1. The Yoga Barn – both the yoga and the food here is exceptional. Around 10 classes are run daily from Morning Flow to advanced Vinyasa Flow; there will be a class to suit your needs and preferences. I tried Yoga Nidra here for the first time last year – WOW! It also runs varied evening activities from Gong Meditation to Movie Nights. The accommodation is very reasonable considering you are based in the heart of Ubud, the rooms are comfortable with large natural stone bathrooms, A/C, fan, dim lighting, patio with cute table and chairs, and grandiose (and much needed) mosquito nets. They also offer up a dorm room but make sure you book your bed WAY in advance. The massages at the Kush Spa are still the best I have ever had – the therapists analyse your personal health problems and tailor accordingly – dreamy.
2. Nusa Lembongan – Lembongan reminds me of Bali in the sense that I can’t quite pinpoint why I love it so much and prefer it to the likes of Lombok or the Gili’s. Maybe it’s the fact it’s only a 30 minute boat ride from Sanur or that you can go on epic snorkelling trips and see manta rays of such magnitude that you almost shit your pants. Maybe it’s that most of the accommodation (I have stayed in) is amazing – from budget beachfront homestays such as Mainski to the incredible (but pricey) Batu Karang – there are so many options to suit your personal travelling preferences…note the further toward Mushroom Bay you go, the higher the prices. Warung food is slightly more expensive in comparison to warungs in the Bukit but nowhere near as steep as Seminyak prices. The sunsets are incredible here and should never be missed. Yes, motorbikes are allowed unlike on the Gili’s but it’s still so peaceful and quiet – it’s a true island getaway. Oh small tip, there is only one ATM on this island which is often broke/out of cash so take enough cash with you!
3. Bingin sunsets – sunsets in the Bukit are the best, hands down. Why do I love Bingin in particular? That’s pretty easy – it’s spectacular. The beach here is a lot bigger than the likes of Padang Padang or Dreamland but it’s never as busy (maybe the steps put people off), and watching the sun go down here is similar to the feeling you get when you have just finished a gruelling day at the office, you get home, kick off your shoes, take your make up off, crawl into your PJs and sip your first glass of Malbec – such simple pleasures but the most relaxing and satisfying of experiences. I sometimes think of that feeling of yesteryear when I indeed did that every weeknight (maybe not the wine every night but then again…) and I do long for it but then I head to Bingin (after working from home most of day) and realise that there’s no way I would swap my lifestyle for anything. Kelly’s warung, located on the beach itself, serves up delicious food as well – the pitaya bowls and falafel wrap with fries and mango chutney are my personal favourites.
4. Nalu Bowls at Single Fin, Uluwatu – a new addition to the Single Fin establishment, it’s partnered with Revolver coffee and has started serving fresh ‘Nalu Bowls’ – shaped and polished coconut bowls filled with fresh fruit, granola, honey and yoghurt – depending on which you order. My fav is the ‘Uluwatu’ – you’re in Uluwatu so really this should be your first choice. It consists of blended dragon fruit/pitaya which is topped with strawberries, mango, banana, honey, and coconut shavings. Mmm, craving one now thinking of it.
5. Mount Batur – located north east of Ubud and Tegalangan, Mount Batur is an active volcano, its summit reaches 1717 metres, is 13.8 km by 10 km in size, and is considered one of the most impressive calderas in the world. During the day, the smaller caldera is clearly visible with its concave, crater of a lid. I did the trek in February (wet season) but luckily it didn’t rain, I can’t even imagine how much more difficult it would be in a downpour. We chose Eco Tours and it cost a reasonable $40 (although I have heard you can get it much cheaper if you haggle on the streets of Ubud). You get picked up at round 2.30am (so no booze the night before unless you enjoy severe pain), drive for about 1.5-2 hours (I slept) then pull up at a local restaurant. We were served one of my favourite brekkies – black rice pudding steeped in coconut milk with fresh fruit – along with carrot cake, banana bread, juice, tea and coffee. I recommend that even though it’s stupid o’ clock in the morning – eat loads! You do need it – and for the love of god do not worry about the calories – you are about to climb a fucking mountain! Take cakes with you for the journey as well. From there you get back in the van and head to the base – which is a little disappointing, like all major natural tourist attractions, as there are countless stalls trying to flog you food, drink, souvenirs and the like – but just block them out and try to take in the view of what you are about to climb (even in the dark) to get that adrenaline pumping. I don’t want to give too much away about the trek itself but trust me when I say it’s truly breath-taking. At times it does feel a little hairy and I would say if you’re severely unfit please do not attempt this climb. Oh and also take a good torch, and, if you can, hiking boots or trainers with excellent grip – ash can get very slippery.
6. Eating at a local warung – proper Indonesian warungs are peppered throughout Bali, they are identifiable usually by having a large buffet in the window or just inside – you can spot a good one (as with most eateries) by how many people are eating there. The buffet style means you can sample most Indonesian delicacies in one sitting for the grand price of £1-£2, depending on what you order. Some of them you self-serve, others the kind server will pile your plate for you – usual options include red and/or white rice, noodles with chilli and spring onion, corn fritters, egg rolls, chicken and peppers, beef curry (rendang), fried shrimp, crispy tempeh, potatoes with carrot, spicy aubergine (eggplant), tofu with beans, sauteed bean sprouts with cabbage, and of course, you must try it all with sambal!
7. The Holy Water Temple – I have visited many a temple during my time here in Bali, from Uluwatu to Tanah Lot but nothing has made me feel the way Pura Tirta Empul did. At first, you just think it’s another grand temple, you gander around the grounds, witness prayer, take pictures of the gorgeous surroundings, nature etc. but once you don your sarong and head to the water baths a mix of emotions begin to stir – a kind of anxious yet calming feeling (well, that’s how I felt anyway). Anxious in a sense that you don’t really know what to do and you’re logical side is screaming HOW COLD WILL THAT WATER BE? But the calm, serene feeling can only come from spirituality. For me it made me feel so small yet so connected to everything and everyone around me. I went with my cousin and at the time we were the only westerners entering the pools. We followed a group of locals and simply copied them – I don’t have a particular faith so for each of the fountains, I set either an intention for myself or sent love and well-wishes to my friends and family both alive and passed. It was so profound that by fountain four that I entered into a sort of trance – god that sounds mad but it’s true, and then at the end I looked at my cousin and she started crying – which of course, set me off. It’s a very special place.