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Monday, July 27, 2015

Bali on a Backpackers Budget

It recently occurred to me that every time Brandon and I are in a new destination, we look through our guide book, read through a few blogs, but never get the information we are looking for- how to independently and CHEAPLY get around from place to place as well as see all the highlights without a guide. It has proven to be an extremely difficult task and it is now that I write to my fellow backpackers - How to really see Bali on a backpackers budget.
(Exchange rate- about 13.4k to 1 us dollar or 100k = $7.50) - Thats right you are always a millionaire in Bali.

Areas around Bali:

Denpasar is the only airport on bali making it and Kuta crawling with tourists. In many people's mind a stop in Kuta is obligatory when doing a trip to Bali. We ended up staying here for 2 nights, but would leave it out if we were to do it all over again.

When I think of Bali, I separate it in to 4 different sections: Kuta/ Denpasar and South Bali or the Buckit, The Eastern coast, The northern coast, and The Inner mountain area. Depending on how much time you have you will have to choose what is the most important to you. I will briefly break down these areas for you with the highlights, as well as tell you how to get from place to place.

Travel around Bali via motorbike is extremely easy, and if you are crunched on time, or even if you plan on seeing alot of Bali, I recommend renting a motorbike as soon as you get off the plane.

The Bukit: The peninsula that sticks out on the Southern point of Bali is called the Bukit. This area is known for its surfing, and laid back atmosphere compared to Kuta. There is not much night life, except for a few low key bars, but after a full day of surfing a Bintang on your patio will be calling your name as opposed to a bar.

In order to get here you most certainly need to rent a motorbike (as noted above). These are widely available upon arriving in Kuta and depending on the length of your rental they will cost anywhere from 30-50k per day (equivalent of about $2.25- $4.50) don't pay more than 50k, that price is standard everywhere. If you choose not to rent a motor bike your alternative option is to take a cab that will run you around 250k one way and you'll still need transportation to get to other sites and beaches in the area.

Things to do on the Bukit:
length of stay recommended: 2-3 nights

There are a number of nice beaches to visit on the bukit, some argue the best Bali has to offer. Padang Padang is a great beach right off the road crowded with surfers of all levels and splattered with sun bathers. The great thing about this beach is if you walk past the sunbathers and make your way across a few rocks and under some large boulders you will be completely alone. It seems as though everyone stops the moment they step down the stairs and see beach, but the beach on the other side of the boulders is quiet, beautiful and a nice spot to swim. There are also a few cabanas along this beach some being as cheap as 200k.

Once you're ready to hit the surf you can head back to the crowds, rent a board and try your hand at the constant stream of waves that grace this area, or if your looking for a bit more direction, you can also get a lesson for an hour. Make sure you haggle here, as we were first quoted 100k for two boards for an hour and were able to haggle down to 50k total for an hour. Lessons will cost around 250k.

Green Bowl, beach cave

Another notable beach on the bukit is Green Bowl located on the south central region (cost 5k for parking). Hidden away you will find yourself climbing down over 300 stairs before arriving at this little gem. Pack a lunch and some water, and of course your sorong for lounging and you will have a perfect morning watching the few surfers that made the journey, or maybe even get a massage as there are ladies that offer them up (you can haggle these down to 50k).

After you've soaked up enough sun you are only minutes away from Uluwatu Temple (20k entrance fee). There are beautiful views of the dramatic coast line where the waves below violently crash into the cliff. Bring your camera to get some great shots, but watch your belongings as monkeys are sometimes the worst thieves.

Eastern Bali
length of stay recommended: 3+ nights

If you like snorkeling and/or diving Eastern Bali is the place for you. The area is made up of six main towns, Tuluamben, Amed, Jemeluk, Lipah, Selang, and Aas, and you will have endless amounts of exploring to do here. Full of beaches for easy snorkeling, and some beautiful ship wrecks to dive the trait that makes this a great stop is the shear accessibility to everything.

If you have your own transportation, getting to the main area of Amed is easy. If not there is local transportation that comes here, but of course local transport is slow. From Kuta take a local bus to the Batubulan bus terminal (3K). You will have to ask a local how to find this bus. Your other option is to flag down a bemo (small local bus) to get to the bus station which should only cost you around 10k per person. From there take the local bus to Amlapura, (30k and around 1 1/2 - 2 hours) and transfer to another bemo to the town of Culik (15 minute ride, around 20k) which is 3 km south of Amed. There is no local transport as of yet that will take you all the way to Amed, and unfortunately there are no motorbike rentals either; you have two options at this point, walk the 3 km to Amed, or flag down a local to take you there. Once you arrive in Amed you will definitely want a Motorbike as getting around from town to town is virtually impossible without transportation, and each town is worth a look.

Where to Stay

Good Karma bungalows
=> Good Karma bungalows

Now that you've got your own set of wheels you have the freedom to stay where ever you'd like. There are ample options in the area, and most people stop as soon as they get to Amed. If you're looking to get off the beaten path, I recommend staying at a little resort called Good Karma in Lipah. For 250k (a splurge for us) you will have a beautiful cabana right on the beach with a large outdoor stone bathroom. There are two lounging chairs with comfortable mattresses and a pillow as well as a hammock on your private patio. You will have a delivery of hot water every morning with your choice of coffee or tea, and once you are ready to leave your room oasis, you can head to the attached restaurant where you will be given a large breakfast of juice, pancakes, porridge, eggs, or whatever you fancy (also included in the price). The beach just outside has excellent snorkeling, but make sure you ask about currents, the further out you get they can get pretty strong. At night take a stroll along the beach where you will be able to see the natural phenomena of glowing plankton (pick it up and spread on your face... see what happens!) and beautiful constellations directly above. To top it off this area is quiet and has only a few rooms, so it feels as though you have found a hidden treasure.
Glowing Plankton
Tuluamben is the site of a famous US Liberty wreck. It is located a short 30 meters off shore which makes it easy to snorkel or dive. Keep in mind that if you snorkel, you will only be able to see the top of the wreck. If you are a diver, you should be able to find a company to take you on a dive for anywhere from $20-40 US.

Other snorkeling areas include Jemeluk, Japanese wreck and coral garden, all beautiful with very nice sea life and no currents. Ask a local how to get there and use your own transportation. A tour to these areas are not necessary.

Northern Bali
Pemuteran 3+ nights
Lovina 2+ nights

The northern part of Bali has a few worthy destinations: Pemuteran, Lovina, and Munduk. For starters, Pemuteran is way off the beaten path, and unless you're coming from Java or have your own transportation, it's a long ways from anything. However, if you do find yourself lucky enough to get here you will be rewarded with some of the best snorkeling and diving Bali has to offer. When coming into town, look for the homestay of Mango Moon on the southern part of the main street just across from Yos Marine Adventures dive shop. The guesthouse is tucked away in an alley about 100m off the road, and only 200k per night with breakfast included (see post "Ode to Bali" for more on Pemuteran). From here you are a 5 minute walk to the beach. Alternatively, walk the other direction where you can begin hiking up some of the many bluffs that overlook the water, including a hike to a local temple.

Lovina is the biggest tourist destination in the north and well worth a visit. Known for it's famous dolphin tours, I would recommend skipping this tourist trap unless your interested in getting loaded into one of the 50+ boats leaving at sunrise to frantically chase dolphins around.

The town itself is nothing exciting and the snorkeling is just okay, but head south towards Munduk and you will be rewarded with beautiful vistas, tons of waterfalls, and delicious Bali coffee along the way. If you don't have a motorbike at this point, rent one for the day, get a map and ask where the waterfalls are. The shop owner will map out directions for you to more than 10 different falls most of them just have a small parking fee of 2k. Make sure you head out early or later in the day so you avoid tours.

Munduk Falls
Keep your eyes peeled along the way and you may even see a traditional Balinese "cock fight." Very disturbing to watch, but interesting to see the men crowded in a circle shouting loudly and shaking money out in front of them to place their bets.

Once you arrive in Munduk take a coffee break, mosey around the shops, and if you haven't already, try their famous Bakso - a broth based soup with noodles, green vegetables, meatballs, and spices (10k) - so delicious!!

The Inner Mountain Area
3+ nights

Ubud Ceremony

The inner mountain area has so much to offer from trekking to visiting coffee plantations, to seeing old Bali culture. Ubud is a good place to set up as a central location in order to do day trips to the surrounding areas including the infamous Mount Batur (see trekking Mount Batur without a Guide") Kintamani, and everything in between.

Ubud is a little town to get away from the beach where you can see traditional Balinese dance. It has some nice store fronts to window shop, but the town itself is pretty expensive. On the outskirts of town there are loads beautiful treks through rice patties. Drive to the Blanco Renaissance Museum, park your bike and walk down to the river, there will be signs pointing you towards the rice patties. Continue along the path for two kilometers and you will come to a small town (deserted in the evening) with more beautiful sights of the rice patties. Bring along a thermos of hot water (and cups) and make yourself a Bali Kopi on the way down for sunset.

On your way up to Mount Batur take the road towards Tegalalang. Just before the town you will see a large billboard for Coffee Luwak. Stop here for a free sampling of teas and coffees made on site. You will be given a free tour of how they make Luwak coffee as well as some of the spices that are used in the teas. There is no pressure to buy anything and the staff is wonderful. At the end of the tour they will give you a sample of 14 different teas and coffees, and if you want to try the Luwak, you can order a cup for 50k.

Luwak coffee, donned "the most expensive coffee in the world" is produced by the civet cat which eats the cherry coating fruit around the coffee bean. It digests the fruit as normal, however cannot digest the bean that is inside. This in turn comes out in the animals feces as a white bean. The beans are collected, cleaned numerous times, and then dried, de-shelled and dried again, where they are then roasted by hand over a fire.

If your really in the coffee mood there are numerous plantations on the road to Batur, including many fruit farms as well. Even if you don't plan on hiking Batur the drive itself is beautiful and the vistas from the road in Penelokan all the way up to Penulisan are worth the trip. If its a clear day you can see three of Bali's main volcanoes.

Reference Map

Eating around Bali

Food can make or break your budget. While traveling one of the best experiences is trying new foods and eating like a local does. In Indonesia, true local food comes from a warung. This is typically a small shop on the side of the street selling a variety of Indonesian dishes. Look for Mei goreng (fried noodles) Nasi goreng (fried rice) or nasi campur which is a mix of veggies, rice and either chicken or fish. Most of the time these dishes should cost around 10k, but you will usually be quoted around 20k first. Make sure you haggle down to get the local price. Warungs are found everywhere, but are not usually on the main tourist streets. Locals will be happy to tell you where one is. Typically a bit harder to find but your budget will thank you as food in a restaurant is usually 3 or 4 times the price.


  1. Really nice and detailed - just the way I like it. Great pics too.

    Hoping...maybe.... in the next 1-3 years I'll make it to Bali. So definitely will re-read your post sometime in the near future.

    1. thank you Ken! Glad you enjoyed. I'd be happy to answer any questions you have in the future

    2. Awesome thanks for the detailed descriptions. We will be visiting these locations once we get to Bali. Can't wait!!

  2. Great advice. Well written and much helpful.