Bali conjures up images of a tropical island paradise, but there’s much more to see than just palm trees and sandy beaches, writes Catriona Laverty
While parts of Bali are undoubtedly idyllic, they also don’t offer too much for anyone outside honeymooners and second honeymooners. Kuta, the main city in Bali, is the destination of choice for most of us, and is rather perfect for group holidays – student or otherwise.
Kuta is a bustling tourist town about a 15 minute drive from the main airport in Denpasar, with most of the action centered around Poppies Lanes I & II. It’s on these roads that you’ll find most of the hotels, restaurants and bars. One of the best budget hotels is undoubtedly the Masa Inn on Poppies Lane II. Single rooms here cost about €13 (180,000 Rupiah) per night B&B, while a triple room is about €9 per night each B&B. Although the rooms are fairly basic (the traditional Balinese versions are a little more luxurious) the grounds, pools and staff more than make up for it.
One of the best things about Masa is its location, just three or four minutes walk from most of the bars and restaurants and about five minutes from the beach, it’s the perfect base for a holiday in Kuta.
The summer temperatures get up into the high 30s, so most of your time will be spent cooling off by the pool. Going for walks around the city isn’t recommended between midday and 4pm, it’s just too warm, but morning explorations are definitely worth a go.
Poppies really comes to life in the evening time however, there are dozens of bars to choose from as well as every type of restaurant you could wish for – from traditional Balinese to Mexican. Most main courses range from €3-5, and the local beer Bintang costs about 70c for a small bottle or €1 for a large (litre) bottle. If you’re into cocktails, then you’ll have a field day with the Bali Moon liqeurs, a particular recommendation is the Lime Crush. Delicious!
If things by the pool are a little too quiet for your taste, the beach is only a five minute walk from most of the hotels in Kuta and is well worth a visit. If you’re going to try to spend the day on the beach be prepared to fend off locals trying to sell you sarongs/pearls/tattoos/cushions/towels/crossbows(!)/water/ice-cream/bikinis.
Kuta is a surfer’s paradise, and has been a mecca for the beautiful ones (mainly girls sadly) from Australia for manys a year. While there are dozens of surf schools dotted through the town, run by Australian ex-pats, the best lessons are given by the local surfer types hanging around the beach. A couple of hours only costs around €10, and you get one on one teaching.
If surfing, lounging and haggling with the local shopkeepers aren’t your thing, then you could always take a trip around the rest of the island. While most of Indonesia is muslim, Bali’s Hindu culture means there are hundreds of beautiful temples throughout the island. A chauffeured day trip can be organised from one of the many travel stalls along Poppies Lane, and shouldn’t cost more than €40 for two days including lunch. But be warned, the driving in Bali is hairy to say the least, so if you’re a nervous traveller it might be better to give that one a miss.
If you are looking for a little fix of tropical paradise, I’d heartily recommend a trip to the Gili islands. Just over an hour away by boat from Bali, the trip there and back can be organised either by your hotel or one of the travel stalls. Tourism is the island’s only industry: there are no cars, no police, no hospitals, only one generator and no fresh water on the island. There are numerous dive schools, bars, restuarants and miles of golden beach. Gili is a diver’s heaven – one of the cheapest and most beautiful places in the world to do a diving course, with its coral reef off the coast. Be warned though, you’ll be up at six in the morning for the duration of the course, and you’ll leave with plenty of homework for the evening.
With only one generator, power cuts are frequent and extended. It’s an idea to book a hotel that has its own generator, but one of the nicest places on the island is the Pesona bungalow resort. You can chill out on the hammocks during the day, or spend hours in the beachfront huts. You may spend extensive hours in the dark to make up for it, but it’s all part of the experience.
Gili is a party island, by sunset all the bars are setting up for their nightly barbeques, and each club has its own designated night of the week to be the party destination. (Thursdays belong to the ubiquitous Irish bar Tír na nÓg)
Sampling the locally caught seafood is a must on Gili, you can have fresh lobster for around €4, and the red snapper is always a winner. There are of course other restaurants to choose from, Indian, Chinese and Italian food is available, but the street barbeques really shouldn’t be missed.
There are daily flights to Bali from Jakarta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, so you can always check out some of the world’s must-see cities on the way there and back.