Insider Guide: What to do in Bali

Insider Guide: What to do in Bali

Romantic island seeks lovers of swaying palms, perfect beaches and sunset cocktails for companionship and more. See below for contact info
They may not be the staple attraction in Bali, but paddy fields are still one of the most calming experiences you can have under the sun.

Many would argue that Bali is a paradise lost. 

It isn’t. It’s just evolved.

If you want to know what to do in Bali, remember first that the island has transformed itself from a laidback surfer hangout into one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations.

It now offers as many experiences as the varying hues of green found in a plot of terraced rice paddy. 

Whether you’re a hardcore partygoer determined to eat, drink and not sleep your way through Seminyak; a yoga devotee seeking peace and tranquility in Ubud’s tropical rainforest setting; a die-hard surfer whose only agenda is to paddle out and catch the monster swells at Padang Padang; or a curious traveler charmed by Bali’s sacred temples in Manggis -- you can do it all (or do nothing at all) in Bali. 

The best of Bali has everything, the good, the downright ugly (braided, Bintang tank-top-wearing hordes in insufferable Kuta) and the sublimely beautiful. 

Here's what to do in Bali.

Print and go -- Our traveler-friendly one-page guide here: Best of Bali

 

Hotels

Despite the double-glazed windows, you'll still hear the roar of the ocean. W Retreat & Spa Bali -- Seminyak 

The new rock star on the island, there’s no denying the high-octane glamour that comes with this beachfront property. 

It’s large by Bali standards, but exudes its own sense of cool and calm. 

A room in the main building gets you close to the action. Back from the beach are the hotel’s brilliant, and affordable, private villas and pools.

Very useful is the best of Bali AWAY spa, which remains open 24/7. That’s great news for late-night revelers in need of a foot massage after stumbling in from a night at Woo Bar -- Bali’s newest hot spot. 

Equally useful is the hidden sliding door that conceals and reveals bathroom and bedroom areas, and the three-tier main swimming pool for ample lounging and photo opportunities.  

The hotel is far enough from the main array of hotels to keep the beach quiet, while further north is the even quieter Canggu beach. 

The hotel can arrange a motorbike rental for US$5 a day.

W Retreat & Spa Bali -- Seminyak, Jalan Petitenget, Seminyak; +62 361 4738106; rooms from $325

 

The Colony Hotel: For adults only.The Colony Hotel

There’s one big plus point about staying at The Colony Hotel: no children under the age of 16 allowed. 

Another bonus is the on-site Jari Menari massage facility. 

Not to be overlooked are the 20 rooms done up in a pretty but minimalist decor. The junior suite comes with a spacious balcony that overlooks the 16-meter pool. 

The Colony Hotel, Jalan Laksmana 22, Seminyak; +62 361 736160; rooms from $165 in low season

 

Amankila's signature three-tiered pool. You'll never look at swimming the same. Amankila

Located on a headland in Candidasa, high heels are not recommended while staying at the Amankila, as there are plenty of stairs to navigate. 

Luckily, golf carts are readily available to transport you down to the beach club where a generous strip of black sand beach remains tout-free. 

If you're tired of the sand and wanting to know what to do in Bali come sunset, try watching the changing color of the sky from the hotel's signature triple-stepped swimming pool. 

Early bookers, try to get upgraded to villa 37 -- reportedly the resort’s most requested villa -- which enjoys the best view of the ocean. 

Amankila, Manggis, Bali; +62 361 341333; rooms and suites from $850

 

The penthouse suite at Anantara Resort Seminyak puts you at eye-level with the coconut trees. Anantara Resort Seminyak

Bali has a quirky local rule stating that buildings should not be higher than a palm tree. This five-story property just makes the cut. 

Sitting front and center on Seminyak beach, all 59 suites (and one penthouse) come with ocean views. 

Penthouse suites come with attached outdoor lounge space and a terrazzo bath, so you can fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves. 

Anantara Resort Seminyak, Jalan Abimanyu (dhyana Pura), Seminyak; +62 361 737773; suites from $640 

 

The rooms may change, but the pool doesn't.Michi Retreat 

Ubud is where artists flock, so if you’re staying here, it makes sense to put up at a property with artistic inclinations. 

Michi is a work in progress, and its creator, the septuagenarian Professor Kung, calls himself a nomad. Hence, the resort near Jukut Paku is an eclectic collection of rooms that are always changing. 

Adding another dimension to the experience are mosaic grottos that overlook a particularly spectacular stretch of the River Wos.

Michi Retreat, Jukut Paku Village, Ubud; +62 361 8987021; rooms from $60

 

Harmony Hotel

Cheap and cheerful, and located just minutes walk from Seminyak beach, this is one of the best values in Seminyak. 

The rooms are decent sized and come with Wi-Fi and a TV.  

All rooms are located around a common mosaic pool. Breakfast included.

Harmony Hotel, Jalan Drupadi 234, Seminyak; +62 361 737711; rooms from IDR 450,000 ($50)

 

The orange juice is getting warm.Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan

Away from the coast, amid dense bamboo jungle and perched looking over the sacred Ayung River is this wonderful, peaceful retreat.  

Jungle wildlife and the occasional screams of rafters thrusting along the river are the only sounds to intrude upon the privacy of each villa at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan.

All 42 thatched maxi-huts/villas come with an outdoor shower that overlooks the river valley and a plunge pool that releases itself endlessly into the jungle’s steamy abyss. There are also 18 suites.

You are far from the maddening crowds and if a non-beach stay is what you are looking for, your budget is well spent here.

Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan, Sayan, Ubud, 80571 Gianyar, Bali, Indonesia; +62 (361) 977577; rooms from $680

 

A part of the three bedroom AYANA villa. Wonder where everyone is?AYANA Resort and Spa Bali

Since it relaunched in 2009 as AYANA Resort and Spa Bali, this hotel has bagged a whole slew of significant awards for its bar (see below), its accommodations and the spa. And it is clear why.

Despite the size of the place (there are over 350 rooms, suites and villas -- some on the cliff with staggering sunset views) there is still a sense of privacy and space. The rooms and hotel design are very well done -- well appointed without the over the top 'luxury flourishes.'

The hotel sits high above the Indian Ocean near Jimbaran Bay on Bali’s south-western peninsula so it is a bit of a schlep from the busier Seminyak, Kuta, Legian stretch. Not a bad thing, but it is harder to pop away should, for some reason, you want to escape. 

The above are some of the reasons the hotel is also proving a popular wedding (and honeymoon) destination.

AYANA Resort and Spa Bali, Jl. Karang Mas Sejahtera, Jimbaran, Bali 80364, Indonesia; +62-361 702222; rooms from around $250

 

Restaurants

Foie gras at Metis: So good, you might fly over just for dinner. Metis

If you're wondering what to do in Bali, start with great food.

The charismatic chefs Said and Dou Dou, have taken bits of magic from Warisan -- their former haunt -- and elevated it at Metis. 

The foie gras (all six types) is Bali’s best, and then some.  

The kitchen is equally adept at putting out a freshly grilled sole as it is an aromatic plate of fork-tender osso bucco served on a bed of creamy risotto. 

The Grand Marnier soufflé and passion fruit martini are highly recommended. 

After dinner, you can hang out at the lounge overlooking paddy fields. On Thursday night, there’s live music.

Metis, 6 Jalan Petitenget, Kerobokan; +62 361 4737888

 

Small pieces of Bali heaven. Sardine 

More than 120,000 bamboo shingles and 10 types of bamboo were used in the construction of this restaurant. But you’re not really here to do an architectural survey. 

Sardine focuses on fresh produce and organic greens. Brilliant side dishes include smoky miso eggplant and wasabi mash.

The scallops with ravioli and creamy panna cotta are outstanding. 

Sardine, 21 Jalan Petitenget, Kerobokan; +62 361 738202

 

Can't be bothered trekking over to Sari Organic? Get an ojek ride in. Sari Organik

You’ll break a sweat getting to this restaurant -- it’s surrounded by its own farm -- where you can pick your own vegetables for the chef to cook. 

Take a pre- and post-meal walk through fertile paddy fields -- this is a great thing to do in Bali -- and revel in a meal of nasi campur crowned with chunks of tempe fried to crisp perfection. 

Sari Organik, 800 meters up into the rice fields of Subak Sok-Wayah; +62 361 7801839


Serious cozy. Sarong 

We’re not sure which we like better, the spiced Asian fusion with a strong Indonesian slant (the caramelized duck is a hot favorite) or the sexy fleur-de-lis and chandelier setting. 

Then there are some of Bali's best cocktails. Sarong’s extensive cocktail menu is one of the most original we’ve seen. 

The Bill & Ben is a gin and pink grapefruit concoction topped with chamomile foam. The Sarong Cappuccino is made with vodka or brandy, maple syrup, Kahlúa and espresso.  

Sarong, 19X Jalan Petitenget, Kerobokan; +62 361 737 809


The finest dining space in Bali.Mozaic

If there’s one dining destination in Bali, it’s Mozaic. 

Part of the Les Grande Tables du Monde, since opening in 2001 the restaurant has had a flurry of global food critics eating out of its hand. 

Market cuisine is led by French Laundry-trained chef Chris Salans, who blends French and American culinary techniques with Balinese ingredients.

Salans’ use of black olive Balinese Kluwek sauce is brilliant, and addictive. 

Expect to pay up to US$175 per person. 

Mozaic, Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Ubud; +62 361 975768

 

Nightlife

Catch the sunset on Seminyak beach in comfort at S.O.S. S.O.S Supper Club

If you prefer your sunsets unobstructed, and like to enjoy them without grains of sand stuck in hard-to-reach crevices, S.O.S. is your spot.

The rooftop bar offers one of the best views of the Seminyak sunset slowly melting behind the horizon. 

Service is swift and the drinks icy cold. This is where to be and what to do in Bali come happy hour.

S.O.S. Supper Club, Anantara Seminyak Resort & Spa, Jalan Abimanyu (Dhyana Pura); +62 361 737773


La Plancha

While most other beach bars roll out designer cocktails and fancy finger food, La Plancha keeps it simple with laid-back reggae beats, a selection of beer, oversized beanbags and jugs of potent sangria. 

It also helps that the bar has an uninterrupted view of the pink-to-red-to-orange sky.

La Plancha, Double Six Beach, Bali; +62 361 8900000

 

There's always something going on at Bali Joe. Bali Joe 

There’s rarely any room for women in Bali Joe, except for those that get up on the bar and lip-synch to Beyoncé anthems. 

The bar is popular for its energetic vibe and nightly drag shows that feature plenty of audience participation. Performers can be persuaded to extend a few private DIY diva tips.  


Bali Joe, 8 Jalan Dhyana Pura, Abimanyu Arcade (next to Antique restaurant); +62 361 8475 7715


Mbargo 

It’s hard to say where you’ll sweat more, lying on a towel at midday on Kuta Beach or dancing with the masses round midnight at Mbargo. 

The play list is predominantly R&B and hip-hop with the odd Guetta or Lady Gaga tune thrown in.    

The crowd starts streaming in after midnight. Before midnight, you can get triple-shot cocktails at the nearby Skygarden bar. 

Mbargo, Legian street, Kuta; +62 361 756280


Rock Bar: Now this is a drink with a view. Rock Bar

Rock Bar's mixologists pour creative cocktails set to the beats spun from a DJ booth carved into the stone -- although some nights are devoted to live music.

Designed by Yasuhiro Koichi of Japan's Design Studio SPIN, this is one of the best, and most crowded, places to watch the sunset in Bali. 

A word of warning: wear suitable clothes. No board shorts or sleeveless tops for guys. Thursday to Saturday nights are extremely busy, so be prepared for a long wait. 

A scooter from the main Kuta/Seminyak stretch will take 30 minutes-plus to reach the bar.
Rock Bar, Ayana Resort and Spa, Jimbaran; +62 361 702222


Ku De Ta's flaming Coffee Blazer. Ku De Ta 

No trip to Bali is complete without catching a sunset at this local institution. Arrive early or you’ll have to sprawl out on the lawn. 

Drinks are pricy, but the mojito, raspberry and lemongrass cocktail and Kuve Margarita made with lemon sorbet is worth the coin. 

Ku De Ta, 9 Jalan Laksmana, Seminyak; +62 361 736969


You can rest your head at Potato Head.Potato Head Beach Club 

Bali’s newest, hippest beach bar is housed in an impressive geometric facade that you won’t miss. 

It’s the best place to be seen drinking and partying. Celebrity DJs often play weekend gigs. 

Other nights see island residents streaming in at sunset for cocktails and tapas. 

The kookaburra is a popular order, a curious concoction made of lemongrass gin, passion fruit and mint, and topped by the club’s signature vanilla foam. 

Potato Head Beach Club, Jalan Petitenget, Seminyak; +62 361 4737979

 

Shopping / Attractions

Back home, a Jenggala wobble cup will remind you of your time in Bali. Jenggala 

There's plenty of shopping to do in Bali, and few visitors are able to resist the urge to take home a full 24-piece set of Jenggala crockery in pale green jade or plain white. 

What started in 1976 as a small, experimental cottage industry has become a global ceramic force. 

The high quality, handcrafted ceramic decorated with painstaking detail is a pretty addition -- and nicer reminder of Bali -- to any home. 


Jenggala, Jalan Uluwatu II, Jimbaran; +62 361 703311


Items from local designer for SKS make great gifts.Simple Konsep Store 

This store is anything but simple. 

At this concept space that fuses Bali’s traditional artisan skills with modern European designs, you’ll find everything from origami folding leather bags, Melissa shoes, commissioned ceramics objects by Gaja Gallery, jewelry by local and European designers and unique batik print apparel. 

Simple Konsep Store, 40 Jalan Lesmana-Oberoi, Seminyak; +62 361 730393


Mount Agung gets you closer to the gods.Mount Agung

What to do in Bali after you've seen all the beaches, sampled all the menus and hit all the bars?

Scaling the majestic Mount Agung -- at 3,142 metets the highest point on the island -- makes for a worthy challenge. 

A strato-volcano that last erupted in 1963, locals believe it’s a replica of Mount Meru, the central axis of the universe. 

There are two routes to the top. Both take up to four hours. And while you can scale it without a guide -- they can be found lingering at the start of the trek -- employing one is highly recommended. 


Tanah Lot: Best at sunset, but still not bad at noon.Tanah Lot 

Supposedly the work of the 15th-century priest, Tanah Lot is one of Bali’s most holy, and touristy, sites. 

Located in Tabanan, the sacred Hindu temple sits on a large rock out in the ocean and is said to be guarded by sea snakes. 

Head toward the footpath leading to the raised cliff area where the view of the sun setting behind the temple is outstanding.


Only in Bali

Bali's lush paddy fields are worth a day or two of exploration. Paddy fields

OK, they’re not only in Bali, but terraced rice fields in varying shades of brown, gold and green make for one of Bali’s most calming and beautiful sights.

Keep Walking Tours runs daily excursions, but you can also head off exploring on your own. 

Start at Ubud Palace, head west on Jalan Raya Ubud and follow signs that bring you past the River Wos, Campuan Ridge and the village of Penestanan.   

Ubud Palace, junction of Jalan Suweta and Jalan Raya Campuan 

 

Sika Gallery: Home to Bali's avant-garde.

Balinese avant garde 

Balinese art is more than topless women and rice-paddy landscapes. 

The artist-run Sika Gallery in Campuan, Ubud, condemns commercial art and seeks to push Bali’s visual arts envelope. 

Ask after artist-curator I Wayan Sika and see if you can coax out the story of his artistic journey, during which a coma-like state inspired him to produce some of his best works.


Balinese avant garde, Jalan Raya Campuhan, Ubud, Gianyar; +62 36 1975084

 

Medicine man 

Poor Ketut Liyer. The elderly medicine man has been kept busy all hours of the day since “Eat, Pray, Love” catapulted him to global fame. 

Consultations on your life and love prospects don’t come easy or cheap. Expect all tickets -- yes, there’s a docket system -- to be snapped up by 9 a.m. Prices vary, but often start from US$25.

10 minutes' walk south of Pengoseken, follow the signs; +62 361 974092


Oh mama, that is a whole lot of pig. Babi guling at Ibu Oka 

When in Bali, a meal of babi guling (roast suckling pig) is a must. 

It’s essentially a whole roasted pig stuffed with spices, carved up and served with rice and vegetables. 

While there are many places to get it around Bali, Ubud’s Ibu Oka is a famed institution serving up platefuls of the stuff daily till mid-afternoon, when the food runs out. 

This is a meal that works your jaw. You’ll need to chew hard till all the flavors are released from the succulent meat. 

Around noon, staff usually carve up another pig. It’s a great photo op. 

Babi guling at Ibu Oka, Jalan Suweta, Tegal Sari No. 2, Ubud; +62 361 976 435; from $3 a plate


Jari Menari: Masseurs with magic, dancing fingers. Jari Menari massage  

There are massages and then there’s a Jari Menari massage. 

The name means “dancing fingers” and your body parts will be in perfect harmony at the end of the treatment. 

The all-male staff employs a mixture of techniques (Swedish, deep tissue, Balinese) and emphasizes the rhythm and movements of your body. 

Book well in advance to ensure a spot. There’s another branch at Nusa Dua, and a one-masseur facility at The Colony Hotel. 

Introductory massages classes are held on Tuesdays. 

Jari Menari massage, Jalan Raya Basangkasa 47, Seminyak; +62 361 736740

In between sunning herself in the Caribbean, Bali and other exotic locales, Charlene Fang keeps her feet (and fingers) grounded as the managing editor of inSing.com. She blames her wanderlust on the years spent working as the editor of CNNGo Singapore and Time Out Singapore. Her ramblings have also been published by the likes of Travel+Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, Wallpaper*, ELLE and The Australian.

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