One of my favourite extracts about Bali comes from the Author David Abram:
Late one evening I stepped out of my little hut in the rice paddies of eastern Bali and found myself falling through space.
Over my head the black sky was rippling with stars, densely clustered in some regions, almost blocking out the darkness between them, and loosely scattered in other areas, pulsing and beckoning to each other… But the milky way churned beneath me as well, for my hut was set in the middle of a large patchwork of rice paddies, separated from each other by narrow, two-foot-high dikes, and these paddies were all filled with water… By night the stars themselves glimmered from the surface of the paddies, and the river of light whirled through the darkness underfoot as well as above; there seemed no ground in front of my feet, only the abyss of star-studded space falling away forever.
Bali is one of those uniquely adaptable places that truly caters to anyone and for any purpose: time alone, beach parties or nights out, detoxing, reconnecting to nature, a change of scene, even space exploration and the experience of falling through the cosmos… a world unto its own.
We booked with Jack’s flight club, securing flights for £300 (half price) with one stop in Singapore via Singapore Airlines. I enjoy the palatable food served on Asian airlines and Singapore airport turned out to be the perfect place for a stopover with its 24 hour food courts, napping area and free wifi.
If you’ve seen enough pasty bandaged limbs to put you off renting your own scooter, then download Grab – the local version of Uber.
In spite of being Indonesia’s first billion dollar unicorn, mobile taxi apps like GoJek, Uber and Grab are technically frowned upon thanks to resistance from resident taxi drivers, but remain an efficient option that’s also the most cost effective. The price you do pay, is that not only are the increasingly heavy traffic jams inescapable, but you’re also likely to suffer the frustration of missed pick up locations (especially at Bali airport where they are not allowed inside) and repeated cancellations for shorter journeys – not recommended if you’re looking for pre-flight connections.
There’s also one other drawback. On my first trip to Bali two years ago, after hopping into an uber at the hotel, I turned around to see two very angry security guards shouting and running down the driveway towards our vehicle. White as a Gringo and shaking like Grass jelly, our driver put his foot to the ground, almost careering with the equally annoyed oncoming traffic.
In a moment of utter confusion I wondered if we were being kidnapped! However, after witnessing the shear relief wash over our poor driver, he explained that due to competition with local taxis, many uber vehicles face being defaced by angry security staff, the banja or other drivers.
Therefore if you anticipate a similar life expectancy on a scooter rental, the next best options are probably the local taxis, scooter taxis or a hire car.
Canggu, Kuta & Seminyak
Canggu is the area to visit if you’re looking for surfing, beaches, sunsets, BBQs and nights out with the Ozzies. Kuta and Seminyak are only a short drive away and brimming with more beautiful views, shops, restaurant and bar options.
On our first two nights were spent at Eastin Ashta Resort before moving over to Canggu Beach Apartments. Eastin Ashta Resort is a beautiful new development in a fantastic location not far from the famous surfer’s beach. The Adjoining Salt Restaurant and pool bar has one of the best hotel breakfasts of anywhere I stayed, with a generous buffet selection catering to both Indonesian and Western tastes. I definitely miss filling up on Nasi Goreng, rice porridge and noodles in the mornings.
Whether you’re travelling for business or pleasure, Eastin houses an on-site conference room with fast wifi, as well as a crèche for the little ones, offering parents a chance to escape to the coast for the quietly captivating sunset dinners only a short walk away. I also recommend sampling some of the spa treatments, with the green tea scrub being made in-house and the lemon honey facial being a brightening solution for any sun pigmentation.
Canggu Beach Apartments are a great option if you’re looking for a slightly more polished version of AirBnb. Located on a quiet side road, you have the best of both worlds by being near to many great shops, restaurants and yoga studios, whilst still being able to retreat to the safety and privacy of a serviced apartment and pool.
The small concierge of this boutique residence is unobtrusive by design, but friendly and attentive staff are always on hand should you need anything, from borrowing a scooter helmet to assistance getting back in when you’ve locked yourself out…
Having your own kitchen and living room area is a huge plus, especially during the wetter seasons when feeling confined to a typical hotel room could feel more claustrophobic than cosy. It feels like your own little holiday home, whilst still presenting the opportunity to get to know other visitors.
- La Sicilia Italian Restaurant, Seminyak : A beautifully unique Italian-themed restaurant that makes it feel as though you’re stepping off the commercial streets straight into an enchanted castle. There is a mysterious glow that caresses every doorway and stone arch as you take in the chandelier encrusted interiors. As a passing bystander, you cannot help but be drawn in. Aim for a seat near the centre, directly in front of a crystal-lit pond brimming with life. The oxtail lasagna is the best thing on the menu, although it does face some tough competition.
- Motel Mexicola, Semiyak : At one point, Seminyak had a reputation for having a bit of a stiff upper-lip. However step into this Mexican Resto-Club on a Friday night and any predilection for shying away into the dark depths of a pretentiously quiet bar shall be rapidly reconfigured. I loved the atmosphere of people of all ages standing on tables, peering over the balconies or having their Marilyn Monroe moment on stage. Expect cheesy classics and a lot of fuscia pink neon light.
- La Laguna, Canggu : La Laguna epitomises the chic, laid back, beachfront atmosphere of canggu. Settle into ‘gypsy-inspired’ surroundings and enjoy the ocean breeze, cocktails and music. As a lover of gimmicks I had to visit just for the resident Tarot-reader, with the accuracy of her abilities being directly proportional to the number of drinks consumed.
- Metis, Seminyak : One of the most beautiful restaurants in town. Metis Bali was designed by the famed Artalenta Indonesia Architecture and Interior Design Group. Relax by a fire-lit water Lilly pond and taste some of their specialty foie gras.
- The W Hotel : Perfect for chilled vibes by the beach, sipping on coconuts and engaging in plenty of not-so-subtle people watching.
- Dojo Bali : Whether you’re a nomad or simply find yourself missing the office, Dojo is the workspace you can rent. I would use it if you are after some reliable wifi for an extended period of time. Do not leave without devouring one of the Nalu Bowls next door: fruit smoothie bowls topped with homemade granola and banana. There is also an adjacent hotel that runs weekly yoga sessions, singing bowls and gong baths from 7pm.
- The Canggu Studio : Try a dance class or fitness session at The Canggu studio. It’s not just all about the surfing, the area offers many different types of dance classes from traditional to contemporary to pole.
- Old Man’s Pub : Go to Old Man’s on a Wednesday, or for the full moon party which happens once a month, starting here and carrying out onto the beach.
- Best for Shopping: Seminyak Village Centre (small), Beachwalk Mall Kuta (medium), Mal Galleria Shopping Centre (large).
- Best Salon: The New York themed Think Pink Nails. Surround yourself with butterflies, Audrey Hepburn inspiration and everything pink and glittery.
- The Bunny Cafe : Warung Dandelion ticks all the boxes – delicious food, a menu full of charm, amusing stories and character. Expect great staff and little balls of fluff that manoeuvre themselves between your feet, should any of your salad miss your mouth.
- Tea Workshop at Hotel Tugu: I previously did a herbal workshop at The Tugu Hotel and learned how to make different types of Jamu – a traditional drink made by boiling a mixture of fresh ingredients such as Tumeric, Tamarind, palm sugars, Papaya Leaves and raw honey.
- Best for Brunch: Life’s Crate. The local watering hole for thirsty young tourists with its stripped back interiors, open walled design and Instagram-friendly foods.
Detox In Ubud
Ubud is easily my favourite area in Bali. Whilst a lot of Bali (especially Canggu), is falling victim to the rapid growth in tourism, concrete and expansion of bars and nightlife, Ubud remains slightly less spoiled. Being spoiled for choice instead, mostly in the way of spas, natural beauty, holistic treatments and yoga.
The Fivelements Retreat maintains everything that an Indonesian escape is really about: being immersed in nature, medicinal herb gardens, fresh organic food, meditation and other rich cultural delights.
I visited for a Shakti Spa Day Ritual and only regretted not having made plans to stay for longer. There aren’t many pools that offer such a stunning view of the forest, with its flowing rivers and wildlife that swoops in to join you for an afternoon dip. I also admired the outdoor ‘healing water’ pool and on-site organic herb gardens with adjoining medicinal kitchens, concocting fresh teas and various lotions and potions.
A Shakti Ritual begins with a floral foot wash followed by revitalising natural oil and body scrub massage, all to the soundtrack of birds singing amongst the flowing water from outside the open walled rooms. The grand finale is a lemongrass, lemon and ginger bath with a view of the forest, along with fresh ginger tea from their own garden.
It’s the focus on home-grown food and products that makes the Fivelements so unique. Even as you make the scenic drive up to the resort, the surrounding farmland is full of guava fruit delicately wrapped in plastic bags, instead of being mechanically sprayed with pesticides, and left to ripen naturally in the sun.
Their own restaurant offers a vegan tasting menu that leaves you feeling indulgent whilst being cleansing and nourishing from the inside out. A creamy tofu topped with soy and spring onion to start, followed by tangy bbq pulled jackfruit tacos and a deliciously creamy pea risotto. It’s some of the finest, freshest and most forgiving food you can find in the area.
Popular with animal lovers, another great boutique hotel in the area is the Bali Bohemia, which lives up to its name in the decor and its convenient location right next to the Moneky Forest. Expect plenty of most (un)welcome visitors (courtesy sling shots provided in your room…), just don’t leave anything of value out on the front porch.
- The Monkey Forest itself is worth visiting. Even if just to watch in awe as tourists (myself included) eagerly pay a premium for a bunch of bananas, in order to entice one of the less vicious looking primates to clamber all over them, almost have an eye gouged out in the process and ultimately be left with bits of half-chewed fruit entangled in their hair.
- Ketut Liyer’s House : If you’ve read Eat Pray Love (and if you’re in Ubud and haven’t read it, you shall be reminded to, by almost every shop in the area) then you will know of the famous, recently deceased, Ketut Liyer with his mystical fortune-telling abilities. It is now his son who has taken up the mantle of conducting readings in the comfort of the family home and appointments cannot be made in advance, so show up early in the morning to avoid the mile-long queues. A total sucker for this kind of thing, I obviously gave it a go. One reading is about 300,000IDR (17 GBP) but the session is relatively short and vague, even if solely pursued for entertainment value (ahem). Taking just a few minutes to skim over the brain, heart, life, luck and marriage lines on my palm, Ketut then proceeded to recommend meditation, relaxation and yoga. Where is the part about selling millions of copies of books worldwide and realising the love of my life? Well I suppose I’m no Elizabeth Gilbert. And this is no Ketut Liyer. In fact, a local taxi driver did mention that Ketut’s son has earned the name ‘Ketut Liar’ amongst locals…Safe to say I didn’t try much else in the way of Traditional healing or readings (stuck to the massages) but there was a Water Ceremony that came highly recommended, a healer by the name of Tjokorda Gede Rai and plenty of Ayurvedic Medicine Centres.
- The Pyramids of Chi : Located on an isolated plot of land, the Pyramids of Chi are in a wire-less world of their own (the hazards of electromagnetic radiation are not endorsed here). Think Sci-Fi film meets Glastonbury – two giant pyramids, a sun and moon tent, sit atop a calm lake overlooking rice fields, along with a restaurant serving only healthy vegan food, of course. I am privy to a good gong bath and the acoustics inside these tents is second to none. The only annoying thing was that this also magnified the snores of fellow ‘meditators’, killing the vibe a little.
- Pod Chocolate Factory : Continuing along the theme of random combinations in Ubud, Zoo meets Chocolate Factory – why not? Pod Chocolate Factory houses elephant rides, interactions with black honey bears, a tree house restaurant and a small chocolate factory with hands-on workshops available.
- Coffee Plantation : Visit one of the many coffee plantations in the area and sample a huge variety of delicious in-house coffees and teas for free. I never actually liked coffee until I first visited Ubud and found myself taking away some of the sugar-free Ginger and Ginseng varieties.
Party On Gili T
The more compact, island version of Canggu. Although this doesn’t count as a part of Bali, if you are in Indonesia then you must get a fast boat over to the Gili Islands (Trawangan, Meno and Air). The waters are crystal clear, the skies are cloudless, the sunsets are like no other and it’s a taste of the truly laid-back, island lifestyle.
There are no cars on the island, as it’s so small. Transport is via foot, bicycle or Cidomo (horse drawn cart). A bicycle will cost anywhere between 50-75,000IDR to rent for a whole day (or 20,000 / hour). A Cidomo seems to cost 150,000IDR no matter where you want to go.
- Best Food : The Banyan Tree Nasi Campur Bar – highly addictive.
- Best Pizza : Regina’s Gorgonzola Pizza, magic varieties also available (not that I tried)…
- Best shakes : Everyone seems to recommend Banana Leaf Bungalows (not resort) but I found that they tip fairly muddy cups of mushys into a blender without washing, leaving you sucking up a 1/4 cup of dirt. Look for places with decent coolers and fridges or get your own cup and wash thoroughly, you can easily make the high street variety into a tea yourself.
- Best Turtle Sanctury : Bolong’s Sanctury on Gili meno. Around 100,000IDR to release some baby turtles into the sea!
- Boutique Hotels : Gili One and Gili Amor. Gili One was new when I first visited in 2017, having only been open for 4 days. I found it by cycling around the island instead of looking online. There’s a great community vibe here and staff often join in with volleyball, ping pong and pool parties. Breakfast is included and features English, Dutch and Indonesian varieties. They also make a great ginger tea if you’re ever feeling nauseous. Gili Amor is an intimate boutique where all the staff remember the names of every guest staying there. The only disadvantage I can think of is that the rooms are quite close to the mosque during Ramadan, so at this time of the year it can be noisy throughout the night. Buffet breakfast is included, as is resident kitty and a very forgiving concierge… I managed to collide the first bike I rented with a Cidomo.
- Best Activities : If you’re not into Diving then I highly recommend horse riding along the beach at sunset, or into the ocean at sunrise.
- Best Beach Bar : Malibu beach bar for great Pandan cocktails, Shisha and Skylines.
Unwind In Jimbaran
Being only 20 minutes from Denpasar airport, Jimbaran guaranteed to serve as a memorable first or last impression. We stayed at the Jamahal Private Resort.
For the last two days of our trip around Bali, Jamahal was the decadent icing on an already highly gratifying cake. From the moment we stepped over the threshold into the fragrant, candle-lit reception, we had found ourselves in paradise. Warm hands greeted us with tropical iced juices stirred with cinnamon sticks, hot towels and the reassurance that we need not lift a finger from this point on.
Even though this was our first time in Jimbaran, I had the immediate impression that we would not be seeing too much of it, given the nature of the sanctuary we found ourselves in. In their layout, service and design, Jamahal have gone above and beyond to ensure that each walled residence feels like your own and yours alone, with a highly personalised and luxurious service, the oasis is a quiet refuge from the city streets outside. The romantic residence is for adults-only and predominantly targeted at couples and honey-mooners, but also makes for a great space to spend quality time with a friend, or find space to detox and reflect.
Moving to the Toya spa villa for our last night was an unforgettable experience. With its inviting stone baths, hand carved displays, massage room, living room and private pool, it’s easily the finest that Jimbaran has to offer in the way of a private paradise. The literally in-house fragrant body oil massage begins with a crystal sound bowl induction to balance the mind, before drifting off into an hour of sensual relaxation that leaves you rested, restored and reconnected. I could easily have gone an entire week without leaving the villa, and cannot recommend its services enough.