The Bali experience – Kuta, Seminyak, and Ubud

by Travel Paulie on April 24, 2010

Word count: ~1500.  Approx. reading time: 10~15 minutes

Hot off the heals of my Koh Samui trip came the much-hyped Bali.

So what has Bali got in store when you travel there and should you really bother? I feel Bali has something for everyone…

In this article I’ve only covered 3 of the first places you’ll have heard of – Kuta, Seminyak and Ubud.  I’ve also given some general information/tips at the end regarding visas, transport, etc.

[Update 30-05-2010] This article is the 1st of basic 3-part series on Bali: South, East, & West.  The 2nd and 3rd instalments are:

Also, any particular places mentioned throughout these articles can be found on my travel map.

Kuta – not just a pretty face

And by pretty, I mean not pretty.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but Kuta just doesn’t resonate with me. I’ll tell you what there is and the only way to know for sure is to try it out for yourself and see what you think.

Kuta town has Starbucks, McDonald’s (2 of them), KFC, Pizza Hut, Ripcurl, Billabong, Polo & Ralph Lauren, D&G (er… Dolce & Gabbana, obviously), Nike, Quicksilver…

The point is, Kuta is a centre for brand-name shopping and eating. There are also many markets and shopping areas that sell all the same brand name goods only cheaper because it’s “same-same-but-different”.

When you’re done with shopping, you can dander around and find yourself a nice expensive restaurant with questionable food quality to finish off your day.  If you want your night in Kuta to kick off, then explore the highs and lows of Jalan Legian – a hive of alcohol, drugs, women, and any manner of debauchery as one can find.

‘Jalan’ (shortened to Jln.) is the equivalent to the word “street” (St.) in English and is good to keep in mind as you make your way around – if you’re looking for a particular place and you have its address, most taxi drivers will know where precisely you’re referring to.

Jln Legian (pronounced Ley-gyan) is the centre for partying, and if you’re looking to boogey your night away ask for Paddy’s / Bounty / M-bar- go to that street and someone will point you in the right direction.  That’s only 3 of the bigger spots on this Kuta strip, but there are countless more.

An interesting point to note is that, contrary to the “West” where men will usually pay into clubs, it seems that for many places in Kuta the girls that must pay in.  I don’t know whether it’s just locals, or if foreigners are also included in this tax, but there it is.  So don’t be too surprised when it happens. The reason for this discrimination will be apparent a later on.

Aside from the extensive party scene, Kuta caters for plenty of other activities that centre around the beach and water sports.  There’s surfing if you’re into that too, and diving, though you travel to other places such as Sanur to do the actual diving itself.  I don’t personally hang around on the beach since I’m prone to barbecuing in the sun but I know there is something for nearly all interests.

Seminyak – when you’re over Kuta but would still like to visit

The centre of Seminyak is a good 15 minutes drive north from the centre of Kuta depending on traffic and whether you travel by car or bike.

Apparently since the Bali bombings Seminyak has become increasing popular, especially among the more affluent travellers, though the night life up there isn’t as extensive as Kuta/Legian.  Seminyak has plenty of nice restaurants, some exorbitantly more expensive than others.

In the back streets of Seminyak is where you find the hundreds of luxury villas which are, compared to hotel rates, a steal, if you can gather enough people to share the cost.  Per night, you could be looking at around US$200~$300, depending on the area, size, and quality of the villa.  Split 4 ways that’s $50 a night which while not on my budget this time around, is much better than a $250 a night spent in the “luxury” hotels nearby.

Seminyak is home to my favourite spot in Bali, as far as cafes/restaurants go – namely Biku.  And the reason I found this place was for other main purpose I went there in the first place – the bookshop contained within.  Ganesha Bookshop, originally started in Ubud, branched out to Seminyak and stocks 2nd-hand as well as new books.  This isn’t the largest collection of books ever, but substantial enough and also contains a section for non-English language books.  When you buy a 2nd hand book here, you can return it to either of the branches (Ubud/Seminyak) and receive half of the marked price in return.  This means you can effectively lease the book at low-cost – a handy system.

Ubud – for artists, artisans, and monkeys

Ubud is by far, for me, much more appealing than both Kuta and Seminyak.  It feels a lot closer to the local environment and the local communities.  Make no mistake however, it’s still a tourist mecca.  Don’t let your expectations get too carried away – Ubud is like Kuta, only greener and with far fewer beaches.  Perhaps a gross simplification, but not far off.

It seems to be in Ubud where perhaps the longer-serving expatriates will be found, especially those serving in health and well-being vocations, such as yoga and spa retreats, that focus on relaxation and rejuvenation of body and mind and spirit, etc.  It is also in Ubud, for example, you can find the annual Bali Spirit Festival in April.

As for activities and sights, there is the nearby Bali Zoo and Safari, as well as the famed Monkey Forest.  There are heaps of artworks and galleries, wood-work carving, and (traditional) Balinese wares on sale.  Even though I’m not a big shopper, I don’t need to be to see the vast wealth of shops in Ubud catering for all manner of tastes in the world of arts and crafts.

There is also another Ganesha book shop in Ubud, as mentioned earlier, which has a more extensive collection of books than its partner in Seminyak.

As for accommodation, there are luxury villas and hotels but also the so-called “home stays” which can be found along the small side-streets.  I haven’t stayed in these, but I intend to try before my time is up in Bali.  They are reportedly very cheap, and very basic.  I’ll post more info as and when I experience it.

General information and tips

You may find the following points useful if you journey to Bali:

  • The airport, Ngurah Rai, is a stone’s throw away from Kuta.  Don’t take a taxi that will charge you silly money the trip.  Better to organise some airport transfer with your accommodation beforehand.
  • Tourist Visa.  Most people simply apply for the Visa-on-arrival (VOA) after you get off the plane.  Have a read here for some more details on your situation depending on your nationality.  The basics requirements are:
    1. A passport valid for at least 6 months from date of arrival in Indonesia
    2. A completed embarkation/disembarkation card.
    3. At the time of writing US$25, or equivalent in cash (for example I paid using Thai baht)

The application process goes like this:

Get off plane -> Go to VOA counter -> Pay fee -> Submit passport for visa ->Go to immigration counter

  • Visa Extension: Tourist visas are typically 30 days – NOT 1 month.  Check your visa for the exact date you are required to leave.  If you wish to extend your tourist visa by 30 days, you must go to immigration office in Bali at a later date.  Have a look at my guide for Indonesia tourist visa extension on how to achieve this.
  • Hiring a moped/scooter for a few days should cost no more than Rp40,000~Rp50,000 per day.  If you rent them for longer, expect to be able to haggle a much better deal.  Make sure they supply you the vehicle registration papers (usually under the seat) before you set off.  This is important as you’ll see later.
  • When haggling, do so fairly and with grace.  Don’t be con’d, but don’t rip the ass out of it either – the Balinese people need to get paid just as you do when you work.
  • Taxis: don’t haggle for the price, just request that he puts on the meter.  If he resists stubbornly, grab another one – better to agree to a meter fare before you get in the cab.
  • Money.  Stories abound of taxi drivers, shop assistants, and bar waiters taking from you Rp100,000 when you mean to give them Rp10,000.  All those zeros can be confusing, so pay extra attention to the detail.  Even more confusing is that the colouring of the notes for Rp10,000 and Rp100,000 are so similar that in dim light they’re identical… But remember, if you do get caught out it isn’t all that much in the big scheme of things.
  • Girls. Unfortunately for the guys, most of the local girls in the bars in Kuta (and Seminyak) are “working girls”, so don’t be too surprised when you think you’ve exceeded even your own wildest expectations.
  • Roads.  There are extensive 1-way systems in place, especially in and around Kuta.  If you’re on a moped be prepared to get quite lost and disorientated at least once.  Remember where Kuta beach (west) is and you can find your way back… eventually.
  • Police and corruption. These guys don’t get paid a whole lot of money. Twice I’ve been stopped in a road-side check and asked for my driving license and vehicle registration.  The first time passed off without incident, the second however I had to settle for a small fee of Rp100,000 because I didn’t have an international driving license.  Get yourself one of these before you travel to Indonesia if you can, if you intend to drive, but otherwise, carry a spare Rp50,000 in your pocket to deal with this common practice.  Apparently my excessive fee was exceptional and you should only have to part with Rp50,000.  You’re also susceptible to this if you go without a helmet – my advice is to just wear it!  I could dedicate a whole article to corruption as I’m learning more about it, but that’ll have to wait.

I hope this was useful.  If you have any comments or further suggestions to add to this? Please feel free to contribute them below.  Of course, if you found this amusing, interesting, or informative, and you’d like to share it, please do so also from below.  Thank you for reading!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

kenneth bradt November 14, 2012 at 20:33

I’m retiring soon and want to find a place in Bali. My best friends live in Ubud, where like the fact that the climate is cooler, but they agree that the life there would be a bit slow for me given how social I am. I have other friends who live in Seminyak ad they love it there. Is there any place between Ubud and Seminyak that has the best of both worlds?

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Paul Goodchild November 15, 2012 at 09:42

Hey, there are lots of places on the island of varying degrees of activity. I would suggest slightly north of Seminyak as it’ll be quiet, but still close to activity but quiet. You could also try further south … More south than the airport. It’s a different vibe down there.

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sean March 5, 2013 at 14:48

Thanks so much for this.

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Jadie May 26, 2013 at 09:13

Thank you for these information. I’m traveling to Bali next month. Am so glad that I found your website.

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Putri Erdisa J June 14, 2013 at 08:01

Wow, you’re providing a very thorough information then. Although maybe you wanna add this one, an infamous diving spot in East Bali. It is barely discussed in travel blogs but I assure you, you won’t want to miss it!
There you go the link of the article: http://www.jakpost.travel/news/photo-story-diving-in-east-balis-padang-bai-beach-resort-HAursvJ2mUWl6tx7.html

Nice post btw :D

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