Note: our vacation was entirely self-funded and not sponsored by hotel, restaurant, or any other service providers mentioned in this blog post.
For our big summer vacation this year, we wanted to go somewhere exotic, basked in a tropical climate, laze about on a beach and in a pool with a view, but also trek in a jungle and swim under a waterfall and experience a different culture, see ancient temples and villages, practice morning yoga and meditation, and for an unashamed foodie (me), eat really good healthy food at non-exorbitant prices.
Bali easily over-delivered.
Bali is a big island. There’s a lot to see and do so if you want to see a lot of the island, plan on at least 10 days. But if you have 1 week or less, concentrate on 1-2 spots.
We spent 4 nights in Uluwatu, a fast-developing beach/surf enclave that still has a backwater feel in many parts, unlike the planned development of neighboring Nusa Dua of 5-star chain resorts. Uluwatu is dotted with great beaches and luxury boutique resorts, along with excellent restaurants and cafes.
Next, we spent 4 nights in Ubud, a large town that is the cultural heart of Bali where, in addition to a busy atmospheric town, there are many attractions and activities in the jungle surrounding the town.
Finally, we finished off with 2 nights in Canggu, the hottest town in Bali right now. I wish we had more time here in retrospect. It’s the Tulum of Asia, where expatriate digital nomads and surfers live, zipping on motorbikes to and from cool coffee shops, restaurants, boutique shops, and yoga studios.
The island is also not a secret destination. Millions of tourists visit every year and from what we were frequently told and what we witnessed, it is busier now than before the pandemic. In the popular places, expect an incessant, congested flow of motorbikes, weaving around cars and pedestrians (there are few sidewalks). But frankly, that’s the charm or energy of the island that we melt ourselves into. Away from the main roads, it’s mostly jungle, cliffs, and beaches and you can easily escape to the woods, the beach, or your resort and have peace.
One thing that really stood out for me was the lack of plastic in the hotels and restaurants we visited. If you know me, you know plastic is something I'm trying really hard to reduce. I'm by no means perfect, but in the hotels we stayed at in Bali, drinking water in the rooms were in glass bottles, shower gel/shampoo/conditioners were in large ceramic/glass bottles rather than individual, single-use, plastic bottles.
Getting to Bali from the US is a long journey involving at least 2 flights over 18+ hours. In order to get semi-affordable flights, we flew into Singapore with an 8-hour stopover in Hong Kong first.
Singapore is a great stopover hub for Southeast Asia. The airport has been consistently voted the best in the world and is definitely the best airport I've ever traveled through. It’s such a great airport that locals go there to eat, shop, and take pictures and travelers are recommended to spend at least a few hours extra there to take in the experience. Really… I’m not kidding.
There are dozens of amazing restaurants, a shopping mall with a centerpiece attraction (Look for "The Jewel" - the tallest indoor waterfall in the world, a cinema,) and sleeping lounges while you wait to board, completely spotless bathrooms where a kiosk asks you to rate it as you walk out, and most importantly for us, super efficient security and immigration, which is completely automated - it took us 2 minutes to clear immigration without speaking to anyone.
Singapore is modern, clean, and lively with great food (including plenty of healthy eateries) and shopping. In the last decade or two, it has transformed its image from a regimented, sterile city to one of the most fun cities in the world. You can get from the airport to the city center in 30 mins via their efficient metro or taxi. We spent a night in the Katong area, an area 10 minutes from the airport that is full of Peranakan culture and architecture all mixed in with new hipster cafes and boutiques. On our way back from Bali, we also spent 2 nights in Singapore.
The Bali airport is the exact opposite of Singapore. Maybe we got unlucky, but expect to spend quite a bit of time here upon landing to: buy a “Visa on Arrival” ($35 per person), clear immigration, pick up luggage and get local eSim cards. I find that if I set my expectations, then I'm less annoyed when I'm held up in long lines. :)
Some hours after our flight landed, we arrived at our resort, the Alila Uluwatu. We are Hyatt loyalty members so we used our points for this stay. This is a large resort, and in typical Alila style, very minimalist with the use of local colors and materials so that it blends into the local environment. All rooms are villas with their own paddling pools. However, we never used our private pool because the resort’s main pool is a spectacular infinity pool overlooking the ocean. The resort is high on a cliff so the views are stunning, especially from the outdoor bar that juts out beyond the cliff.
There’s yoga every morning on a deck overlooking the ocean, and the breakfast is a multi-course a la carte affair, including cold press juices, and vegan and gluten options. Some of the food was just ok, others were amazing, so experiment with what you order. We spent 4 days mostly practicing morning yoga/meditation overlooking the cliffside views and reading and lounging by the pool, punctuated with a long 20-second walk to the resort’s restaurant for lazy light lunch or a short Grab or Gojek (the Ubers of Southeast Asia) ride to a local restaurant. We mainly went out for dinner and there are great restaurants in Uluwatu.
One particular standout is Alchemy, which ranks as one of the best plant-based restaurants we’ve experienced. The food is mostly organic, innovative, and familiar at the same time. The vegan Margherita with house-made pili nut mozzarella and gluten-free crust still triggers longing now. It’s a little off a main road so you feel like you are in a forest and it's clean, light design with a large outdoor garden provided the desired respite from the traffic on the main roads. We enjoyed Alchemy so much, we visited their branch in Ubud a few days later.
Note: food in Bali is a dream come true for us. You can get authentic local food in the “warungs” all over the island where a plate of nasi campur (rice plate with your choice of many different appetizer-portions of dishes to add to your plate) will set you back $2-3. Most Balinese food is dairy and gluten-free. There are plenty of vegetarian options. Given the large number of expats that live in Bali, there are all varieties of international restaurants competing with each other producing not only high-quality food, but almost always including plenty of vegan/gluten-free options at a fraction of the price of what you pay in the U.S. Given its proximity to Australia, there are a lot of Aussies living in Bali, bringing with them their Aussie cafe culture of excellent coffee and food. Bali also has the highest concentration of organic, plant-based, and gluten-free options I’ve experienced anywhere, beating Portland hands down! With the hot, humid climate, most restaurants offer cold-press juices (many organic) and smoothies.
Here are some recommendations:
Warung Ganesha (Uluwatu) - simple, local restaurant (“warung”) with a great Nasi Campur spread and fresh juices and smoothies
Warung Local (Uluwatu) - another great warung, slightly nicer environs, with great Nasi Campur
Warung Biah Biah (Ubud) - Balinese food at great prices, very popular so be prepared to wait.
Kelly’s Warung (Ubud) - mid-priced local restaurant well known in Ubud. Been around forever.
Pali (Canggu) - this was our favorite local restaurant we tried in Bali. It’s more mid-priced with beautiful wood decor and views of rice paddies. The food was incredible.
Alchemy (Uluwatu and Ubud) - one of the best plant-based restaurants we’ve been to in the world
Moksa (Ubud) - just outside Ubud with views of the permaculture garden where they get much of their ingredients. We had an incredible meal here.
Zest (Ubud) - a gorgeous, plant-based restaurant
Shady Shack (Canggu) - great down to earth vegetarian restaurant
Suka Espresso (Uluwatu, Ubud) - Aussie cafe with excellent coffee and food
Milk & Madu (Ubud, Canggu) - another great Aussie cafe with good food
Aside from visiting beaches, we also went to a coffee + rice plantation, the Uluwatu temple, and watched a sunset Kecak dance performance on the beach. If you can get your head around it, the Luwak coffee is a prized coffee made from coffee beans that have been eaten and then 'excreted' by little Asian civets (cute rat-like creatures) - supposedly, the coffee is fermented during the luwak's digestive tract and this leads to a more aromatic taste.
Tip: if you visit the Uluwatu temple - watch out for the monkeys! They will steal your glasses and mobile phones if you are not careful. We saw a monkey take a phone from an absolutely distraught tourist, whose tour guide chased the monkey onto the roof and enticed that phone back with food.
After a few days of doing very little, we were ready for some activities.
Ubud is where yogis, spiritual healers, and artists live alongside the locals. We visited 10 years ago, and back then, there was a slow, peaceful vibe but now the town is thronged with tourists and built up.
Despite how crowded Ubud can be, it really is a must visit. The town and region offer cultural activities such as local dance performances, nearby ancient temples in the jungles, waterfalls, rice paddies, yoga studios, gorgeous spas with memorable massages for under $20, world-renowned restaurants with plant-based menus.
We booked a full-day trek in the north of Bali with The Getaway Camp Bali. This started with a 2 hour drive to the North, into the mountains. A tour guide took us on a 4 hour, 6 mile hike in the jungles - make sure you wear long sleeves and long pants as you'll be knee deep in plantation. The highlight of the experience was our visit to Banyu waterfalls.
I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls and these ones are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I was transported to a different world, and had to pinch myself that this was real.
Ubud is a shopping mecca for those that seek local crafts and boutique shops. The main roads are crowded and loud from the traffic but there also are smaller, quieter streets lined with cute shops and cafes to provide a respite from the hustle and bustle.
We stayed at Bisma Eight, a boutique hotel in the Bisma area of Ubud which is quieter than central Ubud but walkable to the center. However, we still found it a tad busy and too central. So if I was to do it again, I would book a hotel outside of town for peace and quiet in the jungle and take a Grab / Gojek into town for shopping and restaurants.
Last but not least, we moved back to the coast - Canggu - to finish off our trip. This town feels like the epi-center for digital nomads and surfers and there are more expatriates living here than anywhere else we’ve been to in Bali. From what I saw, expats seemed to outnumber tourists here.
There are hundreds of cafes, restaurants, gyms, yoga studios, surf shops, and co-working spaces. It’s quite a scene and a unique vibe. It’s nice to be amongst an international crowd that actually lives here rather than just tourists.
The hotel really was the highlight here for us. We stayed at the Como Uma Canggu, a resort that is right on the beach. We stayed at another Como hotel a few years ago in Thailand and it was one of the best resorts we’ve experienced: wellness + sustainability-focused, everything from the decor, food, rooms, spas, and service is world-class. I also love that they have a Como foundation, a charity that supports local women to try and close the gender gap (a cause I am passionate about).
To date, we have not stayed at another hotel group that delivers so well (Six Senses come close, but we've never stayed at Six Senses in Asia... only Portugal, so can't compare apples with apples). We especially enjoyed the breakfast that offered a small buffet bar that included cold press juices, chia pudding, and fresh fruits, but in addition, you can also order numerous freshly cooked main courses.
Daily wellness activities such as yoga are included in your stay, and they had an excellent gym too. The service is perfect - friendly, calm, professional, and not intrusive. At the hotel bar every night, we watched the sunset, with surfers coming in on the waves in the foreground. The Canggu sunset is renowned for a reason, and if you don't stay at a hotel on the beach, be sure to check out a beach club near sunset to watch it.
Before I go...
The COMMONEST question I get asked is how I navigate the 'toxins' I inevitably encounter while traveling.
The simple answer is: I don't stress about it!
I take a 90/10 (sometimes 80/20) rule when traveling. I do what I can to look for healthy restaurants and wellness-forward hotels, but I am also ok with going with the flow and not stressing about whether the food is organic, has refined sugar, seed oils, etc. Life is to be enjoyed and travel is truly one of life's joys. In fact, one of the reasons I go the extra mile to stay healthy in my 90 of the 90/10 is SO THAT I am healthy enough to travel, experience different cultures, food, and open my eyes to the beauty that is life.
Bringing things like air/water filters with me is doable when I do road trips in the USA, but when I do international travel, that is harder. However, here are a few tips that help me:
1) Load up on antioxidants. The easiest way? I bring heavy-metal, pesticide-free matcha with me so I can enjoy a matcha daily. Why? Matcha is a delicious and easy source of antioxidants (it has a higher ORAC score than blueberries, can you believe it?). I also bring electrolytes and Vitamin C (another potent antioxidant that can be hard to get enough of when traveling) with me which helps my skin stay healthy in the hot weather.
2) Look for local markets to buy fresh fruits, or look for smoothie bars (note, depending on where you are, ice may not be made with sanitized water so make sure where you buy from is sanitary. I often ask for smoothies and drinks without ice when traveling. The same applies to salads - I will ask for cooked vegetables if I'm unsure of the hygiene practices. If the area is endemic with Hepatitis A, definitely avoid raw seafood, hepatitis A is no joke).
3) I also bring a binder and S Boulardii with me in case I have an upset tummy - electrolytes can come in handy too. I am a trained MD and know when to use these, and when I need to go to the doctor. But this is not medical advice for you. Some cases of food poisoning can be severe and life-threatening, so always seek medical advice rather than just blindly using supplements.
4) Other supplements I usually bring: B complex, omega 3 (I take these regularly anyway), magnesium, zinc, OO's liver juice (discount code: platefulhealth), or this detox-supporting supplement (discount code: platefulhealth 15% off on 1st order) with ingredients that may help liver detoxification.
4) I know it's super tempting, but I avoid alcohol while flying - the body is already stressed, and the last thing it needs is more stress from having to break down alcohol (#sorrynotsorry!). Stay hydrated instead.
5) Jet lag - part and parcel of travel, and the single most important thing that helps our body adjust is daylight exposure. Getting early morning light wherever you are, first thing, will help set your circadian rhythm up for success. If you are really tired, try breathwork - this always helps give me an energy boost.
Try to get outdoors 1st thing, get your feet in contact with some nature (grounding) to mitigate long flights (the antioxidants in #1 help mitigate too), and do some gentle movement, breathwork, or stretching to wake the body up. I sometimes do use melatonin to help me sleep, depending on where I travel to - but this is the ONLY time I'd use melatonin to help me sleep, and I don't use it continuously for more than 7 days so my own innate hormonal negative feedback loop doesn't get disrupted by these exogenous sources.
Now, another wellness tool I don't travel without is my LUMEBOX - red light therapy has saved my achy feet after long days of walking, bug bites, helps me with mood/energy, and skin health (wrinkles + breakouts).
Get $250 off the portable red light therapy perfect for traveling with (it's 110-220V, so all you need is a local plug adaptor), that I helped design, use every day, and love. P.S. It has a 11040 mah Lithium battery - so some airlines will allow it in check-in luggage (check with them first), or you can also put it in your carry-on luggage - I've taken it a few times and just take it out with my laptop at TSA.
On that note, I hope you found this blog post helpful - enjoy your travels, it's truly a blessing to be able to see the world, don't let stress about being 100% non-toxic become a hidden toxin in your life or hold you back from living!