Although Bali wasn’t the first stop on the mega trip, it kept popping into my mind as the first place I wanted to write about. During my time in Australia, the notion of a trip to Bali was met with a scornful tut. A common misconception in Australia is that Bali is inhabited almost entirely by rowdy drunken tourists. Bali has been my dream destination for years so I wasn’t going to let this snobbery put me off – I just knew it would be amazing. My interest was born when it was the destination of choice for the final of a series of America’s Next Top Model (those who know me know that my love for Tyra Banks will never die!) so despite the negativity that seemed to surround the smiling island, I put on my game face and got on a five hour Jetstar Flight to Denpasar.
The second we stepped out of the airport, it felt like we were in another world. I had travelled from England straight to Australia so the most “foreign” thing I had experienced up until this point was nearly hitting a kamikaze kangaroo with my car. Here, we were greeted with stifling heat and a tsunami of taxi drivers. They surrounded us like drones the second they saw our backpacks, pulling on our luggage and shouting at us. This brings me to my first piece of advice about Bali, that we could not have lived without during our three- week stay.
- Always, ALWAYS Bluebird.
Balinese taxi drivers are insistent and annoying, but not particularly threatening. This being said (like every taxi driver on the planet) they will not be able to resist the opportunity to try and extract an extra few thousand rupiah from an innocent first-time tourist, so hold onto your money and be careful. Bluebird taxis are metered, and the company is very reliable so you can be sure that you are getting charged a fair price to your destination. To avoid the crazy crowd at arrivals in Denpasar airport, especially if you are an obvious tourist like we were sporting backpacks, hats and shortshorts, you might find it useful to head up the stairs and exit on the first floor. Here you can wait more comfortably for a Bluebird to drive past. We were told there was a Bluebird taxi rank near arrivals but this either didn’t exist, or we were too overwhelmed to see it. Also be aware that every taxi driver under the Balinese sun will paint their car blue and decorate it to look like a Bluebird. Bluebirds have “The Bluebird Group” written on the windscreen and are LIGHT blue. If you do not manage to find one, always be certain to agree on a price with a taxi driver BEFORE you get into the cab, to avoid being ripped off at your destination.
Our first port of call was the Neo Hotel in the centre of Denpasar. We arrived late and after our colossal faff at the airport we were exhausted and ready for some food, so we dropped our bags and asked the hotel staff for the nearest late night food place. The only option was a McDonalds about a ten-minute walk away, and our rumbling tummies demanded that we take it. We stepped outside and were faced with our second problem:
- Denpasar has no pavements
To a seasoned traveller, this is probably no issue at all, but if you are fresh out of a western country this might be one to watch. We struggled enormously for those first few days in Bali, tiptoeing around the road edges and trying to avoid the 1.5 million motorcycles and scooters that drive the island’s roads every day. The best advice is just to walk. This became much less of a problem once we reached Seminyak, and if you choose to stay in Kuta or Ubud you should have no issue navigating the recently constructed pavements. If you are stepping off the beaten track into Denpasar like we did, then just be road-confident. The bikes don’t want to hit you either!!
Staying in central Denpasar gave us an advantage, as we were able to head over to parts of the Island that would have been so accessible from Seminyak or Kuta. We had a lovely day visiting the Ubud rice paddies, monkey forest and Tanah Lot temple. This twelve-hour long trip into which we crammed the vast majority of our Balinese sightseeing (bad tourists) inspires my third advice nugget:
- Tanah Lot is NOT the temple on all the post cards
We spent an (extortionate) $40 USD each on a customised tour that took us to four of the places around the island that we were desperate to see, stopping off at some other interesting spots along the way. We justified our extravagant spending by adding up the cost of travelling to these places separately each day by taxi, and decided it was worth the price. Our tour was with a company called Bali Bliss Tours (you can find them here) and they were brilliant! We decided that we wanted to visit the rice paddies in Ubud, the Monkey Forrest in Ubud, the Tegenungan Waterfalls and Tannah Lot water temple. All these places were definitely worth the visit, and I am super glad that we spent the money. The rice paddies are just beautiful, especially if you love taking photographs and watching locals at work. For a very small fee any of the workers will be keen to lend you their traditional hat and basket to try, and pose for a photo with you if you enjoy that kind of thing! We were happy just to grab a fresh coconut and watch the world go by. The monkey forest was also an experience I will probably never forget. The monkeys are hilarious to watch and incredibly friendly (I could have stayed there all day) and the babies were absolutely adorable. If you walk through the forest with bananas, you are sure to attract a lot of attention, but be aware of monkeys jumping from all directions! (One particularly unfortunate monkey made a leap for my arm whilst I was looking through the viewfinder of my camera and ended up getting monkey-punched as he scared the hell out of me!)
Our final destination of the day was Tanah Lot, a beautiful water temple situated just off the islands main body of land. Tannah Lot temple is beautiful, serene and amazing to photograph during sunset, however, it was not exactly what we were expecting!
If you go to Bali looking to visit this bad boy
then Ulun Danu Beratan Temple is your guy.
THIS is Tanah Lot:
Despite being a completely different destination to the one we had intended to reach, we had a lovely evening watching the sunset with our tour guide Katut (who was a lovely, informative fellow). It was a great end to a wonderful day.
During our stay in Denpasar we had to take taxis to a lot of our destinations, especially in the evenings. This turned out to be a blessing rather than a curse, as we relied on reading a LOT of trip advisor reviews to find restaurants that we wanted to eat at. This meant that we rarely ended up having a bad meal during the entire ten days. We made the decision to stick to restaurants instead of street food whilst in Bali after we saw a lady from a chicken stall washing the carcases in a puddle! We were also slightly paranoid about contracting the dreaded “Bali Belly” although we magically managed to avoid this – much yays. Here is a list of the restaurants we enjoyed the MOST during our stay in Denpasar, all around a 15-20 minute taxi journey from our hotel.
- La Mexicana in Cangguu – beautiful cheap sharing fajitas and well made margaritas – as well as a free pool table! Staff here are very friendly and helpful, and speak good English. La Mexicana holds a special place in our hearts as this is where my carnivore boyfriend tried his first ever capsicums, onions and rice – and has never looked back!
- Barbacoa in Outer Seminyak – This restaurant serves small, share style dishes inspired by traditional Indonesian flavours. A little on the pricey side if you are on a budget, we went here twice, once on our first day in Denpasar and once on our last day in Seminyak, as a special treat because we enjoyed it so much! My favourite dish was the Scallops whilst Jacob enjoyed two rounds of the suckling pig, which stands in the middle of the restaurant, to be marvelled at in all its glory.
- Sarong Restaurant in Kerobokan – This was probably my favourite place we ate in the whole three weeks in Bali. The food is a blend of Asia, and they use spices from Indonesia, Malaysia and India to create a beautiful range of curries. Cocktails here are also incredibly premium (we LOVE hunting for amazing cocktail bars on our travels) and feel a lot more expensive than the price. I ate butter chicken here (because I am the world’s biggest spice wimp) and Jake ate a Malay chicken curry. They were both absolutely delicious. The Premium ice tea is also a must try if you are a mixology geek like we are!
All in all, I am happy with our decision to spend a week of our Bali trip in Denpasar, as it encouraged us to move further afield from the places we discovered whilst in Seminyak (a separate blog post will be coming about our experience here!) If you are new to the Island, I would definitely recommend it, as staying off the track so often walked by British and Aussie tourists not only means that you will encounter completely unique experiences, but also allows you to bond differently with locals that are not used to seeing tourists in their home villages. Bali definitely surpassed my expectations as being a dazzling jewel in the pacific ocean, and I hope that one day I can return and find all the places that I did not have time to discover on this trip!