In the last year and a half I spent about 5 months off and on living in Canggu, Bali. It’s now the unofficial #1 digital nomad destination in the world and a few people have asked me for tips so I thought it would be worthwhile to put together my own little guide to living short term in Canggu.
I’ve never been a backpacker in the traditional sense. Whenever I go away for a chunk of time I tend to find one place I really like and settle down there till it’s time to go home (and then I usually go back a few times). Example:
- Ios, Greece: A tiny party island in the Cyclades, near Santorini. I went for a week, stayed for a month and returned the next summer for four months. This was when internet was dial up and you had to pay $/minute(!). I worked as a waitress at a breakfast restaurant on the mountainside overlooking the ocean and made 20 euro/day, my room was 6 euro/day and that was all I needed.
- Jaco, Costa Rica: A touristy beach town, an hour and a half from San Jose. I went for a week, came back for a month, stayed for three months, came back for another three months and then some more. I was already working as a freelance web designer in Canada and just continued working full-time in Jaco. 9-5 (give or take), Mon-Fri on my laptop, outdoors at beachside cafes, sweating like crazy and stopping when the mosquitos started to come out.
- Canggu, Bali: A touristy beach town (they seem to be my fave), close to the well-known Seminyak and Kuta areas. I visited for three days during a girls trip, came back for three weeks, then later a month, then later three months. I tried not to do the full-time thing like I did in Costa Rica, but did do a few small freelance projects while there (a little $ goes a long way in Indonesia).
I still love all three places and basically left a piece of my heart in each one. It’s crazy to see how fast they’ve grown though. In the last few years Canggu has really exploded – so much development and SO MANY digital nomads. Even if I’ve only been away for a month, Canggu is different every time I go back. This guide is very specific to my experience and my little pocket of life on the island of the gods. There is so much to do and see in Bali that I just can’t cover here, so for now…
There are definitely some misconceptions about Canggu. It’s not jungles and waterfalls and endless rice fields (although there are a few beauts left!). And on the main streets it’s crowded and loud and dusty. The beaches are not white sand and they come with their fair share of garbage (although there are lovely groups coming together to clean it). The sea is not turquoise tropic – you can go to the Gilis for that. But it IS beautiful in all its messy glory. There is peace amongst the chaos. And once you start to understand its rhythms you’ll find so much joy bubbling up from the surface and understand why it’s becoming (if it’s not already) the most popular place to live in Bali.
Why did I go?
The first time I went for an extended period, I had a yoga retreat in Keramas to go to and decided to come early (three weeks early) and give myself the first proper break I’d had in a few years. After that I went back each time with different projects in mind, like finishing my portfolio, starting up Tnfld, and doing two different yoga teacher trainings at The Practice.
Living in Australia, Bali is a quick five hour plane ride away. You can get a return flight for under $400 AUD if you’re lucky. My favourite reasons to go: Surfing, yoga, food, people and the Hindu-Balinese culture.
The thing is…Bali is cheap. Like so cheap it makes Costa Rica seem like a high flyer trip in comparison. The low cost of living, combined with a ridiculous high quality of life is why so many people end up coming and staying. The beauty of this dynamic is that if you’re trying to get an online business off the ground, study long distance, write that book, etc. it buys you time. It gives you space. All of which give you the biggest luxury of all: creative freedom.
My friend, who had never been to Bali, recently went and texted me from the airport – “Alex…I love Bali already…it smells AMAZING!”. It’s true. The island of the gods is full of dreamy incense, beautiful flowers and 3x (or more) daily offerings to the deities. There’s always music in the air, ceremonies to be performed, special holidays shutting down the streets. The ‘ishvara pranidhana’ (yoga term for ‘devotion to god’) is everywhere. The thickest thread tying together the cultural fabric.
The Balinese are some of the most kind, friendly, funny, and easy going people. Family is everything and you see that everywhere. The support system is so strong. The Hindu Balinese religion is one based on karmic beliefs, which makes it the most special community I’ve ever seen.
I highly recommend doing a day trip with the Five Pillar Foundation. I can’t recommend it enough and I’m NOT regularly a day-trip, tour type of person. It’s amazing and will start you off on the right foot in terms of beginning to understand the roots of where you’re living. Check out my “Learn/Bali” highlights on insta of my day with them (not sponsored!).
It’s really easy in a Westernised place like Canggu to skim over the Balinese culture, but if you want the full Bali experience, do yourself a favour and open up. There’s legit magic in the air there – let it in!
Don’t go to Bali expecting to find paid work. To legally work you need a KITAS permit. The government is very strict about this (especially in more populated places like Canggu) and has been known to look at social media, etc. so always be careful. Even if you’re teaching a one-off yoga class and want to advertise it online, it’s something to be mindful of.
I went with money saved and a few freelance clients and that was all I needed to get by. I’ve met people doing everything from everywhere:
- Marketers/developers/designers…and one lawyer (shout out Bibi xx) working full-time remotely for companies abroad (https://remotive.io/)
- Startups: lots of drop & ship, apps, fashion (baby wraps, bikinis, etc.)
- Online English teachers for Chinese students
- Freelance writers
- Yoga teachers working exchange for room and meals
- Bitcoin adventurers
- Online health coaches, yoga teachers, fitness gurus, life coaches, etc.
- And a lot of expats opening their own businesses in Canggu (restaurants, salons, fitness studios, luxe villas, etc.).
Co-working: There are a ton of co-working spaces now in Canggu, but I only have experience with the original: Dojo. It’s expensive, but it can’t be beat for an introduction to Canggu. Such a great, welcoming staff, awesome community, events, talks, Friday drinks (Beach & beers). So many inspiring people – you’re always learning something new. The Facebook group is one of the best resources and ex-Dojoers are still active (including me) from all over the world.
I usually get a smaller package of hours and spend most of my time working from laptop friendly cafes.
Guesthouse or villa? If you’re staying for a little while this is definitely something you’ll need to consider.
For me location is most important. To make sure I would go surfing early mornings, get to yoga on time, be able to walk home safely if I went out at night…I needed to be close to the beach and pretty much on Batu Bolong (the main street).
Check the map when you’re looking for a place, Canggu is actually quite large, long and wide. If you’re not riding a scooter you want to make sure you’re near the places you want to be. I’d also recommend booking a place for a few nights and then seeing how you feel about it once you’re there. It’s way easier to walk around and find a place you like (not to mention negotiate a better long-term deal) if you’re there in person.
It’s hard to find a villa that matched my location needs (they’re usually a lot further out), so I chose guesthouse. I loved my big room, my balcony overlooking a field, within earshot of my yoga studio (and all the “oms”).
If I was staying longer than a few months I would look into a villa, but for me (and for most of my friends) guesthouses were the way to go.
Price: I paid $22/night and stayed at D’Canggu (you can pay a lot more or a lot less, there’s something for everyone in Canggu).
Guesthouse: booking.com, airbnb, all the usuals, Villas: Facebook groups are the way to go. Try Canggu Community, Canggu Community Housing, etc.
Eating is a huge part of my day when I’m in Bali. I tend to pick spots I can stay at for a while and get some work done, so they end up doubling as an office for me. If you aren’t living in a villa you really won’t have much, if any opportunity to cook. It’s usually cheaper to eat out anyways. It’s really interesting to see how much extra time you have when you take grocery shopping, food prep and cooking out of your day.
The food in Canggu is just…wow. Like you will dream about it for the rest of your life. It’s like living in a real life Instagram foodie account and finding out there are no filters. There is nothing sweeter than sitting on the porch at The Shady Shack for a whole morning, getting your work/study/relaxing done and enjoying every minute of it.
You can get Balinese, Australian, American, Vietnamese, Mexican, Japanese, Greek or search by vegan, paleo, refined sugar free, gluten free, avocado based (seriously) – whatever your preference.
You can eat for as little as $3/meal at a local warung or go as big as you want at one of the more ‘fine dining’ restaurants. It’s all up to you and your budget.
As for drinking…I don’t really drink when I’m in Bali. The odd cider here or there, but I’m not there for the Bintangs and spirits are almost the same price they’d be in Australia. Sparse drinking helps keep my spending in check the most. It also helps me stay on track with everything else I love to do…like waking up early to surf, go to yoga, etc.
And not seriously, but also actually very seriously: coconuts. I drink at least one a day (avg. $3/coconut). Nothing better than getting a coconut, sitting on the beach, watching the sunset and listening to some live reggae.
My absolute fave places to eat in Canggu: (honestly even though a new restaurant pops up every week, these have all stood the test of time so far)
- The Shady Shack
- Cafe Vida
- Crate cafe (also the best people watching)
- La Cantina
- Paleta’s Way (yes, it’s a popsicle stand. Banana Nutella. Avocado Chocolate. I’ll just leave this right here.)
For doing (a lot) of work:
For some variety:
- Ithaka Warung
- Motion cafe
- Leroys Vietamese
- Poke Poke
- But really…there are SO MANY amazing places to eat, so just take your pick. I haven’t even started with Berawra, the next suburb over. It really never ends.
Food: I spent $15-30/day on avg. Check out my “Eat/Bali” highlights on my insta.
Yes, I live in Australia. Yes, I live a few minutes from the beach. But seriously, the surf in Canggu is my favourite. If you seem to be an eternal beginner like me, this is the place to be. On good days (and there are a lot of them) the waves are big enough to get on, but soft enough to not hurt, they break far back from the shore, and the water’s deep and gentle…it’s the most forgiving surf playground I’ve ever been to. It’s usually pretty easy to paddle out. Standing up is…dare I say…kind of easy. You get to focus on practicing your turns, your speed, etc. Just like everything else in Bali…the waves give you time and space. Also the social aspect is phenomenal, people are friendly and open, you can sit on your board and chat between waves. It’s something really special. Go early, it gets way too crowded later in the day and watch out for beginner-beginners, their boards are heavy, big and all over the place!
I’ve thought about buying a board while there before or bringing one from Aus, but in the end I always chose to rent ($5/day). Here are my reasons why:
- It’s cheaper. If it gets damaged, you pay a nominal fee and that’s it. You don’t have to spend the big $ to fix it or replace your own and there’s no downtime waiting for it to be fixed or finding a new one.
- You can change it up. Big waves = smaller board, small waves = bigger board…the waves are your canvas to paint with whatever brush you feel like.
- It’s social. You always meet other people renting, the surf hut locals, etc. Always a laugh.
You can’t come to Bali and not do some yoga.
The Practice: And if you’re going to do some yoga…you can’t go past The Practice. It’s the heart and soul of “my” Canggu. Grab a ginger tea, cozy up on a bean bag facing the garden, look out for Jamu prowling through the grass and bliss out. And then maybe get to a class or two…
This is probably my most luxe purchase. It’s more expensive than a month at a Sydney studio, but it’s 1000x worth it. This is the real deal. Get to one of Octavio’s class if you can and let me know your thoughts!
Serenity: I sometimes get a 10 pack of classes, my favourite thing to do is check out the different treehouse feeling yoga shalas and have tempe curry in their cafe. All their teachers are Balinese too, which can be a nice change of pace.
To scooter or not to scooter?
So…I don’t know ANYONE who rode a scooter and didn’t get into an accident. It definitely freaks me out. A friend’s brother was in a life-changing accident and over a year later he’s still recovering. I’ve seen more than a handful of crashes and injuries happen right in front of me. People don’t wear helmets, they don’t wear proper shoes, and they drive drunk (a lot).
That being said. It’s hard NOT to have a scooter and really experience Canggu. I was limited with where I could live and what I would do because of it, but I didn’t have a proper driver’s license at the time and I didn’t have insurance to cover any scooter injuries (***your insurance DOES NOT cover scooter accidents unless you have a scooter license back home – check into this!***). So even though I’ve seen so much firsthand I will probably drive a scooter the next time I go back (but get my license first, like my friend Ruth is doing atm).
So my advice for scooter riding is:
- Just wear the helmet. And make sure it fits.
- Wear your Supergas/Converse/runners. Don’t wear flip flops. The first thing people do in an accident is put their feet down…and it’s not pretty. I had to pull a scooter off a girl who had fallen over while driving slowly down the street in the late afternoon. The kickstand had gone straight through her foot and dollar store flip flop. It was awful 🙁 Shoes people, shoes!
- Don’t drive at night. Or at least please don’t drive drunk. You may think “I would never”, but that’s what they all say…before they do it! Things feel different when you’re in the moment.
Pretty much anything goes with scooter driving, for better or worse…
Atms are everywhere, but be smart about which ones you use – there’s a lot of skimming going on. Just stick to the highly visible, high traffic ones…I’ve never had a problem.
If you have to exchange money, get a recommendation – I’ve heard so many stories about people getting conned.
They accept card almost everywhere – the positives of living in a highly developed piece of Bali.
This is super basic advice, based on a Canadian passport experience. As always, do your research, they don’t mess around with this stuff, so get yourself in order before you go!:
- Make sure you have more than six months left on your passport otherwise they will turn you around at the airport.
- You have two easy options (there are more long term choices available, like a social visa, but I haven’t pursued them). The first one is an automatic you get 30-days as a tourist to enjoy. If you overstay your 30 days you have to pay by the day (I think it’s about $30/day atm). The second option is to do a visa extension which gives you 60 days, but you need to make sure you buy the ‘visa on arrival’ that allows you to extend it with a visa agent past the initial 30 days. I think all-in-all the whole thing cost around $100, but I could be wrong (did not keep track). Doing a visa run is really common and pretty much essential if you want to stay longer. There are cheap flights to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, etc. some people just do a quick run around and don’t even leave the airport, but I was lucky enough to have a good friend in Singapore, so I tried to make the most of my visa run when I was there for three months.
My basic daily budget in AUD (not skimping, living THE LIFE):
Accomodation: $22/night (I made a long-term deal. You can do a lot cheaper than this, but I loved where I stayed – so much that I stayed there twice!)
Food: $15-30/day (At first I thought…wow, is that actually a lot? Then I realised I don’t buy groceries. In Sydney my weekly groceries, combined with going out for food with friends adds up – a lot! In Canggu I eat exactly how I want to, my dream day on a plate basically. It’s the greatest luxury.)
Yoga: TBD / You can buy class passes or unlimited per month
Co-working: TBD / Hour-based packages
Sim card: $20 every so often (they have great data packages, I always buy one as soon as I land and then top up at the convenience store. I think in three months I had to top up twice.)
My basic daily schedule:
Surf, fruit stand brekkie, yoga, brekkie/lunch & work for a few hours. Then nap or beach or popsicle or massage or all of those things together if I’m lucky. More work. Maybe some yin yoga. Sunset on the beach with friends and then dinner. Maybe some dancing. Bed. Repeat as much as needed.
Questions to ask before you go
- How long will you stay? (visas)
- Will you scooter? (insurance)
- Guest house or villa? (lifestyle)
- What do you want to focus on? Surfing? Yoga? Crossfit? Jujitsu? Work?
Go Jek: it does everything for you. It’s your Uber, your Deliveroo, your grocery shopper, your Dial a bottle, you name it.
Gu Guide: Best advice on everything in Canggu from an Aussie girl who fell in love with an Indo boy and is raising their beautiful baby in the Gu. Her insta stories are my favourite.
What have I gotten from my times in Canggu, Bali?
I’ve made some of my best friends in Canggu. Real kindred spirits. People I can’t believe I haven’t known my whole life.
I’ve found so much inspiration, as well as confirmation that success is yours to build and hold. It seems like anything is possible in Canggu and I think that’s because you get a great spattering of entrepreneurs from all over the globe, it’s hard not to pursue your dreams with that kind of influence around you.
The first time I went on my own, I was coming off of a real hard period in my life. My health was haywire, I didn’t really know which way was up. But I went surfing every day. I got massages every day (did I forgot to mention the cheap massages…?!?!). I did yoga. I met amazing people. And legit, for the most part, all my physical ailments went away. There’s something to be said about getting out of your regular physical space. Sometimes all you need is a big hit of perspective and the soothing magic balm of Bali to believe.
This is the longest thing I’ve written for Tnfld by far and I feel like I haven’t even touched the surface. If you’re thinking of going to Bali, just do yourself a favour and buy the ticket. Be open to everything and get amongst it…you won’t regret it!