What I Wish I Did in Bali Instead...
Bali is an insanely popular tourist spot for good reason -it's just one of those places that elicits thoughts of paradise and bliss. I had those perceptions of Bali also, and although those expectations weren't totally met, I still made some awesome memories. Here's my travel guide to Indonesia's most famous destination:
How to get there: Bali Denpasar International Airport is a decently big hub - there's direct flights here from all over Asia (domestic and international) and Australia, too. If you're coming from the Gili Islands or Lombok, you can take a cheap ferry over to Bali as well.
Where to stay: Bali is a big island, so where you stay depends on what type of experience you're looking for. Both Kuta and Seminyak are popular for younger tourists looking to party and spend time at the beach (though, the beaches here are not all that nice). Ubud, located in the center of the island, is the cultural hub of Bali and more of a tranquil atmosphere than Kuta or Seminyak. Uluwatu on the southern peninsula is another option, where you can find luxury villas, nicer-looking beaches, interesting temples, and world-class surfing. I based myself in Ubud, since I wanted more of a culturally rich visit.
Getting Around: Bali is huge - so finding a method of transportation is important. There is a decent bus system connecting Bali's major tourist sights, but takes much longer than if you were to go on your own. You can easily rent motorbikes on the island for around $5 a day (be warned- agencies will rent you motorbikes without the special license, but it really is required, and if you're stopped by a cop they may give you trouble) or a car for around $40. You could also rent your own driver for the day for a bit more money, and this may be a feasible option if you have a bigger group traveling together. Finally, Uber is huge in Bali and is the method of transportation that I used for my stay, since it's cheap, safe, easy, and familiar to me.
What to do: There's tons of stuff to do in Bali depending on what you prefer. You can choose to spend your time at Bali's many beaches, the most beautiful in my opinion: Bingin Beach, Padang Padang Beach, and Blue Point (aka Suluban Beach). You can find lots of water activities like surfing and kayaking off of Seminyak Beach and Kuta Beach as well. Some must-see temples include the Uluwatu Temple which is perched on a tall cliff, and Tanah Lot Temple which is set offshore on a little island of sorts. Hiking on Mount Batur active volcano for sunrise is a popular tourist attraction as well, and many hotels/hostels will offer these tours at the front desk. Finally, there are a wide variety of waterfalls on the island, like Gitgit Waterfall, Sekumpal Waterfall, and Banyumala Twin Waterfalls that are worth visiting. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to any of these aforementioned sights during my stay in Bali, which may be why I didn't fall in love with it in the same way others have. I plan to visit again and take full advantage of everything the island has to offer.
Instead, I spent all of my time in Ubud far away from most of these sights, but also with its share of interesting spots as well. Absolute must-dos are the Sacred Monkey Forest and the Tegallalang Rice Terraces. The Monkey Forest is a massive jungle complex where you are surrounded by feisty monkeys both big and small. These guys are not afraid of tourists and they WILL steal your food, electronics, sunglasses... you name it, if you let them get too close and comfortable with you. They bite too, so watch out! Still, it was a really cool experience to have so many monkeys in such a close vicinity. $3.75 entrance fee. From Ubud, you can take a quick meter taxi to the entrance, and from Kuta/Seminyak/the south side of the island, allow 1 hour transportation time.
My second favorite thing in Bali were the famous Rice Terraces. Here you can take a glimpse into the traditional rice growing practices of Indonesians - they use systems of irrigation called subak. It's major tourist attraction so it gets rather busy. If you want a less-crowded option, I hear the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces is a good alternative. However, the Tegallalang Terraces were filled to the brim with natural beauty and cultural value, and I definitely wouldn't miss it if you're in Ubud.
Other tips: Bali is a Hindu-majority island unlike the rest of Muslim-majority Indonesia, giving the island a really unique cultural vibe with interesting architecture and temples galore. Many tourists are afraid of acquiring 'Bali belly,' basically food poisoning/upset stomach from unclean water or products washed with this unclean water. It's largely eradicated now that it's such a major tourist destination, so you should be fine. Expect crowds around Bali, and hit up the sights early in the morning if you want to avoid them. Finally, it's possible to do Bali on a budget. There are plenty of street-stall-style food available for cheap, but also a wider variety of Western-style restaurants that can break the bank. Most of the time, I ate meals for around $5 each. Choose where you eat wisely and you can easily do Bali inexpensively.