It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or 20th visit. Stroll off the plane and into the welcoming tropical heat, and the relaxation has already begun.
If it is your maiden adventure, banish any lingering doubts. The stereotype of Bali offering nothing more than Bintang singlets, braids and booze is yesterday’s news.
Island of the Gods
Laidback Bali is still easy to enjoy, but the Island of the Gods has come of age, with a high-end food scene, luxe spa treatments and some of the world’s most spectacular accommodation.
But there’s also the natural beauty that has lured visitors here for decades – the lush rice paddies, sun-soaked beaches, warm waves and active volcanoes. Combined with Bali’s smiling locals, whose spirituality fills the island, it’s a reminder that real life, not Facebook, is beckoning.
My own long-term love affair with Bali kicked up a notch last year when I spent the winter working from the surf town of Canggu. So I’ve returned, this time for a week of fun, indulgence and relaxation. Starting the trip with a group of friends, it’s clear we’re all overdue for a break.
The mothers among the group are relishing in a few days of freedom, while the rest of us are simply looking forward to a break from real life, demanding jobs and the constant pressure to keep up with technology. There’s also the joy of escaping Melbourne’s unseasonably cold weather.
First things first, I book a massage. Resisting the urge to carry my phone everywhere, I switch it to airplane mode and toss it on my bed. Limiting myself to a few quick checks each day, I notice I’m not only less frazzled (ping! ping! ping!), but savouring the rare uninterrupted time with my friends. But back to the massage, which I hope will fast track the relaxation process and banish any thoughts of work and deadlines. I head to the modern Spring spa In Seminyak for a soothing 90-minute massage, followed by a pedicure.
As the day melts away, it’s time to consider our tastebuds. Seminyak is home to some of the island’s best restaurants – think Sardine, Metis and La Lucciola - so the choice is difficult. We settle on Chandi, ‘a gastronomic twist on Pan Asian cuisine’. A trio berry daiquiri and my entrée – coconut dumplings – are swiftly devoured.
Traditional Balinese massage
Chandi Bali Restaurant
Vegetarian Antipasto from Metis Bali
Foie Gras from Metis Bali
The next day I wake early, the glorious sunshine pulling me out of bed and off to enjoy a beach walk, something that becomes a daily ritual.
Visiting local spas also quickly becomes a regular habit. So I head to Cocoon Medical Spa for its famed Cleopatra 24-carat-gold facial. After microdermabrasion, a gold mask and a gold moisturiser, my face feels as soft as a baby’s.
To me, surfing is one of the great joys of Bali. So I return to my favourite break in Canggu, where the waves are often mellow and forgiving, lulling you into a meditative-like state.
Arrive early enough and you might be lucky to see a ball of red sun rising behind the local temple. On other days, when of the many traditional Hindu ceremonies is taking place, hundreds of Balinese people flock to the shore.
Indonesian food, including staples such as nasi goreng and gado-gado, is abundant and delicious. But in many places, including Canggu - where I dine on exquisite salmon at Little Flinders, and enjoy Japanese fare at Ji - it’s just part of a wider international offering.
Eat, Pray, Love
Of course, many visitors to Bali can’t leave without a side trip to Ubud. In recent years I’ve avoided it, mostly because of the Eat, Pray, Love associations and the town’s traffic-clogged main street.
However I decide to give it another shot. While I’m a born cynic, I am curious about the idea of a spiritual healer, and book an appointment with a man called Made Lunas.
Lunas says that everyone has problems, complaints or curiosity about the future. He believes in good karma and wants to use his spiritual gifts to help heal other people and guide them through life.
I enter Lunas’ family compound, where I’m wrapped in a sarong and ushered inside a small temple.
With his back turned to me briefly, doubts are rising. But as we talk, he seems to have an insight into my life far that’s beyond guesswork.
His positive predictions, which will remain my secret, bring a great sense of relief that stays with me.
“Be confident, be focused, and most of all – be yourself!”
Lunas says, giving me an encouraging farewell hug
With my feet somewhere back near the ground, it’s off to the next stop. We’re just near Mas Village, a famed centre of Balinese woodcarving. With their skills passed down through generations, it’s inspiring to watch artisans practicing their intricate work.
Bali Food Safari
It’s already been a memorable trip, but I’ve saved the best for last. Waving goodbye to my friends, I head to the Bukit Peninsula.
In recent years, this coastline, blessed with spectacular clifftop views, inviting sand and turquoise waters, has grown ever more luxurious.
Competition for the best view runs hot, but the vista from Karma Kandara’s spa is a strong contender. I’ve booked in for an indulgent two-and-a-half hour ‘tropical healing package’ that begins with a sauna, then a clifftop spa, and ends with a massage and facial. The view of the beach below is so mesmerising that it seems almost criminal to close my eyelids. Last, but not least, is a prospect that has my mouth watering – a four-restaurant, 12-course mystery culinary tour with Bali Food Safari. The founder, Perth’s Simon Ward, warns me to wear loose pants.
The restaurants vary from night to night, but our tour begins with a flourish – at a cliffside villa with a panoramic sunset view. It’s fine dining at its best – tiny, tasty offerings, washed down with wine, cocktails or beers.
At the next stop, my fellow diners and I work our way through egg custard, tuna tataki and molecular-inspired cocktails. Outside, a dramatic lightning show is streaking the pitch-black sky with purple blasts.
Later, after two more restaurants, including one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten (courtesy of chef Kevin Cherkas at Cuca), I roll into bed – sunkissed and deeply relaxed.
As always, Bali has reminded me how to really enjoy life in the moment, and pinpointed what really matters. For me, that’s laughing with old and new friends, being close to nature and opening yourself up to small, unexpected moments that pull you out of yourself and make you glad to be alive.
Stories of the InterContinental Life
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