Top 10 tourist traps: Insider tips on Bali

Bali is a very famous Asian destination. It took me a while though to understand the ins and outs, tourist traps and pitfalls, and what I should do to maximize my experience everytime I visit. After several weekend visits, I now know my way in Bali, and I’ll share what I learned through the process and how to avoid spending more or wasting time on some tourist traps:

Tourist trap # 1: Too much temple hopping

You do not need to go to every temple – only three are essential. Probably add two more.

Besakih: The Mother of all temples. It is one of Bali’s biggest temples.

Besakih temple

Besakih temple

Ritual in Besakih on a Sunday

Ritual in Besakih on a Sunday

Insider tip: They will trick/pressure/follow you around to convince you that a local guide is required to visit the place. Refuse politely, firmly, aggressively (in that order) until you are left in peace. It helps if you brisk walk while talking them out of it because usually they will not be able to keep up with you. If you’re Asian, better yet, pretend you don’t know English so that they’ll leave you alone 😛

Ulun Danu Beratan: Most serene of all temples. Temple by the lake near Bedugul, on the northern hilly part of Bali.

My favorite temple hands down. Ulun Danu Beratan

My favorite temple hands down. Ulun Danu Beratan

Insider tip: Wake up really early (5-ish, depending where you stay) to reach there by 6:30am. The sunrise in Ulun Danu is one of the most mystical views I have ever seen.

Tanah Lot: It’s an island during high tide and a hill during low tide. It’s best viewed at sunset. If you’re staying in the south, another option is Uluwatu. But Uluwatu is more crowded and commercialized.

Sunset in Tanah Lot. Seen from Pan Pacific Nirwana hotel

Sunset in Tanah Lot. As seen from Pan Pacific Nirwana hotel

Insider tip: Stay in Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali at least once. It is right in Tanah Lot and one of the most peaceful places in Bali. We watched the sunset sitting on the golf course overlooking the temple.

If you have time, and are temple-enthusiasts, here are two more:

Tirta Empul: What makes this temple amazing is the cleansing ritual that locals perform during their prayers. I find that very unique and eye-opening.

Prayer ritual in Tirta Empul

Prayer ritual in Tirta Empul

Insider tip: Time this during a weekend, when more locals visit.

Taman Ayun: I am amazed by the architecture. There is nothing much inside, but the temples just look gorgeous.

Taman Ayun

Taman Ayun

Insider tip: Go early, where there are not many tourists around. You can do this after you come back from your sunrise visit in Ulun Danu. This temple is near Ubud.

Tourist trap # 2: Taking cabs everywhere when you’re sightseeing

Bali is a huge island and unless you’re staying in one area, taking taxis will cost a lot. It takes one hour to go from the airport to Ubud. Two hours to go from Ubud to Ulun Danu. Make sure you know which part of Bali you’re going so that you minimize your travel time.

Insider tip: Hire a car and driver for the day. It costs USD 20 and it saves you the trouble of haggling with aggressive drivers all around Bali. And either pay at the end of each day, or pay the total at the end of your stay (which I normally do). This will cost so much less.

Tourist trap # 3: The beaches. Stay away from them.

The first thing friends tell me when they get back from Bali is that the beaches are bad. Bali, contrary to what people think, have the worst beaches. The sand is gray, the water is dirty, and the currents are strong. The coasts are more suited for surfing instead of leisurely swimming at the beach. And the beach in Kuta is one of the most crowded. If you want a good beach holiday, go to Phuket, Krabi, or Koh Samui instead. Even the beaches in Pulau Seribu north of Jakarta are way better than those in Bali.

Tourist trap # 4: Staying in Western 5 star hotels which lack Balinese character

If your idea of Bali is to stay in a five star Western resort in Nusa Dua, you might as well stay in a five star hotel in Sentosa.

Since the beaches are not good, if the resort has a Western feel, you will not experience Balinese culture fully. Sure, you will enjoy the famous Balinese service and hospitality, but there is something about the Balinese way of life that makes people come back for more.

Insider tip: Stay in a villa or room in Ubud facing the ricefields. Better yet, make sure you have a bird’s eye, unobstructed view!

Tourist trap # 5: Gourmet Western cuisine

Stop looking for Western food! Enjoy the best of Indonesian cuisine.

I know this is obvious, but believe me, the reverse happens! I observe that a lot of foreigners end up eating pizza or a burger in Bali. Bali has one of the best local cuisine in Indonesia, so it will be a waste eating Western food if you can have some of the best Indonesian cuisine.

My favorites:

Warung Made in Kuta and Seminyak. They serve traditional Balinese food. My favorite – Nasi Goreng!

Warung Wayan in Ubud. Set in a garden with beautiful ponds. Beautiful setting and wonderful food, too.

Mi goreng

Mi goreng

My favorite Indonesian meal

My favorite Indonesian meal

Nasi Goreng!

Nasi Goreng!

Tourist trap # 6: Going during “peak” December-January holiday period

Resorts usually market this period as peak because of the holiday season. However, November until end February is rainy season, and it pours. See my picture in Ulun Danu during rainy season! What a difference compared to the picture above.

April to October is a good season for Bali, with the peak in July to August. Need to travel in December? Target Thailand and Vietnam instead!

Ulun Danu during rainy season!

Ulun Danu during rainy season!

Tourist trap # 7: Extremely expensive accommodation

There are reasonably priced accommodations that provide fantastic service with great views. In my opinion, leave the splurge to places like the Middle East (UAE, Oman) or Maldives, where usually you need to pay a lot to get good accommodation and quality service. My favorite is a hotel in Ubud. Just how fantastic is their service? On my second visit, when I arrived at 2am after a delayed flight, the reception staff greeted me with a genuine smile, and said, “Welcome back! It’s been a while since you last visited us in April. As you mentioned, we booked your favorite room for you.” I’ve stayed in five star hotels for months in a row in Jakarta, Dubai, Malaysia, and Singapore, and never had that treatment!

The fantastic room and view, responsive service, and quiet location were just icing on the cake 🙂

My view!

My view!

My room! I like the four-poster bed! All for SGD 100!

My room! I like the four-poster bed! All for SGD 100!

Tourist trap # 8: Waiting for a last minute air ticket sale, or any sale at all

Book ahead to take advantage of cheap flights. Sales on weekends during non-rainy season are very rare.

Some of my friends try to wait for a sale to book their flights to Bali, and end up not going. Before this was possible, but not anymore. Sure, if you can leave on Tuesday night coming back on a Friday – go ahead and wait for a sale. But if you’re like me and need to go on a weekend, too bad – a sale is hard to come by. Instead, book ahead – even six months ahead! You need that lead time to get the best accommodation for your budget anyway!

Tourist trap # 9: Cultural shows

Honestly, I feel they’re such a rip off. But I guess you need to see one to get a taste of their culture. I did one Legong show and the Kecak dance in Uluwatu. Just go for one – they’re really potato po-tah-to 😛

Legong dance

Legong dance

Kecak dance in Uluwatu

Kecak dance in Uluwatu

Tourist trap # 10: Fancy spas

I don’t know why one needs to fork out USD 100 for a spa experience in Bali. I don’t get it. The massage in my favorite hotel costs USD 8 and is good. Ok, there are no jacuzzi pools or super swanky premises, but I am content having a massage hearing the sounds of birds and feeling the cool breeze at sunset beside the rice fields.

Hope this helps you plan your visit! Let me know if you have any other tourist traps to add! I’ll add more if I find something when I visit again in June. ‘Til then!

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10 Comments on “Top 10 tourist traps: Insider tips on Bali”

  1. Lola Says:

    Really like your article, and it sounds so familiar 🙂 may I ask which hotel in Ubud you recommend here? It looks & sounds wonderful.

  2. Lola Says:

    Hi Daphne, many thanks for that! I recently tried to book for June, but I guess I’m about 10 months too late 🙂 anyway I still do love the look of the hotel so I guess that just means I have to come back another time to try Tegal Sari!

  3. Lacy Says:

    Thanks for all the great info!! How /where do you recommend hiring a car and driver?

  4. Katie@From Shores to Skylines Says:

    I came across your post while researching my upcoming trip to Bali. Just wanted to let you know how helpful it is to finally read something that doesn’t just recommend temple after temple! Do you think it is possible to visit all of your top 3 in a long day? Your tourist traps were also helpful. Thanks!!

  5. Joseph Says:

    Great post ….. I am planning to visit Bali in June and your post has already given me a good Idea of what to do and what not. The view from your hotel looks wonderful and this was is something I am looking for…. Is it possible you can disclose the name of the hotel you stayed ?

  6. This blog was… how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I’ve found
    something which helped me. Thanks a lot!

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