A trip to Bali was just the birthday present S needed to celebrate her big day. Luckily, she invited B and me along to Indonesia and together we explored Bali and threw in a little Java for good measure. This post will discuss our 13-day Bali Itinerary.
Day 1: Arrival in Denpasar Airport
When we exited the plane after a series of looong flights, we were warmly welcomed to the island of Bali in Indonesia. I say warmly, but I should really say swelteringly, because Bali is H-O-T. We would spend the next 13 days red faced and covered in sweat.
We were most excited to visit the town of Ubud, and so had arranged with our hotel to have a driver pick us up at the Denpasar airport and drive us straight to Ubud. These towns are not far away, less than 25 miles, but it took us over an hour to make the drive. I had envisioned Ubud to be an isolated mountain town, but it turns out you just kind of drive through a long stretch of cities until you arrive. Kind of like driving South on I-15 of the Wasatch Front in Utah. Anyway, we arrived at the Kori Bali Inn and were pretty beat. After a cursory walk through of the town and a few markets, we crashed for the evening.
Day 2: Monkey Forest and Legong Dance
The next morning, we awoke bright and early and were treated to what we would lovingly name ‘Bali Pancakes.’ Read this post to learn how to make your own! It’s always a good idea to get moving when you are feeling jet lagged, so we spent our first real day in Ubud wandering through the jungle of the Mandala Suci Wenara Wana…aka Monkey Forest. The forest is actually a lovely nature reserve and Hindu temple complex. It is technically in another town, but we walked there from our hotel in Ubud.
Our stroll through the Monkey Forest was quite nice; it was lush and green and the shade from the trees felt heavenly. The monkeys, Balinese Macaques, weren’t so lovely. Many tourists visit Monkey Forest and many of them feed the monkeys so they (understandably) assume we all have food for them. We were not into letting crawl all over us so we tried to keep a respectable distance from the non-human primates. We spent several hours visiting Monkey Forest but eventually made our way back to Ubud.
Baby monkeys playing in Monkey Forest. Awwwww…..
That evening we attended a Legong Dance performance. This dancing style is quite famous; the dancers wear elaborate costumes, head dresses, masks, etc. and tell stories with their facial expressions and movements. The legong dance was set to music played by a gamelan, which is a group of musicians who mainly play different drums. Maybe this music was soothing…but the three of us were lulled into almost falling asleep. However, this type of music and dance is such an important part of Balinese culture that no Bali itinerary would be complete without attending one.
Day 3: Spa and yoga day
Speaking of requisite Bali Itinerary experiences…a spa and yoga day is a must. We awoke early and joined a 7:30 a.m. Vinyasa class, taught by an exceedingly handsome Argentinian gaucho. I’m not sure whether the class or the teach did it, but we were well awake when we finished and headed over to our full day spa treatment.
This spa treatment was so epic we discussed it in an entire post. Suffice it to say, Balinese are known for massages so when you are in Bali you should definitely get a massage. Heck, since the prices are so reasonable, get a few. Our spa treatment took most of our day. We spent the remainder of the day strolling through Ubud.
Day 4: Agung Batur hike, coffee plantation, rice terraces, fish eating feet
We had arranged for a sunrise hike of one of the main volcanoes on Bali, Agung Batur for day 4. The sunrise part of the hike didn’t turn out quite the way we planned (read about it here), but the rest of the tour was quite nice.
After the hike, we toured a coffee plantation where the coffee is famous for a bizarre reason. A mongoose eats the coffee beans, poops them out and then some unlucky person gets to collect the beans and grind them into coffee. Not sure who came up with this idea, but it is weird. The next stop was much more pleasant. We saw some of the beautiful tiered rice patty terraces. This island has so many vibrant colors, it is a feast for the eyes.
Day 5: Pura Taman Ayun temple, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan lake, Git Git waterfall
We arranged for the owner of our hotel to drive us to our next home base: Lovina. We negotiated a rate with him, and he recommended several points of interest along the way where he would take us. (All for around $50.) The first stop was the Pura Taman Ayun temple. This temple was quite peaceful and not very crowded. We were able to stroll along and climb some of the wood towers and to get an aerial view of the gardens and buildings.
Stop number two was Pura Ulun Danau Bratan Lake. If you google images of Bali, you are sure to see a picture of this temple on the edge of a lake. I was pumped to see it IRL because I had been staring at it for months as my wallpaper on my work computer. Honestly, this place was a little strange. From a distance it was just what I expected, but up close there were weird carnival type rides and lots of Balinese tourists around. I’m guessing this is a hot spot for locals.
Stop number 3 was the Git Git waterfall. We picked up a local guide at the beginning of this hike and he guided us down the mile or so path. We were getting skeptical about what we were going to see, but then it opened up and two waterfalls met in one pool. It was beautiful!
Day 6: Chillaxing in Lovina
B had found a little info on a town not many tourists go to on the north of the island. We decided to stay there for a few days and boy are we glad we did! A mid-vacation respite is always nice on a long vacation, and Lovina was it for us. Our first day there we spent several hours reading and swimming in the small hotel pool while a staff member climbed trees with a machete and cut us down some coconuts to drink. For real, that happened.
After gathering strength, we made our way to the beach and proceeded to stay there for the rest of the day, ordering food and having it brought to our beach chairs. What a glorious day to include on your Bali Itinerary!
Day 7: Brahma Vihara Arama Buddhist Monastery, Banjar Hot Springs
The next day we arranged for a ride to take us to the Brahma Vihara Arama Buddhist Monastery, the reason B had found this lovely area. This is a legit Monastery and we saw several Buddhist monks on our tour. Many of the buildings have signs asking for ‘Nobel Silence,’ so visiting this temple was quite tranquil.
Our next stop was the Banjar Hot Springs. We had seen pictures of this place and wanted to test out the waters for ourselves. Banjar is a natural hot spring with several pools. But the coolest part is the fountain where water shots out of dragon’s heads. The water has a high sulfur content, so be careful if you have a lighter colored swimsuit.
Day 8: Tulamben
S wanted to go scuba diving on her birthday so she decided we would travel down to Tulamben to see the wreckage of the U.S.S. Liberty. We arranged for a driver to take us to the tiny town of Tulamben, which is really just a few houses, a hotel, and a store or two. Tulamben is several hours away from Lovina, so the drive was the main event of the day. We arrived around 4:00 p.m. in Tulamben which was nice, because there wasn’t much to see or do. We opted for some more massages and called it a day.
Day 9: Diving and Sanur
The Liberty wreck is the main event in these parts. So bright and early, S and B suited up and headed into the water. Since I prefer to snorkel, I stayed near the shore but could still see the wreckage when I dove down from the surface. This is one of the most popular dive spots in Bali and many divers make the trek to this sleepy town. S and B were glad that they chose this spot to dive because the wreckage was so unique. It definitely wasn’t the clearest water I’ve snorkeled in. If that floats your boat, you might want to pick a different location. Since we were only in Tulamben to dive, we quickly got out of dodge once we were done. We hired a driver from the hotel to take us down to Sanur.
Sanur is a relaxed town that happens to border some stunning beaches. There are a few towns in this area of Bali that are known for beaches (Sanur, Seminyak, Kuta), but we opted for Sanur. When we arrived, we took a lovely stroll along the beach and found a restaurant on the water to close out S’s b-day extravaganza.
Day 10: Java (two-day optional tour to Java on the Bali Itinerary)
When we landed on day 1 at the Denpasar airport, we walked on over to the tickets area and purchased round trip tickets to visit the neighboring island of Java. I really wanted to do this as there are some incredible temple complexes in the middle of the island. Hence on day 10, we made our way to the airport for a domestic flight to Yogyakarta, aka ‘Joge-ja.’ This flight is only a few hours long and was quite a contrast to most flights I’ve been on. For example, in the seat pocket was a laminated card with prayers asking for a safe flight from several different religions. The on-board announcements included a very serious warning about trafficking drugs in Indonesia, which is punishable by death. Yikes!
We had arranged for a driver to pick us up and drive us to Megalung, a smallish town that is the closest hub to Borobudur. We arrived in time to see all that we wanted to of this town and then walked to our small resort.
You are definitely in a rural area in these parts; we relied on our hotel to feed us that night and enjoyed the open air (read cloth roof, no walls) in the common area. As we walked through Megalung, we were definitely uncommon, being the only white people strolling down the street. Everyone was incredibly smiley and friendly and little kids blew us kisses. It’s amazing how a few miles can get you so far off the beaten tourist path.
Day 11: Borobudur, Yogya, Prambanan
The next morning, we had arranged for a ride to the the Borobudur complex. There is lodging right next to the temple and if you don’t mind paying a little more, this is a nice option. We arrived very early, around 4:30 a.m. The sunrise crowd wasn’t very big, probably because of the early hour. We had flashlights with us and were able to explore the large temple on our own. At sunrise, we all gathered on the east-facing side of the temple and watched as it got lighter. Unfortunately, mist rolled in and we didn’t see the sharp sunrise between two volcanoes, but it was still beautiful lighting.
This temple is pretty incredible, and I’ve been to a fair few temples. It was built around 800 AD and is the largest Buddhist temple complex in the world. There are over 500 Buddha statues carved out of stone and 1,500 carved relief walls depicting different religious stories.
We finished up at Borobudur pretty early in the day and headed back to Yogya. We befriended a girl at the resort and she joined us as our driver brought us back to town.
We checked into our hotel in Yogya and set out to look around. At this point, we got caught in a common scam; a local takes you to a school where students do batik. We were loaded onto two tuk-tuks and driven through town. At one point, S and B’s tuk tuk rammed the van in front of it…probably one of the funniest things I saw on the trip. Anyway, we did go to the store and bought some batiks and even though it was a scam, we were still happy paying what we did for the batik and experience.
The second reason I dragged S and B to Java was to go to the Hindu temple built around the same time as Borobudur. Unlike Borobudur, which is one large temple, Prambanan has several very tall buildings that aren’t as wide around the base. I would estimate that of the 200 visitors at Prambanan, we were some of the 15 white people. As such, we were quite popular with the kids who all wanted to get their pictures taken with us.
If you go to any of the religious sites in this area (or anywhere, really) you should most definitely be sensitive about dressing appropriately. Thus, in the 250 degree weather we were walking around with sarongs covering our legs. It’s important to be respectful when you can. After exploring the complex, we caught a bus (about $.30) back to where we were staying. We opted to go totally local for dinner and ended up paying less than $6 for the three of us. I don’t always recommend this, but we didn’t get sick so it turned out alright.
Day 12: Sultan’s Palace and back on the Bali Itinerary
Our morning began abruptly around 5:00 a.m. Unlike Bali, Java is mostly Muslim and if you spend time there you will hear the Call to Prayer at a mosque. It was the first time I’d experienced this and it was LOUD! In all fairness, we were right next to a mosque and on the second floor so the speaker was about 15 feet away from our room. Our adventure for the day was to explore the Sultan of Yogyakarta’s Palace. This was not super impressive (compared to the places we had seen the day before), but it was interesting. Most of the buildings just had ornate roofs and ceilings and were open walled. I seriously don’t know how people survive here without air conditioning, but that just goes to show how big of a wimp I am.
Speaking of air conditioning, we decided to hit up an indoor mall to enjoy some AC before we got a plane back to Bali. We also partook of McDonald’s and KFC. Lame, but when you have eaten rice and noodles for weeks, sometimes you just want a burger. Plus, it is always fun to go to Micky D’s and see what’s different on the menu. At the Yogya McDonald’s, you could choose fries or rice balls as your side.
We then caught a flight back to Bali and to bed.
Day 13: Kuta and fly home
Kuta has a pretty bad reputation for a dirty party town for tourists. If that’s your thing, then no offense, but we didn’t want to spend that much time there. It is very close to the airport though, and our flight was at noon. So we spent the morning experiencing the softer side of Kuta. We walked along the beach and watched as people learned to surf. The water is clear blue and the sand was light tan, so it was very striking. Maybe the trick to enjoying Kuta is to only be there early in the morning and leave before dark.
We pre-booked all of our accommodations on this itinerary before we left the States. In cases where we knew we were going to need rides (to Ubud and Megalung) we contacted the hotel and requested a driver. In other cases, we simply asked for drivers at the hotels we were staying at. We didn’t ever take up one of the ubiquitous taxi rides, and used public transportation once in Yogya. Because there were three of us and we weren’t on a super tight budget, we felt hiring personal drivers was worth the time we would save if we were to use other forms of transport. We also pre-booked our spa treatment and scuba diving, but purchased all the other tickets once we arrived at the destination or night before.
A thirteen-day Bali Itinerary included more than enough time to fit in everything we wanted to do and see, even with the two-day jaunt to Java. Because it is so far away, you’ll want to spend at least a week in these here parts. Ubud gets the most press and is famous because of that one book, but I actually preferred all of the other locations on this trip to it.