Travel is learning. And what we’ve learned this week is that Bali is actually an acronym for “Bunch of Australians on a Little Island”. We’re just joshing! If that were true, the acronym would really be BDALI, for “Bunch of Drunk Australians on a Little Island”.
All kidding–and our general fondness for Aussies–aside, life lessons learned while on the Indonesian island of Bali include the following:
- A pool with a swim-up bar is the true way God intended man to enjoy swimming.
- The best swim stroke for conveying a beer across a pool is the side stroke.
- Monkeys are not cute. They are evil, evil little bastards who will pee on you if given a thousandth of a chance.
- It’s impossible to close a wallet with 4 MILLION Indonesian Rupiahs in it.
- The hotel you pick can truly make your destination.
We apparently have gotten very good at picking great hotels by studying the photos and reviews online. We might have been disappointed with Bali if we had not picked the hotel that we did. The Bali Garden Beach Resort, located at the southern end of Kuta Beach, is a wonderful tropical oasis boasting an amazing garden with Balinese statuary and faux temple ruins around three pools and a restaurant and bar facing the Indian Ocean. Hotel restaurant food usually leaves you more than willing to leave the hotel in search of something better (or at least edible), but the main restaurant here was fantastic (they also own the restaurants in front of the hotel on “the strip”, and they were all as good). The breakfast was great and provided enough sustenance to skip lunch or get by with a salad. You have to love the dining options when your choices are to dine outside or inside, with inside just meaning covered. And keep an eye out every afternoon for the 2-for-1 drink specials at both the pool bar and the beach bar.
But far and away, it was the service at the Bali Garden Beach Resort that left us wanting to return. From the beaming smile of manager Agus, always eager to greet and help you, to the spa ladies with magical fingers and the pleasant helpfulness of each and every worker there, you can’t help but be happy just like them.
Bali is like the Ibiza of Southeast Asia. As that will only make sense to our European friends, for the benefit of our American readers Bali is akin to Miami’s South Beach. Or to put an even finer point on it: people mostly come here to get drunk. Spend a few minutes Googling about Bali and you’ll find a few thousand articles and blogs entitled “Best Bars of Bali” or similar.
This isn’t a bad thing if you’re looking for bars: Bali’s got some interesting ones. But we can save you some time and tell you the one bar on Bali to go to. It’s call La Favella. You’ll find it at the end of a nearly hidden alley, and while it’s billed as Brazilian themed, to us it was more a tropical adventurer’s club speakeasy. There is interesting stuff and books and nooks and crannies everywhere you look, multiple rooms and bars, intimate tables hidden beneath palm trees in the courtyards, steps and slopes and pools and misters, and cool jazz playing overhead. It’s the kind of place you’d expect to find Hemingway enjoying a cigar in a back room, or perhaps exiles of some island nation huddled around a table plotting a coup. It’s among the coolest places we’ve found in our travels.
For a little more culture while visiting Bali, there are a couple of wonderful temples you shouldn’t miss, like Tanah Lot and nearby Pura Batu Bolong (say that ten times fast), perched on rocks overlooking the Indian Ocean and framed with amazing sunsets, and Goa Gajah, better known as the Elephant Cave with its fallen Buddha ruins. If you get a clear day (we didn’t), go see the Mount Batur volcano, the Tegenungan Waterfall (bring your swimsuit), and the rice terraces. Everything you’d like to see on Bali can be arranged through a reasonably priced tour (plan on $60 US for two for an all day tour–and we do mean ALL day); if your hotel doesn’t have a tour desk, you’ll easily find hawkers eager to sell you a tour while you walk around.
When taking your tour, it’s quite possible the “tour” will consist of just you and your driver, especially if you are a couple. You’ll get lots of personal attention and you will get the opportunity to tweak it as you go. Don’t hesitate to ask your driver questions or to request him to stop for picture-taking opportunities if you spot something interesting out the window. Your driver/tour guide will likely offer to stop at “cultural exhibits” that are really just local artisan shopping opportunities. He probably gets a commission on whatever you might buy. This might be a little off-putting at first, but remember that you’re not obligated to buy anything, the stops can actually be entertaining and interesting, and you can always ask your driver to skip that stop. In this regard we saw a Balinese coffee plantation (with a very nice free tasting), a wood carving studio and gallery, a silversmith and jewelry store (Lori got some nifty earrings), an artist’s gallery, and a Indonesian painted tapestry (known as “batik” tapestries) gallery.
And for those of you insistent on seeing monkeys while in Bali, you are sorely misguided. Bali’s monkeys are vile little creatures best viewed from a distance, say, Detroit. But should you wish to experience a monkey pee bath for yourself, the best places are the Sacred Monkey Forest and the Monkey Sanctuary, both near the town of Ubud and both available on plenty of tour options. But bring an extra shirt. Maybe a poncho. And keep a tight hold of your stuff: they are thieves, too. Thieves with sharp teeth. Evil little furry biting thieves with very full bladders and no compunction to empty them on you.