It was a weekend spent at Pondok Pisces at Balian Beach that first sold us on Bali. While that was quite a few years ago now — in which time Balian has already developed dramatically — this remains an enchanting, and, at times, beautiful, location. While most popular with surfers, Balian is drawing an increasing mix of families and particularly yoga retreats -- perhaps due to the areas wild coastal scenery.
Clearly a popular surfing spot, Balian is one of the top shelf items when it comes to surfers exploring Bali's southwest coast. Best regarded for the left hander but there is also a fast right hand break, Balian is close enough to South Bali (it takes around two hours to reach here from Seminyak by car) that it sees plenty of day trippers from South Bali, but you really need to stay here to get the best of it -- both for the early morning uncrowded waves but also for the relaxed feel of the village -- take a wander on foot and soak it up.
Balian sits at the mouth of the same-named river and while it is possible to wade across the mouth of the river, swimmers and surfers both should be aware of a strong current which makes it very easy to get out the back, but also can make the beach a bit treacherous for swimming — take considerable care swimming here. If you're travelling with young kids or older children who are not strong swimmers, Balian's main beach really is not suitable, so either consider a place to stay that has a swimming pool (plenty do), or let them swim in the river rather than the ocean.
Thanks to the river emptying out and the sometimes murky waters, Balian is also one of the few places in Bali that has seen the occasional shark attack -- so watch out!
From a traveller's perspective, Balian more or less marks the beginning of coastal West Bali. You've passed by Canggu and Tanah Lot and next stop is Medewi which is itself another great surf spot. Expect fewer creature comforts than South Bali, replaced by open spaces, big skies, a more relaxed laid back vibe and plenty more hellos and passing smiles from the locals. You're a world away from Seminyak and Legian here.
As with many of the beaches along this stretch of Bali's coast, Balian is a black sand and pebble beach, and, while it isn't all that suitable for swimming (it catches quite a bit of natural- and unnatural refuse) there are plenty of vantage points to relax in for a lazy afternoon and take in the view. Paddle (or swim) across the river and you'll have the beach largely to yourself. There is also a stunning squid-ink-like black sand beach, Kutuh Beach, to the north of here that stretches for over 30 km, is largely deserted and is simply spectacular in the late afternoon light. Another attraction, handy if you have kids with you, is the impressive bat cave underneath a temple at Soka Beach (a few kilometres to the east of Balian) that is worth a look at sunset when thousands of bats fly out for the evening meal.
Balian is the name of the river which separates the villages of Suraberata on west and Lalang Linggah on the east. You'll hear the area referred to as either Balian or Lalang Linggah, but no one really cares which one you use.
Suraberata is where almost all Balian's hotels and guesthouses are located. A bunch of small signs point in a southerly direction off the main Kuta to Gilimanuk road marking the bumpy road down to the beach which is lined by a ever growing selection of accommodation. Gone are the days where the accommodation here was solely surfer focused -- you'll find everything from basic fan-cooled rooms, to air-con flat screen lodges with fancy horizon pools, and the prices to match.