North and South Bali share few similarities. The weather. The people. The environment. All drastically different despite only being separated by 50 or so kilometres. All travellers experience the South, but few make it to the North of the island. This is a mischance!
The North is the place for those that want to get away from the tourist haven of the South and experience something more wild and raw; to experience a relatively untarnished representation of Balinese Life.
The North is an entirely different landscape from the South, typified by dense jungles, raging waterfalls, jagged highland mountains, monkeys and dogs, and people living truly subsistent lifestyles. If you want to see the true Bali, this is where you must go.
But, this contrast has come-about because Northern Bali is relatively untouched by tourism. The distance from the islands only international airport dissuades many from visiting. In line with this comes the need for an entirely different method of travel distinct from the convenient south Bali. Most importantly, how can you travel on the cheap in the disjunct North.
This is not an article on things to do in the North. It is about the most economically efficient way to travel so as to fully experience the local environment and culture on the cheap. If you are looking for adventure try Bali’s 9 waterfalls in 9 days or The Top 10 Things to do in North Bali.
Where to stay?
North Bali is a large area with many things to see. Unfortunately, they are disjunct and there are few, if not none, local taxis eagerly scouting for tourists. Unless you organise a private driver and are willing to spend a premium fee, you will find yourself in the middle of nowhere with few options.
With this in mind, you need to place yourself in a position that is central to everything with viable amenities and resources. This would be in the region surrounding Lake Buyan. The main highway runs directly pass this lake, providing the best starting point for anywhere in the region. Hotels are scattered all along this stretch of the road and many locals have set up various shops catered to local and foreign travellers. Also, most trails and attractions in the region connect to this road.
Hotels in the area go for around 200,000 IDR, or about $19 AUD, a night. But, if you look around and travel wiser you can get them cheaper. If you are travelling with a group or a friend and willing to share a room it will make things cheaper. For example, a room at the One Homestay and Warung costs only $7 AUD, including breakfast, a night when split between two people.
If you use any online booking sites, such as booking.com, and time your stay right, you can always save with unique offers, flash sales and super cheap deals. Just be flexible, patient and bring a friend!
How to get there?
Now that you know where you are going, it is time to get there. Most taxi’s will take you to Buyan, but it is likely to cost you in excess of 600,000 IDR. Unless you are travelling in a large group and split the bill, it is not a viable option. Thankfully, there is an alternative. But, it is a bit… rough.
You are going to have to do it how the locals do it. Mini buses run from Denpasar to Buyan daily. Most do not go directly to the lake, instead zigzagging across the country, dropping off and picking up people and packages. Eventually they will make it. Though sometimes it can take up to 8 hours – a private taxi could do it in 2-3 hours. But, most commonly it takes about 4 hours and costs 60,000 IDR per person. (Depending on your luggage you may have to pay for a second seat).
The bus leaves Ubung Terminal in Denpasar around 0900hrs, bound for Seririt. It makes a stop of in the Munduk region, the location of Lake Buyan, a bit after lunch. It is best to come to the terminal early, around 0800 hrs to purchase a ticket, beat the crowd and ensure your spot on the bus.
Getting from A to B.
The best and cheapest way to get around North Bali, much like the rest of the island, is by scooter. There really is no rival in a cost + convenience equation.
Most hotels rent out scooters or will happily put you in contact with a rental company – it is best to email the hotel prior to arrival just to double check.
You should expect to pay 70,000 IDR per day. However, most companies will do it cheaper if you rent for multiple days and haggle. (I rented a scooter for three days and got it down to 170,000 IDR). If you are a good haggler, you could get it much lower.
If you can ride a scooter in Denpasar, you can ride one in the North. The roads are nowhere near as crazy. And if you are not comfortable in Denpasar, the North is the best place to practice riding. You will not regret trying! Just be prepared for a few long hauls to reach the best spots.
Where to eat.
There is no shortage of chow-down spots around Buyan. You are only limited by your preference and budget. There are many upbeat restaurants that have adopted foreign cuisines purchasable at a reasonably cheap price. But, you cannot go past local street food for affordability and taste!
If you are worried about trying street food, you should not be. A lot of the stigma is borne out of excessive western standards of cleanliness and individuals raised on a silver spoon. Ultimately, doing little more than making pansies out of people and limiting them from experiencing the splendour of Balinese cuisines. Most shops pride themselves on a clean working area and producing quality food. But, there is the very odd few. If you are concerned about a vendor, my only advice to you is;
Drink bottled water. Eat where others eat. Avoid meat.
While in Bali, I ate street food for every meal for nearly a month with no issues. Each meal comprised of a main dish and a bottled drink, rarely costing more than 30,000 IDR, or about $2.50 AUD.
There is not much else you need to know for travel in the North. This side of the island is perfect for those adventurous souls wanting to get away from the hustle-bustle of Denpasar or the touristy Canggu to experience a more untarnished representation of Balinese life. Now that you know you can reach the North on the cheap…