Visiting South East Asia is not something many people in Canada consider during the winter months. Most of us like to hop on a plane, fly South quickly seeking a warmer destination to help cope with even longer winters.
While it takes two full travel days to get to South East Asia from Alberta, Canada, Indonesia is a destination everyone should consider at least one time in their lives.
We planned our trip about 10 months in advance, carefully reviewing and selecting adventures that interested us, finalizing our details closer to our departure date and even while we were in Bali.
When you only have a certain number of days in your vacation, making the most of your time is essential and everyone’s needs are different.
These are our top 15 experiences to have in Bali.
Uluwatu Temple and Balinese Kecak and Fire Dance
Uluwatu itself is a small surfers village on the southern most tip of Bali, south of Jimbaran known for the famous Uluwatu Temple found high on the cliffs of Uluwatu and close to the amphitheater for the Kecak and Fire Dance.
The drive to the Uluwatu area will take approximately 30 minutes and is not for the faint of heart. The winding, curvy roads are narrow and busy with all kinds of traffic heading in and out of the area. But don’t let that deter you.
Since a forest surrounds the temple and amphitheater, at some point you will encounter any number of monkeys believed to guard the temple from bad spirits. They are without a doubt mischievous little critters as watched them chewing on car antennas, pulling off trim and taunting tourists without a care in the world.
The performance begins at sunset. Kecak is a unique Balinese dance accompanied by a choir of approximately seventy men who chant and sway in unison as the story of Ramayana and Prince Rama’s quest to rescue his beloved wife Sita unfolds.
Bali Tip: Sarongs are required to cover the knees if visiting the temple.
Padang Padang Beach
If you are going to Uluwatu, set aside a few hours to visit Padang Padang Beach located on the north-western side of the Island a short distance away. There is an entrance fee to go to the beach however it’s affordable at $1.00 or 10,000 rupiahs per person.
This popular beach is only accessible via a narrow rock corridor. In the right weather it can be a very pretty destination with the white sand and aquamarine waters. It was an overcast day for us and while we didn’t experience the aquamarine water, we had an experience of another kind.
During our visit we stumbled upon what we believe to be the tail end of a Hindu cremation ceremony. Tradition states 12 days after the Ngaben (cremation ceremony) the ashes of the deceased are taken to a river or the ocean to be scattered. This represents the spirit’s transition into Moksha or a sort of paradise where reincarnation, and, in turn, death, ends.
Bali Tip: Try to go early in the day to secure a spot on the beach as space is limited.
Pretty self explanatory right? I mean who doesn’t like a good massage. I went a few times over the course of our three weeks and paid between $5-$10 for a one hour massage. My daughter and I also had facials.
With so many massage shops in Bali and regular solicitation from the employees as you walk down the street, it’s important you do a little research before committing to one.
Bali Tip: If you enjoyed your experience, leave them a tip. Balinese people make on average $6,000/year so they rely heavily on the kindness of tourists.
Cook like a Local
Take a couple hours and learn what makes Indonesian cuisine so special. Discover new to you ingredients and experience new tastes and textures. Familiarize yourself with new cooking methods or techniques.
If you are committed to eating cuisine in a new country, taking a class with a local Chef is an experience you will not want to miss. Learn more about the cooking class we took with our kids at Bali Manggang in Ubud.
Bali Tip: Do not go for the first cooking class you find, or the cheapest. Take the time to discover through research the one that best suits your situation.
Bali has a rich assortment of beaches, some with big rocks created by corals or lava to those fully covered with sand.
While not all beaches are suitable for swimming due to the waves, there are several boat excursions you can take for an ultimate snorkeling adventure.
Our adventure included a speed boat to Nusa Penida, an island off the southwest coast of Bali. We were taken to four areas, Crystal Bay, Gamat Bay, Wall Bay, Manta Ray Bay around the island to snorkel with the fish, sea life and what we had hoped would be Manta Rays.
Typically plan for a full day trip, bring lots of water and sunscreen.
Bali Tip: Do your research. While our snorkeling tour itself was alright, we would never book with the company we went with again.
Spend a Couple Days in Ubud
When traveling to Bali, one must experience Ubud, a town 1-2 hours inland and set amongst rice paddies, steep ravines with lush forests that gives off a very different vibe then the communities along the beaches of Bali. We spent five nights in Ubud and could easily have stayed longer.
Adopt a Turtle
Take a tour through the Turtle Conservation and Education Centre on Serangan Island to learn about how they are helping save turtles.
This center helps protect turtles by hosting injured ones, collecting nests from tourist beaches and buying eggs from locals to prevent them being eaten. Eggs are bred at the center and raised for about one month before being released into the ocean.
In addition the center focuses on eradicating illegal turtle trading on the Island which is still very much a thing as locals will eat them or use them as offerings.
It’s free to visit, you get a guide to show you around and there are turtles to observe including babies plus injured ones in recovery.
They offer souvenirs for purchase, accept donations and allow you to adopt a little fella who will be released into the ocean. When adopting you pick your little guy, name him, receive an adoption certificate and video sent to you when he is released into the ocean.
Bali Tip: This sanctuary is not Turtle Island, which is not recommended and does not have good reviews.
Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park
The magnificent iconic landmark Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue or GWK for short is a symbol of the Hindu God Vishnu riding his mount, the great mythical eagle Garuda. The statue stands watch over the island and can be seen from several key points in Bali including Double Six Beach and Kuta Beach.
25 years in the making and still not finished, it’s a little bit of a hike to get to GWK itself, however as you wander along you pass the Lotus Pond, temples, restaurants and coffee shops, and plazas. Or you can rent a segway.
In the park itself and beyond GWK you can learn about the Balinese heritage through the cultural performances, legendary folklore tales, sculptures besides GWK and dramatic cinematic presentations.
While the statue is not yet accessible on the inside leaving you with outside views only, there is something to be said about being in the presence of one of the largest and highest monumental statues in the world. We loved it.
Bali Tip: Admission costs will run you about 450,000 IDR or $10 per person and it’s hot so bring lots of water and plan to take your time.
Waterbom is a fun water adventure park for kids of all ages and they even have a swim up bar for the grown ups. The park is beautifully landscaped, very clean and seamlessly connects all the rides, paths, bridges, bathing areas and pools.
They operate on a waterproof wrist band system where everyone entering wears a wrist band also known as cashless payment. You preload it with money and lock up your wallet in a locker you rent.
The band allows you to buy drinks, food or the few attractions that cost money by simply scanning your wrist band. The amount is deducted and whatever balance is left at the end of the day gets returned to you in cash.
Like in Disneyland there are photographers throughout the park who will take photos and scan your wrist band allowing you to purchase photos at the end of the day. This park will definitely appeal to the thrill seeker in you. Our crew had a great time exploring this park.
Bali Tip: Try to book your tickets at least a day or two in advance and reserve a cabana if you plan on staying the day.
Catch a Wave
Bali is one of the most popular surf destinations in the world. According to the Bali people, you will find the warmest weather and best time to enjoy the waves without crowds from October through September.
The rainy season typically runs November – March, however we were there for three weeks in November and only experienced rain on the day we were leaving Bali.
The beaches are loaded with vendors wanting to sell you their goods, surf lessons and even a few chairs where you can enjoy Bintangs, pop or water.
It’s easy to find a surf instructor, simply wander the beach until you find one available to give you a lesson or book them for later. Our surf instructor: Situm Tour Bali Adventure at Double Six Beach.
Bali Tip: Three hour surf lessons are pretty cheap. $20 per person plus tip included the board rental.
Stay at an All Inclusive
If you didn’t know Bali had All Inclusives, you do now. If you’ve stayed in this kind of resort and it’s totally your jam, this might just be the place for you. Our first 5 days in Bali was spent at the Grand Mirage Resort & Thalasso Bali in Benoa.
We chose not to do the all inclusive package due to our desire to hit the streets running and not be tied to any one place for food.
We did however opt in for a daily continental breakfast and it was one of the most amazing continental breakfasts featuring both Western and Indonesian cuisine complete with hot and cold food stations.
Bali Tip: Benoa does not offer swimmer friendly beaches.
Stay in a Villa
Plan your trip far enough in advance and you will find some wicked deals on private villas in Bali. We stayed in two, with the first villa in Ubud, the Samhita Garden Hotel, which we actually stumbled upon by accident.
Our second villa was in Seminyak and called the New Pondak Sara Villas and only a 5-10 minute walk from the beach.
Bali Tip: Bali has all kinds of critters than tend to come out at night. If you hear a strange noise, it’s quite possible one of them.
Bali is over 80% Hindu and boasts over 20,000 temples. Many families have shrines in their homes, next to their businesses even at the front door.
Next to a temple is the offering prepared daily to give thanks for the food and feed the spirits so they do not become angry.
There are famous temples in Bali to visit and those you will stumble across just walking down the street. Whatever the case may be they are all fascinating and an delicately prepared work of art.
We were fortunate enough to see a few notable ones during our trip including Goa Gajah, Uluwatu, Borobudur and Prambanan. The rest we will save until we return.
Entering a temple requires knees be covered. Be sure to note the rules of each temple before you visit.
Bali Tip: Purchase a sarong locally at Hardy’s when you arrive and carry one with you when you are sight seeing.
Try the Poop Coffee (Kopi Luwak)
Eloquently put, Kopi Luwak, or civet coffee, is coffee that includes partially digested coffee cherries, eaten and pooped out by the Asian palm civet critter. Since it can not digest the coffee beans out they come through the poop shoot.
Fermentation occurs as the cherries pass through a civet’s intestines, and after being defecated are collected, cleaned and roasted.
Farm workers collect the beans, clean and wash them. At this point they have acquired a unique and highly prized taste from their passage through the luwak’s digestive tract.
The coffee is really quite good and we had no issue trying it. Do you eat mushrooms?! Mushrooms you buy in the store have been grown in poop so BAM you’ve probably already eaten poop remnants so why not try poop coffee. See what I did there?!
Bali Tip: A cup of Luwak coffee at a coffee stop will run you about $5. A bag of Luwak coffee a whole lot more.
Enjoyed reading about our trip?! See also:
- 5 Things to do in Ubud
- 5 Things to do in Yogyakarta
- Souvenirs You Should Buy in Bali
- Foods to try in Indonesia
- Cooking with Bali Manggang in Indonesia
- Traveling to Bali with Kids
On our list for next time: A Yoga Retreat, a Fishing Boat Trip, a trip to Komodo National Park in Flores, and visiting the Gili Islands (we originally had planned to visit prior to an earthquake).
Have you been to Bali? What’s your favourite thing to do there or what would you like to try from this list?