Crossing Streets in Kuta
“How long you stay?” the immigration officer asks as we hand over our passports, prepared to pull out money for our visas and proof of ongoing travel.
“21 days, we leave February 24th.”
“Ok, you no need no visa, you have 30 days in Indonesia.”
Dan and I both look at each other, put our passports away, and shuffle away from immigration as quickly as we can.
“That was a hell of a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.” We had been warned by Lonely Planet to have the exact change of $30 USD ready for entry, and that we wouldn’t even be let into the country if we didn’t have proof that we eventually planned to leave.
Foregoing any kind of bag search because apparently we weren’t required to, we exit the airport in Denpasar and are immediately hit by a thick cloud of humidity and the loud shrill of about 150 taxi drivers lined along a fence to scream at new arrivals.
“TRANSPORT! TRANSPORT! YOU NEED TRANSPORT?”
After the quiet, cool, dry year we spent in New Zealand, the intensity of our first few minutes in Indonesia overwhelmed all 5 of my senses in more than a few ways. Southeast Asia has a special smell about it…by special, I mean you regularly get hit with the scent of a poorly designed sewage system hiding just out of plain view. We had officially left the comforts of the western world.
We picked up a SIM card and reluctantly followed some strange man, claiming to be a cab driver, up a few floors of the parking garage to his car. We told him the name of our hotel and he said he could get us there for “One hundred and fifty thousand rupiah.” That seemed a little steep, as anything might when you start adding thousands to it, but we converted it in our app and realized that’s about $11 USD, and actually perfectly reasonable for 20 minute cab ride for 2 people.
We were welcomed at our first hotel, The ONE Legian Kuta, ( FYI: Legian is how they spell it, not us. ) by the news that we were unable to check-in until 2, so we went to the bar near the reception and ordered a couple of BOGO fruity vacation cocktails to toast with.
“Babe, we’re in Bali now, HAPPY BIRFDAY,” I obnoxiously exclaim, because I have to remind Dan every 5 minutes which crazy ass place we are in now, just so that it seems real to me.
The ONE Legian was a reasonably nice place, featuring two pools, one on the ground floor and one on the rooftop with a really cool rooftop bar/restaurant, a bar right near the reception area, and another bar/restaurant on the ground floor. We wanted to stay a second night, but the reception area told us it was significantly more expensive to just add another night right there, so we had to do it online. We tried to do it online, but the websites kept telling us it was full, and the hotel’s own website wasn’t working. It cost us about 537,000 IDR ( $41.00 USD) for one night, so we figured “screw it”, we will just book the place next door for the next night.
I have a horrible habit of booking plane tickets so that we end up flying on Dan’s birthday, and this one was no exception. I blame the algorithm on discount travel websites for always suggesting it as the cheapest fly date. Exhausted, but ready to flip the switch into holiday mode, we got our lives together and decided to at least try to make it out for Dan’s birthday dinner. The main strip in Kuta is a narrow patch of asphalt, hardly wide enough to accommodate the two lanes of traffic squeezed into it. There are taxis and scooters backed up as far as the eye can see, with several hundred brave maniacs weaving in and out of traffic, up onto the sidewalks, and anywhere they can to get by it on their motorbikes. The chaotic street is lined perhaps even more chaotically with vendors who are extremely aggressive. They will block your pathway and even grab on your arms to try and lure you into their shops to buy things. If you’re in a shopping mood, this can be great…barter with them and you can usually get a good deal on anything from cheap clothing, sunglasses, hats, electronics, shoes…you name it. If you’re not feeling shopping, the pushy people demanding you give them your money will get old within about 50 feet of sidewalk. From massage parlors, to bars, to vendors, to small shop owners, they all sit on the sidewalk waiting for you to walk by, and they all yell at you when you do.
We knew Kuta was the supposedly the least desirable place in Bali that we could have chosen to start our trip at, but we had plans to catch a fast boat to the Gili Islands from nearby Serangan in two days, so we decided we might as well experience it for ourselves. Kuta is somewhere you either love or hate, but if you take it for what it is, it can be alright. It was suggested to us that we not miss Stakz Bar and Grill while we were there, and with the only exception being the absolute mission it takes to find the place, we have to agree that it was an awesome meal. When we finally found it, located down a dark alleyway, off of a side street, off of the main street…we were greeted by friendly Balinese locals that were bee-bopping to the music as they dropped off welcome shots at our table. Dan had a surf and turf steak and fish combination, and I had herb-crusted tuna steak. This dinner would also be our first encounter with Bintang, the local, and pretty much only beer, that one can imbibe on in Bali. Bintang tastes a bit like PBR that got hot in the trunk of your car while you were out running errands before your house party. That skunky, warm, old taste will become one we get to know extremely well over the next few weeks. Get creative and drop a fresh slice of lemon or lime into one of those things for an instant flavor makeover.
The walk home through the crowded streets took the very last bit of what we had left in us, and our long day of travel finally caught up. We crashed early, but as we expected, the noise in the streets went all night.
The next day we collected our stuff and walked over to the hotel next door, an over-the-top Vegas-wannabe, the Fashion TV Love Hotel. We were escorted inside to the waiting area that was nestled right next to a red carpet that ended at a large screen showing shots of supermodels walking the runway and laying by the pool. No one nearby looked anything like a supermodel, but I suppose the goal of a place like this is to try and make you feel like one. When our room was ready we were escorted upstairs, and to my delight, we discovered that everything in the place was shaped like diamonds. Trash cans, clothing hangers, coffee cups, cocktail tumblers, water bottles, soap, shampoo, you name it….diamonds.
After an incredible dinner at Fat Chow, a little I think the whole Vegas-Wynn vibe of this place got both Dan and I into the party mood, so we cleaned ourselves up later that night and went upstairs to the Fashion Love Bar and had fancy diamond-shaped cocktails to pre-game before heading to Sky Garden.
We tripped over beggars and dodged aggressive street vendors on the short walk over to the club. Kuta is really no different than any other grimy place that exists for the sole purpose of partying…the freaks come out at night. We were offered every drug that I can name off the top of my head, but politely declined.
Sky Garden was a massive operation, a single building containing 8 separate pubs and clubs functioning as one night out experience. The security was pretty intense, but with good reason, there was a massive nightclub bombing on October 12th, 2002, just down the road that killed 202 people and injured 209 others. [We found out where that was by accidentally wandering by the bombing site on a way to our way to a water park the next day, ironically named, Waterbom.]
I had a bit of a skirmish with a woman at security who tried to remove my long sleeve shirt from me and then charge me to keep it in a locker, because seriously… it was bullshit. We finally made it upstairs, grabbed a couple of beers, and headed out to the dancefloor. An hour or so after our arrival we both started to smell gasoline, which we found to be a bit concerning, as you would if you consider the little history lesson I just gave you above. A few minutes later the DJ stopped and the stage came alive with Balinese fire dancers! Suddenly the smell made sense! This was when we realized this was way better than some run-of-the-mill nightclub, and we may actually have a little fun tonight. They put on a really awesome show, followed by a lazer/lightsaber ninja dancer guy. You’ll just have to see the videos to understand that one. Two thumbs up for Sky Garden. The Balinese acts alone are worth the trip.
All in all, we agree with a lot of people that say Kuta is a bit of a lost paradise. Trash-filled beaches, strange smells, wasted people running amuck…it stands side-by-side with the dirtier parts of Vegas or Cancun, but we’ve all had our debauchery-filled nights in those places. The reality of Bali is that Kuta is right next to the airport, and at some point, you’re probably going to find yourself there. Just take it for what it is, and if you’re stuck there for a couple of days because you booked things ahead of time based off of guide books that glossed over all of the grimy details, just have a little fun with it.
Here is your quick guide to Kuta:
You can get ripped off really easily in small ways by people left and right if you are easily coerced by aggressive people, so be prepared to have confront people and put them in their place. Usually, they will immediately back down and just try again on the next poor sucker.
WHERE TO EAT:
STAKZ BAR& GRILL
Hidden in a discreet alleyway, not far from the main stretch, don’t blink…or you might miss this place. You will be greeted by a friendly and upbeat staff, ready to welcome you with shots to get your night going. The food here is pretty top notch and we highly recommend it. Keep your meal diverse by partaking in a juicy, perfectly-cooked steak paired with fresh caught fish, or as some may say, surf n’ turf. Visit their facebook site for more information.
Industrial decor mixed with local art work lends this restaurant a very Western coffee shop feel, and if you didn’t know about it, you might be unfortunate enough to miss it. Expect classic Asian recipes with a unique twist that you will only find at Fat Chow. We sampled everything from chicken satay to beef udon noodle soup and every dish was spectacular. Still not convinced? Check out their website, your mouth will be watering in no time!
WHERE TO STAY:
THE ONE LEGIAN KUTA
Featuring a decent, young, friendly atmosphere, clean modern rooms, two pools, and an in-house spa. This place exceeded our expectations when booking on a budget. Visit their site to check it out.
FASHION TV’s LOVE HOTEL
This place has that Vegas feel to it with over the top decorations and a slight perfume smell in the hallways. Still a fantastic spot to spend the night if you find yourself in Kuta, it is walking distance to shopping, restaurants, the beach, and nightlife. Visit here for more information.
DAY TIME ACTIVITIES
If you enjoy wading through plastic rubbish at the beach in Kuta, more power to you… but if you prefer the sand we suggest Seminyak or any of the other beaches in the area. We chose to spend a day at Waterbom, Kuta’s spectacular waterpark. This place has everything you could possibly want in a waterpark and more, like several swim-up bars for adults, play areas for kids, and spas for those who prefer to stay dry. Rated the #1 waterpark in Asia, professional fun-haver Devin Supertramp features the park in one of his amazing adventure videos. Check out the video here.
520,000 Rupiah ($39 USD) gets you an all-day access pass. Check it out here for more information.
NIGHT TIME ACTIVITIES
We weren’t planning on going out and partying in Kuta, but after all, it was Dan’s birthday, so when we did decide to get our crunk on, we walked from our room at Fashion Love Hotel to the Sky Garden Night Club. Top Dj’s from around the world frequently headline this place. Don’t be alarmed when you smell gasoline, it’s just the fire dancers getting ready! Visit here for more information.
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Global Giraffe is a travel blog that is focused on keeping it real. This isn't a fluffy rainbow magical travel blog, here you'll find real life situations, tips, and advice for the everyday person that wants to know more about places they've never been to. After leaving Denver, Colorado, we decided to try to take on the world, one odd job at a time. For more updates follow Global Giraffe on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.