Some of my favorite childhood memories are the joyful times spent with my parents on a holiday, isolated from ordinary everyday activities. Between work commitments, household chores and day-to-day busyness of life, it’s easy for the family vacation to take a backseat. However, breaks with your loved ones are essential to keep the bond intact while stepping outside the comfort zone and having some fun. As I am thinking of my long-due adventure with my husband and parents, Bali comes to mind.
With gorgeous stretches of white sand, crystal clear azure waters, beautiful sunsets, interesting culture, welcoming locals, great shopping and delicious food to dig in, the Indonesian island seems like an ideal place for “time away with family”. Best part? Bali offers free visa on arrival which means you can take off whenever you want, minus the hassles of visa application and planning.
I instantaneously check flight options from Mumbai to Ngurah Rai International Airport (Denpasar) and book four seats on the Malindo airline flight that takes us to Bali with a quick halt in Kuala Lumpur. I simply love how we get to spend “us time” on flights. With no phone calls to attend or emails to write, we can focus on each other and have both silly and meaningful conversations. We arrive at Denpasar airport after a little more than ten hours, and queue up for the visa process which, fortunately, doesn’t take too long.
We prefer peace and relaxation over crowd and cacophany so we skip the touristy hot spots like Ubud, Seminyak and Kuta and opt to stay in a two-bedroom villa in calm and sleepy Ungasan.
We are spending five days at Karma Kandara, a cliff-top hideaway overlooking the Bukit Peninsula, which is a 45-minute drive from the aiport.
Our villa boasts of a tropical courtyard and private pool and beautifully blends traditional Balinese architecture with natural stone elements.
We are a bunch of people who love take in our surroundings at a relaxed pace rather than go manic sightseeing. Afterall, it’s not very often that we get the time and opportunity to simply close our eyes and lounge on a sunbed! After a smooth check in, we decide to spend the first day exploring our beautiful retreat, unwinding at the private beach which can be easily accessed by a private hill tram.
The seductive mix of balmy breeze, foaming edges of the majestic ocean, jungle vistas and soft music helps us to loosen up and get in the mood for magical Bali.
My mother and I are enjoying a barefoot stroll along the sandy beach as the setting sun drifts toward the horizon and sets the evening sky ablaze with shades of yellow, orange and red.
The boys decide to break a sweat with a game of volleyball with a group from Thailand!
We wrap up the day by indulging in freshly-cooked pizzas, succulent grilled meats and gastro salads at Karma Beach Club, the informal beachside cabana restaurant of our very own retreat. Food definitely tastes better at a beach!
To plunge deep into Bali’s spirit, one must chase its clear waters and catch the perfect waves.
We spend the morning sea kayaking, snorkeling in the reefs and paddle boarding at our private beach. Alternatively, one can head to Nusa Dua (one of the best-known areas for watersport in Bali) for snorkelling parasailing, flying fish, jet ski, banana boat, wakeboarding and more.
To satiate our hunger, we choose to enjoy a quick lunch comprising nasi goreng (fried rice) and mei goreng (fried noodles).
While the ingredients of these dishes may vary from region to region, they can be easily called the “informal national dishes of Indonesia”. Expect rice or noodles with spices, vegetables, shrimp, topped with fried egg and often served with fried crisps.
From beautiful flower-petal offerings placed everywhere to colourful and elaborate temple ceremonies, almost everything in Bali has a spiritual meaning. The island has more than 10,000 temples, each at a spellbinding location, with mesmerising views around. Moreover, they never fail to impress with their spectacular structure and architectural details.
To delve deeper into the culture and history of Balinese temples, we drive to the 10th century Uluwatu temple which is only 20-minutes away from our resort and perched on top of a steep cliff, around 250 feet above the waves of the Indian Ocean. We hang around until sunset to be able to witness the Kecak dance that is performed everyday at the adjacent cliff-top stage from 6 to 7 pm.
For dinner, we pick Belmond Jimbaran Puri’s Tunjung Restaurant that combines the stunning views of Jimbaran Bay with authentic Indonesian flavours. A tranquil fising village on Bali’s southwestern coast, Jimbaran is known for its exquisite restaurants and lavish hotels that make for celebrity haunts. Tanjung Restaurant is where Executive Chef Adi Wijaya dishes out his version of Balinese specialities like Gado Gado (Indonesian style steamed vegetables rolled in rice paper served with melinjo crackers and peanut sauce) and Bebek Betutu (Traditional Balinese dish, slow roasted duck leg marinated with 16 local spices wrapped in banana leaf served with lawar salad and sambal condiments) in an idyllic setting.
We love hearty breakfasts during our travels. And why not? A good morning meal helps us stay energised all day!
After a big breakfast, we set out for a day trip to Ubud, Bali’s cultural and artistic heart. Although we wish we had the luxury of endless time in Ubud, we had to pack its beauty and serenity in a day! We make our first stop at the Sacred Monkey Forest, a lush jungle sanctuary which is full of cheeky little macaques vying for attention. We are asked to make sure our bags and pockets have no food or glittering items.
Not many know that Bali is popular for its coffee made out of luwak poop which is also one of the most expensive coffee varieties in the world. Yes, you heard it right! Coffee tasting at the Kopi Luwak plantation is one of the most interesting culinary experiences in Ubud. When Bali was under Dutch colonial rule, much of the quality coffee was exported out of the country. Local farmers realised that the local luwak cats ate the coffee fruit but weren’t able to digest the beans themselves. They realised that the whole beans could be harvested from their droppings, cleaned and processed into coffee. Also, the digestive enzymes of the luwak changed the flavour of the coffee beans to a mellower and tastier flavour. This is how Kopi Luwak was born.
We are delighted to be presented with a wooden tray with about 12 tea and coffee samples which included flavours like vanilla, ginseng and coconut. A must try!
After seeing umpteen pictures of Ubud on Instagram, we are eager to discover its stunning rice fields. The neatly layered terraces of Tegalalang rice fields line the side of Ubud’s famous green hills, making for a stunning view that has to be seen to be believed.
We spend some quiet time observing the splendid greenery at one of cafes overlooking the rice fields before moving forward for our shopping spree.
From batik sarongs, Balinese masks, wooden bowls and home decor to tees, bags, dresses and handicraft items, Ubud Art Market or Pasar Seni Ubud is a paradise for street shopping. For those who don’t wish shop, simply viewing the various items on display is a highlight on its own!
Ubud Art Market also served as a setting for the Julia Roberts starrer Hollywood movie Eat Pray Love!
We want to squeeze out every last second before we have to jump in that car, back to our resort. We stop at Goa Gajah ‘Elephant Cave’ which dates back to the 11th century.
Located on the cool western edge of Bedulu Village, six kilometres out of central Ubud, we spend around an hour here, descending to its relic-filled courtyard and uncovering the rock-wall carvings, a central meditational cave, bathing pools and fountains. Goa Gajah was originally built as a spiritual place for meditation.
After our fill of beach time, we are ready for hedonistic fun in party capitals Kuta and Seminyak that are said to introduce travellers to a completely different side of Bali. At Kuta beach, we soak up the sun and sip on refreshing coconut water sold by local hawkers.
All along Kuta’s main beach road Jalan Pantai, we see little stalls and stores selling everything from knitted beach wear and round, basket-style rattan bags to fridge magnets and interesting knick-knacks that can be gifted as souvenirs to loved ones.
Don’t miss the Fipper store – a store dedicated to slippers that are available in every possible style and colour, and that too for a steal!
A stone’s throw north, Seminyak offers boutique shopping and refined nightlife options. Bali’s shopping headquarter, Seminyak’s alleys are packed with everything from designer boutiques (Paul Ropp, Lulu Yasmine) to homewares, art and antiques stores (Enfants Paradis, Saya Gallery) and independent beach and surfwear shops (Drifter, Blue Glue). Its cool cafes and slick bars have popular bands and DJs performing regularly, as well as a host of dining choices run by renowned international chefs who have made Bali their home. We spend our evening at the hot spot beach bar, Potato Head that wins brownie points for its quirky u-shaped building overlooking an infinity pool, facing the ocean. We order for appetisers and cocktails at the poolside bed and take a dip at intervals before joining the dancing crowd as the night sets in.
As our family holiday comes to a sweet end, we are packing our suitcases with Balinese memorabilia and some wonderful memories. Pondering over the good times and experiences, we realise that Bali isn’t just a place or a fun-in-the-sun retreat but a state of mind that promotes tranquility, joy and togetherness!
QUICK TRAVEL TIPS:
1. One of our favourite things as a family is hitting a supermarket on the day of arrival and stocking up on local fruits, snacks and titbits for quick on-the-go munching in between meals. If you’re planning a budget trip, eating out for every meal can take out a huge chunk from your pocket. Supermarkets act as saviours here. At the supermarket, we are like children in a candy store! Apart from delicious, juicy fruits like mangosteen, mangoes, durian and rambutan, we stock up on cans of Bintang (local beer), cup noodles in different flavours and sambal (Balinese hot sauce) to go with it. Supermarkets in Bali have racks filled with cup noodles and it’s hard to pick your favourite flavours!
2. We booked our Ubud Day Tour through Klook which is a wonderful experience planning application. From bar hopping and adventure activities to day tours in Bali, you have a wide range of experiences to choose from. Plus, their drivers arrive on time and are quite flexible with the itinerary!
3. Changing money in Bali is tricky as there is no shortage of unscrupulous kiosks offering attractive exchange rates. Bali consists of denominations of IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) 500 to IDR 100,000 in the form of banknotes and IDR 25 to IDR 1,000 in the form of coins. It’s advisable to carry dollars instead of Indian rupees and change money at the International arrivals of the Ngurah Rai International Airport or authorised kiosks at supermarkets which offer fairly competitive rates. Make sure to carry small denominations with you as it is often hard to obtain change.
4. Bali is home to wide range of restaurants serving both International and local cuisines! Don’t miss the warungs (small, family-owned restaurant or cafés) that serve Balinese specialities in a simple setting. Warungs are an essential part of daily life in Bali. However, choose your eatery wisely. Bali belly (upset stomach or travellers’ diarrhoea) is a common phenomenon.
5. In Bali, no matter where you are, you’re never too far away from a massage. Seminyak is packed with massage parlours for every budget. Tired travelers can pamper themselves with highly-affordable massages and spa treatments. What’s more? You can also get your hair braided here!
6. When shopping in Bali, remember the word “bargain”. Usually, items sold by street vendors are highly overpriced. Start by offering a price that’s 50 per cent below the initial price. You’re sure to bag a good deal! If bargaining is not your thing, visit Krisna, a large souvenir store on Sunset Road. They have fixed prices and sometimes a lot cheaper than at a local market. It’s a nice pick for last-minute shopping.
7. Bali is a crowded island and traffic jams can be a pain. Consider renting a scooter to drive around packed areas like Kuta and Seminyak. Scooter rentals cost around 50,000 IDR per day. Local taxis work as a good option. Strictly opt for government-recognised metered taxis by Blue Bird Group or be ready to pay hefty fare with other local taxi companies. Avoid drivers that ask for a fixed price as it is usually much more than what you would pay for a metered fare.