To many, Bali might conjure images of a tourist mecca where it’s hard to escape the crowds and find your own slice of heaven.
But look a little closer and you might discover what the locals mean when they say Bali is the ‘Island of the Gods’. The island is actually comprised of flourishing topography, spectacular architecture and thousands of Hindu temples. Here, to be ‘in the know’, it’s who you know. Thankfully, the locals, an eclectic mix of Balinese and expats who have made Bali their tropical home, are keen to share the island’s top spots for dining in style, indulgent pampering and authentic cultural attractions. This guide shares some of the best Bali has to offer, where focus is on the personalised details that exceed your expectations.
Food For Thought
Exploring the lanes of Balinese towns presents a challenge: run-of-the-mill eateries that offer near-identical menus. Dotted around the island, there are some destination dining spots that rise above the others.
Ubud’s trendy Hujan Locale personifies the best fusion of all Indonesia islands, tender beef rendang cooked in Sumantran-spiced coconut milk, and Sulawesi crispy pork (the chef-owner, Will Meyrick, has a magpie-like ability to collect styles from his travels in Southeast Asia). Some dishes pack a spicy punch, but chat with the staff who will tailor the menu to your tastes.
The Melting Wok Warung is less formal but just as convivial, opening out on the street. The French owner has given a European bent to the otherwise no-frills Indonesian menu — you pick your choice of curry, what you want in it, what you want it with — meaning sautéed chicken and noodles could easily be followed by sweet crêpes.
In the south, Vietnamese street food is mastered at Saigon Street, Seminyak, where you can pair the combination of shredded chicken salad and Vietnam slaw with a watermelon margarita (surprisingly, it works).
Groups do well at Cuca, in Jimbaran: an open, airy place that offers the tapas experience, but with Spanish classics replaced by visually-stunning dishes such as fire-baked seafood rice. The trick is chatting with the switched-on staff to get the small plates to fit you and your friends — they can judge your tastes from a few questions.
For a meal with unrivalled views, a few Bali locations are essential for an extravagant experience. Nusa Dua’s Kayuputi offers fine dining in a beachside setting, with private cabanas available to hire for a bespoke intimate dinner.
Coast With The Most
The meandering shoreline is one of Bali’s major draws, whether you’re hoping for peaceful beachcombing or getting in and under the crystal clear waters. Kuta — widely considered the island’s surf capital — can get too crowded.
Balangan, on the Bukit Peninsula, is quiet, providing consistent left-handers just off the white-gold sand. Get in quick, as improved access means it could well become overdeveloped like the nearby Dreamland Beach.
Beginners can tackle consistent breaks on the rugged black sand of Pantai Batu Mejan, better known as Echo Beach. Waves are usually under five feet and it’s less crowded than Kuta or Seminyak.
Private lessons are available here with Silver Surf Bali, led by experienced instructor Ketut Tirta, who will personalise sessions depending on your skills and surf conditions — he has a reputation for getting beginners up and riding on their first lesson. To make things even easier, Silver Surf Bali arrange for transport to and from the beach.
Diving spots litter Bali’s circumference, but the east coast provides the best: Amed, a fishing village that’s dripping with traditional charm, allows easy drift diving past coral, while reaching Gili Biaha from Candidasa gives you the chance to see ocean sunfish. Experienced divers should try their hand at the infamous Gili Tepekong site for a challenge.
For non-surfers and non-divers, the white sands of Pasir Putih, lapped gently by water that appears to swap from cerulean to turquoise, is worth the less-than-friendly trek to the shore, which you reach by heading down a steep trail.
If you want to dream the afternoon on a beach but still crave a luxury edge, visit the long, ‘stil de grain’ shore of Jimbaran Bay. This is where you will find InterContinental Bali Resort, hidden behind native flora and the first luxury hotel of its kind to be built here.
It can easily be your decadent rest stop throughout your day of beach lounging, but there’s a chance you may be lured from the soft sand by the promise of therapeutic spa treatments created especially for discerning travellers, or by the promise of world-class Japanese, Indonesian or Italian cuisine at one of their restaurants.
What’s certain is the InterContinental Bali Resort is a place to sit back in the evening for a cocktail crafted by mixologists who can adjust creations to your tastes. And with an enviable view of the spell-binding sunset, you can be forgiven for wanting to return each day.
Beyond the beach, Bali is Asia’s spa capital. With the rise in visitors since the 1980s, nearly every main street will be full of shops offering the island’s eponymous massage and more, meaning your results can be mixed. A number of luxe experiences hit the mark if you’re looking for 360-degree effects.
Spring, a two-storied spa in Petitenget, is very much a modern affair based on the concept of a ‘social spa’. Usual formalities are gone; in stylish, minimalist interiors you can check your emails on the spa’s iPads, while a DJ station provides tunes (there is still a quiet zone, if you’re searching for quietude).
There are various special Balinese treatments as well as charcoal facials, and hydrotherapy all readily available.
Whether you’re on foot or diving deep, the natural beauty of Bali was made for exploring.
The Mount Batur volcano is a popular haunt from Ubud, and if you just want to view the lava field from an eruption in 1968 then Kintamani provides the best vista on a clear day. This small village straddles one of the calderas surrounding Mount Batur.
While you’re here, sit down for lunch at Lakeview restaurant for simple Balinese fare with a volcanic backdrop (pork satay is a favourite).
To get closer, to both the volcano and the island’s flora and fauna, a Mount Batur sunrise trek is a top option. A decent level of fitness is a must (it stands at over 1,700 metres) and you’ll start very early, but the trek is a chance to experience the jungle’s silent whisper as the sun rises.
If you’re using a trekking guide, work with them to plan your ascent (and descent, which can be just as tricky) in keeping with your abilities — you’ll want to enjoy it, after all.
While almost all of lush Bali is ideal hiking ground, cycling tours are becoming more popular — especially as a way to combat Bali’s less-than-stellar record on ‘going green’. The best operators use the accessibility of a bike to take guests away from tourist spots and into authentic island life, often sampling exotic fruit and speaking with villagers.
If time allows, catch a fast boat from Sanur to Nusa Lembongan: surf, snorkel or explore the mangroves on Bali’s little ‘cousin’. Look back over Bali from limestone cliffs, and find footpaths to get lost for an afternoon.
Bali’s laidback vibe is juxtaposed with boisterous festivals and celebrations — a whirl of colour, music and dance.
For shows, Ubud and Denpasar are the best spots to experience ensemble gamelan music or barong dances. The temple processions, often fleeting occurrences of costume and chanting, give you a real Balinese encounter.
A visit to Pura Luhur Ulu Watu, to the west of the Bukit Peninsula, is often a priority for travellers keen explore an ancient temple. It seems precariously perched on the edge of a fallow brown cliffs, while endless swells rock the base.
The holy site, a place of worship for nearly 1,000 years, sees kecek dancing in the evening — though you may be distracted by pickpocketing macaques from the nearby monkey forest.
If temples take your fancy, another magical spot is Pura Ulun Danu Bratan in the highlands, which during high tide looks like it’s floating on water, with weathered mountains forming a majestic backdrop.
If it’s a water temple you seek, avoid the usual tourist ones and arrange to be driven to the holy Sebatu waterfall (private drivers can usually be provided by your hotel). Spring-fed from high, usually only locals visit here to be cleansed of bad fortune, so wear traditional attire and be prepared for the hundreds of steps down to reach the icy water.
If all this absorption of culture, beach time, glorious food and wellness services seems too much to organise, book Club InterContinental at InterContinental Bali Resort, where a dedicated team will look after your every need as you bask in the decadence of Bali’s natural and man-made wonders. In addition to personalised service and attention from the Club InterContinental team, you will also enjoy a number of benefits, including stunning Club InterContinental rooms, private pool for Club InterContinental guests only, complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea delights and sophisticated cocktails in the evening at the exclusive Club InterContinental lounge and much more.