Bali: Finding Your Dolphin

Words by Ben Walker
Photos by Ben Walker

It’s early. It’s dark. The sun is barely coming up and you’re skimming along the calm sea waters near Lovina Beach. Wind and salt fly through the air as your jukung speeds away from shore. It feels great and you can’t help but smile.

After a short boat ride, you’ve arrived at your destination, which appears like any other patch of seawater. There are dozens of other boats around, some filled to bursting and some with only a few people on board. You all glance around at each other, but your eyes are more focused on the water’s surface, searching for signs of life. For today, we’ve come to see dolphins.

Before long, the “Oohs” and “Aahs” and pointing fingers begin and — there — a dolphin! The telltale fins and flippers flash for a second above the surface and then they’re gone, back into the deep water. You can only smile even more at the beautiful sight.

It’s another perfect morning in Bali.

Expectations

Bali has been popular for a long time, but in recent years its popularity has skyrocketed. Among many attracting features of this province of Indonesia are its friendly people, diverse culture, beautiful landscapes, and tasty food. If that weren’t already enough, everything here, just like most of Southeast Asia, is really inexpensive.

I’ve been seeing amazing photos of Bali for years now and have heard from both friends and family about this wondrous place, which is why my wife and I decided we had to see it for ourselves.

I was afraid that maybe the expectation had been built a bit too high and I was seeing too much fantasy on social media instead of the reality of a destination, but I honestly don’t think that was the case at all.

Bali is a paradise. It’s also super busy and it’s only getting busier as people continue to visit and enjoy themselves immensely. However, there are still plenty of places away from the crowds and the hustle and bustle for you to enjoy. Also, there’s always the non-peak season!

 

Experiencing Bali

To best tell you about our experience in Bali I’ll go, step-by-step, through our trip, mainly talking about the different areas we visited while on the island. Our entire trip to Bali was about two weeks. I think it was actually 15 nights to be exact. Depending on what you’re looking to do, that could be a perfect amount of time or it could be far too short.

 

Kuta

Kuta is the area where you’ll most likely first arrive in Bali because the Ngurah Rai International Airport is located here. We arrived on a late (very late) Air Asia flight from Bangkok so we decided to just stay the night in an Airbnb within walking distance of the airport.

We honestly didn’t do too much in Kuta other than stay here our very first night and then stay again our very last night before leaving for Kuala Lumpur. From everything we had researched, it seemed like most of the Southern Bali area around Denpasar (Kuta, Seminyak, etc.) is really busy and there’s a lot of partying involved, which is not really our scene. However, I’m sure that’s not the case across every square foot of ground in the area and I know there are some real gems I’d like to check out one day, especially in the Uluwatu region.

 

Ubud

Ubud is about an hour or so away from the airport and is located north of Denpasar, the capital city of Bali. It was one of the top places on my list of things to see/do in Bali and I’m super glad we spent five nights here.

I’m not sure why (blame social media), but I expected Ubud to be less busy than the Denpasar area. It really wasn’t. It’s quite busy in Ubud. I can definitely see why because it’s an amazing base camp if you want to get out and explore basically anywhere in Bali.

A few of the attractions that are in Ubud or are very close include: Campuhan Ridge Walk, Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, and Tegalalang Rice Terrace. I would recommend doing all of these, but I was a bit disappointed with the Monkey Forest because we were a little anxious the whole time as we didn’t want to agitate any of the monkeys and get attacked by them. Also, we left our bags, cameras, and water at the hotel to further reduce the risk of any monkey attacks. This left us without good photos and we were dying in the heat and humidity. If I were to go back I’d probably just risk bringing my bag because lots of other people did and it seemed like they were just fine. Just don’t be like the people we saw trying to pull monkey’s tails and do ridiculous things to try and get a picture with them.

The biggest recommendation I’d have for Ubud is to rent a scooter and get out of town. We rented one scooter for both of us and had a blast visiting waterfalls in the area. From Ubud, we visited Tibumana Waterfall, Goa Rang Reng Waterfall, and Kanto Lampo Waterfall. Our favorite was probably the Goa Rang Reng Waterfall because there weren’t as many people when we went and there’s a lot of room to spread out and enjoy this awesome spot.

About scooters, please be careful, especially if you’ve never driven one before. I have my motorcycle license and both my wife and I have ridden scooters before so it was fine, but I wouldn’t suggest learning this new skill on the fly in a new country with different rules and laws. There are a lot of horror stories and I think it’s sensible to err on the side of caution or just come prepared. If you’re going to do scooters then make sure you have your International Driver’s Permit because it could come in handy. We were never stopped by police, but it’s pretty common.

Lovina

From Ubud we decided to head to the far north side of the island to the area of Lovina. We had already been leaning towards checking out this area because it’s a good distance away from a lot of the crowds, but also has the attraction of beaches and mountains close by. The choice was made when someone we met on the flight to Bali recommended it to us.

We used a local bus service for the 2-hour journey that brought us through the twisting, turning mountain roads and then back down to the beaches. For our time here we allotted four nights.

Our accommodation was in a perfect location because it was on a main street that led to the beach and was filled with inexpensive local restaurants, called warungs. I enjoyed the happy hours that included the fresh fruit juices, which were as cheap as 5.000 IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) or about 30 cents (US Dollar).

Lovina is a pretty quiet place that’s perfect for a bit of relaxation. If you head into the busier area of Singaraja you can find a lot more things, including a McDonald’s, which surprised us. However, I think a couple of the best things to do while you’re out here are going dolphin watching and heading up into the mountains.

Dolphin watching was one of the highlights of our trip because it was so easy to book, not very expensive, and it was a lot of fun. There’s nothing quite like watching beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.

To explore the nearby mountains we rented a scooter and just set off in search of adventure and waterfalls. We ended up visiting the Munduk and Golden Valley Waterfalls, both of which were cool, but I liked the Munduk Waterfall more because you could walk right up to it and there weren’t a lot of people around.

 

Nusa Penida

I always knew I’d want to visit Nusa Penida if we were going to Bali, so that’s exactly what we did. From Lovina we took the bus to Sanur and booked fast-boat passage to the biggest of the Nusa Islands. Here, we also allotted four nights.

Nusa Penida is pretty big, but it’s also not hard to get around the island, especially if you’re going the scooter route. Just be aware that Nusa Penida is not nearly as developed as the mainland so roads are worse, or even non-existent. However, we didn’t find it to be much of an issue other than getting to some of the sites made for a bit of a bumpy ride.

While out here we were able to visit Bukit Teletubbies, Diamond Beach, and Kelingkeling Beach. I’m sure we could have packed in more, like swimming with manta rays, Angel’s Billabong, and Crystal Bay, but we thoroughly enjoyed what we did so it wasn’t a big deal.

Of those three attractions, we spent the most time at Diamond Beach. This is located right next to Atuh Beach on the southeastern part of the island. It was recently opened up to the public after a concrete staircase was built to allow access to the beach. Basically, it’s probably the nicest beach I’ve ever been on. The water looks amazing and the sand is actually nice to walk on. Also, unlike many beaches, it’s actually quite naturally shaded by the giant cliffs behind it. After riding hours in the sun on a scooter to get there, we more than welcomed the shady relief.

I don’t regret going to see the “teletubbies,” but it won’t be for everyone. It’s a bit out of the way, but the ride is actually quite nice. There’s no need to spend a lot of time, though.

Kelingkeling Beach is one of the most famous spots in Bali on social media and is definitely worth a visit. The hike down to the beach can be terrifying if you don’t like heights. I don’t like heights, but it wasn’t a bad enough hike to stop me from going down to get better views. We visited here after having first visited Diamond Beach, and to me they looked pretty similar. The hike here is a lot more epic, though.

 

Find What You Love and Do It

Bali probably isn’t for everyone, but I feel like it should be because there’s just so much fun stuff to do here. Honestly, the experience as a whole far exceeded my expectations (and they were quite high). The thing is, you can party, you can relax, you can eat, you can ride a scooter, you can visit waterfalls, you can scuba, you can swim, you can snorkel, and much, much more. You have the beaches, mountains, jungles, and the most amazing sunsets every night. Also, it’s not even hard to do any of these things here. It’s cheap and easy to get around, so the whole of Bali is really at your fingerprints.

The hardest and most expensive part about the Bali experience is probably getting there in the first place. If you’re already in Southeast Asia then it’s easy, but coming from somewhere like the United States doesn’t normally involve any sort of direct or cheap flight. However, that’s okay because once you arrive you’ll never want to leave! Just get here, find your dolphin, and smile.

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