Seminyak, located on Bali’s southwestern coast, is probably what comes to mind when you think of a beach resort holiday in this part of the world. It’s where you’ll find some of the island’s hippest luxury hotels, along with a slew of bars, clubs and restaurants all competing for the title of the best place to watch one of Bali’s psychedelic sunsets over the Indian Ocean.
Although the best places to eat in Bali are invariably the warungs (small hole-in-the-wall restaurants) or kaki lima (mini street-side food carts), Seminyak is also the place to try some more upmarket takes on local cuisine. The recently opened Sangsaka, with just 40 seats, has some of the best modern Indonesian food in town.
Located in the hip Petitenget area, the one-year-old Alila Seminyak resort (from 2,500RMB a night) boasts a quality restaurant itself. Here, you
can grab a table overlooking the waves for sundown and feast on dishes such as
a tasty, tidy rendition of Bali’s renowned babi
guling, roast pork belly (89RMB).
While most Alila resorts are comprised of individual villas, here the brand has opted for a sleek hotel complex that wraps its way around a small temple, three swimming pools (two infinity, one bar-side) and down to a pristine stretch of sand.
It’s a younger, hipper Alila, one that’s luxurious without being as showy as some of its neighbours – the W hotel is a shell’s throw away, while right next door is Potato Head, a look-at-me club and restaurant that’s like a beachside Bar Rouge.
A key selling point of the Alila brand is its selection of ‘experiences’ – tailor-made tours and trips for guests. In Seminyak, these include tootling through rice paddies in the back of a converted classic VW campervan and a guide-led cycle ride via local villages to a secluded stretch of beach for a picnic.
If you’d rather go-it-alone, a few minutes north through bucolic countryside on a rented scooter (from 40RMB a day) is the hipster enclave of Canggu, with a decidedly slower pace than Seminyak and a host of chilled out healthy eating cafés.
A little way south along the coast from Seminyak lies Jimbaran Bay, with more swimmable waters (Seminyak’s are better for surfing) and a more laidback, local feel. Jimbaran has its flashier parts too – the Ayana hotel’s Rock Bar (Ayana Resort Spa, Jl. Karang Mas Sejahtera, Jimbaran) serves cocktails and more from a space that juts out over the waves, for example – but for the most part it’s characterised by a slower pace of life.
The sands here are as much the domain of fishing boats and locals as they are of sun loungers and tourists, and a stroll along the beach shortly after sunrise will enable you to witness villagers returning to shore with their catch of the day.
By Jimbaran’s main harbour, the collection of brightly coloured boats serves as a signpost to the Jimbaran Fish Market, which serves many of the island’s high-end restaurants and hotels. Here you can haggle for all manner of seafood and take it to one of the beachfront eateries to be grilled for a small fee (usually around 8RMB per kilogram).
The Belmond Jimbaran Puri Bali (from 2,180RMB a night) presents a nice mix of luxury and localism. You can see (though thankfully not hear) the airport on the horizon from the beach, but the collection of bungalows and villas with private pools is a blissfully peaceful place; there are no kids’ clubs and the closest they get to organised activities (which isn’t very close) is at the lovely open-air spa or the weekly fire dance performance.
You’ll also find some great warungs and streetfood stalls clustered around the mouth of the Belmond’s driveway. Try Warung Jaya Sempurna (Jl Raya Uluwatu 33, Kedonganan, Jimbaran); it looks a bit ramshackle but serves spicy, straight-out tasty takes on the local cuisine.
Not far from Jimbaran Bay, Uluwatu Temple (15RMB) is a 45-minute drive away and one of the most spectacular viewing points for sunset. The cliff-top temple, which dates back to the 15th century, is an incredibly atmospheric spot to watch the golden and pink hues creep across the sky as waves crash against the rocks below.
Beyond the beaches
With a plethora of yoga studios, streets lined with vegan restaurants, and shops selling wall hangings emblazoned with peace and love platitudes, Ubud is one of Bali’s hippy strongholds.
Centred on an ancient royal palace and a sprawling market, Ubud is a small town that feels a world away from the flashy likes of Potato Head. You can wander the shops, tuck into some traditional cuisine at a rice paddy-surrounded warung or head to the Sacred Monkey Forest (entry 20RMB).
Or you can simply unwind. Alaya Ubud from 1,070RMB a night – located walking distance from the town centre but far enough to remain peaceful – offers a pleasant spot to do just this, with comfortable rooms that all come with their own patios or balconies.
When you tire of lounging beside your hotel pool, Ubud also provides a good base for getting out into the countryside. You can barely walk down the street without someone offering to rent you a scooter (from around 25RMB a day) and given some of Bali’s (car) traffic jams and slopes, it’s the most convenient mode of transport for exploring.
A short ride north, you’ll find a series of lush green rice terraces at Tegallalung. In addition to walking down into the steeply stepped fields themselves, you can also take in the view from the road as you wind your way through the scenery, or from one of the many slope-side cafes.
Mount Batur, in the northeast, is reachable by scooter as a day trip, though if you want to visit it in this timeframe it will mean foregoing any treks up the slopes of this still-active volcano in favour of simply making a circuit around it. Either way, the occasionally smoking volcano makes for an incredible sight.
Whichever direction you head in, you’re almost certain to stumble across a religious ceremony. Bali’s majority Hindu population is deeply religious and ceremonies are particularly common in rural areas, where you’ll likely come across cremation marches with locals dressed all in white walking behind towering papier-mâché horses, which are then burnt at the destination. As long as you’re reasonably covered up and behave respectfully, observing these rituals is rarely a problem, such is the welcoming, inclusive nature of this beautiful island.
How to get there
Return flights, with a transfer, from Shanghai to Bali can costs as little as 2,000RMB including taxes on Ctrip. Direct flights are more in the region of 3,500RMB. Bali is visa-free for most nationalities, though there are frequent reports of immigration officials requesting bribes upon entry. Stand your ground and refuse to pay and you should be fine.
Most higher-end hotels will provide transfers to and from the international airport and taxis are generally fairly cheap – just be sure to set the price first. Scooter rental is affordable and easy to arrange, but always wear a helmet (for safety and to avoid being stopped by police).
1RMB is just under 2,000 Indonesian Rupiah, and it’s not uncommon to find prices on the island quoted without the last three zeroes, or simply in US dollars.
When to go
Bali technically experiences a rainy season from December until March, but though the downpours can occasionally be torrential, they usually don’t last too long and are mostly confined to the late afternoon; the pay off is low-season prices and fewer crowds.