Admittedly, my love of Bali is born out of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling memoir, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. Before Elizabeth introduced me to her version of Bali, I was one of many Australians who mistook the Indonesian island on our doorstep as a stomping ground for our bogan* countrymen and women. In part, it’s true. Any Jetstar flight landing in Denpassar from Australia is likely to be three-quarters full of mullet-hairstyled, singlet-clad lads or surfers** bound for the heaving bars and crassness of Kuta. Move along from Kuta, dear goddesses, and you’ll discover the super-chilled, laid back and affordable Bali that the rest of us come for.
I’ve fallen for the private Balinese villa experience. A well-staffed luxury villa offers most of what you get from a 5-star hotel in Bali – lazy days filled with relaxing by the pool in beautifully appointed accommodation with great food, attentive service and on-demand pampering. And with the price of villas starting at less than the cost of a luxury hotel, it’s incredibly good bang for your buck. But for the uninitiated, searching for a villa is overwhelming because there are so many options to choose from. So, what to look out for?
The online search – tips & tricks
- There are a number of good online villa directories that allow you to search by the location (see picking your destination below), number of rooms, price, type of experience (e.g. beachfront, golf villas) and the type of view (e.g. beach, ocean, rice paddy, river views). We recommend Bali-Seminyak Villas,Seminyak Villas, Bali Vilas Rentals and Bali Villas Vacation. Note: You may be overwhelmed by every starting to look the same, so you just have to be clear on the amenities you want, your budget and eventually just pick one!
- When you’ve decided on a location (e.g. Seminyak, Jimbaran Bay, Ubud), you’ll then need to decide on where you want to be within that location (beachfront, compound, near shops, near restaurants/bars, solitude in the middle of rice paddies). Print out a map (e.g. via Google Earth or Google Maps) to pinpoint the exact streets you want to be near. (ote: Some properties listed as Seminyak are actually in Kuta and descriptions of ‘close’ to beach actually fail to include the phrase ‘if you have a driver, and in the unlikely event that the traffic is flowing well’). Ask for street addresses of the villas you are considering – it is time consuming but ultimately worth it to avoid disappointment.
- Once you’ve made a shortlist, jump on to Google Earth and check out how close they are to main roads, restaurants and bars, temples and farms – all of which can be noisy or smelly. Remember that Google Earth images can be a couple of years old so if the villa you’ve chosen has a vacant block next to it, just check with the booking agent that it isn’t now a construction site or pig farm. It’s also worth checking out reviews on Trip Advisor.
- Look for a villa that includes a driver and services including in-villa catering, massage and you definitely want a swimming pool. Don’t be shy to ask for items not on the menu as the chef often loves to show you what he/she can do. It’s fun to discuss menus and ingredient options and the chef will often be very happy to take you to the market with them in the morning to choose the food for that day
- Try to book directly through the villa’s individual website as you’re likely to get a better rate.
Picking your location
Bali offers a range of different experiences, the most popular being:
Ubud – for an inland mountain location surrounded by rice paddies, traditional Balinese culture and it’s artistic community. It’s also the home of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival;
Seminyak, Kerobokan and Jimbaran Bay – for an upmarket beach location with sunset bars, good seafood restaurants and shopping;
Canggu – just north of Seminyak, Canggu but has many private villas in the rice paddies that come with drivers to take you to the beach each day (if you like) or will ferry you to Seminyak for dinner each evening;
Ullawatu – for great surf and stunning cliff-top ocean views;
Kuta and Legian – don’t go there unless sleazy nightclubs and tacky bars are your thing; and
Sanur & Nusa Dua – for family-friendly beach holidays.
What to pack
Not much. Bring the bare essentials (swimsuit, sarong, thongs***, hat, sunscreen, mosquito repellent a couple of floaty dresses that take you from beach to bar) and leave enough room in your suitcase for the shopping you’ll inevitably do. Forget the high heels – the streets can be treacherous so flat shoes are a godsend. Bali has high import taxes on alcohol, so it’s worth stocking up at duty free on departure – the alcohol limit is 1.5 litres per adult.
Things to do
The best thing about a villa holiday in Bali is doing nothing at all. Be pampered with massage (in most cases your villa will book therapists to come to you – it’s de rigeur to tip the villa staff and massage staff at the end of the stay), indulge in great food and wine (see Dining Out) or go shopping. For a giggle, book an in-villa personal training session (‘Rose’ took us back to the 80’s with an aerobics session to the sound of techno pop that we’ll never forget) and for the more adventurous book into a surfing lesson (Surf Goddess runs surf and yoga retreats for women), go white water rafting, mountain biking or climb Batur volcano – all of which can be organised by your villa.
Most luxury villas over in-house dining and catering options, but its also worth booking into some of the great restaurants and cafes Bali has to offer. In Ubud, try Mozaic* for award-winning French-Indonesian fusion cuisine in a beautiful setting; and Bridges* for fine dining in a relaxed setting, a cocktail lounge overlooking the river and Ubud’s only wine bar. In Seminyak, al fresco dining overlooking the beach at BREEZE at The Samaya and cocktails by the pool at Nutmeg Restaurant at Hu’Bar; head to La Lucciola (Kaya Ayu Beach, Temple Petitenget, Kerobokan) for a great brunch, or hang out with cool ex-pat types over what’s rumoured to be the best coffee in town at the Grocer & Grind. The Beach House at Echo Beach (Jl Nura Batu Mejan) is renowned for its seafood BBQ. * Bookings essential.
Bali is a shopping mecca for those who love Bali-style furnishings, homewares, woven baskets, garden furniture, amazing lights, Buddha and Ganesh statues, clothing and silver jewellery. There’s also a lot of not-so-great stuff that can make shopping overwhelming, so it’s a good idea to pick up a Luxe Guide a basic guide to start with. Many of the upmarket homewares, stone Buddha and lighting shops will also organise shipping home for you at a reasonable cost.
Visas & Departure taxes
30-day visas can be obtained on arrival Denpassar Airport. Tip: To avoid the often two-hour long immigration queues, ask your villa to book a ‘fast track immigration’ service or book it through Bali Concierge for US$55 (including your visa and the VIP service). Keep Rps 150,000 up your sleeve for departure tax.
* ‘Bogan’ is a slang Australian term used to describe uncouth, usually lower-class people with bad taste and quite commonly, loud mannerisms. A bogan is akin to what Brits refer to as a ‘chav’ and Americans call‘trailer park trash’.
** Bali is a mecca for surfers and whilst there are some bogan surfers it would be unkind of me to lump the two together.
*** ‘Thongs’ is the Australian term for flip flops, sandals or Jandals.
© Kris McIntyre 2011