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Eat, Love, Play: 2 Weeks in Indonesia

Is Bali on your to-do list? Check it off because now is the time to book that trip. Here's what I did while on my two-week trip to Indonesia.

Photo of two people sitting on a swing in the Rice field in Bali, Indonesia

I stepped out of the plane at the Denpasar Airport in Bali after traveling more than 20 hours from Denver. Feeling sticky for nearly two days without a shower, the first thing to hit me when I stepped off the plane was the even stickier humidity. The offboarding ramp to the airport was filled with the thick, humid air signature of island nations—but this one hit differently. It was fresh as well. Surrounded by a gorgeous jungle, Bali is a solo island surrounded by thousands of other Indonesian islands. Java, a neighboring island with the famous populous capital, Jakarta, is northeast while Lombok, a scenic volcanic island, is southwest.

Bali is world-famous thanks to the best-selling novel Eat Pray Love. That’s how the island came onto my radar and to the attention of millions of others. Since the release of that book and the unforgettable box-office movie that accompanied it, Bali has been in the spotlight.

Of the nearly two-week trip in Indonesia, I spent eight days in Bali, three days in Lombok, and six days in Java. Just three days after landing in Bali, it became clear how incredible Indonesia truly is. From its many religions to its dozens of languages, each island, ethnic group, and landscape is completely different from the others. It can be summed up in one simple word: diverse.

So, when I showed up in Indonesia to celebrate my 30th birthday, I was pleasantly surprised at how rich the culture and history is. I discovered a way of being that I’d never seen before in the USA. cultural and religious harmony, true kindness at the individual level, and breathtaking landscapes.

In this article, I’ll just lay out my experience in Ubud and Canggu in Bali. My time near Mount Rinjani in Lombok. Finally, I share my experience in Java in the second largest city and home to a UNESCO world heritage site, Yogyakarta. Before I get into all that I did and how I spent my time in Indonesia, let’s have a brief look at Indonesia’s formation, history, and culture.

World map with Indonesia highlighted. Credit:

About Indonesia

Indonesia is a chain of volcanic islands in the South Pacific extending 3,181 miles (5,120 km) from east to west and 1,094 miles (1,760 km) from north to south. Surrounded by Malaysia and Singapore to the north, Australia to the south, and Papua New Guinea to the east, this archipelago nation is the 14th largest island nation in the world with more than 17,504 individual islands. It’s also the largest island chain and the 4th most populous nation in the world with more than 277,000,000 inhabitants.

With Indonesia’s vast size and population comes an incredibly diverse array of cultures, languages, ethnic groups, and landscapes. From a religious perspective, Indonesia has the largest population of Muslims on the planet with more than 200 million people practicing Islam, about 86.9% of its population. But, there are also millions of Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Confucianists.

The cultural diversity of Indonesia is impressive, too. The island chain has 1,340 ethnic groups, many of which speak their own languages and sometimes occupy their own islands as is the case in Bali, Lombok, and Java. However, around 40-42% of the inhabitants in Indonesia identify as Javanese. In addition, there are more than 700 languages in Indonesia. Most ethnic groups have their own language but share a common language called Bahasa that’s recognized as the official language of Indonesia. This common language really allows ethnic groups to communicate across lines of difference when visiting neighboring islands.

Coming from America, I was admittedly ignorant of how diverse Indonesia was. So when I arrived, I was truly surprised. In three weeks, I learned so much about the cultural and ethnic diversity in Indonesia that I could write a whole article just about that. But for now, I’ll leave it there and move on to describe my time in Ubud.

The cost of food and travel in Indonesia

In Indonesia as a whole, you can find very affordable clothing, food, and excursions. As of 2023, the Indonesian Rupiah is about 14,500 for every $1 USD. So a solid 3-course meal for a party of two can cost you less than $20 USD. A taxi ride to the other side of town can cost you $3 USD or less, while an excursion or entry into a popular tourist site can cost you $5 USD, sometimes more. With that said, it’s incredibly affordable for a Westerner to have a great time in Bali without breaking the bank.

How to get around Indonesia

Pro tip: don’t rely solely on local taxis in Indonesia. Get the Grab app. Grab is South Asia’s local Uber and serves as a food delivery service as well as a way to get catch a ride on a scooter or in a car. It works just like Uber. Download the app, put in your credit card details, and book a ride. Getting a GrabBike, which is essentially booking a scooter ride from a local driver, costs $1 or less per ride. Getting a private car costs $3 or less. It was an amazing value for getting around Indonesia, especially when the sidewalks and streets can feel a bit hectic.

Entering Bali

My boyfriend and I flew from Denver to San Francisco with United Airlines, had a layover in Singapore, then went on to Denpasar Airport in Bali. The first place I went after landing at the airport was Ubud. I mean, that’s what I came for, right? I wanted my Julia Roberts Eat Pray Love experience for my 30th birthday. And that’s exactly what I got. More on that later.

Upon arrival at the airport, we went through an incredibly long immigration line. Know that when you arrive in Indonesia, you have to get a visa. It costs about $35 USD and can be arranged online. But be careful to make sure every single detail of that visa is correct because if there’s even one error, the immigration officials have no problem making you fill it out again, pay an additional fee, then send you to the back of an hours-long line.

When we made it through immigration, we breathed a sigh of relief, exited the airport, jumped into a taxi, and went straight to Ubud.

To Ubud, we go

Ubud is the spiritual hub of Bali. The main religion is Hinduism and you can see it in every corner of the island. From the amazing statues and motifs of Hindu gods to the daily prayer baskets left outside of homes with carefully arranged flowers and incense, you feel a sense of spiritual grounding and relaxation in Ubud. Trust me, not every region of Bali is like this (cough cough Canggu) so when coming here, be sure to visit temples, ask questions about Hinduism, and get lost in the spiritual allure of the region.

The vibe in Ubud is a very bohemian spiritual retreat. Every place you visit from the restaurants to the hotels feels like a place to rest and refuel. Green trees and foliage encompass Ubud and the surrounding areas and make you feel like you’re in a bit of a protected forest. You can walk around (with caution, of course, since most of Bali doesn’t have adequate or safe sidewalks) and pop into upscale linen clothing boutiques, and experience delicious international and Balinese cuisine.

Where we stayed in Ubud

We spent four total days in Ubud and stayed at two different accommodations for a couple of days each. Here’s where we stayed and why we loved our experience so much.

Aerial photo of the Aura Retreat Center in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Aura Retreat

After landing, we needed a really relaxing retreat from our 20-hour flight from the USA, so we decided to spend a night at the Ubud Aura Retreat Center in downtown Ubud. For the cost of $48 USD per night, we felt like we had arrived at an oasis in the middle of a bustling town center. The space had two floors featuring townhome-style bungalows with plenty of space and a view of the treetops. It had Hindu statue water fountains and cobblestone walkways that were giving upscale jungle retreat vibes. The location also had a spa on site (which I highly recommend—I had one of the best massages in Indonesia there) where you can get world-class treatment for less than $20 USD. They had a breakfast buffet of local tropical fruit and coffee as well as a menu from which to order special meals. In a nutshell, this place was heaven. After one night, we went a few kilometers down the road to the ultimate jungle escape.

Villa Cella Bella

Image of me in front of a flower pool at Villa Cella Bella in Bali, Indonesia

The second and final place we stayed in Ubud was Villa Cella Bella, a luxury hotel located in the forests outside of town. I picked this place when I saw its famous flower pools on Instagram. This hotel is a 5-star establishment known for its handcrafted flower pools that don thoughtful messages gently floating on top of a swimming pool for special occasions like birthdays, marriage proposals, and anniversaries. I opted for the flower pool for my 30th birthday which comes with a drone video and photoshoot. It was an epic experience, to say the least.

But even outside of the famous flower pool experience, the atmosphere of Villa Cella Bella was remarkable. I would describe the feeling as jungle retreat meets bohemian heaven with a Scandinavian flair. It was modern, large, and regal. I felt like a queen and never wanted to leave. The hotel is happy to serve you breakfast in bed, by the pool, or near one of their multiple infinity pools. The view was breathtaking with cliffy-jungle views overlooking an ancient river. Food, drinks, and other perks were available and prepared European or American style. Overall, it was an amazing yet expensive experience that was worth every penny. If you want to drop the dough, you can spend $2K for a 2-day stay, flower pool with drone shoot, and other bells and whistles. Overall, it was an experience for the memory books.

What to do in Ubud

There are endless things to do in Bali from spiritual exploration to Instagram-worthy excursions. Here are a few of the things we enjoyed most.

Image of a white vintage Voltzwagon car.

Tour in a vintage car

When we stayed at Villa Cella Bella, we had the opportunity to book a half-day tour in a vintage car. It was a glorious white convertible Volkswagen with a private driver. The driver was charming and thoughtful and took us to several key locations around Bali, many of which are mentioned in the coming paragraphs. It cost $65 for a half-day tour and was totally worth it. We caught a lot of attention in our smooth vintage ride, but most important, we got to see some of Ubud’s best sites efficiently and in style.

Visit the rice fields

Rice is a huge agricultural product in all of Indonesia but especially in Bali. Seeing the rice fields is a MUST. If you want the ultimate tourist experience, visit the Rice Terrace. There you are located in the heart of a large rice field where you can walk through and practically get lost. You also get the opportunity for a photo shoot on a beautifully decorated swing. Capture the moment on your camera and take home a beautiful memory.

Stop by the temples

Hinduism is the dominant religion in Bali and the temples are stunning. Unlike churches in Christianity, Hindu temples in Bali are really only for special occasions rather than everyday use or weekly worship. Most families have their own mini-temples at home where they prepare a prayer offering every day. When you visit, you’ll see statues outside of homes with small bamboo boxes featuring carefully arranged flowers and incense. One bamboo box lives on the statue at the highest point and the other sits on the ground. The idea behind the placement of the boxes is to balance both positive and negative energies. Be sure not to step on the boxes on the ground. You could unleash bad energy on yourself!

Bali village tour

Part of the Villa Cella Bella vintage car tour was a stop at the Bali village. This ancient village is an interactive demonstration of traditional Balinese culture and walks visitors through how agricultural products were grown on the island as well as traditional ways of creating meals, playing music, and enjoying beverages like coffee and tea. Definitely visit and sip on the nearly 15 types of local drinks that come with the tour.

Tegenungan Waterfall

Get drenched in this iconic waterfall next time you’re in Bali. The Tegenungan Waterfall is a popular attraction and for good reason. The 50-foot (15-meter) drop of the water gives you a refreshing rush of cool water on your scalp. Surrounded by lush green forest, you’ll feel like you’re in a mini-oasis, but with like 100 other people. This gorgeous waterfall is definitely worth an afternoon of your time.

Five days was NOT enough time in Bali. We wish we had stayed two or even three weeks, particularly in Ubud. The tranquility of Ubud was unlike anything else we experienced in Bali, and trust me, we looked for it in Canggu and other areas. Speaking of Canguu, that’s where we went next.

Image of a beach in Canngu, Indonsia. Credit:

Chillin in Canguu

Canggu is a popular expat area in the southwest corner of Bali. Canggu had a totally different vibe than Bali. It was populated with many Australian expats who seem to have brought Melbourne and Sydney’s culture with them. Americans would feel comfortable here, too, with its gargantuan amount of smoothie shops, gyms, beach clubs, and upscale restaurants. It was giving Miami vibes, which, I didn’t love, but did appreciate when it came to enjoying my matcha latte with oat milk.

Canggu’s appeal comes from its very Westernized culture that, as described earlier, seems to attract many Westerners looking for long-term stays. However, the many news articles outlining misbehaved tourists in Bali include many located in Canggu. It is THE place to drink, party, and club. The best nightclubs on the entire island are located in Canggu. So, it’s the perfect place for a Westerner to get rowdy and cause a stir.

With that, we didn’t LOVE everything about Canggu, but we did like a few things.

Where we stayed in Canggu

Since my boyfriend and I were doing remote work, we needed someplace with good internet so we could work while we enjoyed Canggu. But we also wanted someplace closer to the famous beaches the area is known for without breaking the bank. So we decided on staying at Amandaya Canggu.

Image of Amandaya Canggu. Credit:

Amandaya Canggu

Located less than 2 kilometers from the most famous beaches in the area, Amandaya served as hidden accommodation that was close to the water but modern and western. The decor was stunning giving California Southwest boho vibes with upscale European-style decor. It had a gorgeous swimming pool on the main floor that served as a refreshing dip when we didn’t have the time to go all in at the beach. Each suite had sliding doors that overlooked the common areas. It was wonderful in all the right ways. We got to work, place, and relax all for about $300 USD for 5 days. In Bali, that’s fairly expensive, but for Americans, it was a reasonable rate.

What to do in Canggu

If you ever choose to visit Canggu, here were a few of our favorite things to do in the town.

Shop ‘til you drop

As someone who’s not that crazy about shopping, I had to do a little bit in Canggu. If you didn’t know, Indonesia is a leader in linen clothing and Canggu had stunning linen clothing

for a very affordable rate. In the high humidity and temperature weather, cool linen shirts, pants, and dresses were essential! In Canggu, you could find gorgeous designs for a great price. You could get t a classy and well-made linen outfit that would cost hundreds of dollars on online stores for maybe $30 USD. Definitely grab a cool linen shirt for you or someone you love in Canggu.

Surf at the beach

For water lovers and competitive athletes out there, definitely try surfing in Canggu. The beach itself has soft, yellow sand and the water is gorgeous and far-reaching. For surfing, there are plenty of great waves for more experienced surfers. Note, I wouldn’t recommend surfing for beginners as some waves can get as high as some you’d see in Hawaii. In Lamen’s terms, those waves are mighty big, and a beginner surfer may not be able to hang. But those of you who love to surf in Costa Rica, Hawaii, or other popular surf areas, you’ll love catching some waves in Canggu. For the rest of us, we can lounge on the beach with a coconut and get a suntan.

Watch the sunset

One of the best things you can do in Canggu is see the sunset. I recommend viewing it at a beach club or directly on the sand. It’s out of a fairy tale. Its big, bold, and leaves a rosey, pink hue afterward. Canggu is one of the best places to enjoy a sunset in all of Bali so it’s definitely a must-see. Everyone in town seems to make the time for it no matter how busy they are, so be sure to arrive 30-45 min early so you can get a good spot.

Go clubbing

As mentioned earlier, Canggu has the best nightclubs on the entire island of Bali, so if you’re a night owl who loves a good dance club, you’ll find it here. There are several of them with almost Disney land acreage. They’re massive outdoor venues that you can get lost in all night long. Entry to the nightclubs isn’t too cheap, about $20 USD, so be ready to cough up the cash and shake your *ss all night long.

After five days in Canggu, we felt like we saw enough and were craving something less developed and more natural. Fortunately, my adventure-loving boyfriend looked up the tallest mountains in Indonesia and managed to arrange a trek for us to the second tallest mountain in Indonesia: Mount Rinjani on the island of Lombok.

Photo of me at the top of Mountain Rinjani, in Lombok, Indonesia.

Trekking in Lombok

Lombok is an island south of Bali that is home to the second tallest mountain in Indonesia. Mount Rinjani is an amazing volcanic mountain with several landscapes. It features grassy pastoral fields at the base that are home to local farm animals like cows and chickens. In the center, it becomes rocky and shrubby, and towards the top, it comes sandy and difficult to traverse.

My boyfriend really wanted to scale this mountain so he booked us a two-night trek to the top with one of the best trekking organizations and accomodations on the island.

Where we stayed in Lombok

When I say we had the best accommodation in Lombok, I mean it. And by best, I don’t mean the fanciest, but I mean the most professional, comfortable, and capable for our trek ahead.

Image of the Green Rinjani in Lombok, Indonesia

Green Rinjani

Green Rinjani is an accommodation and trekking service that offers hikers the ability to stay one night before their trek at their hotel, get fed full meals for free at their in-house restaurant, and then supply trekkers with a guide and the equipment they need to trek Mount Rinjani. What a fantastic stay. The accommodation was simple but sufficient for what we needed. The restaurant fed us delicious Indonesian staples, then gave us a very experienced guide and two porters to bring our camping gear up Mount Rinjani to base camp. The service was phenomenal, the trip was organized, and despite the massive thousands of feet we walked up the mountain, I never felt unsafe at all. It was the perfect accommodation and trekking service. I wrote a whole article about my experience in Lombok and hiking Mount Rinjani, you can read about it here.

After three days in Lombok and successfully scaling Mount Rinjani, we were ready to hit our final island in Indonesia: Java.

Experiencing World Heritage on Java

Java is home to the biggest city in Indonesia: Jakarta. We never went to Jakarta and most locals applauded that. Jakarta is home to over 20 million people and is in a constant state of traffic and pollution. Essentially, we weren’t missing out by not visiting Jakarta. But we would have been missing out if we had avoided Yogyakarta.

Yogyakarta, locally known as Yogya (pronounced joe-ja), is the second largest city in Java but the closest one to world heritage sites. We went to Yogya to see said world heritage sites and witness some of the oldest Hindu temples on the planet. While in Jogja, we wanted a more comfortable and predictable accommodation after our huge trek in Lombok. So we opted for one of the finest hotels in the city.

Where we stayed in Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta is a classic Indonesian city. Big, bustling, and virtually zero sidewalks. All of Indonesia is hot and humid, so choosing an accommodation that made us feel physically comfortable but could also allow us to unwind and work throughout the day was essential. So we chose the best of the best: Melia Purosani.

Image of the lobby of Melia Purosani in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia

Melia Purosani

Melia Purosani is a massive estate with hundreds of rooms. It felt like one of those resorts you visit on islands like Jamaica or the U.S. Virgin Islands. It had absolutely everything. Two full-service restaurants serving American and European staples as well as a Chinese restaurant. A dessert and coffee shop. An entire spa offering everything from facials to Indonesian traditional massages. A fully-equipped gym. A massive swimming pool. A pub. A place to shop for traditional clothing and so much more. We were overwhelmed. If you never wanted to leave the hotel, you could absolutely get everything you needed in one spot. In the busy and hot bustling center of Yogya, we were pretty grateful for this peaceful, quiet, and cool oasis. We stayed there for five days and it cost us about $600 USD. Again this is extremely expensive by Indonesian standards but for a Westerner, it was reasonable. I mean, I’ve been in truckstop hotels with higher rates and worse atmospheres.

What to do in Yogyakarta

During our five-day stay in Yogya, we experienced quite a few places that we loved.

Image of me in front of a temple at Prambanan temple in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia

See the World Heritage site, Prambanan Temple

Before Indonesia was introduced to Islam, Hinduism prevailed. The Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple site in Indonesia and the second largest in all of South Asia. It was completed in the 9th century AD and drew Hindu followers from all over the world—in fact, it still does. When we visited Prambanan, we were amazed at how many Hindus came to actively worship the gods in the temples. Pranbanan features dozens of temples, many of which were reconstructed after a devastating earthquake in 2006. Each temple houses a different Hindu god. If you ever visit, you’ll see 10-15 ft tall statues of Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. You can go inside of some of these temples and look around. Guides are free and are usually happy to practice their English, French, German, and Spanish with you. Entry to Prambanan is expensive by Indonesian standards and is about $45 USD for foreigners.

Visit the Museum of Java

Somewhat hidden on the other side of Yogyakarta lives the Museum of Java. The compound features some of the most comprehensive history of Java in the world. It has interactive displays, films, artifacts, plaques, and more. I enjoyed watching the film about the geological formation of Java and how a series of tectonic plate shifts and volcanic eruptions are what made Java what it is today. But you can get lost in several exhibits that really outline how Java has evolved geologically, socially, and economically. It takes about an hour to get through the entire musuem and costs about $3 USD.

Image of the Taman Sari, water castle, in Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia

See the Water Castle

Colloquially known as the “water castle”, the formal name for this ancient site is the Taman Sari. This castle was used by several sultans in Indonesia as a vacation home of sort. It was a place where sultans could live with their dozens of concubines and swim, relax, and well, get it on. Stop by and get lost in the history of how sultans lived in ancient Indonesia. Guides are informal and are typically locals from the area. For a donation, they’ll show you around and explain the history of the place. Entry to the water castle costs $1 USD.

Wizz around on a scooter

I stand by the fact that the best way to see Indonesia is on a scooter. If you’ve got time on your hands and a couple of dollars in your pocket, you can book a GrabBike and get a ride around Yogya. It’s a panoramic way to see the city, its many businesses, and landmarks. I would book a GrabBike to eat at a local restaurant or visit a landmark. They were always affordable and fun. Simply book, put on your helmet, and get swept away in the busy Yogya streets.

Indonesia was amazing. Need I say more?

I could write a book about my time in Bali, Lombok, and Java, but I’ll spare you the read (and sacrifice the royalties). Overall, Indonesia impressed me with its diverse landscape, history, people, languages, and religions. No island was the same or offered the exact same experience. Whether I was in Ubud having a spiritual experience or Java getting swept away by World Heritage sites, I learned that Indonesia cannot and should not be put into a box. Rather, it should be celebrated for being the resilient and beautiful nation it is today. For those who are curious about Indonesia and unsure if they should book that flight. This is your sign to book it. My only parting word of wisdom is to stay more than 2 weeks. Indonesia is worth every second you’re able to give it. Enjoy!

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