Last July we took off to Bali with friends: 7 nights at a fancy villa, then another week, just hubby and I: No kid. Just us… Bali bliss. We enjoyed our holiday so much we are going back to Bali in August, this time with our boy, for a week. Since that holiday I’ve had so many people reach out asking for tips and recommendations. Questions include ‘where to stay?’ Or, ‘do we choose a villa or a hotel?’ are key FAQs. There’s an abundance of accommodation options in Bali and trying to decide where to stay can be mind boggling – I know, I’ve been there! So, here’s a post that I hope might help if you are trying to navigate how to holiday in Bali.
Where to stay? What location?
Firstly, a disclaimer, I don’t have all the answers. We were in Bali for just under two weeks and we stayed in four different locations, three different places in Seminyak and at a resort in Ubud. There are a whole heap more locations in Bali that you could stay – but I can’t tell you about these: I haven’t been there yet.
With that out of the way, knowing what I know now about Bali, if this is your first trip I’d recommend staying half of your time in Seminyak or Canguu, then heading north east into the cooler climes of the mountain town of Ubud.
What’s the deal with each location? Here’s a breakdown – of the only four locations I know!
- Seminyak: There’s an abundance of things to do in this upmarket beach resort area, from boutique style shopping, to fine dining. Some of Bali’s top dining spots are here and if you like nightlife, you’ll be in party-heaven. Cons, it would be remiss of me to not mention the traffic. The airport is 9.2km from central Seminyak. This can take anywhere between 25 mins to an hour. Crazytown. Another thing to note, Seminyak isn’t great at catering to lower budgets (e.g. accommodation and food). This is the pricier side of town.
- Canggu: A coastal village and an up-and-coming resort area, north of Seminyak, the coastline of Canggu boasts black-sand beaches, almost all with surf breaks that beckon surfers from all over the globe. Inland, the countryside of Canggu has an abundance of rice fields, making it a popular location for villa rentals, or fully-fledged resorts with all the services. Canggu town has a great vibe, with surf shops, bars, restaurants, as well as the popular Love Anchor bazaar (market).
- Ubud: This is considered Bali’s artistic and cultural heartland, made famous as the backdrop for the Love part of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. Ubud boasts lush green rice terraces, which make for a stunning backdrop to many art galleries, palaces and temples. By day admire stunning Balinese architecture, enjoy a downhill bike tour through the rice paddy fields, or check out the famous Ubud Monkey Forest.
- Kuta: This is where tourism in Bali started and, today, is Bali’s most lively area. There’s loads of locally owned market stalls, shopping malls (with local and international brands, including Sephora) and some of the island’s most celebrated dining spots. Kuta is also home to Waterbom, a must visit waterpark for kids and adults of all ages. This is about as enthusiastic as I can get about Kuta which wasn’t, frankly, my cup of tea at all. Chocka full of tourists, bars everywhere, rubbish and the beach nearly reduced me to tears – plastic everywhere. For me, I disliked the hustle and bustle of Kuta, along with it’s jumble of cheap tourist cafes and Aussie bars… You could be anywere in Asia. I simply prefer the slightly more upmarket and refined vibe of Seminyak or Canggu. Yes, I know I sound like a snob #soznotsoz.
I’d stay in Seminyak or Canggu again in a heartbeat – and, being a fan of arts and architecture, I also loved Ubud. Where are we staying in August this year? Halfway between Seminyak and Canggu. Where in Bali are we staying? Villa or hotel? Keep reading.
Villa or a hotel?
The main choices in the types of accommodation in Bali are essentially villa, villa resort or a hotel. My thoughts? I’d stay in some form of villa everytime. Why? You get a whole place, e.g. house to yourself, that is serviced (e.g. housekeepers come over), with your own pool for the same price as a hotel room where you have to share a pool with hundreds of other punters. For me, staying in a villa in Bali is the only way to go. That said, you can get resorts where you can get your own villa within in a resort, that is absolutely a palatable option – we did that in two of the places we stayed and we really enjoyed this, largely for the convenience of having a spa and a restaurant on site!
Where did WE stay?
Samaja Villas Kunti
On our first night we stayed at Samaja Villas Kunti, which is officially in Seminyak – though it’s definitely more at the Kuta end of town. For us two couples on this first night, we rented a two bedroom villa, complete with our own pool. The whole resort/complex was beautiful including our villa – we were rapt. Our beds were king size, each couple had a gorgeous en-suite and, critically, an abundance of wifi and air conditioning. As we arrived after 6pm, it was dark already and given the beers and wines we’d had on the plane were starting to wear off, we promptly ordered room service from the in-house restaurant and dined pool side. The food was delicious and plentiful and the local Bintang (beer) were icy cold. There was also a spa, which we didn’t have time to check out.
Samaja Villas Kunti was a non-spendy NZ$363 per night (for all four of us) which included breakfast and the shuttle from the airport. Pleasingly, the driver was there to meet us when we arrived: A welcome sight after a 9 hour flight and a long queue at customs on arrival at Denpasar Airport. Compare this price to the price of a single room in an Auckland hotel: There’s no comparison. We booked through Expedia and I’d absolutely stay here again. It was in a good location – Seminyak and Kuta were a quick cab ride away. If you are wanting to immerse yourself in a more ‘local’ neighbourhood, as opposed to the tourist offerings that are in Kuta and Seminyak, you’d enjoy Samaja Villas. I’d be happy to stay here for the whole holiday, noting to get anywhere you’d need to taxi it, which might wear thin after a while.
Here’s a few pics of surrounding neighbourhood. Thanks to the time difference, our bodies woke us up at 5.30am local time and so hubby and I set off for a big stroll. The area that we stayed appeared to be a hub for crafts people specialising in home wares. Between that, the market for locals (we got stared at), and the paddy fields, it made for a super interesting walk! Conveniently, located across the road from the villa resort, was a small 7/11 type supermarket. Here we stocked up on water and snacks (this turned out to be the start of our obsession with Indonesian peanuts on this trip).
Villa Desa Roro
For the next week we were privileged to stay at the magnificent Villa Desa Roro, located on the Seminyak side of Canggu. This luxurious retreat comprised of two Javanese Jogolo style villas, with a total of seven rooms (as we were seven couples by this stage). We were all in heaven in our king size bedrooms, jam packed with Balinese teak furniture and our own en-suite. Both villas had their own swimming pool and if that doesn’t sound fancy enough, we also had a team of housekeepers to help make sure our holiday was perfect: It was.
Back to the Villa, it’s worth mentioning the ‘Kitty System’ that we set up when we arrived. I haven’t encountered this kind of system before – brilliant! On arrival each couple put in some cash for meals and beers. Then, for US$5 per person, the housekeeping team would cook us anything off the supplied menu whenever we wanted. We settled into an easy routine of having breakfast at home. Each morning we’d enjoy complementary tropical fruit, then indulge on anything from traditional Indonesian options like Nasi Goreng, Gado Gado, or stick to the familiar like eggs or pancakes. How this worked was the friendly team took breakfast order the afternoon prior, then set off to buy breakfast ingredients out of the kitty, recording all transactions in an accounting book. This made for a really convenient, affordable and transparent meal system!
Simply put, Villa Desa Roro was absolute luxury and has wrecked my experience at other accommodation for the rest of my life. It’s like flying business class: Once you go back to cattle class you can’t help but remember that one time you lived the high life! I’m not sure on the price of the Villa, as the week’s stay was at the (incredible) generosity of friends. A quick gander online though and I can see it’s $NZ1560 per night for both villas (which equates to $222 per couple).
The photos below here don’t do Villa Desa Roro justice. Location wise, the villa was located down a long driveway, which meant we were away from what was a busy main road. We were also located an easy walk to a fantastic supermarket, as well as The Savage Kitchen which became a favourite spot to eat. Straight across the road from the villa was My Warung, which at the time of our stay, was the No1 Canggu eatery. It was here I ate the best steak and chips of my life. The French Bakery down the road deserves a mention for their incredible almond croissants and yummy coffee. The upmarket supermarket was also handily located next to the bakery (this was fancy – like the UK’s Marks and Spencers).
A word of warning though, once outside of Villa Desa Roro there were no footpaths, so we had a bit of ‘fun’ navigating the tuk tuks, bikes, other pedestrians and crazy drivers when we set off on foot. Seminyak town centre, incidentally was located only 6km away, but because of Bali’s horrific traffic, some days could take up to an hour. The traffic in Bali is a whole different blog post. Suffice to say it’s a bloody mission.
One super nice touch of staying at Villa Desa Roro was a complementary voucher per couple for a treatment at Rob Peetom hair spa in Seminyak. Sound random? Not really, Villa Desa Roro is owned by Dutch hair guru Rob Peetom. Us girls, en-masse, had an out-of-this-world experience getting a hair treatment, followed by a blow wave. If you want a treat in Bali, side note, I highly recommend this! There’s something magical about having your hair washed next to a lush green paddy field.
After Villa Desa Roro, we said goodbye to our friends and Hubby and I hopped in a cab and set off for Ubud. Now, Ubud is located a mere 27km away from Seminyak – but it took two hours to get there! #bloodyeffingtraffic.
In Ubud we stayed at KajaNe Yangloni which I booked on Expedia. Here we had a self-contained one bedroom private villa, with our own pool, within a resort. At risk of sounding like a parrot, it was stunning. However, in the interests of balance, I have two grumbles: One was the sound of the sound of the call to prayer which started at sunrise (take earplugs: problem solved) and, secondly, the location: Which is also a positive, depending on your point of view. Simply, we were located a little too far out of Ubud for my liking. Yes, there was a free shuttle into town from the resort, however, the traffic in Ubud meant we’d ring to be picked up, and in some instances we had to wait an hour to be collected (other times it would be 15 minutes). This creating a bit of dicking around: And patience isn’t at the top of my positive personality traits. To save the faff factor, we walked to and from Ubud a few times, it was a probably a good 50 minutes in 30 degree heat. I got chafed between my thighs despite wearing shorts and chafing cream!
Slight grumbles (nothing showstopping though), for $165 per night KajaNe Yangloni was great value, especially as this included breakfast and complimentary afternoon tea daily. The villa and resort was well set up, we had a pool (which we couldn’t use – it was too cold!) air con, WIFI, a TV and DVD player (the reception has a stash of DVDs you can borrow). At the actual resort there was a huge pool, nice restaurant and library. We loved the onsite massage therapists too: We had a couples’ massage and loved that so much my hubby booked us in for a facial the next day.
Note, there are two resorts in Ubud under the KajaNe brand – one is located in the centre of Ubud town – this is called KajaNe Mua: We booked the one on the outskirts of town, KajaNe Yangloni. We visited KajaNe Mua several times, as that’s where the shuttle would collect us: We would order a beer and wait for the shuttle. KajaNe Mua was well appointed and set up. Knowing what I know now, I’d be inclined to stay here next time, to save transport missions. But then again, KajaNe Yangloni ticked the tranquil and ‘little paradise’ box. Simply, it depends what you are after on holiday. I’m someone who likes to get out and explore: I am not good at sitting around and relaxing for long periods of time, so KajaNe Mua is ‘more me’ in hindsight. My hubby on the other hand, has a fantastic ability to plonk himself on a sun lounger in the shade and not move for 6 hours (and then he’ll go bike up a volcano…).
After Ubud we returned to Seminyak for one last night ahead of our flight home. We weren’t supposed to do this: We had booked at Kajane Yangloni and had intended to straight from Ubud to the airport, but, frankly, we’d ticked the Ubud box and were ready to move on. So, at 5am, as the call to prayer started, I made a decision: Let’s go to Seminyak for one more night (besides, our friends were there and I felt like a knees up!) As we hadn’t booked for this night (and we were still paying for Ubud, that was non-refundable), I got something last minute, super budget styles, on Booking.com at Villa Lalu.
Given we only needed an overnight stay, I kept it simple, partly as I wondered what we could get for around NZ$100. Villa Lalu turned out to be sweet! Talk about a location location: It was a five minute walk down a secret garden style medley of alley ways to Seminyak’s infamous Bintang supermarket.
The resort itself was quite dated and it could have done with a makeover, as well as a bloody good clean (our sheets were clean and so was the toilet – phew). In summary, for the price we paid, it was fine: Remember we’d been living the life of Riley at Villa Desa Roro and in Ubud up till then. If we’d started out at Villa Lalu, not ended with it, I’d probably have been more complimentary. Criticisms aside, we loved the gigantic pool, which we, bizarrely, had pretty much to ourselves. Long story short: Villa Lalu is proof you can have a great family holiday on a budget in Bali.
That… Was a long blog post! I hope I’ve answered some of your questions about where to stay in Bali. Note, this is, as usual, my own opinion, I can’t comment on different backpackers or places I haven’t stayed…
Have you been to Bali? Where did you stay? Did you Air BNB it too? Are you a fan of a hotel/resort – what’s your jam? Sharing is caring, share your thoughts below! I’ll keep you posted with our trip to Bali in August. Keep an eye out on my social media for insights (I’m most likely to post on my Insta Story).