Like others, we were called to Bali by the images that social media influencers were sharing of the ideal 2018 millennial hot spot. Girls in bathtubs covered in flower petals, couples standing in water temples and women in gowns flying across the sky in tree-top swings were all too common for me to ignore. So I did what anyone would do and grabbed my partner in crime, and headed to Indonesia to see if paradise was really just a 23-hour plane ride away.
Beginning with culture in Ubud
We decided to split our time across three cities—Bali is known for having very different “vibes” in different areas across the island. Ubud, the most well known for being a cultural hub is located in the middle of Bali with no sandy beaches, just waterfalls and forests.
Our hotel was located off the main strip, among several that sit sporadically through a series of rice patties. Our driver dropped us off on the main road, and we followed a cobblestone walkway about 100 yards through a field to reach the doors. Each hotel in Ubud is relatively similar with a few defining characteristics: stone statues, open-air suites and private infinity pools looking off into the rice patties. After settling in, we hit the streets in search of food and fun.
Ubud is known for coffee tasting, local markets and the Monkey Forest. Stop one was to see the monkeys, of course. Before traveling to Bali, I had heard horror stories about how the monkeys take people’s belongings out of their pockets or purses and then bite them when they try to retrieve their belongings—none of which were the case during our trip. Baby monkeys lounged in their mothers’ arms, while others played in the trees above. The signal of a bell nearby tells everyone that it’s time for a snack, and if you follow the noise, you’ll find dozens of monkeys lining up for a treat from a park ranger. I’d recommend this stop for anyone, any age.
Next, we took a trip to the Ubud Market, which is composed of a few alleys behind the main streets with stocked booths holding colorful fabrics, metals, jewels and fruits. The market in Ubud is one of the few in Bali that’s still used by locals for food and fabric as well as tourists looking for souvenirs. Bring your cash and walking shoes; it’s easy to spend an entire afternoon exploring the stalls and bargaining to your heart’s content.
The coffee—where do I begin? Balinese coffee is special for a few reasons: it’s all grown locally, it’s wet-processed (meaning the fruit-like coating of the bean is removed before drying unlike traditional coffee beans) and each café brews their coffee differently. Coffee shops line every corner of Ubud, ready to brew up their special version, or if you prefer going to the source, smaller coffee plantations are found throughout the countryside and are open for tastings every day.
Soak up the sun in Canggu
From Ubud we took a 45-minute taxi ride to Canggu, a formerly sleepy beach town turned hipster paradise. Canggu is famous for its cafes, beaches, food and night life. We stayed at a little place called Alternative Beach, which is half-hostel, half-luxury hotel with a large pool, waterslide, yoga classes and poolside restaurant. Alternative Beach doubles as a daytime pool location with an entrance fee for anyone looking to spend an afternoon drinking and soaking up the sun before heading back to their hotel or the beach.
After spending days walking around Ubud’s rocky streets, I had a few goals in Canggu: relax, rejuvenate and soak up the Balinese “wellness culture” of great food, spirits, massages and gorgeous scenery. The change from Ubud to Canggu is almost a culture shock; Ubud has lush forests with quaint coffee roasters, while Canggu is an Instagram paradise with bars and shops catering to the millennial crowd with picture-worthy corners and gimmicks.
The Canggu market is much more modern, with hip clothes and jewelry still at great prices but catering to the western version of “shopping” versus “bargaining.” We skipped the market and instead headed over to the Deus Ex Machina “Temple of Enthusiasm,” which is a motorcycle shop turned apparel store turned bar and event spot. Locals visit this spot to get their bikes worked on while visitors shop the racks and have a drink at the bar. On this very special Tuesday, the manager told us about an event they were having that evening: Tacos and Tattoos. Next time you’re in Bali, if you dare, buy a taco and get a free tattoo at this famous motorcycle shop.
The next few days of our trip we spent lounging at day clubs around the city, including Finns Beach Club and the Lawn, which both offer beach-side pools, full bar menus and tropical drinks with live music. Renting a daybed is easy, and two people can lounge for hours watching the surfers enjoy the waves while kids play on the sandy beach.
Don't move a muscle
I don’t know if it was the amount of running around we’d been doing all week or the slow-paced lifestyle of Canggu, but the third leg of our trip got derailed. We were to visit Uluwatu, a sleepy cliff-side town with white sandy beaches. However, the day before we were supposed to leave, we found ourselves wanting to stay right where we were.
“Bali isn’t going anywhere,” I found myself saying as I extended my stay in our suite and walked back out to the pool, reminding myself that I could always come back next year and explore new cities—I wasn’t done with Canggu.
That day we watched poolside yoga in the morning and a beachfront photo shoot in the afternoon. At night, we got dinner at Billy Ho, which to this day is one of the most inventive, delicious dinners I’ve ever eaten. The owner was in the kitchen making Japanese-inspired dishes, while hip patrons were seated in booths all around, enjoying cocktails in a chic bar and lounge setting. After eating more food than we really needed, we headed over to a well-known pizza joint, Luigi’s, which doubles as a concert venue, where we listened to music all night long.
We woke up the next morning late but ready to find the next café, pool and beach on our list.