Bali Birthday

Last January, I turned 28.  Six months later, I still don't feel like I'm 28. Sometimes, I forget how old I am, I have to manually calculate my age... 2015-1987= X. For real. I'm actually old enough to forget my own age. Does this happen to everyone? When I was a child, I felt 28 was legit adult age. The age of my titos and titas. The age my parents had their 3rd (I think) child. And yet here I am, at 28, not quite feeling the whole adult thing yet. Um, maybe in a couple more years? ;)

Anyway, as birthdays go, Eliel and I don't usually do gifts or fancy dinners. We prefer to just spend time together. Last year, on my birthday, we had a spontaneous trip to Baguio. This year, we were better prepared and booked ourselves tickets to Bali. (See the pattern? For two consecutive years, I've spent my birthdays in places that start with the letter B. Where to go next year?)


Our itinerary
We intentionally kept our itinerary flexible. What we enjoy about traveling as a couple is that it's not as rigid as compared to traveling with a huge group. Because it's just the two of us, we can easily change plans as we go, and we can make spur of the moment decisions without worrying about how everyone feels.

We had 3 full days to explore Bali, so we made our plans as simple as possible, only going to the places we really wanted to visit. I think that it's way better to spend time in a few places you're particularly interested in, rather than hurriedly going from one place to another just to make sure you get a photo at each and every tourist spot. But that's just me. Others actually enjoy the "Amazing Race" feel. To each his own, right?

With our limited time, here's where we went:

Day 1:
Arrival at Bali
Tanah Lot
Kuta / Seminyak Beach

Day 2:
Ubud Tour: Monkey Forest, Royal Temple, Ibu Oka lunch, Tirta Empul, Coffee Plantation
Dinner at Jimbaran Bay

Day 3:
Balangan Beach
Uluwatu Temple

Day 4:
Early morning departure

Getting around Bali
The main problem about going around in Bali is that they do not offer public transportation to most tourist spots. Taxis and car rentals are expensive. The best way to go around is by motorbike - and those are very cheap to rent.

Motorbike = 50,000 IDR per day (less than PHP 200) 
Car rental (with driver) = 700,000 IDR per day (more than PHP 2,000!!!)

If only one of us knew how to drive one, we'd have saved a lot. However, we do realize that it's never a good idea to learn how to drive a new vehicle while on limited vacation time. We'd rather be safe. Also, they drive on the left-hand side of the road - so that's another thing to consider, especially if you're not used to it.

So during our stay, we arranged transfers with local drivers recommended by our host. For our Ubud day trip, we booked with Bali Made Tour. 

Money matters
The first thing we did when we landed was to get some Indonesian cash. Friends have advised us to withdraw our cash in Bali instead of bringing US dollars for exchange. There are lots of ATMs around Bali, so it was never a problem. We initially withdrew 1,000,000 IDR/Rupiahs each (Php 3,700). Millionaires for a day!

Phone and internet
As soon as we got to our accommodations, our Airbnb host, David, took us to the supermarket where he advised us to buy XL SIM cards (42,000 IDR or Php 150). These were lifesavers. We used our local number to communicate with him and with our drivers, and the mobile internet helped us get around. Unlimited internet was insanely cheap at only about Php 7 per day! I wish it were the same in the Philippines. 

Our Airbnb experience at Villa Santai
Booked our lodging through Airbnb and ended up in the welcoming villa of David and German, two Spanish guys who moved to Bali. We only met David during our stay. He was the most accommodating host - giving us a ride on his motorbike to pick up some prepaid SIM cards during our first day, sharing with us some tips on going around Bali, and hooking us up with safe and reliable drivers for our tours. We barely got to talk to him because we were always out (had to maximize our time!), but whenever we had any questions, he was easy to contact and always helpful.
It was our first time to book accommodations via Airbnb, and it was certainly a pleasant experience for us. You can communicate with your hosts prior to your arrival, and they promptly respond to your questions.

The location is in the southern tip of Bali, away from the touristy Kuta area, but it was peaceful, quiet and did I mention beautiful? It is also located near Balangan Beach, which is a good thing. But more of that later.

Anyway, in my opinion, Php 3,300 ($73) for 3 nights in this beautiful room is quite a steal. But we got it for an even cheaper rate because at that time Citibank had a promo so we got it at 50% off! All in all, our 3 night-stay cost us only about Php 1,500 ($33). :)

Side note: Interested in booking via Airbnb? You can use my referral code (vurgel)to get $25 off on your first trip. Or you can simply go to this link:
Happy booking!

Had our photo taken with David on our last night on the island. In this photo, he's bending his knees so we're all the same height. hahaha


So here's how we spent our Bali weekend. 

Day 1
  • Arrival at Bali
  • Tanah Lot
  • Kuta / Seminyak Beach
After buying SIM cards and buying 3 days worth of snacks at the Nirmala Supermarket, we had to get some lunch. Our first meal was at this little diner across the supermarket called the Warung Satay Club Cafe. Good food+WiFi= no complaints!

Clockwise: Nasi Goreng Sate Club, Asian Sate, Chicken Spring Rolls
Over lunch, we plotted our schedule for the next 3 days. Yup, we hardly planned ahead. :p

Bali is an island well-known for its temples. The best thing to do if you have limited time is to select just a few to visit. Two of the most recommended temples are Tanah Lot and the Uluwatu Temple, so we had our eye on just those two. But we ended up going to two more based on our tour guide's recommendation.

Our game plan for our first afternoon in Bali was to visit the famous Tanah Lot and then spend the rest of the day strolling along Kuta/Seminyak.

Tanah Lot
Tanah Lot is a rock formation near the sea where a Balinese temple stands. 
Entrance to Tanah Lot
Lots and lots of tourists. Spot Yza. hehe 
The view is beautiful, and the sound of the waves are so calming. Kinda makes you forget that there are so many people in the area. So many people. It takes quite an effort to position yourself to take a good photo, but once you do, it's totally worth it.

As with every tourist spot, Tanah Lot was lined with stalls and stalls of souvenir shops and an art market. And, just like any regular tourist, Eliel and I stopped by every shop during the whole duration of our trip. 

Kuta Beach
We then asked to be dropped off at the famous Kuta Beach to take a stroll. This wide stretch of sand extends to several other famous beaches such as Legian and Seminyak. Coming from the Philippines, I had high expectations, but it turned out to be...just okay. Nice, yes. Chill place to surf or unwind, yes. But not really as beautiful as Boracay or other Philippine beaches. What I love, though, is the relaxed atmosphere. I enjoyed hanging out here.

Unfortunately, where there are tourists, there is trash. :( This is horrible.

Potato Head Beach Club, Seminyak
We then took a peek into the famous Potato Head Beach Club. As it turns out, this is the place to be. Great vibe, awesome beach view, jam-packed with tourists. Unfortunately, we couldn't get a table. We were offered lovely ocean-facing lounge chairs (see photo below) but we'll need to spend a minimum of 1,000,000 IDR. We didn't want to spend that kind of money on drinks or dinner, so we decided to just go look for some place else.

While walking, we came across this festive place called Motel Mexicola, and we decided to spend the evening here. Can't go wrong with Mexican food. And we enjoyed our cute little mocktails, being the non-drinkers that we are. haha

Where's Yza?
Clockwise: chorizo quesadilla, mocktails, churros, camaron tostaditas
Day 2
  • Ubud Tour: Monkey Forest, Royal Temple, Ibu Oka lunch, Tirta Empul, Coffee Plantation
  • Dinner at Jimbaran Bay
Most of Indonesia is Muslim, and majority of the country's very small Hindu population is in Bali. Ninety percent of the Balinese population practice Hinduism. Growing up in a Catholic country, it was very interesting to be in a place where the religious traditions and practices are completely different from what I am used to. While back home, I would normally see a church at every corner, in Bali, I see temples and offerings everywhere.  Each house has its own temple or shrine. Also, everywhere you go, you will see these banana or palm leaf boxes filled with flowers, rice, other sorts of food items and sometimes, money. These are their offerings to the gods and are often done twice in a day. According to Diana, our tour guide/driver (Oh, BTW, he's a guy, and it's pronounced "Di-ya-no"), women in  Bali typically stay at home, and preparing these offerings are part of their daily routine. We saw a lot of these on our way to Ubud.

As it was our first time in Bali, Ubud was a place we didn't want to miss. A contrast to the southern beaches, Ubud, which is in the central part of Bali, is the land of rice paddies. The scenery is quite familiar since we have a lot of farm lands in the Philippines.

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
One of the most famous tourist attractions in Ubud is their Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. In this place, you're guaranteed to see lotsa monkeys (duh!). It's actually a Hindu temple complex where monkeys roam wild and free. I was really hesitant about visiting this place because I am terrified of monkeys. They may look cute, but they are also known to be very mischievous. In the past, I've seen monkeys stealing things from people. Our driver, however, assured us that the monkeys here are super nice, and I took his word for it. Turns out, he was right. Eliel and I enjoyed the monkeys so much, we forgot about the time and spent an hour and a half going around the complex. Too. Many. Cute. Monkeys!!! You can also buy bananas and have the monkeys crawl all over your arms and head, but I couldn't handle that yet. hehe I wanted Eliel to do it, but he wouldn't either. Boo.

So we watched other people do it instead..

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. And a bonus monkey, marveling at his hand.

Royal Temple
We also stopped by the Royal Temple, but for some reason, we only took photos of ourselves. :p

Ibu Oka
Lunch was at the restaurant just across the temple, Ibu Oka, which serves a famous local dish called babi guling (essentially, it's lechon, but with a lot more spices).

Tirta Empul Temple
Our next stop was the driver/tour guide's personal recommendation - the Tirta Empul Temple (which means "holy water spring").  As a Hindu who often went there, he was proud to show us around his favorite temple. He particularly wanted us to see the cleansing ritual which was ongoing at that time.

Near the entrance, it was really cute seeing all these people waiting to get photos beside the jackfruit. I didn't realize these fruits weren't as common as I thought they were. Growing up, it's one of my favorite fruits to eat, especially when it's straight out of the refrigerator. hehe

To enter the temple, visitors are required to wear a wrap around the lower body as well as a sash around the waist. Diana picked our wraps and helped us with them. He obviously has a talent for coordinating our wraps with our outfits. :D

Beautiful structures inside the temple.
Every available space is filled with offerings.
Hindus usually come to the Tirta Empul during full moons to do a cleansing ritual. Our timing was perfect and we were able to witness this first hand. They say that on a regular day, the pool isn't usually this packed.

We didn't want to be disrespectful by taking photos We checked with Diana if it was okay to have a photo taken here and he said yes. He even took this photo of us.
Coffee Plantation
Our next stop was at the coffee plantation. Diana toured us around the farm and showed us different plants. I can't seem to remember them right now, but I do remember vanilla and cinnamon (yum), and a few spices.

He also showed us how kopi luwak is made. These cute little civet cats eat coffee berries and their droppings are cleaned and the beans are brewed for coffee. It sounds gross, but they say it's really good. It's actually one of the world's most expensive coffees. In the Philippines we also have this, but it is more popularly known as cafe alamid or cafe musang.

The best part of the tour was our coffee and tea tasting session! The weather in Ubud is quite cool, so the hot drinks were perfect.

We tasted a wide selection of teas (such as lemon grass, rose, rice, ginger) and coffees (such as ginseng, coconut, mocha, Bali coffee). The best part is that it's free! If you want to take some home, they have a store near the exit. Don't worry, they don't pressure you to buy anything. But if you do decide to hoard (like us), they accept credit cards. Just saying.

Jimbaran Bay
After our trip to Ubud, we headed to Jimbaran Bay for a seafood dinner by the beach. There was a bit of rain, so we couldn't get a table outside. Also, because of the rain, the restaurants were practically empty.

We had a lovely dinner, albeit a bit pricey.

Day 3
  • Balangan Beach
  • Uluwatu Temple
Balangan Beach
On our third day (my birthday!), we wanted to experience beach bumming in Bali so we headed to Balangan Beach which was just a few minutes away from our villa. This beach was beautiful, quiet and clean. I definitely liked it a lot more than Kuta. Waves are big so it's difficult to swim here, but it looks like a great place to surf. We spent the day just lying on the sand, watching surfers do their thing, and eating from a nearby warung.

Another couple from our villa - James and Vanessa 
Nasi goreng!

Uluwatu Temple
After a whole day of relaxation, we went to the nearby Uluwatu temple, hoping to catch the sunset there. However, the skies were cloudy so we knew we had no chance. Despite the weather, the view was still spectacular. Uluwatu is a temple perched on a cliff and watching the waves below is mesmerizing. Monkeys are notorious in this temple (not quite as friendly as the ones in the Monkey Forest) but thankfully, we didn't encounter any. Walking along the cliff was a perfect way to end the day.

All in all, I would say that Bali is such a magical place to visit - rich in culture and abundant in natural beauty. I now understand why it's such a popular tourist destination. We definitely would like to go back someday. :)