In the first installment we covered the new Vietjet flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Bali, how to get around the island, and listed the main tourist destinations, temples, and religious sites.
Now, let’s EAT!
Bali is the cultural crossroads of Indonesia, and the endless variety of delicious food available all over the island symbolizes it perfectly.
The native Balinese have a spectacular array of dishes featuring local spices such as galangal, candlenut, turmeric, and Indian influences such as coriander and cumin.
The influences from other parts of Indonesia create some fascinating dimensions, such as the absence of beef (Hindus do not eat it) and abundance of pork (not eaten by Muslims, who represent the vast majority of Indonesians). That symbolizes Bali’s position as the crossroads of culture in Indonesia, the one place where everything comes together, and the one place where you can eat nearly anything.
For fine dining experiences you can find endless options just by walking around, but here’s an insider’s list of authentic and affordable eateries that won’t burn a hole in your wallet:
- A great introduction to Indonesian/Balinese cuisine is Dapoer Indonesia, which means Indonesian Kitchen, located on Jalan Mataram at the south end near Raya Kuta. You select from a buffet and pay for what you take, similar to com binh dan, or working-class rice, in Vietnam. Curry dishes, tempe, fish, chicken, a beautiful array of watercress, pumpkin, and other vegetable dishes. It’s easy to eat well for VND50,000-60,000.
- Warung Ocha, on the corner of Raya Seminyak and Camplung Tanduk in Seminyak, has similar offerings, yet fancier, more in the VND70,000-90,000 range, and it is well worth it.
|Dynamite Warung Ocha squid curry|
- Informal, family-owned Warung Yogya (warung means low-end eatery) on Jalan Padma Utara about 150 meters north of Jalan Padma serves up delicious rice, noodle dishes and yummy soups for about VND50,000-60,000. Yogya has been around for decades and has a loyal following of locals and expats.
- I’ve sampled suckling pigs all over the world and the Balinese “babi guling” is the best version I’ve ever had. Ibu Suka is on the east side of Dewi Sri just before the Sunset Road junction. They use every part of the pig to create a lovely mixed feast: roasted pork, chicharon that is light and crispy, roasted skin to die for, a stuffing, soup, watercress, sausage, and other odds and ends served on rice for VND60,000-70,000.
- Just down Dewi Sri toward Sriwijaya is Bali Se’i, specializing in “babi asap” (smoked pork) dishes originating from East Timor with a Balinese touch to them. “Babi kaki” is my favourite, a slightly sweet and savory pork stew that goes for VND100,000. There are set meals and drinks for VND50,000-60,000 featuring their famous smoked pork.
- Warung Darsana is a rickety old Chinese-Balinese family joint with 3 tables and a cluttered bench running along one wall. Don’t be put off by the humble surroundings, Darsana is a great find. They serve up a divine home-made “nasi campur” (mixed rice) reminiscent of com tam, or broken rice in Vietnam, including roasted pork, grilled chicken, shredded pork, ground chicken sate skewers, peanuts, a chicken curry, and don’t forget to ask for the little bowl of soup that’s included. This feast goes for VND50,000 and won’t be quickly forgotten.
|Balinese nasi campur (equivalent of com tam, broken rice, in Vietnam)|
- On Jalan Benesari near Lebak Bene heading west toward the beach from Jalan Legian you’ll find Warung Totemo, boasting a huge array of local Balinese, Indonesian, Western, and Chinese offerings. Most dishes are in the VND100,000-150,000 range, so it’s a tad pricier and more elegant than most places listed here, but it's well worth it. Several exquisite dishes are based on the Balinese “pepes” cooking style (baked in a banana leaf).
- Situated in a courtyard down an alley from Holy Guacamole on Jalan Melasti about halfway between Jalan Legian and the beach is Warung Kampung (Village Bistro), a great find where smallish whole fried fish are served for VND60,000-70,000. Try the sweet and sour version which is smothered in a vegetable-laden sauce.
- Heading north from Legian the next beach is the laid-back Double 6 beach, quiet yet with a nice array of terraced restaurants and cafes strung along Jalan Double 6 which straddles the beach. Just up Jalan Arjuna from the beach is Warung Murah, and the name “Murah," which means cheap, says it all, and the food is delicious. Murah is also a com binh dan steam table format with Balinese and Indonesian curries, satays, and vegetarian offerings for VND50,000-60,000.
- When you’re in the mood for a feast, the best deal on Bali is the Sky Garden nightly buffet. Sky Garden is a multi-story restaurant with a view and a club that goes on all night located at the termination of Popies II at Jalan Legian in the heart of the party district of Kuta Beach. They boast a daily early bird all-you-can-eat-and-drink deal that can’t be beaten. For a fixed net price of VND220,000 you can eat and drink all you want between 5:00 pm and 9:00 pm. Best to go early as the place gets packed as the evening wears on. Beverage offerings include an array of non-alcoholic drinks, well drinks featuring vodka, plus local draft and bottled beers, all included in the single price above.
|A typical Balinese beach bar|
Note that the beach bars serve cold drinks but not food for the most part. Vendors pass by with their goodies but I personally prefer to visit a real restaurant at mealtimes.
Where to stay
I wandered around the various tourist areas and sampled a lot of hotels, so this list is my “best of Bali." All the hotels here are in the VND500,000-700,000 range per night per room with some including breakfast plus a swimming pool and other amenities.
You can spend ten times that on high-end accommodation or half of it for low-end backpacker options, but all these offer excellent value for the price.
Starting from the south, Sanur is perfect for those who want a quiet beach, peaceful surroundings, and low-keyed nightlife. I always stay in Puri Gopa, which is practically like having your own little temple, an impressive and inexpensive option.
Just north of the airport is a slick, modern neighbourhood spanning Jalan Kartika Plaza. The great dining and shopping options and beautiful beachside promenade make for a great area to wander around. If you’re looking to pick up souvenirs Kartika Plaza and the Lippo Mall have great varietiy at decent prices. My preferred hotel is Green Garden which offers tranquility right in the midst of it all and also has a swimming pool.
If you wish to stay as close as possible to the airport, the Harris Hotel in Tuban is my favourite. The area is a bit thin on evening entertainment but you’ll be at the airport in 10 minutes in a taxi.
The Hotel Neo in Kuta on Jalan Legian Gang Troppozone is ideal for those who want to be in the center of the action yet in peaceful surroundings. The hotel is constructed in such a way that the rooms face the interior courtyard and swimming pool, so it’s an oasis of calm, yet near all the nightlife.
Similarly, the Sun Hotel on Jalan Lebak Bene near Jalan Melasti also has rooms facing the swimming pool and central courtyard for maximum peace and quiet. That location is excellent because the beach is nearby and it’s surrounded by dining and nightlife options, yet it’s not as boisterous as South Kuta.
Kumula Pantai on Jalan Werkudara is a great family option because they have 1 and 2 bedroom suites at fair prices together with a good location near Legian Beach. The hotel has a restaurant and pool for those times when you want to hang out at the hotel instead of the beach.
Moving further north to Seminyak, the Ibis Budget on Camplung Tanduk takes the prize because it’s good, cheap, in the middle of everything and about a 10-minute walk to the beach. It’s a couple of doors up from the Santa Fe Restaurant and Bar, which has great live music in the evenings and good food at reasonable prices.
Finally, here are a couple of articles we ran last year which you can use as checklists to ensure a safe and secure trip abroad. Study them, they could make the difference between a fun vacation and a disaster:
So there you go, all the ingredients needed for a magical do-it-yourself Bali escape.
Get ready for a unique experience and be proud that you arranged it all yourself!