1. PRIVATE COOKING CLASS
The absolute best thing we did in Bali was the cooking class, not because of the cooking (that was just a bonus for me!) it was because of our teacher, Dewa and the impact he had on us. Aary is NOT into cooking and this class was his highlight too - so that's saying something! Dewa is Buddhist (which is unusual for Bali) and lives in an Ubud village of 2000 people. He lives in his compound (house) with 4 generations and this is where the class is taken. It was incredible to finally get to be inside one of these beautiful homes that we drove past often all around Bali.
It was a private class (some cooking classes have up to 40 people!) so it was just Aary and I and included accommodation pick up. We covered everything from gardening and how they grow organically using things like crop rotation, how the compound has to be built and why (30% house, 10% temple, 60% for garden and livestock), about the traditions and religion and then about the food and cooking. This class was 5 days into our holiday so much of what he was covering we were already interested in based on our Bali experience so far. Dewa studied linguistics for many years so his English is impeccable which was great for wanting to extend the conversation from just the basics to want to ask questions about things we have seen, to conversations on almost of a spiritual level. He was one of the most humble, wise, kind and knowledgeable persons I have ever met, and a few times when he was talking to us I cried, in a good way.
Every single thing we ate and cooked with he had the meaning for it and why it is good for us. For example, when we arrived he made us a lemongrass tea and he said: "keep sipping the tea please, it will stop the mosquitos from biting you". We cooked 4 different dishes and there were also extra things made for us like salads and sambals. I'm sure there are many amazing cooking classes to attend in Bali, but I'm not sure if they would all have a Dewa. If going to Bali, this class is the number one thing I recommend you do! The class cost us only $145.95 NZD (that was for the two of us, and no one else!) and you can book online HERE.
2. the ACCOMMODATION
We don't go on holiday that often, so when we do I like to feel pampered. It took MONTHS to settle on the accommodations we did because there is so much choice, and I am so glad we tried at least two different types, the villa and the boutique hotel. For both places, I wanted modern looks to them, nice pools, lush gardens and good service.
Villa Turtle in Seminyak was great because it was very private (the pool all to yourself, yas!) and everything was so close by. It cost $224 NZD per night for 3 bedrooms. We looked at staying at the W hotel in Seminyak but for their cheapest room - it was more expensive. And at Villa Turtle, we got an entire house for the same price! This would be a great option if travelling in a group diving that price between three couples...villas are the way to go in Bali - check AirBnB also! (The Villa Turtle website is HERE)
In Ubud, we chose Bisma Eight (after seeing it recommended on Shelly's blog) and you can not beat the service of a hotel like this. Highlights were the absolutely stunning architecture and rooms (and we loved the big Japanese tub in the bathroom!), waking up to the best breakfast selections I have ever had and just the general service we got from the staff. We booked a forest suit for four nights...and was a little pricey but it was worth every cent! (Visit their website HERE)
3. THE FOOD
The food is on another level in Bali! You can find the absolute best night markets to eat dinner at like we did with no other tourists, there are street food stalls attached to motorbikes where you can buy dishes for $1-$2 if you are happy to play 'roulette' with Bali belly, there are high-end restaurants where the most we spent on a meal was $270 NZD and then there is everything else imaginable in-between from raw organic vegan to roasted suckling pig (Babi guling). My top tips: If eating at a Warung - I tried to do this early at around 11:30 am so that the food is fresh and delicious and no matter what day of the week. ALWAYS book for dinner at restaurants where you can - even if you are just going out for pizza! It gets so busy...and we were there in their off-season...when the volcano was active! Below are not all the restaurants we went to, just my absolute favourites.
My top brunch spots
Sea Circus - Seminyak | Such great classic brunch choices and the best coffee Aary had in Seminyak. Best coconut water I had was there, I ordered two!
Sisterfeilds - Seminyak | Again, amazing brunch selection and the best cocktails! If booking in at Spring Spa, it is right across the road. Head there for breakfast before!
Copper Restaurant - Ubud | I loved the breakfast choices we got as a guest at Bisma, but if you are not a guest it will cost you $20. So many options (see menu HERE) and they had very good interpretations of all the local dishes too. So if you wanted to try traditional foods but were worried about getting Bali belly - Copper has you covered! Also, their ice lattes were perfection! My go-to coffee fix every day as it was too balmy to have hot drinks for me.
Top lunch / dinner spots
Warung Murah - Legian | Lots of traditional food that is super tasty! Order the Nasi Campur to try a mix of many different things. If you like it hot you will love their sambal! The meal here will cost you $5!
night market - Ubud | We actually tried to go to this market and when we put it into Google Maps it took us to some other smaller market with no tourists. It was AWESOME! But any night market is worth the experience. We tried many different local dishes and they were all so good! Ranging from 50c - $1.50 each. So good!!! Watch this YouTube video HERE of what you might see and try at the night markets.
Locavore - Ubud | We really loved the herbivore degustation evening we experienced at Locavore. We paid for 5 courses but you get so much more, I think we had 15 individual dishes (we kinda lost count haha) including small snacks! And their cocktails were equally as thoughtful. In a restaurant that only seats 30, you really felt looked after. The other thing I really loved about choosing the designation menu is there was no choosing - that was done all for you. And there wasn't a single thing we didn't enjoy. Heaven! This was by far the most expensive meal we had (we did down a number of cocktails too though) and was $270 NZD.
Copper - Ubud | Hands down favourite restaurant! Their dinner menu was SO hard I wanted everything...and usually, there are obvious standouts. I ordered both crab dishes, Aary got the beef and we got a side of potato skins (ZMOG they were amazing - with white truffle oil, Parma ham and asparagus!). They have their own gardens so most of their product is organically grown on-site. If you happen to be staying at Bisma do what we did - eat out for dinner and have the dessert sent to your room a half-hour later to enjoy in bed! But at least make the effort to eat the main course at the restaurant because dining alfresco by candlelight on their rooftop made the meal feel extra special and romantic! If you are a guest a Bisma you get 15% off all food at Copper. Most of their mains being around $17 each for the quality and flavour, back home these dishes would be double that!
OH MY LORD, the Spa's in Bali are incredible! I go to Spring Spa here in Wellington, so I was super excited about trying out Spring in Bali as their treatment menu for the same things were at least halved in price. I love the luxuriousness of Spring and their fit-outs and locations are so stunning! You really feel treated when you go to Spring.
The HAIR RESCUE was the absolute best spa treatment I have had in my entire life! If you love having head massages when you go and get your hair done, this is an hour-long version of that which will have you melting! And you also get neck shoulders, arms, hands and legs massaged too while your hair mask is soaking in. It was that good, I drove from Seminyak to Canggu on our way up to Ubud to get this treatment again, and to check out their newest location. It was at the Canggu spa that I met Ina - former Wellingtonian and Spring Spa owner who gave me a private tour which was super cool. We had three Spring appointments in total while we were in Bali from oxygen facials, Balinese massages, almond milk pedicures and reflexology. Each one made us feel so relaxed and we definitely felt that holiday vibe!
The other spa we visited (twice) that was in Ubud (no Spring Spa in Ubud yet, so I had to branch out haha) and was called Synergy Spa - only a 1 min scooter ride from our hotel. The interior was not as fancy as spring, but I got the best massage of my life there...it was only $7.50 for a 1-hour Balinese massage. I had read some great reviews about Synergy Spa on Trip Advisor and they were completely accurate! If you are in Ubud. I can highly recommend this place to go to. We went after climbing hundreds of steps to go white water rafting, so the message was a perfect follow up to my lazy holiday bod!
We also visited a fish spa, you know...the ones where you put your feet in a tank and they nibbled your feet and I HATED it, haha. The fish gave me the creeps - having all those sucking mouths around my feet and toes was not my thing...I jumped out quicker than I got in. Aary liked it though!
I love shopping when on holiday and being on a mission to find that perfect reminder of the holiday to being home. Leave lots of room in your suitcase because the shops are so good! I didn't buy clothes for myself although I did buy Jah lots of 'authentic' t-shirts and shoes. Homewares were what I went for and it's much much cheaper (half the price) to buy things like bags, wall hangings and anything creative and handmade in Ubud as this is the source of all these products.
My favourite spots to shop at in Seminyak were Kim Soo because it's an absolute DREAM - the shop is like a modern version of all the local crafts put together in a cool "I want it ALL' kinda way and The Tailored Store which is similar but a little more minimal.
Up in Ubud I loved the traditional art market but be prepared to bargain...much different to the ease of a fixed price in a shop. Get to the market really early, around 9 am for 'morning prices' - if you are the first customer of the day, you get an even special price for "good luck for you, good luck for me". Be respectful when bargaining - you don't accept the first offer but make it fun and have a few jokes - give a price both you and the vendor is happy with. I found it easier shopping WITHOUT Aary (he would be at a cafe) and whenever I didn't want to buy something or even look at something I'd say "My husband said I am not allowed to shop anymore! I'm making him bankrupt" and that seemed to do the trick and they often said, "Ah...keep the husband happy!" ;)
If you want to experience the local produce market (it's so cool!) get to the same location above but earlier! I think it starts packing down around 8:30ish. We got there at 6 am, twice, and it was an amazing experience. Lots of fresh vegetables, local tropical fruits, flowers, food and snacks!