Every year I do one column on the latest trends in Bali, where most readers go at least once a year.
Bali is like ten destinations, so packed is the island with leisure activities, Hindu ceremonies, new hotels and restaurants.
There are so many new budget hotels and hooters bars that one needs to carefully navigate one’s way around the island, or face ending up in urban tourism hell.
Or just go off Bali, to Lembongan Island, which I strongly recommend as the Best Bali Destination for 2014.
First stay in Sanur, which is now host to an array of new restaurants — Grocer and Grind, Three Monkeys, Café Batujimbar, Mertasari (cheap but good warung food). And there are many luxury villas for rent.
There are even three new hooters bars at Semawang, the old red-light district, for retiree happy hours and endings, and a brilliant beer batter fish and chip shop, called ‘Fryday’s’ nearby.
The beauty of Sanur as a destination is its proximity: it is ten minutes from the airport on the new Benoa Harbour toll road. It’s also still authentically Balinese.
There are far less muggings than in Seminyak, and cultural events just swirl around you (Sanur has 3 major beach locations for ceremonial activities such as melasti, ngaben and nyekah and many stunning temples). The main Sanur road, Jalan Danau Tamblingan, even has a dedicated bike lane.
North of the Grand Bali Beach hotel is the new speed boat terminal from where one can depart, on comfortable cabin cruises, to Lembongan and to Nusa Penida, a great discovery destination.
I recommend that you take Rocky (Tel: 8012324) to Jungut Batu Beach or Mushroom Bay on Lembongan Island and get picked up by the free bemo service from The Beach Club at Sandy Bay (082 897 005656), Lembongan’s best beach restaurant (mediterranean seafood their speciality) and prettiest beach. Famous fashionista Farah Khan has a glamorous beach villa there — in fact the bay is fast becoming Bali’s answer to St. Tropez in the 60s, but with surfies instead of starlets — eye candy for land-locked Jakartan housewives.
There is even a disco on the island, adjacent the Rocky office, where the Rocky cabin boys can be found at night during the frump.
The best bet for accommodation is villas: go to nusalembonganvillas.com. Lembongan is a small island but it caters for all budgets. Alternatively I recommend Sunset Coin Cottages at Sandy Bay, for the budget traveler, or Batu Karang Resort at Jungut Batu for the better-heeled.
From Lembongan one can hop across to the next island, the big island, Nusa Penida, and visit the famed Dalem Ped Temple or rent a bike and explore the many unique villages and the rural countryside. Views from the cliff on the south coast are extraordinary: each prominontry has its own Uluwatu style temple.
One can also get a boat from Lembongan direct to the Gili isles off the west coast of Lombok, the popular destination for young groovers and party animals. Teenagers should not go unaccompanied.
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From Nusa Penida one can catch a traditional boat to Kusamba in Klungkung, near East Bali.
Nature lovers can still find pristine beaches in East and North Bali, and some stunning scenery in the heartland.
Bias Putih (White Sand Beach) near Jasi in East Bali is my favourite, and one can visit the still magical Bali Aga village of Tenganan on the way. I suggest that you walk up the tourist corridor to the Pura Puseh Temple under the giant banyan tree outside the village’s north gate, then down the eastern road which is still un-commercialized.
Stay at the Alila, east of Manggis (designed by Kerry Hill in the early 1990s but still fresh and wonderfully Bali-Modern) or at the charming back-packers paradise Dhangin Taman Inn at the Tirta Gangga water palace nearby.
The drive to the North East Coast of Bali from Tirta Gangga passes through some stunning rice-field valleys and pops out at the virgin beaches of the North. There are many excellent four star hotels between Tejakula and Air Saneh (the spring-fed seaside anchaline bathing ponds). I have stayed recently at the Gaya-Oasis in the coffee plantations just above Tejakula (itself well worth the detour, to experience the colonial flavor of this once important trading town) and the Holiway Garden Resort on the coast.
This coast is now called East Bavaria, jokingly, just as South Kuta is called North Perth, so expect high standards of hygiene.
Drive back to Sanur via the short-cut mountain pass through the ancient Bali Mula village of Sembiran (the Bali Mula village of Julah nearby also amazing) and up over the top of Mt. Penulisan. Stop and visit Bali’s highest temple, Pura Puncak Penulisan which is home to some magnificent 10th Century statues.
Take the Payangan road down from Kintamani through Sayan stopping down first at the unique mountain Bali Mula village of Bayung Gede where Margaret Mead did all her research.
Break the trip at Ibu Oka’s chicken rice café at Kedewatan or the still magical Amandari, the most exquisite of Bali’s trad-mod. hotels.
Stay at Tamanbebekbali.com is also recommended.
Back in Sanur have a sunset at the Donald Friend bar at the Tanjung Sari Hotel and watch the light fade over the emerald hills of East Bali across the Sanur Bay. Dine at the Village restaurant next door for an Italian treat.
This has been a public announcement by the old-timers association.
Oh yes, if you bump into a temple festival on the road, put on a sarong and sash and see inside a temple during odalan time. It’s what Bali’s really famous for.