Together with my wife Janelle and our two children Rebekka (3 years) and Aleksander (9 months), I spent a month on Bali in March of 2001. We had a fantastic time and are definitely going back. Below are some hints for other travelers that might be useful.
As we live in Norway, getting to Bali takes quite a few hours. We therefore flew on Scandinavian Airlines which has an evening departure. Leaving at nighttime proved to be perfect; the kids slept for several hours on the way to Asia. We spent a few days in Singapore before moving on to our main destination.
We found the airport in Bali to be much less hectic and confusing than what we experienced on our first visit to the island four years ago. We had no problems getting through passport control, and neither the porters nor the drivers were as aggressive as we had feared.
Before departure, we had decided to stay two weeks in Sanur and two weeks in Lovina. After researching this forum extensively, we decided on Radisson Suites in Sanur - a hotel we found to be perfect for a family with small kids. We got a three-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms and a kitchen, which meant that the kids got their own bedrooms and which enabled us to get up in the middle of the night to heat some milk if the need arose. The apartment was very spacious and clean, and the staff was friendly and helpful.
Radisson Suites is not on the beach, but the hotel offers hourly transport from its grounds to a supermarket and to a nice beach on the south side of Sanur. (The hotel also offers hourly transport to its sister hotel Radisson Hotel.) The Radisson beach was nice and clean, and close by were some small beachfront restaurants perfect for lunch. We tried several of them (always going to the ones where there were already other westerners) and found the food to be very good and very cheap - not a bad combination when you are on holiday.
In Lovina, we stayed at the Puri Bagus Hotel. It is situated about a ten minutes' drive from "downtown" Lovina, but as it turned out, we didn't find this a problem at all. The Puri Bagus does not offer regular hotel rooms, instead all guests stay in individual bungalows. Most of them have a view of the sea, a nice balcony and an outdoor shower.
The staff at the Puri Bagus were the nicest and most helpful of any hotel that we have ever stayed at. They were always smiling and there to help us, and especially the restaurant staff were great with our kids. During many breakfasts they came to our table, picked up Aleksander and played with him so that we could have a leisurely meal.
Talking of breakfast, I also have to mention that the breakfast at Puri Bagus is highly recommended. They usually have a buffet with all kinds of traditional items in addition to several kinds of juice, fruit and vegetables. And the restaurant offers a fantastic view of the swimming pool and the sea.
Always use the blue taxis in the Sanur and Denpasar area! Every time we asked the hotel to get us a cab we told them we wanted a blue taxi, whose drivers always use a meter. The rate starts at 3,000 rp, and on several occasions it had only reached 5,000 rp when we got to our destinations. On two occasions the drivers told us that the minimum charge was 6,000 rp, but at all other times the driver only asked for what the meter stated.
Not so with other taxis. You always have to bargain, but having done some travelling with the blue taxis, you quickly get to know the approximate rate. Agree on the price before you get into the car, and walk away if they charge too much. There are lots of other drivers willing to take you.
For day trips and longer excursions, we used Mr. Agung Suta who has been highly recommended in earlier forum entries. And rightly so. We found Agung to be punctual and always in a good mood, and best of all - a very good driver. We drove on some pretty curving roads, but he always made sure to turn them as gently as possible. He is an English teacher in Ubud, which means that he is both knowledgeable and that he speaks good English. We would certainly recommend Agung to anyone travelling in Bali.
I guess all readers of this forum has heard about Toot Sie, but I also feel a need to recommend this tiny store at the Sindhu Beach Market in Sanur. As suggested by other forumites, we went to Toot Sie on one of the first days, enabling us to get a feeling for what the price is supposed to be on T-shirts, kids' clothes etc. Since the store does not practice bargaining, the shopping experience is hassle free and pleasant, and the girls working there are very nice and often can get you items not necessarily regularly at hand. We liked Toot Sie so much that we visited four times during our month on Bali.
Being on Bali for the second time - and having done some "research" at Toot Sie - we found it easier to bargain this time around. But, you have to be tough and just walk away if the price they offer doesn't match what you want to pay. Many times we found the sellers asking for an exuberant price - for example 80,000 rp for a T-shirt we bought at Toot Sie for 15,000. Also remember to bargain at fruit markets, otherwise you'll be paying what's locally known as "tourist price."
For a pleasant, air-conditioned shopping experience, I recommend Matahari or Ryanmar department stores in Denpasar. You get there easily by a blue taxi, and the stores all have fixed prices. At the top floor of Ryanmar is an Internet café with the lowest rates we ever saw on Bali.
What to buy? We got lots of kids' clothes and T-shirts, sandals, toys and books. At the basement level of Matahari in Denpasar is a large bookstore, where we found lots of good educational books for the kids. I also got myself a new pair of glasses at a store right across from Ryanmar in Denpasar. Getting them made took about half an hour, and I paid 800,000 rp (it is possible to get them cheaper if you go for other frames.)
Day trips, long drives and excursions
Though it might seem tempting to rent a car and be on your own, we do not recommend it on Bali. There are several reasons, but most of all because it is not much more expensive to rent a car AND a driver for a day. In addition, traffic is often confusing, the Balinese drive quite aggressively and many of the roads are not printed on a map.
Our first day trip was to the Mother Temple on the eastern side of Bali. Getting there took about two hours (with Agung as our driver), and we spent about one and a half hour visiting the temple. It was obvious that this is a tourist destination, because there were charges for all kinds of things. You had to pay to get into the parking lot, you had to pay to be allowed to take pictures (!) and you had to hire a local guide to show you around. It was all worth it, though, but try to go there on a clear day, as the view of the mountain behind the temple is quite unique.
We also had Agung drive us between Sanur and Lovina. On this trip you get to see a lot of Bali, and you should therefore plan to spend most of the day getting there. Stop often to take pictures or to buy fruit, drinks and souvenirs. A word of warning: The last 30 minutes on the way from Sanur to Lovina are very curvy, and it is easy to get car sick no matter how good a driver you have.
While in Sanur, we went on a fantastic day-trip to the island of Lembongan. The trip was arranged through WakaLouka Cruises, and we would certainly recommend such an excursion. The two hour sailing trip to the island was nice, and coffee and pastries were served as soon as we left Bali. The crew was very helpful, and we had a great time on the island where we could snorkle or swim in the sea, or just spend a leisurely day at the swimming pool. We were served a great lunch with unlimited beer and wine, and before heading back we went on an interesting trip to some inland parts of the island. The price for all this was about USD 80 per person, which included roundtrip transportation between the harbor and the hotel.
From Lovina, we went on a day trip to the mountain and volcano area of Kintamani. The drive took about two hours on roads that were even more curvy than the one going down to Lovina. I would not recommend this trip unless you can really take bad roads and unless you really want to see the mountain. The area of Kintamani is a tourist trap if there ever is one, and it is one of just two places we visited were sellers were annoyingly aggressive. As soon as our car stopped at the restaurant where we were going to have lunch, sellers of all kinds and ages circled the car. They held their items in front of our faces and tried to sell anything from sarongs and postcards to wood carvings and fruit. The view of the mountain was great, but in hindsight we found that this was a day trip we could have been without. However, if you combine the trip with a hike to the top of the volcano early in the morning, it is probably worth it. We'll do that next time...
We also went on a half day trip arranged by guest relations manager Tony at the Puri Bagus Hotel. We drove for an hour into the mountain, and then went on a fascinating trekking trip through rice fields and fruit plantations. Along the way we saw coffee, cacao, rambutan and salak trees, and after the walk we arrived at a coffee plantation where lunch was waiting for us. We also got a guided tour of the small plantation, and coffee and fried bananas were served accompanied by music and dance by the locals. This trip was the most interesting of them all, but it is not suited for children. We arranged babysitters through the Puri Bagus, which worked out just fine.
I suppose everyone has heard of the dolphins near Lovina, and of course I had to see them. I arranged transportation in an outrigger with some of the local people on the beach at Puri Bagus and agreed to meet the next morning at 6 a.m. There were three of us in the boat that day, and after putting on life jackets we headed out to sea. Soon we were accompanied by about 20 other boats with tourists, all "hunting" for dolphins. We did get to see quite a few and got some excellent pictures, but as soon as a group of dolphins were spotted, all the boats headed for the same direction. I'd therefore recommend to try to stay a bit longer at sea and not go back to the beach when everyone else returns. But, the trip was definitely worth it, and the charge was only 50,000 rp.
Hints for parents
We found travelling with small kids in Bali very easy. We came prepared, though, and brought with us all the diapers and all the formula milk we needed. This was not absolutely necessary, but we thought it would be nice to know that we had the right stuff with us. Also, as the supplies were used up, there was more and more room in our bags for souvenirs, T-shirts etc.
Weatherwise, we tried to take it easy in the middle of the day and especially avoided shopping at markets when the day was at its hottest. Instead we played on the beach or went swimming in the sea or in the hotel swimming pools. We brought a special ring for our 9 months' old son, which meant that he could float around in the water without us having to carry him all the time. The temperature in the sea was such that all of us could swim for hours without getting cold. We used lots of suntan lotion on the kids and also made sure they always wore a sun hat.
Eating out was no problem. At lots of restaurants, the staff played with our little son while we had dinner, which meant that we could often have a nice and relaxing meal. Our three-year-old Rebekka ate mostly rice, spaghetti and french fries, but she also enjoyed the various local fruits and drinks.
We arranged for babysitters through the Radisson Suites and the Puri Bagus. Both times it worked out just fine, but it helped a lot that our daughter speaks and understands English as well as Norwegian. The babysitter at Radisson Suites was very cheap, but at the Puri Bagus they asked for a very high price which we managed to bargain down a little bit.
Dangers and annoyances
During our month on Bali none of us had a stomach problem. We had a couple of strict rules that probably helped a lot: We never had green salad, and we never had ice cream.
We had one serious mishap while on Bali that we would like to warn all readers about. While on the beach at the Puri Bagus near Lovina, my wife stepped on a stone fish and got a serious and poisonous infection in her foot. She was walking on the beach and going out into the sea to swim, and didn't see the fish hiding on the black sand at ankle-high water. The pain was terrible, and we had to have a doctor see her right away. He treated her and gave her pain killers, but she had to lay still for the next two days, and her foot hurt for the next few weeks. This incident taught us how easily you can go from a state of total relaxation and feeling of being in paradise to a state of fear, pain and uncertainty. We found out later that stepping on the fish can be deadly, so we are glad that she survived and that it wasn't one of the kids that stepped on it.
South vs. north
We had originally planned to stay near Lovina for 14 days, but we found that a week was more than enough. As mentioned the Puri Bagus and its staff were great, but Lovina itself was a major disappointment. The little town was mostly Internet cafés and mediocre restaurants, and on the beach we were constantly surrounded by aggressive sellers. We tried several of the restaurants, also the Sea Breeze that had been recommended in this forum. Its location right on the beach is unique, but we found the food to be so-so and the service to be almost non-existent. One good restaurant that we would like to recommend, however, is the LiAn seafood place a couple of a hundred meters from the beach. (The restaurant staff will pick you up at your hotel and drive you back after your meal.)
What we will miss most about Bali is the good and inexpensive fruits and meals that we had. In Sanur, our favorite restaurant got to be the Bonsai Café, right on the beach a bit south of the Sindhu Beach Market. Its location is perfect for families with kids. We always brought beach toys and put the kids down in the sand while we had dinner. My absolute favourite meal of the trip was the grilled crab of the Bonsai, and we can also recommend their various special drinks. Another good restaurants we'd recommend is Istana Garden and its Chinese BBQ ribs.
We can sincerely recommend a trip to Bali - with our without kids. The people are nice, the culture is interesting, there are thousands of new and different sights and sounds, the food is good and everything is cheap. We'll definitely go back - or maybe move there if we could get a job..?