DIY guide to planning a Bali vacation
A vacation in Bali, Indonesia is affordable, visa-free for Filipinos, and rich in both cultural and natural attractions. Tourists from all over the world flock to the island to see its temples, surf its waves, frolic under the sun, or find inner peace. Whatever your reason, here's how to plan your own Bali escape. (READ: Bali in 2 days: Soaking up culture and history)
How to get there
Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific fly directly from Manila to Bali
Options that involve a stop in another city include:
- Air Asia – Manila/Cebu to Bali via Kuala Lumpur
- Cathay Pacific – Manila/Cebu to Bali via Hong Kong
- Singapore Airlines – Manila/Cebu to Bali via Singapore
- SilkAir – Cebu/Davao to Bali via Singapore
Where to stay
What's your primary reason for visiting Bali? There are tons of accommodations in the island – from backpacker digs to yoga retreats, rice paddies to beachfront views, dirt-cheap to luxurious – and thinking of why you're there will help you narrow down the where.
If you're a beach and surf lover, you'll want to stay in a coastal area such as Kuta, Legian or Seminyak. Although Kuta has a reputation for being party central – think Boracay's Station 2 – there are places where you can be near the beach and still have a good night's sleep sans loud, pulsating music.
Plus, Kuta's long history of hosting tourists means it offers numerous lodging options for every budget. Just pay attention to reviews when booking. When we were in Kuta, we stayed at The Royal Eighteen Resort & Spa, which was only a 5-10 minute walk from the beach but was quiet enough at night. It also had a rooftop pool, a buffet breakfast, and a cheaper nightly rate than its name would suggest.
If culture is more your thing, Ubud would be the perfect base. It is full of family compounds that are so intricately designed, they look like temples instead of residences. Try to book lodgings near the main street, Jalan Raya Ubud, if you would like to just walk to attractions such as the Ubud Palace, the Monkey Forest, and the Ubud Market.
Our homestay, Narendra Guest House, was in Jalan Sri Wedari, a road perpendicular to Jalan Raya Ubud, and we would pass at least two temples and numerous beautiful family compounds on our regular 15-minute walk to the main street.
One night, as we were walking home, we even heard a gamelan orchestra rehearsing under the full moon – a serendipitous, magical experience.
What to see and do
In many ways, Bali is typically Southeast Asian, and a lot of its natural attractions – beaches, waterfalls, rivers, springs – are similar to those you can find in the Philippines. However, there are still many things to do there that are distinctly Balinese, and even in the familiar there is always something different and worth delving into. Here are a few favorites:
- Visit Uluwatu. It's a temple complex in the southern tip of Bali and a great place to watch the sunset and the kecak fire dance. The best thing about Uluwatu: the spectacular view it offers of towering cliffs and parades of waves breaking one after another. (Another temple-sunset-and-waves combination that you should visit if you can is Tanah Lot.)
- Climb Mount Batur or, for the more adventurous, Mount Agung. Mount Batur is an active volcano, and dawn treks to watch the sunrise from its summit are popular and easy to arrange. Mount Agung, which is taller and more physically challenging, is usually an overnighter. For either climb, bring proper gear and make sure to engage an accredited guide. (Note: recently, the Bali airport had to be temporarily closed due to the presence of volcanic ash cloud, which grounded many flights. Make sure you check up on this or similar situations while planning your trip.)
- Eat babi guling and other local food. Babi guling is the Balinese version of lechon (roast pig), the difference being the herbs used to flavor it. Our guide recommended the babi guling at Ibu Oka and it was indeed delicious. The mie goreng at the warung beside the Royal Eighteen was also wonderful and surprisingly cheap. If you have time, join a cooking class – you will get to taste different Balinese dishes and learn how to prepare them at home. (RELATED: Jakarta: To learn a city, look to street food)
- Sample different flavors of coffee and tea. Bali is home to several coffee plantations, and a visit to one includes a tasting session of at least 12 flavors of coffee and tea. Don't miss the ginseng and coconut coffee, as well as the lemongrass and mangosteen tea.
- Stay in a Balinese home. In Ubud, particularly, there are a host of homestay options that let you live like a local without necessarily giving up your usual creature comforts. Family compounds allow you to unobtrusively observe daily routines and interact with Balinese people of all ages.
- Attend a ceremony. Whether it's a wedding or a funeral, a big elaborate celebration at one of the nine directional temples or a small simple ritual at home, these ceremonies will give you a unique glimpse into the Hindu faith that permeates the Balinese way of life.
- Live the beach life. The importance of authentic cultural immersion notwithstanding, it's also nice to just relax for a few days. Wake up whenever you wake up, put on a sarong, and head to the beach. Take surfing lessons or hibernate in a hammock. After all, who knows when your next vacation will be? (READ: Lessons in surfing, travel and humility in Bali)
Additional tips for travelers
- Budget. Bali is relatively cheap. If you catch a piso sale, share a room with a friend, eat at warungs, and generally live frugally, a budget of P20,000 should last you a good 4-7 days. (See: How much does a Bali trip cost?)
- Getting around. Many of the attractions in Bali are located far apart and the most convenient way to see them is to go on a tour or to hire a car and driver.
- Exchanging money. You can get the best peso-to-rupiah rate by getting money from the ATM. (Alert your bank beforehand that you're traveling overseas.) If you must bring cash, bring dollars or euros. Only very few money changers will accept pesos and those that do often offer very poor rates.
- Shopping. Haggle – the sellers will expect it and price their products accordingly. I was able to buy several bags for less than half the original price and I'm not even a very good haggler.
- Talk to locals. Ask questions. Find out why every other person is named Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut. Ask people about their lives. Most of the Balinese we met were open, friendly and hospitable. That said, treat them the way you would want to be treated. I once gushed to our driver, "The people here have been so kind to us!" and he simply replied, "Because you are kind." There's no doubt Bali has become too touristy, but the real thing is still there, waiting to be discovered by those who make the effort, and in the end you get out of your Bali holiday exactly what you put into it.
Gaya is a travel blogger from Cebu whose background in psychology and medicine has taken a backseat to her passion for writing and traveling. Her main occupation is spamming her friends' Facebook feeds with travel articles she's published in her blog Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains, but for bread and butter she takes on writing and healthcare-related projects from home. Her bucket list includes taking her family to Rome, seeing the northern lights from the Scottish highlands, and walking the Camino de Santiago.