rice, chicken, fried chicken skin, sambal, roasted peanuts, veggies, and a plastic bag of soup. Amazingly delicious, dangerously spicy. Their sambal destroyed Billy.
A quick search on Tripadvisor and you will think that Naughty Nuri has the best ribs. But, our cooking instructor informed us that the locals swear by the ribs at Warung Kayana. We weren't disappointed. The ribs were fall off the bone tender, a perfect balance of savory with a tad of sweet. I personally love the dense, almost tapioca-like fries the most.
We checked out both places for their well known crispy duck dishes. Both places have been around for a while and serve an array of duck dishes. The most popular dish, bebek bengil, is duck first steamed with Balinese spices then deep fried right before serving. Definitely a must try! You can't even taste any gaminess, just pure rich and crispy duck deliciousness.
Eat, Pray, Love was filmed him. Cute cafe with traditionally decorated gazebos inside a charming garden. Making it the perfect hideaway from the hot and humid Ubud weather. It is also walking distance from the Monkey Forest. They serve an extensive menu of traditional Balinese food and homemade desserts. I recommend trying the Indonesian rijsttafel which is a sampler of many traditional dishes.
Aka Snake Fruit. This fruit is native to Indonesia and can be found everywhere in the country. I don't think they are available in other Asian countries either since I've never seen them anywhere else but Indonesia. They look like snake skin on the outside and garlic gloves on the inside. They are mildly sweet with a hint of sourness and have a texture of an apple.
A total tourist trap. Very expensive, terrible service and below average food. Nothing offends me more than overpriced cardboard. I had to chase down the anger and disappointment with two scoops of ice cream afterward. Do not recommend!
Another Balinese specialty is their Luwak coffee. The weasels are fed fresh coffee beans and a fermentation process occurs as the beans are being digested. This takes away the acidity and gives the coffee a strong, distinctive flavor. The farmers will collect the animal poop, which contains the fermented beans, and proceed to clean and roast them. Don’t worry, this process is quite extensive so you won’t be tasting any poop flavored coffee. We definitely recommend trying a coffee flight, usually including flavors like ginger, vanilla, coconut. Some plantations even offer a tea flight.
We stumbled upon this cafe while wandering around town. It's located on the second floor of a clothing store, both owned by the same family. The cafe overlooks one of the busy downtown streets providing a great view while you're taking a break. It's a very low key place with the best service. On our second visit, we ordered a dragonfruit smoothie and they happened to run out of the fruit. The owner's son spent 45 minutes searching 3 different markets to find dragonfruit for our smoothie. The dedication! And of course, it was a bomb ass smoothie. I guess everything tastes amazing when it's made with love. Support local business! Support Anuman Coffee!
Every temple required visitors to wear a sarong prior to entering. If you don't have one, they will have rentals available. My favorite temple is Tirta Empul. The purifying bath located inside the temple holds holy spring water (hence its name) where visitors can enter to pray under the 13 spouted sculptures, each signifying a different purpose.
It's a beautiful sight to see people from different generations and backgrounds congregating in one place, all praying for something they care deeply about. We highly recommend checking out a temple while you’re here and specifically, Tirta Empul if you really want to experience the cultural aspect of Bali.
A little disclaimer. I was so stoked on this place despite Billy's animosity and hatred toward monkeys. Until I got there. Holy shit! These little things are vicious as hell. Be careful, everything you read online about them stealing, chasing, and hissing at you are real. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful sanctuary and in my opinion, worth the monkeys' abuse.
A very scenic hike with a gorgeous view. Do your best to make it here in the early morning since it gets scorching hot midday. There are two entrances to the trail; one leads you to downtown Ubud, the other to the outskirt of town. The view is beautiful in either direction.
These picturesque terraces are probably what Bali is most famous for. One of our tour guides clarified that Tegallalang refers to an area of multiple rice terraces, not one specifically. Our hotel room conveniently overlooked one of these terraces. Waking up early to catch the sunrise was the perfect way to start our first day in Bali. I spent some time alone journaling, taking in the fresh morning air and admiring the view as the tranquil terraces stretch before my eyes.
Banjar Hot Springs is a popular pit stop on the drive between Ubud and Lovina. It is basically an outdoor pool with natural hot spring water flowing out of sculpted spouts, and the vibe is very much like a small water park but with warm bath water. Which can be a little weird on a hot day, but feels pretty good on your muscles and joints. You can also buy snacks and drinks at the shop near the entrance.
My favorite tour, for obvious reasons. This cooking class is a family owned business. We started the tour early with a visit to the morning local marketplace. This is where the tour guide introduced us to the unique Balinese ingredients and what makes it different from other cuisines.
Post market, we headed to his family compound to start the class.
The head Chef who leads the class is a well known local chef who has worked at many famous restaurants in the Ubud area. The ingredients are all pre-prepped so students can get straight to the cooking portion. They are very meticulous, well organized and always made time to answer everyone's questions. The class ran seamlessly.
We learned to make several dishes including; Balinese BBQ chicken, sate, mixed veggies and sweet potato rice. After we finished cooking and before the meal start, the host showed us a pre-eating ceremony. At the end of the day, they gave each of us a gift bag to take home, which includes the recipe book and homemade coconut oil. I could not have asked for a better experience. 5 Stars all around!
Jegeg Bali cycling Tours
Jegeg Bali Cycling Tour is another family owned business. Like most tours here, all participants are picked up from their designated hotel first thing in the morning. The tour took us through the country side of Ubud, which crosses different rice fields and villages.
Our tour guide made frequent stops to explain rural Balinese life and traditions to us. Seeing this non-glamorous, tourism-free side of Bali was both humbling and eye opening. The biking was mostly downhill until they surprised us with two semi-vertical hills at the end. But we lived.
The day ended at the owner's compound where they've prepared a traditional Balinese lunch for us. The food was excellent and I fell in love with corn fritters here. Definitely going to try to duplicate that recipe soon.
Mount Batur is an active volcano formed about 28,500 years ago. It houses a lake which was formed by magma collapsing into a crater-like formation. This is a famous spot to see the sunrise in Bali. We had to leave our hotel at 2AM and hike 2.5 hours in the dark to make it in time for sunrise.
The active lava running inside the volcano actually hollowed out a network of heat vents underground. It is hot enough that the tour guides, for breakfast, cook eggs and bananas on rocks over these holes. If you're lucky, your guide will show you a really cool trick by blowing incense smoke over a volcanic heat vent.
This was our last tour of the trip and was in Lovina. We had a little miscommunication mishap and what originally was a spearfishing trip turned into a hand line fishing trip. You could probably imagine our faces when the fisherman handed us a fishing line and told us to go wild. I didn’t even know you can fish like that! Regardless, we just laughed it off and to be honest, it was pretty exciting watching as Billy caught us a mini lunch.
We left Bali completely charmed by its tropical aesthetic and exotic food. But with that, we also learned that to experience Bali in a raw, authentic way, it really is up to you to seek these things out.
What we enjoy most about this trip is searching through all the nooks and crannies of the city for those unique foods, landscapes, and ways of life that you can’t find anywhere else. Billy now knows where he stands on the Balinese spiciness scale and I’ve further confirmed that pork belly is life. Learning about Balinese history while gaining unnecessary weight on their babi guling was worth every minute.
We’ll definitely miss the bright smiles, the welcoming gestures and as always, the amazing food.