Part 1 of the first trip of the year! (Thailand entry next week)
South East Asia has been on my list for a while and I finally had the opportunity to visit. Last year I was in Iceland at this time and I was wishing I had gone to Bali/Thailand. This year I was wishing I was in Iceland, I’ll never be a fan of hot weather.
What / When To See
The best spots to see in Bali (for photos):
- Ubud Monkey Forest (any time of day)
- Tanah Lot Temple (sunset)
- Lempuyang Temple (sunrise)
- Tegallalang Rice Terrace / The Swing (sunrise)
- Tukad Cepung Waterfall (my favorite spot, any time of day)
- Ulun Danu Temple (sunrise)
- Any rice field on the side of the road (all day by drone only)
- Handara Gate (probably sunrise)
- Mt. Batur (sunrise hike)
- Banyumala Twin Waterfalls (sunrise)
- Sekumpul Waterfall (sunrise)
I didn’t get to see the last 4 places but they were on my list because they looked cool. I also didn’t visit any elephant sanctuaries because I did it in Thailand the week prior but I’d recommend that as well.
I honestly wasn’t expecting this with Bali or Thailand. I couldn’t believe how many people were swarming every spot. If you go to any spot earlier than 8-8:30am then you’re solid, but after that forget it. Tourism is one of Bali’s biggest industries so if you’re going specifically for photos you’re pretty much limited to sunrise and sunset if you don’t want to clone out a ton of people. Also, I went during “low season”. The only spot that was fine for photos no matter the time of day was the Ubud Monkey Sanctuary.
South East Asia is really super hot and humid. Bali has two season, dry and wet, it’s also consistently 90-100F+ degrees everyday. Sometimes it goes down to 75’ish after a heavy rain storm but usually its super hot.
During November – Febuary it’s the rainy wet season and the rest of the year it’s drier but still hot. Being that it’s an island in the middle of the ocean the weather can change instantly so plan your trip with that in mind. One of the days it rained super hard and we couldn’t leave the villa so we lost a day to the weather.
Instagram VS Reality
If there’s any spot in the world that’s IG vs reality it’s this one. Bali is constantly romanticized because of Eat Pray Love and what we see online. The reality of Bali is it’s a beautiful tropical third world country with little pockets of cool things to see that tourists swarm to. Pretty similar to Mexico if I had to compare it to something, which is totally fine, it’s a place to go to relax and chill.
The best example of this is 100% the Lempuyang Temple gateway to heaven. When I saw the photos on IG I thought the foreground might of been a pool of water or something but that couldn’t of been further from the reality. Basically you give the guy your phone or camera and he puts a mirror up to it and takes the photo (for a small donation). Cool idea but just another way to attract tourists.
(my photo sucked so I didn’t a cheesy composite lol)
Where To Stay
I stayed in Canggu but I would probably stay in Ubud because it’s right in the center which is closer to all the best things to do. Canggu will most likely be cheaper though because all the tourists go to Ubud.
If you rent a villa expect it to not be a direct reflection of the neighborhood it’s in even if it looks super amazing in the photos, which most of the villa’s there are pretty sweet. The majority of Bali is safe so I honestly wouldn’t worry too much. If I redid this trip I would just stay in one of the sweet resorts you see on IG, it’s worth it. There will also probably be less colossal size bugs there… My villa had Godzilla size bugs, not a fan.
Transportation / Communication
There’s 3 different ways of getting around in Bali. Motorcycle, rental car or a hired driver. 100% hired driver is the way to go. There’s no stoplights or stop signs, there’s a million motorbikes everywhere at any given time and the lines on the road might as well not exist. People driving in both direction are always going in between both lanes all the time. A hired driver is going to be around $40 USD per day for 8-10 hours which is totally worth it because they also know the good spots to go to and they’re also kind of tour guides. This guy was my driver when I was there and he was awesome and easy to work with and willing to wake up early for the sunrise photos to avoid tourists. (if you book him tell him I said hi!)
Another upside of having a driver is they are also a translator and deal with any tour bookings and tickets you have to buy as well.
Most people speak OK English there, enough to get by at least. If you eat at a restaurant don’t try to customize your order, it won’t end well. Villa owners, drivers, etc all use WhatsApp to communicate with you, so if you go there have it downloaded just in case. Also download Google Translate with the Indonesian language just in case.
I do have to say the Balinese people are the coolest nicest people I’ve ever met, this was probably the highlight of the trip. Everyone was always super helpful as well when we needed it, customer service was 11/10 everywhere we went.
On the subject of communication, buy your SIM card at the airport after you leave customs. 16GB + call time for only $17USD, best deal ever!
The food is awesome everywhere you go but it’s worth bringing up: Don’t eat the street food, be careful of vegetables and don’t drink the water or the ice anywhere. Even people who have lived in Bali forever told me that, it’s just not sanitary and you’ll get sick.
The one tour you have to do is the Luwak Coffee one at the Tegallalang Rice Terrace. The coffee and tea is insane and the food looked pretty good, it’s also where one of the popular “Bali swings” is so it’s worth visiting when they open. They also allow drones which is pretty sweet!
Currency & Cost
IDR is the official currency in Bali. This was easily one of the cheapest places I’ve ever been. For a driver, food, tour entry, lodging, etc it was all under $1000 for a week. If you want a cheap get away (not including the flight) this is the place to be.
It’s roughly 13,800 IDR to 1 USD, there’s money exchange places everywhere including the airport. The average persons salary per month is 30-40 USD to give you an idea about how cheap it is. If you buy anything from anywhere besides a restaurant, grocery, tour tickets or the airport you can make a deal for anything you buy, including your driver!
Camera Gear / Drones
I brought a stripped down setup on this one, the A7RIII, 16-35 2.8, 85 1.4 and Mavic Pro 2 drone, light tripod and filter kit as well. If I redid this I would just bring the 24-70 instead of the two lenses or at least in place of the 16-35. I really only used the 85 at the monkey forest, everything else was the 16-35 or the drone.
Drones are pretty much ok to use everywhere except most temples. They busted me at the Tanah Lot Temple right before I started flying. But apparently you can pay about $40 USD to fly it, which seems a little weird. If you go further away from the crowds and launch it they probably won’t ever care or find you.
Who Is Bali For?
Bali was honestly one of my least favorite places I’ve ever visited, only because I shoot landscapes. If you’re a landscape photographer this place shouldn’t be high on your list, you’re better off visiting Vietnam not too far away (and just as cheap). Overall I did enjoy visiting but it’s not a landscape kind of place besides rice fields and waterfalls for the most part.
For photographers, go for the culture and people. There’s an endless amount of things to shoot there for those two genres. If you’re a travel influencer or beautiful destination kind of photographer this also is a cool place to visit. There’s lots of “Instagram worthy” photo opportunity’s there for sure.
Other than photographers it’s just a cool place to visit for a cool cheap vacation or to get your party on and relax. Totally nothing wrong with that.
If you have any questions or comments leave one below. Thanks for reading!
Photos from this post are available to print here.
- Sony A7RIII
- Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM
- Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM
- DJI Mavic 2 Pro Drone
- MindShift Gear BackLight 26L Backpack
- Formatt Hitech 100mm Filter Holder
- Formatt Hitech 3 Stop ND Filter
- Formatt Hitech 6 Stop ND Filter
- Formatt Hitech 10 Stop ND Filter
- Formatt Hitech 105mm Polarizer Filter
- Induro GTT204M2 Travel Tripod
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