It would be ridiculous for me to start off talking about anything else (and I’ll tell you for why): Eight trips to Bali since the age of about five means this place has become very close to my heart. In the space of fifteen years, I have watched the island change and grow (for better and for worse) as I, myself, changed and grew from a child. Many people refer to the so-called “Island of the Gods” as paradise lost and in some respects I would have to agree. However, to reduce this island to the sum of Kuta’s Western, Bintang-drenched parts would be a gross injustice. Here are five Bali locations that make it still very much worth the trip:
Mark my words when I say that Medewi in West Bali will be the next overrun surf spot on the island. Already there are ex-pat owned, surf bungalows popping up along the tiny street down to the break, not to mention the new resort that was in the process of being built right on the foreshore when I was there in August. The good news is that there are still pieces of the old Bali there: Sparse internet connection means you’ll have to trudge up to the local shop, Circle M (yes, “M”), to use their WiFi for a small fee, or go without: a strangely liberating option in itself. Chat with the local boys down the point too: Growing up here, they essentially act as the local council and you’d be wise to support them by buying a t-shirt or some snacks down at their new warung (small shop). Another local business to support is Suito’s Bamboo Terrace. This is a relatively recent installment that, as its name suggests, is a two storey bamboo deck that overlooks Medewi’s bay. Lounge on one of the many beanbags with a cold juice and once you’re done watching the sunset, turn to face the outdoor screen showing a continuous run of surf movies with the additional option of requesting a new Hollywood film at any time. A shamefully Western pleasure, I also highly recommend the pizza.
If surfing and yoga overlooking the sunrise is your thing, then you would be in heaven here. One of my favourite places that I’ve surfed in Bali, Balian beach has some of the most peaceful vibes this island has to offer. The rivermouth spills out of the forest and through the volcanic, sparkling sand to where the swell pushes out consistent A-frame waves. It is generally a bit sizier than Medewi, so it’s a good option if Medewi is too small. The restaurant right on the beach used to be closer to locally-priced, but now they’ve taken advantage of the yoga retreat tourists who stay there and nearby, so it’s not really worth your while to eat most meals there. The alternatives are the warungs that line the cliffs overlooking the ocean and they serve some fantastic meals. Be sure to leave room for banana porridge! Back towards the bottom of the hill and the beach is Pondok Pisces, where I’ve stayed twice now and can’t recommend enough. The bungalows have thatched roofs and woven walls that look very much in place amongst the lush tropical garden. It opens out to a small, half shady pool area that is a welcome relief from the hot, Bali sun.
Just up the beach, past Legian and towards Kerobokan, lies Seminyak. The more European-style resorts grow in price as you travel further west in this part and include some incredible beach clubs. Potato Head has become the newer go-to spot, while older establishments like Ku De Ta still never disappoint. KDT prides themselves on their music and also releases carefully crafted mixes that are available to buy at their boutique (or online if you’re craving some Bali vibes at home). Yoga studios and vegetarian/vegan eateries are abundant here, so if that’s what you’re after on your Bali trip, then this is the spot for you. If you’re really looking to blow some serious cash, I would recommend staying at the W Retreat & Spa or at least visit their WooBar for an exquisite cocktail. Follow the winding paths around the tiered pool and wander onto the skydeck to relax and listen as the DJs start setting the mood for the night. This is a dream honeymoon spot for me since it really is dripping in luxury (and its steep prices reflect this). Nonetheless, it’s (man-made) places like these that have to be seen to be believed.
The desktop-wallpaper-Bali that many people envision is almost certainly based on the beaches here. The Bukit peninsula has much to offer if you’re there for the scenery. Follow the peninsula’s coast from the beaches Balangan, Dreamland, Bingin, and Padang Padang, all the way to the iconic Uluwatu where you’ll find the best waves the Indian Ocean is pushing out. Even if you’re not keen to brave the infamous reef break, wind your way down the cliffs and inside the cave. Follow the stairway up to the beachfront warung – perched on a rock face – and enjoy the stunning view of one of the world’s best surf spots with a banana juice or two. Backtracking to Padang Padang, this beach is home to the RipCurl Pro’s Bali event in July-August and churns out some epic barrels. If you’re not quite up to it yet, paddle out to the right hand side where the break is friendlier, or just take a nap on the soft sands overlooking a lucid blue-green ocean. On the other side of the peninsula, Nusa Dua is home to some higher-end hotels like Club Med and the Bali National Golf Club, if that’s your thing. Personally, I prefer to pass through these areas without much ado, and with the knowledge that Bali has many more natural wonders to offer it makes me sad that people miss out on the traditional Balinese culture that is so prevalent in other parts of the island. But, as they say, each to their own.
I’ve missed a fair few things, but I will no doubt talk about them some other time. Bali is still unique and a trip there is much more worthwhile than some would have you believe. My challenge to you: Go to the places on the list above and just try to convince yourself there’s not something truly special there. You can get back to me on that.