After four great days in Borneo, we boarded an AirAsia flight from Kota Kinabalu to Bali. The two and half hour flight was $91 a person and touched down in Bali just after 8 PM. The flight itself was spectacular — check out the photo Alexis shared in “Back in Chiang Mai!” In addition to the beautiful sunset, we also passed through a lightning storm for about an hour. It was really something to see.
Where to Stay
When we were planning the trip, we had a bit of a head start on where to stay in Bali. One of my writing gigs required me to write an article about Bali’s best beaches. Believe me, the fact that I was writing an article about a place I had never been to made me feel very jaded about the online blogging industry as a whole, but that’s a story for another day.
In any case, my research led to me conclude that the place we should head to is Jimbaran Beach. Since beach time was our number one goal, staying as close to the beach as possible was the objective. Filtering through my two favorite accommodation booking websites, Airbnb and Agoda, we found this place on Airbnb. There were pros and cons which I detailed in my review on the listing if you’re interested, but overall I’m glad we stayed there. For $20 a night, breakfast included, and a five minute walk to the beach, it was a great fit for us.
Other places I researched and wrote about and we subsequently looked into were Balangan Beach and Nusa Dua. Nusa Dua is on the east coast of the Bali’s southern peninsula and is supposedly much more quiet and less touristy than other places (including Jimbaran). This appealed to us, but we weren’t able to find cheap enough accommodation in Nusa Dua, so it was ruled out. We almost stayed at the Balangan Sea View Bungalow, but it, too, proved to be just a little too expensive. So we went with Jimbaran and.it.was.awesome.
Jimbaran Beach, Bali
When we announced our trip on the blog, I admitted that I was a little nervous about going to Bali. It’s always been a place I fantasized about, but almost everything I’ve ever read about the island made it pretty clear it’s been over-touristed and stripped of all its fantasy-inducing qualities.
Remember that side comment I made about writing online being phony? Well it’s true. Jimbaran Beach was amazing.
We spent two full days lazing around on the beach, and for the better portion of that, we were two of only a handful of people there. The soft white sand stretches quite a ways, making the beach feel almost entirely to ourselves.
It’s at dusk when the place really comes alive. The restaurants that line the beach all set out candle-lit tables where hundreds of people dine under the stars listening to the crashing waves.
Speaking of waves, they exist at Jimbaran. If you’re looking for gentle water to splash around the shallows in, this is probably not the best beach for you. Body surfing in the shorebreak was really fun for me, but Alexis didn’t grow up in the ocean like I did, so it was a bit intimidating for her. She was still able to get into the water, but she always stuck close by to me 🙂
Three other features of the beach and water worth noting are:
1) The sand is relatively rock-free. I always find it disappointing and annoying when I walk into the water only to find rocks and sharp coral everywhere. There’s some of this at Jimbaran, but not too much. Not to the point where I was disappointed and annoyed (yes, I have incredibly high beach standards).
2) The water was much cooler than I ever would have thought. Definitely colder than Hawaii, but not quite Southern California cold. With how hot we got from being out in the sun all day, the colder water temperatures actually felt really refreshing.
But back to the good stuff… also adding to my enjoyment of Jimbaran was its proximity to the airport. I love watching planes; every time I see one it reminds me of my desire to see more of the world. At Jimbaran, we did that all day. The beach and the airport are literally right next to each other; once the sand ends, the landing strips begin. The best part? In spite of how close the planes are, you can’t hear the roar of their engines, which would have sullied the peaceful beach experience. If it sounds like we’re gushing about Jimbaran, it’s because we are. Who knows, it might even win a few RotR Awards (coming soon!).
Where to Eat
Our Airbnb apartment covered our breakfast every morning which was really nice. We had delicious Indonesian-style banana pancakes prepared for us to jumpstart every day. For the rest of our meals, we ate at a few of the beach-side restaurants I mentioned. They all seemed basically the same — all decently priced with delicious food.
Jimbaran is a fishing village so all the restaurants that line the beach are known to have really fresh seafood. We’re not huge seafood eaters, but everything we ate during our time in Bali was exceptional, especially the BBQ chicken and chicken satay with peanut sauce.
Be warned: when the menu says the meal comes with rice, vegetables, and dessert, it’s going to be a huge meal. We found this out on our first night in Bali when we luckily decided to split fish ‘n chips at one of the beach restaurants. Even splitting the meal resulted in the both of us feeling sickly full (in a good way).
Take a Tour Around Bali
We arranged with our Airbnb host to be picked up from airport when we landed. The 15 minute drive from the airport to our apartment was $15 USD. We got to know our driver, Mr. Rudy, over the next couple of days and he seemed like a really honest guy, so I assume that’s a fair rate. As we chit chatted on the way to our apartment from the airport, we got to talking about private tours of Bali and he said he could take us.
So we took him up on it and spent one full day touring Bali, hitting a few of the major attractions. For 500,000 Rupiah ($41), Mr. Rudy’s brother-in-law, also named David, picked us up at 9:30am and dropped us back off at 7:30pm — so that’s a full 10 hours of driving for that price.
Mr. Rudy mentioned that most drivers charge around 700,000 Rupiah ($58) for a full day trip. I can’t verify this, but again, he seemed like a stand-up guy so I’d take his word for it. He’s really nice and spoke great English (he said he taught himself by going down to the beach everyday and listening to people talk!). If you would like to hire him yourself, his email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
So days one and three were spent at Jimbaran Beach all day, and day two was spent driving around Bali, taking in all of its beauty. Bali is way bigger than we thought and almost everywhere has pretty bad traffic, so getting anywhere takes a while. Because of that, we were only able to stop at five spots in 10 hours.
Those five places were…
Tanah Lot Temple:
Tanah Lot was one of the most impressive structures I’ve ever seen. Not only is it a temple that was carved from rock (just think about that for a second — this giant rock existed and people just chipped away until a temple with steps and rooms and hallways and arches existed — it blows my mind), but the rock is surrounded by ocean, making the whole scene really, really cool.
The only downsides to Tanah Lot were the masses of people there and the fees. I remember telling Alexis while we were there that I wish something that cool could just stay that cool. But I get it, I really do — people are going to try to make money any way they can because they have to and there will always be people like us who are willing to pay to see this amazing place. So why wouldn’t it become commercialized? I still can’t help but wish that I wouldn’t be nickle-and-dimed to walk up four steps or be hassled for not donating money to see their “holy snake” though.
Tanah Lot’s entrance fee is 30,000 Rupiah ($2.50) a person plus a 5,000 Rupiah parking fee. All told, we paid 65,000 Rupiah ($5.37) for two tickets plus the parking fee.
Andy Sari Agro Tourism (not shown on the map above):
This was an unplanned stop, but our driver saw we were struggling to stay awake in the back seat so he suggested some coffee. He took us to Andy Sari where we tried Luwak Coffee, which is kind of a big deal in Indonesia (or maybe just Bali, I don’t know). We thought we were just getting a cup of coffee, but instead we got an experience.
It was actually really cool. It’s a little family-owned farm where they make their own tea and coffee, their specialty being Luwak coffee. A Luwak is a little animal that lives in the Bali rainforests. Its favorite thing to eat is coffee beans, and like anything that anyone eats, whatever goes in must come out. Some where along the course of history, a farmer decided to try eating these butt coffee beans and realized they were pretty good. Not only does passing through an animals’ intestines give the beans a unique flavor, but it ferments them, causing the beans to be more caffeinated.
So we had butt coffee in Bali. And we liked it.
But like I said, it was a whole experience. Andy showed us around his farm, he introduced us to his mom who was hammering away at some coffee beans in this giant bowl thing, we got to put on an awesome hat and roast coffee beans ourselves, we saw where he keep his Luwaks so he can also ensure he has a fresh supply of the good stuff, and we sampled about 10 different types of coffees and teas they make on the farm. And all of that was free.
Of course, nothing free is really free, because when you’re finished with the sampler, you feel pretty obligated to buy a cup of Luwak coffee for their 50,000 Rupiah ($4) price, but that wasn’t an issue since we wanted coffee anyways. Mr. Rudy later told us independently that he only has Luwak coffee on special occasions because it costs 50,000 Rupiah, so it was nice to hear that we weren’t getting ripped off and it was just expensive coffee.
This place isn’t on the embedded map above because I couldn’t find it in Google’s database, but it was just south of the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces.
The Jatiluwih Rice Terraces:
The rice terraces were so cool. I did not expect to be as blown away as I was, but they were something to see. It was so serene, so natural. And it still felt real. Like, real people use, and rely, and work on these terraces. They weren’t just there for show.
After leaving the rice terraces, we headed to Munduk Waterfall, but not before seeing about 10 little naked Balinese boys running across the street and jumping in the river next to the terraces. Alexis creepily took a picture of them. It was pretty hilarious. Driver David laughed with us.
Between Jatiluwih and Munduk (same road there and back), we drove past this beautiful lake:
We also asked Driver David if we could stop someplace for lunch that had a nice view of the lake and he took us to Mentari Restaurant. It’s definitely a popular place for tour guides to stop as the place was filled with fellow tourists. The only option is a buffet lunch, which was really good and not too expensive. Two buffet lunches came out to 168,000 Rupiah ($14).
Quick funny story: Our waiter, Joe, 1. Hit Alexis up for money since they’re both teachers and she would understand the struggle of teaching poor kids (his words), and 2. Told her she’s a very lucky woman to me married to me. Oh, stop it, Joe, you’re making me blush!
From the street, the hike to the waterfall is a short 15 – 20 minutes through beautiful jungle. I recorded this timely video as we approached the waterfall, but I apologize in advance for holding the camera vertically. I’m the worst.
Driver David paid a couple thousand Rupiah (like 10 cents) to park at the waterfall and he told us you usually have to pay 5,000 Rupiah (less than 50 cents) to get down to the waterfall but no one was at the ticket booth. Score!
Taman Ayun Temple:
Taman Ayun was interesting enough, but the funny thing is that we thought we were going someplace else — the Pura Lempuyang Door. When we left Jimbaran earlier that morning, we mentioned “the big door” to Driver David as a place we wanted to see. We had written down both Pura Lempuyang and Taman Ayun in our wishlist of sites, thinking they were the same place for some reason. I guess Driver David only picked up on Taman Ayun and took us there.
I’m still a little disappointed we didn’t see Pura Lempuyang, but based on how long getting everywhere took us that day, there’s no way we could have fit it in anyways, as we realized it’s way out of the way when we looked at a map later that night.
We made it back to our apartment right at 7:30pm. It was a long day for us, but I’m sure it was even longer for Driver David behind the wheel all day. We ended up paying him 550,000 Rupiah since he covered a couple of parking fees throughout the day and just for being awesome. We’re so glad we did this day tour and would highly recommend it to anyone.
Bali On a Budget
Doing Bali on a budget is really easy. Bali was slightly more expensive than Thailand, but not much. Some things were even cheaper, like private transportation. There’s no way we could have hired a private driver for a full day in Thailand for $40.
Apartment/hotel prices were a little more expensive on the whole, but $20 for a place that’s just steps from the beach is still an awesome deal. $20 was about the cheapest we saw though, whereas you can find a few places in the $10-$20/night range more easily in Thailand.
Food was still really affordable despite the fact that we never ate at true “local” places which would surely have been much cheaper. Those huge candlelit dinners on the beach were about $10-$15 total. That includes more food than a normal person should eat, plus drinks.
Perhaps the most annoying, budget-busting thing about Bali (and Indonesia as a whole) is the visa fees and airport taxes. 30-day visas on arrival cost $35 USD a pop. VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure to pay in your home country’s currency as it will save you a nice chunk of change. For example, if we had paid in Indonesian Rupiah or Thai Baht, we would have paid the equivalent of $45 USD for each visa, instead of $35. We easily bought USD at the Maybank exchange counter in the Kota Kinabalu airport in Malaysia on our way to Indonesia (Alexis wrote that about here).
Unfortunately, forking over $70 in visa fees wasn’t the end of it. When the time comes to sadly leave Bali, you’re already bummed out, but then there’s a 75,000 Rupiah ($6.20 USD) per person domestic airport tax to rub salt in your wounds. Six bucks is minor though compared to the international departure tax which is 200,000 Rupiah ($16.50) per person. Since we took a domestic flight to Lombok and also an international flight to leave in Indonesia, we eventually had to pay both ridiculous airport fees. For most people going to Bali, you’re looking at paying at least $35 USD for a visa and $16.50 USD for an international airport tax.
In total, that’s more than $50 USD of visa/airport fees per person to factor in. $50 could have paid for two more nights in Bali plus a few meals. Ouch.
Bali was amazing. It far exceeded our expectations.
Yes, there were some areas that were crowded and dirty and the exact opposite of the idyllic paradise many people expect. What helped us out is that we knew to avoid Kuta (which, based on what we saw driving through, was indeed ultra-developed and touristy). We were prepared for the worst, which meant we were happily surprised to find that most of the island is not bad at all.
Jimbaran Beach was beautiful, the food was delicious, everyone was super nice, most people spoke English really well, and the mountainous center of Bali is lush and green and really beautiful. We’re already planning our next trip back!
Questions, comments, additional tips? Don’t hesitate to post them in the comments below!