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How to find a good Airbnb in Bali

Advice from a Airbnb host & employee

Choosing the best Bali Airbnb experience
At the first Airbnb Host Awards party in 2014.  The first one we ever had at Airbnb, started here in Bali. 
As a host management specialist at Airbnb for Indonesia, I got to oversee activities to maintain the culture for our host community.  Bali was an important market for Airbnb's plans in Asia.
A lot of first time Airbnb users would book their first Airbnb trip to Bali or Thailand. The company wanted to make sure those guests would become fans from their first experience, continue to use Airbnb and hopefully go on to tell their friends about their awesome trip.  
One of my tasks was to sift through thousands of reviews and reward hosts that had done a particularly good job of providing great hospitality.  Here, I'd like to share some discoveries and some tips to choosing the perfect Airbnb experience in Bali. 
The Pros of using an Airbnb in Bali
Bali is one of the most photogenic destinations for Airbnb. There's thatch huts in the rice paddies, bamboo villas in the rainforests and beachfront villas in front of aquamarine reefs. Browsing through the website, you can fantasize about the thousands of unique experiences available.  There's a very good chance that you'll have an amazing story to share back home. 
Two great benefits of using Airbnb are privacy and intimacy. A large number of Bali Airbnbs are entire places. Villas, bungalows and apartments are quite rarely co-inhabited by your host, so you'll get space to enjoy your privacy.  It's a great experience coming from a cramped apartment in a major city to a spacious villa with a beach or rice-paddy just outside.  
At the same time, the host community is hospitable and friendly.  Each host usually has an interesting story about how he/she found Bali. Great hosts have been known to bring their guests along to temple ceremonies, visit hidden beaches or out clubbing in Seminyak. 
Most listings can be had for very affordable prices when compared to a New York, London or San Francisco. Many hosts also have live-in staff that can help with chores, laundry, cooking and running errands. Simple rooms begin at $20/night. Rooms with ocean or rice-paddy views range between $50-80. Villas and bungalows can be had for less than $120. 
The Cons of using an Airbnb in Bali
Bali has an enormous listing base. At last count, this was in January 2015, I estimated nearly 7420.  Many listings are not yet reviewed. With so many options, it's easy to get mixed up and lose out on a great experience.
Unlike a hotel, you get to live as a local and might be subject to the uncertainties of life in Indonesia. There are ever present issues with noise, construction, slow internet, insects, geckos and stable utilities. These things could get in the way of a relaxing holiday. As an eight year resident, I've come to appreciate some of the defects are very much part of the charm of Bali but with misplaced expectations, a guest might be in for disappointment.  Always check with your host beforehand if you're unable to cope without the usual mod-cons you'd find in a hotel.
There's no Airbnb neighbourhood guide for Bali, so deciding on where to stay can be perplexing. Many visitors simply just choose something close to the beach and perhaps miss out on good opportunities to see the real Bali.
The sheer diversity of accommodations can also be a bit bewildering as well. How is a bungalow different than a villa? What is the difference between a cabin, villa or house? What is a house and what is a villa? 
Picking out the winners
Perhaps the clearest sign of a winning Airbnb listing is the number and quality of reviews. The more 5-star reviews, the better your experience is likely to be. Tip: A listing with more than 5 reviews at above 4.5 stars is a good sign.  Another good sign is a SuperHost badge. It's like the equivalent of a Michelin star for restaurants. Fewer than 3% of hosts get them.
Aside from those obvious points, it's important to look at three main factors, the listing, location and the host. 
Consideration 1: Listing
This is the part I enjoy the most. Scrolling through the near infinite number of beautiful thatched villas overlooking rice paddies and beaches are pure fantasy.  I worked as a real estate agent in Bali for two years and the number of different types of villas I saw in Bali amazed me.
There's something for every budget and every taste. So if you haven't found something that you love, don't settle, keep scrolling. Many listings in Bali have been professionally photographed and operate commercially either part time or full time. Most people in Bali rely on tourism as their main source of income, so an established host is likely to take their role professionally. Coupled with perhaps one of the strongest hospitality cultures in the world, there's a good chance you'll have one of your most unique and pleasant Airbnb experiences in Bali.
Tip: A listing can be appreciated through the photos, but it's best to double check the reviews. Comments such as "looks just like the photos" are a good signal that the place is legit. Sometimes the absence of such a comment could indicate the opposite. I also looked for positive adjectives.  If I see "awesome", "amazing" mentioned more than twice, I know I'm looking at a winner. 
Consideration 2: The Host
Reading through thousands of reviews, I discovered a system whereby I could tell if a host had been doing his/her job properly.  I looked for how many times a host's name was mentioned in the review. The more times a host's name was mentioned in a positive light, the stronger the correlation to a well-run, 5-star property.  Hosts that aren't mentioned in reviews usually didn't show up or tend to neglect their guests. If you prefer privacy that's fine, but in Bali small issues can escalate quickly and knowing that somebody is looking out for you is a nice feeling.
Generally, I prefer to stay with a host thats on top of things and is mentioned in reviews to be hospitable, reliable and enjoys having guests.  Also I prefer dealing with hosts that have a nice profile picture. A flower, pet or landscape draws doubts about why that person is hiding. 
The stellar hosts are sort of like a guardian angel, tour guide, and friend all wrapped into one. They add so much to experience and can provide tips about hidden beaches, local cafes, neighborhood guides, bargain shopping and other useful knowledge. Bad hosts take all the magic away, abuse your trust and can make you feel like you'd be better off at staying at a hotel. 
Consideration 3. Location
The Airbnb algorithm is good at helping you pick out hot spots. Guests leave reviews about the quality of a location. If a location consistently gets 5-star reviews, a larger proportion of listings in those spots will appear in search results. However, these results might be a bit skewed by early adopters of Airbnb who generally preferred more remote, authentic locations. 
Ultimately, location is very subjective and it will really depend on the kind of experience you prefer. Generally, the main themes of a good Bali experience are  
  • quiet and relaxing beach holiday
  • stylish experience with beach clubs, parties, fashion and shopping
  • a culturally enriching experience with rice paddies
South Kuta: Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Bingin, Balangan, Jimbaran and Pandawa are the highest quality beaches on the island. People come back over and again to Bali to visit these hidden beaches. 
If listening to reggae in a thatch shack on a deserted beach with a fresh-cut coconut in your hand sounds like a good holiday, then you're in paradise.  The vibe here is definitely bohemian, surf-hipster, and mellow. No traffic, no worries, no work.  The food and nightlife are probably the only downsides to this area, but it's improving. Single Fin Sunday Sessions are a near legendary surf-inspired party that draws hundreds to the cliffs in Uluwatu. Also, you'll be better off hiring a car/motorbike here since taxis are not in great abundance and do charge a bit more than other areas of Bali. 
South Kuta is generally known as the "Bukit" amongst locals. It's all about pristine beaches here. Scant nightlife except for the Sunday Sessions at Single Fin bar. Most visitors come to get away from the buzz in Kuta. 
Kuta: this city by the beach was built on generations of Bali tourism. In summary, Kuta is a mixed bag. Kuta gets a dingy reputation from the lowest-common-denominator approach towards tourism. Sun, sex and salesmanship. Yes, you'll find drunk schoolies, touts offering 'transport', busloads of package tourists and scantily clad girls pulling you into nightclubs. However Kuta also has one of the fanciest beach malls in Asia, a few five-star resorts, a five story roof bar with a nightly BBQ buffet for $5 USD. 
Seminyak: For the stylish fashionistas and those looking to enjoy a good variety of restaurants and shopping, head to Seminyak. Stylish, trend setting and decadent. These are the words that describe the boutiques, villas, hotels and beach clubs in Seminyak. 
Don't miss experiences: 
  • Sunset beers at La Plancha beach club. It's a bohemian, slacker hipster hangout on the beach, with beanbag chairs on the sand. It opened in 2010 or so. This was the first venue that was right on the beach in Seminyak. It only took the owner six years to get the permits from the village authorities. 
  • Evening cocktails at PotatoHead. This is where the post dinner, pre-clubbing scene happens. Super impressive architecture. Reclaimed antique wooden window frames arranged in a mosaic pattern around a ice cream cone tower. 
  • After hours partying at La Favela.  Feels like an underground party that you see in movies. I attempted to write an article about La Favela, but I stopped midway since I still had a hard time describing it. 
Ubud: As a long time resident, the soul of Bali is in Ubud. Ubud is still governed by a king and there's a thriving scene in Balinese arts, yoga, wellness, raw food and most recently, tech entrepreneurship. Scenery in this area is quite magnificent as you get out of the town center and into the villages of Penestanan, Nyuh Kuning and Sayan.
Don't miss experiences:
  • A nature walk to Sari Organic. Sari is run by our friend Ibu Nila, she's been in the organic farming trade for decades and she probably has one of the prettiest warungs ever seen in Bali. There's no car access, so you'll have to walk 1km to get there, but the trail is almost a better attraction than her restaurant. Rice paddies, swaying coconut palms, ducks, Balinese farmers and artists workshops. I hardly believe it's real sometimes, as it encompasses such a rich segment of Balinese rural life. Sari Organic is good for salads and juices.  All the ingredients come fresh from Nila's garden.
  • Hike along the Champuan Trail. Waking up in heaven probably feels a bit like hiking through the swaths of elephant grass on the Champuan trail. The trail begins at the Ibah hotel, descends across the meeting point of the two rivers of Ubud, through a Balinese super temple, and up a ridge cloaked in waist-high green grass. You're walking along a ridge and there's a river valley canyon on both sides of the trail. Very dramatic and picturesque. 
  • Shopping in Ubud town: Ubud has a gigantic artisan community. There thousands of handmade crafts that you can buy. Haggling is much politer than in Kuta, and the quality of goods can be astounding.
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