12 Must-Do’s for first-timers in Bali, IndonesiaKollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Kintamani

Some people say Bali is overrated and that it’s lost its magic over the years. I say those people must be on something 😛 The list of things to do in Bali for first-timers can go on forever, you’ll never run out of things to do! We spent a week in Bali and only scratched the surface of this paradise- there’s still so much left to be explored.

Bali’s one of those places that made us go “Okay, we’re definitely coming back”… and we are! We loved it so much that we just booked our flights to revisit this fall. There’s still so much we want to accomplish but first, here are 12 of many, many things to do in Bali for first-timers.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Kintamani

12 things to do in Bali for first-timers

1. DON’T try the Kopi Luwak, or cat poo coffee

Known to be the most expensive coffee in the world, it’s actually brewed from the feces of an Indonesian cat-like animal called the civet. They feed on coffee cherries, magic happens in their digestive system, and out comes these ridiculously priced coffee beans. However, most coffee plantations in Bali force feed these animals and cage them up in appalling conditions. Perhaps it’s not as intense as the making of foie gras but still pretty damn inhumane.

2. Visit rice terraces and rice fields

One of the main things to do in Bali for first-timers is to visit rice paddies, and Tegalalang is the obvious choice. If you want to avoid the crowds, head to Jatiluwih instead. But really, there are rice fields everywhere! We saw so many driving through the rural areas of Bali.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali for first-timers - Rice Fields

Tegalallang Rice Terraces

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali for first-timers - Rice Fields

rice fields outside Karsa Spa Ubud

3. Stay at a villa, live like a king

You can live like a king for the price of a 3-star hotel in metropolitan cities (i.e. Vancouver, New York). Ours at The Amala came with a private plunge pool, outdoor jacuzzi tub, and a steam room- all within our own suite! You can easily spend a day just relaxing, doing absolutely nothing.

Kollecting Koordinates - The Amala

breakfast at our private pool at The Amala

4. Make friends with monkeys

Or not, they might have rabies and most likely carry other diseases. Remembering what our travel doctor said, we tried our best to keep our distance. It was awesome seeing so many monkeys monkeying around because they’re so smart. A baby monkey tried to steal my clutch while another little dude tried to pickpocket AS!

We only visited the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, but our driver said that the ones at Uluwatu Temple are a lot more feisty. Regardless, keep your hands to yourself and your personal belongings close or hidden.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Monkey Forest

little thief

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Monkey Forest

5. Chill out at infinity pools

Do you like infinity pools overlooking the jungle or do you prefer listening to the ocean while you sip on a tropical drink? The choice is yours depending on where you stay. You can still find stunning infinity pools at reasonably priced resorts even if you don’t have a fat wallet to afford the Hanging Gardens. If your resort or villa doesn’t come with an infinity pool, you can simply spend a day at Jungle Fish.

Kollecting Koordinates - Puri Gangga Resort

infinity pool at Puri Gangga Resort Bali

infinity pool at Bisma Eight Ubud

6. Go temple hopping

Visiting temples is one of the top things to do in Bali for first-timers. While Indonesia has a Muslim-majority population, the predominant religion in Bali is Balinese Hinduism, which is a fusion of Buddhism and Shivaism. Pura, or Balinese temples, integrate core beliefs of Hinduism and Indian spiritual ideas.

Uluwatu, Tanah Lot, Tirta Gangga, Goa Gajah, Ulun Danu Beratan, and Besakih are some of the most popular ones. Because these temples are scattered throughout Bali, you’ll have to group them by region and plan your itinerary accordingly so you’re not wasting the whole day on the road. 

Pura Lempuyang is by far our favourite one. It’s waaay out in the east but the scenery at the ‘Gateway to Heaven’ is second to none.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali for first-timers - Pura Lempuyang

Gateway to Heaven at Pura Lempuyang

7. Pig out on healthy delicious food

Using a variety of spices, fresh veggies, and meats, there’s a hint of Indonesian, Chinese, and Indian flair in Balinese food. Our favourite dish is probably the glass noodles at Bambu Restaurant in Seminyak.

Because it’s a tropical island, Bali is loaded with tons of fresh fruits and veggies. Lots of restaurants serve organic cuisine using only fresh local ingredients, making healthy eating very easy. Earth Cafe and Kafe Ubud are perfect examples!

8. Always chase waterfalls

Home to many stunning waterfalls, Bali is the place to prove those TLC girls wrong. Some waterfalls you can swim in, some you can slide down, and others you can only watch from afar. Just look at how many there are!

Our favourite is the Nungnung Waterfall. We had to descend down around 500 steps to reach this oasis, which means it was a strenuous hike back up. It was totally worth it though, because we had this all to ourselves!

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Nungnung Waterfall

9. Take a cooking class

Learn how to make local cuisines from scratch! We learned how to cook a 3-course Balinese meal at The Amala: lawar salad, tum ikan, and dadar gulung.

10. Get pampered, treat yoself

Massages are dirt cheap here- without losing quality! Most resorts have an on-site spa. Many also offer a complimentary 30min massage when you book a stay with them.

Our favourite is Karsa Spa in Ubud. Surrounded by rice fields, its idyllic location is perfect for some R&R. The best part? A 60min massage is only 160,000IDR, which is around $15CAD! A flower bath can be added for an additional 160,000IDR.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali for first-timers - Spa

flower bath at Karsa Spa in Ubud

11. Go scuba diving

I legit thought I was going to drown when I went diving the first time in Oahu but I’m so glad I gave it another shot in Bali. We got PADI certified last spring with Bali Aqua and it was one of the most surreal experiences ever. I’d have to say that diving is one of the best things to do in Bali for first-timers.

We checked out the USS Liberty Shipwreck in Tulamben, swam with manta rays in Nusa Penida, and were carried by the currents through a giant aquarium while drift diving in Nusa Lembongan.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Manta Point

mantas in Nusa Penida

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Shipwreck

shipwreck dive in Tulamben

12. Catch the Mount Batur sunrise

If you can wake up at 2am for a hike, you’ll be rewarded with a majestic 360-degree view of the sunrise on the summit of Mount Batur. Or if you’re lazy like us, just ask a driver to take you to Kintamani. The sunrise seen from here is still gorgeous, no?

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Sunrise

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali - Sunrise

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Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Bali

 

Oahu – A Quick Guide in HawaiiWaikiki Beach

December 2012 marked my first adventure with AS. Before this trip, I’ve always thought that Honolulu is the island name, not Oahu. Actually, before this trip, I had no idea that Hawaii is made up of 8 different islands… How embarrassing.

After scoring round trip flights for $198 per person from Bellingham to Honolulu, we packed our bags and flew off to Hawaii two weeks before Christmas. This was such a steal with the CAD to USD exchange rate floating around 1:1 at the time. Those were the days! We picked up our rental car (they gave us a complimentary upgrade to a Mustang, sweet!) and made our home base in Waikiki.

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Where to Stay

Accommodation is fairly expensive in Waikiki. Areas outside of Waikiki are a lot cheaper, but we wanted to be within walking distance to the strip. We thought about staying at an airbnb near Lanikai where it’s cheaper, but there’s nothing to do in that area at night.

There are a lot of vacation rentals in Honolulu. If you’re staying for more than 3 nights (the usual minimum requirement) it usually works out to be cheaper than hotels. On top of the lower nightly price, you also save on food bills and valet. The good thing about rentals is that it comes with a kitchen and parking space! With this in mind, we split our week into 3 nights at a condo, and 2 nights at a hotel.

Hotel loyalties are great but when you don’t have membership with any chains, Priceline bidding is your friend! I swear by this when I want to stay at an hotel in North America. betterbidding.com has a detailed list of hotels sorted by stars and areas. You can narrow your options down using this guide if you have a specific hotel in mind. I wanted a hotel at least 4* along the strip, so I started with a low price and kept rebidding until I got something. We ended up with Hilton Waikiki Beach at 35% off the original price!

What to Eat

Eating out is expensive, and we didn’t have the budget to eat out every meal, every day on this trip. We went to Walmart and stocked up on groceries, snacks, and drinks right after we landed. This is where the kitchen came in handy for the first few nights!

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Marukame Udon is a must-eat when you’re in Oahu. Their prices are reasonable and their noodles are so fresh! Unfortunately there’s usually a huge line out the door. The place was packed even at 9:30PM! The udon itself isn’t expensive, but all toppings including onsen eggs and tempura sides are add-ons. This is probably where they make money because these add up. Nonetheless, it’s worth a visit because nothing else wow’d us in Honolulu.

We also ate at a place called “Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar” based on Tripadvisor reviews and man, that was a huge mistake. Apart from it being overpriced, the food was not even close to being authentic. Good Japanese food should be simple yet flavorful; the dishes here were from far that. The rolls were loaded with sauces, almost if they were trying to cover up how not fresh their seafood was. I actually barfed after this meal and went to Marukame to fill my belly.

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What to Do

A lot of people come here to shop- Ala Moana Center and Waikiki Beach Walk are great but who cares about shopping when there are much more fun things to do! Vancouver lakes and oceans are gross to swim in so we were stoked for water activities in Hawaii. These were our highlights:

  • beaches

  • surfing

  • scuba diving

  • snorkeling – swimming with dolphins!

Even though it wasn’t ridiculously hot in December, we were still able to get a good tan after just a few hours in the sun. Voted one of the best beaches in the world, Lanikai Beach was indeed gorgeous. We started the 40min drive to the east side of Oahu early morning because we had heard how difficult it is to find parking in the Kailua neighbourhood (apparently fine for parking violations has more than quadrupled over the years). This was my first beachy destination so I had no other beach to compare Lanikai to. According to AS, who had previously been to Cancun, the sand here was not as white nor powdery but the coral life right off the beach and scenic view of the Mokolua Islands definitely put Lanikai on top!

The downside of visiting Oahu in December was the water clarity, or lack of. I tried scuba diving for the first time and, boy, I have never been so scared in my life. The weight of the gear kept me on my back and I could not for the life of me go underwater, head first. On top of physically struggling to dive down from the choppy waters at the surface, I was mentally battling the paranoia of breathing underwater. When our dive master and AS finally dragged me a few feet down, I was overwhelmed by the endless blue and nothingness. Other than a few eels and fish, we didn’t see much marine life.

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Disappointed at no sights of turtles during our dive, we drove up to Laniakea Beach in North Oahu. Surely enough, there were gigantic honu (green sea turtles) sprawled in the sand. They were massive!! We had to hold back our temptations to touch them – it’s illegal.

We tried surfing for the first time. Well, it was more like 90% paddling out and 10% actually riding a wave because we kept falling. Noobs! It was a workout but we had a blast nonetheless.

The most memorable activity we did on this trip was the snorkeling excursion. Our boat took us out to sea one early morning to 3-4 snorkeling locations, with a professional guide educating us about marine life in Oahu, particularly spinner vs. bottlenose dolphins. After being dropped in the ocean at one of the stops, we were suddenly surrounded by a pod of over 100 spinner dolphins! We saw these creatures in their natural habitat, up close and personal. It was SO AWESOME.

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When to Go

Any month is a good time to visit Oahu since the island is sunny and warm all year round. We were worried that the weather would be iffy in December but there was not a single drop of rain during our stay. What made our first trip together extra special was that the Waikiki strip was decked out with gorgeous Christmas trees and lights. So festive!




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Kollecting Koordinates - Oahu