Bali, affectionately named the "Island of the Gods", is one of the more beautiful island destinations in this part of the world. If you're looking for a short holiday to romance your significant other, look no further than Bali. The seascapes, world-class dining, luxurious villa accommodations, form the trifecta of the perfect romantic getaway.
Bali can be enjoyed in-depth in just 4 days and 3 nights. There's not that many sights to see, and most people spend their time getting pampered in the spas, eating up a storm, and languishing in their private villas anyway.
Try as best to avoid the tropical monsoon season from December to March, because it's no fun being stuck indoors, away from the sun and fun. We once were in Bali in December, and got so rained out, we hardly got out of the villa. On the day we left for the airport, the streets were flooded 2 feet high.
Bali's international airport Ngurah Rai recently underwent a major facelift, so it's a lot spiffier. Designer boutiques, the ubiquitous souvenir shops, and restaurants and coffee joints serving up an extensive range of international cuisine are bound to keep departing travellers happily occupied till boarding time.
Be wary of the "helpful" porters who provide "assistance" of their own volition to carry your luggage, when arriving or departing. It is NOT a free service, so unless you're prepared to tip them well, tell them that you're happy to carry your own luggage.
The Premier Lounge, a partner lounge of Singapore Airlines - unlike the previous lounge, which had a gorgeous open-aired terrace, this is an entirely enclosed space.
The lounge food was marginally preferable to plane food, so unless indicated otherwise, you should pass these over. At least there was free wifi and free-flow of alcoholic drinks.
Club Sandwich & Chicken Burger
Bread Rolls with butter, strawberry and honey jam
Fruit Cake, Chocolate Cake & Vanilla Eclair
Cereals - generic but edible
Fresh Cut Fruits
Chinese Fried Rice
Oyster Sauce Vegetables - simple but edible
Chicken Spring Roll
Meatballs - surprisingly decent, hearty
Clear Vegetable Soup and Creamed Corn Soup
Orange Juice and Fruit Punch
Unlike Hanoi, which was conducive for walking around, Bali doesn't quite accommodate for walking the streets. The sideways, if any, are ridiculously narrow and uneven. We cabbed everywhere, even if the restaurant was a mere 5-minute ride away.
Cabs in Bali mostly negotiate a pre-arranged fee before allowing you to get in, so best ask your concierge for the "standard rate" to your destination so you don't get ripped off.
There is the occasional cab which abides by the metered rate, but be sure to have the exact change and notes, because they usually won't have the change for you. We usually let this slide, because the lack of change isn't much, by Singapore's standards.
Note, though, that there is a minimum sum of IDR30,000 charged by cabs, so even if the meter shows a lower fee, you'll be expected to pay the minimum sum of IDR30,000.
We changed about about S$200 worth of Indonesian Rupiah, which well covered our airport
transfers and cab rides around the Seminyak, for 2 persons. Our activities, cooking classes, food, souvenirs, accommodation and spa treatments were covered under our
credit cards. Bali's very developed, so most places accept credit cards.
If you're planning to eat at those hole-in-the-wall, cash-only establishments, change about another S$50 for 2 persons.
One last thing: remember to retain about Rp200,000 per person for international departure tax. Only cash is accepted, and you'll have to make payment at the airport at the departure hall just before you hit the immigration counter. Be sure to retain a copy of your receipt, otherwise you may be stopped at the boarding gates.
The Balinese are mostly Hindus, so they're generally a peace-loving, super friendly, super smiley, super gentle bunch. Yes, peace-loving, despite the few bombings that shook the tranquil island. Those were a minority extremists, and should not tar the rest of them good apples. You will note that most hotels now take their security quite seriously, and just about every vehicle is searched (superficially) before being allowed to enter the grounds.
There are many developed regions in Bali, so which one suits to stay at?
Avoid Kuta at all costs, which is overtly commercialized, rowdy, and crass, filled with American GIs and backpackers, unless you like that sort of thing.
Ubud, the cultural hub, is for artsy fartsy people, who prefer a mozzie-riddled view of the padi fields to the seascapes of the coastal areas. This area is packed with art galleries and full of mopey introspective long-suffering artist-types, so if you prefer to immerse yourself in the culture and paint and do art or stuff like that, Ubud is the place for you. A major plus point of staying in Ubud is dining at Mozaic, arguably the best restaurant in all of Bali.
Jimbaran may be lined with well-known upscale hotel chains like the Intercontinental, Four Seasons, Le Meridien or Ayana (which used to be the Ritz), but the area doesn't have much to see or do other than at the hotels themselves. The silver lining: it's only a 35-40 minute cab ride out to the vibrancy of Seminyak.
Uluwatu has gorgeous views, but like Nusa Dua and Sanur, a little too remote and far-flung to the developed nightlife and restaurant scene of the Seminyak-Legian region. Uluwatu's hotels are usually built right into the cliffs, so views at the hotels here (Bulgari) are second to none. Just be sure you're ok being stuck in the resort where you're staying.
Seminyak is where all the major restaurants and nightlife are at. There are a million and one villa-only resorts to choose from here as well, and if you're not too fussy, you can find one, usually a boutique villa with few amenities, to stay at for only US$100 per night. The most posh resort in Seminyak is probably the W. It may not be the most opulent on the island, but its central location more than makes up for the missing star to the top-end resorts of St Regis or Bulgari. Rates start at USD500 per night. Full write-up of the W here.
Massage is a must-do in Bali. The island has as many massage joints as there are mini-marts! And, really, a Balinese massage is best done in Bali, where it first originated.
For affordable massages, head to Bodyworks, a local institution, where you get oiled up for less than S$28 (IDR260,000 for 1 hour full body Balinese massage).
The traditional Balinese-styled spa is low in frills but high on quality.
The spa also offers a full range of facials, mani-pedis and hair treatments for an all-over pampering experience. Reservations are highly recommended at this busy spot, or be prepared to be turned away.
For a more western, more modern feel, head to Glo Day Spa. It's further away from the Seminyak center, but offers more sophisticated treatments, microdermabrasion and slimming treatments. A 1-hour full-body Balinese massage starts upwards of IDR195,000/S$20.50.
The Australian-run spa wouldn't look at all out of place if it were in Singapore.
Like Bodyworks, Glo Day Spa also offers a full-range of mani-pedis, including gelish.
For head to toe primping, Glo Day Spa even offers threading, lash extensions and makeup. This place would be great for a pampering hen's party.
For a more luxurious experience, head to the in-house spas of the hotels. Despite the garish neon lighting, I loved the Away Spa at the W. Full writeup here.
The W has an in-house cooking class (IDR650,000/S$68 per person) available on weekdays from 12pm to 1.30pm. It's entirely private, so you get personalised attention, and each of us got our own work stations. Of all the holiday cooking classes attended so far, the W's cooking class got the Hubs' vote.
Bali has a very developed, vibrant nightlife scene. For grown-up fun (not the hedonistic, drink-till-you-pass-out variety of fun), I'd recommend Ku De Ta, with its daybeds right on the beach, and set against the rhythm of the crashing waves, or the Woo Bar at the W, or Metis, where the beautiful people congregate.
We don't do a lot of sightseeing at beach-centric holidays, but the 1 thing I'd personally advise to avoid is the Rocks Bar. It looks nothing like the pictures, because it's sardine-packed with PRC tourists, there are long queues to even get into the damn bar, and watching the sunset is a hot, sweaty, bothersome affair.
The premier supermarket of choice, frequented by expats and locals alike, is Bintang Supermarket at Jl Raya Seminyak 17. It looks the same as it did 7 years ago, and carries the gamut of fresh local produce to the exotic. You'll find Spanish chorizo in the same aisle as local vegetables!
I'm always curious as to how Lay's localises their potato chips, like these BBQ and Ayam Panggang flavours (Rp9,900/S$1 each). LOVED them both. These Indofood Chitato crinkle-cut potato chips (Rp9,900/S$1) were pretty good too, and I'd recommend the very addictive ayam bumbu flavour.
The Ubud region is the coffee producing hub of Bali, and the best of the lot is the Luwak. The robust Robusta (Rp132,000/S$14) and the less potent Arabica (Rp132,000/S$14) make great souvenirs for friends back home.The coffee plantations are mostly concentrated in Ubud, but you can buy these from almost anywhere on the island.
Twice before I've been to Bali, and both times, the highlight of my trips were the western food. I've been to Jimbaran seafood shacks, various Balinese warungs, and they were all bleh bland experiences.
Avoid the seafood shacks at Jimbaran, which are raved about by many a useless guidebook. It's a total rip-off, and what we get in Singapore at Chomp Chomp, East Coast Food Centre, or Bedok 85 Market are far superior. Even the ones at Newton Hawker! The seafood here is just grilled/barbecued, plain. No sauce, nothing, nada. If you ask for sambal, they give you this red looking paste that's mainly mashed tomatoes with a little bit of lime, zero kick or flavour at all.
I also don't understand the fascination with babi guling, a Balinese nasi padang-like dish centered upon slices of roasted suckling pig. It's not like they sell you the whole pig on its own, like they do in Singapore. It's just economy rice, glorified by people who've never had suckling pig the way we do here in Singapore.
My advice is to head straight for the high-end western restaurants, which consistently feature in the "best-of" lists on the international stage, like San Pellegrino and Miele Guide. And, because of the exchange rate, you eat much more affordably than you would at a comparative restaurant in Singapore.
A tip is to dine at 6.30 pm, so you get to enjoy the sunset views, but dine in the cool of the night. Also, slap on the mosquito repellant, because the restaurants are mostly open-aired and there will be mozzies buzzing about.
A firm favourite of mine is Metis, a French restaurant reincarnate of Kafe Warisan. The foie gras and souffle are not to be missed.
Ku De Ta has recently launched a new fusion restaurant concept, a gorgeous glass enclosure perched above the original Ku De Ta. Named 'Mejekawi', it offers just 2 set menus for dinner, a more-than-filling 5-course and a tummy-busting 12-course.
If hankering for North Indian or Indochinese cuisine, head to Sarong, where they really know their spices. Get the beef short ribs and sashimi salmon.
If you really really want seafood, head to Sardine, where the seafood is ultra fresh, and cooked to perfection.