An Unbelievable 10 Days in Singapore and Bali: The Ultimate List of What to Do & See

Bali is known as ‘island of the gods’ for a reason. It’s, in many ways, the ultimate tropical paradise. When you think of Bali, chances are you envision gorgeous temples, sweeping rice terraces, thundering waterfalls, fresh smoothie bowls, swinging monkeys, dramatic cliff vistas, yogis twisting into different shapes, or streams of incense floating in the air.

With a dramatic surge in tourism the past few years, it seems like everyone is going to Bali, or has been there recently. I loved the four months I lived in Bali in 2019, and encourage others to visit if they’re interested in venturing to Southeast Asia.

To get to Bali, you’ll need to route through one of Southeast Asia’s regional hubs, and if you have the choice, I’d recommend Singapore.

Singapore seamlessly blends East with West, old with new. Little India and Chinatown mix with skyscrapers in a vibrant display of technology and tradition. It’s a futuristic city with everything from buzzing ‘street’ food vendors, to colorful cultural landmarks, to attractions with conservation at the heart of them.

The juxtaposition of Singapore’s sights and sounds against Bali’s relaxing vibes present the best of both worlds. Visiting both in the same trip offers a bit of something for everyone, and pretty much guarantees a holiday you won’t soon forget.

Why Layover in Singapore

Chances are, if you’re coming from the US or parts of Europe, you’ll need to route through Singapore, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur before flying onward to Denpasar- you may even have the choice of which route you take. Whichever place you route through, choose to do an extended stopover so you can explore a bit of a new place.

If you’re able to choose which city you connect through, I’d recommend Singapore because it’s a smaller, more compact city than Bangkok or KL. Instead of spending hours in traffic getting across the city, you’ll be able to explore some things on foot, and take public transit or Grab (the ‘Uber’ of Southeast Asia) when the heat becomes too much or the walking distance is too far.

There’s plenty to see in Singapore, but not so much that it feels unachievable to see highlights in only a few days.

When to Visit Singapore & Bali

With Singapore’s proximity to the equator, you can expect it to be hot and humid year-round. Think 80-90 degrees during the day with humidity at +80-90%. My first time in Singapore, I drank a lot of water and took Grab often to help ensure I didn’t overheat.

Worth noting, Singapore experiences two monsoon seasons- from November – January, and June through September. I visited in March, as well as end of September, and had great weather on both of my visits.

In Bali, the dry season is from April through October. From May through July, it’s less hot and humid than other times of the year- you may even need a light jacket at night. I lived in Bali June, July and also September, October. By far, I preferred my time in June and July.

If trying to visit both Bali and Singapore, I’d time my trip for early-late spring- March, April or May. You may find better deals in Bali in March than further into the dry season, and don’t let the thought of rain put you off. From my experience, it rarely rained all day- normally, it’d downpour for a short period of time before clearing up for a few hours or the rest of the day.

What to Do with More Time On Your Holiday

If you’re able to extend your trip by a few days, I wouldn’t spend them in Singapore. Instead, I’d either try to visit another city (Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok) on your way out through booking one way flights each way, or see another part of Indonesia.

If you decide to see another part of Indonesia, a few days in the Gili Islands or Flores would be a fantastic way to see more of a beautiful country, and sneak in some pristine beach time.

Three tiny islands, off the coast of Lombok, the Gilis are postcard paradise- turquoise water, white sand, swaying hammocks, leafy palms. Each island, with their own individual beauty and charm, the Gilis have become an incredibly popular destination. With the ferry from Bali only taking a few hours each way, and the Gilis being small in size, you could easily travel over to see them with three extra days.

If you’ve got three-four days, consider flying to Flores. Located on the island of Flores, Labuan Bajo was once a remote fishing town. It’s rapidly becoming a popular tourist destination, and with good reason. Home to breathtaking Komodo National Park, ace diving and some of the most awe-inspiring scenery I’ve ever seen, Flores is captivating.

How to Get Around Singapore & Bali

SINGAPORE

From the airport, you can take public transit, a taxi, shuttle or Grab. Usually, I opt for Grab for speed and ease. Getting around the city itself, I tend to mix ride shares (Grab), taking the bus or MRT, or walking.

Singapore’s subway system (MRT) is extensive, efficient and inexpensive. You can buy single ride tickets, a tourist pass or pay per ride by contactless card transaction. Similarly, the buses are a great option with an extensive network. Fares are calculated by distance, and, you can pay the same ways as you would on the MRT.

BALI

In Canggu and Ubud, you can walk some places (pending where you’re staying and going). It’s easier to do this in Ubud, there are sidewalks in town. In Canggu, the roads are narrow, but stay to the side and you’ll be fine- I did this for a week when I first moved to Bali.

Ride share apps are banned or very limited in most places on the island. No one uses Uber. Grab, similar to Uber, has car and bike options, but isn’t favourable among locals so I’d stay away from it. Go-Jek, motorbike sharing, is likely your best bet. In Canggu, I used it a few times- they often take +10-20 minutes to arrive, and there usually aren’t a ton available in the app. Always have a back-up plan for getting back if you’re taking Go-Jek.

Bluebird is the main taxi company recommended for tourists. Download the app to avoid haggling over price.

For day trips and flying into the island, hire a local driver and arrange your transport ahead of time. For arrival, wherever you’re staying will usually offer to help arrange a driver that’ll meet you at baggage.

If you need help finding a driver for day trips, ask your hotel/hostel/Airbnb host if they have a recommendation- people always ‘know someone’. You could also try Google, travel blogs and Facebook Groups.

If you’ve ridden a scooter before- then, renting one may be a good option for you. I learned how to ride in Bali on backroads and with someone who has been riding for 15+ years. I wouldn’t recommend doing so for a short stay holiday if you’ve never tried it before. Rules of the road are drastically different to what you’ll be used to in Western countries, with the main rule being there are no rules. I wouldn’t risk it on a short stay holiday- most insurance companies will cover medical, but not crash damage.

Sample 10 Day Itinerary for Singapore & Bali

Day 1: Arrive in Singapore; Explore
Day 2: Explore Singapore
Day 3: Fly to Bali early morning; Arrive in Canggu
Day 4: Canggu
Day 5: Drive to Ubud in the morning/early afternoon; Explore Ubud
Day 6: Ubud
Day 7: Day trip from Ubud
Day 8: Ubud
Day 9: Day trip from Ubud
Day 10: Return to Singapore, continue onwards home

Will you be doing a lot while on vacation? Yes.
Flying across the world to see as much as possible in Singapore and Bali doesn’t exactly cue ultimate relaxation. But, there will be pockets of serenity- hello, massages, yoga, beachside sunsets.

You could certainly hang out and relax in Canggu or Ubud the entire time, but then, you don’t really see or experience what makes Bali Bali.

Key Things to Know About Visiting Singapore & Bali

If you’re able, bring an unlocked phone. You’ll find wifi most upmarket places in both places (cafes, hotels, hostels, restaurants), but the benefits to having wifi to call a Grab, check currency conversions or language translations, or even look up directions or opening hours for something are endless. You can easily pick up SIMs at airports in each country, but be sure to ‘shop around’ in Singapore- often, tourism deals are combined with wifi offerings, which makes some a better deal than others.

Wifi wise, infrastructure varies widely in Bali at Airbnbs, hotel and cafes. And, drops in service are common. If you only need WiFi for social networks, whatever you find at a hotel or cafe should be fine. Most places will give you their WiFi password if you’re staying to order something. In Singapore, hotel/hostel wifi speeds are fairly fast, malls usually have networks you can use while exploring, and upmarket eateries will have wifi as well.

Download a few apps to help make your travel plans and time in each country easier.

Research how to say basic greetings in the primary language of each country you’ll visit, as well as key cultural customs to know. While many people you’ll encounter in Singapore and Bali will speak at least transactional English, don’t expect everyone to. Google Translate is my go-to when I need help communicating.

Consult with your GP on vaccines you may need before your trip– vaccines are a matter of personal preference, but if you’re pro-vaccine and only staying in Ubud and Canggu, then you’ll likely be fine with a typhoid shot (assuming your other jabs are up to date).

Bring hand sanitizer and tissues. Sometimes, there won’t be toilet paper in public bathrooms (cue the tissues). And, in public bathrooms and cities, I find having hand sanitizer critical. Especially if eating street food while wandering.

Make sure you understand the rules of renting a motorbike, as well as the potential risks before doing so.

Always carry local currency. Many places, unless they’re upmarket, are cash only. And, even if they do accept card- there’s likely a minimum spend. No need to exchange at an airport- just withdraw from an ATM, I use global digital banking cards like Revoult to minimize foreign transaction fees.

You run a higher risk of gastro issues anywhere in Asia, Africa or South and Central America than say, western Europe or the US. I rarely had issues while in Singapore and Bali, but used filtered water to brush my teeth and for drinking. I also usually only ate at restaurants or warungs that came recommended vs. a food stall on the side of the road to lessen my risk of food-borne illness. No need to worry though- Singapore has great hospitals, and Bali’s medical infrastructure has significantly improved in the past few years. There are private and public clinics all over Bali, plus plenty of pharmacies, where it’s easy to get OTC and RX drugs to help with ailments.

Final notes:
Get travel insurance before your trip.
Take the same precautions you would anywhere else.
Don’t get incoherently and offensively drunk- alcohol is heavily taxed in Bali, specifically.
Absolutely do not do drugs- drug laws are very strict. The death penalty is still used to prosecute drug traffickers.
Only smoke in smoking zones.
And, specific to Singapore, don’t chew gum or smoke in public spaces.

What to Pack for Visiting Singapore and Bali

This is the full list of everything I packed to backpack the world through different climates for a year- all of which, fit into a 55L Osprey backpack.

Packing wise, what you bring depends on what you’re going to be doing, but a few recommendations to start-

  • Clothes/shoes for warm, humid weather, but also a light jacket for cool nights
  • Waterproof jacket if visiting during the rainy season
  • Medicine (anti-histamines, anti-itch cream, imodium)
  • Reef-safe sunscreen & aloe vera
  • Mosquito spray (Dengue fever is common in Bali)
  • Dry bag
  • Waterproof phone case
  • International charger (you’ll need a Europe plug)
  • First aid kit (there are pharmacies in Bali, but I always carry a few band-aids, anti-bacterial wipes, etc. on me)
  • Day pack for day trips (I’d bring a cross body or backpack that can be locked- personal preference as shoulder bags are easy to snatch. Theft isn’t as common here as other parts of Asia, like Vietnam, but still)
  • VPN – Indonesia has substantial Internet censorship. I use VPN Express’ monthly subscription, and would recommend it for Reddit, Netflix, etc.

Temples in Bali will require you wear a sarong, but most have ones you can use free or borrow for a small donation. They’re quite particular about what your sarong looks like/how it fits, so I’d just use the ones they offer vs. buying and bringing your own.

Top Things to Do in Each Destination

SINGAPORE

Singapore may be a tiny country, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in things to see, drink and eat. A clean, futuristic, cultural city, Singapore is always somewhere I’m happy to layover for a few days.

Can’t miss sights and places with one-two days in Singapore:

  • Check out the airport on arrival or departure. Singapore’s airport is one of the best in the world, and if you’ve got a short layover, it’s well worth exploring. My favourite bit? The Jewel in T1, it’s a gorgeous free-fall waterfall, surrounded by lush vegetation. Overnight layover? There are a few hotel options in Singapore’s airport, including the small, but cozy rooms at Yotel.
  • Wander the beautiful and futuristic Gardens by the Bay. Ever since I first saw a photo of the futuristic Supertree Grove, I knew I needed to make it there someday. Gardens by the Bay is worth visiting not just because it’s ‘v insta’, but because of its mission to educate on the effects of climate change, and take steps towards conservation. The Supertree Grove is free to visit- I arrived by 7:30 am because I wanted to wander the grove without dozens of other visitors, and before the day got too hot. The trees are covered with more than 200 species of orchids, ferns and tropical flowers.
    • While you’re here, don’t miss visiting the Cloud Tree Forest. Admission to visit the conservatories in the botanical gardens is steep- but I’m happy to contribute to a cause like the one Gardens supports. Being the first person they let in meant I had the forest to myself for a few minutes. Standing by myself below the thundering waterfalls was incredible. For the next hour, I wandered the layers of the forest, taking my time so I was still in the forest at 10 am when the morning misting was scheduled.
  • Eat at a hawker centre. Great for cheap, street eats. In Singapore, these centres are the best way to try a variety of Asian foods. My move? Go during lunch or dinner, and scope out the stalls with the longest queues. Locals always know best.
  • Enjoy Kaya Toast, a Singaporean breakfast delicacy. My favourite places for brekkie in Sing are Ya Kun Kaya Toast, which has been around for over 75 years, and Toast Box. At Ya Kun, order toast the traditional way- with butter and cinnamon. And, at Toast Box, don’t miss having it with Kaya, a very sweet coconut jam. If you’re looking for something more off-beat, check out Coffee Box-t hey’ve got a few different flavours on the menu, including a creamy, delicious taro toast option.
  • Try cheese tea. Really, it’s fruit or regular tea with a cheese foam topping. Big fan of strawberry and melon cheese teas at Hey Tea and Partea.
  • Roam Little India. I loved exploring the streets of Little India- so much to see, smell and experience. The offerings, in particular, caught me off guard with their beauty. The colours and the patterns- just incredible. I’d heard Tekka was one of the best hawker centres in Singapore- I only came for a snack, but was practically drooling over how great everything looked.
  • Explore Chinatown, where Chinese, Buddhist and Hindu cultures mix. Wandering Chinatown for a bit, soaking up some seriously cool street art, is a fun way to pass an hour or two while in Singapore. If you’re in Chinatown at night, check out the walking street night market- tons of restaurants and stalls along the sides, a good way to try new things, cheaply. Chinatown’s also home to two of Singapore’s best hawker centres- Maxwell Centre (+100 stalls, mostly Chinese dishes) and Chinatown Complex Food Centre (+260 stalls, Singapore’s largest hawker centre).
  • Watch the sun set from atop Marina Bay Sands. Head to the Ce La Vi rooftop bar, adjacent to the famed pool for stunning views with a cocktail in hand.
  • Catch the evening light show at Marina Bay Sands and/or Gardens by the Bay. The Spectra show at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) is a great welcome to Singapore. The show is beautiful- lasers whipping through the night sky, shimmering lights, and a beautiful symphony as the backdrop. Best yet? Flexible timings- there are 8 and 9 pm shows daily. Next to MBS, Gardens by the Bay also runs two nightly shows. It’s possible to see both, but you’ll have to do Gardens first, then walk over to MBS to wait for their next one.
  • Have dinner in Kampong Glam, a colorful, lively neighborhood. Here, you’ll experience Malay and Arab cultures intersecting. Be sure to stroll Haji Lane, a narrow street filled with trendy bars, cool cafes and boutiques.
  • [If you have time] Admire the historic, colorful homes along Koon Seng Road. When I envisioned Singapore, I thought of skyscrapers. Koon Seng Road with its pretty pastel homes couldn’t have been farther from that image. Decades ago, the area was inhabited by the first Chinese immigrants to come to Singapore from Malaysia. Koon Seng Road gets its name from Cheong Koon Seng, one of the first thirteen students at Singapore’s Anglo-Chinese school. Built in the 1920s, some of the houses are still inhabited by the original families. The homes on Koon Seng are stunning- the colors and details are incredible.
  • [If you have time] Let yourself be awed at the ArtScience Museum. I’ll admit I visited this museum because of the glittering room I’d seen on Instagram. Per ArtScience’s website, the museum is a world of art, science, magic and metaphor through a collection of cutting-edge digital installations.Translation: Very cool exhibits that are fun to interact with (especially great for children), and in strong air-con.

CANGGU

It’s not hard to understand Canggu’s appeal with its laid back, surfer vibes and plethora of hipster, healthy cafes. And, with proximity to sister ‘hood, Seminyak, it’s easy to chill out in Canggu, and head to Seminyak for pool parties and trendy eateries whenever you fancy.

Be forewarned: There isn’t much to ‘do’ in Canggu, per se.

Unlike Munduk, Ubud or Sideman, where you’ll have an array of temples, waterfalls, rice fields, and the like to visit, Canggu was where I went when I needed to meet with clients (lots of digital nomads live in Canggu), and wanted to work from trendy cafes for a few days.

Should you visit Canggu while in Bali?

Sure, but I’d only go for a few days. It’s a great place to tack onto the beginning of a trip because it’s an easy place to just hang out and relax. If you’ve got a long journey to Bali, a day or two relaxing with hip, delicious eateries, great spas, cool shopping, buzzing beach clubs, and tons of workout options seems like an excellent welcome.

Can’t miss sights and places with two days in Canggu

  • Have breakfast overlooking a rice field. Canggu may not have the lush jungle vibes Ubud has going for it, but there’s something to be said for the serenity that comes with morning coffee or breakfast overlooking a rice field and the rising sun.
    • Two of my favourite spots (go early for ultimate peace & quiet): Crate and Shady Shack.
  • Sip on strong, but delicious Indonesian beans and some of the best brew blends from around the world. Just about every cafe has artisanal coffee drinks on their menu, which is no surprise, as most of them are Aussie owned or influenced.
  • Get your vacation glow on at one of Canggu’s beautiful spas. I loved going to spas in Bali so much I budgeted to get a massage weekly. One of my favourite parts about Canggu? Seemingly endless spa choice. My two favourite spots, which I returned to time after time: Chillax (good for affordable, well done massages) and Golddust (fancier than Chillax, ace for beauty treatments).
  • Hang at an impossible cool beach club. Admittedly, this isn’t my scene but if you’re visiting Canggu (or Seminyak), it’s likely you’re there, in part, for the party scene. No need to wait until the evening to get the fun times going- the coast of both areas is packed with fun beach clubs, perfect for daytime lounging.
    • Some of the best day clubs to hit-up: Mrs. Sippy, Potato Head Beach Club, Finns, and La Plancha Beach Bar.
  • Treat yourself to healthy, hip eats. Generally speaking, the food you’ll find in Canggu (and Seminyak) is more Western and trendy than anywhere else in Bali. Ubud has its share of this, but it’s less over-the-top. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny it’s delicious.
    • Top recommendations: Peloton Supershop, Crate, Shady Shack, Cinta, Green Ginger Noodle House, Warung Bu Mi, Give, Nalu Bowls, Sprout
  • Watch the sun set, beachside. My favourite place to do this? Berawa Beach. At sunset, you’ll see tons of families, people, and kids- locals and visitors- roaming the sand, surfers coming in from the waves, and the street dogs of Bali splashing in the ocean. Enjoy the sunset with a cold coconut from one of the small vendors you’ll encounter up and down the beach.

UBUD

When you think of Bali, chances are you envision gorgeous temples, sweeping rice terraces, thundering waterfalls, fresh smoothie bowls, swinging monkeys, dramatic cliff vistas, yogis twisting into different shapes, or streams of incense floating in the air.

Ubud is a spiritual haven.
Think: lush jungle, rice paddies, temples, monkeys, and still, a strong sense of Balinese culture.

After living there for months, I could wax poetic about Ubud for ages, but the most important thing I can say is likely this- visit, but go off the beaten path. Don’t try to cram Ubud into one or two days, you’ll miss its magic if you do.

Can’t miss sights and places with five days in Ubud

  • Spend a morning waterfall hopping
  • Watch the sunrise at the rice terraces, then head to two sacred temples, Tirta Empul Temple and Pura Gunung Kawi
  • Relax with a crystal sound bath or yin yoga class at Yoga Barn
  • Indulge in a flower bath. Much like massages in Ubud, there are plenty of options for these delightful baths- huge fan of Kaveri Spa at Udaya and Karsa Spa
  • Unwind with a Balinese massage. Zen Spa is my favourite place in Ubud, but there are plenty of options for all budgets
  • Wander downtown Ubud, strolling the art market, popping into the Water Palace, and wandering all of the side streets
  • Chill out at an infinity pool, if your hotel doesn’t have one, some resorts like Jungle Fish offer day passes for $25 USD
  • Jet to the islands off Bali’s coast, and explore the breathtaking Nusa Penida on a day trip. It doesn’t take long from stepping off a speedboat in the island’s harbour to feel like you’re in another world. The crystal clear water, ocean views that seem to stretch for infinity, and sweeping cliffs topped with swaying palm trees are guaranteed to leave you nothing short of breathless
  • Spend a magic day in the Mountains of Munduk. On a day trip to Munduk, you can expect hiking waterfalls, trekking rice fields, tasting coffee and local fruits, admiring temples and gazing at stunning vistas
  • Savor all the healthy eats at Kafe, Bali Buda, Warung Biah Biah, Zest, White Ginger Warung, Sayuri, Lazy Cats Cafe, or Milk & Madu
  • Cool off with an iced coffee at Gangga Coffee, Monkey Cave Espresso, Senimen Coffee Studio, or Expat Roasters

You’ll find tons of tips from what to wear, to things to know about places I’ve recommended in my ultimate guide to Ubud. In my guide, I’ve also included a few more suggestions for what to do, but if you’re limited on time, the above^^ are my top recos.

Many of the things I’ve listed can be done in the same day- for instance, waterfall hopping or visiting temples in the morning, crystal sound bath in the afternoon, and flower bath early evening. If I only had five days to spend in Ubud, I’d likely do two day trips, and spend the remaining ~2-3 days seeing Ubud.

Posts I’ve written about Ubud: Chasing Waterfalls Near Ubud, Bali // Every Cafe You Must Visit in Ubud // The Best Places to Workout & Zen Out in Bali // 5 Spas in Bali I Loved Enough to Return Time after Time // The Ultimate Guide to Jungle Paradise in Ubud // The Ultimate Bali Planning Guide

Other Posts You May Enjoy

The Ultimate 3 Month Guide to Experiencing Southeast Asia

Say the words, ‘Southeast Asia‘ and you’ll draw mental imagery of long-tail boats, white sand beaches, lazy rivers and rolling mountains, gorgeous temples, flaming street food, scooters on every corner, thundering waterfalls, lush rainforests, and ruins of civilisations past.

It’s a part of the world that can overwhelm first time visitors with how much there is to see and experience. The warm weather, wealth of attractions, natural beauty, and the captivating culture of each country makes it (as a region) the perfect holiday destination.

During my nine months bouncing around Southeast (SE) Asia in 2019, I visited Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, The Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. On my trip, I had the luxury of time, largely because I worked remotely, which allowed me to travel for months on end, while balancing adventuring with digital consulting and teaching English.

This post is a build upon a two week, ‘see and do as much as possible’ itinerary I created for first time visits to Southeast Asia. Much of the advice here will be the same, with location and travel advice expanded.

Where to Start With Planning

There are guidebooks galore, but to keep my travel load light, I favor Instagram (bookmark posts; save them to folders), Pinterest, and online travel resources when it comes to trip planning.

Typically, before any trip, I start a Google sheet, where I track details about a place, things I want to do, reservations, logistics (hotel/hostel info, flight details, arranged transportation, booked tours, etc.). Having everything in one place makes it simple to access or add to on the go via my phone, as well as easy to share with family and friends so they know what I’m up to.

Before I left for my trip to SE Asia, I looked up key bits about every country I wanted to visit to help me roughly outline where I wanted to go, and how long I may want to spend in each place. I’ve provided a sample itinerary below, but there’s so much to do in every country, your own research will help you figure out which places are the most interesting to you.

If you’re feeling stressed about planning so much in advance, don’t. Plan the first few weeks, and then look things up as you go. Chances are, you’ll befriend other travellers, and they always have the best advice.

While there are things that make every part of SE Asia special, don’t feel pressured to see and do everything. Take your time when you need it, rest along the way, appreciate the journey above anything else.

Essential bits to make sure you look up and have taken care of before leaving: 

  • International driver’s license (if you plan on renting a motorbike)
  • Understanding of which countries you need a visa to enter (based on your passport)
  • Extra copies of your passport photo for visas^^ (I brought six to have extras, just in case)
  • Copies of your credit cards/bank cards/passport (digital and one printed version)
  • Travel insurance (while I travelled SE Asia, I was insured through World Nomads, and then Safety Wing)
  • 1-2x digital bank cards (in addition to a debit card and credit card – easier to replace; less risk in having your funds hacked)
  • Travel vaccinations (consult with your GP before leaving)

How Much to Save for Backpacking SE Asia

When I ventured around SE Asia, I worked as a digital consultant and English teacher, but was between ‘9-5 jobs’. However, because I had steady cash flow on the road, I often paid a bit more to stay at places with stable, high speed wifi and was able to treat myself to splurges at nice hotels, as well as experiences that I may not have been able to afford if backpacking on a slim budget in my early 20s.

If your budget is limited, you’ll likely want to travel much slower to get the most out of each destination.

In terms of actual budget, range can vary significantly. I know people who’ve travelled on less than $2,000 for three months, and others who spent +$2,000 a month. I tracked my expenses with Trail Wallet to help me understand how much I was spending in different places. Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand were notably cheaper to travel than Singapore and Indonesia (specifically, Bali).

Key Expenses to Account For In Your Budget ($, USD): 

  • Flights/buses/trains to get to/from Southeast Asia, as well as around: Buses are usually under $10 for 5-6 hour rides, and flights are often $20-50 for domestic travel, and +$30 for international (cost varies widely internationally, depending on the distance travelled, but is still far less than you’d pay for a flight in the US)
  • Baggage fees: You pay by weight, not necessarily number of bags. I usually ended up paying $6-12 per flight for 15-20 kg of baggage. Book before you’re at the airport for the best rates
  • Visa entrance fees: Usually between $30-50 when required. As an American, I paid visa fees to enter Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Everywhere else I visited was free to enter on a short stay (sans Indonesia, which I paid for because of the length of time I stayed)
  • Accommodation: Shared hostel rooms may be found for as low as $3-5 or under $20, it varies widely depending on where you are. As a general rule of thumb, islands will always cost more than cities and there’ll be less availability, so it’s usually better to book in advance than elsewhere if your dates aren’t flexible and you care about quality of stay. I stayed in private hostel rooms or my own Airbnb (with decent internet), to have privacy to work, and averaged $15-50 per night. A few times, I treated myself to nice hotel stays in Bangkok and Bali for $100-130 per night
  • Tours: Depends on the length and country. A 3-4 hour food tour in Hanoi was under $15, whereas twice, I spent $60-80 on day trips in Indonesia with custom itineraries and private transportation
  • Food: Again, this’ll vary widely. I’m partial to upmarket cafes for great coffee and ‘get work done’ vibes, but also love street food, both for its flavour and cost efficiency. A mix of both is usually how I like to see and experience a place. Either way, as long as you’re not eating every meal out at upscale places, this is the budget area where you can likely flex the most – easy to scale up or down, depending on your needs
    • To give you a sense of how far your money can go, while in Indonesia and staying in trendy Canggu, I put myself on a $15-20 per day food budget, which often covered 1-2 nice coffees, a smoothie bowl, plus vegetarian lunch and dinners at nice cafes. I could have definitely done Canggu on less, but loved the abundance of fresh, healthy eats and treated myself daily

More than any specific budget guidance I can provide here, where you go, how you travel and how long you travel will depend how much money you need. And, if your travel timings are more flexible, consider working from the road. Teaching English is a great way to earn a bit of cash on your own schedule with little experience (aside from a college degree) needed.

If you really need to cut costs, look up walking tours and other free activities, eat street food, stay in hostels, do your own laundry. There are tons of ways to save on the road.

When to Visit SE Asia

Do your research before booking. SE Asia is composed of islands, mountains, countryside and buzzing cities- each country experiences different weather throughout the year.

I started travelling Southeast Asia in mid-March, which meant I had ideal weather conditions in many of my destinations. There were a few missteps, such as visiting Cambodia at the end of their dry season when it was unbearably warm, and visiting Ho Chi Minh City at the start of their rainy season, but overall, I planned things well.

If you’re curious about how I timed things, see below. But, note, my trip evolved a lot as I went, and if I planned it again from the beginning, I’d follow more of a ‘route’, rather than doubling back through some places.

March: Singapore; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Thailand
April: Cambodia; Laos; Vietnam
May: Vietnam; Penang, Malaysia; (& South Korea and Taiwan)
June: Indonesia
July: Indonesia
[August: Australia & New Zealand] 
September: Singapore; Indonesia
October: Indonesia
November: Malaysia; Myanmar

When your’e planning your trip, also consider holidays. Visiting Thailand and Laos during Songkran and the New Year was intentional, but also a water filled couple of days. I loved it, but being doused in water all day may not be for everyone.

How to Get Around Southeast Asia

If you want to see as much as possible in the time you have and have the budget for it, fly. An abundance of air carriers, like Air Asia, make doing so easy peasy. You’ll find flights usually aren’t that expensive, but if you’re on a budget, overland travel (trains, buses) may be more your style. Plan on ferrying between islands in Thailand, and flying between the Andaman and Gulf sides.

Not sure about the best route to take, per the time you have and available budget? Google your question. Loads of travellers have come before you, take their advice.

Once you reach a place, grab a taxi to your hotel/hostel if you’re trying to save time, or look into public transit options. In some places, like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, there’ll be plenty of public transit options available.

Things You Must Pack

First and foremast, pack light. When you’re on the move,  you don’t want to cart around a ton of baggage. Plan on doing laundry once a week, and leave room for things you want to bring home. Even if you’re not a souvenir person, as I’m not, you may find yourself excited to bring things like coffee from Thailand or custom tailored clothes from Vietnam back with you.

If you’re struggling to pare down clothes, keep in mind you’ll find international chains, like H&M, in big cities (Bangkok, Singapore, Hanoi), in addition to boutiques and local market stalls just about everywhere, so it’s simple to pick up items while travelling.

This is the full list of everything I packed to backpack the world through different climates for a year- all of which, fit into a 55L Osprey backpack.

5 ‘Can’t Forget’ to Pack Items:

  • Sunscreen / aloe vera
  • Mosquito spray
  • Luggage locks
  • Global charger
  • Light, breezy casual clothing, and a scarf or sarong to cover legs or shoulders at temples

Ladies, consider wearing sports bras only. Seriously, it’s so hot and humid, I can’t even imagine wearing a normal bra. Low impact sports bras are where it’s at- the last thing you want are things chafing and sticking.

While we’re talking about sports bras, women, you’ll need to cover your legs past your knees, and shoulders/upper arms when entering temples. I usually wore a midi / maxi dress or trousers and brought a scarf to ensure I was covered on top. If you forget, many temples let you rent items for a small fee. Always check a temple’s rules before visiting- if they don’t have a website, try TripAdvisor for tips from others who have visited.

And, always carry local currency. Most places, unless they’re upmarket, are cash only. And, even if they do accept card- there’s likely a minimum spend. No need to exchange at an airport- just withdraw from an ATM, I use global digital banking cards like Revoult so there are no foreign transaction fees.

One last thing to keep in mind when it comes to packing- if you’re on the move a lot, you’ll spend a decent amount of time in airports- don’t spend even more time in them by checking luggage or waiting for it to arrive. Carrying on translates to ease of travel throughout your trip.

Key Advice to Know Before You Leave for Your Trip

Before you travel, research whether you’ll need visas to enter each country you intend to enter. Of the ones I’ve listed here, visas are required for American travellers visiting both Cambodia and Vietnam- others are visa exempt for short stays.

If you’re able, bring an unlocked phone. You’ll find wifi at most upmarket places (cafes, hotels, hostels, restaurants), but the benefits to having service to call a tuk tuk or taxi, check currency conversions or language translations, or even look up directions or opening hours for something are endless. If you’re only in each country for a few days, pick up a SIM at the airport when you land- you’ll be surprised by how affordable they are.

Download a few apps to help make your travel plans and time in each country easier.

Research how to say basic greetings in the primary language of each country you’ll visit, as well as key cultural customs to know. While many people you’ll encounter will speak at least transactional English, don’t expect everyone to. Google Translate is my go-to when I need help communicating.

// 21 Things I Wish I Knew Before Travelling to Thailand //

Don’t do anything in a temple you wouldn’t do in a church (or other place of worship). Temples are a place of worship. Be respectful with photography or video and in observing anyone who is worshipping.

If taking a taxi, insist the metre be turned on ahead of getting in.

Bring hand sanitizer and tissues. Sometimes, there won’t be toilet paper in public bathrooms (cue the tissues). And, in public bathrooms and cities, I find having hand sanitizer critical. Especially if eating street food while wandering.

Whether you’re coming from the United States or not, withdraw $50-100 USD. You never know when having USD will come in handy- especially in places like Cambodia which use USD flexibly alongside their own currency, and where you’ll want it to cover visa fees. I also like to keep a few small bills ($5, $10) handy in a second wallet in case I ever run into ‘trouble’ and need a ‘bribe’.

Make sure you understand the rules of renting a motorbike, as well as the potential risks before doing so. And, if you need it, be sure to arrange an international license before you travel.

Places You Can’t Miss: A Sample, Jam Packed Itinerary

If you’re backpacking SE Asia on a set timeframe, it’s likely because you’re travelling only for the amount of money you’ve saved, or you’ve taken a sabbatical from work and/or are taking a break to travel in between jobs.

Whatever the reason to travel, I’d recommend planning to spend time in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Indonesia.

I’ve left off the Philippines, as the islands are notably more expensive than other places in SE Asia, and the transit infrastructure isn’t as developed as other places (e.g. Thai islands), so it can take a bit longer to get from island to island.

It was also a conscious decision to leave Myanmar off this itinerary, given ongoing political distress (read: a military coup and genocide) occurring in the country. You’ll also notice Timor-Lester and Brunei aren’t on this SE Asia itinerary, both because they can be more expensive to travel to, and because I haven’t been to either.

I’m providing an outline of roughly how much time to spend in each country, and key stops to make, but also would only plan the first couple of weeks if you’re starting off on a longer trip to SE Asia.

I traveled the region for over nine months, and I planned the first six weeks too much and regretted not having more flexibility to spend another day or two in places that really appealed to me. For the rest of my trip, I didn’t book exit flights/plans until I was in a destination and understood just how much time I wanted to spend there. That decision led to some beautiful, unplanned adventures to places I never imagined I’d visit on my trip as a result of flight deals (Taiwan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, India).

While it’s good to have a general plan, and do a bit of research for each place before you your trip starts, don’t over-pace yourself or over plan. You’ll meet people along the way and will appreciate having the flexibility to switch things up at leisure.

The below day allotments are only recommendations, flex up or down based on what appeals to you in each place, and how your trip goes as you’re on it. Generally, the below route follows an upward and over progression, but you could switch it up based on flight deals, or any other factor.

In some places, like Luang Prabang, I’ve suggested a few more days than you ‘need’ to see the key sights because, some spots are magical places to slow down and chill out.

Singapore: Start your trip here– 4 days (+1-2 days more than you ‘need’ to account for jet lag)
Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Langkawi – 10 days
Thailand: Andaman Islands, Gulf Islands, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Bangkok- 23 days
Cambodia: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh- 6 days (more if you’re heading to the islands, e.g. Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem)
Laos: Luang Prabang- 5 days
Vietnam: Hanoi, Sa Pa, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City- 26 days
Indonesia: Bali, Flores, Gili Islands- 19 days

The Best Things to Do in Each Destination

SINGAPORE:
10 Things You Must See, Do & Eat in Singapore
The Caffeine Lovers Guide to Singapore
A Whirlwind Day in Singapore

MALAYSIA:
Everything You Must See & Do in Penang, Malaysia
8 Cafes You Can’t Miss in Penang, Malaysia
The Best Street Art in SE Asia, Found in Penang
Three Places to Find Excellent Coffee in Kuala Lumpar
Off the Tourist Track: Visiting the Federal Territory Mosque in Kuala Lumpar
5 Things You Must Do in Kuala Lumpar

THAILAND:
Two Weeks to Travel the Best of Thailand
Finding Serenity in Bangkok, A Review of the Banyan Tree Hotel
Living Luxuriously in Bangkok: Five Star Hotels On a Budget
21 Things to Know Before Traveling to Thailand
Finding Floating Markets in Thailand
Three Temples You Can’t Miss in Bangkok
Four Cafes in Bangkok Worth Your Baht
Chiang Rai, Thailand: A Sleepy Mountain Town with Stunning Scenery
Three Temples You Can’t Miss in Chiang Rai, Thailand
The Best Cafes in Chiang Rai
Visiting an Ethical Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand
Why You Should Try a Gong Bath in Thailand
Getting on Island Time: 48 Hours in Koh Tao
The Best Places to Watch the Sun Set in Koh Tao, Thailand
Affordable Island Luxury at the Charming Fox in Koh Samui
Discovering Pristine Island Paradise on Koh Nang Yuan
Cafes You Can’t Miss in Chiang Mai
Three Temples You Must Visit in Chiang Mai, Thailand
The Best Places to Eat in Chiang Mai for Vegetarians
The Ultimate Guide to 3 Days in Chiang Mai
Dramatic Limestone Cliffs + Lush Jungle in Railay, Thailand
A Thai Island Day Trip That’ll Leave You Speechless: Hong Island
Relaxing in the Maldives of Thailand, Koh Lipe
The Most Beautiful Day Tour in the Thai Islands: Snorkelling, Caving & Idyllic Beaches
3 Reasons Koh Lanta is My Favourite Thai Island
The Case for Visiting Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands
A Ranking of the Thai Islands: ‘Must Visit’ to ‘Okay to Skip’
The Complete Guide to Ferrying Between the Thai Islands
Celebrating the Water Festival, Songkran, in Bangkok
4 Places I Still Want to Visit in Thailand

CAMBODIA:
A Two Day Guide to Seeing the Best of Angkor Wat
Four Cute Cafes in Siem Reap You Can’t Miss
Four Things to Do Your First Time in Siem Reap
A  Magical Sunrise in SE Asia: Angkor Wat at Dawn

LAOS:
How Luang Prabang in Laos Stole My Heart in 3 Days
Cruising the Mekong River at Sunset
Three Beautiful, Chill Cafes You Can’t Miss in Luang Prabang
Observing an Ancient Ritual in Luang Prabang, Almsgiving
The Most Beautiful Waterfall I’ve Ever Seen, Kuang Si Falls in Laos

VIETNAM:
Two Weeks to Travel the Best of Vietnam
A Love Letter to Vietnam
Discovering Coffee Mania in Sai Gon
The Ultimate Guide to Sai Gon, Vietnam
The Only Tour You Need to Take in Sai Gon: A Motorbike Street Food Tour
Every Kind of Coffee You Must Try in Vietnam
The Best Vegetarian Banh Mi I Ate in Vietnam
How Da Nang Stole my Heart and Became One of my Favourite Places in SE Asia
Slowing Down in Hoi An: Why I Loved Fell For This Historic Slice of Vietnam
A Guide to Getting Clothes Custom Made in Hoi An, Vietnam
Charming Cafes to Visit in Hoi An, Vietnam
A Night Cruising Vietnam’s Stunning Ha Long Bay
Why You Should Consider Visiting Sa Pa in Vietnam
The Ultimate Guide to Hanoi: Must Do’s & Can’t Misses
Pho Cocktails? Where to Find this Unique Drink in Vietnam
Eating Hanoi, Vegetarian Street Food Style
A Coffee Lover’s Guide to Hanoi

INDONESIA:
Why You Need to Visit the Gili Islands on your Bali Holiday
The Ultimate Guide to 3 Days in the Gili Islands
The Ultimate Guide to 72 Hours in Labuan Bajo, Flores
The Best Day Trip to Take in Indonesia
The Ultimate Bali Planning Guide
The Ultimate Guide to Jungle Paradise in Ubud
Every Cafe You Must Visit in Ubud
Chasing Waterfalls Near Ubud
10 Things You Can’t Miss in Canggu, Bali
15 Cafes in Canggu for Your Smoothie Bowl & Latte Fix
5 Spas in Bali I Loved Enough to Return to Time After Time
5 Sights in East Bali That’ll Take Your Breath Away
The Best Places to Workout & Zen Out in Bali
A Magic Day in the Mountains of Munduk
The Best of Uluwatu in One Day
A Night at Munduk Moding: An Eco-Luxe Hotel With One of Bali’s Best Infinity Pools
Going Off the Beaten Path in Bali, Finding Serenity in Seririt
Seeing the Best of Breathtaking Nusa Penida on a Day Trip from Bali
Three Luxury Hotels in Bali That’ll Take Your Breath Away

Have you ever travelled Southeast Asia? Where would you go on a long trip to explore the region? 

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Why You Need to Visit the Gili Islands on your Bali Holiday

Three tiny islands, off the coast of Lombok, the Gilis are postcard paradise- turquoise water, white sand, swaying hammocks, leafy palms.

Each island, with their own individual beauty and charm, the Gilis have become an incredibly popular destination.

  • Gili Trawangan: Often dubbed ‘Gili T’, has some of the best partyingi n this part of the world. There are plenty of hotels, resourts, beach bars, making it the most developed of all three islands
  • Gili Air: If chill beach vibes and remote relaxation are what you’re after, Gili Air is the place for you
  • Gili Meno: The smallest of the islands, Gili Meno may only be 2km long and 1 km wide, but it’s arguably the most peaceful of all three islands

Devastated by the 2018 earthquakes, the Gilis were still in recovery mode when we visited. We weren’t sure just how much would be rebuilt and were surprised by how far along reconstruction on all three islands seemed to be (summer 2019).

The three days we spent exploring the Gilis was sheer perfection- days spent swimming in warm, clear waters and nights whiled away watching the sun sink below the horizon, waiting for the nightly beach bonfires to begin.

With the Gilis being easy to access from Bali, there’s no better time to plan a trip to these three tiny islands off the coast of Lombok.

5 Reasons You Must Visit the Gili Islands on your Bali Holiday

Pristine water, perfect for swimming and snorkelling

The beaches may vary on the Gili Islands (some are made of coral, some are softer sand), but one thing they all have in common is beautiful, warm waters.

Bring swim shoes to ease the burden on your feet, and you’ll be good to enjoy. These beaches are the stuff holiday dreams are made of, which makes them perfect to visit on any holiday to heaven on earth (Bali).

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World class diving

The Gilis are an excellent place to do an open water course, or your advanced or master dive certificates. Gili Divers on Gili T is highly regarded as the best shop to do so at.

We thought about earning our PADI certs while in the Gilis, but ultimately opted to spend our days relaxing. However, I’ve heard tale from friends who have of stunning environments to learn in- bright coral, endless tropical fish, and even underwater statues or shipwrecks to explore.

Photo credit: link

Relaxed vibes, total off the gridness

Saying the Gilis are chill would be the ultimate understatement. Getting on island time feels natural, within only a day, we noticed we’d stopped checking the time on our phones, or even discussing what ‘was next’ in the day.

Instead, we put our phones to the side, and just focused on enjoying each other’s company. Sure didn’t hurt we were in such a laid back, beautiful environment.

Towns small enough to explore on foot

No cars are allowed on the Gilis, instead, everyone walks or bikes. This return to simpler transit makes you feel like you’ve also returned to simpler times.

There’s something magical in staying somewhere where walking is the predominant form of transportation.

There’s plenty to do and see on the Gilis, but no so much that you’ll feel stressed about not having enough time. Leisurely exploration means it’s feasible to walk the islands one end to the other (if you so desire), or just walk to the beach- it’s nice to know that’s always an option because you’re never too far from the ocean in the Gilis.

Rockin’ parties, bustling night markets, chill cafes and beach bonfires- something for everyone

Those who say there’s a Gili island for everyone are right- whether you’re interested in a more lively scene on Gili T, or a ‘just you and nature’ vibe on Gili Meno, there’s an island and activities for whatever you’re after.

And the best bit?

You’ll be surrounded by the most beautiful beach scenes imaginable while you do whatever you fancy.

Inspired to plan a trip to the Gili Islands?
Don’t miss my ultimate guide to spending three days exploring the best of what the Gilis have to offer.

Have you ever been to the Gili Islands? Would you head over to the islands for beach time on a trip to Bali? 

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5 Reasons You’ll Fall for Flores

When people envision Bali, they dream of paradise, in every sense.

Every sense, of course, unless your idea of paradise is a white, sand beach with sparkling, turquoise waters.

The Bali beach reality is often rocky or grey sand with cloudy, cool waters. Not exactly the stuff paradise daydreams are made of.

And, while I love the beaches of Canggu and Uluwatu for beautiful sunsets- the waves are rough, more ideal for surfing than a tranquil swim.

Fortunately, Indonesia has plenty of alternatives, some of which are quick and easy to reach from Bali.

Enter: Flores.

Home to breathtaking Komodo National Park, ace diving and some of the most awe-inspiring scenery I’ve ever seen, Flores is captivating.

I’ve penned full guides for what to do in Labuan Bajo, and the best day trip to take to see the region’s most beautiful sights-

If you’re looking for quick inspiration to plan a trip to Flores, or add it to your Bali holiday, search no further.

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Five Reasons to Fall for Flores

An Island with Tri-Color Beaches 

A tri-colour beach viewpoint made famous by Instagram, hiking Padar Island is on everyone’s list of things to do in Komodo.

It’s a tough climb to the top- best to start early am- but once there, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view of rugged landscape, sparkling sea and colourful beaches.

The way up is mostly steps (hundreds of them), and some rocks at the top. Bring water, and wear sunscreen. Even in the morning sun, it was a blazing hot climb.

Once you get to the top though, and find yourself looking out over the rocky terrain, with pink, black and white sand beaches in eyesight, you’ll understand why everyone raves about Padar.

A Pink Beach With the Softest Sand and Gorgeous Snorkeling 

Some travellers complain this beach isn’t ‘pink enough’, so our expectations were low, which may be why we were so impressed.

The beach is unquestionably pink, especially where the water touches the sand. And, if you tired of lounging on the soft sand, you can go for a swim or snorkel in the clear waters.

The lower part of the beach is full of coral, so watch your step getting on/off boats and walking up onto the shore.

The Chance to Spot the World’s Longest Lizard

Ah, the reason most people head to Komodo- for the chance to see the world’s longest lizard, which can reach 3 meters in length and only lives on two islands (Rinca and Komodo) in Indonesia.

As part of the day tour I recommend, you’ll trek Komodo island for ~40 minutes, during which time your guide will be on the lookout for dragons. Although we only spotted one baby dragon during this portion of our visit, the trek was still a cool experience- we enjoyed learning about the island’s ecosystem.

When we visited, because it was mid-day, most of the dragons were sleeping near the guard office, which made them easy to find at the end of the trek.

And lest we be disappointed, on our walk back along the beach to our boat, we spotted another, which was awake and walking around. In total, we saw four big dragons, and a baby one, plus a bunch of deer.

You’ll be assigned a guide to take you around the island, be sure to heed their caution and directions- Komodo Dragons are usually quiet during the day, but remain a predator- their toxic bite can be fatal.

A Pristine Sandbar in the Middle of the Sea, Perfect for Lounging

I never thought a sandbar would take my breath away, but this crescent shaped beach in the middle of the sea is stunning- the perfect spot for relaxing and snorkeling.

If your boat captain allows it, climb up to the top of the boat for stunning panoramic views.

It’s some of the purest, white sand I’ve ever seen. And, surrounded by shining aquamarine sea, it’s an unbelievable spot.

An Opportunity to Swim with Sea Turtles and Mantas 

Manta Rays are common in Komodo National Park. They can be spotted year-round by snorkeling or diving. For the best chance of seeing them, I’ve heard visiting between September and December is optimal. We visited in late-October, and saw three on our snorkel.

Snorkeling with these gentle creatures was nothing short of incredible, a definite trip highlight.

One note here- mantas move quickly, be ready to jump (literally) off the boat when your guide instructs you to so you don’t miss them.

One you’ve had your fill of mantas, it gets even better. A beautiful coral garden with several sea turtles weaving in and out?

Yes, please!

Although we didn’t dive in Bajo (long story), we did spot plenty of sea turtles and fish while snorkelling at ‘turtle bay’.

Komodo National Park is renowned as one of the world’s most beautiful dive sites. Because of a strong current in the park, dynamite fishing is impossible, so many of the coral reefs have remained intact.

Penga Kecil and Karang Makassar are the most visited reefs. Expect to see small reef sharks, turtles, loads of fish and sea stars in all kind of colors and sizes, dolphins, and even whales sharks.

Bonus: Great Tasting Indonesian Brew

Anytime I visit a country known for its coffee production, I take advantage of every chance to try locally sourced beans. These places in Bajo didn’t let me down-

  • Carpenter Cafe & Roastery: Brewing Flores, Sumatra and Java beans, this cafe was my favorite because, 1) air-conditioning, 2) friendly staff, and 3) blazing fast wifi. Also, delicious coffee drinks with beans sourced from around Indo
  • Labajo Flores Coffee: Good coffee option, next to Red Whale’s office
  • Bajo Bakery: Great pick for breakfast, including your first cup of brew

Have you ever been to Indonesia? Would you visit Flores as part of a trip to Bali, Lombok or Java? 

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Three Luxury Hotels in Bali That’ll Take Your Breath Away

Indonesia’s tropical island of Bali is a bucket-list destination- that much is for certain.

A Hindu island in a largely Muslim country, people holiday in Bali for serenity. With soaring mountains, lush jungle, sweeping cliffside vistas, and endless things to do and see, it’s easy to understand why it’s a dreamy place to visit.

When I lived in Bali, I stayed in budget Airbnbs, for the most part.

On three occasions though, I treated myself to luxurious stays at gorgeous properties.

For me, staying at these places was a bit easier than it may be if you’re coming to Bali on fixed dates. I was able to afford stays at these stunning properties, in part, because I waited and watched for last minute price drops.

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There are definitely luxer places to stay around the island, but these three caught my attention for different reasons- from conservation efforts to infinity pool views, to unique property offerings.

And, each one took me to a different, yet equally gorgeous part of Bali. 

Three Luxe, Affordable Hotels For Your Bali Getaway

MUNDUK MODING PLANTATION (Munduk)

Munduk, a part of Bali that instantly visually cues flowing waterfalls, green rice terraces, mountainous peaks, holy temples, and sweeping vistas at every turn.

More than just an infinity pool with epic views, Munduk Moding is the only boutique hotel in Bali located on a working coffee plantation. The hotel produces its own speciality coffee, which it sends guests home with, and the eco-efforts don’t stop there.

Situated 1,000 metres above sea level, the hotel also harvests its own spices, fruit and vegetables.

Founded by a Dutch family, who fell in love with the region, the plantation was created to protect the area’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.

I left Munduk Moding wishing I had a few more days to spend there. There’s no question anyone would find the gorgeous property inviting.

But with a staff so warm and inviting, and a roster of guest activities that changes daily, it’s easy to imagine spending a few days, if not a full week at the property feeling fully entertained and relaxed.

During my stay, I joined a plantation walk, coffee roasting and tasting, and a seriously zen yoga class.

Every afternoon, there’s tea and coffee with homemade Balinese cakes by the pool, and at night, it’s not unusual for a movie to be screened.

If you want to see more of the Munduk region, they also can help coordinate a driver to talk you around for the day, or you can use their hotel shuttle to visit key locations.

In addition to daily activities and a stunning pool, the hotel also boasts a beautiful jacuzzi, bamboo spa, functional fitness centre, tennis court, horse riding arrangements and sky lounge.

During my stay, I was also pleasantly surprised by the onsite cafe, and restaurant, MiMPi. Serving food with fresh ingredients from the hotel’s vegetable gardens, it’s delicious, and reasonably priced for luxury accommodation.

Best yet, the hotel is part of a partnership, the Munduk foundation, to preserve the region’s natural environment, in unison with the local community.

And, the villas themselves certainly don’t leave anything to be desired.

I stayed in the most affordable option- a double, and couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. The bed, is huge and comfortable with a mosquito net to protect you if you decide to sleep with the doors open to breathe in that fresh, mountain air.

Munduk Moding is the perfect place to treat yourself to a luxurious stay for a fraction of what it’d cost to do so in other countries or destinations around the world.

Generally, Double rooms are available from $170 (£126) in low season; and from $199 (£148) in high. Breakfast is included in your stay.

When I stayed, I booked last minute- only a few days before my stay and scored a great deal. Less than £110 for a one night stay at the start of Bali’s high season. Be sure to scour booking sites, like Agoda and Booking.com for discounts.

PATAL KIKIAN VILLAS (Sideman)

Home to some of the most beautiful sights on the island, East Bali remains relatively untrodden. In comparison, at least, to the more frequently visited Ubud, Canggu, Kuta, Seminyak and Nusa Dua.

There are so many incredible things to do in East Bali, but many visitors overlook it. This means a lot of the attractions are less crowded than temples, waterfalls or beaches you’ll find elsewhere.

And, if you’re looking for somewhere to ogle Mount Agung, Bali’s largest active volcano, I can’t recommend Patal Kikian Villas enough. 

We spent one night there to cap off my three months in Indonesia, and it was incredible.

The suites were massive, made from natural materials and beyond comfortable. We loved the outdoor shower, and of course, the the whole reason to stay at Patal is the epic infinity pool view.

The views of Sideman and Mount Agung were just incredible. The best way to end a stay in Bali.

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We booked last minute, and scored a deal of £80 per night for one of their last rooms. Our rate included breakfast for two, plus welcome massages. A stay also includes a session with the hotel photographer at the infinity pool (cue Instagram madness), but we decided to pass on this offer since we were so short on time and just wanted to relax.

If we were forced to find fault, we’d note disappointment with the dinner and breakfast menus. Both were too Western for our liking- would have much preferred Indonesian or Asian-inspired options. But, for what it was, the food was good.

Only regret was we didn’t spend more time at this beautiful property. With how much there is to do in the area, it’s an incredible place to get a bit off the well-trodden tourist path and see a stunning, peaceful part of Bali.

BISMA 8 (UBUD)

When you think of Bali, chances are you envision gorgeous temples, sweeping rice terraces, thundering waterfalls, fresh smoothie bowls, swinging monkeys, yogis twisting into different shapes, or streams of incense floating in the air.

In a nutshell, the mental image people have of Bali is straight up Ubud.

Surrounded by lush jungle and sweeping rice paddies, there’s no shortage of ace hotels in Ubud to choose from.

I actually hadn’t planned on staying in any of Ubud’s posh hotels- I planned on living in my Airbnb my entire stay. And then, in between Airbnb bookings, I realise I messed up my dates and had a free night about a week before the error.

Sure, I probably could have adjusted an Airbnb stay, but instead, I decided to see if I could find a good deal on one of the hotels in Ubud with an infamous infinity pool.

The best part about being flexible with timing to book?

I found the deal for Bisma 8 the morning I needed a place to stay- they’d slashed day of rates.

Normally, Bisma 8 charges upwards of $175-220 per room (for a basic suite like mine), I managed to get mine for just over $110 all up.

Bisma 8, a boutique hotel, is set right within the heart of Ubud, which also made it attractive to me.

If you’re staying in Ubud and not planning on renting a scooter, it’s walkable to things around the monkey forest.

But, if you’re like me, you won’t even want to leave the property.

Bisma’s natural beauty with rustic materials and contemporary architecture, nestled in the jungle, make it an absolute haven for relaxation.

Room interiors are the perfect mix of Scandi style and Japanese minimalism right down to the giant onsen tubs in each bathroom.

The tub was a real highlight of my stay- it takes a while to fill up, because of its size, but is worth the wait. The bath salts the hotel provides smell divine, and soaking in the tub, while reading a book was the best way to cap off what had already been an incredible day.

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I couldn’t get enough of the soft, plush bed linens, and loved the pops of design touches present throughout the space.

Curling up on a coach in a room that was bigger than any apartment I’ve ever lived in felt like a literal dream.

Good spots to workout in Southeast Asia can be tough to come by, which is why I was so pleasantly surprised by Bisma’s small, but functional and modern workout space. It helped the tunes they were playing were punchy and upbeat as well.

Many of Ubud’s hotels have infinity pools, so it’s hard to stand out from the competition, but Bisma manages to do just that with a heated pool, comfy daybeds and gorgeous flowers scattered about.

The adjacent pool pavilion has a great drink menu and fresh coconuts, complete with those quintessential jungle views.

When it came to meals, I had no motivation to leave the hotel.

From a coffee shop on the ground floor of the hotel to the rooftop restaurant, dining options were beautifully curated.

I enjoyed the coffee shop so much, I visited it a few times- the smoothies and speciality coffee drinks were perfectly prepped. And, I was delighted to find a tempeh ‘buddha bowl’, packed with vegetables, on the menu.

Open to the elements, Bisma’s rooftop restaurant, Cooper Kitchen & Bar is a dining destination worthy of a visit even if you’re not staying on property.

Many of the ingredients on the menu come from the hotel’s organic farm, a sustainability win.

On the afternoon and evening menu, you’ll find a blend of Indonesian classics and more Asian contemporary dishes.

And, breakfast is no less wonderful, although the menu is more hipster brunch inspired.

I only had breakfast on the rooftop, but I seriously enjoyed the array of fresh juices, and my avocado toast with fresh fruit salad and hashbrowns.

All too soon, my stay at Bisma was over and it was time to go back to the budget Airbnb life.

Staying at Bisma felt like a glimpse into how people properly holiday. Coming back to rooms that gorgeous after a day of exploring- sign me up.

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Have you ever been to Bali? Would you stay in any of these hotels? 

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The Ultimate Guide to Jungle Paradise in Ubud

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO UBUD

When you think of Bali, chances are you envision gorgeous temples, sweeping rice terraces, thundering waterfalls, fresh smoothie bowls, swinging monkeys, dramatic cliff vistas, yogis twisting into different shapes, or streams of incense floating in the air.

The Bali so many people imagine is driven by hyper-Instagrammed spots around the island, places where the reality is now a crowded chaotic mess.

I’m often hesitant to recommend visiting Bali to people planning a holiday because it’s the kind of place where expectation can fall short of reality.

Wth how hyped Bali is in the media, everyone wants to know the same thing I did, is it really worth visiting? 

And, if it is- for how long; what should we do; what things can’t we miss; etc.

Cue: The ultimate Bali planning guide.

Living in Bali for three months, and residing in Ubud for most of that time, I was fortunate to experience a side of the island that many holiday-goers don’t get to see. Which, is why it’s one of my favourite places in the world.

Yes, Bali is beautiful, but the community there is also second to none, which is why I’m such a fan.

That said, I do encourage people to visit Bali, but with the right mindset.

Those flawless Instagram shots you see with zero crowds?
Not so much the reality for the masses. And, from being friends with a few of the travel influencers taking those shots, I know just how hard they work (sunrise missions, hours of photographing and editing, multiple returns to a place to get the ‘right’ take).

But, if you come to Bali with the right set of expectations, it can be a gorgeous holiday destination.

Where you stay will likely have the biggest impact on your trip- the key tourist areas of Bali all have something different to offer. And, that isn’t to say you shouldn’t consider going off the grid, either.

I built my base in Ubud, and spent the majority of my time there, because I felt a strong connection to the community.

It doesn’t hurt that Ubud is a spiritual haven.
Think: lush jungle, rice paddies, temples, monkeys, and still, a strong sense of Balinese culture.

This post isn’t meant to be a total guide to Ubud- I answer most of the common questions people have about Bali in my ultimate planning guide. Instead, it’s meant to serve as inspiration for things to do and see in Ubud to help you plan your own trip.

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Exploring Jungle Paradise in Ubud, Bali

The Ultimate Guide to Ubud: What to Do

Whenever I get the question of how many days to spend in Bali, my usual reaction is, how many can you take?

There’s no shortage of things to do in Ubud, or other spots on the island. And, the great thing about Ubud, is that it’s fairly centrally located, making it a great base for day trips to the north, east or south.

Plus, there’s so much to do in the area of Ubud itself, you definitely won’t be bored on your holiday. I always tell people they can do as much as they want, or as little, pending the vibe they’re going for.

I’ve broken my recommendations into half day, day trip and one off activities to help you understand how much is possible with the time you have, and how to couple items together.

I self-drove around Ubud and the surrounding region in a scooter during my stay. If you’re going to be hiring a driver, check your list of what you’d like to see with them- they may advise some things aren’t possible or need to be rearranged, because of how intense Bali’s traffic can be.

Half-day trips from Ubud:

Watch the sunrise at Tegallalang Rice Terraces, then head to Tirta Empul Temple and Pura Gunung Kawi.

Tegallalang: Best to be here early. Sunrise is usually nice, and there’s far fewer people exploring this famous terrace first thing in the morning

  • Wear sneakers (the rice paddies can be muddy, only some bits have stepping stones)
  • Bring small bills for the ‘entry fees’ you’ll encounter all the way (e.g. locals who live in/maintain the field usually charge a small donation to pass)
  • Pending what time you’re here, a few of the restaurants that overlook the terrace will likely be opening as you leave, and you should have no issue grabbing a swing photo if that’s what you’re after (most are attached to cafes, so you’ll need to buy something or pay 20k to use them)
  • However, no entry fees and free scooter parking if you come early enough

Tirta Empul Temple: One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, andone of Bali’s holiest temples. People come from all over to purify themselves by bathing in these fountains. The water in them is thought to be purifying. It’s worth hiring a guide for here, so you understand the ritual steps and significance

  • To enter, you need to wear a sarong, they’re free to borrow at the temple
  • To bathe, bring a swimsuit. You’ll rent another sarong, which has to be tied a certain way over your swimsuit. There are lockers for belongings
  • Entry is 50k, and you need to to buy an offering if you plan on bathing
  • The temple opens at 8 am, I arrived just before 9:30 am, and there weren’t too many people, mostly locals
  • No fee for parking
  • 15-20 minute drive from Tegallalang (on a scooter)

Pura Gunung Kawi: Before the Balinese learned how to build temple structures, they carved them into rocks. Hiking down into this valley, passing rice terraces and few other people felt surreal. I would have never thought it’d be ever better when I arrived at the bottom. But, the temples here, carved out of rocks, are insane- I felt like I was in an episode of Legends of the Hidden Temple

  • Entry fee: 50k
  • Sarongs are free to borrow
  • Parking fee: 2k (for scooter)
  • 5 minute drive from Tirta Empul

Hike, swim and admire three of Bali’s most beautiful waterfalls: Relatively near Ubud, and all achievable to see in only a half day, nothing quite says, welcome to the jungle like waterfall hunting

Set out on a sunrise mission to hike Mount Batur

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Day-trips from Ubud: 

Jet to the islands off Bali’s coast, and explore the breathtaking Nusa Penida: It doesn’t take long from stepping off a speedboat in the island’s harbour to feel like you’re in another world. The crystal clear water, ocean views that seem to stretch for infinity, and sweeping cliffs topped with swaying palm trees are guaranteed to leave you nothing short of stunned

// My guide to seeing the best of Nusa Penida in only a day //

Spend a magic day in the Mountains of Munduk: On a day trip to Munduk, you can expect hiking waterfalls, trekking rice fields, tasting coffee and local fruits, admiring temples and gazing at stunning vistas

  • Key sights to see: Banyumala Waterfall, Pura Ulun Danu Beratan, Pasar Merta Sari Candi Kuning (fruit market), Jatiluwih Rice Field, Wanagiri Hidden Hill (swings with an epic view), Twin Lake Lookout, Munduk Waterfall

// My guide to seeing the best of Munduk in only a day //

Head south to experience the beauty and serenity of Uluwatu: Uluwatu feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of other trafficked tourism spots in Bali. You won’t find ultra-modern cafes crammed in side to side, like in Seminyak or Canggu. You won’t find a buzzing main street clogged with traffic and tour operators, like in Ubud. You won’t find drunk Aussies who’ve only come to Bali to brunch, like in Kuta. And, for all those reasons, I love it

  • Key sights to see: Uluwatu Temple, Nalu Bowls (breakfast), Single Fin (cliffside bar), Bingin Beach, Kelly’s Warung (great for lunch)

// My guide to seeing the best of Uluwatu in only a day //

Traverse to East Bali to have your breath taken away: Home to some of the most beautiful sights on the island with Mount Agung, Bali’s largest active volcano towering in the distance, East Bali remains relatively untrodden. There are so many incredible things to do in East Bali, but many visitors overlook it. This means a lot of the attractions are less crowded than temples, waterfalls or beaches you’ll find elsewhere

  • Key sights: Pura Lempuyang (The Gateway to Heaven), Tirta Gangga (The Water Temple), Bukit Cinta, Taman Ujung Water Palace, Tukad Cepung Waterfall

// My guide to seeing the best of East Bali in only a day or two //

Things to do in Ubud (can be done as single activities, or combined): 

Walk a rice paddy, start at Jalan Subak Soy Wayah and stop at Sweet Orange Warung for a cold coconut on your journey- it’s a beautiful cafe with a conservation mission

Hang out with monkeys at the Sacred Monkey Forest: Many of the monkeys are native to the forest, but others have been rescued and placed there. There’s a functional temple within, and really, it’s just a gorgeous place to visit. If you’re on a tight budget, you can also see oodles of monkeys on the road outside the forest (they’re not limited to just the forest area), best times are early morning or before sunset when they’re most active on the roadway

  • Parking fee: If you drive, depends on how long your there- it’s charged hourly
  • Entry fee: 800k
  • No need to book a tour in advance, it’s in town and walkable, plus a guide wouldn’t really be helpful in explaining what’s in the forest- it’s pretty observable
  • Do not wear large earrings, sunglasses or hats- the monkeys will snatch them and expect to be fed in return, which you’re not allowed to do
  • A note on animal tourism: I’m never a fan of it, but I think this is the best kind- meaning, the monkeys are free to roam around and have a protected environment in a part of Bali that’s rapidly continuing to develop

Take a yoga class or sound bath: Endless options for places to do either in Ubud, but Yoga Barn is my favourite for both. They do over 100 classes a week, which means there’s always something going on, and their instructors are among the world’s best, so it’s a great place to try something new

  • Also a fan of these studios: Radiantly Alive, Intuitive Flow, and Ubud Yoga House

Find morning serenity at Goa Gajah Elephant Cave: Just outside of town, it’s an ancient meditation cave carved out of rock. Spend some time here, admiring the purification pools, and walk down into the jungle below to see beautiful vegetation and small waterfalls