BALI BALI BALI! [Bong!]

Bali has become a kind of yoga ground zero in recent years.

With the advent of lower cost airline routes, the explosion in the retreat industry and THAT movie, most modern hippies worth their [pink himalayan sea] salt have made the pilgrimage to this gem in Indonesia.

Much has been made of the continuing gentrification of this little pocket of heaven. ‘It’s ruined!’ people say. ‘It’s not like it used to be!’ they wail.

Without question tourists are all over it like a rash, there are significant trash/pollution problems, my long term expat friends say corruption is endemic. And yet…

I love everything about it.

The colours, the offerings and rituals, the food (my god, the food…!) I love the growing animal welfare and eco warrior movements. I love the New Age crazies (even the sanctimonious rich ones) and the yoga-surf-insta photogenius crowd. I love the creativity and entrepreneurialism that has found a home there. I love the way that you can get your chakras washed for the price of a G&T in London and I even love the traffic.

I am a 120% fully paid up Bali fangirl.

If it’s not obvious ( ! ) Bali holds a notable place in my heart. It was in Bali that I decided to go into yoga professionally after 15 years of part time practice, messing around in gyms after ball breaking days in the office. I talk about Bali so much that my best friend sounds an imaginary gong every time I drop it into conversation (the BONG in the title, in case you thought that referred to something else…)

However, this is not a treatise of the virtues/vices of my favourite island – they’re comprehensively and often hilariously documented elsewhere. I first went to Bali in 2011 and must have been there ten times since. Lots of people now ask me for my recommendations and I’ve been meaning to write my non-negotiable list for some time.

I don’t pretend to have travelled the whole island, eaten at every hotspot or nailed all the kodak moments. So this is more about brief specifics than a comprehensive view. I sure do know my favourites, put it that way.

Ready? Here goes (deep breath…)

UBUD

Ubud is the beating bleeding heart of Bali: a magnet for lost yogis, bored housewives, disenfranchised gurus and an increasingly very well heeled retreat crowd. The centre can be crazy busy and often gridlocked, but travelling only a few minutes out of town will bring you to lush greenery and sparkling rice paddies.

YOGA

  • The Yoga Barn – the grandaddy of yoga studios in Ubud. The biggest space with the greatest variety of classes. Spa & accommodation available. Can be a little huge and overwhelming for first timers, it can feel a little Disneyland for yogis… make sure you don’t miss the crazy liberation of Ecstatic Dance on Friday and Sundays.
  • Radiantly Alive – the bright and beautiful shala downtown. Loads of great classes, astounding workshops (look out for internationally renowned teachers) and opposite the Bali Buda Cafe for your pre-class juice goodness – no wifi allowed!
  • Intuitive Flow – I’m out and proud about the fact this is possibly my favourite studio in the world. Hidden down a laneway next to a waterfall, sitting high above the rice paddies with a floor to ceiling windows giving you view of the volcano, it’s pinch-me-I’m-dreaming time. Indulge in the cuteness of the Yellow Flower Café after class.

SLEEPING

  • Villa Mantra – this pretty community house away from the intensity of the town centre is my home from home in Ubud. Big spacious bedrooms, tranquil common areas, onsite yoga, spa next door, jaguar-fast internet speeds, inflatable unicorn in the pool. Tim the owner is a delight and will help you with anything you need.
  • Villa Baliku – the first place I ever stayed in Ubud. It’s magical. Two bedrooms centred on a pleasantly icy plunge pool, breakfast delivered every morning, rustic and comfortable. Right next to a great spa and restaurant – say hi to Steve and his little dog in the art gallery. He owns the whole complex and there are villas of all shapes and sizes for rent.
  • Bambu Indah – As a treat last year I picked up my pyjamas and drove from Canggu to Ubud in the pouring rain to stay one night at this astonishing eco-resort. It’s comprised entirely of Javanese teak houses, set around a beautiful natural pool. Coconut water in a silver goblet on arrival. Felt like I was in Lord of the Rings.

EATING

  • Elephant Restaurant – in a blind taste test I would not be able to tell the vegan ‘I can’t believe it’s not Spaghetti Bolognese’ from my own mother’s (very much not vegetarian) and the vegan chocolate pie is known island-wide. Excellent pancake / coffee / green juice breakfast combination and enchanting views.
  • Room 4 Dessert – there is always room. I’m a crème brulee obsessive and this one passed with flying colours, plus the tapas menu and garden out back are a welcome addition. In a town that often shuts down early this is a sexy little sanctuary where you can get delicious wine until the small hours.
  • Atman Café – extensive menu and wonderful seating outside where you can watch the world go by. During my last detox phase I came here to savour lime and watermelon crushes and leek and potato soups. They also serve wine and have decent wifi.

Worth a special mention – for the best green juice in town head to Juice Ja on Dewi Sita and ask for 1.5 litres of Green Clean. Warning: it’s totally addictive.

CANGGU

YOGA

  • The Practice – the relative newcomer to the Canggu yoga scene, The Practice is an ethereal place, currently undergoing renovation to provide an even more spacious yoga experience. It’s a little ‘shiny’ and corporate but the classes are strong and varied, the teachers have character and they have a great special event schedule – plus Ecstatic Dance. Don’t miss Nowhere Malas in the reception area.
  • Samadhi – two beautiful studios and a café plus accommodation. Samahdi tends to be a little more on the spiritual side, and holds some diverse workshops. There is also a market at the weekends and a helpful little yoga shop should you forget your shorts on a flying visit (me…?)
  • Serenity – this eco guesthouse café and studio is a little hive of activity, buzzing with life and conversation. Multiple chill out areas, a full schedule of classes and a really down to earth vibe. Surfing lessons also available if you’re a board babe/dude.

EATING

  • Crate Café – Crate is a Canggu institution. Packed to the rafters every morning until 3pm (and they literally have just had to extend onto the roof) it offers a huge menu and the most hipster of vibes. Maree, the proprietoress with the mostess, is always around for a hug and a chat and has that knack of making you feel you’re in your own kitchen. The avocado smash is the best ever.
  • Milk & Madhu – this relatively new cute little hideaway came to my attention last year because I had a friend playing a gig there. Starving, and slightly against my better judgement because I am not a pizza lover, I ordered a pepperoni and almost died of shock. It was astonishingly good.
  • Finns Beach Club – Okay I know. The food isn’t that mindblowing (relative to the price) but this new beachside haunt is great for a pool day of people watching and pina coladas.

Worth a special mention: Pretty Poison, Maree from Crate’s other venture, a Chesterfield fringed empty pool/skate bowl with a bar and amazing hip hop events, DJs, bands and movie nights. And of course, Old Man’s – the epicentre of Canggu on Batu Bolong with its crazy cast of characters and buzzing happy hour.

SLEEPING

Unfortunately I’ve only been to Canggu a few times for longer than a day. What I can tell you with great certainty however, is that the range of stunning apartments and villas here will blow your mind. So my first recommendation would be….Airbnb all the way people! But apart from that the following two deserve some kudos:

  • Canggu Beach Inn – Amazing location on Batu Bolong, spacious loft apartments with lovely staff
  • The Chill House – onsite yoga and great cafe, super cool vibe and a friendly crowd

SEMINYAK & SANUR & FURTHER AFIELD

  • The W Hotel (Seminyak) – possibly my fave posh place. Stay a night in a ocean view room, watch the waves crash against insanely long sunsets, eat French toast in bed in the morning.
  • Le Bon Vivant (Sanur) – cute little French restaurant with excellent wine, great steaks but sadly an average creme brulee. Worth a visit anyway 🙂
  • Balian Beach – a bit of a trek (3 hr drive) along the coast, but essentially one road with a few cafes and restaurants, a yoga shala, a surf school and a few guesthouses. Power chill here.
  • Volcano Adventures – there are a few to be had. Wake up at 2am to hike Mount Batur and summit at sunrise, or drive up and over Mount Agung and head to Lovina in the north, where it feels like you’re in an entirely different country.

THE GILI ISLANDS

I’d been to Bali many many times before I finally ended up in the Gili Islands last November, to teach for a couple of weeks at H2O.  There are three islands: Trawangan, where the majority of the partying and diving happens, Meno which is full of honeymooners, and Air, which is somewhere between the two but overall a peaceful little paradise.

Go there. Just go. It’s actually heaven on earth so don’t take as long to get there as I did 🙂

So – there we have it!

These are a few of my favourite things.

Only a few mind, I have to keep some secrets! Want to know more or chat to me in person? Get in touch ANY TIME to talk about my favourite subject 🙂

jules@yoginomics.com

OM! (happy happy Bali) Julesx

About The Author

Jules Barber

Jules Barber is the Founder & Creator of Yoginomics. Having worked in a golden cage in London for 15 years she sold out of her business to become a yoga teacher, corporate wellness specialist and location independent entrepreneur, on a mission to mentor and coach the next generation of amazing yogis - teachers and students alike.

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