There are few things more boring than hearing others' holiday anecdotes (except, perhaps, for looking at their holiday snaps), and travel writing has never been my forte, so I'll try to keep this snappy and cliche-free (ha!). Herewith my Getaway-reporter-meets-Elizabeth-Gilbert Bali report: EAT, PLAY, SHOP...
Bailing out of Bali on the eve of the Hindu New Year Day of Silence (Nyepi, March 26), my second cliched Aussie abroad holiday experience came with a reality-TV side-serve of ubiquitous national election propaganda, one large Bali Bombing memorial, and thoughts of Schapelle Corby as I filled out my customs declaration form (illegal drugs? Erm, not that I know of).
Still, the Indonesian tourism hotspot remains an ideal vacation place for the single frugalista and family gal alike. The locals are affable, the food and entertainment cheap and the weather reliably warm. Pack a good book (or two) and bikini (or three) and consider these Eat, Play, Shop suggestions...
EAT: Breakfast at Bvlgari, Jimbaran
We were told that this 59-villa resort was at 50% capacity, but I reckon the Japanese couple dining in the restaurant with us over breakfast had the run of the joint. At $US1300 a night, this is no backpacker's retreat (or stockbroker's retreat, for that matter), but breakfast, lunch or dinner at the restaurant is quite the luxe experience. We were taken by buggy to the restaurant (one faux accommodation inquiry under our belts), admiring the clifftop views, manicured gardens and poolside day beds en route, where we dined like the less fiscally challenged for the cost of your average resort breakfast (1,085,000* Rupiah, or $135, for four). Pic: Bvlgari Resort day beds
PLAY: Whitewater rafting, Telaga Waja River, Karangasem
I'm no adrenalin junkie, but down the Telaga Waja I went, laughing all the way (hey, hey, hey). From the river, you can appreciate the overwhelming beauty of the lush, terraced rice fields and cascading waterfalls (cliche, strike two!). You'll find yourself captivated by the scenery while sporadically ducking under makeshift bamboo bridges (stay alert unless you want an excuse to have that nose job), paddling like mad to get ahead of the other rubber rafts or saying hello to your ankles as you scramble to regain balance after falling on your butt. Too fun!
SHOP (and eat): The Corner Store, Seminyak
Owned by Melbourne ex-pat Sean Cosgrove, this collaborative cafe-cum-clothing-store-cum-art-space fast became my favourite Bali destination (I know, how culturally adventurous of me to relish a Western joint). Cosgrove is the guy behind Littlehorn Clothing Company, a children's line he produces in Bali. The Corner Store came about when he wanted a retail front for his wee wares four years ago. Frequented by expats for its hearty breakfast grub and top-notch coffee, the white-walled, multi-mirrored store now sells a women's collection by Bali-based designers, art by Andrew Wellman and jewellery by River Wilkes and Komala Frame. It also stocks pieces by Shakahachi, State of Georgia, RVCA, SEA, illionaire, Tiger Frame and Smoke & Mirrors. "People often say why don't we drop the retail and the art and just make a bigger cafe," says Cosgrove, "but I tend to think it's the sum of everything together that makes it work." Too right. (Pic: Husband and friends and some trendy tourist couple @ The Corner Store)
EAT: Cafe Bali, Seminyak
We chanced upon this opulent cafe after discovering The Corner Store was closed (boo). Cafe Bali is full of all sorts of visual candy – from the shabby-chic, colonial-style furnishings, high ceilings and giant chandeliers, to the pretty expats tapping away at their laptops. I was particularly taken by one turbaned girl who could have passed for Erykah Badu. The menu offers up everything from sushi and fruit salad (perfect light lunch fare for stinky hot days) to steak for the tourist (and his/her tummy) wanting respite from the Nasi goreng and other traditional Indonesian cuisine.
PLAY: Massage at the Melasti Salon & Spa, Legian
For Rp250,000 (about $31), I indulged in a half-hour Melasti massage, half-hour head massage, half-hour foot massage and half-hour pedicure, all performed by an Indonesian woman so tiny I could have bench-pressed her with my pinkie. It felt almost criminal to pay so little for such a lovely service – more particularly icky in the context of the over-fed, sweaty westerners entering the salon in their bathers wanting treatments on demand (ew, put some clothes on, already). Still, it's a rare occasion that I partake in such self-indulgent extravagance, so I endured the two hours of cut-price pampering, reasoning that I was helping to recession-proof the establishment.
SHOP: Flamingo, La Legian, Kuta
Under the group-shopping pump, I scooped up a gorgeous liberty-print dress, painterly cotton tulip skirt and soft-as-silk dove-grey camisole at this shop in a matter of seconds (for the grand sum of Rp844,600). Mesmerised by the cacophony of fun, young and colourful pretty things on display, I could have played in there all day. Much to my disappointment, when I returned later in the week a 'Closed' sign greeted me like a poked tongue (nah, nah, nah-nah, nah).
I would also recommend seeing Bali by moped (I felt all Audrey Hepburn on her Vespa in Roman Holiday, but looked more like Shipwrecked Sally after having my hair whipped into a set of dreadlocks), eating at Yeye's restaurant/bar at Padang Beach (play Spot The Hot Surfer), indulging in a day of 'Swim and Fun' (use of the pool, plus lunch for Rp150,000) at Blue Point Bay Resort (Gisele and Kelly Slater once stayed there), and considering Tanah at Ulus, Uluwatu, for your accommodation (we were very well looked after).
*AUD$1 = 8000 Rupiah
Girl With a Satchel (now back from Bali!)