Monday, September 6, 2010

Bali Coast - Choose your location wisely

Bali has a vast amount of coastline but the majority of tourists will remain in the area near the airport in either Kuta, Jimbaran Bay, Nusa Dua or Sanur. We visited all these areas and each one is extremely different from the others so it's important to choose wisely. Do you like to party on holiday or is that your idea of a nightmare? Do you like to stay in your resort and pretty much not venture anywhere else? Do you have children who need entertained? Choose the wrong area and you could seriously regret it, so read on for my tips and hints...

Kuta

We didn't realise but, at only 4 hours from Darwin, Kuta is the Benidorm or Ibiza of the Far East for Australians. If you like to shop and party then Kuta is the place for you. As a single 20-something I would have loved it: great bars, cheap drinks and really hot surfer dudes. As a married 32-year old, not so much. Kuta Beach is huge and it has great surf (apparently) but you would practically have to fight for a spot to lay your towel down amongst all the throngs. Call me old-fashioned but coming off the beach and going shopping dressed in nothing but your bikini or your surf shorts is not a sight I want to see - the locals don't say anything but to my mind it shows a total lack of respect for the culture and people. In the centre of town the roads are one-way so the traffic could almost rival Jakarta. There are loads of surf shops (Rip Curl, Billabong etc) and trendy boutiques plus souvenir-style shops but we found the quality of the clothes (in the market stalls) and knick knacks on offer was really poor. The hawkers drove me crazy since we couldn't walk 2 feet without being asked, "You want transport?", "Where you from?", "You want DVDs / sarong?". My sister taught me the most important Bahasa (Indonesian) words you will need in Kuta: "Tidak, Makasi" which means no, thank you and it really works - as soon as you say it to a hawker they leave you alone. Genius!


The restaurants in Kuta are great though and we had a succession of mouth-watering meals. Our hotel served amazing food (a mediocre breakfast but fabulous a la carte food), Lucy and Jamie flew over for the weekend with us and their hotel restaurant (Rosso Vivo) served the best fondant chocolate cake ever and the local Balinese restaurants we ate at (Kunyit Bali and Gabah Restaurant) were excellent. The bars, as I mentioned, are also fantastic - we're not so old that we didn't go out a few times! The cocktails at Rosso Vivo were divine and Legian Street is the main bar street with a succession of bars on both sides all competing to drown out the music of their competitors. We drank at a place called Maccaroni which had a great vibe. Kuta also has a waterpark in the centre of town called Water Bom, we didn't go but it looked like it would have been a fun day out. We also had blissful massages at Smart Salon & Relaxing Spot (what a name!) and the price of just $10 for a 60 minute massage added to that blissed out feeling.

On our last night in Kuta I lead the way to Legian Street so we could have a pre-dinner drink. I am notorious for having no sense of direction and for turning any shortcut into a major 'long cut' so I really blame Simon for letting me choose which way to go. What should have been a 10 minute walk took us over 1 hour! We ended up walking along an unlit road with cars and mopeds speeding past until we finally saw a hotel and asked directions. Left, right, left...sounded easy so off we set down a dark alleyway into a totally local part of town. It would have been really interesting if we could have seen anything but it was dark and all I could think of was that we were going to get mugged. To say I was in a bad mood would be a slight understatement since my feet were getting blisters and I was hungry! Finally we got onto Legian Street and stopped at the first place we saw (The Kopi Pot) to eat some dinner - it was edible food but I wouldn't recommend you visit this particular place. In order to end the holiday on a positive note, we got a taxi to Rosso Vivo so we could have the chocolate fondant again plus some vodka cocktails. All's well that end's well, as they say.

Where to Stay in Kuta

If you do decide to stay in Kuta then you will find a wide selection of hotels to choose from. We were staying at the Rama Beach Resort & Villas in an area of Kuta called Tuban. This is a local hotel which is not, despite the name, actually on the beach. The beach is only a few minutes' walk away but it was not the sort of white sand paradise beach you would want to walk along, lay out in the sun on or swim in the sea at. It was more of a working fishing beach, not a tourist one. We were staying in a pool villa with our own private pool - amazing and at only $250 a night we thought we couldn't miss the chance to stay there when a private pool villa would normally be $700 and upwards at other hotels! The main pool at the hotel was huge and had great shallow areas to sit in the water and read a book or drink a cocktail. The food, as I mentioned, was fabulous although the breakfast was disappointing so even if you don't stay here you should come for a dinner. Avoid the spa though: we had a free 30 minute massage and maybe because it was free, the therapists gave us really sub-standard massages and both of them had a real attitude - until we gave them each a tip that is!

Lucy and Jamie stayed at the Kuta Sea View Hotel on the beach road - this is where the fantastic Rosso Vivo restaurant and bar is, so again...go there even if you don't stay here. The bedrooms were of a good size but the AC was one of those that goes off once it reaches a certain temperature and then turns back on once the room heats back up so they found they couldn't sleep very well with the fluctuating temperature. Also, Rosso Vivo has nightly entertainment until after midnight which is great if you're sitting having a drink but wouldn't be so good if you're trying to get to sleep.


Kuta also has a Hard Rock Hotel and this looked like a great place to stay if you want to be central and have children because they have loads of children's entertainment. Their swimming pool also has an artificial beach area as well but if screaming children is your idea of a nightmare then you'd want to steer well clear. Kuta beach has a huge wall between the beach and the beach road so all the 'beach hotels' are actually on the beach road and it's necessary to cross the road in order to reach the beach. We weren't sure if the wall was to protect the town from strong winds or to stop cars from getting down on the beach. One hotel that was actually on the beach was the Inna Kuta Beach but we didn't go in to check it out.


Nusa Dua

Quite a few international hotel brands (Melia, Novotel, St Regis, Club Med, Westin) can be found at the beach of Nusa Dua. It's about 30 minutes away from Kuta so is ideal if you want to avoid the crowds, the main downside is that taxis are controlled by the hotels and so the price is quite high. Our taxi to Nusa Dua cost less than 100,000 Rupiah ($10) but the taxi back was a fixed price of 130,000 Rupiah and a taxi to the airport was 300,000 Rupiah ($30) even though you would reach the airport before you get to Kuta.


The water at Nusa Dua was the calmest water we saw because it lies within a big bay. It was low tide when we got there and you could walk out for what looked like miles with it just ankle deep - with diving shoes though since there was quite a lot of stones and sharp coral hiding under the seaweed growing along the sea bed. The beach was also very clean and was more the postcard-perfect image that I had expected in Bali. We ate lunch at the Melia Bali; the resort looked great and offered a huge variety of activities for adults and children, although the food wouldn't win any awards.


Jimbaran Bay

I had read in Lonely Planet that Jimbaran Bay was a "superb crescent of white sand" and they were absolutely right. On the day we went to Nusa Dua we had planned to go to Jimbaran but our taxi driver told us Nusa Dua was much nicer - a much nicer fare more like! Jimbaran is just 10-15 minutes and $3 in a taxi from Kuta compared to the $10 he got from us to go to Nusa Dua. The minute I stepped onto Jimbaran Beach it took my breath away - this was the paradise beach I had been looking for. The bay is huge and walking from one end to the other could easily take a couple of hours. The sea is not as calm as Nusa Dua and the waves coming in were maybe 3 times taller than the men in the sea, we didn't see any surfers though but I'm not sure why that would be.


Jimbaran is still a fishermen's beach and the families all live along the beachfront with their colourful fishing boats safely beached up out of the reach of high tide. We reached Jimbaran just before sunset, in time to see the boats being rolled down the beach ready to set out for night fishing. The northern end of the bay has a huge number of seafood restaurants serving up the day's catch at tables set up right on the sand looking out to sea. We ate at Dewata Cafe and had fabulous grilled whole red snapper, whole king fish and jumbo prawns. The fish were excellent value ($12 each) but the prawns were quite pricy ($30) - still, the experience of eating with sand between our toes and the waves lapping up to the shore was priceless.


We didn't visit any hotels at Jimbaran but there is an Intercontinental (and a Four Seasons) and if we were to go to Bali again, that is probably where we'd stay just so we could soak up the bay every morning. If we could have transplanted our villa at the Rama Beach here then that would have been absolute heaven. There is no nightlife at Jimbaran except the seafood restaurants but it's a short cheap trip into Kuta for the occasional night out.

Sanur

Sanur is apparently where tourism first started in Bali and it is where you will find most of the foreign consulates - and brothels our taxi driver told us. We got dropped at the Bali Hyatt to have breakfast and whilst the grounds were lovely, the breakfast was perfect, our lunch was good but not mind-blowing and there was a whole host of interesting activies on offer, the hotel buildings were a bit '70s looking although we didn't see inside them.


Sanur suffers from coastal erosion - perhaps because the hotels were built too far onto the beach and so it lost its natural protection - and so there are man-made water breaks all along the coast, luckily attractive ones which look like little temples. There is a concrete path along the seafront which made it really easy for us to walk what seemed like the entire length of Sanur. Apart from the Hyatt, the beachfront hotels looked like local ones and from the outside they mostly appeared to be of a good standard with many offering sun loungers that you could pay a couple of dollars to use for the day. After we'd walked for about an hour, we paid our 20,000 Rupiah and collapsed onto a couple of loungers to soak up the sun.



Maybe it was the time of year, but the sea at Sanur was full of seaweed floating in it so going for a dip to cool off wasn't the most pleasant of experiences. We'd also seen a sign at the Hyatt that you should wear your shoes in the sea due to the presence of sea urchins - ouch! Just as we were leaving our loungers to head back for lunch, a group of fishermen arrived with wellington boots on and waded out to sea to stand and fish. We're not sure what they were catching but it made for a great photo. We walked back to the Hyatt but I wish that we'd hired one of the Jukyut boats (fishing boats modified as pleasure boats) to sail back in style. Sanur was the only place we saw these boats so I'd recommend a day there just to try them out, but in terms of sea and beach quality it can't compare to Jimbaran or Nusa Dua.


Initially the Bali coast did not tick my box for being a paradise island but once we got away from Kuta, we found that paradise in both Jimbaran Bay and to a lesser extent in Nusa Dua. You can't be bored here since there is such a variety of places to visit and things to do, no matter what you're interested in or how old you are. Just make sure you choose the right place to base yourself and you will have the perfect holiday.

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