|Travelling: Bali High|
by Sherrie Liu Schabel
Bali is surely on the top of everyone's must see list - it's easy to reach, shopping is plentiful, restaurants are cheap, and there's a buffet of hotels and resorts to choose from. With Indonesia's most developed tourist infrastructure, there are several beach areas on Bali's southern coast where most visitors stay (Kuta, Legian, Jimbaran Bay, Nusa Dua and Sanur), and if you shop around, you can find some terrific deals at top properties. For our four-day getaway, The Ritz-Carlton in Jimbaran Bay was offering a too-good-to-pass-up rate of US$109 per night (advertised in the International Herald Tribune). Arriving late Friday night, my husband Walter and I eased into second gear and took a stroll around the property. Somehow all roads lead to food and our walk brought us down a seemingly endless series of stone steps to the hotel's sand-floored restaurant, Kisik, carved into the hillside. Dinner was catch-of-the-day listed on a chalk board - just point to what you want. Walter had a freshly grilled tk, and I mistakenly ordered what had to be, gram for gram, the most expensive lobster I ever ate. (Let's just say my lobster skyrocketed our S$55 dinner to about S$180ï¿½)
The Ritz-Carlton is set atop a bluff overlooking the Indian Ocean, a few miles from other Jimbaran Bay properties like the Four Seasons and the Inter-Continental. While our room was fairly standard, overlooking the resort's putting course, for a little more money we could luxuriate in a spacious Ocean Suite or a hedonistic villa - complete with private plunge pool and lounging area. The resort has all the expected offerings: a private white sand beach (about a five-minute buggy ride away), a two-tiered swimming pool with infinity edge, water slides, tennis, golf, health club, spa, and an array of programs and activities. But despite all the choices we came to Bali for one principal purpose - my husband was here to surf. Or at least he was going to try.
The next morning we're heading for Kuta Beach, in search of a board and some waves. The taxi drops us off on Kuta's main street, amid a tawdry array of boutiques, surf shops, Western fast-food chains, youth hostels, bars and discos. If you're into the 24-hour party scene, this is the place - in the evening when most places quiet down Kuta comes to life. After a bit of browsing, we push on to the beach walking west along Kuta to Legian, where the sand and the surf become less crowded. Here, there are numerous stands that offer board rentals and sometimes lessons. Walter is told he should try a long board, best for beginners because it's easier to start out and keep balanced on a bigger board. Walter disappears for the afternoon and returns battered, but exhilarated. It's much harder than it looks and he's thrilled to have stood up for a few seconds!
A friend has recommended a beach-front Italian restaurant for dinner and it's not too far from where we are. We walk along for almost an hour, taking in a fiery sunset, but nobody is exactly sure where the elusive La Lucciola is located. Finally as night falls, we wander into the Oberoi, a luxurious resort at the far western end of Legian Beach. The concierge points us the way - it is another five minutes by taxi - and don't even think about going without a reservation! The concierge is our savior, not only did he arrange a hotel car, he kindly calls the restaurant on our behalf. Within a quarter hour we're there and seated, and it is divine. In a two-floored open air pavilion, surrounded by twinkling candlelight and torches, the restaurant is as romantic as it is popular. The food is heavenly and the price is right (about S$40). We start with guava, lime and tangerine granitas, chilled beet root soup and a meze plate with grilled flat bread, and continue with penne with eggplant, tomato, mozzarella, olives and chili, and a prawn and saffron risotto. I have admitted defeat by dessert with the delicious lemon pudding and the warm pineapple and caramel cake with vanilla ice cream. I can sympathize with the small tan and white terrier that keeps returning from his rounds (I'm feeding it bread under the table) to heave its barrel-like body at my feet.
When we return to our hotel, a half hour away, the evening ends with instant sleep.
Tourist life on Bali focuses on beach activities, but it would be a mistake to think that's all there is to do. A week would not be enough to explore the island and appreciate its temples, volcanoes, and towns. Probably the most popular inland destination is Ubud, a former art colony that has since grown into the island's main cultural center with art galleries and crafts shops, and an ever increasing number of hotels, guest houses, restaurants, cafes and souvenir stalls. Avoid the Monkey Forest. For a small donation you get a close-up view of the monkeys and watch as irresponsible tourists feed them candy and Coca-Cola. Like their Singaporean cousins at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, these little rascals are accustomed to people, but with a lot more nerve - they've been known to lift items from your pocket and scamper off into the trees with their loot. Ubud is a popular base for exploring the island's interior - step out of town and trails will lead through the surrounding countryside to small villages and the "real Bali." Driving, you'll pass spectacular lime-green rice terraces and lush jungles thick with banana trees; there are swarms of uniformed school children, and a randy band of ducks, waddling single file down the road. It's enough to make you wonder at the guidebooks and seasoned travelers who lament Bali's ruin and say "If only we'd come twenty years ago!" Certainly some of it - like Kuta - can never be reclaimed, but from here Bali still looks untouched.
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