This was my wife’s first trip to Bali and for all practical purposes, mine as well. I had spent 3 nights there in 1981 but other than some general impressions from that trip, in many ways I felt like I was seeing Bali for the first time.
Based on reports from other travelers on a Bali travel forum, we had made arrangements to tour for several days and to be picked up at the airport by Wayan Merta. It was a good decision. Not only were we happy with his work, we came away from our visit feeling as if we had made a new friend. He was always in good humor, punctual at all times and offered advice without being pushy.
Our taste was to avoid the crowds as much as possible and Wayan was able to accommodate us in that regard. We had been told that Wayan liked Western music so we brought over several audio cassettes with an eclectic mix of music including some rock, but some others ranging from one tape with Dolly Parton & O Brother Where Art Thou (soundtrack) to another with Three Tenors on one side and Mozart on the other. Wayan’s favorite turned out to be Dolly Parton. In fact, he was playing it so much towards the end of our trip, we had to ask him to put on traditional Balinese music for a change of pace.
We began our Bali visit with 3 nights at the Aston Bali in Tanjung Benoa. Our Garden View Room was very large with a beautiful bathroom and nice view from the terrace. Everything about the hotel including the staff, the pool, and the restaurant was very nice. We were glad not to be in the middle of all the action in Kuta and enjoyed several restaurants within walking distance of the hotel. But in all honesty, if we were going to plan this trip again, we would skip south Bali entirely or at the very least, reduce the number of days we spent there. I know not everyone has the same taste or reasons for going to Bali but for us, we can stay in nice hotels, have drinks in nice bars and visit nice beaches that are a whole lot closer to the east coast of the US than Bali. We were there to see other things.
Our first night in Tanjung Benoa was a Friday and we had booked a table at the Bumbu Bali for dinner and to watch the cultural show they offer that night each week. In addition to being a 2-minute walk from the hotel, Bumbu Bali was a great introduction to Balinese cuisine. In fact, we enjoyed our meal there so much that we came back again 2-nights later. On our 2nd meal there, we had the chance to talk to owner/chef Heinz von Holzen about the restaurant and his work saving sea turtles.
Our other night in the south, we ate at the Kin Khao Thai restaurant. The food wasn’t bad but it wasn’t a great meal. In fairness to the restaurant, we didn’t order very well. We wanted to try some dishes we’d never seen before and as a result, we ended with a bit of a strange combination of food. Plus we discovered that mangos were out of season in Bali so there would be no mangos with sticky rice for us that night.
Our one day of touring in the south included a visit to a tailor, a drive through Kuta to confirm why we weren’t staying there, a visit to the temple at Uluwatu, a quick stop at the Sanur Beach market and a stop at a batik shop in Denpasar.
We enjoyed a nice meal at Poppies on Poppies Lane in Kuta at lunch that day. It wasn’t the cheapest meal we had but considering the beautiful setting and the quality of the food, the prices weren’t all that bad either and the rest rooms were very clean. In my mind, it was the best Nasi Campur I had the entire trip.
The next day was mostly spent enjoying the hotel pool but we did return to the Sanur Beach market and found our way to Toot Sie’s fixed price shop. We didn’t buy all that much there but did get some decent deals without the hassles of bargaining including a large kite for R80,000 and some sandals for R15,000.