The amazing Bali views you shouldn’t miss
From the bustling boutiques, bars and beach clubs of the south coast to the serene beauty and chilled vibe of the east, there’s a Bali that’s right for you.
- May 2018
If you’ve ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a celebrity, try arriving at Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport in Denpasar. As you emerge from customs, crowds start waving frantically, desperate for your attention. Momentarily confused, I look over my shoulder to see if someone famous has arrived, but no, this is the way everyone is greeted. Hotel touts, tour leaders and taxi drivers all vie energetically for their slice of the tourist dollar. It’s organised chaos and a familiar scene – the airport hustle South East Asia is famous for.
Once you’re on the road there’s more – traffic jams and car horns, scooters whizzing past, and trucks negotiating tiny streets. While at roadside cafés – no more than a couple of plastic tables on the pavement – locals calmly sip coffee as cars speed by. The main road heading to the island’s west coast can be noisy, busy and dirty, but there’s also the touch of warm air on your cheeks, the smell of tropical fruit and spices, bright blue skies and tall, gently waving palms, all promising so much more.
Frequent visitors to Bali may lament its change from idyll to tourist haunt, but as a first-timer I have few preconceptions. Will I find the beach clubs, shopping and chic cafés and bars I’ve heard about, or will the island offer a laidback slice of paradise? I’m hoping for both.
In the heart of things
Kuta doesn’t evoke the glamorous associations of its upmarket neighbours Seminyak or Uluwatu, but it’s a convenient base. From here, the whole of the west coast is within fairly easy reach. North from Kuta is still-laidback Canggu, popular for surf lessons, and the upscale resorts and boutiques of nearby Seminyak, home to designer stores selling resort wear, handmade jewellery, leather bags and homewares. Some of the island’s most sought-after bars and restaurants – including Melbourne chef Frank Camorra’s MoVida Bali at Katamama Hotel (a must-do) – are here too.
On the island’s south-western tip stand the rugged, rocky cliffs of Uluwatu, where exclusive resorts and easy-going beach bars dot the coastline. At El Kabron, a Spanish-themed club perched high on the bluff, the infinity pool looks out across the ocean and offers postcard views of surfers catching waves and the wide horizon. A cover charge gives you all-day access to its chic sun loungers, the pool and restaurant. This is where the glam crowd likes to hang, and you can see why. It’s secluded, beautiful and indulgent.
From El Kabron, it’s not far to the Uluwatu temple, which dates back to the 11th century. A visit at sunset is another essential Bali experience. As well as the elegant beauty of the temple buildings, it’s famous for its naughty monkeys who love to steal tourists’ belongings.
As the sun begins to dip, the temple draws large crowds. But even elbow-to-elbow this has to be one of Bali’s most beautiful places. As the sky turns from deep pink to indigo we stay for the Balinese dancers who take over the temple amphitheatre to perform the Kecak Fire Dance, using only their voices to deliver a cacophony of rhythmic sound that charts this dramatic tale of love and evil.
If Bali’s central and south coast is all about shopping, dining and lounging by the pool, the Uluwatu temple is a reminder there’s another side to Bali that shouldn’t be missed.
Escape the crowds
A desire to tap into the spiritual and cultural side of the island, and to experience some of its untouched natural beauty, is the reason why many tourists head east instead of west. On the east coast you can forget traffic jams and jostling crowds. Instead, dramatic black sand beaches, steep rice paddy terraces, lush rainforests, distant mountain peaks, chilled-out surfers, serene temples, traditional villages and quiet nights are the backdrop to a region that is all about shifting into the slow lane.
The elegant Wyndham Tamansari Jivva resort in the Klungkung district is one of just a handful of developments on this stretch of coast, just 20km from Ubud. Here, verdant gardens tumble down to the beach and low-rise buildings look out over rice fields and paddocks where cows lazily graze, across to the dark volcanic sand or towards the pool where guests seek shade under pretty Balinese umbrellas.
Wyndham’s large, open-air yoga deck, tucked away near the garden spa, indicates that health and wellness is a priority. And yoga retreats, holidays focused on wellness and cultural activities (think cooking classes, art tours, temple visits and experiences in nature) are top of the local activity list. We visit a coffee farm set in lush rice paddies, see a butterfly garden where brightly coloured insects land on our hands and hair, and observe local women practise the intricate art of batik. All before heading back to Jivva for a long, soothing massage, followed by a herbal tea overlooking a rice field stretching down to the sea.
On a visit to the exquisite Tirta Empul temple near Ubud, where pilgrims purify themselves in a series of freshwater pools, our charming guide Agung shares stories of the Hindu gods and the island’s history, from Dutch colony to proudly independent state. It’s a brief glimpse of local life and culture that stays with you when you leave, even as you fight the traffic back to the airport.
Justine Costigan was a guest of Wyndham Hotel Group.
Where to stay
A stylish hotel opposite the beach with pool and inhouse spa. Rooms start from IDR 735,000 (AUD $70).
A stunning location far from the crowds offering rooms, suites and pool villas. Rooms start from IDR 1,050,000 (AUD $100).