I first visited Canggu in 2014 when it was already creating a name for itself as the next cool place in Bali. By then it was called “the new Ubud” and “Ubud for surfers”, so of course I had to see for myself. Sure enough I could see the new-age/organic of vibe Ubud fused with hipster surf culture.
Three years later I found myself back in Canggu and I was staggered at the changes over that time. This little hipster enclave has appealing cafes and restaurants everywhere. If you measured its cool factor by hipster cafes per capita, it might just be the coolest place on the planet right now.
I enjoyed my visit in Canggu, though I know it’s not for everyone. For me I have come to associate Bali as being a luxurious recovery stop in between visiting Indonesian islands. Travel east of Bali and coffee comes in a sachet and hot water in a guesthouse is a rare luxury. You’ll be hard pressed to find cultural travel in Canggu, but if you want a beach town with an amazing variety of food and great accommodation, then this is your place.
Where is Canggu?
Canggu (pronounced as “changgoo”, and known as The Gu if you have been there long enough) is an area in South Bali, between Seminyak and Tanah Lot. If you look on the map of Bali, tourism development has gradually eaten its way north from the airport through Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak. Canggu is after those well-known travel hotspots.
From rice paddies to hipster paradise
What I like about Canggu is that it is still set among rice fields (for now). I’m based in a concrete jungle teeming with motorbikes, so I found the change of pace refreshing.
My first impression of Canggu was of it being similar in vibe to Ubud, which has a high proportion of organic/new age shops.
The difference being that you can drink, smoke, and eat hamburgers here, and not feel guilty about it.
And of course the one thing that Canggu has over Ubud is a beach. At first glance the beach doesn’t look appealing (like the brown beach of Pangandaran) but upon closer inspection it is soft beach to walk on.
The Australian influence is prevalent here, but not overrun with bogans like in Kuta Beach. I’ve heard Canggu being described as “Bondi on Bali” (named after the trendy Sydney beach neighbourhood).
I found a cafe called Little Flinders, which is a reference to a street in Melbourne.
It’s not all Aussie cafes though as there is a wide range of international representation here. Scandinavians are a well-travelled lot, so it is not surprising to find a restaurant of Scandinavian comfort food.
French and Chinese fusion doesn’t sound obvious, except when you are in The Gu.
Walking up and down the main road I just wanted to eat everything.
A rare beast in Southeast Asia are good Mexican restaurants.
And excuse this blurry photo – you can get Cubanos here!
Even with all the foreign influence it is still Bali at heart. Balinese temples and shrines are everywhere, and the ubiquitous daily offerings are laid in front of every building.
Paradise or parody?
At times it feels like Canggu is one big parody of itself, with paleo this, vegan that, and organic everything else.
Can I interest you in some colon hydrotherapy?
If you do Crossfit on the beach and didn’t Instagram it, did you do Crossfit on the beach?
And no hipster paradise is complete without a hipster barber shop.
My favourite cafe in Canggu
There are plenty of cafes in Canggu serving espresso-based coffee, though I wasn’t there long enough to compile a “best cafes in Canggu” list for my Bali cafe list. The best coffee I had was at Machinery Cafe on Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong.
And for the drinkers
I don’t drink, but if I did I would have found myself at Ji, which is a Japanese fusion restaurant/wine & sake bar. The bar is housed in a Kang Xi period temple from 1706, which was facing demolition in Java until it was transported and reconstructed in Bali. This is more like something you would find in Seminyak, which is overflowing with uber-cool world-class bars. This is perhaps a harbinger of things to come as the Seminyak influence creeps its way north.
Less formal is this beer cart that you may find on your travels.
The institution of Canggu is Old Mans, which is on the beach at Jalan Pantai Batu Bolong.
Where I ate
I visited Hungry Volks purely for its location near my accommodation, and it turned out to be a favourite. I liked it unpretentious Indonesian/Western menu and reasonable prices (for Canggu), where many places are charging Australian prices.
I prefer eating local where ever I go, which is a challenge in Canggu. I enjoyed Warung Bu Mi which is a modern take on traditional Indonesian restaurants that serves rice and your choice of side dishes.
Digital nomad scene
I’ve been hearing the buzz about Canggu on various nomad forums so I was curious to see its suitability as a place to live and work. Canggu is spread out without a real town centre so there isn’t an obvious congregation spot. There is a co-working space here, and some villas have been set up and marketed specifically for digital nomads.
At this point Canggu is still a mix of surfers, hippies, hipsters, digital nomads, and expats who fled to Canggu to escape the development of Seminyak to the south, which has now caught up with them and who are now complaining about said development.
I prefer living in big cities, though I could see myself spending a month here to get some work done.
Getting around Canggu
Getting to and around Canggu is a pain. As Bali has grown over the last few decades little thought has been given to future infrastructure planning. Perhaps they did think about it, only to put that thought back in the too hard basket. Family land ownership is a big deal here, and properties are built up against public roads, making property acquisition and road widening an impossible task.
To make matters worse, the two main roads of Canggu run parallel with a valley of rice fields separating the two. It is here that you will find the infamous short cut road that crosses the valley to connect Batu Bolong and Batu Bewara. The short cut is wide enough for one car, so cars have to check the other side of the valley to make sure no other cars are coming before making the crossing. I have seen photos of cars that have rolled into the rice paddies.
The taxi mafia is powerful in Bali and there is resistance to the new wave of ride apps that are sweeping Southeast Asia. The big app players here are Gojek, Grab, and Uber. I personally use Grab in Vietnam, so that was useful to have the same account already work in Bali. I also tried out Gojek to see what the buzz is about.
[Open a Grab account via my link and we will both get a free ride: Join Grab.]
The Minister of Transportation banned online transportation services in December, 2015 and then lifted the ban a day later. So they are still legal but taxi mafia strongmen have been known to intimidate riders and drivers of the new transportation companies.
At my guesthouse the listed price to get from Canggu to the airport by private taxi was 200,000 IDR. The rate I was quoted on Gojek was 63,000 IDR for the 45 minutes drive to the airport by car. It was about the same price for Grab to the airport.
One time I took a Grab car from Seminyak to Canggu and the driver messaged me to ask if he could cancel and add another 10,000 to the price. The price was still way cheaper than a mafia cab, so I obliged.
I prefer the apps because when you are in a new place and unfamiliar with what the actual transport price should be, it is given to you without any haggling or tipping to worry about.
Gojek also offer a variety of other delivery services.
Where to stay Canggu
There is a serious accommodation boom happening in Canggu (849 properties were listed on Agoda at the time of my visit). The cheapest places are the home stays that can be found down little alleys off the main roads. Some of them have online booking, but if you are here for a while it would be worth enquiring at ones you pass in an area that interests you.
I was only there for a short time so I didn’t want to spend my time finding a place by foot. I prefer to book in advance and I found a good homestay option on the main road. It’s a bit of a hike from the beach but if you are going to be here a while with a bike it is a good option. Find out about Canggu Stay here.
For a guesthouse that feels like a resort have a look at Coconuts Guesthouse Canggu.
In the 4-star range the Aston Canggu is walking distance to the beach.
How will Canggu handle future development?
As I mentioned previously, the pace of change has been staggering. I suspect if I visit again in another three years time more agricultural land will have been paved over. Before I left I passed this rice field on Batu Bolong which was being boarded up ready for a new construction project. This rice crop will be the last one on this field.
The word is definitely out the Canggu is the place to be, with the Intercontinental putting up a new hotel here.
cangguguide.com – The local destination guide to The Gu.
Canggu Guide – Bali-based Travelfish has a big guide on things to do.
The Ultimate Guide to Canggu for Independent Travellers and Digital Nomads – Carolin from breathingtravel.com spent a few months in Canggu and put together this guide.
The best places to eat, surf and hang around in Canggu – A guide by off-the-path.com.