Travel Guide to Canggu, Bali (vs. Chiang Mai, Thailand)

When I first heard about Canggu, my first thought was: "Wow, what if this is like Chiang Mai but with a beach?" Naturally I came to find out. Since it happens to be burning season in northern Thailand, it was the perfect time to take a trip to Bali. I've been here for about 2 weeks now and here is everything I've learned and what I would recomend, including how not to get scammed at the airport, and things you need to get before you come to make the most of your time here.

Also coming soon will be a write up about Ubud, the more popular destination in Bali for digital nomads and yogi's, but in today's post, we're talking about Canggu, a little surf town in Northern Kuta, just far away enough from the party crowd where long term expats have turned into a bit of a healthy living, surfer's paradise that reminds me of Pacific Beach, San Diego, only at a third of the price. Keep reading to find out why part of me thinks this place is paradise, while the other part can't imagine being here for more than a month or two at a time. 


How to Get to Canggu

From Chiang Mai there are currently no direct flights to Bali but you can either fly from CNX to KUL (Kuala Lumpur) to DPS (Bali) or you get a direct flight from Bangkok which is pretty convenient, making me wonder why more people don't choose Bali as a place to go for a week or two during visa runs more often. If you're on a tight budget, have no luggage, or don't mind terrible customer service, AirAsia flies from DMK, but I would recomend paying the extra $150 and flying Thai Airways if you can afford it.

Once you get to the Bali Airport, that's where it becomes a bit tricky and overwhelming as hundreds of taxi drivers will swarm you and throw out numbers like 300,000 which is a bit hard to calculate when you first arrive. My advice instead is to either prebook a pick up through your hotel, try your chances calling an uber, or finding the little taxi desk back inside the terminal and booking one through there. The journey itself is only 12 miles (20km) but because of the terrible road planning in Indonesia, it ends up taking about an hour. Actually getting around Bali in general via taxi is going to be difficult as the local mafia has Uber drivers scared for their lives as we found out during the drive from the airport to our hotel.

Because I was so put off by the taxi scammers at the airport, I bought an overpriced sim card at the airport, and attempted to call an Uber even though I had heard stories on how difficult they are to actually get. It turns out everyone was correct and that 95% of the time the Uber will never actually show up. Luckily, our second driver actually did, and he spoke English well enough to explain to us what was going on. It was the first time in my life an Uber driver turned his app off and insisted we pay cash. At first we thought it was a way to rip us off and charge double the fee, but during the 1 hour drive, we realized that we got a super fair price, and that the reason why they had to do this was because they can't pick up another passenger in Canggu and have to drive back empty, more on getting around Canggu later.  

The local taxi mafia banning Uber in Bali

Where to Stay in Canggu

The best place to stay in Canggu is anywhere within walking distance of "Old Man's Restaurant" as is generally the best location for restaurants, cafes, yoga studios, bars, and surfing. Other good ways to judge if you're within walking distance of the best stuff is to map how far you are from The Practice Yoga or Serenity Yoga. The further you get from the beach, the cheapest your accommodations will be, just avoid being north of the main street as the traffic, cops, and drivers there are insane. Also even though I love some of the restaurants, cafes and nightlife on Finn's Beach Club road, including Nude Cafe which is where I'm sitting right now, the only two options to get here from Old Man's area is either to drive across the sketchy rice paddy shortcut, or waste another 20 minutes driving up to the main road where you face insane traffic, drivers, cops, and other annoyances. 

That being said, we've booked a few weeks a block away from Batu Bolong beach where we can either walk or have a short, easy scooter ride to most restaurants and cafes. My suggestion is to book 3 nights at a hotel near old man's, then look for your dream villa or guest house once you're here in person. You can also use my map below if you're booking online through Airbnb or one of the facebook groups. When looking at google maps, if it looks like you can't drive across the river, you really can't and have to go all the way up to the big road.

Monthly rentals can range from $300 a month all the way up to $3,000+ for a villa. We're paying around $1,000 a month each to stay in hotel with a pool just a block from the beach. 

Where to Cowork in Canggu

Most people work out of cafe's in Canggu as there's currently only one coworking space, the Dojo, Bali that has a monopoly and charges $200 a month which is overpriced for what it is, even though it looks great in photos. According to most digital nomads I've met at various cafes and asked why they aren't working from Dojo they all said they weren't comfortable there and it was way overpriced for what it delivered. It's also one of the few coworking spaces I've been to that I too didn't feel welcome at and don't recomend for a variety of reasons including the fact that it felt more liberal college cliquey with stupid rules than think for yourself entrepreneur hub. Most people I've spoken think that the Dojo is overpriced for what it delivers and wish there was an alternative coworking space in Canggu that would open up.

I ended up coworking out of cafes and my hotel as well and found in terms of comfort, power plugs, air con, and wifi is Nude Canggu Cafe, which has great internet for Bali at 25mps down and 5mps upload speed. Other places I've worked out of include Veda, Monsieur Spoon, Recovery Room, Shady Shack and Oka's Bakery. But half of the fun is exploring on your own and finding a great new spot. Other places still on my list to check out are: The Nest, Savage Kitchen, Roti Canai, Roko Cafe, Gypsy Bali, Cinta Cafe, Deus Cafe, Betelnut Cafe, Bark, and Moya. Some are indoor outdoor which is nice to avoid being in A/C all day and get into nature, and most have mixed internet speeds. The next closest coworking space besides the ones in Ubud is Lineup Coworking in Kuta which looks awesome but unfortunately isn't in Canggu which is a shame. If you want to connect with other digital nomads in Canggu join the Canggu Digital Nomads or Bali Digital Nomads facebook groups here.

But here's a bit of secret, most people in Canggu aren't building six figure businesses and it's not the place to come, put your head down, bootstrap and launch a new income stream like Chiang Mai is or even Ubud to a lesser extent. Canggu is best for people with lite internet requirements, and can just work a few hours a day from a cafe. It's a great place to come chill out and surf if you have sold your business like I have, have over $2,000 a month in passive income, or are just taking a vacation. I wouldn't recommend Canggu for those just starting out, bootstrap, or those looking to network with profitably successful entrepreneurs.

Coworking at Nude Canggu Cafe
Coworking at Nude Canggu Cafe

Getting a SIM Card in Bali

You can either get one at the airport at the small, shady looking telkomsel booth for $30 which was the only option they had, which is a bit overpriced but came with 10gb of 3G/LTE. Or you can wait until you get in town and buy a smaller package for less than $10. Either way, you'll need a SIM card to get around, and to tether when the internet is down as it often is. 

*Make sure have the provider turn on your tethering in your phone's settings as for whatever reason it defaults to off in Bali. The fix is to go into your "Cellular Data" options and copy and paste the APN from Cellular Data to Personal Hotspot. 

Money, ATMs, and Scams

One of the most annoying things about living in Bali is the hassle of doing anything simple like withdrawing money from an ATM or paying your bills online. There's a high chance some annoyance will happen to you while you're in town whether it's having your ATM card cloned at the machine (which has happened to multiple friends), your online bank locking your out of your account (which has happened to me), getting ripped off by the currency exchanger or otherwise not being able to access your cash.

The trick is to have options and backups. Have more than one ATM card with different banks, and have enough crispy new U.S. $100 Bills to keep you afloat for a week or longer if you can't access cash normally.

Most places in Bali still don't take credit cards, and usually charge 3% if they do which means you'll need a lot of cash. But even when you do find an ATM that actually works you'll often see a 1,250,000 withdraw limit which is only $93 which may only last you a few days if you're eating out, drinking, taking surf lessons or getting massages. The ATM fees end up racking up if you don't have a card that refunds them like Charles Schwab or Fidelity. So the trick is to look for an ATM that lets you withdraw more and keep going back there, or bring a lot of cash and hope you don't get it stolen.

What to do in Canggu

So with all of the annoyances of Bali and Indonesia in general, why do people come here? It's because it's an amazingly place to be when you don't actually have to get anything done. They have some of the best surfing in the world and it's also a great place for beginners to learn. The water is warm enough where you don't need a wetsuit, and you can rent boards right on the beach for $4 or get a private surfing lesson for $30.

You can also go scuba diving like I did in the video above, check out the amazing islands, hike up volcanoes, or just lay on a beach. For us, we're in Canggu to chill out. Both my buddy that I'm traveling with and I just sold our drop shipping businesses and we want to take a break, learn how to surf, and enjoy some sunshine, good food, and the laid back vibes Bali has to offer before we head to Europe for the summer. Speaking of the food, if you're into eating gluten free, raw, vegetarian, or just really enjoy eating new age health foods, Canggu is a great place to be. This little square mile has been taken over by Australian business owners, the Swedish, and out has come a ton of organic cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants. All of which are instagram worthy.

The local indonesian food is also tasty but really only consists of five dishes, so you end up getting tired of eating it until food in Thailand which has a lot more variety.

Indonesian Visa for Bali

The good news is as of a few years ago 30 day visa exemptions are now free for Americans, Canadians, the EU, and Australia plus most others countries.

However, even though we were planning on just staying for a week or two, we love having the option to stay longer without leaving the country to do a visa run and are happy to pay a bit extra for that. So if you think you might stay for more than 30 days or just want the option to be able to do so if you feel like it, pay the extra $35 at the airport to get a normal 30 day visa on arrival as that gives you the option to extend for an additional month without leaving the country.

It'll be a pain in the ass to extend as it involves up to three trips to the immigration office but it's still better than leaving the country. I plan on paying for an agent to streamline the process and will report back on how that goes. If you know for sure you're staying for less than a month, you can just show up and get 30 days for free. But trust me, there's a very good chance you might end up loving this country as much as we did and wish you would have paid for the option to extend.

Update: I successfully extended my visa and although it was still a waste of time, by using an agent that would pick up and drop off my passport, I only had to go to immigration once instead of three times. I used Visa for Bali as they came recommended by and was happy with their service.

Canggu Bali
Monkeying around at the beach in Canggu

Final Thoughts on Canggu

I'll be heading up to Ubud for a week or longer this afternoon, so bookmark this page for an update, or if I like it enough, maybe even expect a full blog post on Ubud vs. Chiang Mai as the two are often compared. But so far my impressions are positive. Sure it's a pain in the ass to get around outside out 1 square km of Old Man's Canggu, the entire country is lacking proper infrastructure. Most places only have cold water showers, people tend to be cliquey and act like the "cool kids" from school. Dojo the coworking space is overpriced and sucks. The beaches are polluted with garbage and waste from Indonesians throwing everything in the ocean.

But even with all of the downsides, dangers, annoyances, I'm still waking up everyday happy to be here. The local Balinese people are super friendly, most speak English so it's easy to make local friends and communicate. It's sunny, warm, the food is excellent, and as of 2017 the WIFI has finally started to catch up and is now actually usable! Even though it's quite a bit more expensive than Chiang Mai and no where as convenient, it has a beach. It has good surf. And for a lot of people, at least for a month or two at a time, that's enough. Although there are plenty of people who have made Bali their permanent homes, for me and a lot of other location independent entrepreneurs I have a feeling Canggu will start becoming a place we'll enjoy as a place to escape away to for a month or two at a time each year.

Make sure you budget a minimum of $1,500 a month stay out here and enjoy a decent life and $2,000 if you want to be able to live carefree in the best areas and not worry too much about how much things cost. Compared to Chiang Mai (read my blog post about Chiang Mai) expect to spend around $500 more a month, regardless of the budget of living you're used to. For me, I was spending around $1,200 a month in Chiang Mai living in serviced apartment in the best area, taking uber everywhere, eating out 21 meals a week, with a coworking space and crossfit membership. Here that would easily cost me almost double that as things like gyms, coworking, and transportation are exactly double the price.

Listen to this podcast episode for more info on Canggu, Bali vs. Chiang Mai

P.S. Make sure you read my guide to Ubud, Bali as you might find it the magical alternative to Canggu.

Warm Regards,

Johnny FD

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  1. Hey Johnny, nice write up, you inspired me to leave UK last year and Canggu was my first stop and other than a few mini breaks I have not left, I love it here. There are some other places around if you wanted to see, I am always around and wouldn't mind buying you dinner for the help via emails you have continually provided me.

    1. Hey Michael, glad you're liking Canggu! I'm back in town next week and would be happy to meetup for dinner. Message me on facebook next week sometime =)

  2. Hey Johnny, really nice write-up on Canggu, lots of nice tips! If people don't want the hassle of dealing with taxi drivers, SIM cards, cafe hopping and finding a decent place to stay, I'm organising an all-inclusive entrepreneurs retreat to Bali in May/June, lots of fitness, lots of focus, should be pretty good -

    1. I'm sure a retreat package like that might be worth it for for some Entrepreneurs who want to see Bali but don't want to deal with the B.S. =)

  3. Great recap! Still lots of cafes I need to check out, but I've been at Dojo Bali for a week now and fucking LOVE it.

    But I genuinely like the people and community and social vibes of it unlike Punspace in Chiang Mai that's awkwardly quiet.

    I agree if you prefer silence or need that for calls, this isn't the place.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Morning Johnny,
    Great post. Will be checking out that area later this year. I am currently in Chiang Mai and was wondering if you have a suggestion on a workspace here to meet online entrepreneurs. I am a chronic pain movement doctor but I can't work while I am on sabbatical this year and want to stay busy. Any advice I would appreciate.

    1. Hey Stephen, glad you enjoyed it! The easiest place to meet other nomads in Chiang Mai is through one of the weekly Coffee Club meetups:

    2. Thank you I looked it up and signed on thank you


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