Bali - Our Travel Diary
Updated: Mar 7, 2022
Traditional Balinese dance 'Barong Dance'
Duration: 5 days (December 2016)
Getting there: Ngurah Rai International Airport in Dempasar in Bali is well connected with all major cities of south-east Asian countries, Europe, Middle East and Australia through direct or one-stop flights. We flew Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) from Singapore – The KLM service that connects Amsterdam to Bali via one stop at Singapore.
When to go: Located few degrees to the south of equator, Bali has a tropical, hot and humid climate throughout the year which makes it a year round destination. However April to October is considered as the best months to travel due to low humidity and less rain. Therefore these months are also expected to be more crowded and accommodation prices tend to be higher. If you want to avoid this, shoulder months of November and December or February and March are also good options as the weather is still pleasant and with relatively less tourist inflow, the prices are not high. We went to Bali early December and found the weather perfectly suitable for a tropical holiday. We only encountered a tropical thundershower one day early morning which cleared out by the time we had breakfast.
What to buy: Balinese artisans create some stunning wood sculptures with intricate carvings and Balinese paintings are also noteworthy. There are numerous wood carving and painting workshops dotted across Bali but if you intend to take one home be ready for some serious haggling.
Staying Comfortable: Due to its hot and humid tropical climate shorts and light breathable tops are the best options. But you may be asked to cover up with a sarong if you visit temples etc. It always helps to carry a big scarf with you anywhere you travel though!
Though Bali is a small island (stretching around 150 km by 80 km), getting around is not as quick as you would imagine, as the roads are narrow and traffic can be frustrating in the populated towns of the island such as Ubud, Nusa Dua, Kuta, Dempasar etc. So, deciding where to stay has a major impact on the quality of your trip to Bali. If you spend most of your time sitting in traffic, you will end up seeing much less and being more tired and grumpy- not what you want your Bali trip to be!
We made the mistake of staying at one location for our entire stay in Bali. Though this was a luxury hotel in Nusa Dua and we loved our stay there, it did make it difficult for us to travel to the attractions to the far north of the island. Therefore the smart thing to do it to move your location- so if you are in Bali for 4 to 5 days, then try to staying a couple of days in Kuta or Nusa Dua area and the next few days in a resort in Ubud area. If you are one of those that like to relax and rejuvenate before you head home, then staying in one of the resorts overlooking the rice fields in Ubud is a good idea.
Day 1: Arriving at Bali in the evening and check-into the hotel. Spend the rest of the evening relaxing in the hotel.
Day 2: Eastern part of the island
Legong and Barong dance at Catur Eka Budhi in Denpasar area: Start the day with Legong and Barong dance at Denpasar area. There are many places around Dempasar, Nusa Dua and Ubud area which host the Barong dance every day for tourists. We went to a place called Catur Eka Budhi in Dempasar which has an amphitheatre like seating in an old temple complex. Legong dance is a traditional dance which involves extensive facial expressions. Barong dance is one of the most famous traditional dances of Bali which depicts the eternal flight between the dragon like Barong (representing order, harmony and health) and his demonic counterpart Rangda (associated with chaos, sickness and harm). In real life also they are ‘awakened’ from time to time to restore the spiritual balance in the village. This is done through a battle ritual. It is believed that the magical power of Barong and Rangda is in their masks, therefore these are kept in village temples and given offerings.
Legong dance performance
Barong dance performance
Visit a painting workshop: Balinese painting has its own unique style. Most common themes are nature- bamboo trees and birds and various dance forms, mythological figures and story-telling. There are many privately owned painting workshops and galleries in Dempasar and Ubud area that you can visit. You can see the artists in these workshops engrossed in their work of art. Some of these workshops are housed in beautiful vintage buildings and we saw lovely backyard ponds teeming with colourful koi fish.
Traditional Balinese painting workshop
Tirta Empul Temple or Water Temple Complex: Famous for its holy water spring, Tirta Empul Temple or Water Temple Complex is a Hindu temple located near the town of Tampaksiring. Hindu devotees visit this temple for spiritual purification by taking a dip in the holy spring water. Within the temple complex there are a number of baths for purification. The fish ponds which get fed by the spring water are a thing to watch – an amazing array of stunning varieties of golden, orange and silver koi fish are on display. The architecture of the temple complex is typically Balinese and rustic. The entry fees to the temple is minimal but you also need to pay to rent a sarong if you turned up with bare legs on display!
spiritual purification pool of Tirta Empul Temple
Entrance to the Tirta Empul Temple
Coffee Luak experience: Coffee Luak is perhaps the most valuable commodity that is exported from Bali. Considered the most expensive coffee in the world, the process by which coffee Luak is prepared may put off some people. The beans are collected from the droppings of Indonesian palm civets which are known to pick and eat the best coffee fruits. The coffee beans come out in the dropping undigested. After a few rounds of rigorous washing and processing the coffee beans are roasted and ready to be grounded. There are many coffee luak farms in the central and eastern part of the island where the process of coffee making is shown followed by tasting season. Whether you chose to go for a tasting session, a trip to luak farm is something you shouldn’t miss.
Coffee testing at a coffee Luak farm
Roasting of coffee Luak beans
Lunch near mount Batur: Mount Batur is an active volcano located near the northern part of the island of Bali. Mount Batur makes for a perfect lunch stop and there many locations around with a view of the mountain. There are tour companies which organise half day trekking on mount Batur. We just opted for a relaxing lunch at a place that had some stunning views.
View of mount Batur from restaurant
Tegallalang Rice Terrace: One of the most ‘touristy’ yet worth visiting site in Bali. Bali is famous for its rice terraces on hilly central part of the island. The unique process of cutting the slope of a hill into steps and growing rice on that creates a stunning and picturesque landscape – a favourite with photographers. You can walk along the narrow lanes between the rice fields to get some amazing views. But this does require some stamina to tread the hilly landscape, so be reasonable about how much you want to walk if you are travelling with kids, or elderly people.
Tegallalang Rice Terrace
Tegallalang Rice Terrace
Day 3: Western and Northern Part of the Island
Tanah Lot temple: Start the day with a visit to this beach temple of Tanah Lot which is situated 20 kms from Denpasar towards the western side of the island. Located on a rock just by the beach the temple of Tanah Lot is a Hindu pilgrimage temple and a well-known tourist attraction of Bali. The 16th century temple of Tanha Lot was built for the sea God Bhatara Segara. There is a fresh water spring inside a cave in the temple area! This has contributed to the popularity of the place amongst the devotees. During high tide you will need to cross the knee deep water by foot for over 100 meters to reach the temple. The entrance to the temple is quite a walk from the car park. You will have to walk through a market buzzing with souvenir shops and street food. The place is unique as most people do not associate beaches with temples, so this an experience in itself.
Tanah Lot temple
Ulun Danu Temple: Located on the shores of Lake (danu) Bratan in the northern region of the island, the temple complex of Ulun Danu is mainly devoted to the God Shiva. The temple seems to float on the water and with the amazing Bedugul mountains circling it and misty clouds make this dreamy and unreal! If you haven’t looked up all the Instagram pics before coming, you probably wouldn’t expect to see a lake at this altitude, and a ‘floating temple’ on that! This is also one of those places which you would want to soak in… so factor in some time for that! Walk around the temple complex and just sit down and enjoy the stunning out of the world views!
Ulun Danu temple and lake Bratan
At Ulun Danu temple complex
Jatiluwih Rice Terrace: Located on the central-western part of the island, this vastly spread rice terrace is located on the slopes of Batukaru mountain range. Most tourists only visit Tegallalang rice terrace. Though in our opinion Jatiluwih rice terrace is equally beautiful, but less touristy. The sprawling fields require half or full day trip on different trekking routes and you can choose what works for your time and energy levels... We opted for an ‘easy’ trekking route as we didn’t fancy carrying a 3-year old on our way back! It took us about 2 hours to complete the walk around the fields on mostly flat routes.
Picturesque Jatiluwih Rice Terrace
Hervesting at Jatiluwih Rice Terrace
Day 4: South central and South part of the island
Ubud art market and Ubud palace: Start the day with a trip to the Ubud art market located in the heart of Ubud town. The art market houses hundreds of shops selling wood carvings, paintings, artifacts, clothes, handbags, food etc. It is quite a vibrant place and makes for a nice leisurely walk. If you proficient in haggling, this is your place! If are not- give it a go! Balinese people are usually kind and soft spoken and haggling is common like most of south east Asia. Ubud palace is a historical building which is located near Ubud art market which also has a temple in the same compound. This simple yet beautiful building is also the official residence of the Ubud royal family. This palace hosts traditional Balinese dance performances in the evening. Sometimes there are free performances during the day. If you are keen on history, it is worth taking a good guide with you.
Entrance to Ubud palace
Ubud monkey forest: Located just outside the town of Ubud, this place is home to around 700 long tailed Balinese monkeys. This lush green forest boasts of a wide variety of trees. As is typical of Bali, there are three beautiful temples inside the monkey forest which are well known for their architecture. Before visiting the monkey forest I read a lot about the aggressive resident monkeys and how many visitors were attacked by monkeys as they try to snatch food items. As we were travelling with a little boy I decided to leave my camera and mobile in the car as I didn’t want to take a chance and end up with a damaged camera. It is sensible to not have anything in your hand, as monkey behaviour is quite unpredictable!
Wood carving workshop: From Ubud to Jimbaran we stopped at a wood carving workshop. You can see artisans at work and also have a good look around in the shop. They display everything from miniature figurines to intricately carved furniture sets. If you are serious about buying, do some research before you go so have some clarity on what you want to buy and how much you want to pay. As is always with such places, you need to make some quick decisions to avoid feeling ripped off. A lot of these workshops can also arrange to ship overseas if you are buying a bigger piece.
Wood curving of Bali (Garuda)
Jimbaran fish market: Located near Kedonganan beach, the Jimbaran area is famous for its many sea food restaurants, which come alive in the evening and buzz with tourists. The fish market itself is located at the end of a long stretch of road by the sea beach. The market is open every day from 6am to 3pm. You can find fresh daily catch and most of these also supply fish and seafood to the popular restaurants. There are two options to eat- either head to a proper restaurant or do what we did- wander through the market and buy what you want to eat- then give these to one of the local shops who can grill these for you and serve it with rice and sambal.
Freshly grilled fish and seafood outside Jimbaran market
Grilled seafood from Jimbaran fish market
Uluwatu temple and Kechak dance: After a relaxing lunch at Jimbaran fish market we headed towards the Uluwatu temple at the southern tip of the island. The temple is built on the edge of a high cliff protruding into the Indian Ocean. The temple is also hugely popular for its Kecak dance performance in the amphitheatre at sunset. Kecak dance is undoubtedly the most famous dance form of Bali and has become symbolic of Bali and something of a life time experience. Read here about our experience of Kecak dance.
The vocal music and chanting performers
Kechak dance performance
Day 5: South Part of the Island and a trip to the east of the island
Water Blow Nusa Dua: After breakfast and checking out of the hotel we headed towards the water blow in Nusa Dua which was very close to where we were staying. Water Blow Nusa Dua Bali is right behind of the Grand Hyatt Nusa Dua Resort Located at the edge of the peninsula Nusa Dua, this is a rocky cliff created by volcanic rock formation. When the ocean hits the costline, water runs though the rock channels and shoots up in the air creating a splash. The observation deck is a raised wooden platform over the jagged rock formations which allow visitors to watch the water gushing out.
Tip: Be prepared for a good 15 minute walk from the car park to the observation deck
Water Blow at Nusa Dua beach
Padang Padang beach: Tucked away in the southern part this little hidden gem was brought to the limelight by Julia Roberts’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. Roughly 5 minute walk from the car park and down some stiff stairs and through a hollow rock, this small beach is popular among surfers as well as families. It’s a nice little place to spend a relaxing afternoon. Living up to the true Bali style of unexpected sights- you may get greeted by monkeys or pop up shacks that offer massage! Sadly we do not have photos from this day as the camera was out of battery- a rare occurrence.
Padang Padang beach
Besakih temple: After an early lunch we headed towards the east part of the island. Pura Besakh is a grand complex of 22 temples, spread over 3 sq. km on the slopes of Gunung Agung. This temple complex is considered as the holiest and largest temple complex in Bali and is believed to have been built in the 8th century. The complex consists of a terraced entrance with stairs (used only by worshippers), a main courtyard, inner courtyards, ‘merus’ and wrapped by low walls. The whole set up and (meru) towers are shrines with a wooden pagoda-like structure with a masonry base, a wooden chamber and multi-tiered thatched roofs. Meru towers are usually dedicated to either gods, ancestral spirits or deified Kings. Merus can have 3 to 11 tiers of thatched roofs - 11 tier tower is dedicated to Gods – Shiv and Parvati while 3 three-tiered meru tower is usually dedicated to a deified ancestor. Ideally a full day should be spent here to explore the area and appreciate its beauty. As we had to catch our flight back to Singapore in the late evening we only managed a glimpse of this magnificent temple complex before we travelled back to Kuta area.
Bali Bakery Kuta: On the way to the airport, we stopped at Bali Bakery in Kuta on recommendation of our driver Bhima. Established during early 90s, Bali Bakery is quite well known and severs a delectable range of cakes and pastries. It has a large comfortable seating area where we spent an hour eating cakes and drinking coffee before heading back to the airport.
Delicious pastry and cakes from Bali Bakery Kuta