Bali is so rich in both sights and experiences that you could spend an entire lifetime on the island and barely scrape the surface, but if you don’t have a lifetime to give the island, what could you do in two weeks?
Two weeks is enough time to see some of the beaches, along with some of the interior, without needing to run around like a chook with its head cut off. You could just as easily spend two weeks in any one of the following destinations, but if you want to see more of what Bali has to offer, all of the following are worthy of consideration for a first trip to Bali.
Bali is bigger than you may think and the generally poor standard of roads—and the heavy traffic in the south—makes the going even more time consuming than it should be. Local transport is overpriced and in some areas, especially in South Bali, it can be difficult to get taxis and ride sharing services like GoJek and Grab to pick you up, leaving you at the mercy of overpriced local transport guys. In practice, many people tend to hire a car or scooter themselves (check your travel insurance!) or get around by a hired car with driver.
If you would like a reliable driver in Bali with moderate English skills, we’ve known Putu for years and have recommended him to many Travelfish readers with no complaints, you can contact him via Facebook here.
Save the beach for later and upon arrival at Bali’s international airport, get a taxi up to the island’s cultural heart Ubud. With tourists by the busload (and the traffic to match) Ubud is far from the laidback, idyllic hippy new age paradise it’s sometimes still painted as, but it does form a good introduction to the island.
The classic suggested activities in Ubud are to do a rice field walk or the Campuhan Ridge Walk and to see a traditional dancing show by the palace, but, well there is a lot more to Ubud than this. If you have even the slightest interest in puppetry and the traditional arts, a visit to Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets is essential. Art fans will enjoy Neka Art Museum, Museum Puri Lukisan or the more risqué Blanco Renaissance Museum.
Ubud also makes a handy base for a whole series of day trips and explorations. Nature lovers will love Tegenungan Waterfall, Tibumana Waterfall or Hidden Canyon Beji Guwang. Culture vultures meanwhile will find Gunung Kawi, Goa Gajah or Tirta Empul to be fascinating. Even if you don’t want to do a day trip, there is plenty to see and do within the town itself, including loads of shopping and no shortage of excellent eating and drinking.
Allow two nights.
It’s a common refrain regarding Ubud that “you should have been here 20 years ago” but just a couple of hours drive to the east, you can do pretty much just that—no time capsule required. The rice valley that encompasses Sidemen lacks the gourmet scene of Ubud, but it also lacks the tour buses and the hordes they carry. Spend your day doing a rice field walk and the evening admiring the sea of stars. See Gunung Agung, Bali’s tallest—and holiest—peak in the early morning light, or consider a half day trip to Pura Besakih—Bali’s largest and most sacred temple complex—on the slopes of the same volcano. Allow two nights.
From Sidemen head northeast to the coastal bays of Amed in East Bali. Along the way, consider breaking the journey for a terrific lunch—or cooking class—at Bali Asli then once sated, push on to Amed. Formed by a half dozen or so beautiful black sand bays, the area is well regarded for its snorkelling and diving (though divers spend more time at Tulamben to the west of here). There is also plenty of scope for beach walks and mountain biking. It’s also possible to go out on a fishing boat for dawn, from where you can watch the sun rise over Gunung Rinjani on neighbouring Lombok. Allow three nights.
From Amed, it’s a long slow drive up over the north coast of Bali to Lovina. While we’re not the biggest fans of the town, you can do a boat trip to see the dolphins that frequent the waters here—do make sure your boatman turns their engine off—or better skill, just watch from the attractive black sand beach. If you have your own transport (or plan to organise some), consider visiting Banjar Hot Springs, Sekumpul Waterfall and Git Git Waterfall—all of which are within striking distance of Lovina. If you want to strike further afield (or have a few extra days up your sleeve), consider striking west to Pemuteran and going snorkelling at Menjangan Island. Allow one night for Lovina, more if heading west.
After a day frolicking by the sea, head a little further west, then take a left for the gorgeous drive up to Munduk. Perched on the mountain ridge with magnificent views to the coast and across the valley, Munduk has a cool climate and plenty of great old-school places to stay. Spend one day on a rice field and village walk and another visiting some of the beautiful waterfalls in the area.
Tamblingan Nature Recreation Park isn’t all that far away either and makes for a good alternative if waterfalls are not your thing. Yet another good day trip from Munduk is to Bali Botanic Gardens by Begudul, where you could also visit one of Bali’s most photographed temples, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, on the same trip. Allow two nights.
Leave Munduk early for the lovely, windy drive to Balian on Bali’s south coast. From here it is a straight-up run to Canggu, where you can choose from a staggering range of accommodation and rest your laurels by the Indian Ocean. Once the sun has set throw yourself into Canggu’s impressive food and drinks scene. Allow two nights.
For your last stop, head to Bali’s Bukit Peninsula where you can choose from brash five-star resorts or surfer homestays. Spend your last two days enjoying some of the most spectacular beaches in the area. We’ve got a soft spot for Balangan, but there are plenty of others to choose from. While it is easy to spend all your time soaking up the rays, set aside at least one evening to see the kecak dance at Uluwatu. Allow two nights.
The above is just a sample of what you could cover. Also worth considering are the nearby islands of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Cenningan, which are very easy to reach and could easily absorb a few more days.
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!
Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.
Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.
How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.
North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.
The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.
So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.
Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.
This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.