It’s 2 in the morning. I’m on Asia’s answer to Easy Jet. Yet somewhere over the airwaves comes the chirpy, “Welcome to Paradise Island”. The plethora of wailing babies suggested otherwise, but we had made it- Bali.
I went travelling this summer with four old friends from school, the inspiration behind this (deliberately) cringe title. I say travelling, but in reality ‘holidaying’ would probably be more accurate- backpacks and hiking boots had certainly been replaced by wheeled suitcases and flip-flops. We had planned 10 days in Bali, split across the lairy capital, Kuta, and the more picturesque region of Nusa Dua. This wasn’t our first time away together, we’d always been culture vultures; our trip to Magaluf after A-levels is a case in point. Sadly our holiday plans have never qualified in that unique category either- Magaluf was packed to the rafters (of the booze cruise) with Brits, and I’ve heard many are going out to Bali this year. So I thought I’d give you the low-down on Bali…. And even if you’re not heading out, I’m sure there will be some universally useless advice given. Throw out your Lonely Planet and get reading this guide.
The rupiah and I did not get on. With 1,000 rupiah translating to roughly 10p, the mental mathematician is a strong asset to any group- make sure you befriend one and invite them out with you. The only bonus to this insane currency is the feeling of being a millionaire, but that quickly passes. We didn’t only have problems doing the maths between us; it was when our money troubles involved the locals that things got sticky. Indeed, having just hailed a cab after a night out in Kuta, with some members of our group slightly worse for wear, we learned this lesson the hard way. We didn’t suspect the driver- he was small, very round and hiding behind such a strong moustache that I feared for his respiration- but fraudsters come in all shapes and sizes, and apparently with varying degrees of facial hair. We gathered our money and paid the driver the agreed 30,000 rupiah (roughly 3 pounds), but no no, this man was demanding 300,000- ten times our expected rate. And of course, due to the alcohol and arithmetic situation one of us might have promised him the wrong amount. But if you’re going to take one thing from this article it should be the knowledge that in Bali a promise is a PROMISE. Just as I began negotiations with the driver: “Look. We normally pay £2 (20,000) for this journey, we’ve only been to one bar, we’re not drunk enough to agree to a £30 (300,000) bill”, I hear screeches in the background from some very ‘respectable’ friends, “You knoooob. Knoooobbbs. We hate you.” Apparently the driver didn’t buy the ‘we’re not that drunk’ line, I can’t think why. Negotiations were over- a fond farewell to thirty pounds.
Out ‘nd about
If you’re looking for nightlife, Kuta is the place to visit. With numerous bars, clubs, karaoke bars and even a shipwreck (a purpose built structure offering another club, not a piece of history), it’s got it all. To stay on the safe side I believe it’s advised not to drink local alcohol to avoid ‘Bali belly’, but the mainstream brands are available if you ask. A personal favourite spot was the club ‘Bounty’ -the shipwreck- and in particular its accompanying bar. This bar serves its drinks in sports water bottles which allow big moves on the dance floor, yet minimal spillage. Moreover, in one corner of the club a charming piece of ‘statement’ furniture can be found, a cage, which gives the perfect opportunity for some up close and personal gyrating, or an insight into the feelings of a dancing prisoner. Kuta nightlife is heavily dominated by Australians, as Bali is far more accessible to those down-under, so if you’re aiming to bag yourself a Nicole Kidman or Hugh Jackman then you may well find them on the Balinese dance floor… or in Australia, maybe just go there.
Bali offers some of the finest beaches in the world and Nusa Dua certainly did not disappoint. White sand, blue seas and clear skies- this was the “Paradise Island” that the flight attendant had mentioned. Jimbaran beach would be a particular recommendation for a less commercialised beauty and more authentic food. If you want to avoid over populated beaches certainly do not visit Kuta’s; sitting at the edge of the town, the crowded streets seem to pour out onto it. Plus, in the daytime, the hagglers from the town patrol the shores- an area which leads us seamlessly onto our next sub-heading…
If a haggler says to you: “Sexy price. I love you”, he almost certainly does not love you, but wants you to buy a ‘real Chanel’ handbag that is actually a Sainsbury’s plastic bag. There are plenty of ‘Rolexes’, ‘Ray bans’ and ‘real leather handbags’ on the stalls flanking the streets of the Balinese towns- the credit crunch has clearly hit these quality brands with designer sunglasses for sale at two pounds. Remarkable. If you’re not interested on what’s on offer, be quick to walk away- lingering can lead to unfortunate situations; after an episode of this kind a man followed me down a street poking my back with a bottle opener… in the shape of a penis. Note to any guys reading this: girls do not enjoy that sort of humour, move on.
One real treat in Bali is the endangered elephant sanctuary. This sanctuary has the largest number of rescued Sumatran elephants in the world, and I would really recommend spending a day there. The sanctuary is situated deep in the rainforest with buildings tottering on stilts, and the elephants happily roam the green space, rather than being chained-up or penned-in in small cages. The shelter gives visitors the opportunity to take a ride around the park on an elephant, but not just any old elephant, this is meet and greet time. Like a very bizarre first date, you find out the basics about your animal: our elephant was Melanie, aged 24, still single, and still looking for ‘the one’. She was just another girl doing her thing -as she waved her trunk at me, I knew we’d be friends for life… or something sentimental like that.
All in all, Bali is a peculiar mix; it combines immense natural beauty with the tackiness of a velour tracksuit; the most tranquil beaches with nightlife akin to Fuzzy Ducks. With only 10 days on the island, I’m not sure that I sought out all the hidden treasures- Bali boasts several beautiful temples and ancient settlements that I wish I’d had time to explore. With hostels and even fairly luxurious hotels at brilliant prices, it’s the perfect place to go with friends, but if you’re looking to go away for a more enlightening trip, there’s plenty on offer too.