The last time I visited Bali was almost a decade ago. I’d just been diagnosed with a weird form of epilepsy and, as it turned out, the meds where far worse than the disease. It took a long time to get the right dose and my life was kind of ruined in the process but that’s another story. To date, I’m seizure and med-free (apparently it can just go away) so yay for that. But at the time I was a wreck and being on holiday with a group of girls and trying to hide the fact that I was very ill made for a weird trip in every sense. It kind of coloured my perception of Bali a bit and, while I didn’t hate it, I didn’t like it. Also, in all fairness, we didn’t roam too far from our Kuta-based resort.
Fast forward to 2018. I got the opportunity to visit once more when my friend Jason, a keen diver, said he’d be visiting for two weeks. Being keen on snorkeling and needing to take a break from Thailand for visa reasons I decided to go along and guess what, Bali’s a blast! Sure, the food isn’t as great (in general) as Thailand but you can find deliciousness if you look. Certain things, like booze, are a bit more expensive, but they still cost less than what you’d pay in SA or are on par. Other cons are the fact that store owners and touts are the most aggressive I’ve encountered in SEA. Also, certain areas are completely taken over by loud, drunken Australians, with yobbo central being Kuta.
This is where I started my trip – in Kuta – which completely horrified Jason. ‘It’s a shit hole! For the love of God, go to Ubud!’, he said, but I had my reasons. I was arriving two days before him and had a shit ton of work to do. I just wanted to be in an affordable resort with a pool that was close to the airport, especially since I was arriving in the dead of night. This is how I came to stay at Ozz Hotel for just R270 a night. While I thought I’d spend most of my time chained to my laptop on a sun lounger, deadlines got shuffled and I found I was free to explore and yep, Kuta is a bit of a shit hole but not too different from Thailand’s Phuket. An ultra-commercial ‘Las Vegas of the East’ (sans casinos), it’s full of beer can-crushing, tank top-rocking yobs that are wasted by 11am. But I still enjoyed myself. The place is bursting with great shopping, super cheap spas (R50 for an hour-long foot massage!) and loads of global restaurant chains and, shamefully, I enjoy the odd dose of ‘tacky’, just as much as I do an authentic tuis kombuis experience.
Things that (sadly) made me very happy?
Stuffing my face with KFC Hot Rods – Zinger tenders on sticks smothered in a lava-like hot sauce! (It was the first thing I made Jason, a foodie who occasionally ends up in snob town, eat when he arrived and even he was like OH! MY! GOD! and went back for seconds.
Popping into this huge ocean-side mall called Beachwalk Shopping Centre and leaving with an armful of crazy cheap sale items from H&M (R100 a dress!).
Going to Bath & Body Works (also in Beachwalk) to sniff every single product and buying nothing.
Fully embracing la vida vulgaridad at Bubba Gump, a Forrest Gump-themed restaurant (yep, you read right) that was eye-wateringly overpriced, but that month had been a good one and their garlic bread alone was #worthit.
Once Jason arrived, my trip really got going. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I’ve been roaming SEA on my ace since April and that’s cool and all – yay for being an independent ‘big panties’ girl! – but it was so nice to finally climb into the passenger seat and let someone else do all the driving. Jason has done Bali a few times, so I was all ‘Dude, I don’t care what we do. I’m just going to agree to everything and follow you around like a floppy rag doll. Just prop me up in chairs and feed me new, interesting shizz and we’re all good. I’m down for whatever, okay?’
This is how I ended up trying crack cocaine for the very first time before stealing a car and crashing it into the hotel pool. KIDDING! We’re semi-boring, basic bitch hedonists so our first day was basically a KFC binge-fest followed by hours of spa treatments and then lolling around in the pool. Later we upped our culinary game at the most divine restaurant called Fat Chow (also in Kuta). I don’t have piccies of that as it was too dark, but the food is great and it’s got a serious ‘Cape Town hipster vibe’, but without the pretentiousness. We had to queue to get in, but it was worth it. Check ‘em out on Insta @fatchowbali.
The next day we headed to Uluwatu which is muuuuch nicer than Kuta. A surfer’s paradise with a laid back vibe, Uluwatu definitely requires a motorbike to fully enjoy it because all the places you’ll want to see aren’t close together. Alternatively, you could rely on taxis. (See the bottom of this post for more details.) We stayed at a sweet little spot called Medori Putih Homestay in a luxe bungalow-style room in a garden setting with a nice pool for R380 a night.
An Uluwatu highlight included a visit to Dreamland beach which is great to tan, people watch (mooi surfer boys!) and drink overpriced beer. I was disappointed with the swimming situation because the shallows are full of flat, slippery rocks. Also, the water isn’t as warm as the sea in Thailand. (For the record, Jason said that if you go further up the beach it gets better but I was in sloth mode.)
We also visited Green Bowl beach which nearly killed me. You have to walk down ten million steps to get there (okay, fine), discover a little patch of sand, more rocky water (meh) and then climb back up again in the searing, blistering heat while your body expels it’s every drop of liquid. So, ja. I was underwhelmed. The one cool thing, I guess, is the troupe of crazy monkeys in the parking lot, gleefully ripping any food they can find from the storage units in unlocked bikes. They’re super brazen so, if you visit, make sure you don’t have anything edible in your hands. They will mug you for it.
A nicer beach than Green Bowl was Bingin. Again you’ll be climbing steps but the views are totally worth it.
Again, I found the shallows a bit rocky but if you head further out you can have a decent-ish swim. There’s also a great beach bar (you’ll pass it as you head down the steps) called Ombak where you can take in incredible sunsets.
Another super popular bar we visited was called Single Fin. It’s kind of like the ‘Caprice’ of Uluwatu (Cape Town peeps will get the reference) in that everyone’s young and gorgeous. Most of the girls wear bikinis and dresses made from bits of string with full faces of make-up (Kardashian brows and arc eye-inducing highlighter on fleek) and this was greatly distressing as I’d just come off the beach, so I was a disgusting sweat ball with matted hair in a wrinkled, beer-stained rok. (Thanks for that, Jason, you asshole! Next time, warn a girl, okay?!)
Restaurant-wise, Uluwatu’s full of gems and one of them is The Mango Tree Café which is NOT to be missed. They served up THE BEST chicken fajitas I’ve ever eaten and this incredible mahi mahi (dorado) dish that was essentially fish bits in a tomato-based sauce and I realise this sounds so unexciting but it was one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in all of Asia. They also do a mean jalapeno margarita!
Now, if you’re up to date with foreign affairs, you’ll know that the Gili islands (they’re just off the coast of Lombok and a quick boat trip away from Bali) were recently evacuated due to a series of earth quakes. Our plan was to visit if they’d re-opened, otherwise we’d go with plan B, which was to head to Ubud, the ‘hey shoo-wow’ hippie area of Bali. Fortunately, the Gili’s where back in business so they became our next stop. That’s what I’ll be chatting about in my next post but, before I sign off, let me leave you with a few top tips for Bali:
Get a SIM card when you arrive at the airport. You’ll need it if you’re to use your phone like a GPS and not rack up crazy roaming costs. I paid R250 for 18GB that lasts a month at a kiosk just before you exit the airport.
Taxi-wise, you will always pay more to leave the airport. Don’t freak out. It’s not indicative of prices once you’re ‘in’. For example, it cost me R150 (after rejecting two R250 offers) to go from the airport to my hotel just seven minutes away in Kuta. But, to get back to the airport via the same route, I only paid R17 using a Blue Bird taxi hailed via Go Jek. (Keep reading.)
Download this app called Go Jek. It’s kind of like Uber Eats meets Uber meets EVERYTHING in that you can use it to order food, grab a Blue Bird taxi (the most popular metre taxi co in Bali) or motorbike (you’ll ride on the back) or have someone run an errand for you and the prices are insanely cheap. For example, Jason left his board shorts in Kuta and having someone go fetch them from the hotel and deliver them to our new one, in Uluwatu, (which is an hour away) cost R50.
Kuta is totally walkable but Uluwatu, which is so much better, is best explored on a bike. Alternatively, you can use Go Jek or hire a driver for the day. This article is a gem.
Do your shopping in Kuta. Things were cheaper there due to the fact that there’s so much competition. Those cute basket bags that I put on IG for example where R200 less in Kuta than Uluwatu.
Bring tampons from home! They’re not really used in SEA so the cost is exorbitant. We’re talking R100 for 16. Everything else in the grocery or drug store is crazy cheap. Tampons are the weird exception. To give you an idea, a small Dove shampoo and conditioner are R13 each, toothpaste is R4 and a can of Coke is R6,70.
Restaurant prices vary wildly. You can find a spot serving up nasi goreng and a Caesar salad for R25 each (specifically Wipe Out Cafe in Uluwatu) and right next to it another will be serving the exact same thing for triple the price as they’ll be just as good. Don’t stress about a food budget. You can eat out for every single meal and never go broke.
If you’re an inexperienced solo female traveler wanting to explore SEA don’t make Bali your first trip. Get your training wheels in Thailand which, to me, feels safer, is easier to navigate and isn’t riddled with scammers. There are lots of tourist scams in Bali, particularly when it comes to transport, so keep your wits about you.
Lastly, I mean it when I say do NOT miss the chicken fajitas and mahi mahi dish at The Mango Tree Cafe. Trust me, okay?