Balinese holiday not just for the kids

 For four decades I declared that I didn’t need to go to Bali to see Aussie tourists behaving badly, I could go to Sydney. And crowd-watching from a sidewalk bar in Seminyak, has given me no cause to change my mind on that score.

The change of heart came about  because I couldn’t bear the thought that my children had all been somewhere I hadn’t. And I’m very glad it did.

It was with some cynicism that I booked a flight bound for Denpasar, a name that rings a bell for all the wrong reasons – Schapelle, the Bali 9, drug mules, and firing squads. Add to that the horror stories of volcanoes and earthquakes, and Australians in motor scooter crashes; suffering Bali belly at best and food poisoning at worst; and being arrested or dying, and I felt my 40-year grudge against the place was justified. It’s had a bad rap.

However, needs must, and I set off north to check it all out for myself.

On the bright side, air fares are comparatively inexpensive and it’s a relatively short flight of around six hours.

Fares range anywhere from $300-$800 depending on the time of year, sales, and the airline of choice. Malindo, the Malaysia-Indonesia full-service airline has generous legroom and, with Jetstar and Virgin, provides the best deals. 

There are also plenty of package deals offering five nights staying at four to five-star hotels for less than $1000 – including the airfare.

And herein lies the secret to Bali, as I was soon to discover.

It’s a fabulously cheap holiday to lounge by a pool, soak up the sun, suck down cocktails, dine like royalty and zone out with a daily massage. Sadly for Queensland tourism, the Whitsundays can’t compete with the cost of all that, even with the airfares added in.

And this would also explain why Bali is a favourite among Australian tourists of all ages. It’s a champagne holiday on a beer budget with another culture thrown in for good measure.

Unlike the rest of Indonesia, which is predominantly Muslim, Bali has Indonesia’s largest Hindu population, which means lots of ornamental temples and shrines, bright colours and daily offerings in the street.

Rice paddies add splashes of deep glorious green to the countryside near the coast, while spectacular forested volcanic mountains and valleys are a picture heading inland.

There are beaches, cliffs, coral reefs or a combination of all of them at Seminyak, Nusa Dua, Legian, Uluwatu, and Canggu. Traditional crafts and dance are on show in the rainforest of the beautiful Ubud district, where yoga and meditation retreats beckon. 

In fact, it is possible to enjoy a holiday in Bali without ever setting eyes on Kuta or shopping  for a Bintang T-shirt.

And holiday is the key word. This is a destination that’s made for relaxation and luxury stays, not trekking about with a camera and backpack. 

Although distances are short, getting about is slow and at times hair-raising. Traffic is heavy and roads struggle to cope. 

For example, Pemuteran, a quiet little spot in the far northwest of the island away from hurly-burly, is 120km-150km away depending on route, but either way, takes five to six hours by road. 

As with all travel in Bali, it’s safer and surer to take a taxi than attempt to drive, and fortunately, that’s not expensive either, although it’s a good idea to negotiate a price before climbing on board.

Even in the busy coastal districts of the south, getting about can be tricky. Footpaths, if they exist at all, can be hazardous but bear in mind that taxes are low, and despite the tourism dollar, it is still a third world country. 

But that also adds to its appeal. Even though the language of the passing hordes would suggest it’s Australian, there is still a local flavour to lap up.

Motor scooters are the most popular way to get about but unless you have prior experience you could be taking your life in your hands in the frenzied local traffic. 

This, I soon learnt, is where the accident statistics come from. One young Aussie jumped on a scooter, called her two friends to climb on behind and was last heard shouting “I have never ridden before” as the three sped out of sight.

There is no hint of a nanny state here, it’s Rafferty’s rules.

There is a huge selection of accommodation, from private villas to luxury hotels. Private swimming pools surrounded by lush gardens, an ensuite for every room and daily room service are the order of the day. 

Hotels offer lavish daily buffet breakfasts and while villas will have a kitchen, one of many little cafes that are always nearby provide the easy option. 

In the bigger tourist centres, package deals for a luxury resort including buffet breakfast, airport pickup and a daily cocktail thrown in for good measure, are as low as $500 for five nights.  On arrival at Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai International Airport, I was met by a driver for the 20km journey to Canggu, chosen because it is not quite as hectic as some of the other beachfront centres. I also soon discovered that it’s home to Finn’s Bali, where everything is made easy.

The trip took an hour as there is no hint of open road in this built-up corner of Bali.

My private villa was beautifully fitted and had its own private pool with a huge shaded futon as part of the garden setting, perfect for lounging about and reading. Holidays are made of this.

Massages quickly become part of the daily routine, whether it’s the local spot around the corner where I swear they use cooking oil and seldom change the batik sheet, for $6-$10 an hour; or an outing to a spa filled with the scent of essential oils, chilled towels and herbal tea for the princely sum of $30 an hour.

Another attraction of Canggu is Finn’s Bali, made up of a recreation club, beach club (recommended only if you’re looking for a wild party) and the neighbouring VIP Club where you can lean back on a daybed between pool and beach, and be waited on hand and foot with tempting cocktails and top-notch tucker.

It is a destination in itself, so after a day of lounging, dining at the poolside restaurant, or being pampered in the Ocean Spa, you can wander up to the rooftop bar for evening entertainment before grabbing the shuttle home. Work it all off at the Recreation Club’s fitness centre or lap pool the next day, or have a round of tennis. Set on 4ha among the rice paddies of Canggu, it’s 10 minutes from Seminyak and also has a sports bar, restaurants, 10-pin bowling and the Body Temple Spa. 

There is a smorgasbord of passes with multiple inclusions to choose from for the Finn’s experience. 

Alternatively, pick up a Tanah Lot tour package and head off in air-conditioned comfort to one of Bali’s most beautiful seaside temples.

And you can also make the most of your last day with a Day Pass to use the facilities and have a shower before catching a late flight home. Luggage is safely stored until the airport transfer arrives. It’s all just too easy, as millions of Australians have discovered.

So now I am happy to say, “I’ve been to Bali too” – but I’ve still managed to avoid Kuta.