Far away in time
Well I've been here for a week and a half now, so maybe late for very first impressions.
To be specific, I've been only in Canggu, aside from some of a day in Ubud. I'm staying about a 15-20 minute walk from Batu Bolong Beach and a little further to Echo Beach. It's not built up, and there are lots of rice paddys. The streets are lined with villa-style guesthouses, restaurants, and small shops. There's nothing that feels 'local', not that I have any basis for comparison, having never been to any other part of Indonesia. Actually, there are little temples everywhere and they're somehow inconspicuous and impressive at the same time. Several times a day, locals place 'offerings' of banana leaves containing rice, flowers and incense (and sometimes sweets and cigarettes) on the ground in front of temples, homes, and guesthouses.
Most people I see around are tourists. People come here to surf and yoga. The beaches are good for surfing, but the waves are too big to swim. They're fairly unspoilt, not much trash or anything like that. There are a couple of bars on the beach, but nothing excessive. No massive hotel or apartment complexes, like Penang.
I also haven't seen any shopping malls or even supermarkets. But I haven't been far. It took a little while, but I did find cheap local (probably) food at nasi campur places. There are actually quite a few, but they're unassuming and I guess I skipped over them nestled between the fancier salad-and-smoothie-bowl-packed places that cater for health-conscious tourists.
Rather than helping yourself from a buffet (like nasi kandar in Malaysia), you point at dishes and they're plated for you. Tempeh and three or four types of vegetables has so far come to between 10k and 15k IDR (less than 1GBP). For context, main dishes or even smoothie bowls and fancy cakes are upwards of 50k at other cafes. But the nasi campur stops aren't ideal places to stay and work, being largely wall-less and power-less, so hot and not particularly comfortable. The ones I've seen so far, at least.
Random Balinese people one passes in the street are extremely friendly, including the ones who aren't trying to sell you transport. People say hello or welcome, and smile in a way that includes their eyes. I don't think I've experienced any catcalling so far.
Walking around at night is a little more difficult as there are no street lights. There are a few cross streets linking the main ones (which run perpendicular to the coast) which pass through rice paddies, and unless there's passing traffic it's completely dark. I'm walking around with my running lights, anyway. Most people rent scooters as there's no public transport, but I don't feel like now would be a good time to learn to drive. Uber and equivalents are banned in Canggu. You might get one to drop you off here if you're lucky, but you certainly can't get a pickup; local taxis only, and they're not cheap.
There are many more street dogs, but they're not as needy as the ones in Penang. Ie, they don't follow you. Sometimes they bark, but it's usually at something else and you just happen to be passing. I'm still a bit unnerved, but getting better at ignoring them.
Canggu definitely feels like a place people are on holiday, not living. Over the upcoming weeks I'll venture a little further out though, towards the main center of Canggu, as well as Seminyak (which is about a 1.5 hour walk from where I am). I'm not feeling particularly inspired to try to see the whole island. This is good, because I'm supposed to be (and have been!) writing my thesis. I'm trying to keep hold of that mindset. I've done yoga every single day (for the first time in my life) and I've found it easy to start my day at 7 or 7.30 every morning. I think I'll be content on the three parallel streets of Canggu that I know so far, for the most part. Right now I'm by the pool at Serenity, having come here for breakfast and yoga, and I don't feel like I'm missing out on being somewhere else. Maybe I'll make one excursion to see a volcano... But the holiday/resort/chilling TF out vibe is working.