When I talk about south and north Bali I refer to what is situated below and above the international airport Ngurah Rai. Looking at it like this the ‘north’ of Bali is quite big and even though most of the must see are situated near one another they are still too far apart to visit in one day. Kuta, Canggu and Ubud are the most frequent heard of locations when it comes to travelling Bali, but how do you choose where to stay if not to stay at all of them?
Lets’ start with Kuta. Kuta is renowned for its party life, so if you are planning to go on a party holiday this area would be the one to go for. However with a massive attraction of party tourists it also comes with a higher life cost, although this is usually still cheaper than more economically advanced countries it is expensive for Bali and you might want to think twice as a backpacker. Of course Kuta has a beach and an amazingly broad one at that, you could walk on forever and ever! Sadly the magic of the beach gets overshadowed by all the locals trying to sell you surfing lessons, drinks, seats, … almost up to three times more as sold on other beaches and even run down the beach to start a sales pitch.
One of the most known things in this area is the Sky garden buffet that starts from 5pm until 9pm and lets you devour all you can eat western food, promoting different Western cuisines each night, for approximately 8 euro (11 AUD). On top of this they also have a late night all you can eat buffet with some free drinks you can enjoy while having fun in the club, this for 12 euro (15 AUD). While this is a very attractive offer I didn’t have the opportunity to check it out as I am a vegetarian and wasn’t sure if they would have anything I like spending that money on, so when my honest request to merely screen the buffet before committing to eating there got brutally denied, I decided that their rudeness was a sign and walked away, ending up with an amazing refreshing banana-mango smoothie that on top of that was cheaper than most things in the neighbourhood.
Never underestimate the power of small and narrow unknown streets!
If you do like partying but you don’t want to be harassed to death by salespitchers, I would recommend Canggu. Whereas Kuta hasn’t got much around besides Canggu and Denpasar, Canggu actually has plenty of beaches and cultural attractions within its perimeters. Similar to Kuta, Canggu has a bit of a party atmosphere around the beach and village, however the vibe is more relaxed and less touristy not that the locals won’t try to sell you anything but given there are less “beach businesses” it seems more peaceful.
If you have tired of beach days there are some temples around amongst which Tanah Lot. Tanah Lot is one of the most famous temples in Bali, aka the temple build on a rock surrounded by water when high tide roles in. If you want to have ground level pictures or want to walk close to the temple It is best to visit the temple at low tide. Unaware that a visit to this temple would mean another money trap and that a welcome to the city of Tanah Lot is granted by yet another paid ticket, we arrived. Luckily we found a way in the city without having to pay, sneaky I know but when literally every single thing that is found online comes with a price you would be sick of it as well..
Remember that in case you really want to party hard scooters are quite cheap and Kuta is just a short drive away!
That leaves us with Ubud, a town with a marvellous, free-spirited and relaxed atmosphere enriched with picturesque streets covered in shops, pubs, restaurants, people and an overload of culture. This is the place to stay if you want to be engulfed in culture and like a bit of nightlife. Not only does Ubud have plenty of street food options, but it has the most vegan restaurants on Bali. As I love Vegan food we paid a visit to ‘seeds of live’, an amazing restaurant with a vegan raw food concept! Around Ubud you will find plenty of jungle and rice-field-view stays to find some rest and peace.
So what can you do around Ubud? Trudge around in the cozy town centre and make a nature walk in the monkey forest, which you shouldn’t pay for if your only goal is seeing monkeys, as you can see them literally everywhere on the island, however if Balinese architecture interests you the entrance fee is worth it. Visit the Tegallang rice terraces where you can find Luwak coffee, this coffee is made of beans that have been fed to and processed by the luwak. Swing over the rice fields, admitted that these aren’t cheap and don’t take the best pictures, I would recommend to pay extra and go to the Bali swing. If you don’t feel like paying an entrance fee for the rice terraces go through the village, take the first uphill road on the right, take another right and find a parking spot (read: locals do ask for a donation but it is up to you whether or not to give it).
When you have tired of the greenery there are several waterfalls around. Kanto Lampo for example is an impressive waterfall humbling you as you stand in a small gorge filled with water surrounded by a wide array of rocks allowing the rushing water to make its way down and merge with the water by your feet. Another example is the Sekumpul waterfall that despite the pressure of locals, insisting on being your paid guide, stuns you with its hight. Do you prefer immersing yourself in holy water at the Hindu temple, pura tirta empul, instead, then go around the opening and closing time, 9 am – 5 pm, to avoid the enormous queue. Alongside the temple one can find a crafts Market that is a pleasure to walk through as you make your way back to the parking lot. Less than an hour away you will find the Ulun Danu Bratan Temple, build on the sacred lake of Bratan for the Hindu goddess Dewi Danu, who watches over the rivers, lakes and water. Last but not least there are the mountains sadly I didn’t get to hike any on Bali, as the way to get there is by a guided tour.
Nonetheless the landscape view of mt Batur is breathtaking and worth a drive or scenery meal!
Ultimately I think Canggu is the better option if you are struggling between these three locations, as it is close to Kuta and close enough to visit Ubud in a day trip. However as said before it all depends on what kind of vacation you want. If it were me I’d rent a scooter as soon as I arrived (not at the airport though) and spend some nights at each location.
To encapsulate all the above: Kuta aka party holiday, Canggu is a mixed vacation, Ubud equals a cultural vacation and all three resembles the backpacker life.