Bali Top 10
Whether you like a fun party vibe with your tropical island holiday or prefer your escape to be just that – pure respite from the crowds – Bali, Indonesia, offers the best of both worlds. You can also do it on a fairly modest budget if you eat the local food, opt to explore by means of a rented motorbike and shop around for accommodation, which runs the gamut from cheap, seriously rustic surfer lodgings on the beach to swanky villas and boutique hotels.
There’s plenty of action, on the beach and in the plentiful bars, in popular Kuta and Seminyak, which has the best shopping to be found on the island. Or you can venture south to the Bukit Peninsula, which (for now at least) is still less developed than many other parts of Bali and a favourite among surfers.
1. First stop Balangan, in The Bukit (as it's called), a glorious stretch of beach reachable via sheer cliff-side steps, but worth the scramble for its easy-going, low-key ambience. The sounds of reggae are all pervasive from the rustic beach warangs that sell ice-cold Bintangs (the local beer), fresh coconut water, banana fritters and nasi goreng.
Once you’ve got your rental motorbike and board (if you haven’t lugged along your own), you’re ready to explore more of The Bukit’s world-renowned surf breaks.
2. You’ll be tempted to stay a while at glorious Bingin, with its cool bohemian lodgings perched above and down the side of the cliffs. Apart from its warangs serving delicious, unpretentious local food – like grilled, fresh-caught fish with fluffy steamed rice and water spinach – there’s also good swimming and excellent surfing (and, for those who can’t, a good surf school). As with all the popular beaches in Bali, you'll be offered one cheap massage after another, but you're often better off at one of the equally well-priced local spas.
On exploring the narrow little roads and mazes of stairs, you’ll be charmed by the architectural details of the villas, lodges and homes, all of which seem to have their own free-range chickens.
You’ll also come across incense-scented offerings to the Balinese deities just about everywhere you look. Watch where you walk.
3. Towards the south, huddled below the cliffs, is Uluwatu – which is famous for its challenging surf breaks. Find a shady spot up above and watch some of the more accomplished surfers you’ll see in Bali in action, while sipping a cold Bintang. Nearby, and worth a visit, is Uluwatu Temple, which has amazing views – but do be wary of its infamous monkeys, which are especially fond of designer sunglasses and dangly earrings.
4. Between Uluwatu and Bingin is Padang-Padang, a wonderful beach both for swimming and surfing – and where there’s always a big party on full-moon nights. Pick up a colourful batik sarong or tee shirt from one of the many vendors plying their trade here.
5. A must on any agenda is Jimbaran beach with its long sandy stretch flanked by a string of luxe hotels. But the real reason to stop off here is to enjoy one of the legendary barbecue fish dinners served by dozens of eateries right on the beach. Dinners are mostly a set price (or, if you go for a la carte, you might have to haggle the cost), but it’s worth it, and a real treat to dine under the stars with your feet in the sand.
6. Head up the west coast to Cangu, another surfer’s paradise (though less great for swimming). Here the beaches glitter with black volcanic sand, while the surrounding land is a brilliant, verdant green. Cool boutique hotels and villas, artsy cafes and bars, and one of Bali’s three Deus Ex Machina outlets are set amid palm-fringed rice paddies that stretch in every direction.
7. Sit on the deck surrounded by a tanned surfy crowd, most Australian, at Echo Beach with a Bintang or mojito while the sun goes down, against the dramatic silhouette of its temple. Feel like pizza? You'll find that as well as burgers, Balinese fish barbecue, nasi goreng, mee goreng and more...
8. If it’s more temples you’re after, point your motorbike in the direction of Tanah Lot, to the north of Cangu. The mysterious, very beautiful temple here sprawls across the clifftop and part of it is surrounded by sea - it's a lovely sight. But do make it an early excursion to beat the busloads of tourists who’ll be doing the same thing. The market is a great spot for finding souvenirs to take home.
9. Add an element of adventure (especially if travelling by motorbike) to your holiday with a day trip to the rice paddies of Jati Luwih, a World Heritage Site. Find a spot to sip a cup of strong, sweet Indonesian coffee and a helping of banana pancakes while surveying the breathtaking sight of the steep, terraced paddies.
10. No trip to Bali is complete without a visit to one of its volcanoes. The ascent to Mount Batur takes in some spectacular scenery, no less when you’ve secured a spot on the balcony at one of several restaurants serving an all-you-can eat traditional Indonesian buffet lunch. For the more energetic, there are a number of tours that will take you on a walking expedition up its slopes. Either way, you’ll be glad you got there.
Text and Photos Leigh Robertson