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First Timer Report



November 2001



I’m 31 and my boyfriend is 25. We live in Melbourne and have both travelled a fair bit.


This was our first trip to Bali. We went for 10 days in early November. We only decided to go a couple of months before we left, so we didn’t have long to plan our trip.




To be honest, Bali has never appealed to me as a tourist destination. I envisaged it as crowded, noisy, overrun with loutish Australians and offering nothing special in the beach or food departments. Fortunately, I was way off the mark – Bali far exceeded our expectations and I regret not having visited it sooner. I can now understand why some of you return year after year. There is an enormous amount to see and do within such a small area and the climate is fantastic. On that point, the weather could not have been better while we were there. It rained a couple of times, briefly, and Ubud was overcast most of the time we were there, but on the south coast it was sunny pretty much all day, every day. It was very hot, but I liked that.


At no time during our trip did we feel remotely threatened, unsafe or unwelcome. In fact it was a great time to visit because it was very quiet and this made it very easy to get around and get into hotels and restaurants without booking. That said, I felt very sorry for the local people working in tourism, and was saddened every time we passed an empty restaurant or shopkeeper who looked like he/she hadn’t had a customer in days. All of the locals we spoke to about the downturn in tourism attributed it solely to foreigners’ reluctance to travel by air. I got the impression they weren’t aware of recent events in Jakarta (or didn’t want to talk about them). Anyway, we tipped very generously throughout the trip in a futile attempt to compensate for the fact that there were so few tourists around. It seemed mean not to and everything was so cheap that we had plenty of our budget left over at the end of most days.
We found our accommodation to be great value (in the cheaper places in particular) and we were able to eat daily in the sort of restaurants that are reserved for special occasions at home. By the way, we were very relieved to discover we really liked Bintang. For the benefit of anyone reading this who hasn’t tried it and isn’t a teetotaler (assuming there is anyone who falls into this category), it’s very clean tasting and reminded us of Asahi beer. We stayed away from wine because it seemed too much of a gamble and the cocktails were so great. We didn’t bother taking any alcohol with us.
I think it’s facile for anyone (and especially someone who’s spent a total of 10 days in Bali) to make generalizations about the “Balinese people”, but I can report that most of the locals we met, who were working in the tourism sector were, accommodating, good humoured and dignified. That said, we also encountered some obtuse staff in one of the larger hotels. More on that later...
The hawkers in Sanur and the Kuta area were really full on - the worst I've encountered anywhere. They play on tourists' lack of comfort with ignoring direct questions like "Where are you from?" but by the end of the trip we got pretty comfortable saying "no thank you" whenever anyone approached us. This was dangerous. It meant we were at risk of dismissing friendly locals who were simply extending a greeting, but our experience on our first few days demonstrated that it was a fairly safe bet that any local on a tourist strip, who initiated a conversation with us, had something to sell.


I’ve been to Java before, and was pleased to find that Bali appears significantly more affluent, particularly in the tourist areas. I don’t wish to downplay the poverty – clearly there are Balinese people desperately in of need help and grateful for the assistance of some of you kind people, but, visitors are unlikely to be distressed by what they see in the tourist areas. The exception in my case, was, of a woman with a sick-looking baby begging in the Ubud market (I greatly regretted not having given her more money) and a pre-pubescent kid smoking cigarettes and selling hard drugs at a nightclub. I guess my point is that a first-time visitor to Bali is unlikely to have the sort of existential crisis common to visitors of very poor places like India.




We flew Garuda as they were the only flights we could get at such late notice. Our flights were on time and the service was fine, but I don’t think I’d fly with them again. I understand that a lot of ‘forumites’ feel pretty passionate about Garuda, but for a timid flier like me, it was all a bit hairy. The landings were far from smooth – at the Bali end the pilot applied the breaks so hard when he’d decided we’d finished taxi-ing that stuff flew around the cabin, and at the Melbourne end we bounced all over the tarmac when we came down. (I have heard that a heavy landing is actually safer than a very smooth one, but when it feels like the plane is about to career off the runway, it’s hard to focus on that!). Also, on the return flight the pilot kept thrashing the engines intermittently for no apparent reason. I’m not saying that this was in any way dangerous, but it kept waking everyone up and freaked me out. I’m sure Garuda is perfectly safe, but maybe not the best choice for a neurotic like me.


I would have to say that the only time I was really embarrassed by the behaviour of fellow Australians was in transit. On the way over the guys in the next row were openly reading porn magazines in front of the flight attendants and an Indonesian woman sitting in the same row (taking cultural – and gender – insensitivity to a new low I thought). And on the way back a couple of guys were still clutching their Bintangs in the immigration queue at Melbourne airport at 7am. Needless to say, they had made the night flight a living hell for those around them.




We stayed in Sanur for the first three nights, then went to Legian for two nights, then Ubud for two nights, then back to Sanur for two nights. We also visited Pura Besakih (and the East Coast), Nusa Dua, Kuta, Seminyak and Nusa Lembongan.


This worked pretty well for us, but next time I’d like to stay longer and explore parts of Bali other than the South and East.




Don’t worry about finding transport in Bali – it will find you. We generally used metered taxis and drivers arranged by our hotels. Transport is very cheap and I found that even though the traffic appears manic, the driving is so slow that it’s hard to feel scared (but that’s me – terrified on an Airbus, but perfectly relaxed sitting in the back of a vehicle that’s overtaking a bus on a blind corner.) I did notice that it’s unusual to find a car with seatbelts in the back, so you might want to request one if you really want seatbelts for yourselves or your children.


It takes a long time to get anywhere because the roads are bad in places and the traffic moves so slowly, so don’t assume you can get somewhere 20ks away in 15 minutes.




We liked Sanur, although I liked it more than my boyfriend, who wasn’t very impressed with the beach, having travelled in Thailand.
We stayed at the Prima Pondok Cottages which are a five minute walk inland from the beach, about level with the Griya Santrian Hotel. The room rate was US$20 for a double with hot water and aircon. Breakfast was included, but it was nothing fancy. The rooms were basic but comfortable and there was a nice little pool and open air restaurant, but it wasn’t the kind of place we would choose to hang around all day. The service was pretty good, and they very kindly let us check out at 9pm the night we left with no late checkout fee. In short, it provided a comfortable and well-located base at a very reasonable price. I’d stay there again (in fact we did, later in the trip).


The beach in this part of Sanur (the centre?) was pretty to look at, but not very nice for swimming in because it was a bit shallow, warm and dirty. We decided to see if we could use a hotel pool right on the promenade, seeing as the hotels were all so quiet. The Griya Santrian have a deal where you pay 75,000rp each to use the pool for the day and they give you a “free” lunch (which is worth about 30,000rp). We took them up on this offer because their pool was gorgeous. Luckily their food was great too (I’d recommend the seafood sate).


We also ate at Spago’s (quite elaborate Italian food and great service) and Bonsai, which is right on the water and a good option for a reasonably priced and atmospheric seafood dinner. The hawkers along the promenade in Sanur were very persistent. Some of the women “escorted“ us to their stalls at the tourist market further down the way and succeeded in getting us to visit their stalls where we didn’t have the heart to bargain too enthusiastically because there were literally no other tourists in the whole market. They did the first-sale-of-the-day routine with our money after we handed it over, and it was about 5pm.




One day a couple of friends who were staying in Nusa Dua (which we visited briefly and which gave us the creeps) hired a driver for the day and invited us along. Unfortunately they didn’t get the car they thought they’d booked and the minivan we did get had really weak air-conditioning and seemed to suck in any fumes within a 100-metre radius. We struggled to stay conscious for much of the drive and had very sore throats the next day. The driver was a quiet, young guy who wasn’t really up for a chat but drove really well.


I found Pura Besakih – the most sacred temple in Bali – a bit disappointing (on this point the Lonely Planet was right on the money). The hawkers were ferocious and we were unable to avoid getting a guide who was completely useless and fought with us about how much we gave him for his half-hour “tour” (about 40,000 rp). It drizzled and we couldn’t see the view from the mountainside and the temple (or collection of temples). If you’re really into temples you might enjoy it more than we did.
On the way home we stopped in at Padangbai because I wanted to try to find a beach I’d read about on the BTF – Pantai Kecil. We found it (ask the locals and follow a sign saying, “beach” up and over a litter-strewn hill). When we arrived, I felt a bit like an intruder on Alex Garlands “beach”. There were about 20 people there, mainly very hardcore traveller/tanner types and I felt conspicuously pale and sensibly covered up in my one-piece bathers. The beach there is spectacular – deep, cool, blue water, white sand, and gentle waves. If you’re seriously into beaches I’d definitely recommend a visit. But wear your trendiest clothes!


I noticed when we were on Nusa Lembongan later in the trip that you can get a boat from there to Padangbai.




We weren’t too impressed with Legian. I guess we didn’t expect it to be so like Kuta, which isn’t our thing because we’re not into surfing or shopping and I have a pathological aversion to the sound of motorcycles revving. This was the one time that a lack of research let me down – I should have realized that it was pretty much an extension of Kuta.


We had planned to stay at the Three Brothers Cottages but weren’t overly impressed when we went to check it out. For some reason a few people we know had raved about this place, but we thought it was a bit shabby and its location meant that you could hear the motorbikes outside revving from inside the rooms, so there was no way I was going to stay there. It isn’t super-cheap either – about US$35 a night – and the pool had only a few (occupied) plastic loungers and a pretty ordinary atmosphere.


We had discovered how much we enjoyed lying around a nice pool when we were in Sanur, so we decided to see if we could get a good deal on a fancy hotel in Legian. We rang up the Legian Beach Hotel and they agreed to US$70 a night for a double room (as per the Lonely Planet, which, by the way, we thought was a pretty ordinary guidebook for Bali). The Legian Beach Hotel turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the trip – by miles. It looks nice, and has two very nice pools as close to the beach as you can be in Legian, but we found the service to be terrible.


The first incident involved the staff at reception refusing to ring a taxi for our friends, who were visiting from Nusa Dua one night, even though the hotel taxi service was shut for the night. They explained that we had to go back to our room (about 200 metres away) and call from there. We had no intention of doing this given that there was a phone right in front of us on the reception desk and eventually they agreed to call a taxi if we paid for the call. We didn’t mind paying for the call (even though it seemed a bit tight of them), but thought they should have just asked for the money up front rather than refusing to call.


Then we ordered room service and received two of the worst meals I have ever had the displeasure of laying eyes on. My sautéed fish with boiled potatoes came with chips and looked like a rat wrapped in soggy carpet. The Mexican burger was similarly unappetizing. We called the room service guy to come and have a look at the meals and he did so but maintained that there was nothing wrong with them. To the hotel’s credit, they didn’t charge us for this “food”.


On our second night at the LBH we were unable to get to sleep because of a most disconcerting scratching and thumping sound in the wall behind our head. We complained to reception and they agreed to move us to another room (with no apology, no offer to help with the bags, no room upgrade) in the same building. We should have insisted on going to another building, because sure enough, this next room had the same problem. When we complained again, reception sent a guy to come and listen to the noises, (in case we were just calling them and asking to change rooms in the middle of the night for fun) He came out and conceded solemnly, that indeed there were some very active rats in the wall. This time we insisted on being moved to another building, preferably one not infested with vermin.


As we were up so late that night we decided we might as well go out. We headed to Club Double Six on the beach in Seminyak and had a great night. The vodkas were really strong (and we managed to resist the offer of anything stronger). It got going around one, with mainly locals. The music there is techno (trance on this occasion) and the DJ was pretty good. We danced until about 5 and walked back to the hotel along the beach.


We ate in Aroma’s a few times and it was a bit patchy, but does have some excellent meals such as the Mezze platter, which is enormous and really delicious. We had drinks at the Macaroni Bar one night (well-priced jugs of Long Island Iced Tea) and it was pretty cool looking, but very noisy. I wouldn’t enjoy eating in that environment, but they do serve food. The Mexican food at TJs was pretty good.


We also ate at La Lucciola (if you have a booking there allow a long time to get there – it’s not exactly in Seminyak) which was very classy and had excellent food. The blue cheese and zucchini soufflé was incredible. This is another great place to watch a sunset.




I am crazy about Ubud. I thought it would be a bit try-hard New Age for my tastes, but it was wonderful. I loved the rice paddies, the cool ravines, the great food, the galleries, the monkey forest, and the lack of hawkers…


We stayed at Tegal Sari (thank you, BTF) and it was excellent. We didn’t book, and were lucky to get a superior room one night and a standard the next. The superior room had air-con and hot water, but you don’t really need air-con if you have a fan in Ubud. Watch out for the not-quite-a-double sized beds in the standard rooms, though. My boyfriend was very pleased to have an excuse to have a bed to himself the night we got the standard room! Both rooms had little porches with rice paddy views, as did the little restaurant. The pool area was lovely, and flanked by rice paddies. The hotel is a pleasant half-hour stroll to the centre of town (if you count Casa Luna as the centre of town – don’t flame me for that!) We enjoyed this, particularly at night (but forget it if you’re in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller – the footpaths in Ubud are atrocious). The staff at this little hotel is very friendly, the food is great, the setting is superb, the décor is tasteful and the room rates are very reasonable. I’m sure Ubud has lots of lovely hotels, but I’d definitely recommend this one as a no-risk proposition. One of my favourite memories of the trip was of swimming in their pool late one drizzly night with crickets and frogs providing a soundtrack.
We did the day spa thing at Zen, which is very close to the Tegal Sari. It was excellent value – about 25% of what you’d pay in Australia – and quite professional and friendly. A 25-minute massage was about 30,000rp.


We ate lunch one day at the Japanese chain restaurant Ryoshi because we were craving a bit of air-conditioning after a morning’s shopping. It serves good standard Japanese food but isn’t exactly a cheap lunch option by Balinese standards. I believe they deliver, which could be a good alternative to room service. We had dinners at Kokoran (superb Thai seafood in a classy – if empty – dining room) and Casa Luna (in no way disappointing – probably our favourite meal of the trip).


The shopping in Ubud was fairly painless because there were lots of fixed-price stores and easy-going sales people. We particularly liked a gallery called Michi - I think - which has a great range of art and craft from artists of various nationalities. Casa Luna homewares (next to the restaurant) was also good, but not cheap.




It was beautiful to see Jimbaran Bay’s lovely beach dotted with candles at dusk, and it was a great sunset, but I wouldn’t necessarily go there expecting a great meal. Compared to other places where we ate BBQ’d seafood it was quite expensive and I was sick the next day.


We started at Sharkey’s, getting there at 5pm to get a front-row table for sunset, but left before ordering our food because the staff decided to place a large group table right in front of our table just as the sun was setting. Everyone in the (former) front row was furious about having a bunch of Chardonnay-quaffing knobs in linen shirts in their sunset view and by the time we got out of the place there was row breaking out. We watched the drama unfold from a restaurant a couple of places down the beach. Sense prevailed and the group table was eventually moved back behind the front row, but probably not before the whole unpleasant incident spoiled things for many of the diners. I was glad we hadn’t hung around for the shouting. I don’t know what the staff at Sharkey’s were thinking – I suspect the pratts on the group table bullied them into doing it.
I don’t know the name of the place we ended up at (Peduks? Depuks? Pudaks?), but I wouldn’t recommend it particularly. I expected the scales to be rigged a bit but I didn’t expect them to more than double the “weight” of the seafood. I was onto this because we’d had a snapper somewhere else previously where it had weighed in at 600gs. At this place a fish of the same size weighed in at 1.4kg! I would have loved to have pulled out a water bottle and done the check-the-scales-trick, but feared my dinner would be spat in if I tried anything like that.




I’d definitely recommend a day trip to Lembongan Island. It’s nothing like the other parts of Bali we saw.


We opted for the Island Discover tour – the one Simon promotes on the forum, I think that’s what it’s called – for US$39. It was a great day, but if you suffer from seasickness and don’t take medication for it, you will probably get quite sick on the boat because it’s one of those traditional flat-bottomed boats that really rolls with the swell. My boyfriend felt quite ill for most of the journey back, but I really liked bobbing around on the sea and getting sprayed with it. The guys who work on the boat and at Villa Wayan are very friendly, and we really enjoyed chatting with Ketut about life in Bali and Australia. We saw dolphins on the way over.


The island is very pretty with fantastic luminous aqua water (like the blue grotto in Capri). We were taken snorkeling in a glass-bottomed boat and the reef was spectacular – the best tropical fish I’ve seen anywhere. That said, I was extremely distressed to see our guide walking all over the coral in his flippers and digging into the reef with them when he wanted to swim upwards. He was also encouraging us to feed the fish with bread. I have been diving in a range of places around the world including the Philippines, which has a similar level of development, and have never witnessed such appalling treatment of a reef. I tried to explain to our guide that you shouldn’t walk on the coral (sanctimonious Westerner alert!), but he didn’t seem to take me seriously. I noticed the Japanese tourists from the Bali Hai cruise were doing the same thing, so clearly no one is educating them about not touching the coral either. Simon, if you are reading this, please help your business, the locals you work with and the beautiful reef off your beach by doing whatever you can to educate the locals and your visitors about looking after the reef. What’s going on out there is absolutely shameful. I intend to write to Bali Hai about what I saw going on out there as well.


The Villa Wayan, where you have lunch on this tour, is unpretentious and charming. A stay there would make for a really romantic getaway. I checked out their four rooms overlooking the bay and they’re quite funky. Luckily the view from their restaurant has a large tree obscuring the bright yellow monstrosity that Bali Hai has anchored in the bay. What’s next – a floating McDonald’s?
We swam around to Mushroom Bay, which has a lovely white sand beach but was very busy (and this was the low season) and even had speedboats towing banana boats right into the beach. This was kind of annoying and made it hard to enjoy a relaxing swim. I wouldn’t stay there if you were looking for a Robinson Crusoe experience.




We spent our last day at the Bali Cliff Hotel on the Bukit Peninsula. I was very impressed with this place (it costs a fortune to stay there, so I suppose I should have been). They do a superb Sunday brunch buffet for 150,000rp++ and it is well worth it because the food is excellent and really varied, the staff is delightful and the pool (which you can use if you eat there) is stunning. We didn’t see monkeys the day we were there, but we did see whales in the huge expanse of Indian Ocean that is the backdrop for the pool. The view of the horizon is so expansive that you can actually see the curve of the Earth.


After that, we watched the sunset from Uluwatu, which is a temple, located right on the edge of a fortress-like promontory. The view of sea below churning below is spectacular. The monkeys there were nuts and kept us amused for hours stealing tourists’ things and then playing games with the locals who appear to have made a business out of retrieving stolen goods from the monkeys. I wondered if they’d trained them to do it! One cheeky monkey stole our water bottle while we were temporarily distracted and then proceeded to remove the lid and drink out of the bottle like a human.


OK, well I think that’s it for now. …..


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