Our friends from London Trevor and Lisa arrived from a Bangkok tour and spent a few days exploring Singapore. A little shopping at Takashimaya, a little dining at Waterfront Indochine, and a little touring at the Night Safari. That's about it. Singapore is best done in three days.
After some time in Bangkok and a few days on the eating tour of Singapore, they wanted a little beach R&R before heading back to jolly old damp and wet England. We can think of no better place than Bali.
Ellen and I went the first time when she was on assignment in Japan in 2000. We loved it. We made it our first off-island trip in 2006 when we arrived in Singapore spending New Years with brother Billy and Amy. Loved it again. Yes, it got bombed. Twice in fact in 2002 and 2005. There is now lots of security that largely keeps the off island Muslims under observation, while the peaceful local Hindus go about their thing. Mainly making those little flower and incense offerings that the dogs like to eat because they always seem to have a Ritz cracker in the middle. It still is absolute third world with stunning 5 star moments. But, As a tropical place to chill, it works. As we get more familiar with each visit, we venture a little further out and see more wonderful things. In fact, by the time you read this we will be preparing for our fourth visit.
Villa Bali Becik
We rented a beach villa in Nusa Dua this time that was, well... less than perfect but with great staff, terrific pool and every bootleg DVD ever made. I know, bootlegs are terrible things but they are only about a dollar Sing and the dodgy quality is always a coin toss. Will there be sound? Will the picture crap out with 5 minutes left? Why is everybody green?
You may recall from earlier correspondence that all Bali Hindu men are called only one of four names; Wayan, Made, Nyonam and Ketut. That is how they are named in birth order. The fifth kid goes back to the #1 name. That's it. Only four in the country for boys and no last names. We had 4 houseboys and never got a name right in 7 days.
Kraft Dinner in Bali
Ellen arrived a few days late and while we waited we wandered a bit looking for the good restaurants and bars. One we found served a stunningly simple dish titled 'Kraft Dinner on toast with Hot Dog'. And, it was. Trevor had to have it just for the photo op. Things did get better. We ventured over to the Four Seasons in Jimbaran and north of that, found a stretch of beach restaurants just before Kuta where you pick your food (giant prawns and various fish). Decide how you want it cooked (grilled of course) and they then serve it to you at tables on the beach about 20 feet from the surf line. Since they have little wood they use dried coconut husks for fuel. Giant platters of grilled prawns, a monster grilled Grouper with chilies, cold Bintang beers and your feet stuck in the sand. Perfect!
Our friend Sam arrived and lived in the grass hut off the pool. Less than ideal accommodation, but, it had AC and he was quite content. Up the road the other direction, we did find a better known local restaurant where the dining room had canals running through it occupied by recovering injured sea turtles. Once fixed up, they have a nice ceremony where they walk the turtles out to the beach and release them.
We did the required shopping tour of Seminyak, including the very swish clothing store 'Biasa' where the cotton shirts are as light as air. Then, the art buying tour of former hippie capital Ubud up in the hills where we bought another oil on canvas by the same artist we had bought from at Christmas. An original oil, 4’ x 4’, for $90 CAD.
Trev and Lisa got adventurous and booked a tour up into the mountains and volcanoes in the far north. Too ambitious for the rest of us, it did result in great pictures from a 12 hour day. Instead, we spent a long and lazy afternoon at our favourite resort, the Samaya. We got to know the GM Ray Clark (retired teacher from UK) in January and his people prepared a great lunch overlooking the beach on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. His new spa is almost ready and we will see him again when we make our next visit. See it at www.thesamaya.com
Kuh De Ta
No trip to Bali for first timers would be complete without a visit to 'Kuh De Ta’. This is the huge beach club in Seminyak where we spent New Years. It has a cool dining room and a big central courtyard with open bars on each side. Their beach front is big, permanent lounge chairs overlooking the ocean. At sunset it is amazing. We meet up with our friend Alicia from Singapore, do the necessary champagne photo shots and head out to Café Warisan for dinner. This is grand house with a classy patio overlooking the rice paddies in Seminyak. It is a 5 star place and you would simply never believe you are on a little Indonesian island.
Sam had been to a secluded surfers beach in Jimbaran the year before called 'Dreamland'. 100 steps down to the Indian Ocean where the locals have built beach bars and surfer accommodation out of what looks like driftwood. They have also lowered down big, double beach loungers and umbrellas that you rent for the day. Rent? Hardly, about a buck will do it.
This was all going very well until we went playing in the surf. The swells are not small and you can usually see a big one coming every four or five waves. I was keeping my eye on the non-floater Ellen and my back to the ocean when I was hit with about an 8 foot wave that knocked my off my feet and caused a full face plant in the sand. Of course, Ellen was fine as she just rode it in. I had sand in every possible place. That and salt water coming out eyes, ears, nose and throat. Worse, when I staggered back to my chair I realized my glasses were heading toward India. This would have been okay if not for the foursome of tanned, topless and gorgeous Aussie girls right next to us who were having fun pouring ice cold water on each others breasts. This is no fun when your wife has to describe the action as you can't see that far.
Putting on the Ritz
The next day, our last, Sam had to do an onsite inspection for a company meeting of the Ritz Carlton at Jimbaran Bay. We tagged along for the free drinks. Ellen & I went there nearly ten years ago, and we were commenting the place was looking a little tired.
We were directed to the new ‘Ocean view Pool'. Now the Ritz already has a fab infinity pool on a cliff that is one of the best ever but; they don't have a nice accessible beach. So they built one. And they built it, a saltwater infinity pool, half way down the cliff about 50 feet above the crashing Indian Ocean. It isn't too big. It has a white sand lower level, serves the best poolside burgers in Asia, frosty Bintang beers and we charged it all to Sam's comp’d room.
We left for the airport in wet bathing suits having spent the whole day there. Only in Bali.
Update 2013: Ok, we have been 11 times now and our love for Bali has become love/hate. Still gorgeous it is a victim of its own success. 3 million tourists a year have strained what infrastructure there is, the locals are still corrupt and the traffic is worse than ever. Now, it seems you can not sink a well within 5 kms of the coast without hitting salt water. Garbage? We read that the great surfers of the world won't compete in Bali anymore as the waters are so filthy. And, the wonderful Dreamland is gone. Taken over by the notorious Tommy Suharto; son of the former president and convicted murderer. Is there hope? Not much. The Ritz is now The Ayana and The Samaya is still there, totally redone. But now there is a Bulgari Hotel, an Aman and dozens, no, hundreds of new places. The long awaited new airport opens this Fall but that will encourage even more visitors. If you haven't been, it's a must see but only from your gorgeous resort property or stunning beach villa. The rest of the place is, sadly, less than the paradise it was a dozen years ago.