BALI- A Guide to the Paradise That Once Was

I come from an amazing tropical island, with white sandy beaches and turquoise/blue warm waters. Rich foliage is everywhere with smiling, happy, laid – back people. Why on earth would I be searching for another paradise?

Bali has been on my hit-list for many years due to the massive hype on Google and those enticingly presented luxurious images on Instagram. This diamond island, so reminiscent of home, exuding its animalistic pheromones, could not be overlooked on my travels. So, to scratch this itch, I held my breath and took the plunge and visited Bali – The Luxury Paradise.

Of course, we know at present you can’t go travelling – but you will again soon. And when you do, where is your paradise destination – and – importantly – will it live up to your expectations?

Sybarites, I know you work hard. It is important you do not waste time trying to navigate frustrating experiences when you want to play hard.  I will help guide you on your next trip to Bali.

Experience and Impressions of Bali

Bali ubud temple interior

Bali is closed – and perhaps this is a good thing to allow the island to reset the levels of pollution in the tourist ghetto it has now become.

My first trip was beset by unabashed anticipation. And yet, on arrival, my heart sunk- having arrived at 12 midnight- reading whilst in the ubiquitous Singapore airport that it is imperative to prebook a taxi to avoid being ripped off on arrival.

Our hotel transfer driver did give us the hard sell. This is the last thing you need in the middle of the night after a long flight; and I guess he knew it. We were fresh chickens for plucking, with the scent of first – timers caught hook, line and sinker for a pick-up first thing on the second morning for a tour.

Here, hotels are relatively cheap by western standards but not by any stretch when compared to Eastern standards. For example, if you should do a direct comparison between Vietnam or Cambodia, you will identify a stark difference. However, instead of a hotel, it is very easy to find a villa with a pool reasonably priced.

bali hotel with pool

Before our tour, we had a peek at the hotel brochures – Let’s just say I would strongly advise against this and prebook your tours before arriving.

I also observed that it wasn’t just in our temporary residence that the internet was painfully slow. Thankfully, there was a mall next door and we could tap into the wifi there. On the other hand, if you want to be off grid then this place is perfect!

Sometimes, whilst vacationing, hiring a car may actually make sense. However, here in Bali, the traffic is absolutely horrendous and the streets extremely narrow. You would think walking perhaps would be an option, but forget this too, as the sidewalks are also extremely narrow. If you do not want to spend hours out of your day stuck in traffic, wake up and leave extremely early.

However, you can get around using taxis, but book using GRAB (Similar to UBER) taxis, and get them to pick you up outside of your hotel – not from inside the hotel. Apparently, there is a ban on using these taxis and so they are not allowed to pick you up from hotels.

You should also only get into official Bluebird taxis if you are out- as the rest are notorious and WILL rip you off.

Forget scooters whilst in Bali- it will not save you time in your travels. I watched in fearsome awe, as those scooters dangerously weaved through the standstill traffic. I would discourage using scooters as it is very slow going due to the amount of traffic in the Denpasar area.

I can say my impression of Bali would have been significantly sour if I had remained exclusively in the South.

What You Should Do and See in Bali

Island life Bali-beach and coconut

My impression was that this is a place of juxtapositions. It is both inconvenient and pricey by Asian standards and can be a tourist-trap, but still rather rich in untouched green luscious foliage in some places. My idea of a paradise island, that is similar to mine – is of white sandy beaches – and not of black sand.

We were initially in Denpasar in the South, lurking around Kuta Beach, having Bintangs and watching the sunset with all the other tourists. Kuta beach is said to be a bit more fun than the pretentious Canggu, which it is quite close by, and The Bukit peninsula is said to not be recommended by those in the know. I, on the other hand, am not enlightened.

Seminyak beach, whilst you are in this area is a good place to relax and eat, as you can have a meal and cocktails on the sand beachside whilst listening to live music.

Our guide took us on an Ubud tour – which we were totally unimpressed with. We thought it was overrated with hardly any exposure to culture. However, it wasn’t all bad, as the rice fields are very picturesque.

tegalalang rice terrace

There were a few places on the Ubud tour that were not a compelling necessity to visit. We gave the Sacred Monkey Forest and the swing at the Kopi Luwak Coffee shop a miss. I tried avoiding shopping in Ubud Art Market due to my lack of haggling skills, and I ended up paying a lot more than I should for a dress I will perhaps never wear. If you can haggle, this is paradise for you- but haggle you must.

Ubud had more temples than I could handle. I thought seeing only a few is good enough.

ubud temple exterior

Other than the Ubud Tour, there was a trip to the Southern tip of Uluwatu, where one can experience a fire dance temple ceremony. However, the downside is the numerous pushy vendors wanting to sell you every and anything which can be annoying at times. You don’t need to add this stop as part of a tour as an evening out for a few hours is all you need here, perhaps at the end of your day on the beach.

Bali firedance ceremony
Image copyright: balifiredancers.com

Our self-appointed tour guide intuitively recommended that for us, looking for authenticity, it would be better to go far North. This is the best decision one can make.  If you haven’t been to Bali before, one or two nights in the South is perhaps all you need, unless lounging by a beach for the entirety of your holiday is your preference.

In the North, there is Bingin Beach—where you can spend a night or two in a bungalow on the beach. Here, you can experience island beach culture with a barbeque of fresh fish, barefooted on the sands under the stars.

From Bingin Beach, you can then drive to Balian, or you could do this as a day trip from Denpasar as well.

In Balian, you will experience the true island culture of welcoming people with a strong sense of community. Here is the true Bali, slow-paced, beautiful and authentic.

For the best rice terraces in Bali, Visit Jatiluwi rice terraces and forget the rest. These are simply stunning.

jatiluwi rice terraces

If you appreciate waterfalls, then head for Aling waterfalls -as these are the most picturesque. It is common practice to jump from a height from natural ledges. These are also fun in other ways as they have natural waterslides if you are so inclined.

Another place to visit is Lake Batur, but only if you are already in the area. The drive along the route is scenic and the lake from above is absolutely amazing to look at. It is actually a large crater on the side of a volcano which in itself is just incredible. However, this is a heavily congested tourist spot with aggressive vendors, so whilst it is visually stunning to look at, you may want to avoid stopping.

Bali isn’t really the best place to go snorkelling or scuba diving- but if you must, and if you are in the North, then an option would be to visit Amed. This is said to be the best location for this kind of activity whilst in Bali, and here, there is a multitude of restaurants to choose from, including a selection of European fare when and if you become famished.

It was not disappointing getting away from the South. To experience the magical tropical paradise that IS Bali, get off the beaten track, and avoid the tourist traps.

aling water fall

Have You Been Enticed to Visit Bali?

I can guess it would be a resounding yes!

Well, I think I was subliminally programmed. I would frequently experience this sense of overwhelmingly intense excitement, conjured up from just saying the word Bali. I impatiently wanted to experience the heady sense of exhilaration, so often trumpeted by the countless exceedingly satisfied visitors to Paradise.

Rarely have I seen negative reviews of the Utopia that is Bali. Well, the insatiably inquisitive explorer in me bade me to taste this nectar.

This is a rather polarizing, but concise local guide to Bali that I hope will save you valuable time and money. This is valid even if you have been before or you are planning on returning.

On the plus side, there is a 30 – day free tourist visa, but if you want to stay any longer, then there is an option to pay to extend it.

Impressions of Bali

The Magnetic Pull of Bali

Indonesia covers a large area and is known to have 17 thousand islands. It is just as big as Canada from tip to tip – just to give you an idea of its expanse. So why choose to visit Bali rather than these other islands?

One reason is that despite a long period of foreign colonialization under the Dutch, the local culture there is remarkably very well preserved. This is evidenced from the many temples dotted around the island and the preservation of its undiluted local cuisine.

I am usually inexorably guided by the rumblings of my belly towards sumptuous aromatic exotic food. The fusion of foods alone is probably enough to pull you in, as the best local cuisine is easily accessible at every street corner.

Although arguably, you may experience amazing food in other parts of Asia, such as Malaysia or mainland Indonesia, somehow, it’s just not the same here in Bali.

When and if you do visit – there are a few dishes you must savour. Otherwise, I ask – what has been the whole point of that trek?

The Best Foods to Have in Bali

Best Foods in Bali

I can say that my trip was not long enough to savour as much exotic food as I could.

I definitely recommend visiting the plentiful friendly local restaurants and gorging on countless plates of Nasi Goreng.

I would also recommend you try the “suckling pig” at a Warung or babi guling joint- that is, if you are not vegetarian.

Bali Kopi-Luwak Coffee

In Conclusion

Bali is, and can still remain a wonderful Paradise destination. However, it has been for far too long an overcrowded tourist oasis which does not currently have the infrastructure to match.

The people is what makes Bali authentic, as their warmth is synonymous with islanders. The food is plentiful, delicious, and exotic and the greenery remains lush in the hills. However, there is much work to be done, to keep preserving the culture and prevent the pollution that invariably global tourism has brought here.

Let’s just say, I’ve come up empty-handed as far as the paradise utopia is concerned. I did not find it on the sands of Bali.

Perhaps after the resetting of the tourism hiatus, it may once again regain its exotic allure.

Have you been, or want to go to Bali?

What is your opinion of the place? Please share in the comments below.

In this blog post How to Curate a Luxury Lifestyle When You are Super Busy , I remind you of why it is imperative you take regular holidays to destress from work.

Verona Wheatley sitting on a brown leather chair with silver studs
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