Bali is Back. That’s the Vanity Fair cover title this month, and very timely as I am writing this article.
When we first moved to London from New York, we were longing for a trip to Asia. We spent two and a half weeks in Bali over Easter with Marcelo, then two years old. What a treat! With the tiny vacation allowance in the US, we could never have dreamt of going for that long before.
Bali is a fantastic destination with children of any age. The country is very easy to travel (even though the roads are bumpy), there are plenty of tasteful accomodations, the food is child-friendly (think rice & noodles), it’s a perfect mix of culture + nature and best of all, they love children.
PART ONE: Seminyak and around
It’s going to be inevitably a long flight if you come from Europe or America (remember your homeopathic jet-lag pills). We first rented a beautiful villa in Seminyak called Bali Asri (through Elite Havens). Part of a small set of villas near the beach belonging to an Italian man with very good taste, it was the perfect base to recover from the journey, and take day-trips. Traditional teak furniture, canopy bed by the pool and outdoor showers complete with frogs and lizards. We were so happy to have Made, a local nanny, for that week. Even though her English was limited, she helped us tremendously with Marcelo’s first sleepless nights. We even had a cook at our disposal. These are very affordable luxuries in Bali.
We found out that Seminyak is the unofficial expat headquarter in Bali. It’s incredible how vast a community of foreigners there is! They even have their own website. They’ve either come on an vacation and never left, or they have a business related to textile, handcraft, jewelry which allows them to spend most of the year on the island. I want their life!!! The designer John Hardy is one of them, albeit extremely successful. His story is inspiring (read about his Green School).
The good thing about Seminyak is that you can find well-stocked supermarkets (Bintang has everything), very good restaurants for the evening, there’s even a new Australian-financed hospital (I’m speaking from experience with Marcelo…). It’s just 20min from the airport., a really a good starting point for the vacation.
When we were not having my favorite nasi goreng at home, we enjoyed some delicious meals outside. La Lucciola was a favorite for lunch, right on the beach, with an enormous thatched roof. Kafe Warisan for a romantic evening was quite special, with a French chef and a setting overlooking rice paddies (reservations a must). Btw, don’t waist time at the much-talked about Ku De Ta, way too pretentious.
One day, we visited a butterfly farm in Tabanan and a few temples, about an hour drive north. Another day was spent at Pantai Geger, a relaxed white sand beach in Nusa Dua (in the south, about 30min taxi drive, very cheap ride). There’s food and umbrellas so no need to carry too much around. And on the way back, we stopped at Jimbaran Bay, an impressive beach where you eat feet in the sand, choose your fish, bargain for it and get it grilled to your liking. Tons of restaurants one after the other and I couldn’t recommend a particular one, but definitely a memorable experience for the whole family. Make sure to get there by sunset.
PART TWO: West Bali
Using as a base the peaceful Waka Gangga (only 10 bungalows, understated beauty at its best), we moved north for 3 nights to explore this much-less touristy coast. Black sand beach is typical of the region. You can’t really swim in the ocean because it’s rough, but there are some beautiful walks and waterfalls, horse riding is possible and just hanging around by the pool is already a mystical experience because you are literally between the rice fields and the sea. If you’re lucky, you can find yourself in a festival without notice, as is often the case in hindu temples.
We took a beauti(full) day-trip to Mount Batukaru, Bali’s second highest mountain (2276m). Booked with Waka Land Cruise , we got a good deal because we were staying in one of their hotels. By the way, in Bali, you negotiate everything… Spectacular sceneries, with centuries old rice terraces cut out of the steep hills, and a visit to a plantation on the way. The road was bumpy in our land rover but Marcelo still managed to nap peacefully.
One day we visited the Tanah-Lot temple, a 30-min taxi ride from Waka Gangga. Even though it was packed with tourists and locals on a pilgrimage, it was stunning because of its location high up on a rock in the sea. Marcelo and I loved the ritual of blessing with rice.
You could also stay at Hotel Tugu Bali. It’s so special, filled with antiques and artwork, a very atmospheric place. They have several suites that would fit a family, but I felt that Wakka was a more relaxed place. In any case, you must have a romantic dinner at Tugu Bali, preferably without the little ones who would not appreciate the serenity of the evening. They have a tasting menu with historic dishes ie. the way they were cooked in ancient times. I heard that they can arrange dinner in the kitchen where you watch the chef prepare the meal. Hmmm. Get there hungry.
PART THREE: Ubud and North Bali
We finished the vacation with four nights at Uma Ubud, one of Christina Ong hotels (she’s famous for the Metropolitan in London and several other luxury places with fine style). Ubud has such a large choice of accommodations, it’s not easy to decide. We loved Uma for its attention to details, Balinese style with a contemporary twist, walking distance to the center of Ubud and a yoga studio facing the jungle and the valley. The huge pool is heaven. The bathrooms are to die for. I want the same in my future dream house.
Ubud is the more spiritual place in Bali. It’s peaceful and cultured at the same time. It’s beautiful. You can stay there forever, or you can use it as a base for day trips to North Bali. The whole family enjoyed spending time at the Monkey forest (at the end of main road). We also had a good day when we spent it by the lake and the Gunung Batur crater. The road around the south-western rim of the crater has some incredible vistas. Or spend entire days walking or driving around the art galleries and various workshops. In Ubud, they’re very good at respecting the traditions that make Balinese style so famous, such as wood carving and teak furniture.
Our guide Putu was very knowledgeable and resourceful, with a perfect english. With him, we found a temple festival where we spent a few hours delighting in the mystic and colors of the site. He took us to his village and introduced us to his farming family, explained how the village work and everything about his small family temple. We all enjoyed this. Thank you Putu for your generosity!
And for meals, don’t miss Naughty Nuris, a little hole in the wall walking distance from Uma Ubud (Jl Sanggingan, opposite Neka museum). Local expats hang out there for their delicious ribs and beers, a laid back atmosphere for the whole family. For tete-a-tete under the trees, try Mozaic. Pricey but worth it with a blend of European and Balinese cuisine. We were not impressed by the Four Seasons Ubud. We tried it for dinner and found that it lacked in atmosphere and personality. It’s probably living on its reputation now.
Before dinner one evening, we went for a Balinese dance performance: the Fire Dance. It’s an episode from the Ramayana epics telling the death of Kumbakarna. Marcelo was captivated the whole time.
I found that it’s best to reserve a number of things in advance in Bali. From Putu our guide to the more high end restaurants… Keep this in mind when you arrive.
I had one of the most memorable yoga session at Uma Ubud with yogi Bandi. Not that I am particularly expert at the down facing dog, but this time doing it in the studio facing the jungle with the birds singing in the backgound, it was a lifetime experience. Check out their yoga programs online as they sometimes have weekly workshops.
We did a stopover in Hong Kong on the way back for 2 nights. I liked doing that. It was a way to cut the trip, and also to look forward to something else to discover as we were so sad to leave Bali. I’ll be sure to write about it sometime soon.