By Nick Dudler
Look up Bali online and you’ll probably see this picture:
This is the Ulun Danu Bratan temple. Gorgeous, right?
Actually, the temple is a complete tourist trap, and is actually about 20 feet tall. You’ll find it on every temple guide online and in the guidebooks, but it’s about as commercialized as a temple can get. Yeah, it’s no surprise that most writers on Bali haven’t been there themselves; it’s become one of the trendiest destinations in recent years.
Now that I’ve lowered your expectations...
Bali is a feast for the eyes, and you should DEFINITELY bring a good camera! Lush jungles, volcano sunrise views, pristine waters, dazzlingly colorful food, and an omnipresent island sun. We even found tours designed specifically for instagrammable locations. Insta or no insta, here are the most memorable sights from the island of Bali.
1. Mt. Batur
Cost: 600,000 rupiah ($40) per person --- assumes group of 2
When to go: 5:00-7:00 am
For this one, you’ll need a clear day. Get lucky and some monkeys might come to greet you at the top. I tried for about 10 minutes to get one in a selfie with me and my friend. It took some jockeying but we coaxed it with our sandwich. I guess the monkeys up there are pretty well-fed.
Prepare to fight for your photo-ops here. We were just sitting down and we had a hard time seeing the sunrise. Room at the top is limited because there are a few centralized locations where all the tourists are herded to by the guides. Don’t worry, though. The sunrise lasts for about an hour. On a clear day, you can see down to the villages below, to Mount Agung (the other, larger cousin which is active so it’s too hot to actually walk up to the crater), and even to the ocean.
Disclaimer: You have to earn the hashtags on this one. Get up around 2:00 am for an adequate start. If you’re in any of the tourist hubs, like Ubud, Seminyak, or Kuta, you’ll see plenty of signs advertising tours with pickup and dropoff. To save money, it helps to go with a larger group. For 2 of us to go with our own guide, (which, honestly, we probably didn’t need…), we each paid 600,000 rupiah, which is about $40. This might have been the most I spent on a single activity in Bali the whole 2 weeks we were there. Granted, you’re getting transportation about an hour each way, a private guided tour for several hours, and a small breakfast, so it’s not a bad price to pay.
There’s a few disclaimers about the hike that you should know before going. Check out my other blog, a guide to Batur for beginners, HERE.
Cost: 50,000 rupiah (about $3.50)
When to go: 8:30 am-6:00 pm
When visiting Ubud, I can’t stress how much you need to visit the monkey forest. It’s one of those attractions that just wouldn’t fly in the states, but that’s exactly why I loved it so much. This jungle is home to over 700 crab-eating macaque monkeys, which are allowed to roam freely in the park.
The best part about Ubud Monkey Forest is that it’s right in Ubud. Believe it or not, you can actually walk there. In a country that seems to have 1 crosswalk in every city and mostly nonexistent pedestrian infrastructure, I was surprised to find an attraction I didn’t need a motorbike to reach.
3. Lovina and the Dolphin Sunrise
Cost: 200,000 rupiah (about $15) When to go: 5:00 am
Few things are as magical as the rosy run creeping over the horizon at the edge of the water, sending shimmering rays off the glassy water. It’s even better when you add dolphins.
Lovina is an underrated destination. Like any of the most splendid sunrises, the sun peeks over the horizon and teases you over placid waters. It is time to step into the pontoon boats. You slosh gently side to side as the driver speeds over the glass. The experience is simultaneously beautiful and chaotic. As soon as one boats spots a pod, the engines whir to life, and another 50 boats converge on the location. I wonder how this might be affecting the dolphin habitat, with roaring motors and unregulated machines overhead.
Few tourists find their way up here because there are no highways to the north and it takes a 2 hours just to get up there from Ubud. But the reward is just spectacular. Winding along the road in virtual darkness, you are jolted awake by the occasional honk: it’s the way the driver lets oncoming traffic know they should expect someone coming around a blind corner. We pass food stands that are somehow already setting up, seemingly impossibly too early for a market but, according to our driver, “this is the traditional Balinese market time.”
It’s important when you get there to let your driver negotiate with the tour operators. Like everything else in Bali, prices differ based on what you look like you could pay. After speaking with our driver, the tour operator whispered a price to us, making it clear that we shouldn't mention it to other tourist. I wondered what kind of price he was charging the chinese couple beside us, wearing designer clothes and taking pictures on what looked like a brand new DSLR.
Once you’re out on the water, the driver drives you away from land, allowing you to see It’s enough time to enjoy the sunrise, get some Insta-worthy pictures, watch the dolphins, and even get back for breakfast.
4. The Bali Swing
Ok, this one is a little more touristy than the rest. We even got to try the famed Kopi Luwak coffee. I saw some lemurs caged next to the swings, wondering if they were just for effect for the tourists. But our guide, leading us very intentionally by a group of women with large mortars and pestles, pointed out that we were about to try coffee sifted through poop. Yep- you heard it right. The coffee beans go through the animal, get pooped out, and are rinsed and sanitized (not sure exactly how thorough this process is in Indonesia) and then roasted again. The result is a coffee with a light, airy, and faintly fecal nature. Just kidding, I made that up. But I’m guessing some ingenious marketing goes into it, because it’s the most expensive cup of coffee in the world. In Bali that means $4 per cup. So basically, it’s the cheapest thing on the menu at Starbucks. No sweat. But if you’re buying in U.S. markets, it’s upwards of $30. Hopefully it doesn’t taste like shit.
The swing itself is exactly what we expected. We waited in a line of about 15 people to get our turn at the thrill ride.Tourists lined up in front of us, adjusting their DSLR camera settings and preparing themselves for their future profile pictures. I could picture the captions just watching them. “Best trip to Bali EVER. Having so much fun swinging into summer!”
Ok, I’ll admit it. The swing was pretty cool. You don’t get to put yourself into potentially deadly situations under the supervision of some young Indonesian who probably built this swing themselves. Oh, and don’t try to run off and find an “off the beaten path” swing. Plenty of rice farmers will build a swing on their property and charge you 50,000 rupiah for a go. We heard from our driver that with a lot of the cheaper swings that you find in the outskirts of Ubud, tourists have become casualties.
One man offered us to jump from his bridge into a river about 15 feet below. When we emerged, he asked “so, did you hit the bottom?” We looked at eachother, incredulous. Next, he offered us a turn on his homemade swing. I declined.
5. Seminyak Beach
Cushy bean-bag chairs, toes in the sand, Bintang in hand, and the sun gently dipping towards the horizon. An acoustic cover of Vance Joy’s “Riptide” hums in the background and surfers stand silhouetted against the sun. This is the stuff of dreams.
Our typical day in Seminyak was spent surfing, drinking from fresh coconuts, and chatting with our buddy Joe, the go-to board rental guy. Surfing is cheap and only costs 50,000 rupiah per hour (about $3, price-negotiable of course!). We usually rounded out the day in one of the resorts on the beach, watching the sun retreat from an infinity pool that definitely was not ours to use.
Let’s take a look at the first picture again, shall we? It represents the spirituality through the temple, the vibrant waters, and the densely forested landscape behind. But it also represents the commercialized side of Bali-- the side which distances the unsuspecting tourist from the true cultural meaning of its temples, and the deep spirituality which the Balinese find within the land.
When you go, by all means take a camera. Hit that portrait mode setting one more time. But more importantly, enjoy yourself and take a mental picture!