Bali – Top Things To Do

This was a family trip with three young children. We booked return tickets from Malaysia to Bali via Malaysian Airlines. The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Denpasar was about three hours.

Where to stay in Bali

It was our first time in Bali. I did a lot of research before booking a stay in Seminyak. If you are travelling as a couple or just anyone really, who have a bit longer time (we only had four days, three nights), I would recommend a stay at a beach area like Seminyak, Jimbaran or Sanur combined with a stay in Ubud – amongst the rice paddy fields for example. There are some beautiful, luxurious (and romantic) hotels in Ubud. With such gorgeous settings – it would be an experience to remember.

Let’s talk about a few key beachside locations in Bali that you may want to consider.

Seminyak

For people who want a bit quieter, relaxing time and less interested in joining the “happening” nightlife scene in Kuta, then I would recommend a stay in Seminyak. There are still some “night” activities – a lot of dining out and shopping options, (mind you, it can be more expensive than areas like Kuta) but it is much less hectic (perhaps safer even) than Kuta.

There are many beautiful villas in Seminyak that you probably wouldn’t want to leave the resort that much (like us). You can get beautiful pool villas here, with reasonable prices (depending on the season).

Seminyak is quite central to  all the key attractions in Bali – so you can venture out of your hotel/resort whenever (and hopefully not spend too much time in the heavy traffic).

The beaches here are nice, but the big waves make it more suitable for surfing. Basically, the beaches here are not the best for swimming. We were not planning to do much swimming, more beach play and a bit of water play for the kids – so Seminyak worked for us.

Jimbaran

Jimbaran is known for seafood – it’s a great place to watch sunset while having dinner at any one of the beach side restaurants. We were in fact – deciding between Seminyak and Jimbaran at one point; we finally decided on Seminyak, because it is somewhere in the middle between Tanah Lot and Jimbaran. So we figured, we could easily do a visit to Tanah Lot and have seafood dinner at Jimbaran – perhaps on different days; and at the same time Seminyak seems a bit more fun – with more things to do/outing options. Also of course, another key factor is that Seminyak had a lot more accommodation options at reasonable prices – (I am specifically referring to large pool villas that can accommodate my family of five).

Jimbaran does have some beautiful accommodation options though – some of the most beautiful and romantic ones in Bali. If you have no constraints like me, and it’s peace and quiet you are after, maybe you’re on your honeymoon perhaps, then you can consider a stay in the luxury hotels in Jimbaran like Ayana or Four Seasons. There is a long list of gorgeous hotels to choose from.

Nusa Dua

Nusa Dua has great beaches – but it is quite far from all the main attractions. There are a number of big five star resorts in Nusa Dua like Westin, Grand Hyatt and local brands like Nusa Dua Beach Hotel. There is not much going on there, but if it’s just a beach holiday you are after – then you cannot go wrong. The beaches are clean and the waves are calm – safer for children to go swimming compared to other locations mentioned.

I was considering Nusa Dua at first – but since it was my first time in Bali, I thought I would stay somewhere a bit more central and closer to the locations I was planning to visit like Tanah Lot.

Sanur

Sanur is also a great place for families. Similar to Nusa Dua, Sanur has nice beaches although they say that Nusa Dua has nicer, cleaner beaches. The ocean waves are calm and suitable for swimming especially for young children. There are big range of hotels here and food options – price-wise. It’s a bit further out compared to areas like Seminyak – so you will probably spend more time around Sanur itself.

Considering all the above – we decided on Seminyak. No regrets. Kuta didn’t make my list as I wanted to avoid crowded places. 

Just to add, if we do come to Bali again though – I may book something in Nusa Dua (for the kids) or Ubud (for the beautiful accommodation options) instead, (or both if we are there for a bit longer time).

Type of Accommodation

I will just comment a bit on this because I think this is one of the places in the world where you can see a number of hotel managed luxury pool villas at reasonable prices (and some complete with butler and laundry services). Of course you have the usual hotels, hostels, air b&b, etc. etc. – but if you are heading to Bali – perhaps you should just check out these villas as an option. If you come during off peak seasons especially – you can get great deals.

Our pool villa in Samaya Seminyak

What To Do in Bali

Beaches

Hanging out at the beach – either for surfing, swimming or just ‘chilling’ in the sun is probably on everyone’s itinerary while in Bali, as it is. It is an island holiday after all. If you come to Bali to surf – then you could probably look forward to the waves of Uluwatu, Kuta or Seminyak. (There is a long list of beaches you can add to the list). If you want to go swimming – as mentioned before, you can head to beaches like Sanur or Nusa Dua, where the water is calmer etc and more suitable for children. 

Basically there is a beach for every type of traveller in the small Bali island.

Tanah Lot Temple

A must do to all first-timers in Bali.

‘Tanah’ means Land, and ‘Lot’ is sea – put them together, and it perfectly describes the temple – ‘an island (land) floating on the sea’. The temple is built on a 3-acre rock, 20 metres from the coastal lip of Beraban village.

Key things to note when visiting

  • You cannot enter the main temple grounds – but you can visit the surrounding area.
  • The most popular time to visit the temple is late afternoon – as people swamp the area to get photos of the temple with a gorgeous sunset backdrop. The area is opened to visitors from 7 am to 7 pm – for me, although I love photography, with three kids to manage, I’d like to avoid the crowds. There are many visitors as it is, throughout the day unless you go during the off-peak months.
  • During high tide, it’s impossible to cross the causeways due to the strong waves. During low tide, you can walk to the base of the rock where you can see the ‘guardian’ sea snakes (see picture below). Most tour companies will arrange to take you there during low tide.

Legend surrounding the temple

The legend says that a High Priest from Majapahit Kingdom in East Java, Dang Hyang Nirarta travelled to the Beraban village to spread the teaching of Hinduism. The Village Head was not happy with this and gathered his followers to get rid of Nirarta. Nirarta, at the time of the ‘attack’, was meditating/resting on a large rock at the beach – he then moved the rock out to the sea and transformed his sashes into sea snakes to guard the base of the rock. This act turned the village head and his party to believers of Nirarta’s teachings. Later on, as per Nirarta’s guidance, the villagers built the Tanah Lot temple on top of the said rock – the temple was meant for worshipping the God of the Sea.

Some people combine the trip to the temple with a short detour to see the Kecak Dance at the Surya Mandala Cultural Park. The dance is performed daily at sunset and it potrays scenes from the Ramayana epic.

Seafood+Sunset at Jimbaran

A lot of people say – don’t bother as the food there is expensive because of all the hype. Well – I did it anyway – I arranged for the hotel car to take us from Seminyak to Jimbaran for a seafood dinner on the beach. The prices are a bit on the high side – I can vouch for that. But the ambience was nice – the kids love the beach and the food was good. Basically we had a good time. Only one thing though – I didn’t get that supposedly gorgeous sunset photo – it was cloudy that day, and that was the main reason for the whole trip… sigh…

So lessons learned

  • Sunsets are not guaranteed, make sure you have in your schedule at least a few days sunset outing if you really want to get that gorgeous photo.
  • Going back to the food, there are many restaurants at the beach; you should check with folks at your hotel on recommended restaurants. I can’t remember which one we went for in the end – I thought the food was quite nice. But I have seen people commenting that the food in Jimbaran is just ‘so-so’, in a number of reviews. If you can’t get the sunset view, at least try to get the food right! Make sure you check the reviews of the different restaurants before you come here.

Note also that these are simple seafood restaurants with local cuisines – not the 5 star hotel setup. If you are looking for a more exclusive setting to watch sunset and have drinks/meals, then head to places like The Rock, Ayana. 

Shopping in Bali

Ubud Art & Wood Galleries

Ubud is famous for paintings and wood carvings. I was thinking of buying a big scenery painting here – but the shopping trip was just too rushed to make up my mind of which to choose and from where. But I guess I couldn’t find any art piece that really ‘stood out’ to me, either. There are some nice art galleries in the area; I would recommend that if you are serious about buying – check out upfront which galleries may be of interest to you and head there. Otherwise – you may just get a bit overwhelmed with the different options – like me. 

We also went to a wood carving gallery – you can find very exotic pieces unique to Bali that may be interesting to bring home. I was more interested in the big furniture pieces. Next time before, I go to Indonesia, I will find out about the shipping costs and process to bring these home. I have a beautiful dining table from Indonesia that I simply love – would love to get more pieces like that. So if you are interested in those pieces, don’t do what I did – do your homework first before coming here to Bali.

Silver

Bali also has a silver craft village – Celuk Village. You can get a lot of options of silver jewellery pieces here in the various shops (again – do your research before coming over on which shops to go to, or you may get frustrated). We were not that keen on getting jewellery or anything on this trip – we came here as part of a tour package. We end up going home with a few small pieces though.

Food

I don’t normally eat Indonesian food back home – and there are plenty Indonesian restaurants around in Malaysia. Not a big fan. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that I quite enjoy some of the food I had in Bali. My favourite is grilled seafood. You usually can’t go wrong with that one. The grilled seafood is usually served with sambal (special chilli blend).

Where we ate

  • Seminyak – Breeze Restaurant, Samaya Seminyak – really good food and highly recommended. They also have halal options. Most popular time is dinner – see if you can reserve a table out by the beachside. During peak seasons, it is recommended to make reservations. It is such a romantic setting – people do wedding proposals there.
  • Jimbaran – I mentioned seafood at Jimbaran Beach before – I cannot remember where we ate and there are so many restaurants to choose from. You have a choice from high end to the basic local seafood restaurant – your pick. As mentioned, just check out the reviews before going there – and you should be fine. 
  • Ubud – Kayun Restaurant – I like the restaurant setting. There are small gazebos around the main restaurant. We went there for late lunch so it was not that busy. The lunch menu was a bit limited if you are looking for seafood. Anyway you can check the menu online. Some stuff from the menu was quite good. The service was a bit slow, but the staff very friendly.
Samaya Seminyak - Breeze Restaurant - Grilled Seafood - one of the best!
Grilled fish - Jimbaran. Looks small in the picture but it's actually huge. I would recommend to have sauces separated/on the side - in case it's too spicy for the kids
Yummy prawns at Jimbaran Beach
Lunch at Kayun

Spa

You are in Bali – of course you have to go for a massage! In Bali – you can get outdoor massages overseeing the most gorgeous landscapes or you can just be like me – head to the best and closest spa near you. I usually make it a point to stay in a resort with a spa as my preferred slots are usually very early in the morning or late in the evening, since I can’t leave the kids most of the time. (You do what you can… )

Since I stayed in Samaya Seminyak, I went for the in-house spa; I chose the Balinese massage, it was really good! Highly recommended. I also looked up at other spa areas including the one at Ayana – Spa on the Rocks – all I can say – my goodness, such gorgeous view! Just in case you are in Jimbaran area – you may want to consider that.

Wherever you’re staying, there will surely be a spa near you. Just do some homework before choosing your spa so that you get the best out of your 1-2 hours ‘me’ time…This is simply a must-do especially to all the ladies!

Great getaway!

We only had a 3 night stay in Bali – and with the small kids, you cannot do too long an outing. But the plan was always not to do much, just enjoy, relax and take it easy at the resort. Good news is that you could easily incorporate the activities above without making the holiday too hectic for the family. Just join a tour or get a personal driver to drive you to the various attractions.

Enjoy your Bali getaway! We sure did!

Check out my review of The Samaya Seminyak here.

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