My trip to Bali and the Gili Islands
My trip to Bali. This summer Manu and I decided to give us a new adventure and visit a place where nature has remained relatively unspoiled. That place is called Indonesia, and we have decided to go to Bali and the Gili Islands.
We bought the flight tickets very early and for the first time we flew with Qatar Airways, one of the best airline companies I’ve ever flown with. Aside from the cleanliness, what I love the most was highest quality of the food. The menu also provided a nice vegan alternative (and on the flight back home I went for the breakfast with noodles and tofu, but when you don’t know what time is, you don’t even care!). The only sour note is that, having bought tickets so long before the trip, they changed the flight times, increasing the layover at Doha Airport (which have become 8) and lengthening the overall journey at 20 hours, versus 16 hours. We arrived at Denpasar International Airport at about 23:30 pm local time, six hours ahead of Italy, and we headed for the first stop on our trip to Bali.
My trip to Bali: what to see, where to stay and eat
FIRST STOP: UBUD
It is the cultural part of Bali: nearby are all the most important temples and some of the island’s historic sites such as the monkey forest, the rice plantations and the Elephant Cave. We spent the first 4 nights there: 3 at Alaya Resort Ubud, a hotel completely immersed in nature, with two magnificent swimming pools (one of which you see below in the photos, with a beautiful gazebo), an amazing tidy and luxurious garden, and a convenient location, only a few minutes walk to the Sacred Monkey Forest .
The room was tastefully decorated, in a typical Balinese style, as well as the whole Resort. We stayed in the Deluxe Room, which is on the ground floor and has got a terrace: it is very spacious and quiet. Everything was really taken care of, even the choice of soaps, which had a very nice scent!
Breakfast at the Alaya Resort Ubud was fresh and was very tasty. I recommend you try theAlaya Breakfast, which is great! I enjoyed it by the pool!
CLIMATE. Ubud is located in the central part of the island of Bali, the greenest and therefore the most rainy. We were fairly unlucky as during our stay on this part of the island it always rained in the morning or in the afternoon. The weather is rather damp, but not very hot: temperatures are around 25/26 °C with slightly higher peaks when there is full sun.
Being in the equatorial band the hours of light and dark are exactly the same: the sun rises at 6:30 am and 6:30 in the evening it is already dark!
Alaya Resort Ubud is just a few minutes walk from the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. On the first day, after a bit of relaxing at the pool, we decided to discover it. The place is enchanting, though they say to be careful with the monkeys who are used to steal hats and even cell phones to get food in return! In my opinion, however, monkeys are quite nervous as most tourists torment them, touching them with insistence and making them even climb just to take pictures. I did not want to interfere too much with nature because it’s something I personally do not like, so I’m just limited to approaching animals cautiously to take my photos and shoot videos for Instagram Stories and vlogs, without fear. The only thing that I had to be careful about was the laces of my Manebì’s espadrilles: the mischievous monkeys had fun unlacing them!
The sweetest time was when I came near a mother with her puppy and this, attracted by the embroidered sparkle on my t-shirt, began to play, even putting her hand on my arm. It was a really exciting time!
When Manu tried to do the same, however, he was not so lucky. He sat next to a monkey boy who was eating his banana and while I was taking a picture, he saw him without an apparent motif scratching it on his arm. We were very frightened of what happened, but forest guards assured us that all animals are periodically checked by veterinarians and without any illness. Manu, fortunately, has recently had the tetanus vaccine booster and had no problem.
My tips: if you decide to approach monkeys be very careful as they are, like any other, completely unpredictable animals!
MEALS. Bali is quite cheap and you don’t have to spend much to eat. The food is great: fruits and vegetables of all kinds, all fresh and of the highest quality. Many of the locals dishes are inspired by the Australian food, with a great preference for vegetarian and vegan dishes, and for those based on fish or chicken.
For our first lunch in Ubud we chose Watercress, ordering two refreshing smoothies made of pineapple, mint and cucumber, Acai Bowl for me and salmon burger for Manu. Prices range around 15 € per person.
The staff at the Alaya Resort Ubud was really welcoming, kind and scrupulous, as well as very attentive with the organization of excursions. For the next day we were advised to wake up early, not to miss a ray of sunshine and to enjoy the full 3 planned hikes. The appointment was at 6:15 am and there were waiting for us two breakfast boxes based on bread, jam and fruit to be enjoyed during the trip.
The first stage was the Rice Terrace Tegalalang: we came shortly after dawn and the scenery that opened before our eyes was of complete beauty. Here the most imposing rice cultivation in Bali is made even more impressive by the various levels of terracing and the surrounding jungle, which includes many coconut trees and banana plantations!
After the rice plantation we headed to the Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave, one of Bali’s most visited temples. To enter both women and men must wear the Sarong, a kind of colored pareo, which can be bought at the entrance together with the price of the ticket and which has been made available to us by our guide. The exterior is made up of large fountains surrounded by lush gardens that evoke a sense of absolute peace, while the cave, which is the true temple, emanates a mystical allure that can really leave you out of breath!
The third and last excursion of the day was the one at Batubulan Temple to see inside of it the Barong and the Kris dance, a very famous local show that represents the eternal struggle between good and evil and gave us an hour of total immersion in the oldest culture of this wonderful people.
TRANSFERS. We decided for not renting, as many tourists do, either the car or the scooter, since after watching for a while the local guide we did not feel too comfortable. The guide in Bali is to the right and the Balinese people are quite reckless. That’s why we chose a driver to rely on, Jabrick, who followed us all the way to Bali, then accompanying us to the port to go to Gili islands and come back four days later. Having a private driver is quite accessible as the prices are very low and the maximum amount you can pay for a long trip (3/4 hours) is 30 €.
Below you find Manu together with Jabrick and his car: here is his phone number +62 87861994490, if you need a trusted and friendly person to follow you during the trip (you can contact him via Whatsapp).
When we came back from the day, around 17:00 we headed to Dining Corner Restaurant at Kayumanis Ubud Private Villa & SPA where they had arranged for us a dinner on a terrace in the forest. They recommend us to arrive so early, to have dinner in front of the sunset, which, from that strategic point is absolutely amazing. We first experienced the typical Balinese cuisine, very spicy, based on fish and salads, in a really great menu made for us by the great chef. Immediately after sunset the pool was illuminated with small lanterns, with light music in the background, which made the atmosphere even warmer!
Then we moved to Alaya Resort Jembewan, which is always near Ubud and is brand new, this was in fact its first opening summer. Compared to the other resort of the group it is situated even more in the heart of the forest in a relaxed atmosphere for the eyes and mind.
The room is a beautifully furnished open space, also featuring a magnificent pool-view terrace, fully immersed in the luxuriant Ubud nature.
For meals I recommend the restaurant inside the resort called Herb Library, which offers a selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes with a wide choice of bowls. We ordered the Japanese Bowl and it was delicious!
In the afternoon we went to the DaLa Spa, inside the resort. A lovely place to spend moments of pure relaxation to regenerate completely, starting from the typical foot massage to end with so many different treatments. We chose Abhyangam, a 60-minute total body massage made with a special officinal herb oil.
Towards the evening we got a bad news: the next day we were supposed to leave for the Gili Islands with the fast boat but the Coast Guard had decided to block all boats departing and arriving for two days due to bad weather and stormy sea. This has forced us to change our programs (despite all the hotels already booked) and improvise! When traveling it is important to always try to be flexible and always have a plan B.
SECONDO STOP: CANGGU
Our Plan B took us to Canggu for one night, where Manu took advantage of the beautiful waves to surf, while I enjoyed some sunshine on the beautiful sandy beach. We searched on Booking.com and came across Aradhana Villas hotel: a private villa all for us with pool and bathroom partly outdoors partly indoors, like all the others of this trip to Bali!
The day at Canggu was very fun for Manu who was looking forward to surfing in Bali and here he could have some fun with the waves!
MEALS. When in Canggu don’t miss Bali Bowls for bowls and smoothies of outstanding quality. We liked it so much that we came there for lunch and we also went back to dinner, making friends with the owners who told us to have two other restaurants, one in Ibiza and another one in Dubai!
The next day, despite the rains, we decided to go to Tanah Lot Temple near Canggu. The weather was too bad so unfortunately we could not enjoy it as we would have liked.
THIRD STOP: PADANG BAY
In the afternoon we moved to Padang Bay, where there is the port from which the boats to the Gili Islands depart (which they had assured us would have departed from the next day at 9:oo am). We dined at a very good Mexican restaurant called Omang Omang. If Padang Bay was to be a place of passage, thanks to this dinner it stayed in our heart. When we say that the Balinese people are great and generous it is true: that evening Irma, the digital manager of the Alaya Resorts, came to us in Padang Bay to bring us back the clothes we had forgotten in the hotel plus a gift bag from a Ubud store that had contacted me on Instagram and sent me the clothes in her office. But she was not alone: she was accompanied by her husband and two beautiful children. He introduced us to the owner of the restaurant, an Australian guy who has moved for 20 years to Bali to work and who shared with us his story and his beautiful vision of the world and life. Living in Bali changes you deeply: the Balinese people have a culture of altruism and aid that often leaves the westerners speechless, deeply accustomed to the egoism that too often surrounds our lives.
FOURTH STOP: GILI ISLANDS
Finally, with a delay of two days, we can leave for Gili Meno. Our fast boat should have left at 9:30 am, but it was half an hour late, so we soon realized how time and schedule of departures is very relative for the Balinese. After two and a half hours of trip and a rather quiet sea we arrived at our island, Gili Meno. There is no harbor there, nor even a mooring dock: from the fast boat they moved us to a smaller boat and, after approaching as much as possible on the shore, they let us down with the suitcases on the head and feet literally immersed in the water! A very special arrival, which prompted us in the island’s wild spirit. There are no cars or motor vehicles in any of the three Gili Islands, Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno. The roads are all dirt and you can walk by foot or get on local cabs, small horse-drawn calesse. We took the latter to get to our hotel: we were really crammed because we had so many luggage and the space available on the calesse is very limited. So if you have the possibility to leave the luggage in Bali, I suggest you to travel on these islands with a backpack containing only the essentials!
Between a hopping and the other, we finally got to Les Villas Ottalia. A hotel located in the center of the island, completely immersed in the surrounding nature, similar to the Bali’s one but with many more flowers, especially bouganvillea of all colors.
The villas are beautiful, very clean and well kept. You can safely walk barefoot. I especially liked the canopy bed, although I have to admit that the net was only choreographic, as mosquitoes and insects were almost non existent.
The sunset light at Gili Meno has something magical. The sky is colored of red and orange and the beach (which is completely covered with corals) literally changes color.
Immediately after sunset the island changes, it becomes almost totally dark. Artificial lights are very few and people use the moon as light guide, which fortunately was full moon during our stay.
The next day we finally went diving and swimming with sea turtles, always one of my greatest dreams! I swam in the blue of the deepest ocean, without paying attention to the jellyfish just to see these beautiful animals closely! Twice: one in the early morning and one at sunset. I recommend, if you have to choose, to book for late afternoon. In the morning turtles are hungry and are hunting for jellyfish, who literally devour, making them shreds. These pieces, however, dissipate in water, and continue to be nauseating: if they come into contact with the skin, they can cause a painful inflammation. Unfortunately this is was happened to Manu, but there was e very well-equipped medical centers on the beach which practiced an anti venom injection that in less than one hour made him forget all the pain!
All the underwater pictures were taken with GoPro HERO4 with the help of Dome, a fantastic tool that allows you to make both underwater and half-under half-out of water pictures! I bought it on GoCamera: if you’re interested, check it out HERE!
TRANSFERS. The three islands are close, so you can see them on the horizon! From one to the other it takes no more than 15 minutes by boat. We met two very kind guys who helped us with the transfers: they are called André and Aldi, their number is +62 87765162013 and also with them we used Whatsapp to get in touch!
MEALS. Gili’s cuisine is completely different from Bali’s, it is more Indonesian style and spicy. Even when we ate grilled fish in a renowned restaurant it was burnt and not so good. Being literally invaded by tourists, prices are higher, rather comparable to Italian ones.
The inhabitants of the Gili Islands, like those of all Lombok, are Muslims, and although they are used to Western tourism, their approach is very different from the one of the Balinese people. They are not hospitable at all, indeed they are really rude with tourists in general, especially if they are women. I found myself in situations where they didn’t looked into my eyes as I talked or asked for informations, or in the restaurants they accompanied only Manu’s chair at the table and not mine. There have been a number of unpleasant situations that have contributed to ruin my Gili’s positive memory.
In general, the islands are very dirty and kept bad by the locals, who can not handle this huge wave of tourism that invaded them. Their homes aren’t well kept, their gardens look like dustbins open to the sky as they are full of bits of anything in every corner. And I stayed at Gili Meno, the least touristy of the three. At Gili Trawangan the situation is even worse. Each evening at the center of the island they burn the waste of the day and it raises a cloud of black smoke visible also from the other islands. Nevertheless, the sea is amazing and clean, and the beaches are kept very well, clean and covered with corals. The coral reef begins a few steps from the shore: I recommend always wearing fins to protect your feet and help you in the strong currents that characterize the ocean. Before we left we had bought two Easybreath underwater masks from Decathlon: this is a full face mask that not only allows a panoramic view of the seabed but also protects it from jellyfish, which, the locals told us, tend to stick to the delicate area between nose and lips.
Finally while in Gili I met my friend Maicol: after we literally chasing each other in Ubud, visiting the same places but always at different times, we finally meet during his Gili Meno tour and spend some time together on the other side of the world!
LAST STOP: NUSA DUA
After 3 nights at Gili Meno we took the fast boat back to Bali. Unfortunately due to delays we arrived at Padang Bay at 14:00 pm, for lunch we returned at Omang Omang restaurant, which is just a 5 minute walk to the harbor (where we ate two tons of fresh fruit and yogurt) and then we headed to Nusa Dua, at The Ritz-Carlton, Bali. We arrived here around 17:00 pm, just before sunset, after a full day of travel.
The view of our room put a smile back on my face: it was really huge! There was a walk-in closet, a giant shower, a sitting area and an amazing big bed! Outside, a private pool and a fresh fruit plate with coconut sweets to welcome us!
But it was not the only surprise: the private pool was connected to the bathroom, with a bathtub covered with frangipane flowers and rose petals!
The next morning the Ritz Carlton team spoiled us with a delicious floating breakfast!
We spent the last few days in Bali inside the resort, which is very big and offers a vast amount of activities for all tastes.
At sunset we tried the anti-gravity yoga lesson: a truly fascinating and relaxing experience that has brought me to the yoga world so much that this winter I’m thinking of enroll a class!
Manu also managed to surf again, along with the instructor of the Ritz Carlton, who decided to accompany him. In this part of the island you usually do not surf because the waves are very high and break near the coral reef: for this it is important to have a very experienced surfer alongside.
We tried all the four restaurants within The Ritz Carlton and they were all great, we had very delicious meals. My favorite was definitely the lunch at the beach restaurant, The Beach Grill!
During this trip I chose to bring with me my favorite fragrances of the moment, Ylang Ylang Nosy Be and Patchouli Nosy Be by Perris Monte Carlo. On the other side of the Indian Ocean compared to Bali is Madagascar and Nosy Be is one of its islands. Everyone knows it as the fragrant island, because in the air you breathe notes of vanilla, coffee, cocoa. But above all, Ylang Ylang, a beautiful yellow flower with a delicate and sensual scent, which is the main element of Ylang Ylang Nosy Be fragrance, and Patchouli, a plant from which a rich and intense essential oil is extracted and used for Patchouli Nosy Be fragrance.
I really want to thank Anggy and Sandy for the communication, press and digital team at The Ritz Carlton, Bali. In addition to having me organized a dream stay, they made me a very special gift. They said goodbye with a beautifully decorated hand fan, to remember the beauty of Bali. I can not wait to hang it in my new home!
When I arrived back at home, I find a very sweet email from Anggy, sending some pictures taken by Sandy which you see below. We have been waiting for the birth of the turtles for the longest time but unfortunately we have not been able to assist it: it took place on our day of departure!
Hopefully my Bali travel diary can be useful for you for organizing your next trip to this magical place.
My Bali vlog is coming out soon, be sure not to miss it!
Happy Monday to all of you!