In Bali

Update, 4 October 2008: Here’s an excellent article on Bali’s resurgent tourism and the environmental challenges it is posing, by The Age‘s Indonesia correspondent, Mark Forbes.

Original post: This barrister is in Bali. So no new posts until the fury of deadlines which will unleash itself on me again on my return on 19 September 2007 abates sufficiently. Sorry about that. I took this photo in the early morning looking into the Sayan Valley near Ubud, in which is to be found what is considered to be one of the world’s best hotels but which is in fact a dreadful place with a great view, with all the charm of a super-luxury voluntary prison camp.

Choice is over-rated. Sometimes it’s good to be told what to do. Here’s how to have a good time in Bali:

1. Take a pre-paid taxi from the airport to Legian, completely missing next-door Kuta (no need to go there at all) and stay in room 3Bl or 6BL at Three Brothers’ Inn (US$45 a night, probably negotiable), unless the Bali Niksoma‘s within your budget. One has a nice garden and pool, the other a beachfront location to die for. Stay there a while, walking along the beach for 30 or 40 minutes to Seminyak (as a break from otherwise taking readily available taxis, most trips costing just a couple of dollars) every day for a long stretch at Ku De Ta, alternately: eating and drinking; swimming in the strong surf just metres away; lying in the sun; and showering and changing on site. They have wireless internet too. Breakfast is particularly good there on the sunlounges overlooking the beach; $8 will buy you good coffee, eggs benedict, bacon, baked beans, toast, fresh fruit, and an orange juice.

2. The place with the yellow umbrellas on the way is The Oberoi, with a garden by Made Wijaya, Australia’s world famous tropical garden designer. Go there one day for lunch and ogle at the pool and the Eurobeauties and princesses Japonnaises and their salaryman husbands. Have a drink one night as the sun goes down by the pool at The Legian after having lain on one of the innumerable sunlounges which can be very cheaply rented on the beach and given in to the massage ladies’ offers of an on-beach massage. Instead of moaning about the beach vendors’ insistence, buy some of their tat.

3. Get a car and a driver and go up to Ubud for $20 or $30 or whatever you feel like paying. Everyone can drive well enough, and all the cars are more or less the same. What you want is someone with really good English. They’re not that easy to find. This is your man: I Made Pering Sukadana. His mobile number is 081 657 4640. His email, which he does not check every day, is Stay at the Iba, the Tjampuhan ($US50 a night; a rare instance of a place twice as good as its website makes out), Tegal Sari ($50 a room), or Honeymoon Guesthouse, in order of your budget. Do a cooking course with Janet de Neefe, eat at Casa Luna, and go to Indus, all part of her empire. Hang out in the bar at Murni’s. Eat also at the unbelievably good TeraZo, Miro’s Garden Restaurant, and have a drink at dusk at Cafe Lotus. Eat Balinese food — this is quite different from Indonesian food, and needs to be sought out — whenever you can. Nasi campur is great. Sate lilit (minced seafood satay) and Pepes Ikan (minced fish cooked in a banana leaf) are too.

4. Go see some wayang kulit and classical dance — this is the place to do so, and there’s not a lot else to do in the evenings.

5. Find yourself a local to take you for a couple of dollars on a walk up the stairs near the Tjampuhan Hotel on the way to Indus to Penestanan, a zone of beautiful rice paddies from where you can walk into the Sayan Valley (see photo), where you should consider staying, incidentally, at Sayan Terrace Hotel (downards of $100) unless you can afford Taman Bebek which is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful accommodation I have ever seen. When I was there, they were offering a 50% discount on their published rates. Furthermore, find out when Victor Mason is going to be participating in his famous bird walk — don’t worry if you have no interest at all in birds — and make every effort to go on that day. He is one of the last great English characters of the tropics.

6. When you want to get away from it all, head to the north coast and stay in the Octagon at Just Beside Cilik’s Beach Garden (80 euros a night). Eat what the Balinese co-owners dish up, or ride a bike a few kilometres down the road to Puri Bagus Ponjok Batu.

7. Then loop along the north and then East coasts and stay at Seraya Shores, run by an Australian couple and their very competent Balinese staff, again eating what they dish up to you. This is a really good place. No nonsense like TVs or minibars. Just good taste.

8. Then head right down to the southernmost promontory of Bali, the rather unattractive Bukit peninsula. Stay at a little oasis in the ugliness: Mu Bali (from 75 euros in low season) — now there’s a tip you won’t find in Lonely Planet. Run by a taciturn French surfer with good taste, the views are to die for. Communal dinners under the cashew nut tree are divine ($14 per person), but breakfasts are what puts the icing on the cake. Really really good croissants and bread with real butter and novel tropical jams, eggs, fresh fruit, fruit juice, and coffee, all served up on beautiful crockery. The old gardener guy owns the land. Jerome leases it. The folks in the kitchen are all related to the old guy. Well, at least one of them is his daughter, anyway. Not the greatest options for swimming in the sea nearby — this is surfing territory — but who cares when you’ve got such a nice pool?

9. Drink Martinis: $6 in classy places, and Storm Beer from Bali’s first microbrewery, incredibly good stuff, typically selling in a decent place for $2-$3 a stubbie. Eschew at all costs: Hatten wines — why try to make wine in Bali? — and the dreadful national beer Bintang. It is a big country but most of the population is too Moslem or too poor, or both, to drink beer.

10. Use Bali Eats to work out where to eat. Read Made Wijaya’s website, Murni’s website, The Yak’s website for a glossy window into what Bali’s chattering expat class is up to, Lonely Planet’s new Haystack accommodation finder, and Bali Blog, and use Flickr to find other travellers’ photographs of hotels you are interested in. Read Jonathan Copeland’s new book, Secrets of Bali.

11. Avoid feces, not well cooked chicken or live chickens. Ducks, chooks, and pigs all have bird flu in Bali. It’s from the feces that bird flu is caught. Worry about terrorism to the extent of avoiding places packed out with tourists doing things your average Moslem fundamentalist is likely to find especially objectionable; worry more instead about bird flu. Indonesia has both the highest number of bird flu deaths and the highest mortality rate for those infected. Two people have died in Bali in the last little while. There are 300,000 chooks running around the place alone. Don’t go without travel insurance.

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