Other than taking a cruise ship trip with my family to the Portuguese Islands (just off the coast of Mozambique), my 7 day trip to Bali, Indonesia, was the first time I saw myself going to another country and leaving South African borders. The excitement was, indeed, real!
I had seen the Instagram images of Ubud. Read as many travel blogs as I could about what to expect. Booked a number of experiences on AirBnB. And yet none of them fully prepared me for just how beautiful and surreal Bali truly is. I mean it when I say that it is every lovely thing I have read in Eat Pray Love and twice as beautiful as Instagram photos make it to be.
To watch my solo travelling experience in Ubud, feel free to watch the first part of my travel vlog here. But this blog post is all about the first leg of my trip in Indonesia. For 3 nights, I stayed in the Ubud – one of the central places on the island. There is plenty to see in this lush town, and gorgeous places to stay, so let’s dive into my personal experience of Ubud.
I had seen the plethora of resorts and villas that offered infinity pools overlooking jade green forests, bamboo inspired hotels with floating breakfasts. To be honest, there are too many options when it comes to accommodation in Ubud, and choosing what works best for you (and your budget) is no easy task.
I settled on Adil Villa and Resort, which I booked through Booking.com. For 3 nights, I managed to get their Suite for just under R2500. This included breakfast (with the floating breakfast being an extra IDR 150 000 or about R165)
Some of the main reasons why I settled for staying here where:
- Affordability (R2500 for 3 nights in a Suite with my own kitchen and outdoor eating area, and a pool you share with one other Suite was perfect for me)
- High star rating and good reviews on Booking.com
- Location – while this resort doesn’t overlook tall trees, it does have a large rice paddy (a con to this is the likelihood of encountering ants, large geckos, snakes and other insects)
- Included an a la carte breakfast in the price (it was served buffet style and offered American, Asian, Halaal and Vegetarian options)
- Central to sites like the Monkey Forest Sanctuary, market places and the Seraswati Temple
- Free and reliable WiFi
- The actual Suite itself is large and provides ample space
- Airport and Ubud Central Shuttle availability
Speaking of shuttles, the main modes of transport in Ubud (and Bali, overall) are motorbikes and scooters, and cars. As someone who has no idea how to ride a 2-wheeled moving object, my best bet was getting myself a driver to take me to some of the places I wanted to see.
The driver that I used throughout my time in Bali (he came highly recommended on was a Facebook group I joined leading up to this trip) was a man named Komang (you can book him here) to not only pick me up at the airport but take me on a private tour of Ubud, and surrounding sites the day after I arrived. I will say, though, that has a solo traveler, the transport was one of my bigger expenses on this trip. This is because, unlike in a group where you get to share the cost of travelling, I was solely responsible for this.
From Ngurah Rai Internation Airport to Ubud, it’s about a 2 hour drive, and I ended up paying the R96 booking fee on AirBnB and an additional IDR 220 000. For many of my transport trips, Komang never charged me more than IDR 250 000, so budget along these lines when looking for your own private transportation.
If you haven’t arranged airport pickup from AirBnB or your hotel, there are enough taxi drivers who can take you where you need to go – just exercise your negotiating skills. From the research I did (and joining the Facebook group Bali Life), you shouldn’t pay more than IDR 300 000 from the airport to Ubud.
Now I had seen all the Instagram-worthy images of places I should visit in Bali – all part of my research and what not. But the thing I personally realised about Bali is that you really should go have your own personal experience of the place, instead of an Instagram experience.
While there are places – like the rice paddies and temples – that you genuinely should go see, create an itinerary that has activities that you wouldn’t necessarily see Instagram rave about.
For my 9 hour private tour (which I booked through Komang on AirBnB), I did the following:
- Monkey Forest Sanctuary (I spent 2 hours here, which felt like more than enough time to explore and take pictures – NOTE: selfie taking with the monkeys is prohibited here)
- Visited an art gallery
- Visited the 2nd largest jewelry making factory, and gallery, in Ubud
- Coffee Plantation and Tasting
- Swing and Bird’s Nest at Satria Agrowisata
- Tirta Empul Temple
There are plenty of experiences on AirBnB that offer tours similar to the one I did. The difference, for me, was how mine could be tailored to exactly what I wanted to see. Yes, there are Tegenungan Waterfall, the Gates of Heaven and Tegallalang Rice Terrace, and I wanted to see them. But you have to be really strategic in how you plan your time.
With a 6 hour time difference between Bali and South Africa, my body wasn’t keen on waking up at 05h00 (which is likely your start time if you want to see some of the more famous sites. You can wait hours, at some places, just to enter). So for my tour, I wanted a mixture of famous places and hidden gems.
Some important things I learned on this tour:
- Budget for entry fees to some of these places. I paid IDR 80 000 as an entry fee for the Monkey Forest Sanctuary and IDR 50 000 at Tirta Empul Temple.
- Go to Satria Agrowisata if you’re looking for the infamous ‘Bali Swing’ experience. This one, located on a coffee plantation (where I did a free coffee and tea tasting) costed IDR 200 000 for 7min on the swing, and IDR 50 000 to take pictures on their 3 “Bird’s Nest” (taking photos on 1 of the nests was IDR 20 000 – there’s also a photographer who takes the pictures for you)
- Dress modestly when going to temples. While you will be given a sarong to wear as a cover up, make sure you’re also covered up on top just to show some respect to the sacredness of the temple
- If you book tours that are 10+ hours on AirBnB, make sure you include some time to get yourself some food. I only managed to get myself dinner that day at one famous restaurant that’s known for its Crispy Duck (just because you really want to get all the sightseeing done before it gets busy)
Truth be told, when it came to discovering new places to eat in Ubud, I didn’t do too much of this. With Adil Villa and Resort having their own restaurant that serves Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner (as a guest, you get 15% off your lunch and dinner), eating in on humid days and nights was my definition of relaxing in comfort.
I’m sure there are plenty of places to go and try traditional Indonesian food, but I opted to actually learn about this by taking an traditional Indonesian cooking class.
I also booked this experience through AirBnB (click here to learn more) and I have zero regrets about it.
See, my advice when it comes to Bali is – take the time to learn the cuisine through an authentic experience like this. I would not have known that some famous Indonesian dishes include Gado Gado, Tahu Tempe and Sate Ayam Lilit. You probably will find these dishes on a menu somewhere in a restaurant. But take it from me – don’t pass up the chance to learn how to make these dishes yourself.
As a solo traveler, this activity was also great to meet new people from other parts of the world. In 4.5 hours, myself, an American couple and Indian lady living in the USA, prepared 9 dishes that we got to enjoy buffet style at the end of our experience. It felt like I was having the South African equivalent of a Sunday “7 Colour” Dinner – a feeling I really won’t forget from this experience.
I paid just under R500 for the experience, and it was worth every coin. Especially since this was hosted in the host’s home, so we got a lesson on Balinese tradition and culture, and took home the recipe book of the dishes we prepared that day. Transportation is covered is you stay in Ubud, which was another bonus. But the host was so beyond lovely, and really showed the friendliness that Balinese people are known for.
Staying Safe as a Solo Traveler
While I don’t think that any place in the world is 100% safe, Bali ranks pretty high if you are travelling alone. At least, that’s what I read about, and found from my personal experience.
The sun sets relatively early in Bali, and when night time comes and the streets are lit, you can still hear the whizz of bikes and cars and people still going about their life.
The only threat I faced at the Monkey Forest Sanctuary was a monkey stealing my water bottle. And while I was on the swing, I had my backpack kept away for me.
In most of the places that I explored, I found there was this “quiet time’ between 10pm and 7am the next day. In essence, it’s between these hours that are quieter than most. I never inquired about why that is, but it definitely helped me feel safer when I wanted to go for a casual walk to see the stars.
All in all, would I come back to Ubud? One thousand percent, YES! 3 days here is just not enough to truly explore the beauty that this part of the island has. I missed out on seeing a number of places but I also feel so satisfied with the places I did see while in Ubud.
One thing I did find was that Ubud is where spent most of my budget. From the transport to entrance fees at sites, keep these in mind when planning your own trip to Bali.
My next post will cover Canguu, so be sure to look out for it coming soon!