Bali: A grown-up's guide
One reason for Bali’s longevity as a favourite destination for Australian travellers is that it really does offer something for everyone. If you’re a teenager who wants to surf all day and party all night, Kuta awaits.
For those of us who are slightly older, it may well be the ultimate multi-generational destination where each can find what they most want to do, from activities, exploration, shopping or simply lazing by the pool.
The island has many upmarket resorts for those who want both privacy and luxury, including private rental homes or villas for a group or family who’d like their own complex with maids and butlers, chef and chauffeur.
Culturally, there are many Balis, too. Aim for Ubud or the mountains if yoga, a spa and quiet meditation is your goal. However, it was in Ubud that I found a rib joint selling T-shirts declaring “Eat, Pay, Leave”.
If you want a 24-hour buzz (at least partly made by accelerating motorcycles) then head for the coastal strip extending out from the Kuta-Legiona-Seminyak heartland where you’ll find sports bars showing AFL and NRL games.
Beachside bars are just one of the many luxuries Seminyak has to offer
If you remember when Seminyak was desirable because it was the quiet end of Jalan Legian, Bali’s main shopping strip, then you should probably take a first day pilgrimage to Made’s Warung for a Bintang beer and nasi goreng and the chance to reflect on how much Bali has changed since you were last here.
Seminyak became the stylish side of Balinese beach culture and fortunately, Bali does enclaves well so a few steps from the crowded streetscape you can enter tranquil gardens with peaceful rooms.
There’s such a wealth of options of places to stay in Bali that recommendation is rather futile. But here’s a place I’d like to revisit.
The Blue Karma is a four-star property just off Jalan Raya Seminyak. The first impression of the resort is of a giant pool that flows through gardens and lawns and the second is of the stylish open-air restaurant that borders it and extends into an airy lounge/library.
The pool at the Blue Karma resort is a tranquil enclave away from the bustle of Seminyak
Once through our imposing Timorese doorway we had absolute privacy and both our bedroom and expansive lounge room overlooked our own small private pool. The furniture was contemporary in light wood and the large bathroom was stylishly minimalist, with quality toiletries.
The staff went out their way to be helpful – even to the extent of finding a rental motorcycle for me that was in excellent condition.
A charming room, large pool, impressive spa, attentive service and tranquillity ensured Blue Karma exceeded our expectations. The owner is French and that’s reflected in the quality of the food, especially the excellent pastries at breakfast.
Blue Karma was a wonderful haven amidst the chaos of coastal Bali – there’s a new Blue Karma hotel in Ubud, too.
Some of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had have been in Bali. That goes from the wonderful smokey flavour of simple roadside sate to elaborate dinners cooked by renowned chefs.
However, for sheer scale, abundance and opulence it’s hard to go past the banquet (for two!) that was served at Hotel Tugu Bali. The hotel is quiet and out-of-the way in Canggu and it’s rather like entering a Balinese palace.
We had Megibung, an ancient Balinese feast over many courses. The food was very good and the dinner was a theatrical experience that was completely memorable.
At the other end of the timeline is the ultra-modern Merah Putih Restaurant in Kerobokan. The entrance into the cathedral-like open restaurant is impressive enough but the Indonesian cuisine here is very good, too. Cleverly, the restaurant divides the menu into traditional dishes and modern culinary creations.
You will never have to go far to find a drink in Bali. But there’s one bar that has attracted worldwide attention for many years now. The luxurious Ayana Resort is scattered over 90 hectares of clifftop above Jimbaran Bay.
After a walk through the grounds you take the inclinator down the cliff to the Rock Bar where drinks and tapas are served with waves crashing on the rocks just metres below. Constantly rated as one of the world’s 50 best bars, it’s worth noting that “smart attire is required at all times”.
Rock Bar offers drinks and tapas alongside a beautiful ocean vista
So many highlights
Everyone returns from Bali with their own memories. Some return with a container full of new furniture, too. Take care: I’ve seen a sign in a village proudly declaring “antiques made to order”.
Scenically, it’s hard to go past the sight of tiers of rice fields around Ubud, Tegallalang or Jatiluwih, especially when seen from an infinity swimming pool. Looking towards the mountains and seeing the volcanic peak of Gunung Agung above the clouds is a thrill. But so too are sunset drinks in Seminyak.
Culturally, a dance performance of the dramatic Kecak or the beautiful Legong reveals the depth of Balinese tradition. If you’re there at the right time, don’t miss a festival at the Besakih temple complex.
Holiday highlights may range from a stay at a wellness retreat, or a lengthy spa treatment in Ubud, to simply drinking a cold Bintang beer at the end of a hot day.
It’s worth noting that Bali attracts a lot of visitors. If you can aim for a time when it’s not school holidays anywhere in Australia you stand a lot better chance of scoring a deal on your accommodation.
Have you been to Bali? Where’s your favourite spot?
Photography: (feature) Ayana Resort and Spa Bali; (in-text) Komar / Shutterstock; Blue Karma Resort; Ayana Resort and Spa Bali.