Beachside sign at Pemuteran, Bali, Indonesia

BALI, August 2010 (HELLO BALI) — Enigmatic no matter what the season, Bali cranks up a gear in August, one of the Hindu island’s busiest times. The challenge is not to find something to do, nor a fabulous place to hang your kaftan; it’s successfully whittling down the enormous list of possibilities to a few manageable items.

Got your swimmers? Sunscreen? Sunnies? Sarong? Then you’re pretty much set so hold on as we whisk you around the island, highlighting some of the choice places either to beat a retreat to or show off your glamorous threads.

Kick off in the bustling Kuta/Seminyak area, where thumping bars, gourmet restaurants and designer shops vie for the attention of the crowds. Don’t miss a meal at Cocoon, the new minimalist offering on Double Six – think day beds, pool with butler service, and sprawling sunset surf views. We’d also put organic-focussed Chandi on our must-eat list, as well as sumptuous Sarong, marvellous Metis and a swing by old Spanish favourite La Sal. Breakfast or coffee favs include Zucchini and The Tuckshop, both on Jalan Laksmana.

Accommodation-wise, families might want to consider old favourites Bali Dynasty or the Hard Rock Cafe, while hipsters should check out the stylish Clio studio apartments or further afield in Canggu, gorgeous Desa Seni, where individual houses from around the archipelago have been reconstructed amid magical gardens. Pack your oms: Their yoga classes are a must.

Now you might just want to plonk yourself on a deckchair or by your pool and do no more than lift an arm to sip a frosted drink or turn a magazine page while on Bali. But if you’ve got the energy, why not get out and learn how to catch a break in one of the world’s best surfing destinations?

Rip Curl School of Surf as well as Prosurf get good reviews for their group classes but one-on-one classes with OBB Surf Adventures also get great reports. Three days of private lessons with OBB will set you back US$175. You will certainly gain, but be prepared for some pain!

When you’ve had enough of scratchy sand slipping its way into your summer novel, head (very slightly) inland for a day at Waterbom, a water-themed park with a range of adrenaline-inducing tubes, as well as a dedicated kids’ area. The sprawling park is spotless and so well organised you may be mistaken for thinking you’re in Singapore (no offence, Indonesia). Adult admission is US$26, two to 12 year olds pay $16.

The Bali Safari and Marine Park should be on animal-lovers’ itineraries, boasting species ranging from tigers to Komodo dragons to elephants. Kids will enjoy a ride on an obliging pachyderm and get to see colourful fish up close and personal at the freshwater aquarium. Basic entry is 110,000 rupiah.

Meanwhile horse-lovers should make a beeline for Umalas Stables, where the healthy and happy looking horses can take you for a lengthy gallop along the beach or an amble through paddies, or a pony can take the kids for a wander in their little arena ($5 for 12 minutes).

Where to spend sunset is always going to spark debate among Bali lovers, for the choices are all so superb. Sip a cocktail at La Lucciola’s Frangipani, Samaya’s Breeze or sunset and party institution, Ku De Ta. If you want to glam it up away from the Seminyak crowd, scoot down to the Bukit to Ayana’s Rock Bar, which celebrates its first anniversary this August. Those wanting something low-key should head to surf spot Balangan for a quiet beer at one of the bamboo shacks on the beach — stay overnight at La Joya, if you don’t want to make the trek back.

One sunset activity that doesn’t involve cocktails is the kecak performance at Pura Uluwatu. Watch the portrayal of the classic Hindu epic, the Ramayana, by more than 100 performers, mostly men clad in black and white checked sarongs who sit in circles rhythmically chanting “cak”. It’s a bit of a tourist magnet, but still worth it.

After the dance go directly to Jimbaran, where warung after warung set up candelit tables on the sand and serve barbecued seafood freshly plucked from the waters lapping nearby. Menega is frequently cited as the best, but pretty much any of them serves a respectable feast. Select your own fish, prawns and mussels which are served with rice, vegetables and an array of tempting condiments, light or heavy on the chilli.

If you’re in Bali on a Sunday with kids, get yourself back to Ku De Ta for their family-friendly brunches. Kids will be entertained by the free imaginative craft activities on offer, from decorating picture frames to making pretty mobiles. And they’ll love the Coco Pops, while parents will drool over the ricotta hotcakes with strawberries and honeycomb, or an espresso martini.

Speaking of Sundays and martinis, Nutmegs at Hu’u started a delectable martini brunch menu last month – selections include lychee, lemongrass, dirty vodka, sour apple, spiced apple and mango (388,000++).

Spas of course are an island highlight, with some of the best in the world tucked away here. Enjoy the world’s largest aquatonic pool at Ayana Resort’s thalasso spa (US$44 for maximum of two hours), and also ensure you check out the private pool and infrared sauna at Karma Kandara – the view will snatch your breath away (US$45 for 45 minutes).

Those on a tighter budget should book an appointment Jari Menari, an all-male masseuse joint. Jari Menari means dancing fingers – magical dancing fingers mustn’t have rhymed, because that’s what you’ll find there. A basic 75-minute session costs 300,000 rupiah. Those on a tighter budget still should book into Cozy on Sunset Road, where the superbly trained masseuses offer a wide range of treatments, but they’re known for their 1.5 hour “Scalp Sensation”: A cream bath plus reflexology (100,000+).

From the coast, head up through those patchwork rice paddies to the hills of Ubud to savour the tranquility. Check out the Monkey Forest, a revered temple sanctuary where primates who can be a bit naughty are boss. As well, look up eccentric, knowledgeable Victor Mason and book in for one of his standard or bespoke bird-watching tours through Ubud’s paddies for something a little bit different.

Ubud’s dining choices are superb. Naughty Nuri’s, famed for its melt-off-the-bone meaty ribs, is an essential stop (their new Canggu branch may be open by August), and is right across from the Neka Art Museum, where you can browse a large selection of art by both Balinese and expatriates on display. Sari Organic offers delectable healthy options, while Ibu Oka’s is the best place on the island for babi guling, or suckling pig. Mozaic is meanwhile probably the island’s top fine dining location and worth booking ahead for. You can also book in for a cooking class here (from 900,000++ for half day, one to eight students), or at somewhat more affordable Casa Luna –(300,000 per half-day) – or back down in Nusa Dua, Bumbu Bali gets good reports (from US$70++).

Ubud accommodation options are wide-ranging, with Sawah Sunrise offering warm B&B-style hospitality through to mid-range Alam Shanti, pricier, stylish Uma and its break-out-the-platinum sister, Como Shambala Estate retreat.

Cooler than Ubud still is the fruit and veg capital of Bali, Bedugal. Set in the lush Bedugal Botanical Gardens is the unusual Bali Treetop Adventure, boasting an array of adventure circuits—flying foxes, spider nets and swings. Twenty-metre high stroll through the trees, anyone? Adult entry is $20, children up to 12 pay US$13 for 2.5 hours.

Diving enthusiasts are spoiled for choice on the island. Book in for an open water course – Blue Season Bali gets good reports. Once qualified head to Tulamben, one of the world’s best dive spots, which will set you back $99 combined with one other dive. Or go for a liveaboard, though you’ll have to book ahead for the most exclusive: Damai Dive.

Snorkelling however keeps many satisfied, particularly around eastern Amed and northern Pemuteran, where you can stumble from your hotel onto the beach. Santai is a fine caccommodation hoice in Amed, while if you’re ready for a splurge, Puri Ganesha in Pemuteran must be on your shortlist.

But one of the joys of Bali is discovering a special off-the-beaten path destination yourself. Don’t be afraid to strike out and see what you’ll find. Among the litany of choices: Sidemen and its gorgeous paddy scenery (check out the basic but friendly Lihat Sawah), the wild beaches of Balian (Pondok Pisces has charming bungalows) and Turtle Bay Hideaway, a completely isolated retreat — ask to sleep outside!


/ Bali, Indonesia, Travel