With an abundance of all-inclusive beach resort chains and world-famous hot spots, the island of Bali can have a reputation in backpacker circles for being laden with tourists and hard on the wallet. And it certainly CAN be. But despite the [easily escaped] crowds, Bali remains an island of variety and offers a plethora of budget-friendly activities to keep even the most frugal of travelers endlessly entertained. Trust me, I’m poor.
My month in Bali was by far the most expensive I’ve spent in Southeast Asia, coming in at just under $1400 USD, not including flights, and I know for some people that isn’t a lot, but for me it’s gut-wrenching compared to the $300-$600 I typically spend per month in Laos & Thailand.
But it’s almost always true of backpacking that the longer you stay in a place the cheaper it gets, which is why the
two three weeks I spent in Canggu were my most affordable. There were plenty of days I did little more than spend the entire afternoon at the beach with a good book and a Bintang.
I didn’t read.
I chased stray dogs around with bags of fried meats yelling “Get back here and LOVE ME!”
That being said, while obviously I highly recommend the feeding and the cuddling and the loving of the baby animals, there are plenty of other penny-pinching pleasures to keep budget travelers occupied. So without further delay, here’s a short list of some things to do in Bali that won’t bust your bank account.
Get a Mani/Pedi on Legian Street ($2)
Bali is basically THE beauty devotee Holy Land. Foot massages and full body rubs can be found for as little as $4 to $6, even in tourist traps like Kuta. Milk baths and coffee scrubs might run you a whopping $12. Head out early in the day and street salons will cut you mani/pedi deals for $2! If you’re looking for more of a “luxury” experience, fear not my lovely, even that can be found on a budget. La Karma Spa in Legian, rated something like #4 on TripAdvisor for Spas in Legian, has a bomb 2 hour full body coconut oil massage for 150,000 kip…so about $15. Yes, please.
Take a yoga class, $6-12
Bali is famous for her yoga and beautiful studios & retreat centers are all over the island. There are classes available for every level of practice, as well as ecstatic dance, aerial yoga, meditation, and more. On average, the price to drop-in on a single class is about $12USD, but class packages can run you as little as $6 per class. Free community classes and donation/fundraising events are also constantly being everywhere, so make sure to check with the reception of your hostel/hotel to see what they recommend nearby!
Climb the Stairway to Heaven at Pura Lempuyang
I’m not-so-secretly obsessed with Ancient Aliens and long before there was ever a TV show about them, I was obsessed with ten thousand plus year old temples arranged in large scale geometric patterns that can only be seen from the sky and massive, giant doorways leading literally nowhere- why? WHY does it lead nowhere? ALIENS. But regardless of whether or not you share my acceptance of what is clearly solid evidence of extraterrestrial contact, ALL of the temples of Bali are each stunningly beautiful, and deeply moving, in their own right. Even if you are not an overly religious or spiritual person, and I’m certainly not, it is hard to deny the cosmic “vibe”, if you will, of the earth’s old, sacred places or leave them without feeling wonder struck. Plus, it’s only a $2 (20,000 rupiah) entrance fee and that’s cheaper than a rum runner. Be ready to hike those 1700 steps though!
HAVE a tempeh burger at Old Man’s in Canggu ($4)
I’d like to start by saying I’m not a vegetarian. I LOVE BACON! YOU EITHER LOVE BACON OR YOU’RE WRONG! But I was introduced to the wonderful world of “tempeh” while in Canggu, where the soybeanish sprout patty is a staple on many a menu along Batu Boolong road, and let me tell you right now, with a hand over my heart, that tempeh is delicious. Ithaka Warung and Betelnut cafes have dishes to die for, but a strange and wonderous felicity of the mouth known as the “tempeh burger” (yes, a beefless burger…I don’t even know who I am anymore) can be found at a small locally-run warung at the end of the road on Old Man’s beach. I have no idea what the place is called, but it’s at the edge of the beach between the parking area and Old Man’s Bar. Order the tempeh burger, sure, but stay away from the $1 Arak shots! (There’s a story there but it involves a Tinder date and vomit and we don’t really know each other that well yet. I vomited on my Tinder date. That’s the story. SO WEIRD he never called…)
Eat All The Things. Things Like Mi Goreng ($2)
Seeing a pattern yet? FOOD IS MY LIFE. After any extended period of time in Southeast Asia, it’s pretty standard operating procedure to be like, “I don’t really know what I want to eat, maybe I’ll just get some noodles or something…” and get burnt out on the staple. But it’s impossible to visit Bali without trying Mi Goreng. And loving Mi Goreng. And making a shrine of styrofoam takeaway boxes in the kitchen bin to commemorate the memory of all the glorious Mi Goreng you’ve eaten…
Feed the Monkeys at Monkey Forest, Ubud ($4-$6)
Monkey Forest is AWESOME. The grounds are ethereal, really, the statues are beautiful. I was there during the rainy season so there were far fewer visitors than usual & the jungle was SO GREEN from the monsoonal weather and shrouded in mist in the early morning. It was like we were pitter-pattering around in a fairy tale world. But..with monkeys…
I’m going to level with you here, of all the members of the Animal Kingdom….monkeys are not high on my list of favorites. Oh man, I feel guilty just saying there’s an animal I don’t like (I take it back, babies, I love you!!!) but I just…I just don’t trust the little motherf***ers. I got slapped by a monkey in Thailand, maybe that’s why. Maybe they’re too much like people…. And by people, I mean bratty, emotional toddlers who will hiss and spit at you if you don’t give them that banana right this very second.
Whatever the case may be, fearing the namesake primates is no reason to skip Monkey Forest. In reality, the monkeys in the temple interact with tourists on a daily basis so as long as you employ basic common sense (you know, cus you’re dealing with a wild animal) and don’t act like an aggressive dipshit, chances are you’re going to be fine.
If you’re scared, don’t force it. Don’t bring in food unless you intend on feeding them & don’t wear any jinglyjangly items that might attract their kleptomania. Pretty simple. If you get bit by one, immediately erase your internet search history.
A bunch of bananas and an entrance ticket to Monkey Forest in Ubud will run you just under $4. The monkeys are most active in the early morning & early evening.
Sip a Bintang by the seashore ($2)
Get to Jimbaran’s Fish Market at sunrise to watch the fishermen bring in the last night’s catch, then head down to the beautiful beaches of the Bukit to spend the day lounging in the sun and watching the surfers conquer Bali’s most famous waves. Warungs & street stalls abound, serving up fresh fruit shakes & nasi delights on the cheap, sometimes less than a dollar. Make sure you stop at 3D warung on the road to Uluwatu.
Let’s just take a moment to re-read that statement and really appreciate how in no way did that sound at all like getting day drunk and sexually objectifying beautiful dudes at the beach, and maybe or maybe not pretending to be drowning so they save you & perform CPR on you.
Stay at a Surf Hostel & Make Friends With Australians
($0- all the $$ you swore you wouldn’t spend on drinking but then did…)
Bali is to Australians what Cancun, Cabo, and Hawaii is to mainland Americans. Cheap flights from Oz make Bali the starting point for many gap year/twenty something backpackers heading off on their big RTW/Southeast Asia trips as well as a hot spot for destination weddings & semester break/post grad holidays. They’re EVERYWHERE.
Out in the wild, Australians usually travel in pairs or packs and males can often be spotted at noisy bars named things like “Aussie Surf Bar” that serve things like beers and burgers. They typically wear very little clothing and substitute abbreviations and profanity in the place of regular language, and while this might be intimidating for some, they are usually quite nice, enjoy meeting new people, and can give you lots of tips because they’ve been to Bali about 73 times already & are on a first name basis with…the country.
What’s that word for people who are obsessed with France but aren’t French themselves? Francophile. That’s me, just with Australia. (Still waiting for Alex Williamson to stalk me on Facebook…) I really shouldn’t stereotype so much, but Australians are pretty much just my favorite people ever. Maybe it’s because they’re all sex gods who look like supermodels…Or maybe it’s because they’re just generally easy-going, nice people who live by the words “No Worries, Mate.” Also, I can talk as fast as I want and use a lot of sarcasm and they still get me. This is kind of a big deal for me, emotionally speaking….
Take a tour of the Bali Dog Adoption & Rehabilitation Center ($10)
Animal lovers will love visiting BAWA and BARC, two prominent local animal welfare associations with locations in Ubud and Sanur. Both organizations hold a variety of fundraising events around Bali – I went to an awesome donation based yoga class in Canggu that raised money for BAWA. (Lies, there was a yoga class but I sat around petting furry bundles of joy…) BARC offers guided tours of their sanctuary facilities in Ubud for just $10. Tours include an informational presentation, tea & refreshments and oodles of puppy cuddles. Volunteer opportunities are also available year round.
Adopt a Sea Turtle ($0-10) because Animals.
If you’re visiting Kuta between May and September, you’re lucky enough to be visiting during sea turtle hatching season! Make your way over to the Bali Sea Turtle Society, an education and conservation project, to learn about sea turtles or even “adopt” & release your very own hatching into the sea! A wonderful experience for both kids and adults alike, trips to the centre are free but donations are always appreciated.
View the Sunset from Uluwatu’s magical cliffs & see a traditional fire dance
Must sees on many a Bali bucket list are the temple and dramatic cliffs of Uluwatu. Called Pura Luhur, the temple here is one of Bali’s 6 Directional Temples, it’s dramatic cliff side location was chosen as part of an intricate geometrical design to protect the land from evil spirits.
Aliens. Because aliens.
Every evening when the sun goes down, dancers take to the ocean sands to stage performances of the traditional Kecak Fire Dance, which is beautiful and thrilling to witness. Entrance to the temple and a ticket to the dance will cost 20,000 rupiah (approximately $2), just like the other big temples. * The standard $2 entry fee is tacked onto the more famous & frequented temple sites, but there are plenty of smaller ruins and village temples that can be explored for free. You’ve just gotta get out & explore a little.
Take a tour of Charlie’s Chocolates for $1
Okay, so this one probably doesn’t belong on the list. While it may only “technically” only cost a $1USD donation to attend a tour of the factory…. I dare you to go and not walk away with armfuls of delicious chocolatey sweetness. Seriously, I double dog dare you.
Do you have any activities, eats, or awesome spots in Bali you’d recommend to someone backpacking the island on a budget? Drop it in the comments & I’ll check it out!