Ten tips to a great Bali holiday

Rice fields at Wapa di Ume in Ubud

So you’ve booked your trip to Bali – and seriously, why wouldn’t you? It really is the Island of the Gods. To help you get the most and the best out of your trip, I’ve put together a tip or ten…


Yeah, don’t worry about it – it will slide right off your face the minute you step off the tarmac.

I remember one trip we watched a (obviously) newly wed couple at breakfast at the Padma in Legian. She’d obviously bought a “resort wear wardrobe” to wear on her honeymoon and was immaculately decked out each morning – from her freshly straightened hair to her fully made-up face. I reckon it lasted 3 days.

2. Hair

Speaking of which, bring your straightening iron if you wish, but with that level of humidity your chances of keeping your hair straight are as good as those of me ever running again. Actually, they’re probably a bit better than that.

Besides, do you want to be the one sitting beside the pool/beach because you don’t want to get your hair wet?

3. Pack a sarong

You’ll need it for temples. Don’t worry too much if you do forget – you can hire them from most temples.

While I’m at it, pack lightly – and preferably no man-made fibres.

4. Helmets and motorbikes

Ever heard Redgum’s ‘I’ve Been To Bali Too?’ Remember that line ‘as a motorcycle hero I guess I’m a failure?’ No? I wrote a whole post on motorbikes in Bali a few years ago. The link is here.

Anyways, my message is, just because you can doesn’t mean that you should. If you don’t ride a bike at home, it’s probably not super smart to learn in Bali. And if you do, don’t do it bare-headed in shorts and thongs.

While there’s no flash public transport, the Bluebird taxis are cheap, plentiful and, more importantly, metred.

If you’re getting out and about for the day – and you absolutely should – consider hiring a driver and an air-conditioned car. It will set you back about $80, but it’s safe, comfortable, and convenient.

5. Water

Don’t drink it. I even clean my teeth in bottled water. Just saying.

6. Bali Belly

Touch wood, I’ve never had it – and I eat local. I do follow some simple rules – such as looking for places with good turnover – and tend to avoid Western food. Why? Because the way we store and handle food is different.

Oh, and I carry a hand sanitiser, don’t eat pre-peeled fruit, and drink only from bottles that have been sealed. The usual stuff, really.

7. Beaches

As famous as they are, unless you’re looking for the elusive perfect break, the beaches mightn’t be as good as you have at home. Especially if you’re from the Sunshine Coast…just saying…but  don’t listen to me, I’m biased.

8. Haggling

Expect to haggle – especially in Kuta, Legian and in the ‘art’ markets or the stalls that are the Balinese equivalent to gift shops outside most major temples and other attractions.

If you want your shopping without a side serve of bartering, head to the boutiques in Canggu, Ubud, Seminyak and even parts of Legian. It’s in these places that you’ll find your designers, homewares, silver jewellery etc. Just don’t expect a bargain.

9. The name thing

Ok, this one can take a bit of getting your head around, but all Balinese share the same four names. Depending on their birth order, they’ll be either Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut. And if there are more than four children? The cycle is repeated. It’s why most Balinese have a nickname.

10. Choosing your place

I have a belief that there’s a Bali for everyone:

  • If you have fond memories of schoolies, by all means hang out in Kuta. Actually, there’s now a great shopping mall on the beach down there that’s absolutely worth visiting – both for the High St brands and the food options.
  • If you’re more into beach clubs and boutiques, Seminyak might be for you. The restaurant scene up there is great too. Villas are very popular accommodation options in Seminyak.
  • Sanur is where many expats settle and has a much quieter pace. The beach is protected by reefs, so it’s preferred by many families with younger and older members.
  • Nusa Dua is known for its fabulous resorts and is also great for families. There are fewer touts too.
  • Ubud is in the mountains, has seriously good restaurants, great (but not cheap) shopping, and a laid back arts, yoga and new-age scene. Coffee is good and there are plenty of vegan and organic options.
  • Ulu Watu has two types of visitors – those who come for the surf breaks, and those who want to stay at the fantabulously sleek and stylish cliff top resorts.
  • Canggu is getting a following these days too – both for villas and laid back surfer accommodation.
  • As for Legian? There’s an adage that the people who went to Kuta when they were younger go to Legian when their families and their waists start to grow. I’m not so sure about that, but if you find the right place to stay here it’s a happy mix a little of the chaos of Kuta, and a little less of the polish of Seminyak.

Of course, these aren’t the only regions. Don’t overlook the East Coast, or the area west near Tanah Lot and Echo Beach. Then you need to choose between hotel, resort, guest house, or villa. Decisions.

Where do we stay?

We usually spend a week up in Ubud to unwind, and then come down to Legian – although find ourselves in a taxi most nights to Seminyak for dinner.

Sometimes we leave the resort and feel as though we’re running the gauntlet of touts, but at other times, it can be fun to banter with them. It’s a balancing act.

My husband’s worst nightmare would be a secluded romantic getaway, a gated resort, or even a villa. He likes the people watching aspect of a resort, and for me, when it comes to pools, size really does matter – as does a swim up bar.

Because we always eat outside the hotel, we need to be able to get out and about easily, so tend to avoid resorts in the middle of nowhere without a regular shuttle service.

But that’s us. Where should you stay in Bali? When deciding where best would suit you, don’t just ask your friends – everyone will have an opinion. Instead ask those who are into the same type of holiday as you – and at a similar price point.

If you’ve holidayed in Bali before, where do you stay – and why?

Because it’s Thursday, it’s also time to get our happy on with the Lovin’Life linky.

To join in the Lovin’ Life Linky, all you’ve got to do is: Link one post about what you’re currently lovin’ in life. Read two or three posts from other Lovin’ Life Linkers and leave a comment so they know you’ve dropped by. Spread the Lovin’ Life word and feel free to link back.

The Lovin’ Life team includes:

50 Shades of Age | Seize the Day Project | Debbish | Write of the Middle | Deep Fried Fruit.

The linky goes live at 7.30am every Thursday and finishes at 7.30am of a Monday (Australian Eastern Time). Click on the link below to join in…

Babi Guling – how to make a cheat’s version at home


babi guling at Ibu Oka

If you google it, there’s a lot of posts about where the best babi guling – Balinese roasted suckling pig – is in Bali. There’s apparently an unmarked doorway in a village called Buduk north of  Canggu somewhere thats open between 4am and 9am. There’s another listed in Sanur, and yet another in Seminyak that is supposed to be the best.

The best known, however, has to be Ibu Oka in Ubud. Is it the best there? I have no idea, but it’s absolutely certainly worth a visit. If I were to be pressed, hard, I’d say the one I had at Gianyar Markets might have been better, but let’s face it, a good babi guling is really not worth arguing about. It’s best just savoured. With a beer.

Ok, let’s be honest, there’s nothing that really replicates the taste of babi guling – Balinese suckling pig – that can be replicated at home in a commercial kitchen. For a start, in Bali it’s about a whole suckling pig. Without getting too much into the squeamish details, the base gede, or spice mix, is stuffed into the belly which is then stitched back up. The pig is then placed over a fire on a spit – which is hand turned…hence the name, turning pig.

Anyways, this recipe comes pretty close – especially if it’s been 18 months since you were last in Bali and dreaming and scheming about going back. The recipe comes from Adam Liaw’s After Work.

To get the best flavour out of it, you’ll need to start the day before.

For the pork

  • 2kg piece pork belly, skin on
  • 2 tbsp cooking salt

Basa Gede

  • 3 large red or golden shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 thumb sized knob of ginger, peeled
  • 1 large stalk of lemongrass (the white part), roughly chopped
  • 1 coriander root and the stalks (use the leaves for garnish)
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric (I prefer to use peeled fresh turmeric – a bit less than the ginger)
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp caster sugar
  • ¼ tsp white pepper
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp fish sauce

Throw the lot into a food processor until to make a rough paste.


  • 3 large red or golden shallots, peeled and finely diced
  • 2 large red chillies, finely diced
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
  • 1 large stalk of lemongrass (the white part) finely sliced
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1 tsp white vinegar
  • ½ tsp caster sugar
  • 2 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp peanut (or other vegetable) oil
  • Mix it all together and let it sit to get t know each other for about 30 mins.

Cooking the babi guling

Score the pork skin with a sharp knife and spread the spice paste onto the meat side. Rub salt liberally into the skin and place on a rack (on a tray) uncovered, overnight in the fridge.

Remove the pork from the fridge an hour before you want to cook it. Heat the oven (fan forced to 190C and roast the pork on a rack for 30 mins.

Reduce the heat to 160C and roast for another 30 mins or so – until it is cooked through.

For good crackling, turn the grill setting on for the last 10 mins and wedge the oven door open slightly with a wooden spoon. This allows the steam to escape and helps the crackle, well, crackle.

Serve with the sambal, some steamed or stir-fried greens, and rice. Then book your next trip to taste the real thing!



How to make Bumbu Bali

ingredients at Ubud markets

At the base of any great Balinese dish is a good Basa Gede, or Bumbu Bali. Translated literally, Bumbu means spice, Basa means bases, and Gede means Big. Sometimes you might see it called a Base Genep. However it’s described, it is a complete spice mix that adds big flavours to any dish.

Anyways, the ingredients list in this all purpose bumbu is huge, but it keeps for a few weeks in the fridge and a couple of months in the freezer, so it’s worth making a batch, and popping it away in individual portion sizes of, say, 100g, or thereabouts. I’ve tried to use bought pastes in my nasi goreng or chicken curry, but it just doesn’t taste the same.

Besides, there’s not a lot that’s more therapeutic than popping on some loud music, pouring a glass of wine, and smashing down pastes in a mortar and pestle. Just saying.

A general rule of thumb is that you need around 25g bumbu for each 100g of protein, but don’t get too hung up on that. If you’re making a chicken curry, for example, and are using 4 chicken thighs, just dollop on paste equivalent to one of them. Too easy.

When it comes to a vegetarian dish, or a nasi goreng, use less, adding little by little to taste.

This recipe is a combination of one that we made at a cooking school in Ubud – Bumi Bali – and one that’s in Janet de Neefe’s fabulous Bali: My Island Home.

Ingredients for bumbu bali

What you need

  • 8-10 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 3 long red chillis, seeded and chopped
  • 3 small chillies, seeded and chopped
  • 5cm galangal, peeled and chopped
  • 5cm turmeric, peeled and chopped
  • 5cm fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 3 stalk lemongrass. Smashed with the back of a knife and chopped roughly
  • 2 salam leaves(or bay or curry leaf)
  • 150ml coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 5 candlenuts
  • 2 teasp black peppercorns
  • 1 teasp white peppercorns
  • 1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teasp belacan or shrimp paste. If you’re vegan, you can substitute oyster or mushroom sauce

What you do with it

  • Depending on what sort of day you’ve had, and how much time you have, pound all the ingredients (except the salam and the oil) in a pestle and mortar…or use a blender. I use the nutribullet when I’m feeling lazy. Add water as required to moisten. As an aside, making spice mixes by hand is amazing therapy. Don’t worry too much if it seems too watery- this will cook off.
  • Heat the oil in a wok or heavy pan and add the leaves and cook for a minute or so.
  • Add the spice mix and cook over a high heat, stirring frequently, until the excess water has evaporated and the mix is a rich golden brown colour.

How to make Balinese chicken curry

Using this paste to make a chicken curry couldn’t be easier.

Chop about 750g of chicken thighs into a dice. Do the same with a few potatoes and a couple of carrots. Don’t be too precious about the quantities.

Heat some coconut oil in a large wok or deep saucepan, add your curry paste  and fry over high heat for a minute or so until fragrant. Reduce heat, add a stalk of lemongrass that you’ve bruised with the back of a knife, and a couple of finely shredded lime leaves.

Stir it all together for another minute or so. Add the chicken and your veggies, and stir to make sure the spice paste has coated it all and cook for a couple of minutes each side to get a little colour. Add a cup of chicken stock – maybe more depending on how much chicken you have. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer gently for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are soft. Add a 400ml can of coconut milk and a few squeezes of lime juice and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Notes on the Ingredients

  • Shallots: Sometimes called golden shallots these are milder than normal onions, are a bugger to peel and chop, but an absolute must have in Indonesian cooking.
  • Candlenuts: Here in Australia, it can be tough to source candlenuts. We have a few good Asian grocers around us that we source ours from, but if you have problems getting them, or simply can’t be faffed looking for them, macadamias are a good substitute from a texture viewpoint – although, to me, the taste is more like a cross between a macadamia and brazil.
  • Galangal: One thing we can’t get here is a differentiation between greater and lesser galangal. You see, not all galangals are the same. Both look like ginger root, but are very different in taste. Lesser galangal appears more like young ginger and has a more concentrated flavour. Sometimes the galangal we buy is technically lesser galangal, sometimes it’s very obviously greater galangal. Either way, it’s sold simply as galangal. Most Balinese recipes will use both, but I’ve just simplified it to galangal. If you really can’t find it, substitute ginger, but it is worth seeking out.
  • Turmeric: I get fresh turmeric at the local markets, but used to find it a tad difficult to source when in Sydney. If you don’t use it all, it freezes ok for next time. Another root spice, it looks also a little like ginger in shape, but is bright orange inside. It’s the turmeric that gives the final dish it’s amazing colour. When peeling it, if you don’t wear gloves, it will also give your fingers an amazing colour – as if you’ve been smoking three packs a day for the last fifty years! It has incredible health benefits too, so please make the effort to find the fresh stuff. If you must, substitute with 2 tablespoons turmeric powder.
  • Belacan: is a foul smelling shrimp paste that is absolutely essential in Indonesian cooking. It’s made from fermented shrimp and…you don’t really want to know. We buy it in our local supermarket in pre-roasted sealed portions. Trust me, there’s no personal glory involved in roasting your own.
  • Salam Leaves: You probably won’t find these, so don’t bother driving around town looking for them. Substitute with bay or curry leaves.
  • Coconut Oil:  Coconut Oil has many health benefits (which I won’t go into here), but it also allows frying at a high heat. Any other vegetable oil (other than olive) is a good substitute.

Bali – 5 reasons why I’m hooked

Taman Tirta Gangga

We’ve all seen the reality tv shows and shock current affairs stories about Bali. Usually they’re based on people behaving badly – and all too often it tends to be about a mix of alcohol and stupidity and a disregard for the local customs. Mostly these stories are centred around Australians behaving badly in Kuta. As an aside, not all of Kuta is as it’s depicted in these shows either – but that’s for another post.

Shows like these and behaviour like that leaves an impression about Bali on potential holiday-makers and it leaves an impression on the Balinese about Australians.

But, just like most Australian tourists are unlike those in the reality shows, the real Bali is not like that little pocket of Kuta. The real Bali has a way of creeping in under your skin and before you know it you’ll be planning your next trip.

I first visited the Island of the Gods in March 2011 – and have been another six times since. I love it so much that I’ve (partially) set two books there – Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry.

Why do I keep coming back? I’m glad you asked.

The Culture

It’s everywhere you look and tread.

The daily offerings are the most obvious – the beautiful little palm baskets that are left around shrines, statues, doorways, roadsides, paths, steps…wherever.

Some are elaborate, most are not. Some contain a few petals, maybe some rice, a cigarette, a couple of tiny crackers, an incense stick. There’s something so peaceful and mindful about watching the (mostly) ladies as they carry their baskets of offerings on their heads, and then carefully place them, saying a little prayer as they complete the mini ceremony.

Who are the offerings to? The Gods of course – and there are many. The tributes are designed to both thank and appease. It’s also a sort of proactive if I give you this will you leave me alone and go away type of thing.

These days, as life is busy, this too can be outsourced – well, at least the construction phase can be – as complete offerings may be purchased at local markets.

It’s not just offerings though, religious ceremonies can be seen all throughout Bali on any day at any time with the whole family – from the oldest to the youngest – participating with pride.

One time on a walk through the ricefields in Ubud we followed the faint sound of a bell to a temple in the middle of nowhere and watched the ceremony taking place. Just beautiful.

The scenery

Jatiluwih, Tabanan

Oh my goodness, the scenery. It’s jaw dropping – but you’ll need to venture out of your resort to see it. From the rice terraces at Tegagalang near Ubud, or Jatiluwih near Tabanan to the lush green in the foothills of Gunung Agung in East Bali. And yes, that’s the volcano that’s grunting and groaning at the moment.

Mt Gunung from Bali Asli

You can hire an English speaking driver in an air-conditioned car for between $50-$80 a day, so why wouldn’t you get out and about?

The food

Sure it’s about nasi goreng and satay, but it’s so much more than fried rice and chicken on a stick. There’s the fabulous babi guling, or suckling pig flavoured with spices that taste like the island (and yes, I used that line in Baby, It’s You), and bebek betutu – roast duck.

Babi Guling

There’s also soto ayam, a flavourful turmeric spiced chicken noodle soup, and beef rendang – the Indonesian version is a tad different to the Malaysian. My favourite, though, is nasi campur. Essentially this is a mound of steamed rice surrounded by small portions of a meat dish, some vegetables, perhaps egg or satay, sambal. There’s no rhyme or reason to it – and it will differ from place to place.

nasi campur

Oh, I’m almost forgetting my favourite salad – sayur urab. It translates loosely to mixed vegetables. I like it so much I’ll post the recipe separately.

There’s a fabulous restaurant scene in Bali now – especially around Seminyak and Ubud, but my favourite is still Bali Asli. Owned by an Aussie expat, the menu changes daily depending on what’s in the garden or what’s come out of the sea that day. It’s traditional food, prepared traditionally.

Located near Amlapura in East Bali, it’s a couple of hours from Legian and Kuta, but only about 30 minutes from Candidasa – and is well worth the trip.

I’ve written about it a few times – here, here and here.


Pura Luhur Batukau

Temples are such an integral part of Balinese life. I could do an entire post on temples. I love them. Of course there’s the biggies like Pure Tanah Lot, but there’s so much charm in the temples you find in family compounds and in villages.

Pura Luhur Batukau, in the central mountains west of Kuta etc is one that’s worth seeking out. For a start there are no touts, but the serenity is what it’s all about. I’ve written about it here.

Take the time to read the signage. I was particularly taken by the extensive list of warnings that this temple in Sanur came with. I have no idea what crossed streak is – and hope that I’m not afflicted by it any time soon. Speaking of which, according to the Lonely Planet guide, Sanur is one of the “few communities still ruled by members of the Brahmana caste”…and is a centre for black and white magic. Perhaps I’ll refrain from flirting – and ranting.


Pura Taman Saraswati

Yes, Ubud. Sure, it has all the Eat, Pray, Love connotations (and I’m absolutely a fan), but Ubud is like a great big exhalation. Don’t just stop at Monkey Forest, stay a while and feel your stresses melt away to the faint sounds of the gamelan.


I’m having difficulty transferring my travel posts across from and anyways, so for the next few weeks, I’ll be re-hashing them here.

Because it’s Thursday, it’s also time to get our happy on with the Lovin’Life linky.

To join in the Lovin’ Life Linky, all you’ve got to do is: Link one post about what you’re currently lovin’ in life. Read two or three posts from other Lovin’ Life Linkers and leave a comment so they know you’ve dropped by. Spread the Lovin’ Life word and feel free to link back.

The Lovin’ Life team includes:

50 Shades of Age | Seize the Day Project | Debbish | Write of the Middle | Deep Fried Fruit.

The linky goes live at 7.30am every Thursday and finishes at 7.30am of a Monday (Australian Eastern Time). Click on the link below to join in…