Is Bali Still Worth Visiting? A Guide to Enjoying Bali with Family and Friends

The famous Barong Dance in Bali
The Barong at our favorite traditional dance performance
Over the years Bali has taken on a lot of heat for the challenges it can present to travelers.  We have seen first hand how overdevelopment, unruly tourists, and disregard for the environment have tarnished the Isle of the Gods.  
We are here to tell you that Bali is still worth going to, and that it remains one of the best family vacation destinations in the world!
The secret to enjoying your time in Bali is to get off the beaten track as much as possible. 
While Ubud remains the spiritual capital of the island, it can be a big bummer to arrive at your hotel or villa right in the center of the city and be stuck in traffic for a hour just to go a couple of kilometers.  Instead stay outside the main tourist center.  Book a home in one of the surrounding villages and enjoy what life was like decades ago in Ubud.  Your rental home or hotel can get you transport to the outskirts of town where you can easily walk to fabulous restaurants, charming shops, and museums.  Arrange to meet your driver on one of the one way streets that point right back to your stay and avoid all that car time.
Similarly with popular seaside areas like Canggu and Seminyak - try to stay on less populous lanes and walk to your destinations as much as possible.  If you plan to say in Canggu - look toward Seseh or Munggu and walk right on the sand to the popular beach bars and shops along Jalan Batu Bolong. 
If you'd like to be closer to Seminyak's amazing sunsets and quieter surf, book a place closer to Petitenget and walk to the more populous areas along the beach, saving yourself the hassle of all the overcrowded streets.  Just know that when you are ready to explore the rest of the island there is no avoiding those longer drives.  Just whatever you do - don't try to drive to these western beaches in the later afternoon - everyone has the same idea - to catch that gorgeous sunset!!
Of course we always recommend getting even further afield to beat the crowds and discover what makes Bali such an unforgettable destination.  We love the area around Candi Dasa in the east for a quiet and calm seaside escape.  To get into breathtaking rice fields take a trip out to Tabanan in the west to see how farming and daily life has remained virtually unchanged, without all those influencers on silly swings!  Take a couple of days and go out to Nusa Penida or Lembongan and hire a fishing boat for the day to take a peek at the kaleidoscope of colorful fish just below the surface.  These beautiful reefs are just a 40 minute ferry ride from Sanur.
See below how our last trip went after not being able to visit Bali during the long closure during the pandemic.  We were quick to jump on tickets once tourism was allowed again in the spring of 2022, and we happily returned as soon as the kids got out of school last summer.  Our family of five loves this trip more than any other.  Our 17 year old has been going yearly since he was just 6 months old, and our 13 year old twins don't remember a time when we didn't schlep the whole dang fam over there. 
Thankfully we were able to help support our friends and vendors with orders for TDL during the closure, and kept containers coming - but nothing beats working directly with artisans and collectors - and visiting with people we have been working with for decades.    
Here is how it all went - can't wait to be back this summer!
The arched bamboo entree to Villa Nelayan 
We started off near Canggu on a quieter lane called Jalan Nelayan.  We picked a villa we have enjoyed before, that is big enough to welcome our group.  This year we not only had my mom, Linda, our dear TDL foundress - but also Shane, our warehouse manager, and his brother.  We started a new TDL benefit a few years ago where employees with seniority get taken on international buying trips once a year.  We had to put it on pause for a bit with the pandemic, but we are back on track now!  Shane has been with us for over 17 years and we were so excited to have him experience Asia for the first time. 
We have a number of great vendors tucked away off the toursited lanes that have great collections of old things and oddities.  It's always fun to start the buying trip off with cool old finds.
Villa Nelayan
A favorite vendor tucked down a lane in the warrens of lanes north of Jl Sunset

Picking out old carved panels


Listening to our own advice, we spent an afternoon getting away from it all a bit by booking a reservation at Sunday's Beach Club in Uluwatu- it is accessed by a funicular that takes guests down a steep cliff to a beach close to Melasti beach - which is a nice local spot if you don't want to pay for a "club" experience.  

Now Uluwatu is definitely touristy - but if you come to these less crowded areas it can still be a lovely quiet day.  Just know that entering or exiting the peninsula from the main island takes time.  There is just one main road to this area and it does get quite backed up.

The beach next to Sunday's Beach Club

On the long drive back to Canggu we stopped at the huge sculpture garden of Garuda Wisnu Kencana.  This is a site that seems to mostly cater to Indonesian tourists - remember that Bali is but one island of 17,000 plus with a population of over 270 million!  There is the massive statue of Vishnu and his faithful mount, Garuda - and there are daily cultural dances one can watch in a stunning setting.

We caught a dance in the twilight

Shane and Garuda

We then made our way up to the villages outside of Ubud, to our absolute favorite villa in Bali, Villa Sagitta.  Perched atop a river gorge, Sagitta is a haven of tranquility about 30 minutes drive from the center of Ubud.

Not only is Sagitta beautiful, it is expertly run like a small luxury hotel.  They have an amazing chef and there is a menu for nightly meals and a la carte snacks.  Breakfasts, like at many Bali villas is included. 

I can't wait to be back this summer!

The amazing joglo ceiling of our room at Villa Sagitta
Caning Sari - the little offerings to the Gods that dot every street in Bali, laid near the temple above that is just down the lane from Villa Sagitta.
One of our lounge areas at Villa Sagitta - with big, old teak daybeds like we always have at TDL, and a free form coffee table that we commonly bring in on our containers.
I can hear the birds and the drone of fireflies as I look at this image of the afternoon sun slanting through the palms poolside.  Heaven.
A sampling of a day's sourcing work in Bali - hand woven Balinese baskets, carved Sumba stone, toothy carved tigers, primitive terracotta, and beaded Java rice offering bowls.
Another fun family friendly Bali activity is to take a downhill bike tour through villages and rice fields outside of Ubud.  We took our three kids on this for the first time last year and we all loved it.
Piles of old carved panels from houses in Java stacked in a favorite wholesale vendor's attic. 
Little boys dressed up for Galungan - the holy days in Bali that signify the triumph of good over evil. 
At one of the many stone carvers outside of Ubud - we have some gorgeous Buddhas and Ganeshas at TDL right now - so amazing in the garden - even here in the desert!
Another great kid friendly activity is to take a Balinese cooking class at the Como Uma Ubud hotel.  We have done this a couple times now and it is a must do!  Amazing food and instruction from their head chef himself.
Linda with our dear friend Made - we have been working with him since 1995!  Made is like my Balinese brother.

The view of the shallow waters of Lembongan - famous for its seaweed farms and amazing turquoise water.  This scene is from the popular restaurant The Deck - great drinks and snacks come with this view!

After our week of working in Ubud we took Shane on the ferry to Lembongan for a couple of seaside days before his long journey back to the USA.  

Our Airbnb - badminton with this view - heaven!

Our happy crew after a great snorkeling trip - wish we could show you all the amazing fish and coral we saw.  This is the real reason to come to Lembongan and Penida - the pristine reefs.  It's very easy to hire a local fisherman to take your family out for a few hours.  Start early and you will have a lot of the most popular stops to yourself!

After the ferry ride back to Sanur on Bali we said goodbye to Shane and his brother.  It was amazing to see Bali through their eyes - I love showing our love for it all to first timers - and especially to Shane who is such an amazing part of our TDL family!

Traditional fishing boats in Candi Dasa on the east coast of Bali

Our bedroom made with an antique joglo at Villa Cocomaya in Candi Dasa - a forever favorite we have been going to for years.  I also wrote about it the blog post about how Bali is a top notch destination for the "design obsessed" like us!  Click here to read that article.

We still had a little time left to work and to enjoy our family vacation time and spent a few days in Candi Dasa, and went back to both Ubud and Canguu.

Our cute little Airbnb in Ubud for our smaller group - we welcomed one of our oldest son's friends and his dad for the last leg of our trip.

The amazing new showroom of one of our favorite shops in Ubud, actually in all of Indonesia - Kuluk Gallery.  It is a MUST for anyone visiting Bali.

Had to bring the kids back to the famous Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud!

We always like to finish up our trips to Bali with a few last sunsets in the Canggu / Seminyak area.  It's always so hard to leave - but know we will keep returning as long as we can, so it's never too bittersweet.

Hope you've enjoyed this looooong blog post on Bali.  Let us know if you have any questions about planning your own adventure to this magic place - or if you weren't quite able to fit all the treasures in your suitcase to bring home!  We love the arts, crafts, and old furniture of Indonesia and have lots of lovely stock all year round!  Take a peek on the website but know that we have dozens of teak benches, daybeds, artifacts, pottery, and old carved panels too big for the site in our showroom - we can always send photos and dimensions and get shipping quotes!


1 comment

Oh my gosh!! Thank you so much for this amazing inspiration and insight!!
We have just entered our ‘season of travel’.
Your posts have always made me yearn for the places you visit.
We are spending a month in San Miguel de Allende this fall!! Thailand first of ’24….thinking Morocco after that….

I met a gal last night from Paradise Valley (we live in Prescott now). I suggested she check out my favorite stores travel blogs!!!

All the best! x

Lisa Atkins May 27, 2023
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