“Sounds like he knows the island really well,” you must be thinking.
Not quite. When it comes to Singaporeans and Bali, the relationship can be likened to a weekend fling that you inadvertently fall back on every once in a while.
Only two hours away by plane, Bali presents the perfect weekend getaway. With little more than 48 hours to enjoy the island, it becomes paramount that we immerse ourselves in complete relaxation and indulgence from the get-go.
Thus enters the triumvirate of Seminyak, Legian and Kuta, all within 30 to 45-minutes’ drive from the airport. These neighbourhoods enrapture with their brand of private villas, spas, chic eateries, abundant shopping and thumping nightlife. Set against a backdrop of gamelan music and serene rice padi fields, weekend trippers depart on Sunday with a glowing tan and renewed bounce in their step.
Over the last couple of years, we have been back to the island of the gods numerous times, but have made conscious efforts to get out of this enticing black hole and explore other pockets of Bali. It turns out that the extra hours spent on the road are completely worthwhile, and Bali has a myriad of worlds to offer, all extraordinarily beautiful in their own unique ways.
We still have plenty of ground to cover, but here are some of my favourites so far:
Not technically in Bali itself, Nusa Lembongan is the largest and most developed of a trio of islands that lie off Bali’s coast. Easily accessed by fast boats departing from Sanur, the journey takes a mere 30 minutes and it is quite an experience to be transported from Sanur’s malls and hotels to a sleepy island fringed by clear blue waters and stunning cliffs.
There are a handful of bars and restaurants, notably on the main stretch Jungut Batu beach. However, these certainly did not distract from my principal aim of doing very little, sitting back and enjoying the magnificent views. For the more active, the islands are also destinations for surfing and diving, and mola mola pop by for a visit each year.
My tip: Gather a group and splurge on one of the villas offered by Nusa Lembongan Villas. These are, by far, the most beautiful on the island, and the villa we stayed in had an incredible infinity pool overlooking a cliff.
In the shadow of Mount Agung in East Bali lies a rocky coastline that is home to some of the island’s best diving and snorkelling. Sure, it is three hours away from Denpasar, but the drive is anything but boring – en route, you pass by the awe-inspiring rice terraces of Tirtagangga and the sacred Pura Goa Lawah, also known as the Bat Cave Temple.
The friend I was with had never snorkelled before, and after a brief crash course that involved learning how to breathe with a snorkel and stay afloat, we were on our way. A gorgeous variety of coral and fish greeted us, and we saw, amongst many others, yellow trumpetfish, dog-faced puffers and schools of juvenile barracuda.
For those expecting a traditional beach getaway, a word of warning: it is a pebble beach. If you are bent on feeling fine sand beneath your toes, the Gili islands are 45 minutes’ away by boat, so you can always plan a day-trip to one of their beaches or divide your time between both destinations.
My tip: There are plenty of accommodation options that cater to a whole spectrum of budgets. If you are looking for something a little bit unique, I recommend checking out The Kampung, Bahasa for ‘village’. They offer refurbished antique houses in a private setting, and ascribe to the ‘village’ theme so earnestly that even the small field at the entrance smells charmingly like manure.
A surprise entrant at the end of this list is one that is a stone’s throw from the Seminyak neighbourhood. Venture a little further from the usual comfort zone and you will be rewarded with endless rice fields and, if timed during the kite-flying season, innumerable specks of reds and blacks swaying gracefully with the wind.
For short trips, Canggu has become my preferred choice: it is still within reasonable driving distance from the airport and some of Bali’s best restaurant and bars, but is distant enough to provide a reclusive and utterly relaxing getaway. It also has sufficient pockets of quiet development for those who want to avoid the crowds, notably Jalan Pantai Berawa and the areas around Batu Bolong and Echo beach.
My tip: When looking for a place to stay, check out the myriad of options on Airbnb instead of booking yourself into a resort. They have a sizeable listing of villas in Canggu and we have found some amazing deals over the platform. My personal preference is to go with the owner-listed properties rather than those hawked by agents, but that also means one needs to pay a certain degree of respect to the space. In other words, no smoking indoors or drunkenly fashioning sun beds into makeshift rafts.