By the time I got to Bali I was ready for a break. After nine months of slow travel in Southeast Asia, through Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, then road tripping two of Indonesia’s tougher islands, and hating Jakarta, Bali felt like a long slow exhale.
You see, Bali doesn’t feel like the rest of Indonesia. With a big Hindu population, the culture has a different vibe than the predominantly Muslim rest of the country. On top of that, the tourist infrastructure is well established, so it feels “easy” after road tripping the back forty of Sulawesi and tumbling the length of Borneo the hard way. Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly eat one more plate of nasi goreng, or mi-anything, Ubud emerged from the mists and with it: salad. Salad is in short supply off the beaten path in Southeast Asia.
Bali is a digital nomad hotspot (the recent establishment of Hubud making connectivity that much better) which is transforming it’s sleepy expat status faster than some would like. For Australians and Kiwis the island is a quick and affordable getaway (Australia finally lifted their travel advisory a decade after the nightclub bombing). The beaches are amazing, the interior of the island is stunningly beautiful, and the unique culture makes Bali a place that calls many back, repeatedly. For me, it was mostly about the salad. Ubud has some great restaurants.
In terms of what to pack for Bali, the climate is fairly constant, so whether you’re going April- October, in the drier high season, or traveling in November- March when the weather is wetter, the temperature isn’t going to change much. Higher altitude will be cooler, if you plan to trek, pack accordingly, and in the wet season, add a light rain jacket.
What to Pack for Bali: Cultural Sensitivity
In spite of the influx of foreigners in the past years the local Balinese culture is a conservative one. You’ll notice that both men and women tend to wear clothing that covers their shoulders and knees. There is a relaxed attitude towards foreign visitors and you’re unlikely to have any trouble wearing what you would wear at home, bikinis on beaches are not a problem.
However, to enter the temples you’ll need to cover your shoulders and your knees, both men and women. Pack a sarong so that you’re equipped to cover, otherwise you’ll be provided with one and probably charged for it.
What to Pack for Bali: Adventure
There are numerous hiking treks to be had, particularly in East Bali, as well as cycle tours (you can rent a bike, no need to fly one). Of course there are boat and diving tours from the coast and white water raft trips on the rivers. I highly recommend that you hire a car and have some self drive adventures all over the island.
The one “adventure” that is widely advertised that I don’t recommend is an elephant ride tour. Geoff Manchester, of Intrepid Travel does a good job of explaining, and linking to more information on why this is not a good idea.
“Elephant issues have been a strong area of concern. Having such an enormous wild animal restrained for many hours at a time and used for rides or to do human-like behaviours, such as kick a soccer ball or paint pictures with their trunks, has never felt right.”
There are tons of yoga classes to be had as well as walks through places like the Monkey Forest in Ubud for low key adventures. (DO NOT touch the monkeys… they bite!) Athletic clothes and a solid pair of walking sandals would not go amiss.
What to Pack for Bali: Nightlife
Whether you’re staying in Denpasar, Ubud, or one of the smaller beach towns, you’ll find a range of evening possibilities. Bali has numerous nightclubs in the more touristed hubs and a number of really delightful evening venues in the towns where expats have put down roots.
One of my favorite memories of Ubud was an evening spent Salsa dancing at Cafe Havana on Wednesday night. You might want to pack your dancing shoes!
Bali Packing Essentials
- 3 Short sleeve tops
- 3 Pair of shorts or skirts
- 1 Pair of sandals (make them hiking style and they can be your only shoes, unless you’re going dancing!)
- 4 Pair of underwear
- 1 Nice dress or collared shirt
- 1 Swimsuit
- 1 Light jacket
- 1 Daypack for day trips and adventures
- 1 Pair of yoga pants
- 1 Athletic shirt
- 1 Sarong, for a quick cover up in temples or cool evenings
- 1 Water bottle
Final Tips for Visiting Bali
Bali is one of those places you could return to over and over, finding your favorite hideaway and continuing to explore. There really is something for everyone, whether you’re a week long tourist or a six month digital nomad.
- Hit the beach, or several
- Ubud makes a great base, but branch out
- Head into the mountains to see the “natural Bali”
- Drive through the villages, get out, look around
- Visit at least one Hindu temple
- Have breakfast at Bali Budha
- Go for salad at Alchemy, an amazing raw food restaurant
- Get off the beaten path and have an adventure
Bali is one of the most popular destinations in Indonesia. A unique culture, with a Hindu twist, Bali offers travelers a lovely blend of a slower traditional life with the convenience and connectivity that’s made it a big draw with the digital nomad crowd.
Packing for Bali, don’t forget:
- You’ll need to cover knees and shoulders in temples and traditional settings
- There’s a small but thriving salsa scene in Ubud, pack dancing shoes
- Plan to get off the beaten path and have an adventure: pack a daypack and water bottle
- Yoga or fitness clothes wouldn’t go amiss, you’ll find classes in the population centers
- Pack at least one nice outfit for evenings out