Day 1 (5/9)
I woke up at around 6:45 AM to make an 11 AM flight to Qatar. I met up with my friend Jon at a bagel place near the A train, then took the hour long subway ride out to JFK. On our flight to Qatar I sat in the very last row, 47G, next to a large man from Albany who was visiting a friend in Kuwait. During the 12 hour flight he fell asleep multiple times and encroached on my side of the arm rest, which frustrated me. I watched three movies during the flight: The Front Runner with High Jackman, Passengers with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, and Green Book with Viggo Mortensen and Mehershala Ali. I also wrote two articles and ate a considerable amount of spongy airplane food. Overall I’d call it a productive flight.
The airport in Qatar is very modern, so much so that it has no distinguishing features whatsoever. It’s really like a very nice mall with some airplane gates in it. We met a girl from Ontario, Canada who was also on our flight to Bali, and we decided we’d all stick together until it came time to board our plane. We got chicken nuggets at Burger King and I drank banana milk out of a juice box. Once we boarded the flight we were surprised to see that there was barely anyone on it. After about an hour I found a completely abandoned row on the plane, sprawled out, and slept for four hours. I woke up, grabbed some water, then slept for another hour and a half. With only two hours and thirty minutes remaining in the flight, I watched Whiplash with J.K. Simmons.
We arrived in Bali at 11 PM local time. Getting through the airport was simple enough, and we met our driver outside. He drove us to our Airbnb in Seminyak—a beautiful open air house with lots of lush greens and sand gardens. All the rooms had king sized beds, and there was a terrance and roof deck with very nice views. We went for a dip and then I tried to go to sleep, but sleep never came. The girl we met in the airport texted us around 1 AM to let us know she had been robbed of her passport and money by a man on a motorcycle leaving the airport.
Day 2 (5/10)
I didn’t sleep at all the first night. Jon came in my room at around 6:30 AM to tell me he hadn’t slept either. No surprise considering how jet lagged we were. We decided to go for a walk into town. We found a modern looking cafe named Livingstone and had an American-esque breakfast of eggs and bacon. Then we went for a walk down to the beach.
The main way to the beach from our Airbnb was a fairly run down road that was jam packed (even at 7 AM) with folks riding motorized scooters. However, many of the bars, shops, and restaurants along the road were quite fancy, which makes for a weird juxtaposition. It felt like the road was built long before Seminyak became the tourist hotspot it is today.
When we reached the beach we walked south to Kuta and gazed at all the fancy hotels and villas that looked as if they had been built within the last 10 years. Then we turned around and walked back to our Airbnb in time to hang out in the pool all morning listening to music. Our friends Lee and Ty arrived around 11 AM and we again walked down to the beach—this time to get some drinks at a little shack. Then we met up with our other friend Eddie, who lives in Bali. From there we went to Potato Head , a really fun beachside club where you can eat delicious food, drink cool drinks, and look at great booties.
That night we went out to a bar in Seminyak called La Favela with the Canadian girl who had gotten robbed and some of her friends. La Favela is a massive and sprawling bar and restaurant that turns into a gigantic dance floor after hours. It reminded me of the enormous bars you see in Spring Break towns like Panama City, only much nicer. We danced for a considerably long time, then headed back to the Airbnb late night for some swimming.
Day 3 (5/11)
On Sunday we all agreed we needed to go back to Potato Head, only this time we would get a day bed. These are comfy little poolside mattresses where you can order food and drinks and lay out in the sun all day. However, if you want to get one you either need show up right when the club opens, or make a reservation ahead of time (we did the former). Over the course of 8 hours we ordered breakfast, lunch, and dinner for five and roughly two dozen alcoholic beverages (fancy stuff too, like mojitos and Long Island Iced Teas and stuff you drink out of a coconut) for a total cost of $300. I spent the day going from the pool to the bar to the poolside bar to the day bed. It was great.
Around 6:30PM we watched the sunset on the beach. Bali sunsets are really quite pleasant, and tons of people gather around to watch them, making it a fun shared experience. That night we decided to head north of Seminyak to another beach town called Canggu. There we went to another large outdoor bar called Oldman’s that had live music. It was filled with rowdy Australians and Englishmen not wearing shirts. When the bars closed around 1 AM, we went down the road to Sand Bar, another large bar on the beach where people dance until the sun comes up. To be candid, it was one of the crazier bars I have ever been to.
Day 4 (5/12)
Partied out from the weekend, we gathered our possessions and hired a driver to take us to Ubud. Before we left we visited a very Instagram-able cafe near our Airbnb where I ate something called a Swiss Roti. There are many places in Bali that provide food and an atmosphere designed for social media.
The ride from Seminyak to Ubud took about an hour and thirty minutes—mostly because the roads are all one lane and jam-packed with motor scooters. Aside from that, driving through Bali didn’t really make me feel like I was in another country. Almost everything is written in English, and most areas that I saw are fairly built up and modern looking.
Our Ubud Airbnb was even bigger than the one we had in Seminyak. It also came with its own staff that cooked us breakfast and made our reservations (for a total cost of $90 per person for two nights). Once we had settled in we went for a walk into town. Being that Ubud is in the middle of the jungle, the entire area is filled with lush greenery. We went for a hike along a valley and took in some views, then headed into the center of town to a movie theater called Paradiso where we bought tickets to watch the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones. The theater was filled with expats (as most of Ubud is) and the lighting wasn’t ideal, but overall it was a cool experience. After the episode ended we grabbed a simple dinner in town and went home.
Day 5 (5/13)
For Tuesday we had booked a day-long tour with a tour guide a friend of mine had put me in touch with. For $50 American dollars he agreed to drive us around all day long and show us the most popular attractions in and around Ubud. We woke up around 7 AM and ate a delicious crepe breakfast prepared by our in-house staff. Then we piled into an SUV driven by the tour guide—named Komang.
The first stop on the tour was the Ubud Monkey Forest. This is pretty much what it sounds like—a nice little forest where you can walk around and look at long tail monkeys. The monkeys run around and play with each other, and, for the most part, don’t mess with humans (as long as humans don’t mess with them). Still, we were told to keep our phones, wallets, and other possessions close, less a monkey get any clever ideas.
The next stop on our tour was the Tengenungan Waterfall—a decent drive outside of Ubud. The waterfall is cool looking enough, and everyone can jump into the water and swim near the waterfall, allowing you to really feel the force of the water crashing down.
After that we went to Bali Swing, a sort of ropes course located in the middle of a rice terrace. The farmers grow the rice in a terrace formation for irrigation purposes, but they are also quite nice to look at. At Bali Swing you can sign up for a variety of different activities, including zip lining and (you guessed it) a swing set that swings you over the edge of a cliff and gives you a neat view of the rice terrace. There is also a tandem air bike, which Jon and I decided to do. This is a bike attached to a harness that you can pedal along a wire over the rice terrace. To the naked eye, it almost looks like you are riding a back across the sky—ET style. Riding the bike was a bit nerve wracking at first, especially because every time the bike shook I felt like it was going to fall off the wire. But by the end we were able to relax and take in the view.
Afterwards we went on a little hike through the rice terrace and took in some nature. Then we went to a nearby restaurant where I had my first traditional Balinese meal—a cone of rice with a bunch of random meats, vegetables, and fishes in little bowls that you can mix in. This is also where I had my first banana juice in Bali. The banana juice is quite literally a liquified banana, but the juice tastes so sweet and creamy that I indulged many more times throughout the trip.
After lunch was the Kopi Plantation, a plantation where they make coffee out of feces from the Luwak—a nocturnal cat-like animal native to Bali. The Luwak enjoys eating coffee beans, and the digested beans (once cleaned and roasted) happen to make some of the most delicious and expensive coffee in the world.
The last stop on the tour was the Pura Tirta Temple. This is a Hindu Temple where you are invited to throw on a water-proof sarong and climb into a pool. From there you can swim up to a variety of different spouts and bath in the rush of cold water— the idea being that you are washing the sin off of yourself.
With our sins cleaned away, we headed back toward Ubud. However, our progress was disrupted by a parade of people marching through town toward a temple for some sort of celebration. This is fairly common in Bali, as there are over 180 holidays on the Balinese calendar. In the end we were late for dinner, but we were a little more cultured for it. Dinner was at a fancy vegan restaurant called Zest. Vegan restaurants are a dime a dozen in Bali, but this one was especially delicious. I indulged in a steak made of jackfruit, and also snacked on some vegan nachos and pizza. Exhausted from our day-long journey, we called it a night after dinner.
Day 6 (5/14)
We had deliberately only booked the first five days of the trip because we wanted to have flexibility to do what we wanted. On Tuesday night we all agreed to visit the Gili Islands next—a set of three small islands off the coast of Lombok, roughly an hour away by boat. Our in-house staff helped us with the arrangements, and Wednesday morning a shuttle took us to Padang Bai, where we caught a ferry across the Java Sea to Gili Trawangan (AKA “Gili T”)—the largest and most developed of the islands.
But “developed” is still a generous term. There are no paved roads in Gili, rather dirt paths. There is a bike trail that goes around the entire perimeter of the island, which is where most of the bars and restaurants and shops and hotels are located. Our Airbnb was not on the perimeter of the island, but several blocks in. When we checked in we also learned that Ramadan is currently ongoing, which is why Muslim prayers were being blasted from a loudspeaker perched atop a minaret across the entire island (unlike Bali, which is Hindu, most other parts of Indonesia are Muslim). Being that it was Ramadan, most of the island closed up early. We eventually learned that the island was at barely 20% capacity of what it usually is.
Regardless, we still found a way to have fun. First we rented bikes and rode the entire island (which took all of an hour). Then we found a nice spot on the beach to watch the sun set, which was even nicer than the sun set in Bali. We grabbed dinner at a restaurant called Naty’s, then popped into a few bars around the area (all but one of which closed at 11 pm). There were still plenty of people out and about, even if it was a far cry from the crowded bars in Bali. When we did get to bed early in the morning, we were awakened shortly thereafter by the 3 AM prayer, and then the 6 AM prayer.
Day 7 (5/15)
Our Airbnb in Gili was certainly the weakest of the bunch. We stayed in a set of three bungalows that lacked hot water and featured toilets that flushed inconsistently. But the two guys who worked there cooked us breakfast and gave us all the free orange juice we could ask for (again, juice in Indonesia is delicious). For Thursday we had arranged to take a scuba diving class at a facility a few blocks from our Airbnb. When we arrived a nice instructor named Sandra went over some scuba diving ground rules and made us watch a safety video. Then we strapped on wet suits and air tanks and hopped into a pool.
There is definitely a bit more to scuba diving than I considered. For instance, there are things you need to do to make sure your goggles don’t fog up, and that your ears aren’t bursting in pain as water pressure builds. There are also a variety of hand signals you have to learn so you can communicate with your instructor underwater. After about 30 minutes in the pool, I felt like I was ready to give it a shot for real.
We rode out in a boat from Gili T to an area closer to Gili Meno. Beneath the water there was a floating pier that had sunk about 10 years ago and was now a popular hangout for tropical fish. We strapped on our gear and fell backwards off the boat. For the first ten minutes underwater I remember having a really hard time seeing and feeling very worried that I might be doing something wrong. But once I was able to un-fog my goggles, I was awestruck by what I saw—thousands of fish swimming around a giant structure that had been reclaimed by the sea. So I flapped around for as long as I could, taking in the sites. About 25 minutes in I looked at my air gauge and was alarmed to learn I only had 50 PSI left (We started at 200 PSI and were instructed to alert someone when our gauge reaches this level). Shortly thereafter we all clicked a button on our scuba suits that inflated our life vests and allowed us to rise to the surface.
All in all we lasted 29 minutes. We would later learn from our instructor that we all wasted too much oxygen because we were waving our arms and legs around so much and not controlling our breathing. Good divers can last up to an hour and 30 minutes by swimming correctly and taking deeper breaths, but the excitement and novelty of the situation caused us all to sort of freak out. Oh well, it was still a cool experience.
After we washed up, Jon and I went on another bike ride—this time through the middle of the island. Then we watched another sun set and we all grabbed a nice dinner on the beach (I had chicken and very fresh calamari).
Day 8 (5/16)
Friday we took the ferry back from Gili T to Bali and caught a cheap cab to Canggu. We decided the night before to stay in Canggu over Uluwatu because Canggu has a better party scene. We had another nice Airbnb with in-house staff, although not as nice as the Airbnbs we had stayed in in Seminyak and Ubud. When we got there we asked our in-house staff to arrange to have massages set up for us. After our massages we went out to a very nice steak dinner at a place called Mason’s. A word about Canggu: It feels like a nicer Seminyak. It’s less congested, the restaurants and bars are nicer, and the area just feels generally cleaner. It’s almost like Bali took all the lessons it learned from developing Seminyak and applied them when building up Canggu.
After dinner (I had the pork loin) we once again went to Oldman’s and then Sand Bar, because one time just wasn’t enough.
Day 9 (5/17)
Speaking of one time not being enough, on Saturday we decided to go to a beach club again. This time the beach club we visited was Finn’s, which a woman later described to me as a “classier” Potato Head. It was also slightly more expensive ($390 for the day for 4 people), but we still got all the great food and alcohol we wanted (as well as two more banana juices), plus a killer sun set and lots of friendly people to hang out with.
Saturday night (our last night) we started at a bar called Backyard’s, but ended the night at Sand Bar. It may seem repetitive, but it really doesn’t get much better than partying on an Indonesian beach until the sun rises.
Day 10 (5/18)
Our last day in Bali, we hired a driver to take us to Uluwatu, an area on the southern tip of Bali that features beautiful cliffside views of the ocean and a famous Hindu Temple. After walking the temple (literally named “Uluwatu Temple”) and watching a monkey steal some guys sunglasses, we asked our driver to take us somewhere where we could buy some mementos for the trip. Unfortunately, great shopping isn’t why you come to Bali, and I couldn’t really find anything that interesting, save a “I 🌴 BALI” shirt.
We ended the day at a hotel restaurant and bar called the Double Six in Seminyak, where we took in one last great Bali sunset. Then we piled into a van and went home.
Money: I spent a grand total of $2,300 on this trip, including my flight. In my opinion, that’s ridiculously cheap. We didn’t try to spare any expense while traveling—we stayed in nice Airbnbs, ate at nice restaurants, and bought plenty of drinks. Still, everything is so cheap it’s almost difficult to overspend. Meals cost under $10 and cabs to distant locations are no more than $5 a head. I can’t think of a single instance in which I felt something was too expensive.
Beverages: The beverage game in Bali is on another level. Every restaurant, cafe, and bar you go to has an elaborate drink menu featuring smoothies, juices, elixirs, “mocktails,” and shots with ginger in them—and it’s all delicious! The fruit in Bali is so fresh that all of the smoothies and juices are bursting with flavor. I only wish I could get banana juice that good in New York.
Food: I didn’t find Balinese food to be that unique. Really, the whole island is so westernized that you can get a burger, pasta, or bacon and eggs almost anywhere. There were some more traditional Balinese dishes, mainly rice based, but they never struck me as that appetizing. If you’re a foodie, you can definitely get some good meals in Bali, but don’t expect to be immersed in a world of traditional Balinese cooking, because I don’t think that’s a thing.
People: Balinese people are mild mannered and extremely accommodating. The Balinese economy is based primarily on tourism, so the Balinese want to be as helpful as possible to all the white people (and there are a lot of them). Speaking of the white people, I found that most of them were either Australian, English, Scandinavian, or Canadian, with a few Americans mixed in. Many of them were either staying in Bali long term, or taking a multi-month trip around all of southeast Asia. When we told folks we were only visiting for 10 days, they seemed to be almost surprised we would choose to spend such little time in a place like this.
Truth is, I wish I had more time there. It’s been four days since I returned, and I’m already daydreaming about going back. The island is cheap yet extremely modern, meaning you can live very comfortably. Furthermore, it’s just a good time. The beaches are gorgeous, the woman are beautiful, and there is a party every night of the week. I’m fairly certain this won’t be my last trip to Bali.