It’s been about 18 months since we undertook a 24 hour journey to the tropical island of Bali; our honeymoon destination was never one I even considered until it was recommended by an over-enthusiastic travel agent, but it really did become a trip of a lifetime. I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since, but could never quite find the words to encapsulate what was such a memorable and special fortnight – but here I am, hoping that some of our pictures will help set the scene and tell a story of their very own.
We flew into Bali via a short stopover in Singapore, arriving early morning exhausted and exuberant for what lay ahead. Upon the recommendation of our travel rep, we decided to split our fortnight in paradise into two destinations that started with five nights in Ubud and concluded with a further eight nights in Nusa Dua; the idea was that we could enjoy the hustle and bustle of the jungle, before spending a whole week pretty much doing nothing but lying on the beach and recovering from the whirlwind few months prior.
Our first stop was the Maya resort in Ubud, which can only be described as one of the most magical and luxurious places I’ve ever visited. Set within a mid-island tropical paradise, the resort boasts infinity pools and endless walks that take you into what feels like the heart of the jungle: within a few minutes off the main track you can enjoy a hike through endless greenery overlooking a river, something that’s almost unbelievable to see when you were only in London the day before.
What I loved about Maya was that there was so much to do and see without even leaving the resort, with different restaurants, a spa and pools to choose from alongside nature walks and a free shuttle bus to Ubud operating every hour. Having spent the first two days getting over jetlag and one battling a downpour of rain, we really wished we’d extended our stay and had more time to explore the surrounding areas; it was so easy to stay in the resort (especially because every night there was a different theme for dinner and entertainment throughout) but in retrospect I do regret not going forcing us to go out and about.
Ubud, although increasingly touristy and full of gap year students trying to ‘find themselves’, is a place steeped in history alongside modern interpretations of the Balinese culture. You’re just as likely to find an artisan coffee shop or vegan ice cream hut as you are a stall offering traditional scarves or statues – and everything is so incredibly affordable. I loved just wandering the streets and seeing what was on offer, but if you’re after a table at one of the luxurious or celebrated restaurants a short journey from the centre then you definitely need to prepare and get yourself a reservation!
For a small town there’s also a lot to do outside of wandering and eating. Aware we didn’t have much time, we actually hired a driver and a guide for the day (a very cost effective £70.00!) to show us around Ubud and tick off our must-see locations; in one day we managed to visit the rice paddy fields, the monkey forest, a waterfall, a local medicine garden and even visit an authentic Balinese home, all of which would’ve probably required a half day excursion that we just didn’t want to waste time or money on.
Although it was chucking it down when we pulled up next to the rice paddies, there was no denying they were utterly breathtaking and something indescribably unique; the weather prevented us from exploring fully, so after a few snaps we moved onto the monkey forest where the cheeky apes have been hanging out for hundreds of years. They roam freely on the hunt for food so you’re advised to keep all your belongings locked away, and boy do they run at you if they spot anything! The forest itself is reminiscent of Avatar, the size and power almost indescribable, so there are plenty of photo ops before you get to the temple in the middle; this is where you can buy bananas to feed the monkeys – but be aware, they’re more than likely to end up sat on your head!
Waterfalls are another huge thing in Bali and we were taken to a huge one a short drive from the centre of the town, annoyingly tainted by mud from the recent rain, but there are so many smaller and more beautiful ones that allow you to bathe if you’re that way inclined. The benefit of having a local guide and driver was that they took us to ‘off the road’ places, including a local medicine garden where they grow herbs to heal ailments and coffee to sell to tourists, and the home of two elderly sisters who were happy to welcome us in to show their way of life and feed us lots of oranges! These additional stops really made us appreciate the traditional side of Bali, and understand that it’s so much more than an up-and-coming tourist destination.
We managed to fill those five days in Ubud to the brim, but could still have spent another week seeing more of the beautiful location, but alas we were then off to the very southern most tip of the island to spend a week relaxing in the Grand Hyatt Nusa Dua. A five star resort with multiple bars, restaurants, pools and beaches on offer, there really is everything here you need to fill your time while relaxing on the super quiet private beaches a short stroll from the accommodation. Although the hotel rooms were nothing special, I really loved the attention to detail throughout the hotel and the fact you really didn’t need to leave at all if you didn’t want to.
I can’t sit still for long though, so we definitely did leave a couple of times! The Bali Collective is a short walk from the resorts and offers a number of shops, boutiques, restaurants and cafes if you fancy a change of scenery – or a Starbucks. There are also a number of taxi ranks with drivers willing to take you wherever you fancy for a small price, including the turtle sanctuary I was desperate to see. About a thirty minute drive across the Bali toll road (which is breathtaking and provides a view of the famous volcano too) this charitable foundation helps to keep the turtle population thriving.
The volunteers collect turtle eggs from the wild and ensure they hatch, before ensuring the little babies are reared and released back into the wild when they’re strong enough – something we were privileged enough to do for a small donation. (My adopted turtle was christened Josh, for my new husband!) I loved being able to feed the turtles that were being nurtured back to heath, watching the babies learn how to swim and releasing my own chosen little friend into the big wide world; it’s an experience I won’t forget and am so glad we got to enjoy.
Honestly, the last week of our trip involved very little (mainly due to the fact we were knackered and Josh spend a few days being ill in bed) but it was so lovely to be able to practically roll onto the beach or a sunbed, spend our days lounging around flitting from restaurant to bar and back again, and generally being looked after by the super helpful staff that were always ready to get you another cocktail. In retrospect there were a few different locations I would have loved to have visited (including Seminyak, the Bali Swing and some of the hugely popular beachside restaurants) but we really needed a rest!
I would go back to Bali in a heartbeat. It’s an incredible destination, whether you want somewhere to relax or explore in the height of luxury or more stripped back surroundings, that provides so much enrichment. I feel like we barely scraped the surface of what it had to offer, but even still it was an unforgettable two weeks in paradise.
MY TOP TIPS FOR VISITING BALI
1. Although they have Uber in Bali, the locals hate it and will often shout or prevent the cabs from stopping if they stop them. My advice is to embrace the local taxis and agree a price in advance – many will also hang around and wait for you for an hour or two for the guaranteed fare.
2. Mopeds are the local’s choice when it comes to getting around, but as a tourist I would stay well clear; the roads are busy, bumpy and tricky to navigate if you’re not confident, and tourists are known to take a tumble!
3. Hiring a local guide and driver may seem like an extravagance, but it can be a super effective and affordable way to tick things off your list; many also include the cost of getting into local locations too, so it works out better than booking multiple excursions (plus it’s private to you!)
4. The monkey forest is a brilliant experience, but it gets very busy and the creatures are always ready to pounce; it’s not for those with a nervous disposition or for anyone who struggles with mobility. It’s worth remembering that the temple is also an active place of worship, and there’s a burial ground in the middle which they dig up every four years to cremate the bodies. (Fascinating, but also not for those uncomfortable with death.)
5. The best bit about Bali is that you can just wander, explore and get to know the beautiful island – often not planning is the best way forward. I’d also recommend booking to stay in two or three different locations to get a feel for different sides to the island, experiencing both the humidity of the jungle and the freshness of the beach.
WHERE WE STAYED
WHAT WE DID
We booked our trip via Virgin Holidays, paid for entirely by ourselves.