If you're looking for an exciting, unique and thought-provoking place to travel to, Bali is the answer. Bali is not only a tropical paradise with lush jungle terrain and beautiful beaches, but it's also an interesting island with boho-chic vibes, crazy good food and a whole lot to do. Bali really has a little bit of something for everyone. Here's my guide on where to stay, where to eat and what to do in Bali.
Where to Stay
Mandapa, a Ritz Carlton Reserve - Ubud
Ranked the second best resort in the world by TripAdvisor, the Mandapa really is heaven on earth. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the most incredible resort I have ever seen. From the moment you check in, you will instantly experience the extreme attention to detail and exemplary customer service. Even the check-in process is one of a kind: they greet you upon arrival, already calling you by name and immediately offering you a welcome drink and a towel. They bellmen take your bags and disappear with them, appearing in your room before you even get down there. I am not sure if this happens for every guest, but we were immediately greeted by their general manager, who brought us into the main foyer and explained a little bit about the resort. Then we were greeted by our butler, Marcela, who would remain our butler for the remainder of our stay, meeting our needs 24 hours per day. We quickly exchanged WhatsApp numbers so that we could be in contact with her whenever we wanted and then jetted off down the hill in our buggy, getting a tour of the entire resort before finally ending up back at our room. The check-in process took place in our room, so there is no exchanging of money or passports in public. Marcela walked us through our room, pointing out all the amenities and how to use them, and then took our credit card and scanned our passports right then and there.
The most astonishing thing about the resort was their extreme hospitality and customer service knowledge. We initially laughed at the thought of having our own dedicated "butler", but immediately came to appreciate how seriously they take that amenity. We soon came to realize that Marcela always seemed to know where we were and what we were doing, as buggies seemed to magically appear when we left for dinner or turndown service was always completed, no matter what time we left or came home. I flippantly mentioned to Marcela that we liked the bug repellant that they used at dinner (after noticing that I wasn't being bitten at all) and every night after that, we returned to our room to find the mosquito repellant incense already lit on our patio. The extreme attention to detail was insane, and likely the number one reason why no one leaves this place unhappy.
Another great part about the stay was that they treated us like we were special at every opportunity. Prior to even arriving, the concierge reached out to us to find out of we needed transportation to and from the airport or wanted to book any excursions, and made a point to ask if we were celebrating anything special. Since we were too busy with work during our anniversary in September, we chose to use our trip to Bali as a bit of a belated anniversary celebration. So I told them that in an email prior to arriving, not really thinking much of it until we arrived. They really went above and beyond. Our room was decorated with flowers in the shape of a heart on the bed, a bath filled with plumeria, and the words "ANN" spelled out on the floor in our entryway to immediately wish us a happy anniversary upon entering the room. Then they had a chocolate mousse with "Happy Anniversary" spelled out in chocolate on the plate. We sort of thought that would be it, but the gestures just kept coming. After coming back from a private bicycle tour through the rice fields, we arrived back at our room to find a photo that our guide had taken just a few hours ago, framed with a note from Marcela again wishing us a happy anniversary and saying she hoped we had a good time, and next to it was a boquet of flowers, just like one that a bride would carry on her wedding day (and I have to admit, I think it might have even been nicer than the one I had for my wedding!). Even on our last day there, we parted with another "Happy Anniversary" desert after our breakfast.
Not having anything planned for our first day there (except for dinner), we chose to just relax by the pool and take it easy for the afternoon. After getting situated in our room, we headed down and snagged a cabana by the pool. It was so wonderful because for the longest time we were the only people there. We were again greeted with a complimentary coconut drink, a basket of fruit, and a bowl of this really incredible lavosh-like peanut and lemongrass treat called "Rempeyek". It took me several days to remember what it was called but I was totally obsessed with it and ate it at every opportunity. Then we opted to have lunch in our cabana and the food was incredible. Seriously, this pool food was akin to what you would get in a Michelin-starred restaurant. I had a strawberry tomato gazpacho and tuna tartare, while my husband had the burger. We then spent the afternoon sipping cocktails, alternating from the shade of our comfy cabana to the sun loungers next to the pool. It was a delightful afternoon.
Then we had our dinner reservation at Kubu. Because I made a reservation early, we were lucky enough to get one of the private cocoons along the river. This is an absolute must--if you plan to have dinner here, be sure to book early and request one of these. It made for such a memorable dining experience. We did the 5 course prix fixe menu with a bottle of wine and everything was stellar from start to finish. Though Bali doesn't have a Michelin guide, I would think this place would get at least two stars. It even rivaled that of many 3 star Michelin restaurants I have been to. And again, the service of course was impeccable.
The unique experiences they offer to arrange also make this place one of a kind. We opted to take advantage of the opportunity to do a picnic in the rice fields, enjoy a spa day, and do the cycling tour through the rice paddies in Tegallalang. We would have done more if we had more time, but didn't wan to overextend ourselves with a full itinerary. The things we chose to do created the perfect balance.
The second day, we started off with massages in the morning, followed by the picnic in the rice field for lunch. I actually chose to wake up and do yoga while my husband had breakfast (he's not much of the yogi type). The yoga room sits atop the spa entrance along the river, with accordion windows that open up so you can listen to the sounds of the river during your practice. It was just me and one other woman, so it was basically a private class. Our instructor was bubbly, enlightening and just seemed to love life. After a great yoga class, I met Byron at the spa for our treatments.
The treatment rooms at the spa are incredible. You have your own little hut alongside the river, so you have the option to listen to music or just listen to the sounds of the river during your treatment. I chose both. We each got 90 minute massages, and afterwards agreed that it was one of the best massages we've ever had. Even the pool area at the spa, which we relaxed in after our treatments, is so peaceful and serene. You can order food or tea while you relax--it would be the perfect place to bring a book and just camp out for the day. I had planned to go back and do that, but ran out of time.
Then it was time for our private picnic in the rice field for lunch. We arrived to find everything set up for us already, and our waiter showed up to take our drink and our food order, and then left us alone for the remainder so that we could fully enjoy the experience on our own. Even though the rice field hut is right in the middle of the resort, you really felt like it was your own private picnic, away from everything and away from all the other guests. Then we spent the afternoon in town shopping and eating at just about every place we could.
The following morning we did our private bicycle tour. After having breakfast, our buggy took us up to the top of the resort where our car was waiting. After about a 20 minute car ride (and a stop at an iconic photo spot), we hopped on our bikes and road through the fields. This is hard to describe in words but the tour was absolutely magical. We were able to see things that you just wouldn't get to see otherwise. And because it was a private tour, we could stop as often as we wanted, snapping photos here and there and visiting temples and museums that we passed by. The day we did the cycling tour was actually one of their national holidays, Kuningan, so everywhere we looked, Balinese people were dressed up in their festive garb, beautifully adorned with jewels and elaborate stitching. Incense was burning all over and music seemed to be emanating from every home, which created such a dreamy, surreal surrounding.
I could go on and on about the Mandapa and how incredible it was. It is hands-down the nicest resort we have ever been to, and our stay was easily one of the greatest experiences of our lives. We truly were sad to have to leave. I will absolutely be going back at my first opportunity.
Komaneka at Tangayyuda - Ubud
I feel a bit bad talking so much about the Mandapa because had we not stayed there, this resort would have been my favorite. Even though the price point doesn't compare at all to the higher end hotels, it can definitely compete with the best of them. Despite their $300/night rate, I would rank this hotel among my top 10 hotels for sure. You get that Rosewood or Four Seasons feel--extremely attentive staff and all the amenities you could ask for.
Check-in here is similar to most upscale hotels, where they ask you to sit in the lobby, offering you tea and snacks while they process your credit card and travel documents somewhere else. No standing around and waiting with your bags at a counter. Then one of the hotel staff leads you down to your room (after the bags have already been taken) and goes through each of the amenities.
The rooms here are just to die for. They are incredibly spacious, yet still warm and inviting. We booked their Premier Villa with a private pool and the "valley view." This was a great choice. The giant room consists of an entire wall of windows on both sides of you--one side facing the valley (with no real ability for people to look in since there's nothing out there but jungle) and a lush courtyard on the other side, behind the bed and also behind the shower, which opens up to an outdoor shower as well. The first part of the room contains a large king sized bed with mosquito netting (though we didn't really need it) and a large sitting area with a couch, coffee table, and breakfast nook where they have complimentary coffee, tea, and fruit, as well as a mini-bar. There are two very large open areas in the bathroom so that there is a "his and hers" closet, vanity and sink area, and then in the last room is a large soaking tub and separate shower and enclosed toilet. The best thing about the villa was the large deck with private infinity edge plunge pool.
The staff at the Komaneka were incredibly attentive and so very sweet and polite. They do a great job with the timing of cleaning and turning down the room; I'm pretty sure that once we arrived for breakfast in the mornings they immediately sent someone down to clean the room because it was neat and tidy every time we came back after breakfast. Then they did a lovely turndown service in the evenings, where they closed all the curtains (there are a lot of windows) and laid out slippers and a nightgown for each person (and the sleepwear they provided was actually really comfortable!).
Another great part about this resort is that the breakfast is included. They offer almost what amounts to a 3 course breakfast. You are offered a menu that changes daily, where you pick one thing from each of the three categories. The first option typically consisted of either a fruit plate or fruit and yogurt. The second was an option for a basket of bread and pastries or a selection of cereal. Then your "main" course category had four options, consisting of things like avocado toast, traditional Balinese porridge, eggs and sausage, and Eggs Benedict. They also had freshly squeezed juices that changed daily and offered coffee or tea.
One thing that most people don't know about the Komaneka chain of resorts is that they're actually owned by a local Balinese family. Pretty neat, right? What's best is that you really get that family feel from the resorts. Each of them are rather quaint, with only 20-30 rooms at each resort, so you not only feel like you have the resort to yourself but the staff is so attentive, again making you feel as though you are their most important guest. The Komaneka Resorts promote an upscale luxury lifestyle with their spacious rooms and villas Awarded Condé Nast Travel’s hot list in 2009 and TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice Best 25 Hotels in Indonesia and Asia 201, Komaneka at Tanggayuda allows you to experience Ubud and its rich traditional village heritage while still enjoying the many comforts of home.
Ritz Carlton Bali - Nusa Dua
The Ritz Carlton in Nusa Dua is probably your best best if you want to experience a little bit of the hustle and bustle of Kuta and Seminyak (because it is only a short taxi away from both) yet still enjoy a quiet, relaxing, and very luxurious resort on the beach. With restaurants that could probably have Michelin Stars, the Ritz at Nusa Dua is both a foodie's heaven and a spa lover's delight.
Insider tip: Be sure to book a suite with pool access. We had the Sawangan Suite with Pool Access, which was a dream. Though it's not a private pool like many of Bali's resorts offer, the Sawangan suites only share a pool with eight rooms, and for the most part they remain pretty private (other than the occasional person who might decide to swim by). We only saw a few other people in our pool while we were there, so it felt like it was a private pool most of the time.
Where to eat: Though each of the restaurants at the resort were pretty fantastic, the sushi place called Raku at the top of the cliff was our favorite. The Beach Grill is also a great spot to enjoy a more upscale dining experience (though I think we spent just as much money at the Japanese place after ordering several plates of sashimi and about a dozen cocktails...).
Where to Eat
Nomad - Ubud - $
Nomad is not only a local's favorite but is one of many restaurants in Ubud that boasts all organic, locally sourced food. They serve up traditional Balinese dishes like nasi goreng, Balinese lawar, spring rolls and satays. There is outdoor seating that allows for great people-watching and they start off by giving you cold towels to enjoy before your meal (which is always a plus when suffering through the humidity and the heat). And the food is incredible. But the best part? It's super cheap. My husband and I hard lunch, where we each had a couple of bears and a cocktail to share, and the total was only $21 USD. Had we chosen not to have alcohol with our lunch, it would have cost us only about $12.
Night Rooster - Ubud - $$
Are you a cocktail connoisseur? Or do you just appreciate a damn good libation? This is your place. Night Rooster, a sister restaurant of the infamous
Locavore, does not disappoint. They feature unique, fun cocktails that are surely unlike anything you've had before. Using ingredients like snake fruit palm sugar, burned cassia bark, homemade bitters, blowtorch dehydrated fruit, cashew orgeat, dried wormwood, and a handful of other ingredients I've never heard of, Night Rooster not only serves up great cocktails but their food is legit too. We had their deviled eggs (which were like $4), the pork belly tacos, and the chicken--which were all to die for. So good in fact that we came back again a second time (note that while the food is insanely cheap, the cocktails are not, which is why I gave it two dollar signs instead of one).
So what should I drink, you ask? If you're into smoky drinks, their drink "Ashes" includes blowtorched dried fruit (done table side), Ketel One Vodka, Bulleit Rye Whiskey, sweet and sour, fortified wine, palm sugar syrup, burned cassia bark, and molasses cracker, served on a "rock" in pine forest mist. It's the ultimate man's man drink that will make you feel as though you should be wearing a lumberjack outfit and wielding an axe. Care for something on the fruitier side? Try the "Hope She Likes It", which has housemaid pineapple, rosemary honey, cointreau, punt e mes, 1800 Tequila, egg white, aromatic bitter, dried pineapple and finished with "aroma therapy." You won't regret it.
Batan Waru - Ubud - $$
This place is great for traditional Indonesian food. Reasonably priced too, which is always a plus. They serve farm to table cuisine and cook things "the old fashioned way", using old Balinese techniques and hand-ground spices. We stopped here for lunch and enjoyed some traditional dishes like the fried duck, spring rolls and seafood potstickers. And the service was great too, everyone was super friendly. We would definitely go back.
La Plancha - Seminyak - $
giveaway. We enjoyed a few beers and enjoyed a few of their tapas platesWe stopped by this place after a friend recommended that we go. After stopping by Channel Islands (which is right in the heart of Seminyak) to pick up a surfboard, we headed toward the beach and stopped at this place--one of the many restaurants that line up along the beach. They serve up Spanish style tapas. You can't miss it--the colorful painted building is a dead giveaway. We enjoyed a couple of beers and their chicken and calamari tapas dishes.
The Beach Grill - Ritz Carlton, Nusa Dua - $$$
This is the Ritz Carlton's main fine dining restaurant. Situated just steps from the beach, it makes for the perfect spot to have a romantic dinner or celebration. They have your typical western dishes like steak tartare, soups, salads, steaks and seafood. White linen service with great stemware and a decent wine list too.
Kubu - Mandapa Reserve, Ubud - $$$$
Kubu is clearly one of Bali's best restaurants, and there's a reason for it--they offer an exquisite fine dining experience in a setting that's tough to beat. Their "cocoons" that offer semi-privite dining along the river are quite possibly the most romantic place you can have dinner. Facing out toward the river and surrounded by a woven bamboo enclosure, you get to listen to the sounds of the river while dining. They offer a la carte and prix fixe options (they have a 5 course and a 7 course meal). We opted to do the 5 course and a bottle of wine because the additional two courses didn't sound good at the time and we found the five course to be just right. I would absolutely eat here again--can't wait to go back!
Maha (the bunny cafe) - Ubud - $
This is a great place to stop for a coffee, a snack or a drink after strolling through the Monkey Forest. Since it's right off of Jalan Monkey Forest (Monkey Forest Street), it's a logical place to stop either to or from the Monkey Forest Sanctuary. This place is famous for their outdoor courtyard where bunnies roam around the garden. Who doesn't love cute little bunnies?
Locavore - Ubud - $$$$
Though we didn't get the opportunity to eat at Locavore while we were in Bali, this had to go on the list because I have heard so many wonderful things. Our bartender at the Ritz Carlton, who is from Ubud, said that Locavore is the most sought-after dining experience in Bali right now, and he was right--Locavore was booked solid for the entire week we were there. The only available reservations were for lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday, and since they only offer their 5 and 7 course degustation menus, we opted not to go because we weren't feeling a 3 hour lunch at the time. They say ahead of time that you should plan to be there for at least 2.5 to 3 hours (which I am typically totally fine with for dinner but think it's a bit much for lunch). One of the unique things about Locavore is that they offer a cocktail pairing, and if their cocktails at sister restaurant Night Rooster are any indicator of how good the pairings are, they are sure to be fantastic. Be aware that this place is probably the most expensive in Bali--their 5 course menu with cocktail pairings is $1.2m IDR (or about $92 USD) and their 7 course menu with pairings is $1.45m IDR (or about $106), which is certainly not expensive for fine dining degustation menus elsewhere but definitely on the high end for Bali.
Mosaic - Ubud - $$$$
Mosaic is known for being one of Ubud's best restaurants, and some say it may even be the best restaurant in Bali. If the food doesn't turn you on then the setting sure will--diners enjoy their meal in an intimate garden setting just outside of the extremely tastefully decorated main building. Mosaic is known for doing what they call "gastronomic discovery", taking traditional ingredients and using them in a way that is both innovative and exciting. Mozaic's chef, French-American Chef Chris Salans, worked in several Michelin-Star restaurants and even worked as the Chef de Cuisine at the French Laundry under famed chef Thomas Keller. The food and the dining experience are both exquisite. This place will set you back though--it's one of the most expensive restaurants in Bali.
Raku - Ritz Carlton, Nusa Dua - $$$
Raku is the Ritz Carlton's Japanese restaurant, located at the top of the resort (on the cliff), so you can sit outside by their fire pits and enjoy fantastic views. Think Nobu Malibu but just with a slightly different view. I'm not saying this place is quite as good as Nobu... but pretty darn close. They serve quality dishes that taste great and the ambiance is difficult to beat. Get there just before sunset to enjoy magic hour.
Ibu Oka 3 (Warung Babi Gulihng) - Ubud - $
This is the place to go if you are looking to eat some of the famous Babi Guling (suckling pig). This is a very casual, very cheap, eat with your hands kind of place. They serve the food in baskets and wax paper and have rolls of paper towels for napkins on each of the tables. If you're into spicy, be sure to try their spicy Babi Guling. A word of advice though: get there early! People typically get there before noon so they are sure to not only get a seat (since it's always busy) but also so you can get there before they run out of the good stuff. I would suggest going around 11:30. When we tried to go the first time, we arrived around 2 pm and they were completely out of the pig skin, which is our favorite. And don't even think about going for dinner--most places that serve Babi Guling are only open for lunch.
What to See
The area of Seminyak is a good spot to appease everyone you are traveling with, as it has a little bit of something for everyone. Seminyak has some of the coolest clothing boutiques and housewares stores that I have seen. I stocked up on bohemian inspired jewelry, knitted beach coverups and purchased a really cool woven beach bag with pom poms. There are a ton of bars and great restaurants, and apparently the nightlife is great too. We stopped at a place called La Plancha (see above) along the beach and enjoyed some great Spanish tapas.
Ubud is an absolute must-see in Bali. I feel like a bit of a broken record but I have to say it: Ubud has a little bit of something for everything. Museums? Check. Art galleries? You betcha. Enjoy doing something active? You can bicycle through the rice fields or go rafting down the Agung River. Want to keep the kids happy? You not only have the Sacred Monkey Forest that allows the kiddos to interact with real live monkeys (it's just as fun for the adults, by the way) but you can also take them to the Elephant Sanctuary, where you can get up close and personal with elephants and even stay at the lodge if your heart desires. Looking for great food? Well, Ubud has some of the best restaurants in Bali. Looking to have a great time and enjoy some adult beverages? Ubud also has a lively bar scene. Or maybe you just want to do some shopping? Ubud not only has your usual brand name stores like Polo and Billabong, but also boasts amazing boutiques with handmade jewelry, sarongs, and one-of-a-kind pieces like python clutches, knitted beach cover-ups, woven beach bags, and buddhist beads and bracelets. Oh, and you can get a decent 1 hour massage for only $8. Be sure to check out the fish spa for a fish pedicure while you're there. See above for restaurant and hotel recommendations.
Sacred Monkey Forest
I have to be honest--I really didn't think I would love the monkey forest as much as I did. We just sort of did it to check it off the box and say we went. But
being there turned us into little kids. Seeing the monkeys all around you was so cool, and being able to interact with them in such a beautiful place created a memorable experience.
I had a bit of an issue with the monkeys though--so I suppose I should give some advice. The problem is that I had already been given this advice from a friend, and stupidly chose to ignore it. The one and only thing that we were told about the Monkey Forsest was to not feed them bananas. What do you think I did? Well, I thought it would be a good idea to feed them bananas. Stupid. I saw women selling bananas, so I immediately purchased a bundle and set off to feed the monkeys. So with my phone in one hand so I could take video and my bananas in the other, I turned away from the banana car to see a GIANT monkey charging toward me and attempting to climb up my skirt. What did I do? I did what everyone tells you not to do and freaked out. As my husband was screaming, "Drop the bananas! Drop the bananas!" I think I had a bit of a stroke as a result of the adrenaline and threw what was in my hand--only to find that I had thrown my iPhone to the ground with one hand and was still wielding the bananas in the other. Genius. My phone landed on the concrete and shattered the screen. So now with a cracked phone and a monkey crawling up my skirt, I finally did what my brain was supposed to tell my hands to do, and threw the entire bundle of bananas at the giant monkey and walked off in defeat.
So what did I learn from the Monkey Forest? Here are some tips:
Don't buy the bananas unless you are (a) not scared easily by the thought of primates showing their teeth attacking you or (b) are not holding any valuables in your hand. I learned the hard way kids, so please heed my advice.
If you really want to interact with the monkeys (perhaps to take advantage of a great photo opportunity) there are plenty of people who can help you with that. For a very small fee (I think less than $5), one of the people at the park will put a monkey on you by feeding them peanuts and then can even take your picture. This is clearly the better way to do it because they interact with them on a daily basis
Don't freak out. Monkeys smell fear. Seriously. If you are freaking out, they will freak out too, so try to remain calm.
Don't wear a flowy skirt or sarong. I thought I was doing a good thing by wearing an ankle-length skirt (which is temple-appropriate) but quickly learned from the locals that the monkeys are not only attracted to the flowy-ness of the fabric, but also the bright pattern of my skirt, which is why the monkey I dealt with over the banana ordeal tried to climb my skirt. They apparently like the movement and the bright prints so the next logical thing for them to do is to grab on. No thanks.
Don't make eye contact with them. This often engages the monkeys in a way that you don't want. Just avoid eye contact.
Don't try to touch them unless you have someone there who says it's okay. Some of the monkeys are nicer than others.
Obviously don't ever touch one of the babies. You don't want an angry mama coming after you. They are very protective.
The surf spot at Uluwatu is one of the most iconic in the world. Surfers talk about this place like it's the journey to Mecca, often referring to the paddle out between the rocks as "the pilgrimage." Since I don't surf, I found a nice place on the cliff to have lunch and drink some beers while my husband checked something off his bucket list and surfed for several hours. Even if you don't surf, it's a cool spot to stop. Uluwatu has a bunch of cute cafes, along with your typical American surf brand stores like Billabong and Quiksilver, all situated on the cliff overlooking one of the best waves in the world. You can even get a shoulder massage while you enjoy a beer.
If you take the time to make your way over to Uluwatu, you might as well stop at the temple. It's a beautiful temple on the ocean, and if you're a photographer it's a great photo opportunity. And while it's not as good as the Monkey Forest, you can see plenty of monkeys here too. Be careful though--the monkeys here are notorious for being much more aggressive in Uluwatu. Tuck any sunglasses or ballcaps in your bag (and keep it zipped up) because they are known for stealing just about anything they can take off of you. As we were leaving the parking lot, we saw monkeys tearing the windshield wipers off of the busses.
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