Many would argue that Bali is a paradise lost.
It isn’t. It’s just evolved.
If you want to know what to do in Bali, remember first that the island has transformed itself from a laidback surfer hangout into one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations.
It now offers as many experiences as the varying hues of green found in a plot of terraced rice paddy.
Whether you’re a hardcore partygoer determined to eat, drink and not sleep your way through Seminyak; a yoga devotee seeking peace and tranquility in Ubud’s tropical rainforest setting; a die-hard surfer whose only agenda is to paddle out and catch the monster swells at Padang Padang; or a curious traveler charmed by Bali’s sacred temples in Manggis — you can do it all (or do nothing at all) in Bali.
The best of Bali has everything, the good, the downright ugly (braided, Bintang tank-top-wearing hordes in insufferable Kuta) and the sublimely beautiful.
Here’s what to do in Bali.
W Retreat & Spa Bali — Seminyak
The new rock star on the island, there’s no denying the high-octane glamour that comes with this beachfront property.
It’s large by Bali standards, but exudes its own sense of cool and calm.
A room in the main building gets you close to the action. Back from the beach are the hotel’s brilliant, and affordable, private villas and pools.
Very useful is the best of Bali AWAY spa, which remains open 24/7. That’s great news for late-night revelers in need of a foot massage after stumbling in from a night at Woo Bar — Bali’s newest hot spot.
Equally useful is the hidden sliding door that conceals and reveals bathroom and bedroom areas, and the three-tier main swimming pool for ample lounging and photo opportunities.
The hotel is far enough from the main array of hotels to keep the beach quiet, while further north is the even quieter Canggu beach.
The hotel can arrange a motorbike rental for US$5 a day.
The Colony Hotel
There’s one big plus point about staying at The Colony Hotel: no children under the age of 16 allowed.
Another bonus is the on-site Jari Menari massage facility.
Not to be overlooked are the 20 rooms done up in a pretty but minimalist decor. The junior suite comes with a spacious balcony that overlooks the 16-meter pool.
Located on a headland in Candidasa, high heels are not recommended while staying at the Amankila, as there are plenty of stairs to navigate.
Luckily, golf carts are readily available to transport you down to the beach club where a generous strip of black sand beach remains tout-free.
If you’re tired of the sand and wanting to know what to do in Bali come sunset, try watching the changing color of the sky from the hotel’s signature triple-stepped swimming pool.
Early bookers, try to get upgraded to villa 37 — reportedly the resort’s most requested villa — which enjoys the best view of the ocean.
Anantara Resort Seminyak
Bali has a quirky local rule stating that buildings should not be higher than a palm tree. This five-story property just makes the cut.
Sitting front and center on Seminyak beach, all 59 suites (and one penthouse) come with ocean views.
Penthouse suites come with attached outdoor lounge space and a terrazzo bath, so you can fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves.
Ubud is where artists flock, so if you’re staying here, it makes sense to put up at a property with artistic inclinations.
Michi is a work in progress, and its creator, the septuagenarian Professor Kung, calls himself a nomad. Hence, the resort near Jukut Paku is an eclectic collection of rooms that are always changing.
Adding another dimension to the experience are mosaic grottos that overlook a particularly spectacular stretch of the River Wos.
Cheap and cheerful, and located just minutes walk from Seminyak beach, this is one of the best values in Seminyak.
The rooms are decent sized and come with Wi-Fi and a TV.
All rooms are located around a common mosaic pool. Breakfast included.
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan
Away from the coast, amid dense bamboo jungle and perched looking over the sacred Ayung River is this wonderful, peaceful retreat.
Jungle wildlife and the occasional screams of rafters thrusting along the river are the only sounds to intrude upon the privacy of each villa at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan.
All 42 thatched maxi-huts/villas come with an outdoor shower that overlooks the river valley and a plunge pool that releases itself endlessly into the jungle’s steamy abyss. There are also 18 suites.
You are far from the maddening crowds and if a non-beach stay is what you are looking for, your budget is well spent here.
AYANA Resort and Spa Bali
Since it relaunched in 2009 as AYANA Resort and Spa Bali, this hotel has bagged a whole slew of significant awards for its bar (see below), its accommodations and the spa. And it is clear why.
Despite the size of the place (there are over 350 rooms, suites and villas — some on the cliff with staggering sunset views) there is still a sense of privacy and space. The rooms and hotel design are very well done — well appointed without the over the top ‘luxury flourishes.’
The hotel sits high above the Indian Ocean near Jimbaran Bay on Bali’s south-western peninsula so it is a bit of a schlep from the busier Seminyak, Kuta, Legian stretch. Not a bad thing, but it is harder to pop away should, for some reason, you want to escape.
The above are some of the reasons the hotel is also proving a popular wedding (and honeymoon) destination.
If you’re wondering what to do in Bali, start with great food.
The charismatic chefs Said and Dou Dou, have taken bits of magic from Warisan — their former haunt — and elevated it at Metis.
The foie gras (all six types) is Bali’s best, and then some.
The kitchen is equally adept at putting out a freshly grilled sole as it is an aromatic plate of fork-tender osso bucco served on a bed of creamy risotto.
The Grand Marnier soufflé and passion fruit martini are highly recommended.
After dinner, you can hang out at the lounge overlooking paddy fields. On Thursday night, there’s live music.
More than 120,000 bamboo shingles and 10 types of bamboo were used in the construction of this restaurant. But you’re not really here to do an architectural survey.
Sardine focuses on fresh produce and organic greens. Brilliant side dishes include smoky miso eggplant and wasabi mash.
The scallops with ravioli and creamy panna cotta are outstanding.
You’ll break a sweat getting to this restaurant — it’s surrounded by its own farm — where you can pick your own vegetables for the chef to cook.
Take a pre- and post-meal walk through fertile paddy fields — this is a great thing to do in Bali — and revel in a meal of nasi campur crowned with chunks of tempe fried to crisp perfection.
We’re not sure which we like better, the spiced Asian fusion with a strong Indonesian slant (the caramelized duck is a hot favorite) or the sexy fleur-de-lis and chandelier setting.
Then there are some of Bali’s best cocktails. Sarong’s extensive cocktail menu is one of the most original we’ve seen.
The Bill & Ben is a gin and pink grapefruit concoction topped with chamomile foam. The Sarong Cappuccino is made with vodka or brandy, maple syrup, Kahlúa and espresso.
If there’s one dining destination in Bali, it’s Mozaic.
Part of the Les Grande Tables du Monde, since opening in 2001 the restaurant has had a flurry of global food critics eating out of its hand.
Market cuisine is led by French Laundry-trained chef Chris Salans, who blends French and American culinary techniques with Balinese ingredients.
Salans’ use of black olive Balinese Kluwek sauce is brilliant, and addictive.
Expect to pay up to US$175 per person.
If you prefer your sunsets unobstructed, and like to enjoy them without grains of sand stuck in hard-to-reach crevices, S.O.S. is your spot.
The rooftop bar offers one of the best views of the Seminyak sunset slowly melting behind the horizon.
Service is swift and the drinks icy cold. This is where to be and what to do in Bali come happy hour.
While most other beach bars roll out designer cocktails and fancy finger food, La Plancha keeps it simple with laid-back reggae beats, a selection of beer, oversized beanbags and jugs of potent sangria.
It also helps that the bar has an uninterrupted view of the pink-to-red-to-orange sky.
There’s rarely any room for women in Bali Joe, except for those that get up on the bar and lip-synch to Beyoncé anthems.
The bar is popular for its energetic vibe and nightly drag shows that feature plenty of audience participation. Performers can be persuaded to extend a few private DIY diva tips.
It’s hard to say where you’ll sweat more, lying on a towel at midday on Kuta Beach or dancing with the masses round midnight at Mbargo.
The play list is predominantly R&B and hip-hop with the odd Guetta or Lady Gaga tune thrown in.
The crowd starts streaming in after midnight. Before midnight, you can get triple-shot cocktails at the nearby Skygarden bar.
Rock Bar’s mixologists pour creative cocktails set to the beats spun from a DJ booth carved into the stone — although some nights are devoted to live music.
Designed by Yasuhiro Koichi of Japan’s Design Studio SPIN, this is one of the best, and most crowded, places to watch the sunset in Bali.
A word of warning: wear suitable clothes. No board shorts or sleeveless tops for guys. Thursday to Saturday nights are extremely busy, so be prepared for a long wait.
Ku De Ta
No trip to Bali is complete without catching a sunset at this local institution. Arrive early or you’ll have to sprawl out on the lawn.
Drinks are pricy, but the mojito, raspberry and lemongrass cocktail and Kuve Margarita made with lemon sorbet is worth the coin.
Potato Head Beach Club
Bali’s newest, hippest beach bar is housed in an impressive geometric facade that you won’t miss.
It’s the best place to be seen drinking and partying. Celebrity DJs often play weekend gigs.
Other nights see island residents streaming in at sunset for cocktails and tapas.
The kookaburra is a popular order, a curious concoction made of lemongrass gin, passion fruit and mint, and topped by the club’s signature vanilla foam.
SHOPPING / ATTRACTIONS
There’s plenty of shopping to do in Bali, and few visitors are able to resist the urge to take home a full 24-piece set of Jenggala crockery in pale green jade or plain white.
What started in 1976 as a small, experimental cottage industry has become a global ceramic force.
The high quality, handcrafted ceramic decorated with painstaking detail is a pretty addition — and nicer reminder of Bali — to any home.
Simple Konsep Store
This store is anything but simple.
At this concept space that fuses Bali’s traditional artisan skills with modern European designs, you’ll find everything from origami folding leather bags, Melissa shoes, commissioned ceramics objects by Gaja Gallery, jewelry by local and European designers and unique batik print apparel.
What to do in Bali after you’ve seen all the beaches, sampled all the menus and hit all the bars?
Scaling the majestic Mount Agung — at 3,142 metets the highest point on the island — makes for a worthy challenge.
A strato-volcano that last erupted in 1963, locals believe it’s a replica of Mount Meru, the central axis of the universe.
There are two routes to the top. Both take up to four hours. And while you can scale it without a guide — they can be found lingering at the start of the trek — employing one is highly recommended.
Supposedly the work of the 15th-century priest, Tanah Lot is one of Bali’s most holy, and touristy, sites.
Located in Tabanan, the sacred Hindu temple sits on a large rock out in the ocean and is said to be guarded by sea snakes.
Head toward the footpath leading to the raised cliff area where the view of the sun setting behind the temple is outstanding.
OK, they’re not only in Bali, but terraced rice fields in varying shades of brown, gold and green make for one of Bali’s most calming and beautiful sights.
Keep Walking Tours runs daily excursions, but you can also head off exploring on your own.
Start at Ubud Palace, head west on Jalan Raya Ubud and follow signs that bring you past the River Wos, Campuan Ridge and the village of Penestanan.
Balinese avant garde
Balinese art is more than topless women and rice-paddy landscapes.
The artist-run Sika Gallery in Campuan, Ubud, condemns commercial art and seeks to push Bali’s visual arts envelope.
Ask after artist-curator I Wayan Sika and see if you can coax out the story of his artistic journey, during which a coma-like state inspired him to produce some of his best works.
Poor Ketut Liyer. The elderly medicine man has been kept busy all hours of the day since “Eat, Pray, Love” catapulted him to global fame.
Consultations on your life and love prospects don’t come easy or cheap. Expect all tickets — yes, there’s a docket system — to be snapped up by 9 a.m. Prices vary, but often start from US$25.
Babi guling at Ibu Oka
When in Bali, a meal of babi guling (roast suckling pig) is a must.
It’s essentially a whole roasted pig stuffed with spices, carved up and served with rice and vegetables.
While there are many places to get it around Bali, Ubud’s Ibu Oka is a famed institution serving up platefuls of the stuff daily till mid-afternoon, when the food runs out.
This is a meal that works your jaw. You’ll need to chew hard till all the flavors are released from the succulent meat.
Around noon, staff usually carve up another pig. It’s a great photo op.