The best thing about Bali isn’t its warm-hearted people, the epic surf or cheap massages.
The one overriding quality of this much-loved island destination is that there’s always more to discover. No matter how much ground we think we’ve covered, most of us never scratch the surface. That’s what makes Bali so addictive. But it can also be overwhelming for travellers who desire more than just being a tourist.
As with most places, the best way to get to know Bali is to explore it through the eyes of a local. So we’ve consulted our little Bali black book and asked some of the island’s most authoritative advocates (including yours truly) if we can pick their brains …
WHAT NO ONE TOLD ME ABOUT BALI
BALI’S BEST SWIMMING SPOTS
23 AMAZING BALI VILLAS
William Lim, chef and owner of Sensorium Bali.
I’ve tried quite a few, but babi guling (suckling pig) at Warung Babi Guling Bu Dayu in Kuta is the most flavourful. It’s super cheap, considering you get suckling pig meat, pork satay, braised pork meat, vegies, Balinese sambal, crispy pork skin, pork crackling, soup and rice. With every bite I can taste the spiciness, the sweetness and the crunchiness all at once. It’s a flavour sensation in your mouth.
BEST STREET FOOD
Hands down the best satay is at the roadside Sate Babi Street Food in Canggu. This is the definition of a simple meal done perfectly. The meat is so tender and it comes with either a choice of rice or an Indonesian-style rice cake, and salt and chilli.
Hands down Bali’s best satay is at Sate Babi Street Food.Source:istock
Rachel Fearnley, The Pineapple House founding director and yoga, meditation and breath work coach.
BEST SURF SPOT
I love Medewi, a couple of hours up the coast from Canggu. I’m more of a long-boarder, so this wave is perfect for me and I like that there isn’t much else to do up there other than surf and chill. I stay at the Bombora and the hotel overlooks the break, so I can wake up in the morning and check the surf pretty much from my bed. They also have amazing bath tubs for post-surf muscle soothing.
BEST HEALTHY EAT
Oma Jamu on Batu Bolong is locally owned and they make the best vegan nasi campur, and it’s different every day. The food is fresh and ready-to-go and the guys in there have a passion for what they do. I order the vegetable fritters, pumpkin curry, dhal and the homemade raw chocolate. They also do a really great selection of juices and jamus. My go-tos are the liver cleanser and the vitamin C.
BEST YOGA CLASS
The Practice in Canggu is a beautiful studio made entirely out of bamboo and it is increasingly looking at ways to make itself zero-waste, which I find inspiring. I am loving its Yoga Nidra at the moment. It’s a guided meditation done lying down and it’s said that a 40-minute session is akin to three hours of deep sleep. I particularly love Pelin’s and Ellen’s classes as they both have beautiful voices and are passionate and caring teachers.
Technically, Maria Curau in Pererenan is a nail salon. Serene and overlooking working rice fields, it’s also vegan and non-toxic and takes a max of five people at a time, so it’s small and very personal. The women who work there are talented — they do the best nail art and give divine head massages while you get a mani-pedi. The playlist is great and you’re offered a glass of kombucha on arrival.
The Practice is a beautiful yoga studio made entirely out of bamboo.Source:Supplied
SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP
Cisco Tschurtschenthaler, founder of Cisco and the Sun Home, and a co-owner of The Slow.
BEST SECRET SHOP
Millers Records in Umalas on Jalan Umalas II. It’s a curated record store that carries classics and forgotten gems from all over the world. Our most recent find here was Arthur Russell’s Calling out of Context vinyl from 2004.
Jalan Kunti Dua at the back of Seminyak has shops that sell antiques, locally crafted wood furniture and treasures from the surrounding islands. It definitely deserves a full day of attention. Over the years, I have picked up so many woven baskets and rattan carpets from Jemeh Natural that the owner, Nurul, has become a good friend of mine. She has a huge selection and her prices are fair.
If I need to buy a special present for a friend, I visit Cove Island Essentials in Berawa. It has beautiful, thin cotton towels, oils, crystals and rattan bags. I also love Canaan Boutique in Petitenget for its indigo tie-dye T-shirts and Borneo handicrafts.
Tigerframe does great jewels. They’re stocked in many boutiques across Bali and make great gifts or souvenirs.
BEST BESPOKE FIND
I really like Craft District Gallery on Jalan Gunung Salak Utara in Kerobokan. The owner, Mary, has Dutch-Indonesian parents and has lived on the island with her husband for more than 20 years. They sell a curated selection of wood that’s mostly recycled and uniquely crafted. I especially love her black, carved and hammered fruit bowls and platters. You can feel the love in each piece.
BEST SUSTAINABLE BUY
Indosole has its flagship store in Canggu, selling slides made from upcycled car tyres otherwise destined for landfill. There are so many cool styles and colours to choose from. My latest favourite is the ESSNTLS cross.
The wood sculpture works of Aleph Geddis. He has exhibited at The Slow and has a studio here in Bali. Aleph is a timeless talent and his pieces bring life to any space.
Cove Island Essentials store has beautiful, thin cotton towels, oils, crystals and rattan bags.Source:Supplied
EAT YOUR HEART OUT
Will Meyrick, Bali-based chef and restaurateur of The Sarong.
Bhineka Jaya in Denpasar is, for me, the reference for coffee in Bali. It’s located on Jalan Gajah Mada in the heritage area of Denpasar’s old city and the owner has pioneered his coffee shop business since 1935, so it really is the original.
BEST SUNDAY BRUNCH
Seasalt in Seminyak has lots of choice, fresh seafood and it’s not expensive. I also like the Sunday Bruncation at The Apurva Kempinski Bali for the vast selection of sushi and sashimi.
BEST ‘WOW’ MEAL
Indonesian chef Mandif Warokka always surprises me, he’s one of the culinary world’s rising stars. I’ve recently been to BLANCO par Mandif in Ubud and have been amazed by his rock lobster confit.
Seasalt restaurant has lots of choice, fresh seafood and it’s not expensive.Source:Supplied
STAY OUT LATE
Jesse Vanni, manager and host at Luigi’s and Da Maria
BEST SMALL BAR
Back Room at Mason is a bit of an expat secret. There’s a big wooden door at the back of the restaurant that opens to a whole different set up. The underground bar has great music (and high profile DJs including Jimmy2Sox from Flight Facilities) but it’s also a good place to chat to mates and the cocktails are well-made. The 'dealmaker' is the ice cold beer on tap.
I don’t think there’s one bad drink on the signature cocktail list at Vault cocktail bunker in Berawa. My favourite is the Steve Jobless — I love the making process and the long pour into a tall crystal glass. This is the place to go if you want a chilled night with a few really good cocktails at a very stylish, vibrant venue.
If you’re into really big parties then check out the line-up at OMNIA Dayclub in Uluwatu. They have world-class DJs coming back and forth all the time, the parties with the biggest names have been insane. The best part is the quality of sound; the day club has a million-dollar sound system and it really gets you dancing.
Surfers Warung at Echo Beach has chilled tunes, beach views and good food. I like to have a cold beer and watch surfers punt air right in front of the bar as the sun goes down. Food and cocktails are simple, but this place has the authentic Bali beach vibe and it’s all about supporting the locals.
Amo Spa in Canggu has everything you need to relax or detox. Its massages are great and it has a sauna, cold plunge pool and jacuzzi, too. Follow my lead in that exact order and you’ll be ready for another big night.
Back Room at Mason is a bit of an expat secret.Source:Supplied
AND THEN THERE’S ME …
Having done the digital nomad thing in Bali for more than three years now, I’ve made it my mission to scour the island far and wide for the most fulfilling experiences. Here’s my latest edit.
Let’s be honest, Bali beaches are no match for Australia’s pristine shores. But if you want to escape the crowds, head for the secret, white-sand Bias Tugel Beach in the Karangasem Regency in East Bali. It’s undeveloped except for a string of simple beachside warungs and feels like the Bali of old.
Batu Karang Hotel & Spa on Nusa Lembongan is my go-to when I’m feeling more of a slow island groove. The resort is ultra-relaxed and has spectacular views overlooking the Playgrounds surf break and Mount Agung. And its speakeasy-style whiskey bar, The Howff, is one of Bali’s best-kept secrets.
BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Innovative ‘modern Australasian’ eats at new Sensorium Bali in Canggu are full of heart. Humble and passionate, North Sumatran-born chef and owner William Lim trained in Australia and he reminds me why it’s important to support local talent. I’m currently digging the brunch ramen with 62-degree sous vide egg.
BEST BLISS OUT
The Intensive Hair Treatment at Rob Peetoom Hair Spa in Petitenget might be the most relaxed hour of my life. It’s as much about the views as it is the blissful head massage. The treatment chairs are positioned outside overlooking a swaying rice paddy.
Batu Karang Lembongan Resort & Spa.Source:Supplied
Originally published asBali expats reveal their No.1 tip for Aussies
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