Bali: Beyond Instagram

Anne-Marie Banks on 08 August 2019
With its iconic gates (see picture), legendary rice paddies, famous swings and of course miles of golden coastline Bali has, in recent years, catapulted itself to the top of the discerning traveller’s wish list. For my own travels, Thailand had opened my eyes to the endless offerings of Asia and we, as a family, were keen to continue exploring it. However, there are few long haul destinations to the East that offer a dry, warm climate during our Summer holidays so that narrowed our choice somewhat and was a key factor in us eventually selecting Bali.

There is absolutely no getting away from the fact that it’s a long old journey, and as I write there are no direct flights available from the UK. We flew from Birmingham though and found the journey surprisingly easy (even with two ten year olds). The journey was split fairly evenly into a 7 hour and 9 hour flight, both of which we all settled into with a drink in hand and several films later we arrived!

The choice of resorts in Bali is somewhat overwhelming. The island has everything from infamous Kuta, home to surfers and party goers to it’s cultural epicentre of Ubud, made famous in the film “Eat, Pray, Love”. Seminyak offers a trendy and upmarket feel whilst Sanur offers a chance to feel like one of the locals. We chose to base ourselves in the gated tourist resort of Nusa Dua. Some warned us it was “sterile” and “not authentic” but we chose it with good reason which was the simple fact that the sea here is not as rough as elsewhere on the island. Remember this is a surfer’s paradise but for those with children you do need to bear in mind that all of those surfers and waves may not fit comfortably into your own idea of a relaxing family holiday.

Nusa Dua proved to be the perfect base for us; luxury high end hotels line the shores, all connected by a small well-lit footpath leading to “The Bali Collection”- a decent offering of restaurants, bars and shops. It’s quiet, feels safe and is provides a fabulous stroll of an evening. One thing that became clear was that whilst there is very little to choose between these hotels (all are beautiful and luxurious) some have better beaches than others and a small minority offer All Inclusive packages.

Although we based ourselves in Nusa Dua, the children are getting older and we were keen to explore and see as much as we could fit in. We hired ourselves a driver and explored Ubud and it really is the heart of Bali…if I could have fitted in a couple of nights there I would have, but since we were holidaying with family (and meeting my gorgeous new niece) it wasn’t an option for us.

The rice terraces are spectacular in their beauty and fascinated the boys as they are really so different from anything else they’ve seen. You really don’t need to visit any specific one, they dominate the landscape so there is ample opportunity to just pull over and admire them. However if you’re adventurous it is well worth the Bali Swing experience and soaring high above them. Some are obviously better than others so I’d recommend asking me to incorporate it into your itinerary to make the best of your time while you are there. Another recommendation is visiting Tegenungan Falls to the South of Ubud. You can actually wade into and bathe beneath these spectacular falls which is one to tick off the bucket list. Our guide James also took us to a fabulous club/ bar where you can sip cocktails in a pool, chilling to the sounds of a DJ overlooking this natural wonder. I still cannot quite believe the boys' first visit to a club was in the heart of an Indonesian jungle with swimming pools and waterfalls - it certainly beats my adventures in Reflex.

Leaving Ubud we set off for our castaway adventures to the Gili Islands, famed for their coral reefs and being a snorkelling paradise. There are 3 “Crusoe-esque” style islands in total with Gili Trawangen, the one we picked, being the largest and most commercial (and I use that term very loosely). The islands offer crystal clear waters and a coastline all the way around so you can walk the entire perimeter in a few hours. It is also easy to island hop between the three Gili’s and large island of Lombok so if you get itchy feet when you are travelling this option is perfect. Again, we didn't have time but I have done numerous itineraries where clients want to incorporate more islands (specifically Komodo island) into a bit of a tour and so this can easily be built in too for more Instagramable opportunities,

Arrival in Gili is via a rather choppy boat transfer, taking around 2 hours from the mainland (depending on which port you depart from). There are many companies offering trips from hotels around Bali but we noted a huge difference in the standard and safety of transport on offer so this is definitely one to sort out with your agent before you arrive. Stepping onto the white sands, the immediate feeling and vibe could not be further away from Seminyak and Ubud where roads are crazy and chaotic with mopeds and cars (definitely not a self-drive destination this one). Here, there are no motorised vehicles only horse and cart or bicycles to transport you and your luggage, down the labyrinth of off road tracks, to your accommodation. Needless to say, this adds to the adventure and feels somewhat like being on a film set a million miles form the “real world”. Equally there are no big chains or hotels on the island but that doesn’t mean accommodation is basic.

We were delighted with our stay at the Desa Dunia hotel which was a huge 2 bedroom beach villa costing less per night than I normally pay for a 3 star hotel in a city. There really was something ever so special about watching the sunset from a beach outside our room with only the sounds of the waves to listen to. It was the perfect way to finish a fantastic adventure and whilst I am far from having seen all that Indonesia has to offer, I do feel that I got a very good taste of the diversity and spirit this part of the world has to offer and can hand on heart say that it was totally different from any other holiday that we have experienced.