This summer I was lucky enough to spend 9 days on the beautiful island of Bali.
My family spend a lot of time in Bali and someone ends up going pretty much every year so we know a bit about it and how to get around. This tradition to take family holidays there dates back over 20 years- before it was a massive, developed tourist destination, and before that my Dutch grandfather was serving in the army there. Years after he left and married my Oma and moved to New Zealand, they sponsored a child through World Vision called Yohana (coincidentally the same name as my Grandmothers’) and befriended her on their many visits there. She is now a successfully retired police woman with children and grandchildren of her own, and my family still goes to visit her whenever they can. For this, Bali will always have a special place in our hearts.
It’s easy to get put off going to Bali when you hear stories of dirty, dangerous and crazy busy roads, drunk Australians and packed night clubs. However, there are still many parts of the island that retain some of their original local charms, and offer a little escape from the busier tourist hot spots like Kuta. My mum picked two of her favourite locations in Bali for this trip. The first one being Sanur, followed by Ubud.
I’m here to let you in on a few family secrets for these two locations.
The stunning beach of Sanur.
Sunrise in Sanur
Cycling to the beach, Sanur
Fisherman at sunrise in Sanur
Family on the beach in Sanur.
Sanur is a beachfront town on the eastern side of Bali, about 30 minutes drive away from Denpasar airport. It’s well known to have some of the most breathtaking sunrises on the island due to its location and calm morning waters. It has gained a bit of a reputation for being the “old persons” part of Bali, some people even nick-naming it ‘snore’, but if you’re not looking to be out clubbing all night, there is plenty of action to keep all ages entertained, and personally as a 26-year-old, I found it to be the perfect balance of calmness and bustling energy.
There are many budget-friendly guest houses” in Sanur which are essentially small locally run hotels. I highly recommend guest houses as a great way of supporting the local economy and receiving a more genuine experience with the notably friendly Balinese locals. They are also often quieter and more personal feeling, giving you the sense of a “home away from home”- except with 30-degree heat and a swimming pool of course.
Two favourites we stay at are Jukung Guest House and Nesa Sanur Hotel
Sanur has no shortage of hotels and resorts conveniently located on the beach front. Personally, I am not so into all-inclusive resorts or anywhere that has screaming children when I’m on holiday so I avoid these as much as I can. If you do have screaming children, however, take a look at Tripadviser– there are many options for you.
For beach-front hotels a little more chic, my favorite would be the Tandjung Sari. It has a small village of beautiful Balinese villas and a stunning restaurant on the beach. You can sit in bamboo pagodas and relax under the lanterns at night and drink cocktails while listening to the waves crash. We can also highly recommend going to eat here if staying is out of your budget.
Honestly, it is incredibly difficult to go wrong if you’re eating Balinese food in Bali. Sanur has so many tiny street side “warungs” you could pop in to for a $2 meal and leave completely satisfied. There are also quite a few bigger restaurants which are a little more touristy and expensive than the small warungs, however a lot of these also have live music so are a great place to go for a casual group dinner.
Here are a couple of my favourites…
Warung Coconut Tree
This has to be one of the coolest little places in Sanur. Always busy and packed with funky beachgoers, Warung Coconut Tree provides a range of fresh juices and smoothies and delicious traditional Balinese meals. What more could you ask for?
The Restaurant at Tandjung Sari
Heaven. Amazing location, incredible food, top quality service, a wide selection of cocktails. This is the place to go if you want to get a little bit of Balinese glam while in Sanur. Highly recommend the Pisang Goreng which comes with desiccated coconut icecream. Mmmmmm. Just expect to pay quite a bit more than you normally would for a meal in Sanur.
Although not actually a restaurant or warung. Hardys is a giant store selling everything you could ever want. Every day we would stop off there in the afternoon on the way back from somewhere and get a selection tropical fruit, chips and Bintang (local beer) to take back to our guest house and chill out by the pool.
NB: Starbucks is opened in Sanur and I encourage you all to please not give your money to corporate giants. There are plenty of AMAZING local coffee places where your money will be much better appreciated- and your bank account will be much more appreciative.
White sandy beaches line Sanur. There are endless spots where you can camp out with your towel or pay a few Rupiah for a lounger in front of a restaurant. If you walk south from the main part of the city you will follow a beautiful path lining the coast with loads of small food shacks and shops offering this lounging service.
The waters surrounding Sanur can range from looking like a lake in the morning to quite choppy in the afternoon. As the breakwaters are protected by an outer reef it is not a spot known for its surf, however, are plenty of other water activities that are popular in Sanur. These include Kayaking, windsurfing, diving, or SUP.
If you’re staying at one of those all-inclusive resorts or hotels you may have some of these activities available to you there. If not, there are many small shacks on the beach you can rent equipment from. Or you can do an organized activity with a company. There are many to choose from depending on your budget. Take a look at them here.
Without a doubt the most wonderful spa in Sanur is KOA. Owned by an Australian KOA brings the quality of service and cleanliness you expect from a 5-star resort and fuses it with local Balinese flavour at just a little above Balinese prices. All the women who work there seem to love their job, the decor is beautifully chic and the all natural essential oils and products are divine (go for the coco-nilla body oil!).
Took a bath of flowers today 🌺💐🌹🌷 spending my last day in Bali being pampered and eating LOTS of amazing food. Can't wait to come back already… #Bali #Indonesia #beautiful #travel #travelgram #instatravel #lucky #wanderlust #blessed #flowers #flowerpower #hippy #hippyvibe #flowers #flower #bath #health #spa #romantic #love #colours #colourful #pink #purple #red #potd
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My mum might kill me for this… but there is a special spot on the beach where every morning at Sunrise a free yoga session takes place. It is run by locals, for locals, and every morning at sunrise we would walk down there with our towels and join the shopkeepers and hotel workers and business people who start their day in the most beautifully zen way possible. It is all in Balinese, but if you pay attention to the movements of the teacher and fellow students you’ll be just fine. You might even pick up a few new words.
Made famous by its part in Elizabeth Gilberts’ Eat Pray Love, Ubud is a Yogi’s heaven. Located in the mountains among the rice paddies and palm trees, Ubud is known as the cultural hub of Bali with a great deal of artisan craft shops, funky cafes and great restaurants. If you choose to stay just a little out of the main streets of Ubud your hotels’ backyard may be a family’s rice farm, or a jungle of palm trees as far as the eye can see. Unfortunately, our August trip coincided with the European summer holidays, so it was much much busier than normal. This meant more traffic, more noise, and more tourists. Avoid this month if you can.
Similar to Ubud, there is no shortage of amazing and affordable places to stay. As Ubud is a busier destination than Sanur however, it’s important to be a little more organised and book in advance.You should also decide whether you want to be right in the centre of Ubud, or a little further out into the countryside. Keep in mind that traffic can be a nightmare in Ubud during peak hour or the busy season and is often faster to walk, so if you are planning to go into the main town a lot it would be best to stay somewhere within walking distance of that. It’s honestly difficult to recommend somewhere specific as there are just so many stunning options of private villas and infinity pools for every price range. My best advice would be to focus on location and read reviews!
A special mention can be given however to the stunning Ananda Cottages however where some of my family stayed. A series of beautiful cottages spread out over a large property with rice fields in between and a dreamy pool.
Literally, a barn where you do Yoga. But also a cafe and restaurant which serves delicious healthy food. A little bit pretentious “Lululemon” for my liking… but if you’re REALLY into health and yoga this is a great place to chill.
Now, this is much more authentic! A tiny place that’s always packed, where you can pick up a full meal for a couple of bucks. With a delicious delicious nasi goreng, and an extensive menu you will find it difficult to choose from the many many options available. We suggest sticking to the classics and ordering a Bintang to complete the experience. We went back here many times in need of a good, cheap meal.
A super cool, cafe/ restaurant with beautiful indoor/outdoor seating areas, a chill vibe and delicious healthy food. A great selection of yummy interesting breakfasts and healthy smoothies. Expect to pay a lot more here for food than you would at a “local” place.
Seniman Coffee Studio
I think we may have gone here almost everyday… for coffee anyway. Voted the best coffee in Bali, this funky coffee place is the perfect place to stop for a break on those hot days and grab yourself an iced mocha or an affogato.
Probably my favourite “restaurant” in Ubud. Although you’re again paying more than warungs, this Thai restaurant had impeccable service and delicious food. 2 for one cocktails at happy hour and an extensive menu. A great atmosphere for somewhere a little more upmarket but yet still casual
A vegan friendly chain with great salads and juices, an extensive menu. This is a great place to come for a casual meal. Expect to pay much more than at local warungs, but the quality of ingredients is great. A little slow in service but let’s just call that Bali time. There is also another Bali Buda in Sanur, however the decor and building of the Ubud one is much prettier.
Sacred Monkey Forest.
My favourite activity in Ubud, I love monkeys! Follow the instructions- read the signs. Close your bag firmly and secure your belongings. They are clever little monkeys and they know how to open zips. Definitely do not leave any food in your bags because they will go straight for it. If you don’t want to pay to go through the forest you can simply walk in the forest surrounding the fence and there will be plenty of monkeys around, they’re everywhere!
There are several studios around Ubud offering Yoga classes. It’s unfortunately not much cheaper than what you would pay anywhere else as most classes are run by ex-pats, but the location is hard to beat! Some places like The Yoga Barn offer outdoor classes so you can stretch and Om listening to the sound of the birds chirp in the surrounding forest. You can see a list of the top five yoga studios here.
Sunrise on top of a volcano.
Hiking Mt Batur is a popular activity for people wanting a little bit of adventure aside from yoga classes and spa days. You will have to go with a tour or get a guide for this, and you will be waking up at about 2am to begin your day. I unfortunately was not organized or motivated to do it on this trip, but I have heard it’s well worth doing and will be definitely adding it to the list for next time.
A must do while in Ubud. Wonder the famous and photogenic terraces and get lost in the maze of tiny winding pathways. They are everywhere however the most popular one is off a busy road on the way out of Ubud which also has a couple of souvenir shops and restaurants around .
I was going to write a whole list here, but I soon realized that it would be almost pointless as I think anyone who has ever been to Bali completely agrees with this well published list which is on basically every blog about Bali. And I support it whole heatedly- this is what you must eat!
Things to note about Bali
Currency: Indonesian Rupiah
Language: Balinese Some basic useful language: http://www.wikihow.com/Say-Hello-in-Balinese
Airport: Ngurah Rai International Airport // Denpasar
Religion: Balinese Hinduism
Local Customs and traditions: http://www.footprinttravelguides.com/asia/indonesia/essentials/local-customs-and-laws/
Eat well, travel well, live well.