In search of a “cheap” international vacay
My partner and I were planning a holiday around Easter (March / April 2017). We were looking for a cheap (or well, budget), stress-free, beach holiday. I’m generally an anxious person (see here) and I didn’t want all the stress associated with planning a trip so I was looking out for good package deal around 10K per person. Our possible picks were Thailand (Phuket), Tanzania (Zanzibar) or India (Goa).
Although I’ve been there before, Phuket was looking really promising as the “direct” flights (through Dubai / Qatar) were reasonably priced and we could stay a bit longer than the usual ‘7 days in Zanzibar’ thing. However, due to some family stuff, we had to delay our trip until after April. Although the flight prices were cheaper in May, a lot of these places (Phuket and Zanzibar) experienced suboptimal weather that time of the year. The idea of a beach holiday was fading fast.
Why not Bali, Indonesia?
But then – a combination of marketing (January airline sales), Kayla Itsine’s Instagram posts (if you don’t know who she is then we can’t be friends), my cousin who had visited Bali in December & a friend’s blogpost, got me thinking…. Bali was never really on my radar because, well, the flights are generally more expensive. I’ve also heard it’s “overrun with Australians, the beaches aren’t as pristine as in Thailand and traffic is a nightmare”. On a slow, early January work day, I decided to read a bit more about Bali and I liked what I found:
- May to October was the best time to travel in terms of weather.
- Accommodation starts off really, really cheap for decent looking places (cheaper than Thailand)
- They have lots of activities I was interested in (hiking a volcano, visiting the Kopi Luwak coffee plantation and visiting waterfalls).
- The exchange rate seemed more favourable than Thailand.
- The option for surf and diving lessons.
- And in general, I have a fascination with that part of the world as it’s so entwined with parts of my own heritage. I hope to one day explore the rest of Indonesia and Malaysia.
Two days later, we booked our flights with Qatar. Using the Discovery Vitality discount would have been slightly cheaper but my cousins decided to join us and we wanted to fly together.
We booked a 14-day trip which seems pretty excessive but actually gave us the cheapest combination of flights. With some research and advice, we decided to split the trip into three destinations. Even though Bali is really small, a 30km distance can take an hour to traverse! We could have done more but I wanted to have a relaxing trip and I hate packing (read more about how anxious it makes me here).
After reading a few forums and after everyone’s input we decided to go to Ubud, Gili T and Kuta. Ubud and Kuta are fairly close but Gili T is an island so we knew we wanted that in the middle.
Ubud is situated in the centre of the island (no beach!) and is considered the cultural heart of Bali. It was also featured in scenes of the movie, Eat Pray Love, which has helped to turn it into a tourist hub. I loved the scenery of that movie but I am not a fan of the premise. Anyway, Ubud also appealed to the part of me that loves lush greenery and well, yoga. The accommodation in Ubud looked lush, traditional and luxurious. We like being a part of the action so we wanted to stay in Central Ubud.
- Gili Trawangan (Gili T)
The Gilis are a group of islands about 1 – 1.5 hour boat ride away from Bali. Of the three Gili islands, Gili T is the largest and is home to about 800 inhabitants . This small island has a reputation of being a “party island” and is popular with backpackers. It’s also famous for those “swing” pictures you see all over Instagram. You can either fly or take a boat to reach the Gilis from Bali.
Kuta is the major tourist hotspot in Bali – it’s got the beach and malls. As hotspots go, it’s also infamous in that many people find it overcrowded, dirty and just too much. It’s basically the Patong to Phuket (I loved Patong). Initially, my partner wasn’t too keen on staying in Kuta due to its bad rep and we wanted to stay in either Legian or Seminyak (close to Kuta but considered more upmarket). Then we asked ourselves, people said the same of Patong and we loved it so, why not? We settled for the bustling Kuta with surfers, sand, sea, shopping and a stone’s throw from the airport.
Bali 14 Day Itinerary
In the end, not all plans go as planned. Almost everyone in our party caught a cold/flu and we didn’t get to do all of the activities we set out to do. Nonetheless, I had a fab time. This was the initial plan:
Ubud (Jati Cottages)
Day 1 – late check in at Jati Cottages
Day 2- Walk to Monkey Forest Road, Monkey Forest and the Ubud Palace & Market
Day 3- River rafting in the Ayung River
Day 4 –
Climb Mount Batur
Day 5- Rice fields, Elephant Cave, etc
Gili T (Oceano Jambulawak)
Day 1 – boat to Gili T, cidomo to accommodation
Day 2 –
Snorkelling with turtles
Day 3 – Chill & go to Full Moon Party
Day 4 – Hire a bike and cycle around the island
Day 1- boat back from Gili T and check in
Day 2 –
Day 3 – Kuta beach and shopping
Day 4 – Uluwatu or Tanah Lot Tour
Day 5 – check out, massage etc
Other useful information for South Africans:
- You can fly ‘straight’ to Bali Ngurah Rai Airport (Denpasar) from Cape Town (with a stop in Doha with Qatar Airlines).
- South Africans do not need a visa if you’re staying less than 30 days.
- They do have a malaria risk but I didn’t find their mosquito issue as bad as in Phuket (maybe the time of year).
- Peak season is May – October but many people go during December and Easter holidays and the Australian school holidays.
- Their currency is the Indonesian Rupiah. The exchange is pretty simple, 50 000 rupiah is R50 in SA (just knock off the three zeros).
- Food is generally cheap in Bali but the tourist spots can end up charging a lot. Alcohol seemed very pricey for those interested.
- Shopping is okay. I found the people at the market asked for hugely inflated prices – I assume they’re used to dealing with Australians with more money. Check out the market at Tanah Lot for bargains.
- They speak Indonesian and you might recognise some phrases / words we use here e.g. terima kasih (thank you), maaf (sorry), polisie (police), puasa (fast), etc.
- They do not really have public transport. Stick to Blue Bird taxis but make sure that they run the meter.
- There are very harsh penalties for doing drugs there. You might get offered some but please think twice before buying.
- You can get a lot of medication over the counter there that you won’t find in SA. However, antibiotics and antihistamines prices are triple what you’d pay at home.
- Prescription glasses are cheap! It’s worth checking out. I had mine done in an hour.
- Indonesia is a Muslim country but Bali is mainly Hindu. It’s not too difficult to find halal food – especially in Kuta.
Watch out for our upcoming posts about Bali.