by Michaela Franklin, a contributor based in Oman who travels with her partner. She has provided all of the photos for this piece.
We recently visited Bali, a popular island province for tourism in Indonesia, as part of a longer trip and we stayed in the country for about five days, which was amazing! Our trip took us to both touristy Ubud and metropolitan Seminyak. All costs listed below are in U.S. dollars.
Initially we stayed at Bee House Sanctuaries, which cost $173- $280 per night, depending on the suite. The villa we had was shaped like a bee. It came with a lovely pool and the villa was spacious with a large floating tub and shower. We enjoyed floating breakfast, spa services, and staff also arranged our tour and transport. Afterwards we rented a large private villa at Samkhya Villa resort at a cost of $100 per night. Our villa was located right off Ubud City center. It was big and lovely and had both a nice private pool and views of the valley. It was incredibly peaceful. The villa even had a shower that was completely outside.
Okay, so look: if you are not a nature person this may not be for you. A lot of the villas there have an indoor/outdoor concept for the bathrooms. Where part of the bathroom is basically outside. It’s covered but it’s not also shut off in a typical way. For example at our second villa, the bathtub was completely in the forest. I LOVED this part, but my boyfriend was not as amused.
For the last portion, we stayed at a Marriott property, Fairfield Bali Legion at $80 and up and per night for the suites.) We stayed in the one bedroom king suite with a whirlpool. I would highly recommend it, as it’s super close to most of the clubs and bars.
Getting around is super cheap using cabs/taxis. Okay, so for Ubud, let me keep it a buck: as soon as drivers hear your accent or find out you’re a Westerner, they are definitely going to charge you more. There are no taxi apps allowed in the area so the private guys have a monopoly and charge whatever they feel like. You can negotiate or not. Just keep in mind that 100,000 Indonesian rupiah (IDR) is about $6, so if you really want to haggle over a dollar or two, that’s your business. For longer trips, we negotiated but for the most part for local taxis we just left it alone, sometimes it was not worth the headache and time. Once you get into Seminyak, however, there are taxi apps where you get a flat rate or by meter charge. We used the Grab app.
We visited the Aloha Swing Ubud/Tegalalang Rice Field, which is basically the famous swing and rice fields that you see in typical photos. The cost to enter is about $3 for two people. We did the swing, zipline, and nest photo shoot. Most things cost less than $20. Our whole day tour including a private car and travel guide was roughly $50. Do bring cash to make sure you tip the tour guides and the swing operators. TRUST ME these dudes work to get you the perfect shot.
The Ubud Monkey Forest was a super fun experience! The monkeys are just as mannish as those videos and pictures floating around online suggest. The monkeys roam very freely and will often jump or try to touch you. So if you have a real fear of animals, don’t do it because you will faint.
Be advised that the Tirta Empul Water Palace is a religious site and will require modest attire. Workers there supply sarongs and coverings for tourists. It’s a beautiful experience. The temple is big, with large bathing sites, and prayer offerings.
When we arrived in Indonesia, we came on the heels of Nyepei, which is the new year. The celebration is all-night and is highlighted by a carnival which includes a show where the locals created huge figurines/statues out of bamboo, clay, and other materials. It’s a very similar vibe to West Indian carnivals, with all of the dancing and food- just more clothing..lol. It’s amazing honestly. We stayed out on the streets until the wee hours watching the shows and community presentations.
The next day was a silent day, which means a day of rest and tribute. This meant no one could go outside and all businesses were closed. We were confined to the resort, but it was fine with us. We used the time as a spa day and just enjoyed all the lovely in-room dining and gorgeous views from our villa. Also, while Bali is known as extremely hot and humid, the weather was actually pretty mild.
While traveling, I like to make a point to stay or buy local. We went to a few salons where we tried ear candling and a variety of other massages and services. Juwani Mani Salon is highly recommended. It’s in the cut but the ladies are really sweet. The spa services in Indonesia are extremely cheap.
With regards to nightlife in the town of Ubud, Seminyak is where the majority of the clubs are, but Ubud’s center area has a few places, too. We went to a place called CP Lounge. It had multiple rooms, a live band, a dj, bars, billiards, and a pool.
For Seminyak, I highly recommend La Favela. It’s inspired by Brazilian culture and was originally a mansion that got repurposed. It has three floors and lots of bars/rooms with super cool, eclectic vibes and definitely a photoshoot-worthy scene. It’s also located off of one of the more popular strips, so you can walk outside and club hop if you want.
We also went to Mirror, which is a club kind of tucked away from the main strip. The inside is decorated like a gothic church. The windows are also colorful mosaic, and the inside is dark and lit only in purple lights. The dj played mostly hip-hop, amapiano, and Afrobeats. We highly recommend a trip to Bali. We are definitely going to make it a repeat trip!
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Malaysia is a gem. I think the best way to describe Kuala is: COOL. It’s urban, cosmopolitan, and grey. Skyscrapers and millions of city lights dot the skyline. The city was a complete 180 from the relaxed island vibes of Bali. While we originally had plans to do an outdoor retreat and a few excursions outside the city, it rained heavily most of the time we were there, so this limited our activities to indoors and inside the city.
We stayed at the W Kuala Lumpur, which cost between $461 and $518 per night for the suites. I want to take this time to focus mainly on Malaysian hospitality. It was hands down some of the best customer service I’ve ever received. Everyone was warm and willing to go the extra mile to try to make our experience the best. This wasn’t just in the hotel; it was just in general exchanges overall.
So let me tell you about the W. I’ve stayed in W hotels in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Jordan. However, I think the W Kuala is my favorite of them all. My boyfriend was celebrating a birthday and prior to our arrival, I informed the staff of our upcoming visit. They went above and beyond to make sure his weekend was special. The events manager, Erul, deserves a huge shoutout for really making this experience extraordinary.
The W Kuala is luxury. Straight up. First off, the first amenity you are greeted with at reception is a vending machine of Moet champagne. YES. There is a vending machine that disburses only Moet. You can imagine that this set the tone for us for the remainder of our stay.
We stayed in the Marvelous Suite, which lives up to its name. The bathroom is massive, the living room was dope, and the bed was literally fluffy angel soft mattress goodness. We were not mad AT ALL about staying inside and not leaving that wonderful place.
The hotel has a ton of options, which really worked well for the weather restrictions. Our favorite place was Flock, the main dining restaurant. It serves a HUGE breakfast buffet. I’ve never seen so many options for food. Because we have stayed at a number of Marriott hotels, you start to memorize and predict the breakfast layout, but W Kuala surprised me completely. I also loved the live cooking stations and how the kitchen was part inside and outside the restaurant. For lunch we were treated to a lovely eight-course sampler menu. We enjoyed a mix of local and foreign dishes such as the char kway teow, the barramundi, the bubur cha cha, raw oysters, mussels, and the club sandwich.
Aside from the weather, one of the other reasons why we were a bit restricted was due to Ramadan, a religious period of fasting during daylight hours. While not severely strict, there were still some adjustments city-wide out of respect for the culture.
Getting around we used a driver for one day and mainly used the Grab app for taxis. Taxis are fairly cheap as well. Most of our trips were about four to five bucks at most.
We enjoyed a nice pool day at the Wet Deck. It was massive with an industrial aesthetic. It also may just have the best view in town with the Patrona Twin Towers directly in front of the building. At night, the Wet Deck turns into a very sexy happy hour complete with dj and live music. After our pool day, we decided to hang out at Woobar, which was fashioned like a modern version of a speakeasy. We enjoyed nice sundowner cocktails with fish, caviar, and chicken tapas.
Shopping-wise, there’s a lot to choose from and most of the major malls are within a one kilometer radius of one another. I suggest Starhill Mall, which is the newest addition to the line up. I would also recommend the Pavilion Mall.
My boyfriend is a big watch aficionado, so for one of his birthday gifts, I hired a private driver, and booked a tour with a few Swiss watch favorites. We visited Rolex, Patek Phillippe, and Audemars Piguet. You know how I mentioned earlier that Malaysian customer service is exceptional? If you are familiar with the watch climate right now, it’s nearly impossible to find and receive a watch without being put on a waiting list that can go anywhere from three months to three years, depending on what watch you are looking for. We have visited the same retailers in four other countries, however, let’s just say my boyfriend came out way happier with his experience in Malaysia versus other boutiques.
One of the other highlights for me in Malaysia was kombucha! For all of my kombucha enthusiasts, Malaysia is the promised land. For those unfamiliar kombucha is a fermented drink made with tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast. Despite the mixture, it’s absolute deliciousness! There was an overabundance of kombucha in quite literally every retail space we went to. There were so many flavors to choose from, from blueberry to passion fruit. I was in seventh heaven.