Bali in Indonesia has many sides to the island. It’s full of contrasts. Many details representing beliefs, religion and culture are stunningly beautiful, as are sights in nature too. Then there are partying vacationists in very touristic areas as well as local backyard neighborhoods and beaches with rubbish thrown all over and traffic with rules of jungle. In this post we shortly describe thoughts and hints on family vacationing, visiting cultural Ubud, nature and beaches as well as famous cat poop coffee and Sacred Monkey Forest.
We spent 2,5 weeks in the island of Bali in May 2017 as part of our round-the-world journey. After backpacking for 5,5 months just the three of us, our visit to Bali was mainly about reuniting with rest of our immediate family and vacationing in an island with quite high expectations. In good and in bad. Mainly good for beaches, sun and exotic culture, bad for humidity as well as rubbish in nature and water as we had read about it quite much. Both sides of our expectations were met.
Bali is a good island for holidays with kids, as the Balinese love children. Anywhere you go the locals are always very warm-hearted for children with you. And for the most part very friendly to all adults too. Customer service is mainly good quality, though you can in some places see how service attitude drops a bit after being in a restaurant for a while since service charges are automatically added to your bill… And tipping is not expected, but a very nice addition to good service.
Bali offers many attractions and places for families to enjoy. Whether it is only relaxing by the resort pool, beach and other services without having to leave your resort area or going to other end and staying in a homestay in central Ubud with strong local culture and surrounding nature. Around the island capital Denpasar you can find shopping malls and activity parks too if pool and beach are not enough. And of course many water sport activities on the beaches or for example river rafting are available. Yoga classes are offered everywhere too.
Getting around in Bali is fairly easy and cheap. Traffic can be horrible and walking is not common. Especially with children it is not recommended as the so called sidewalks are filled with massive holes in the concrete boards or sidewalks parked full of cars and mopeds so that you have to go on the street anyway. Taxis are everywhere in bigger tourist areas and villages. So are Uber drivers. Negotiate you price with both and get a personal provate driver for a whole day. We ended up negotiating a driver with larger vehicle for a couple of days just for us, since we were five. They pick you up in the morning and go wherever you want and wait for you if you go visit a place or an attraction. Normal daily time is 8-10 hours and 50 USD for that is a good bargain. That includes all gas and tollexpenses too as well as the driver’s waiting time. Many of the taxi drivers speak fairly good English too, so you may get to know about the island from them.
Ubud is the most exciting and interesting place for many in Bali. As the island is not just about partying on the beaches, it is also rich in culture, especially handicrafts in Ubud.There are six artist villages in the rather largely spread area of the town. These six villages each focus on different type of handicrafts: wood carving, silver, painting, stone works etc.We visited a cooperative, which is a center for learning and selling the art pieces in the painter village. Masters, workers and students work there, teach each other and try make a living out of selling their paintings. Similarly, carving of hard wood like ebony and turning it into beautiful statues can be observed in a workshop.
Ubud is an attractive place for homestays. Many independent travellers rent a room at a local family’s house and that way get to experience unique local homemade dishes as well as ceremonies that the family is participating on. Homestay is far from staying in a five star luxury resort and thus, provides completely different experience. Five star hotels are mostly located on established beaches, however, you may find some in the more untouristy areas in the north and western parts of the island.
Special coffee for special taste
Bali is famous for another type of handicraft too: cat poop coffee. Oh yes, it really is special type of coffee that is processed as chivet cats eat the beans and then beands as picked and washed several rounds from the cats’ poop. It looks and sounds discusting, however, was surprisingly smooth and good tasting! As it is purely handicraft work, this coffee is one of the most expensive type in the world. 100g of grounded coffee cost about 50 euros in stores.
Even though seeing the civet cats un their tiny cages and quite poor living conditions was slightly shocking, a visit to coffee plantation is interesting. A guide walks you thru the showing area with all kinds of plants and herbs besides the civet cats and making process of special coffee. They explain how different herbs are believed to heal or sthrenghten your body as well as let you take part in roasting coffee beans. The tour ends with coffee & tea tasting. Oh, how good the the herbal teas were! Makes you want to visit their shop for purchaces after…
Sacred Monkey Forest
In Bali you can find zoos and safaris to visit or butterfly gardens to see the largest of pretty butterflies. Safaris offer elephant rides too; however, riding these old elephants that are no good as work force in the woods anymore is somewhat unethical in our opinion.
So we stayed away, but in stead, visited the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud where hundreds of monkeys live freely and seek treats from visitors. You may buy bananas at the forest booths, but are not to bring any own food. Monkeys here can be quite aggressive to take any loose items you have on. The forest is filled with beautiful temples and trails thru rainforest. Absolutely a must place visit if you want close encounters with these animals. This reserve has caretakers and a little hospital too for sick or wounded monkeys too.
Beaches and nature
As Bali is located practically on to Equator, is very rich in rainforests and natureVolcanic mountain on the north part shapes the lanscape and provides trekking trails and waterfalls for those in to excersicing outdoors in the woods. Or just for the views. One thing to consider if visiting on a daytrip is that even though distance in kilometres is not that big, traffic is something that makes you sit in the car for hours. So if you plan a daytrip from south island to the mountain, you cannot really many other stops or attractions on top.
A must see place near central Ubud are the rice terraces. Walk from the north village or ask your driver to take you to the Rice terraces of Tengalelong for breathtaking views. These terraces are protected as UNESCO heritage site so prepare for plenty of other visitors too. Still, there’s something magical about these hills covered with terraced fields. Not only for sights, but walking up and down little trails through the terraces in the hot and humid weather is quite a workout.
Rice fields are everywhere besides terraced hills too. Basically anywhere in the central and north part you see locals harvesting their fields and working on hot conditions. We stopped for lunch near Ubud at a stunningly beautiful restaurant overlooking rice fields. It was one of the most beautiful and tranquil places I’ve ever had lunch in. No wonder why so many travellers come here for their own “Eat.Pray.Love” or yoga and meditation retriets. It surely is a place where inner piece and answers deeper meaning of life can be found.
Beaches are a whole other story. You can read our beach review here on beaches if Nusa Dua, Jimbaran, Sanur, Blue Lagoon and Dreamland beaches. Beaches are what most people go for in Bali. Surely they are beautiful and make you feel like you are in paradise when you first arrive, but for those who seek the best clear and calm turquoise water for snorkeling or alabaster white sand beaches all to themselves, Bali is perhaps not the place. Apparently neigboring island Lombok and three tiny Gili islands next to it are better for these purposes. Still, you can certainly get an excellent beach escape from winter scenery in Bali.
Balinese mythology & Hinduism
The Balinese people have strong believes in rituals and Hinduism. It is an island of temples and shrines, thousands of them. A traveller or a vacatinionist cannot really visit Bali without withnessing the beauty of detailed and colourful shrines and rituals. It is in my opinion, the temples and mythology that makes this island very exciting and beautiful together with breathtaking nature and prettylooking beaches. We have included a post solely on this theme if you are interested.
Read more about the Balinese mythology and hinduism here. (Coming soon!)
While mythology and religion with rituals, statues, carvings and temples as well as gifts to gods everywhere, the green green nature and turquoise watermakes the island very beautiful, there are opposites that unfortunately give heavy contrasts to all the beauty. Rubbish, poverty and maltreatement of nature is just overwhelming. How or why would anyone want to destroy natural resources like that? Unfortunately sustainability is not a top priority nor knowledge of it. That has consequences. Furthermore, dirty water or disinfected food is often a cause for bad stomach bugs so many get while visiting Bali. And yes, if you want to avoid all theheavily partying tourists, head to northern and western parts of the island to smaller local villages, but expect even poorer infrastructure at the same time.
The Balinese people live of in different societal classes. Most get their little income from service and tourism industry. Luckily education is an equal opportunity for the Balinese, but not all get to further educate themselves. As the low-paid workers receive a monthly income of as little as 150€, they greatly depend on many tourists to support their living by providing jobs thru using of services. Getting yourself massaged with ridiculously little amount of money while lazying on a beach chair is contributing to those women’s making of living.
All in all, Bali is a near-perfect getaway for winter months or do some soul searching. If you prepare yourself for the contrasts you will face, you may find your paradise here. And perhaps even contribute to educating the islanders in sustaibility, volunteer to teaching or participate in cleaning of the beaches. Or make sure not to be the partying pig trashing this beautiful nature any more.