A month in Bali on $30/couple/day

Bali is lush, ornate, and blooming, thick with tradition and ceremony, easy-going, calm, and messy at the same time. We ate fresh coconuts every day and saw some of the most colorful marine life to date
In the Monkey Forest in Ubud Bali

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No traveler can tell you what a country is really like. All they can convey is the impression it left on them. This is mine. Bali is lush, ornate, and blooming, thick with tradition and ceremony, easy-going, calm, and messy at the same time. There was the trash, broken sidewalks, and dense traffic, but a quiet street, a green rice field, a park, or a forest were never more than a short walk away.

The Balinese are masters of creating a private oasis. Each of the guest houses we stayed in had a closed-in courtyard, a quiet sanctuary filled with tropical plants, a peaceful retreat just a wall away from the bustling street.

“The Balinese have no word for “artist”. Painting, carving stone and wood, weaving, playing a musical instrument, and, above all, dancing were just what one did when not fishing or working in the rice fields.”

– Jamie James

Nothing seems to be purely functional in Bali. Even the simplest of things are adorned, carved, painted, or otherwise beautified. You find a fresh flower on the saucer by your coffee cup, the chair you’re sitting on is hand-carved, the fruit on your plate is attractively sliced and arranged, and local people walking by are elegantly dressed. You happen upon a ceremony or celebration taking place multiple times a day.

Bali on a tight budget? Yes!

We found Bali welcoming, easy to travel in, and surprisingly affordable. Beautiful rooms in homestays owned by lovely local families can be had for about $10 – $15 a night, including a breakfast of fresh fruit and banana pancakes (or some such) and budget rooms with shared bathrooms for even less. This is for 2 people, mind you, not per person. Gorgeous, upscale hotels cost a fraction of what you’d pay in the West.

Breakfast was included in the price of our room and we rarely spent more than $7 per person a day on food, and usually less. Many people’s livelihood depend on tourism, so restaurants, massage parlors, tours, performances, and transportation options abound, in every price range.

We had our first surprise before we even set foot on the island. The plane we took from Taiwan to Bali turned out to be a Hello Kitty plane! The safety video, the plastic cutlery, pillows, toiletries in the bathroom, the snacks, the cabin crew uniforms, and the whole aircraft from the outside and on the inside was Hello Kitty themed.

Ubud, the artsy heart, and wellness hub of Bali

Ubud is seductive. I can see why some people visit for a few days and stay for years. You can wander on foot, taking in the stunning traditional architecture, air filled with aromas of sweet flower offerings, savory food, and scooter fumes. You can roam the Monkey Forest (which is exactly what it sounds like, and a lot of fun), take a yoga class, get a massage, walk through the rice fields, see a temple, enjoy exotic fruits, and have dinner in an open-air restaurant with pretty lanterns hanging from the trees.

Locals and ex-pats we met were laid back and friendly, except for that one policeman who wanted to fine us an arm and leg for some nonexistent law that we allegedly broke and threatened to keep our scooter if we didn’t pay up. We offered the rented scooter, saying that the owner will come and pick it up. We were let go a few minutes later, on our own two wheels, a small bribe lighter. A minor hiccup on our way to the sacred waters of Tirta Empul temple 30 minutes out of town.

Birthday on the beach in Seminyak

We usually paid less than $15 per night of accommodation. As a birthday splurge for Mark, I booked a beautiful room in Seminyak for twice as much, walking distance from the beach in a quiet neighborhood, run by lovely locals. On Mark’s special day, we returned to our 2 story bungalow after a swim in the romantic pool to find a cake, a bouquet, and tropical flower petals sprinkled upon our freshly made bed.

There were also some flashy (and pricey) hotels right on the beach where we enjoyed cocktails, nibbles, and lounge chairs with postcard sunset views.

Amed – a diving wonderland under Mt Agung volcano

We picked Amed for its black sand, good snorkeling, and inexpensive hotels with a restaurants right on the beach.

We had breakfast (included) overlooking the water, put on our swimming goggles, and headed out into the sea. The marine life exceeded all our expectations. It was as if we dove right into a scene from “Finding Nemo”, a coral reef teeming with colorful life. What a spectacle! From then on, for the rest of our 10-day stay, we woke up, ate, snorkeled, laid on the beach chairs reading books, snorkeled some more, had dinner, and went to sleep. The only other activity was picking aloe leaves to slather the pulp on our burnt skin.

Our hotel owner invited us to a rehearsal of his Gamelan orchestra, a haunting music heard throughout Indonesian islands. It was a rare moment away from his beautiful, expecting wife. She gave birth during our stay there. As our travels continued, we almost came to expect these visits from the stork everywhere we stayed. Our travels turned out to be very fruitful indeed.

Amed sits a few miles outside of the exclusion zone of Mount Agung, an active volcano that had a series of eruptions in 2017-2019. All was calm when we visited.

On our way back to Ubud, we stopped at the splendid Tirta Gangga Water Garden owned and maintained by the royal Karangasem family.

How’s the food?

Bali (and the rest of South East Asia) is a heaven for fruitoholics like myself. Fruit accompanied every breakfast. Fresh young coconuts and fruit smoothies were abundant and affordable, I had one every day. As for “normal” food, we had some tasty dishes and our food budget rarely exceeded $7 per day, per person, but I wouldn’t fly to Bali just for the food alone, as I would to Thailand or Vietnam.

Tips

  • Don’t spend much on accommodation. Even inexpensive homestays are usually very nice. Splurge only if you plan to spend a lot of time on the grounds of the hotel for a spa-like experience
  • If breakfast is included with your accommodation, check reviews and pictures. We tend to go for places that offer local food and fruit. Just know that it will mostly consist of carbs so if you’re on low-carb or keto, count on the extra cost
  • Wherever you are, you can find good, inexpensive food. Follow the locals, not the tourists
  • If you’re using a ride-sharing service or a taxi for a longer journey, ask if they would include some sightseeing stops on the way. Sometimes hiring a driver for half a day costs the same as just the journey itself

So there you have it. That’s how we spent our month in Bali. Whether you carefully schedule every moment or play it all by ear, each day will amaze you in a different way.

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