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Top 10 Best Things Not To Miss on Your Bali Vacation

Top 10 Best Things Not To Miss on Your Bali Vacation

Don't believe the hype, no top 10 list can come close to covering the variety of experiences one should have on Bali, but here is a humble offering to help one begin thinking about thier next trip.

1. Ubud

Sure, Bali is known for its paradisiacal beaches and you will get your share of those but many special places lay away from the shore.  Ubud is the cultural center of Bali. Its true its becoming crowded and the traffic coming in and going out can be brutal but it’s all worth it. Take in a dance performance, run with the monkeys and be transported back in time in The Monkey Forest, enjoy the world-class restaurants, hit up nearby Mas Village for incredible woodcarving and other fine artworks (notice I did not say crafts).  While the true traditional culture maybe a bit harder to find, the hip, world nomad feel is like none other and makes for an eye-opening walk around town.

Bali top 10 best things to doWomen offer morning offerings in Ubud, Bali's cultural capitol

2. Ibu Oka

No one and I do mean NO ONE in the world can cook a suckling pig like this. I don't even like pork but my mouth waters just thinking of the deliciousness that permeates this small restaurant. No waitress will come by to take your order, you wont have your own romantic table with a view a,nd you'll be getting busy with plastic forks, but instead you order upfront and share a table with othersan d it could not be more perfect. Just watch your fingers as you may pull back a nub with all the chowing down going on. When I think pig-skin I would normally think of football but here it makes me think of something completely different and a world away. The pig is cooked on a human-rotated rotisserie (aint no mechanical half steppin here) until the skin is a combination of peanut brittle and potato chips.  Its cheap, its delicious, its in the heart of Ubud, and its an experience you will not soon forget.

Ibu means mother and Oka is the sweet owners name.  Her family roasted pigs for the King of Ubud and the secret recipe still satisfies locals and tourists the world over.  Normally six or seven pigs are slaughtered before 5am each day and painstakingly rubbed with spices, roasted by hand on a spit over a escret wood fire and cared for lovingly until they are cooked ot perfection. It’s open only for lunch and try hit it early as they often sell out by 2pm.

3. Menjangan Island

While it’s on the direct opposite side of the island that most tourists go to, it’s well worth the trip (plus you get away from many of the drunk annoying tourists of Kuta- For more on the good and bad of Kuta see-   Menjangan is part of Bali Barat National Park and has some of the best snorkeling on the island, boasting schools of colorful tame fish that will come right up to you.  If you know where to look you can swim with turtles as well. It also is home to one of the best protected coral reefs in the area.  The colorful reefs are sadly becoming harder and harder to find in South East Asia due to dynamite fishing and myopic dive operators anchoring to the reef, but you can still enjoy the one here via snorkeling or scuba diving.  The reef has taken its share hard knocks and is recovering well but the real attraction here is the wall diving.  The island gets its name (Menjangan means deer) because each spring at low tide herds of deer make their way out to the island.  You can dive year round and the water visibility is the best in Bali. You can stay in one of the resorts nearby, kayak the turquoise waters, get pampered, and simply enjoy this peaceful and rejuvenating secret of Bali.

Bali snorkeling diving villasThe spectacular Sanur coastline4. Sanur

Sanur was the first expat residence in Bali and has surprisingly maintained its charm and offers some of the best stretch of beach in Bali (aside from the secret ones we can’t publish here).  It has a fun nightlife and some outstanding restaurants including The Village, which serves up the best Italian food I have had since I lived in Italy.  For authentic Balinese food, try Warung Pregina.  We have discussed Sanur quite a bit in our Bali blog in the past and for more check

5. Amed

The guidebooks will lead you to believe Amed is a sleepy fishing village.  While that sounds romantic and alluring, its not quite the truth as this is no longer the case.  Don’t get me wrong, Amed is still romantic and alluring, but these days, it boasts a fun nightlife, good food and lots of hotels and villas on the beach. It’s a quick and easy escape from the tourist-laden traps of South Bali and also has some extraordinary scuba diving and snorkeling.  There are a couple spectacular shipwrecks just off the coast of Amed and can even been experienced by snorkeling. More on Amed can be found in our blog here…

6. Kecak Dance

No one will tell you this but this is not a true traditional Balinese ritual dance.  It was developed in the 1930’s but don't let that discourage you from attending as its one of the most interesting and exciting dance performances you will see while in Bali and has become a cornerstone of contemporary Balinese culture. The dance tells a story from the Indian epic, The Ramayana and is in 3 or 5 parts depending on how it is broken up.  The first part, always a ladies pleaser, involves a couple dozen shirtless man chanting in rhythm, the second part includes female dancers as the plot thickens with the monkey god Hanuman and other players; and the final stanza is a fire dance with performers walking on, kicking, and sometimes eating fire.

Photos of the Kecak Dance performance can be seen here…

bali dance villasA village elder in Bali's countryside prepares for The Galungan celebration7. Countryside

To experience what we call “Old Bali” one needs to get out of the cities.  Rent a motor scooter (and helmet) and head towards the volcanoes.  You will be amazed at what you will find- ceremonies, cock-fights, temples, markets, rice fields and more. Stop in a small village warung (tiny restaurant) order some food and drink and simply take it all in. Interact with the locals and the children.  If you know a few phrases of Bahasa Indonesia or Balinese, that’s wonderful, if not use smiles and hand gestures.  I suggest printing out some vocabulary and basic phrases from the Internet before you leave and this is the perfect time to try it out. Don’t be shy as the villagers will generally enjoy interacting with you and there are few more rewarding experiences.  I always travel with small toys, pens, candy, etc. to give to children along the way.  It’s a great way to break the ice and interact with the friendly Balinese locals.

8. Ceremony

In Bali ceremonies happen all the time. Some are easier to plan for like festivals and holidays, but note that many are on the Balinese calendar so be sure to research dates.  Others happen within the banjar or local village due to funerary ceremonies and the like.  Talk to the locals (or us), make friends with the Balinese and inquire about current happenings.  Its best to be invited to something like a cremation ceremony but generally the generous people of Bali will welcome you into the proceedings. Many of our deepest cultural experiences and most meaningful memories have occurred in situations such as these and nowhere else in the world can you see traditions quite like those in Bali.

Here are some photos and information from a traditional Balinese Ngaben or cremation ceremony.

9. Massage

What more do we need to say about this one? Bali is the perfect place to pamper yourself. Some of the most luxurious spas in the world are located in Bali and if you know where to go, it can be unbelievably affordable.  Even the basic $5 per hour massage is usually fantastic and well worth it.  Some places like Ubud Body Works or the original Cozy (there are a few locations but beware of the copy cat oportunists) charge a few dollars more but it is well worth it.  The mandi lulur and creme bath are mind blowing treatments and always recommended, but the hair treatments, foot massages, shoulder and neck massages, reflexology and more are well worth the small investment of time and money. We try to go most days, as it’s a great way to rejuvenate and relax. Treat yourself and you will not be sorry.

bali best food10. Spend time with locals

Notice a theme here? If you cant tell we are all about the true culture of Bali.  You can party in a disco and hang out with westerners anywhere. If you are lucky enough to find yourself on the dream island of Bali, take advantage of this priceless opportunity and spend time with the local people.  Most Balinese are as curious about you as you are of them.  Many know English and like to practice. You may even develop lifelong friendships and they can open doors for you that other tourists will never see. The Balinese are beautiful honerable people. Treat them with love and respect and your experience will deepen.

We hope these tips help and make your time in Bali more rewarding.  We only share the very best secrets with our tour participants and Balifornian members, but we are happy to share these.  Want more?  That’s easy.  Read our blog regularly, Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and if you want the very best tips, email us at to become a Balifornian. Get the best travel deals, time saving tips and much more. We will never, ever give, sell or transmit your information in anyway, to anyone.  Email us today and benefit right away.

You may have noticed we left out one of the very best things to do in Bali, surfing. Obviously surfing in Bali is amongst the best in the world and other blog posts we have made detail the best breaks and beaches like this one…

but we realize surfing is not for everyone and we wanted this blog post to benefit a wider audience.

Have you used our tips or want to share others?  Please comment below and share your stories.

Salamat Jalan / Happy travels,

Michael and Maryam

Balifornian Villas, Tours, and Travel Blog


More Praise for Bali as the Best Island Paradise...

Bali Baby!

A scenic view in Bali. (Bob Schiff)

Editor's Note: Our roving international correspondent, Bob Schiff, has been traveling throughout Asia, reporting on the obscure and exotic. Here is his fourth of many communiques detailing his travels. Enjoy Shiff's musings on the locals, customs, accommodations, and certainly the visual and descriptive majesty of the sites he is visiting and documenting.

A three hour van from Ijen to the port on the western tip of Java, a half hour ferry ride across to Bali followed by a three hour bus ride to Denpasar and a half hour taxi ride and I arrived at my hotel in Legian. I think everyone has an image of Bali in their minds - idyllic tropical island with beautiful white sand beaches and an exotic culture unlike anything back home. Wrong - at least in the tourist area of south Bali. South Bali is a heavily overbuilt and crowded tourist scene. Australian is the predominant language spoken here, mate. There are a few areas that range from high-end Seminyak to the young and wild party enclave of Kuta. The beach runs all along the western shore but with all the development it's not very inviting. It does have killer sunsets though. Rip tides claim quite a few tourists; three people drown on Kuta beach the day I took my first surfing lesson.

Padang Padang beach, about 45 minutes south of the Legian/Kuta area.

Surfing is huge throughout south Bali. The breaks off the entire southern peninsula are legendary. Most of the rental motorbikes have u-shaped brackets to hold surf boards. Surfer shacks and guesthouses dot the cliffs of the southern Bukit peninsula.

There is a great beach near the southern end of Bukit called Padang Padang that runs true to my vision of Bali - tiny crescent of white sand surrounded by steep cliffs. Calm turquoise water with a surf break beyond the bay out in the Indian Ocean. Lunch is available from a traditional warang right on the beach. I went there three times during my week stay in south Bali.

Unlike the rest of Indonesia, Bali is primarily Hindu; a beautiful interpretation of Hindu unique to Bali. After weeks of traveling through Java during Ramadan it was refreshing to get to somewhere where there was pork and a vibrant nightlife. The Balinese dishes are a nice change from the rather bland and somewhat limited food choices in Java. My plan is to wait out the rest of Ramadan here in Bali. The holy month ends with the two day festival of Idul Fitri and a nine day holiday of Lebaran when Muslim people go back to their villages to celebrate with their families. It is a crowded time to travel in Indonesia. In Bali many of the workers (mostly from Java) go back home and many of the rich from Jakarta come to Bali with their families for holiday. Many hotels are booked during this period and prices are firm.

Padang Padang beach.

Now this is a magical place. Ubud is in the hills a little over an hour north of the south Bali tourist area. Steeped in the Balinese rendition of Hindu culture it exudes charm. Incredibly green rice fields and tropical mountain jungle everywhere. Many of the vistas are breathtaking. Unfortunately it is deservedly-so a major tourist destination. The roads were never designed to handle the larger vehicles used by the hotels and tour operators to move people around so traffic is a nightmare. Not unlike Rt. 27 in the Hamptons in August. On a motorbike with no visible enforcement of traffic regulations I easily skirt the worst of the congestion.

There are endless performances and religious celebrations and festivals. Every evening just after sunset one can hear a mix of many gamelan musical performances throughout the village. One can't help but feel the spirituality and ancient mysticism in this special place. One evening there is a parade from the main temple in town to another a few kilometers away. Most of the local townspeople, dressed in traditional costume, participate in the procession.

Tough to find good value with accommodations but I did luck into two great places for my week long stay. There are many four and five-star hotels and spas and plenty of great restaurants. Nightlife is limited. As I'm exploring the area by motorbike I'm distracted by the sweet smell of barbeque from a smoking grill on the sidewalk in front of a crowded warang - Naughty Nuri's Place. It's packed with Asian tourists. I strike up a conversation with a table of local expats and am invited to sit down. One of the guys, Brian, is a very funny New Yorker and immediately we hit it off. He and his wife, a local named Nuri own the place. It's the same scene as at Cyril's table in Amagansett - a group of middle-age guys sitting around all afternoon drinking and telling tales while the place just jams with business. I feel right at home and spend about five afternoons there with my new friends. Oh, and easily the best pork ribs for thousands of miles.

The Balinese architecture around Ubud is spectacular. Dozens of temples and traditional family compounds. There is a large artist community and many galleries. Crafts - wood carvings, stone carvings, architectural details, garden features, etc. - from all over Indonesia are presented to the wholesale export trade in the Ubud area. I'm tempted to try my luck at a container of goods but quickly come to the realization that I'd most likely loose my shirt. Plus, I'm not ready to stop traveling yet.

Finally I tear myself away from the beauty of Ubud and my new friends at Naughty Nuri's and head to Sanur to sort out transportation to Gili Trawangan island – my next port of call. 

Tours can be planned through Balifornian Tours- The leader in custom tours to Bali and Indonesia.  make the most out of your holiday vacation.