Bali: My 9-Day Itinerary
I lost and found my zen several times, ate delicious fruits, sweated in midday heat, applied a lot of sunscreen, and inevitably made a few bad decisions in my 9 days touring Bali as a solo traveler. Here’s what I did, and learn from my mistakes before you set off on your own Bali adventure!
Check out my general Bali overview and tips for solo travelers here.
I arrived mid-afternoon into Denpasar airport. After running the airport gauntlet (detailed more in this post), I was a little worried to find that my ATM card had been rejected by the machine. Despite the fact that I had called ahead, they still locked it…. I was able to trade some of my dollars to Indonesian Rupiah at an exchange desk nearby the airport exit, just enough to get me through the next day or so. I took a cab to Bali Breez hotel in Jimbaran (about 15 minutes south of the airport), for which I paid a slightly overpriced $10K IDR. I found the hotel on Agoda.com, which is a great resource for Asian travel. Bali Breez has a pool, good air conditioning, and is a 5 minute walk from the beach ($32/night USD including breakfast). I walked down and caught the sunset at one of the many seafood restaurants on the beach. The view is spectacular. The view of the beach itself is… a little disheartening. Aside from the gorgeous sand is all the trash of Bali, washed up ashore. People, please be mindful of your waste. And conserve your use of plastic.
I had the morning to kill before my cab to Ubud arrived (arranged by my hotel). After a lengthy conversation with my bank to get my debit card unlocked (thank you for decent hotel wifi!!) I took a walk down the beach, far enough to sneak onto the grounds of the Intercontinental Jimbaran Bay to see how the other half live in Bali. I swung a bit in one of their hammocks overlooking the water, and went into the resort to use their ATM. Fancy hotels in any city are a good source of ATMs, clean bathrooms, and concierges who can give directions if needed. No one will ask you for your room number for these three activities. They will, however, check up on you if you hang out at their fancy pools too long, so I got out of there well before that happened.
I eventually took a cab up to Ubud 88 Apartments (about 400K IDR, 1.5 hrs), which would be my home during my three-day retreat at Blooming Lotus Yoga outside of Ubud (about $400 for a 4 night stay in a shared suite). That evening, we were taken into Ubud to see Kecak dancers do a retelling of a story from the Ramayana. It was a fun experience, but hardly one that I would go out of my way for. While the costumes are fantastic, the story is difficult to follow without reading the program and it was a little slow-paced for me, to be honest.
Days 3 - 4
The start of two full days at the Blooming Lotus Yoga retreat. If you are familiar with yoga at all, and would like to learn more, go here!! It’s a fantastic deal and a beautiful place. It does not matter your yoga skill level. They want you to connect with the spiritual aspects of yoga and meditation and to challenge yourself to improve upon where you personally are at. They have two yoga sessions a day, sunrise and evening, followed by delicious vegan meals. At mealtime you get to socialize with your fellow retreaters. They were, unsurprisingly, mostly female. However, it was a wide mix of ages, nationalities, and skill levels. The top-notch apartments come with shared infinity pools, and the on-site spa was worthwhile to relax even further. Mid-afternoons there's a shuttle in and out of Ubud in case you'd like to view any of the sites or do some shopping.
One of the afternoons I went with a few others to the Monkey Forest in downtown Ubud. Everything I heard about it in advance was correct: It feels like you're Indiana Jones wandering around a jungle temple. The monkeys are adorable but can be aggressive. Do not wear jewelry, do not have a water bottle in your hand, do not openly carry a camera or food. They will jump on you and snatch it out of your hands! At the front there's an option to buy bananas so that you can get photo ops with the monkeys on you. I have a bit of a phobia about animals jumping on me, and the Monkey Forest was not helping with this. However, some of my more daring cohorts were happy to give this a try!!
Us yoga retreat-ers had a final session and healthy breakfast this morning. About a third of the group was staying as they had opted for the 7-day retreat. The rest of us were driven into Ubud with our luggage and let out to go on our way, freshly full of zen. A group of us walked through the loud, crowded streets of Ubud to find Warung Biah Biah, where we proceeded to have a delicious and cheap meat-and-beer heavy lunch (our detox from 4 days of healthy vegan meals!). From there, I pulled my giant suitcase back through the narrow, windy, busy streets, then down an alleyway filled with mud and building supplies (questioning what I was getting into) to check into the Satya House in Ubud, which I had found online. It was serviceable, cheap, conveniently located, but a largely unremarkable homestay ($20/night USD with breakfast). Hopefully by now they've finished the construction, as it's pretty difficult to get a suitcase through that muddy alleyway.
A note on Ubud itself. I mentioned in my overview that it’s a lot more crowded and less idyllic than one would think, especially as it has a reputation as being a center for meditation, yoga, and wellness. Bali is a developing island, and as Ubud is one of the larger cities… it’s both beautiful but a bit of a mess. Streets are far too narrow for the amount of people driving on them. Scooters are absolutely everywhere, at all times, and the noise from them can get a little bit headache-inducing. A lot of the holistic and wellness stores and restaurants are run by westerners, which does give the feeling that this reputation is a little less ‘authentic’ than what you might be lead to believe.
You can find beautiful, peaceful places within Ubud. It’s also a great home base if you’re looking to explore some of the surrounding mountains, hiking trails, temples, and bike tours. And the outskirts of Ubud are home to a number of retreats, including Blooming Lotus. I did want to mention it, though - Ubud may not be all you’re expecting it to be.
That morning, I got up early and walked 10 minutes past the main temple over to Jl. Kajeng. I wanted to find the Rice Paddy Walk that was supposedly tucked behind the main street. Tucked behind is a good phrase for it. Walking down the street, you’ll see small signs for the rice field near the Starbucks. You’ll turn in and wind your way through dank alleyways. Don’t worry, you haven’t gone the wrong way. After about 5-10 minutes, it will open out into a tree-lined pathway. Soon, following the path, you’re flanked on either side by rice paddies while the sun starts to turn beautiful colors as the sun is coming up. At that time of day, it was fairly empty and very peaceful. There’s a small house midway that looked like it sold food and juice starting later in the morning. Eventually you come back out on a side road that will lead you back to Jl. Kajeng. It was about 40 minutes overall, with me stopping a lot to take pictures.
As it was still early, I decided to walk down to the more well-known Campuhan Ridge Walk. This hiking trail can be found along the same road, but heading further out of town. Follow signs to the Warwick Ibah Luxury Villas, as the trail starts right on their property. I passed by many more people out along this trail. The full length will take about 2 hours to do out-and-back, assuming you’re stopping to take photos. And you should, the views are amazing! Go early or late in the day, when the sun is not at its full strength. Also bring lots of water. I turned back after about 30 minutes myself, as I had a full day planned!
After a very good breakfast and a shower, I had Satya House arrange a car and driver (about $40 USD for the day, plus tip) to take me out to Amed, with stops at Goa Gajah and Tirta Gangga en route. Goa Gajah, known as the Elephant Cave, I found a bit underwhelming, to be honest. It's close to Ubud so it has that convenience factor, but the site itself is fairly small compared to other temple complexes further afield. Tirta Gangga however, is absolutely worth a stop. The fountains and pools are amazingly gorgeous and impressive to explore. The drive with several stops was about a little under 5 hours. I checked in at the fantastic beachfront Bubu Racok homestay for the cost of $25/night USD, inclusive of a massive and delicious breakfast.
This day started with a bit of humiliation. I had planned to rent a moped from my homestay so that I could stop at a few beaches for snorkeling along the coast of Amed. However, after a 1 minute tutorial from the owner’s daughter, I didn't immediately grasp how to steer and brake. I was sternly told by the daughter of the house that no, I would drive myself and their expensive bike off a cliff. She was undoubtedly right, but still, that stung. Tip: Moped riding is a little more difficult than it looks!! I ended up having her brother drive me to a few locations, hanging out with the other locals under shade while I went out in the blazing sun to snorkel. I recommend the Japanese Wreck south of Amed if you’re nearby and are a snorkeler and not a SCUBA diver. After returning, I spent the afternoon lounging by the ocean (and tending to a nasty sunburn). Remember to reapply sunscreen often!
I woke up early and had the homestay drive me to Pura Lempuyang with a sarong in tow. Pura Lempuyang is a series of 7 temples on a set path up a mountain. Temple #1 is only a few steps up and is the most photographed one. Temple #7 is 1700 steps (and a half mile of paved road) up. As it’s a holy site, you’ll need to wear a sarong while there. Several hours and some new Balinese friends later, I made it down. I was sweaty, but feeling accomplished and a little more centered. And my healthy fear of monkeys intact!
I go into more detail on my experiences at Pura Lempuyang, what to expect, and why I was afraid of the monkeys in this blog post.
Wayan, the owner of Bubu Racok, decided this night was a good one for a fresh fish roast on the beach. All guests, and several of the neighbors, were invited to sit out on the beach under the stars and enjoy the freshly grilled fish. A perfect end to the trip.
The homestay helped me hire a car and driver to take me from Amed to the airport (about $500K IDR, 2.5 hours). Luckily, there was another guests leaving about the same time, and we were able to split the cost. The driver even stopped at Tirta Gangga on the way back, in case we hadn’t seen it previously. Getting there, I experienced some anew culture shock at both experiencing heavy air conditioning, and wearing jeans, for the first time in 9 days! The terminal has a good selection of shops, restaurants, and spas in case you get there early. I was able to use up my remaining IDR at the airport getting a well-needed massage thanks to the 1700 steps of Pura Lempuyang. And with that, I had to bid Bali a fond farewell!