Going around Bali and Gili Trawangan: Busy and calm, wet and dry
In September 2016 we did a road trip around Bali and stayed a couple of days in Gili Trawangan. In this post we want to share our experience on most regions.
A road trip in Bali
In three weeks we went around the island. We started in Denpasar, visiting the South (Bukit Peninsula), went diving up North in Amed and visited Ubud. We stayed a couple of nights in the far West (Menjangan) and to top things off, took a boat to Gili Trawangan to enjoy the island life.
Driving in Bali can be quite an undertaking. For us Europeans driving on the left hand side is already strange and in Bali traffic is just chaos! That being said we think driving in Bali also is NOT unsafe, it’s rather a matter of adapting to a situation. Around Bali, instead of following the rules, it’s more like surviving. As in most of Asia it’s a system that works. For 8-10$ / day you can rent a driver if you don’t feel confident driving. Most rental cars are Toyota Avanza or similar, which are just fine.
In our experience, staying in Bali can be done in a million ways, from adventurous jungle lodges to 5-star hotels. A great way we found was AirBnB. Numerous hosts have big villa’s, including servants, for rent at sometimes ridiculous prices. We stayed in luxury 3 bedroom villa’s with a private pools and servants for less than $70,- / night. In big tourist hubs like Ubud prices tend to rise quickly. Try to stay away from those centres. Some or even most AirBnB hosts provide shuttle services to the town and back.
A B&B we can really recommend is Bali Marina Villa’s.
The Capital – Denpasar
Bali’s capital Denpasar is a mixture of busy traffic, nightlife, shops and hotels. In our opinion not the place to wander around too long. If you want to experience nightlife, rather go to Kuta (for you younger wanderers) or Seminyak (for the more refined). Karaoke bars are numerous as are restaurants, pubs, sports bars and anything you could want. If you’re looking for culture, beautiful beaches or rest, go elsewhere!
In Denpasar we stayed in the Golden Tulip Essential hotel. It’s great for an overnight at almost impossibly cheap rates. Although a bit far from the city centre, it enables you to see another side of Denpasar.
The South – Bukit Peninsula
Apart from the capital, the South of Bali boasts rocky coastlines, beautiful temples, BIG hotels and nice restaurants. Some of Bali’s most famous beaches, among which Petitenget, Balangan and Nusa Dua beach are our favorite, are located here. Due to stronger currents and winds, it also is a hotspot for surfers. The same reason why we would recommend holding any thoughts about diving for later in this post. One of Bali’s most known temples, Uluwatu is located here, helping your cultural voyage underway.
In South Bali we stayed at Villa Karang, marvelous views over the ocean and nice, clean rooms are only 3 of the reasons to book here.
The North – Amed
In the Northeast corner of Bali is the Town of Amed. Well it’s actually the name of the coastline consisting of more villages but they all go under the same name. Coming here right after a visit to Denpasar and the South only makes one realize even more how busy it is down there. Here in Amed everything is easy-going. It’s a hub for backpackers and more importantly, divers, as some of the most beautiful dive spots are located here. Don’t expect nightclubs or big resorts, in Amed it’s low key and more importantly low-cost.
Looking for a place to stay in Amed? We can really recommend Bali Marina Villa’s, It has rooms with amazing views at affordable prices. The German owner is always happy to help you book for example diving trips.
In the Northeast of Bali are 2 volcanos: Gunung Agung and Gunung Batur. Both can be walked right to the top for sunrise. While theoretically it is perfectly possible to go explore them on your own (walking paths are well marked and recognizable) this is strongly NOT recommended. Locals have formed some kind of maffia controlling the area, intimidating and sometimes assaulting anyone not paying for a tour. Tours generally depart somewhere between 01.00-03.00 using Ubud as a departure hub.
The centre – Sidemen and Ubud
This crowded town is home or close to many tourist attractions (and traps). Right in the heart of Ubud, pay a visit to Pura Taman Saraswati, a temple surrounded with water full of lotus flowers. Ubud’s cosy centre is filled with little shops selling all kinds of souvenirs. Nice to stroll by, but too expensive to buy anything. If you do want to buy some souvenirs, just go 2-5 km out-of-town where you’ll find the workshops of the people making these souvenirs. They’ll actually sell you for more than half the price. All around Ubud you’ll find Bali’s famous rice terraces. The most famous one is Tegallalang but you can easily just explore the area on your own. Other attractions are the monkey forest and the return of the Heron birds at Petulu.
We stayed at Alam Dania Cottage. It’s a 4 cottage B&B where the owner treats you like family. It has super clean and nice rooms, a swimming pool with a nice view and a simple but delicious dinner menu. Furthermore they provide shuttle service to Ubud’s centre.
The West – Menjangan
A hidden gem in the west. Menjangan is actually a National Park. The complete coast along with Menjangan Island are protected due to its abundancy of marine fauna. It’s a known spot for divers from all over the world. Only 2 resorts operate in the National Park (on the mainland of Bali) which are only allowed to accept a limited number of guests. Due to this exclusiveness it was the most expensive place we stayed during our trip, but very much worth it. Having dinner and breakfast above a shallow, 1 meter deep bay. Sitting next to mangroves, watching colourful fish swim by and just enjoying the silence and sheer beauty around you. Priceless.
We stayed at The Menjangan Resort. An exclusive resort hidden away deep in the National Park. It boasts a diving center with trips to Menjangan Island, a pier that leads directly into a reef, a classy restaurant sitting above the sea, next to the mangroves and much more.
The Gillies – Gili Trawangan
The last days of our holiday we spent on the Gillies. After a 3 hour boat ride from Denpasar, we arrived at the biggest of the three Gili Islands, Gili Trawangan. Everything is very primitive here. Unloading the boat is done on the beach, not a single car on the island. Local transport is done with mule cars. There are some hotels near the beach, while some hostels are 10-100 meters inland, providing cheap accommodation. Don’t expect mega resorts although there are some smaller ones. The whole island just breathes holiday, living slowly from one day to the other. There are some good (expensive) restaurants but also some pizza and hamburger joints. Nightlife is lush but there are enough places to just relax…
We stayed at The Pearl of Trawangan Resort. It’s a classy but not overly expensive resort located near the centre. It has big, clean rooms, 2 swimming pools, a seaside restaurant.