If, like most of the Western world, you imagined Bali to be all pushbikes, healers, special tonics, meditation, and Brazilian-themed beach parties, you can’t be blamed! Eat Pray Love is the culprit my friend, we all wanted to be Julia Roberts taking a dip in the calm waters of Padang Padang with a sexy older gent didn’t we?
The real Bali, circa 2015 when I lived there was quite different and is even more so today!
I lived in Padang Padang, close to surfer’s paradise, Uluwatu, so the “Eat Pray Love beach” was my local beach, however, I didn’t even realise that until I had lived there for about a year and I saw a dodgy poster in my local coffee shop then the penny dropped. You see, the Bali that I knew, although there were indeed plenty of beach parties, was little more, shall we say, livelier than the movie let us believe.
As a Brit, I truly had no idea that Bali was where Aussies go for bucks and hens parties, before my first holiday there I genuinely thought I would be cycling in a straw hat and practising yoga every day – I did not expect the amazing nightlife to be the pull that drew me back time and time again to eventually being one of the deciding factors of me moving there permanently!
Tourist Central; Kuta
So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, Kuta. Kuta, if you haven’t been yet, it is exactly like what your friends have told you it is like – tourist central. Think souvenir shops, tattoo parlours, overweight burnt white people, Maccas, KFC, and of course, Starbucks. In terms of the nightlife, it’s again, exactly what you would expect – karaoke bars, ladyboys (bencong), cheap spirits (Eikon or Alley Cats anyone?), terrible music (unless you enjoy R & B from 1997 and over mixed dance music). And of course, there is Sky Garden. As a solo traveller, going to Sky Garden with your new surf hostel buddies is actually a terrific way to get fed and pissed on a budget. It used to be IDR 50k for a delicious all you could eat BBQ and free flowing beer from 5-7pm. The price has inflated a little but the concept remains the same. You sit, eat, enjoy the beer, try to not listen to the music then eventually give in and start dancing overzealously to 50 Cent’s In da club. It can be hilarious, if you don’t take yourself too seriously!
Aussie holidaymakers heaven; Seminyak
Moving upwards from Kuta, you’ll hit Seminyak; most would agree this is the most popular spot for Aussie holidaymakers. It’s filled with boutiques, high end stores, world-class albeit mostly Western restaurants, 5* hotels and resorts, and is home to arguably Bali’s most iconic beach bar, Potato Head. If you want Balinese culture it goes without saying but stay clear of Kuta and Seminyak. If you want to party, be pampered in luxury, and splash some serious cash, Seminyak is the place to be.
Tourist favourites include Janga, Motel Mexicola, W/Woo Bar, Rock Bar, Ku De Ta and, the now infamous, La Favela. Another firm favourite for the serious underground fiends was Koh nightclub but word on the street is that it is closing its doors this month [March] (sad times). The best thing about Seminyak is you can literally customise your night out on any given night rather than having to wait until a specific night to enjoy yourself like other parts of the island. Don’t fancy partying hard? Dine out at a plush restaurant like Kilo, Mama San or Shanghai Baby instead. Running out of cash? Eat at a warung for Christ sake, it’s the best and costs $5. Crowds not your thing? Grab your bestie and sit at a mini-mart with endless Bintangs and the ultimate people watching experience – these types of nights are often the best. Want to get absolutely pumped? Look to the social media gods, see who is playing and where and plan accordingly! Secret Life Bali is also a fantastic source for planning your nightly escapades. I also must mention a disclaimer here: if you know you’re going to have a ripper, it’s not big or clever to drive your scooter! Leave it at your accommodation and get an uber or a bluebird.
Hipster Paradise; Canggu
Moving even further north, you will find yourself in hipster paradise, Canggu. This rice-paddy-clad location has become increasingly popular amongst the young and beautiful over the last few years. Although its black sands are perhaps not as picturesque as others in Bali, it hasn’t stopped tourism – and nightlife – taking over. From bikers’ Mecca, Deus (where on Tuesday’s you can bag yourself a free tattoo whilst chowing down on a pretty authentic taco), to Old Man’s for not-so-chilled sunset sessions on Wednesday’s and Sunday’s to Finn’s beach bar for exceptional cocktails served to your private bed, to the hipster market, Love Anchor Canggu; there’s something for every expat here. If Seminyak is just that little bit too mainstream and you prefer a more untapped, free spirited type of night, spend a lot of time in Canggu.
My second home; Uluwatu
Now, let’s talk about my second home, Uluwatu (and surrounding areas)! Located in the Bukit Peninsula (South West Bali), it stretches from Jimbaran (amazing fish BBQs and sunsets), along through Ungasan where you will find 5 star beach resorts, Finns and Karma Kandara – if you have the cash, you may as well splash it on the private beaches here – Karma is also now renowned for random beach foam parties! Travelling further down will take you through Padang Padang and Bingin where indeed beach parties are aplenty! Padang Padang comes alive every Saturday night with local band, Ulu Roots usually performing reggae covers followed by local and foreign house DJs alike. It gets loose so be prepared.
A short drive will take you to surf village, Bingin. If you’re fit, you can head down the mammoth stone steps to the beach to witness unrivalled sunset views and enjoy a vodka slush cocktail or two at beach bar, Kelly’s. It’s super chilled down there and a fantastic place to just sit, watch the surf, and be present. Also located in Bingin is Cashew Tree, which in dry season gets lit every Thursday…a mix of house and disco DJs and live music ensures everyone is up and dancing barefoot in the balmy night air. Spanish destination bar and restaurant, El Kabron is around the corner in Dreamland and being carved into the cliff edge overlooking the coast and its fantastic beaches, it’s a great venue to swim (infinity pool of course), drink, dine, and be grateful. El Kabron has been trying to up its partying stakes of late, partnering with Moet & Chandon to host swish bubbles parties as well as white nights similar to those at Seminyak’s Ku De Ta so think classy, expensive, flashy, but worth it. The food is exquisite and who doesn’t love a gin menu?
Uluwatu’s most iconic partying spot is undeniably Single Fin. It literally just keeps growing and growing. The busiest nights are on Wednesday’s and Sunday’s (living for the weekend is an unknown concept). If you want a seat, reserve a table, otherwise; get on your dancing shoes and be prepared to sweat – yes, you as well ladies!
What makes the Fin so special? Probably its location – the sunsets here are incredible and washed down with a Bintang and a group of mates what’s not to like? Aside from that the talent that passes through here to play has been, and will continue to be, incredible. As soon as that sun goes down, however, that chilled vibe disappears and the lively crowds descend. Flight Facilities’ Jimmy Lyell randomly jumped on the decks the last time I was there! Spontaneous entertaining scenes like these are what keep loyal punters returning time and time again, thirsty for that debauchery.