Since Bali was added to our itinerary mostly because of the weather and the cheap flights, we had opted to only spend five days there. Since we’re not really beach people, we though more than three days at the beach might be overkill, so we split our stay into three days in Kuta where we could go to the beach, surf, and relax and two days in Ubud further north to see temples and rice fields. We’re really glad we did; these two areas of Bali were pretty different even though they had similar cultural feel.
We finally arrived in Bali after 36 hours on three flights from Rochester, MN, to Atlanta, GA, and then to Seoul, South Korea, and finally to Denpasar, Bali. Cheap flights are usually not very direct, and this was definitely the case with ours. We were thankful for our lounge access which kept us well rested and fed during our layovers.
Our first introduction to Bali was a very long immigration line which moved very slowly and took almost an hour to get through. Once we were officially in Indonesia, we went to the bag carousel to pick up our backpacks. Jess’s was on the carousel and appeared to be the last bag from our flight. Jess was sure all the bags must have come off the plane by now – we’d waited so long in that line! With Eric’s bag nowhere in sight, we went over to the lost bag counter to report the bag missing. This seemed like a rather inauspicious beginning, although we’d had six hours in Seoul for them to move our bags and the gate agent there had told us our bags had been loaded in the plane, so it couldn’t really be lost. Apparently bags sometimes get stuck on the conveyor belt and this is what happened to Eric’s. Just after reporting it, we glanced back at the carousel and it was there! Other than a slightly dented lock, everything was fine.
We had originally thought we would take the bus from the airport to Kuta. You know, saving money and all, but there was surprisingly little information about the bus, and it was now dark. We decided to take a taxi but we first needed to take out Indonesian Rupiah from the ATM. We stopped at the only ATM we could see and tried to take out money, but it kept giving us a cryptic message about checking our transaction history and contacting the bank. Other people seemed to be able to get money out here, and we had plenty of money for this transaction, but it wasn’t working. Finally after calling the bank and confirming there was no issue, we saw another ATM which happily gave us cash.
Now we had to find a taxi. Jess had read a ton about how taxis at the airport in Bali are way overpriced and notoriously try to scam tourists, how the most reputable taxi company in Bali (Blue Bird) is somehow not allowed to pick people up at the airport, and she would have preferred to avoid the whole thing, but we really didn’t have a choice. We stood in the line at the official taxi counter which had a sign saying the estimated fare to Kuta was 90,000 IDR ($6.30), but when we got to the counter, we were told 150,000 IDR ($10.50). It does no good to argue in this case. The price is the price.
We finally arrived at our hotel, The Bene, at 9pm. The Bene was a beautiful hotel with a pool and an elaborate breakfast buffet tucked away in a quiet corner of bustling Kuta. We had chosen it mostly for its good reviews and because it was cheap enough that we could get daily massages without blowing the budget. We had three very relaxing days which we spent as planned – lazing by the pool, reading, getting Balinese massages, eating Balinese food, dodging mopeds on the narrow streets, and taking surfing lessons.
Almost all of our time in Kuta was spent in a very tight radius (two to three blocks). We could have branched out a bit more, but there was no need. There are so many restaurants (warungs) you could throw a stone anywhere and hit three of them. There are also tons of massage places, and the beach is only a few blocks away.
Mopeds go zipping down the narrow, windy streets in both directions, often carrying surf boards. Cars also use these narrow roads, so there is sometimes a traffic jam when both cars and mopeds are trying to get through. Pedestrians definitely do not have the right of way, so it is best to just jump out of the way.
It also pays to watch where you are putting your feet as there are religious offerings on the ground outside almost every house and business, and you do not want to accidentally step on one. The offerings are generally small baskets made out of a leaf with anything people have to offer inside, i.e. flowers, crackers, rice, incense, cigarettes, etc. Our taxi driver later told us unlike most of Indonesia where the predominant religion is Islam, more than 80% of people in Bali practice Hinduism. The offerings were to Sanghyang Widi, the one supreme being. In Balinese Hinduism different gods are simply different representations of this supreme being. Offerings are usually made twice a day when people pray.
One of our main goals in Bali was relaxing/recovering from two months of biking, so we were in the market for massages. We learned from experience that it is worth looking spas up ahead of time. We did not have any truly bad experiences, but it is clear you get what you pay for. We opted for our first Balinese massage at the hotel. The Bene runs a special between 12pm and 3pm where massages are 175,000 IDR ($12.35) each. We booked massages for the afternoon of our first day. When we got to the spa, we were taken into a spa room with two massage beds and each handed a robe and a pair of underwear that sort of resembled a shower cap but with two leg holes. It seems they’re never sure what attire tourists will show up in and it is better to be safe than sorry. The room smelled nice and the beds had pretty potted sand displays under the face cradle in case you wanted to have your eyes open. Balinese massage uses long, gentle strokes which are very relaxing, but, it turns out, not Jess’s favorite style of massage. It includes a stomach massage, which is a bit unusual, but also an awesome head massage that makes it all worth it. And the massage style did not hold us back from having two more before we left Bali, although they definitely descended in quality as they got cheaper.
The second one was at Yes Spa in Kuta for 110,000 IDR ($7.70) each where you could wear your own underwear and they had a safe for your stuff. The room smelled nice, the music was relaxing, and Jess actually liked the massage itself better here, but thin bamboo walls between each massage bed meant you could hear everything going on in the next room. Eric did not like the ambiance here as much as at The Bene – he thought it felt more like going to a hospital room for treatment than being at a spa.
On our last day in Kuta, Eric mentioned he wanted to get a pedicure – to have his feet cleaned, not painted. We had noticed a place just around the corner from our hotel which offered pedicures for 70,000 IDR ($4.90), so we thought that would be good for the first experience. When we got started, Eric realized clipping his toenails right before the pedicure might have been a mistake. However, it turned into a blessing in disguise when he watched Jess’s toenails get clipped shorter and shorter and then filed into an unusual shape. Even without clipping, Eric says the filing was pretty rough, and they used a scary forked knife tool to trim very sensitive parts of your toes! He’s was not sure he enjoyed the experience, so we will probably not be looking for pedicures again for a while.
Our main reason for choosing Kuta, as opposed to other locations in Bali was the opportunity to surf. Kuta was the first tourist development in Bali and is well known for its beach. There are now better beaches in Bali, with Kuta demoted to third place in the rankings, but it is still the best place for surfing. After our first experience surfing in Huanchaco, Peru, we definitely wanted to try it again. We found UP2U Surf School just north of our hotel which offered a semi-private lesson for 400,000 IDR ($28) per person. The lesson was two hours and we spent almost all of the lesson time in the water practicing. In Bali, it is common to hear people tell you not to panic. We heard this at least twice during our stay. Our surfing instructor calmly told us, “if you see a wave, don’t panic!” Jess was still recovering from muscle soreness and maybe a muscle imbalance from biking followed by the Izatys workout program, so she was having a little trouble standing up quickly on the board. The waves in Bali were way bigger than the waves we had experienced in Huanchaco, so it was a bit more intimidating, but we still managed to catch a few good ones. We definitely do not know how to control the surfboard once we are on it, so people ran each other over every once in a while (as Eric did to Jess in the picture below). There were way more people surfing here than in Huanchaco, so steering was more important, and sometimes we had to bail off just to avoid a collision. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience anyway.
After three days in Kuta, which felt more like a traditional honeymoon than anything else we’ve done on our trip so far, we were feeling relaxed and ready to move on. After a quick lunch, we asked the hotel to call us a taxi (Bluebird) to go to Ubud.