Bali in a day. (+24hr+ BONUS!)
Sand, sea, and sun… and over 14 million temples in a bustling, busy city (twice as many temples as people). Bali is certainly an iconic vacation/bucket list/island getaway place for great reasons. However, since the tourism boom from the 90s (and a lack in environmental regulation), it has grown into a very big, traffic-heavy island. Unfortunately, there are many areas that have been hit with a wave of the environmentally unconscious so be prepared to see a lot of pollution in some areas, although it seems eyes have recently started turning awareness and effort for a change. But don’t worry, you can still get out to see the kinds of temples and beaches in sceneries that look like your photo came from a post card. Though this itinerary certainly covers more than what any sane person would aim for in one day, there are plenty of options to choose from - and hopefully you’re able to stay long enough to do them all!
I certainly recommend staying at one of the numerous villas around the island. The west side is a bit more private and the south is fairly centrally located, though you’ll deal with traffic pretty much most of the places you stay (unless you’re someone who sits in a crowded resort for an entire week, in which case you probably aren’t reading this article, though we don’t judge). They are extremely affordable to the average citizen from somewhere besides a third world country and even come with the option for a chef and staff with the villa. Ours were certainly lovely - and remember a little goes a long way for these kind people who truly want to honor you with their hospitality. Tips are very much appreciated at the end of your stay.
Temples and more temples. As mentioned before, there are about 2 temples for every person who lives in Bali. Though Indonesia is the largest Muslim populated country in the world, Bali is actually mainly Hindi, so you’ll find a different culture and even dialect here than in other parts and islands of the country. Be mindful that some may require to you rent or bring a wrap to cover up with.
Ulun Danu Beratan Temple. If I’m able to return to Bali, I would definitely like to see this one. It is the “floating” temple with four groups of shrines surrounding. You can pay the entrance fee to walk through the temple or also hire traditional outriggers or motorized boats to check it out by water. Don’t forget your fishing pole.
Located in the center of the island, Ubud is a drive up into the higher elevations of Bali. Here you’ll find a cute little mountain-town vibe, with ice cream shops and BnB’s located along the street. One of the best ways to get around comfortably (read: A/C and lumbar support during the drives) is to hire a private guide. There are also tour groups available but our guy was great in helping us to customize the day based on the things we told him we’d like to see. Plus there were less selfie sticks in our face this way.
Monkey Forest. This is one of the top things to visit but visitor beware: it is not for the unaware guest. The monkeys are adorable, especially the babies, but just be on your guard: don’t look directly in their eye (they could see it as a challenge), and if/when they approach you, let them do their thing and try to remain calm to avoid getting bit. I saw one sneaky guy jump onto a woman’s backpack and grab the zipper. Another told a lady’s water bottle and actually untwisted and opened the lid. They tell you these things, sort of (there are signs with pictures), to warn you and ensure you can get the most out of your experience.
Mount Batur Volcano. You can check out the largest active volcano on the island while you’re enjoying your lunch from the locals. Between you and the peak lies a massive lava field with the remnants of the last big blow. To the east you’ll find the other active volcano, which at times closes off to tourists and even the locals, preventing them from making their sunrise hike with supplies to honor their gods. I’ve hiked my fair share of active volcanos (check out the Iceland. and Azores. pages), but if the locals are out, I’m certainly not challenging them.
Rice Fields. On the way back to your villa be sure to check out the enormously staggering rice fields. The 2,000 baht for the swing ride is completely worth it! I would have gone a second time if I had the chance.
Lewak Coffee Plantation. Ever seen the movie Bucket List? In one scene, Jack Nicholson delivers a slightly disturbing monologue concerning the famous, rare, specialty Lewak coffee where you may find it for up to $50 per cup in some places. We won’t go into too much detail concerning the process; wouldn’t want to ruin it for you. Let’s just say you’ll see a huge sign in the mountains that reads: “CAT-POO-CHINO”. It may be one of those things you just have to try. Or buy a bag to play a great prank on your unsuspecting friends back home (we did both).
This was a fabulous place to check out the sunset and enjoy a happy hour on the beach. You can rent large swing beds overlooking the rocks and try your shot and seeing “the green flash”. It’s definitely considered a little “splurge” in comparison to other places you may find but well worth it for one night or for a celebration.
This is certainly for a multiple day trip, however if I were to go back I would definitely spend more time in Gili and less time in Bali. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Bali and would gladly go back to see more, but there’s something charmingly remote but still accessible about the Gili Islands.
It takes a few hours by a large, passenger speed boat to arrive in Gili, which are a chain of three small islands off the coast of Lombok, Indonesia, due east of Bali. You can save a few dollars on the slower boats but we opted for comfort over cost (about $30 each way per person), which we thought was well worth it. First stop is usually Gili Tranmarang (“Gili T” for short) and this is where most people stay. The other two Gili Islands (Meno and Aire) weren’t ever really developed or accepting tourism until around 2013. I loved staying on Gili Meno because it was small, quiet, and away from crowds. About 200 people actually live on the island and you can ride a horse around the entire thing in under two hours (go see the Captain from the snorkel rental next door and he’ll call his cousin to bring the horses for you… seriously). The sunsets and sunrises are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere and the fact that you can hear Gili T less than a mile away during happy hours can help you feel not too isolated. You can actually rent comfortable “tree houses” complete with kitchens and hammocks on the porch. Not a bad way to relax after a day of diving or snorkeling to check out the underwater statues and sea turtles everywhere.
**Note: At the time this article was written, much of the Gili Islands and some of Lombok have been destroyed from an earthquake that hit in July 2018. Relief efforts from local communities and ex-pats alike have surged the beginning stages of recovery before the government has been able to step in and help give aid. Donations can go far in these remote areas of the world where a few dollars are valued more than what we might value in Western cultures. Even though many people lost everything during this disaster, their spirit and determination to help each other and to rebuild their community is inspiring and humbling. Please be courteous and generous wherever you go, but in particular to these small islands of paradise and their incredibly hospitable citizens.