Bali – this little part of Indonesia really seems to polarise people…and everyone is an expert, whether they have been there or not. When I mentioned that we were going there for our next trip, people were definitely in two camps – those who had been and loved it, and those who had never been and hated the idea of it. “Ooh, you need to be careful,”…and “Why would you want to go there? You know what happened to Shapelle!” Really? But I had an opportunity to travel with mates, who were Bali aficionados, and I was ready to have a good time – albeit one that involved a lot of relaxation, pool time, cocktails, massages and great food, rather than the “party-till-ya-pass-out” experience on Kuta beach!
I really must have been one of the few Australians of my age group who had never visited Bali, so as I was coming to this beautiful country for the first time at a more mature age than some of my compatriots, I was certain that my experience of it was going to be vastly different. I had no intention to be partying on through the night at Kuta Beach, making myself vulnerable to the various scams and nefarious activities prolific at some of these events. I was staying in a luxury villa with friends in Seminyak, with the intention of slowly working my way through the excellent and affordable restaurants and strolling through the shopping streets with more looking than buying on the agenda.
However, before I take you to Seminyak, you really need to get a feel for the very first exposure to Bali – getting through Denpassar airport. Our Virgin flight was early, so we were in a holding pattern in the air for about 20 minutes. This did not bode well for a speedy processing of visa and immigration upon landing, because obviously there were many planes landing before us! Our predictions on this were correct! A friend had recommended that we speed up this process by arranging to ‘fast track’ it – where you are swept past the lines and through immigration in a matter of minutes. After doing some research on TripAdvisor and reading forums, we decided not to avail ourselves of this option as all words of wisdom were declaring that there were no hold ups these days with the new airport. What was not being taken into account, however, was the fact that we were travelling on the first day of the Australian school holidays. So our wait in line at immigration was 2 hours. There were security guards sidling up to weary-looking people in the line who were open to a ‘way out,’ and were charging a cash in hand price of $25USD (under the table, of course) to sweep them out of this hell and straight past the other tired, and increasingly irritated, visitors. To be honest, buying into this sort of corruption didn’t really appeal to any of us, so stayed there…for the whole 2 hours, reading our books and occasionally bemoaning the fact we had chosen the slower of the two ‘legal’ lines. The thing that is most frustrating in a situation like this is to see immigration officers leaving their post and not being replaced when there is a sea of people waiting to be processed. The Japanese would be mortified by this level of ‘customer service’ (maybe Japan should be next on the travel list!)
Once through this major inconvenience, we quickly arranged for a taxi at the booth outside arrivals, handed over our 100,000 rupiah (less than $10), and took our 25 minute cab ride to our accommodation. Nice cheap taxis – love it! Bit of a change to the cab ride we took from the international terminal in Sydney to the New Theatre the night before we left – $27 for 6km. Ouch!
The Kanishka Villas in Seminyak are only a few metres from the main shopping street in the area, so they are well located for the boutiques and quite a few of the very good eating options. The street known as ‘eat street’ is about 20-25 minutes walk away (which is actually only about 10,000 rupiah in a cab – $1AUD), and is also full of high-end boutiques and some excellent food choices.
We thoroughly enjoyed the luxury of these villas. The ground floor section was an open plan kitchen, living and dining area with no wall or doors separating us from the private pool complete with stone wall and blade water feature. Large flat stepping stones led us across the pool to one of the large double bedrooms. The ensuite of this bedroom had an outdoor shower surrounded by plants and a large bath set in black stone tiles, the upstairs bedroom had the bath in the open air with the shower inside. Both rooms were complete with an extremely comfortable canopy bed, fitted with cinnamon coloured silky drapes that doubled as mosquito protection in the evening. The bedrooms were airconditioned to provide a refreshing retreat in the heat of the afternoon when the open-air living area with the fan just didn’t cut it in the battle with the humidity. Although, we found that the only time we really needed to use that retreat during the day was for the taking of naps – otherwise we just spent time in the pool with drinks in hand. The one problem with the facilities was the poor water pressure and unpredictability of the shower. Sometimes it cut out completely, which was more than annoying when you were standing there with a head full of shampoo!
The service of the staff at Kanishka was excellent – they were very friendly, helpful and just plain cheery. I did witness one particularly obnoxious guest being very rude to a staff member because of the trouble he was having with the water in the showers. He was arrogant, condescending and completely unaware of how embarrassing he was…to himself! Unfortunately, this type of unnecessary rudeness is everywhere whether travelling or at home, where some people are endowed with an inflated ego, sense of entitlement and false sense of superiority. What a knob!
Before being joined by our friends, we thought we would make the most of the organic vegetarian restaurants on offer in our area, and were very pleased with the two highlights – Zula Vegetarian Paradise and Earth Café. We had no idea until we walked the 25 minutes to Earth Café and sat down looking at the menu, that they were owned by the same company and had identical menus! Oh well, the service was a tad better at Zula, but the quality of the food in both was excellent. We enjoyed stir-fried buckwheat noodles: sautéed organic saba noodles with shitake mushrooms, broccoli and basil, served with soy garlic & ginger dressing at Zula, and the following day indulged at Earth Café in Quinoa pilaf: Aztec whole grain mixed with sautéed vegetables, accompanied by tempeh ‘bacon,’ and their famous Almost Perfect Burritos: brown rice, black beans, green salad, tomato salsa, avocado, baked tofu & walnut pesto wrapped in a burrito. No wine was offered at these places, but the local Bintang beer was an appropriate accompaniment on a hot day – we skated past the oodles of ‘healthy’ shake-juice-squeezed options.
Other culinary highlights included breakfast at Grocer and Grind, where we indulged in real coffee, and a personal favourite of feta, Roma tomatoes, basil and avocado on toasted sour dough. Free wifi to feed us our Sydney Morning Herald fix was another plus (of course, we brushed aside the judgemental comments from Melbournites at a neighbouring table bemoaning those on holiday who can’t get away from their devices!).
One perfect spot to hang for a few hours during the day was Potato Head Beach Club. This place opens at 11am, and there is a discreet, yet hurried, dash from the fast walkers in a bid to score the best sun lounges near the bar – the perfect spot to get rays and order cocktails at the same time. Being the sun-shy folks that we are, we instead vied for the retro lounges with coffee tables and settled in for some good reading time, tapas snacks and whatever we fancied to quench our thirst. This one is definitely worth a revisit – and who knows, next time I may even chance a swimming costume and some rays!
The international reputation of Ku De Ta meant we HAD to pay it a visit, too. Security was impressive; our taxi was checked upon arrival at the gate, including using a camera to scan under the car and having me present my handbag for inspection (although John’s hefty camera bag didn’t seem to bother them…or maybe they didn’t notice it). We alighted at the circular drive and made our way past more security guards up the steps to the lobby area, and were swiftly ushered back into the sunlight towards the beach and lounge for the prompt ordering of cocktails. A sheltered grassy area with a large water feature led to the umbrella’d sun lounges perched just above the sandy beach. Our wall-less indoor lounge area facing west was the perfect spot to indulge in some pre-dinner drinks while watching the sun sink beyond the Bali Stait. Once the light had begun to fade from the sky we moved in to dinner in one of the most expensive and stylish dining rooms in Bali. The artfully lit geometric ceiling was particularly chic…although the mirror that ran the width of the room did present a problem for more than one patron who nearly walked into it thinking that the room extended beyond!
Mention must be made of a fabulous little food place that is a true Balinese eating experience – Sate Bali. This authentic diner/warung is located amongst a whole bunch of eateries in a large courtyard area on ‘eat street’ (Sate Bali is the first one on the left when entering from the Seminyak Square end). The seafood BBQ was a huge crowd pleaser, and the vegetarians were thrilled with the gado gado! The service was friendly, charming and eager to please, and the food truly was delicious. There is even a markets set up of an evening, perfect for a spot of after dinner shopping.
Our first few days in Seminyak were spent exploring our own little corner of this island; so much walking and wandering (and occasionally getting lost in back streets) filled our time. At least, this was how the mornings unfolded, but once the heat started to kick in, we found a nice spot for lunch and a cold beer before heading back to our villa with our private pool and plenty of provisions from Bintang supermarket to keep us going until dinner!