Is our Bali itinerary realistic?
July 31, 2015 5:52 AM   Subscribe

We are almost at the end of our time in Sydney, Oz and have three weeks (but could stretch to another 3-4 days) to visit Bali. I have a long list of stuff for us to see/do but am not sure how much of it is really possible in our time frame. Bali people/lovers, do you have any tips/tricks?

What I want to ask is:
1) Do I need to book different accommodations in different areas or can we reach everything with day trips etc?
2) Is this realistic / have I missed anything important / included something not-too-great that can be missed?
3) Is there time to travel to Java and see the famous temple at the end or not, do you think?

The rough itinerary so far:

• Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
• Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave)
• Gunung Kawi
• Tirta Gangga
• Bicycle tour in Bamboo Forest, Jln dewi sri Gianyar
• See Kecak Fire & Trance Dances
• Get a massage somewhere
• Cooking class at Casa Luna/Paon Bali
• Ubud market
• Tanah Lot
• Setia Darma House of Mask and Puppets
• Pod Chocolate Factory
• Banjar Hot Springs
• Kintamani Volcano
• Temple of the Holy Water (Pura Tirta Empul)
• Ulun Danu Temple
• Saraswati temple
• Baruna Dive Centre
• Tegalalang Rice Terrace
• Waterbom Park
• Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA)
• Swimming and diving on Lombok/Gili islands

It's just me and husband, we don't have kids. Oh - any hot tips for lovely food are of course very welcome too :) Thank you in advance for any advice or insights you might have!
posted by everydayanewday to Travel & Transportation around Indonesia (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't been to Bali but I know a lot of people who have and it sounds like a lot of people who go get Bali Belly (or maybe the people I know have been unlucky?), which can put a dampener on at least a couple of days of the trip. So my advice would be to either take as many precautions as you can to avoid it (eg. no ice in your drinks, eating only cooked foods not salads washed with local water etc.) and/or to allow enough flexibility with your plans that you won't be locked into something on a day when you need to be recuperating in your hotel room.

I think you'll have an amazing time whether you manage to do everything on your list or not. Have a great time!
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:59 AM on July 31, 2015

I think that is all doable in three weeks, even with a touch of Bali belly, but if you like a bit more chill out time, consider dropping one leg.

One of your major bases should be Ubud. From there, you can do the monkey forest, goa gajah, gunung kawi, Tirta Gangga (although if you want to go stay up the coast, do it on the way to the dive centre where you may wish to stay), Kintamani volcano, Ubud market, ARMA, rice terraces, Saraswati temple. You can easily fit a few of these onto a single day, so you could have some very busy days and some days off for massages and cooking classes, or just do a little excursion here or there.

You could do Ulun Danu on the way up to the North coast to do the Banjar Hot Springs - I would consider a stay on the North coast or at least further North than Ubud for these if you really want to do them.

You could do Waterbom Park as a day trip from Ubud if you don't want to stay further south. Then again, if you also want to go to Tanah Lot, maybe a couple of nights in the south.
posted by AnnaRat at 7:46 AM on July 31, 2015

I had a fantastic time in Bali a couple of years ago. I spent about 8 days there and saw a lot of great things, but nowhere near as ambitious as your excellent-looking list! Bali has well developed tourist infrastructure and is very welcoming.

You'll want to stay in two or three different places. Bali is small, particularly the tourist portions, but getting around is slow. We stayed half our trip south of Denpasar near Kuta, and half our trip near Ubud. Those are totally different experiences. The Kuta area is full of beaches and hedonistic pleasures for tourists. Ubud is more the cultural center of Bali and is full of artisans, dancers, music, etc. They are both fantastic and quite different. I thought Ubud was more interesting, but then I'm more interested in culture and am not much of a beach-and-beer guy.

If you have the means, I strongly recommend hiring a local driver and car for most of your exploration days. Most hotels have a stable of cars and drivers. The drivers are not technically guides but the three we met were all quite knowledgable and did a great job taking us to interesting things to see and do.

To give you a sense of distances, it took us most of an hour to travel the 14km from our hotel in Jimbaran to Uluwatu. So two hours round trip in the car, an hour to walk around the temple grounds, and an hour and a half to see the kecak dance and there goes half a day. A lovely time, but don't try to plan doing five ambitious things in one day!

I had a hard time finding good food. We love Indonesian food and Bali's particular cuisine is great. But we weren't quite adventurous enough to eat in local dives and the hotel food we mostly ended up eating was too bland and dumbed down. I think the tourist centers in Kuta and Ubud both have more options for tourists, but the local rural economy doesn't support elaborate dining. The best hotel meal we had was Indonesian at the Four Seasons in Jimbaran Bay. Fantastic looking hotel, btw.

I fell in love with gamelan music in Bali. My biggest regret is we didn't figure out how to enjoy a temple festival, to see the music + costumes + dancing in the original ritual context. That's totally doable if you do a little planning, although it's a bit tricky to predict the Hindu calendar. But a lot of those arts are also packaged for tourists, I suspect every night in Ubud you can find someone doing a concert with dancers for tourists willing to buy a ticket. Seek those opportunities out, they are good.

Also loved the art. ARMA was a terrific art museum; visit there early in your trip so you can get some context for all the other art you will see without the pressure of being in a gallery where everything is for sale. The galleries are great but a bit overwhelming. I particularly treasure our experience buying a painting direct from the artist; our driver saw we were interested in this artist's work but weren't happy with the gallery prices. So he took us to the artist's home and that was just a great experience all around.

You might want to read A House in Bali. It's from 1947, so not at all current, but gives you some historical context on Western visitors in Bali. Also McPhee's passion for the music is compelling.
posted by Nelson at 7:48 AM on July 31, 2015

We were in Bali for two weeks & stayed in AirBNB places in Ubud and Seminyak. We had a great time doing different excursions (scuba diving on the east coat, sunrise hike of mount batur, cycling tour). We got great advice for local food from our airbnb hosts - neither of us had Bali belly and we were pretty adventurous. One thing I don't see on your list is a sunset dinner on the beach in Jambaran - that was really fun.

The MOST IMPORTANT THING is to be on the lookout for mangosteen, and eat all that you can find.
posted by wearyaswater at 8:49 AM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Definitely stay in ubud for at least 4 nights, it was so interesting and beautiful and a great base for some day trips, though you will want to stay at a different place near mutations or semanyak for beach views and maybe a massage on the beach.
You didn't ask for hotels but I will just say that 5 years later, my husband and I still talk about when we can get back to the Kamandalu resort in ubud. We even both have stayed on the email marketing list for them just to see pics and think about being there again. and I unsubscribe from frikkin everything. The resort is made up of villas built in the traditional style, each with a private pool. And a big center pool. They grow a bunch of their own fruit, which they serve at the best breakfasts I have ever had anywhere, including Morocco.

One thing to note is that the monkeys in the sacred forest are really up in your face and can get a little scary even though they aren't violent. So I would recommend not buying the monkey food or having any good of your own on you when you go. Just watch the monkeys jump on other tourists first and make sure that is something you want. I thought I would like it but was glad I saw it first and opted out if being swarmed.
posted by rmless at 9:15 AM on July 31, 2015

Your itinerary is ambitious but doable. Although it is less humid this time of year, it will still be quite hot so to keep hydrated, I recommend that you find a shop selling water in the giant bottles , the size used for water coolers, and decant that into a liter water bottle. Otherwise you will be going through a shit-ton of plastic bottles. It is much less expensive as well and two people will use that much in three weeks. One of the staff where you stay can arrange this and bring to you.

Re: food, you can find amazing places to eat everywhere but it is particularly good in the Ubud area which has an insane amount of restaurants... Someone told me that 30 new places opened up last year alone. Your hotel/guesthouse has breakfast included so that will be a fresh tropical fruit salad every morning.

As noted above, Ubud is centrally located--also slightly cooler than the coastal regions--so you can plan most of your activities from there. Traffic is the main drawback. Roads are narrow and there are too many cars and tour busses which leads to massive gridlock. Just be glad you're not there during Chinese New Year when people literally could not get to the airport for their flight.

Bali is the best and you're going to have a wonderful time.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:16 AM on July 31, 2015

Possible if you don't need much chill out time. ARMA is terrific and one of the best places to see gamelan dance perfomances so you can combine that. Warung Enak nearby was one of my favorite restaurants and they had very good cooking classes, but that was several years ago. Have a great trip. I'm jealous.
posted by Gotanda at 4:13 PM on July 31, 2015

If I were you, I would make Ubud my home base (book accommodations there within walking distance of town for the entire time) and take day trips and 1-night overnight trips from there.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:31 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Three weeks is heaps. Ubud's a great spot, as many have pointed out, but the market sells mass-produced tourist rubbish, and the sell is high pressure in your face. Much better to do something like this with your hard-earned. Proper 90 minute deep-tissue massages in Ubud spas will run you $US 10 or less, incidentally, so you can afford a few.

Good luck catching a plane, however — service has been badly disrupted by volcanic activity in the last few weeks. If you do manage to get there, stay right away from drugs. Penalties are severe.
posted by Wolof at 12:31 AM on August 5, 2015

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