Bali for beginners: How to get there, where to stay and what to avoid

Some might say that Bali island is over-populated with Westerners and Australian’s in search of a soulful hit of euphoria. But the island (and surrounding islands) have matured and evolved and their beauty and cultural differences should continue to be celebrated. It isn’t just white sandy beaches, volcanic landscapes and tropical marine life here, oh no. These are just the tip of the ice-berg of what Bali has to offer. If you’re planning a dream trip to this Indonesian hide-away in 2019, here’s how to get there, where to stay and what to avoid.

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We travelled one-way with Emirates from Dublin to Bali, with a 20 minute layover in Dubai at a cost of €1,648.14 for two people. It’s possible to fly with a cheaper airline, though this comes with the risk of lengthy lay-overs. The flight was seamless, apart from a delayed take-off at Dublin which ran into our layover time, but I would recommend flying with Emirates for the comfort and peace of mind alone.

*We limited ourselves to €50 per person per day, including the cost of accommodation, so the article reflects this budget.

Where to stay in Bali

For the first leg of our trip, we stayed in Legian. The area is sandwiched in-between Kuta (South) and Seminyak (North) and has a nice mix of local charm and up-market cafés, restaurants and beach clubs like those found in Seminyak. It’s far enough from Kuta that you don’t feel overwhelmed by tourists, but close enough to walk to Potato Head Beach Club or La Plancha in Seminyak. It’s a good starting-off point and five days was plenty of time to get to grips with the time zone and new surroundings. From Legian, it’s easy to travel to Canggu, Ubud, Sanur or Padang Bai ports.

Related: What Gili Island is the best for you?

Sunset at La Plancha. Photo: Jake McCabe

Sunset at La Plancha. Photo: Jake McCabe

We stayed at the Mercure Bali Legian for five nights (December 22 to 27) at a cost of €200 for two people (breakfast included). The hotel is one of two big hotels in the area and is secure, extremely clean and great value for money. Rooms are spacious and modern.

Photo: accorhotels.com

Photo: accorhotels.com

The hotel boasts two big pools; one on ground level and an infinity pool on the fourth floor with sun beds, towel service and a poolside bar. There are two ATMs on the premises that feel more secure than using some on the street.

The standard double room at the Mercure Legian Bali. Photo: accorhotels.com

The standard double room at the Mercure Legian Bali. Photo: accorhotels.com

We divided our time between mainland Bali and the surrounding islands. On our return to Bali, we spent a further nine nights North of Legian in the Canggu/Kerobokan area. With its many art galleries, furniture workshops and clothing factories, Canggu is a hub for creatives and artists wishing to take in local culture away from holiday makers. There’s a real buzz to the area too with plenty of cool, alternative places to visit and quaint cafés to try (like the infamous Kynd Community with its purpose-built Instagram wall.)

“Testing” the Instagram wall at Kynd Community, Canggu. Photo: Jake McCabe.

“Testing” the Instagram wall at Kynd Community, Canggu. Photo: Jake McCabe.

If it’s partying you want, you’ll find it anywhere come sundown, but travellers favourite spots include Old Man’s (try a frozen mojito at sunset), Finns Beach Club, Motel Mexicola and Mrs Sippy’s.

For surfing, whether a novice or master, Batu Bolong beach is the perfect place to remedy any wave cravings, with plenty of bar and restaurant options along the shoreline post-wipeout. It’s worth noting that no matter what beach you’re on in Bali, the ocean current is incredibly strong and can pull you out to sea easily.

We rented an incredible villa (Villa Mango) on Airbnb for €12.50 per person per night (€253.17 for nine nights). This price is higher than other accommodation we’ve stayed in, but good wifi, AC and a clean pool is worth it. We also had our own kitchen to cook, so we saved some money by eating in. We also had washing facilities for clothes. The owner, a French lady called Beatrice, was also there during our stay and made fresh mango jam (from her mango tree) every morning and was helpful in every way possible.

The property is in a residential area and can be tricky to find the first time.

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Top: the pool and lounge area. Middle: the shared living and kitchen area. Bottom: The en-suite bedroom. Photo: Airbnb.com.

Top: the pool and lounge area. Middle: the shared living and kitchen area. Bottom: The en-suite bedroom. Photo: Airbnb.com.

Getting around

There is no public transport in Bali so you have to rely on taxis (not recommended), a personal driver, or a scooter. On arrival to Bali airport, we were bombarded by taxi drivers and, being tired and confused from travelling, said yes to an (unknowingly) unregistered taxi.

We paid 400,000IDR (€25) to travel 20 minutes down the coast; a total rip-off by travellers standards. Had we known to say no or haggle more, we would have only paid 20,000 - 50,000IDR. We later learned that 400,000IDR is half a months salary for many people here. Right now, the Indonesian Rupiah to Euro is 16 to 1 (roughly). If you do opt for a taxi, only use a taxi that uses the meter. Do not use an unmetered taxi because, like us, you will be cheated.

If you’re not ready (or confident enough) to rent a scooter then download Go Jek. It’s like Uber/Grab for scooters and is extremely cheap and widely used in Indonesia. You choose your starting and end points and it gives you a price (cash only. Normally about 4,000 - 11,000IDR which is less than €1). It then locates a driver and you wait and hop on! Only pay the price quoted on the app: some locals try to rip Westerners off and ask for triple the price.

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The app does have limitations: for example, drivers won’t go beyond 15km and if you’re travelling with friends you each have to download the app and request a scooter at the same time. But for site-seeing and going to the beach and clubs, it’s perfect.

Maps.me is a useful app that downloads maps but doesn’t require wifi or data to work. Simply download your region while in wifi and then you’re good to go. This came in particular use when on the Gili Islands where there was little or no wifi (or electricity in some cases). It’s an absolute must for travelling. 

A cheeky monkey at The Monkey Forest. Photo: Jake McCabe.

A cheeky monkey at The Monkey Forest. Photo: Jake McCabe.

A Buddha at the Lewak coffee plantation, Ubud. Photo: Jake McCabe.

A Buddha at the Lewak coffee plantation, Ubud. Photo: Jake McCabe.

If you want to see a lot of Bali without stress of transport or accommodation, Buffalo Tours operate day tours to most locations around the island. It’s one of the bigger tour operators in Bali and have offices in most areas and hotels. We used Buffalo Tours on our first trip to Ubud and paid €45 each for a full day (8am-6pm) at Ubud. Our itinerary included visiting local speciality villages (woodwork, material painting, coffee making, silversmithing), the monkey forest, rice terraces and a three-course lunch in a four-star resort overlooking the spectacular Ubud landscape.

Have more tips you’d like to add, or think we’ve forgotten something? Let us know at cuplofquestions@gmail.com.

Niamh O'Donoghue