Beautiful Bali

Those who haven’t are often held back by the thought of coming back wearing an ‘I’ve Been To Bali Too’ T-shirt, and imagine the experience begins and ends with backpackers sunbaking on Kuta Beach.

As for those who have - well, simply mention Bali and see a dreamy look appear in their eyes as they recall picture-perfect landscapes of terraced rice paddies and volcanic mountains encircled by tropical clouds, lush forests and cheeky monkeys, smiling locals, vine-covered stone temples and the colourful ceremonies within them.

Time moves more slowly here and, for those who haven’t been (or are looking for an excuse to return), the real, living, breathing Bali - infinitely more fascinating than its outdated reputation - awaits you.

Seminyak | Luxury on a Budget

For beach lovers, the upmarket area of Seminyak, about 20 minutes’ drive from Denpasar Airport, offers the kind of luxury you crave - and, with a little negotiation, you can enjoy all the comforts of a jetset lifestyle without an extortionate price-tag. Locals are willing to attend to your every whim for a small fee. Take advantage of this and you’ll find your deckchair placed in your favourite spot on the beach every morning, ornately cut pineapples magically appearing for morning tea and your masseuse waking you gently for your afternoon massage on the beach.

Must-see

Seminyak will wear down even the most dedicated shopaholic. Start with the bikini and sarong joints near the beach, then walk towards the main road of Jalan Raya, Seminyak, where you’ll find cosmopolitan galleries and designer boutiques on a par with anything you’d find in the south of France or LA, but with a distinct Balinese edge (check out Biasa, for instance, at number 36).

Eat

The restaurant scene here is setting the pace for the whole of South-East Asia. There is an eclectic choice of eateries in Seminyak, but make sure you book - the hottest places are packed out most nights. Always popular is the luxurious La Lucciola, opposite Pura Petitenget, a temple overlooking Kerobokan Beach. Cocktails at sunset at the Frangipani Lounge feel the way paradise should, while dishes such as caramelised bananas with palm sugar and macadamia, or cherry ricotta hotcakes with honeyed mascarpone cream make breakfast an occasion.

You can earn the big brekkie the night before at Ku De Ta, a sleek, sophisticated nightspot on Jalan Laksmana that has managed to weather Seminyak’s super-fickle night-life scene. Dress up to get past security and mix with the beautiful people.

Stay

It hurts to recommend Pondok Sara Bungalows, but it can’t stay a secret forever. Here, at one of the best of a huge array of inexpensive local villas, you’ll find two swimming pools, plus beautifully authentic, colourfully furnished bungalows that combine open-air lounges with, in some instances, air-conditioned sleeping areas.

Uluwatu | Asian Surfing Mecca

Located on the south-western tip of Bali, Uluwatu, affectionately known as ‘Ulu’, has the languid feel of Hawaii’s North Shore, another destination famous for its surf breaks. Here, the exhausted surfers lounging on mats and towels on the sand have the air of satisfaction that comes from having conquered their Holy Grail. And what self-respecting surfie wouldn’t? The surf breaks of southern Bali are some of the greatest waves in the world.

If you’re after definitive proof that you’ve conquered the breaks, a local photographer is sure to capture your image as you take on Uluwatu’s gnarly left-hand break. Just be prepared to bargain hard for the trophy.

Must-see

If you give yourself time to see only one temple in Bali, then pay your respects at the Uluwatu complex. Set high on a cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean it’s one of Bali’s oldest and most spectacular temple precincts. Sunset brings out the temple’s famous outdoor Kecak (monkey) Dance performers, which are an absolute must-see if only for the gorgeous stage. Buy tickets in advance from one of the various sellers out the front earlier in the day. Keep in mind that Uluwatu temple itself is open only to Hindu worshippers, however, the rest of the temple complex is definitely worth spending some time exploring – particularly Pura Luhur Uluwatu (the temple of the stone head), which is dedicated to the sea spirits and has the important job of guarding the whole of Bali from evil.

Eat

Fancy restaurants simply don’t mix with the laid-back surfing scene. So grab a great nasi goreng at one of the locally run warung (cafes) that cling to the cliff, halfway down the steps to Uluwatu Beach. The view is simply amazing and well worth the couple of dollars you’ll spend on lunch. If you feel like being a big spender, put a couple more dollars towards a beachside pre - or post-surf massage and soak up the sea — spray that wafts up the cliff from the breaks.

Stay

One of the more breathtaking places to stay in Bali, Blue Point Bay Villas & Spa resort screams decadence. The resort stretches out over the southern cliffs of Bali, two kilometres from the Uluwatu temple complex.

Ubud | A Breath of Fresh Air

Offering noticeably cooler temperatures and an authentic Balinese village atmosphere, Ubud is a tourist hotspot. Indeed, you’ll probably see more tourists than locals on the main street. While there are enough shops and restaurants here to keep the average visitor occupied for days, the magic of this lovely high-altitude town and artists’ colony lies in its surroundings and its people. The pace is so laid-back that it sometimes feels as if time stops altogether.

Must-see

Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is hard to beat. Its spoilt, mischievous monkey residents - actually, long-tailed macaques - will take off with anything that’s not nailed down (so hang on to your camera) but will have you ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ despite yourself.

Ubud offers more than arts and crafts bargains and close encounters of the monkey kind. It’s a valuable chance to experience rural Bali in all its beauty. Pack a map and bottled water and head for the magnificent gorges and terraces that lie just a hop and a skip from the main drag. You’ll find local families running tiny art galleries, selling miniature paintings for a fraction of the price you’d pay for them at tourist markets, and you can also stickybeak into the backyards of rich and famous residents’ villas, which back onto the gorge, complete with their own meditation pavilions and huge satellite dishes.

Eat

Ubud offers a rare opportunity to splurge on a truly international-standard degustation dinner in a Balinese forest setting. The open-air Mozaic restaurant offers delicate fusion food rivalling that of Australia’s finest eateries - and you can drink spiced cocktails and enjoy course after course among the twinkling lights concealed in a lush mass of foliage. The restaurant is definitely reason enough to pack your glad rags, and it’s all available for only the price of an average cafe meal in Australia.

Stay

Be a little more adventurous and stay just out of town at Klub Kokos. Owned by a local artist and his Aussie wife, this refuge among the rice terraces and local galleries offers true peace and quiet. The owners can set you up with an hour’s lesson in wood or stone carving with a local artisan or a Balinese dance class for around $6.

And the scenic one-and-a-half kilometre walk into town is reason enough to stay here – on top of the awesome views, it’s not unusual to bump into the same locals every day, giving you instant friends to chat to along the way.

Candidasa and Amed | The Way it Used to be

Long-time visitors to Bali often describe Candidasa, just over an hour’s drive north-east of Denpasar Airport, as Kuta the way it was 20 years ago. More adventurous tourists willing to travel over to the island’s east coast area are rewarded with a small village, still off the beaten track, full of cultural spots to visit and close to some of the best snorkelling and diving in South-East Asia. It’s the kind of place where you might be hard-pressed to find a television – but there are countless places to curl up with a good book. About half an hour by road from Candidasa is Amed – take the spectacular and hair-raising drive across to the north-east coast around cliffside hairpin bends, or the more direct route north through the rice terraces.

Must-see

The beaches along the east coast are generally composed of volcanic sand and pebbles – but with such famous diving spots beckoning across the sand, few have time for sunbathing. If you are a snorkeller, save money on a tour guide and, instead, hire a local fisherman to take you to the good spots – and there are plenty. Even better is the diving – dive shops are plentiful in Candidasa, with tours visiting some spectacular sites, depending on your skill level. Most famous is the USAT Liberty Glo, a cargo ship tragically torpedoed and sunk in 1942, but now providing a fantastic wreck dive near Tulamben. Nearby islands and steep underwater drop-offs offer a chance to catch a glimpse of rare creatures, such as pygmy seahorses, among the reefs.

Eat

A lovely spot in the grounds of the beautiful Water Palace, halfway between Candidasa and Amed on the inland road, is Tirta Ayu Restaurant. Perched on a mountain ledge, it overlooks the palace itself. The food is fusion, ranging from goat’s cheese ravioli, through to the restaurant’s speciality, duck and noodle soup with star anise.

Stay

Deep Blue Selang Livingstone might sound a bit of a mouthful, but it’s worth remembering if you are after a dive base with views. Closer to Amed, this fairly new complex offers bungalow accommodation with mod cons such as air-conditioning, plus friendly management who will help you make the most of the area. There are mountain bikes and kayaks so you can do a little exploring of your own, and luxury air-conditioned cottages for two cost around $100. All of which means you can enjoy a true taste of Bali - without your backpack.

Words by Jac Taylor - Published in Voyeur January 2009
Quick Facts 
Time Zone GMT +8
Languages Indonesian, though English is widely spoken
Currency Indonesian Rupiah
Electricity 110/220 volts AC (50 Hz)
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