Bali wasn’t love at first sight. Four years ago on our honeymoon, we had to get over the culture shock that comes with a first-time visit to Southeast Asia. Things like seeing families of five on a motorbike with no helmets, barefoot construction workers, gasoline being sold in recycled liter alcohol bottles and the constant barrage of massage and taxi offers. Nevertheless, there was something about the “The Island of the Gods” that touched our souls and left us longing to return.
Many past visitors have fallen victim to its charms. Take Anthony Bourdain for example. Years later, I still remember the way he gushed about Bali in an episode of No Reservations…
“If you need help understanding how a place, this place, could truly get under your skin and lure you into recklessly abandoning all you have previously known, then follow me on a journey to what may be the end of the road.”
Would it be the end of the road for us? After a stressful work week back home we had joked about packing our NutriBullet and opening a beachfront juice bar in Bali. Maybe this was our chance to scout out a location.
Returning to a spot we held so dear was not without trepidation. Would Bali be the same as we remembered or were we blinded by romance and giddy with excitement to be on the other side of the world four years ago? What would be different four years later and on a much tighter budget? Could it still stand out when compared to all of the other fabulous places we have passed through on our trip around the world?
As soon as we landed all the familiar sights, sounds and smells came rushing back. Once again, we were smitten. Below are the top fifteen reasons we still love Bali.
1. Swanky Lounges
In Bali, there is no shortage of hip beachfront lounges with pool parties that rival those in Vegas. Chic venues like Ku De Ta and Potato Head pack a stylish crowd nightly and attract world famous musicians and DJs. Best of all, the party gets started before the sun goes down!
2. Laid Back Beach Bars
The beach is the place to be for sunset and there’s no better place to enjoy a cold one than a locally run bar. Savor the good life from one of the colorful cushions and watch the day fade into the night.
3. Bintang Beer
Bintang tank tops fill the souvenir shops making the bottle top logo an unofficial Bali icon. This Heineken bottled beer is go-to when in Bali but we could not get our hands on it outside the Island, even in neighboring countries. The exclusivity makes it all that sweeter when we can get our hands on it. When we want to ‘drink in’ Bali we find ourselves a Bintang.
4. Fried Eggs on Everything
If we sleep through breakfast in Bali we can find a fried egg in a wide variety of dishes at any time of day. There are fried eggs over rice in Nasi Goreng, and on club sandwiches and burgers and even on Caesar salad!
5. Spa Treatments
At the De Nyuh Spa & Beauty Salon located in GrandMas Hotel in Seminyak, you can get a one hour massage from 9-2pm for only 95,000 IDR. That’s only ~$7 USD!!! A one-hour facial will set you back only 130,000 IDR, ~$10 USD. I spent a morning in complete zen getting a massage and facial treatment that came with foot bath, welcome tea and post massage fruit plate and tea. Every woman who visits Bali should experience a spa treatment before leaving.
Located just across from busy Kuta Beach, Beachwalk has a mix of dining, entertainment and shopping for all budgets. The plaza comes alive at night with happy hour specials and rooftop restaurants drawing in a crowd. If we are craving a taste of home, Beachwalk has a Burger King, Dairy Queen and Johnny Rockets.
7. 2 for 1 happy hours
Two for one happy hours are easy to find anywhere in Bali. After a hot day in the Bali sun doubling up on frou-frou cocktails or a cold Bintang is always a winning idea.
Any given day you can spot at least a half dozen just by looking skyward. You won’t see Hello Kitty, Sponge Bob, Angry Birds or any other kiddo kites, though. These kites are handmade and everything from the shape, color and size are carefully selected to symbolize element of Balinese Hinduism.
9. Beautiful Restaurants
Bali has no shortage of tempting and chic restaurants but you don’t need to dig deep in your wallet for an incredible dining experience. Take Poppies in Kuta where you can sip on artfully carved coconut pina coladas while dining in a secret garden. Just around the corner, TJ’s Mexican Restaurant has a setting like no other Mexican restaurant I’ve seen. While you wait for food watch the fish in the pond right in the middle of the restaurant or look up and see the birds in the trees.
10. Friendly People
They call Thailand the “Land of Smiles” but I think Bali deserves this distinction. Hell, when you leave New Jersey everyone seems friendly but Balinese are really genuine. We are greeted with smiles everywhere we go. We even get a “thank you” when we turn taxi drivers down. This isn’t contrived like other places where we have been to where the conversation starts with “where are you from” so they can size us up or lead into some scam. I feel a genuinely warm welcome in Bali.
11. English TV Channels
When you live out of hotel rooms like us you have a lot of downtime and we like to spend it in air conditioning. Bali has one of the best offerings of stations we have experienced in Southeast Asia. Not only are there at least 25 channels at each place we stayed but the majority of the channels are in English. We get premium channels like E! Entertainment, Nat Geo, CNBC, MTV, Best of all they all had HBO so we can keep up with Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley in real time!
12. Music and Dance
Bali has a unique sound called Gamelan. This is a mix of drums and xylophones that accompany the highly expressive and costumed Legong dance. No narration is necessary to understand the mythological battle of good and evil acted out to a sound so tantalizing that I had to talk myself out of buying a CD. There’s always YouTube, right?
Terraced green rice fields, Monkey Forest, handcrafted arts. These are the things that lure visitors away from the coast to create an Eat, Pray, Love experience of their own. We liked the affordable prices, selection of great restaurants and small town feel of this village that is the cultural heart of Bali.
Lemongrass isn’t a flavor or scent I was very familiar with until we came to Bali. Now I can’t get enough of it! Lucky this flavor is prevalent in many Balinese dishes and drinks from and Indonesian curry flavored with lemongrass to lemongrass iced tea.
15. Hindu Offerings
When traversing the streets of Bali my head is always down looking where I am walking so as not to step on a Hindu offering on the ground. These are everywhere from the sidewalks to checkout counters, in front of trees. We get a kick out of seeing cigarettes, Ritz crackers, money etc on top of the standard rice, incense and flowers offerings.
Have you been to Bali? What are you favorite places or things about the island?