Sunday, November 2, 2008

Thoughts on Bali

Pleen and I spent a week on Bali split pretty evenly between the high-end villa venue of Canggu and the artistic center of Ubud. For me it was a first time visit. Pleen hadn’t been there since high school.

Bottom Line Up Front:

We’re both glad we came to Bali and we had a good time, but it probably won’t make our must-return list anytime soon. It's lovely, just not really our scene.


North of the more well known beaches of Kuta, the high end areas around Seminyak & Canggu offer splendid villas for a romantic get-away or an enjoyably isolated retreat with friends or family. The spectacularly luxurious villa our buddy BL arranged would easily take 5 couples for less than most of the higher end hotel resorts. We were impressed not only by the beauty of the facility, but also by the kind and competent staff. It beat the hell out of anonymous luxury hotel – it felt much more personal.

Here’s the whole crew with Henry, one of the dozen or so staff who took such good care of us.

When we chatted briefly with the rep from the agency handling the villa he told us that his firm managed about 40 more similar properties! If there’s really that sort of choice among these sorts of properties, it’s good news for travelers.

The little bit of shopping we did around Seminyak was jointly stymied by the heat (we chose the shops we entered as much due to their air conditioning as their offerings) and the fact that we didn’t need anything. Traveling through Asia for a month, we were loathe to begin filling up on souvenirs. Moreover, the wares on offer seemed to extend pretty quickly from affordable touristy stuff to international fashionista accoutrements. We both felt that, in a town where a good lunch from a high end place cost US$5, $100 bikinis seemed a bit much for us.

In Ubud, we found a similar extreme spread in accommodations. It seems that the market caters to either the backpacking crowd or the Four Seasons crowd, with relatively little in between. We ended up bouncing between “just fine” and “over the top”. The gallery and shopping scene in Ubud is certainly nice enough, but not all that compelling. In the end, people watching and chasing a good meal turned out to be our primary activities – big surprise.

Throughout our time, we found some good eats. BL describes Balinese cuisine as boring, but Pleen and I hadn’t had a hit of Indonesian food in a long time so it was a treat for us. We got our fill of old favorites like nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) & gado-gado (steamed veggies & tofu in a peanut sauce). Somewhat ironically, our first hotel in Ubud served the best mie goreng (egg noodles stir-fried with chicken, egg, and veggies) we had anywhere along our trip.

Smoky and oily with a nice bit of chili alongside, it had much more going for it than some of the more refined versions we sampled at more refined places. This highlights the common case where street food suffers the farther you get from the street. All you’re really looking for with this sort of food is a well-seasoned wok and an experienced chef. The niceties of presentation are often contra indicated for real flavor. There were also new-to-us treats like urap pakis (a salad of wild fern tips and roasted coconut) and karedok (vegetable salad with peanut tamarind dressing). Fresh, light, and herb-y, these dishes were wonderfully fulfilling in the hot languid cafes of Ubud.

A word here has to be reserved for our favorite culinary discovery of the trip. Perhaps the best “mocktail” ever is the Breeze from Kafe Batan Waru. This place is BL&ST’s favorite place in Ubud and, as usual, they didn’t steer us wrong. The food in general is well worth stopping in for. Aside from dishes mentioned above, their tahu petis (fried tofu with house dipping sauce) rocks. But the drink is what brought us back. The Batan Waru Breeze is a concoction of lychee, mint, ginger, lime juice, and ice that serves to perfectly refresh and rejuvenate. It’s like an artisanal limeade . . . or perhaps lemonade for adults. I won’t embarrass Pleen by admitting in print how many times we returned for one of these treats as we trooped ‘round town sweating and exploring. I will only say that this is the finest tropical refresher we have yet encountered.


So the place is lovely, but it’s not enough of our scene to compel a recent return. We’re not surfers or exotic fashion fans or any of the other specific categories of travelers for whom Bali is so well suited. We weren’t looking to bum out on a beach this time round nor learn the intricacies of making batik fabrics. There are any number of other reasons to find your way here, and Bali is certainly the most user-friendly locale in Indonesia. The well-developed infrastructure and services make it easy to get to and easy to enjoy.

Kafe Batan Waru

Jalan Dewi Sita, Ubud

Bali, Indonesia


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