Friday, September 19, 2014


The final day in Bali presented us with a conundrum. The checkout time at the hotel was 11am, but the flight back to Australia didn't leave until 10.30pm. So we had nearly twelve hours to spend hobbled by luggage.

The solution was one of those luxuries that one could never afford in Australia: we hired a driver to collect us from the hotel at 11am, take us around the island for nine hours, then deposit us at the airport at 8pm. And he would also design an itinerary for us, and play tour guide at selected sites.

All for fifty American dollars.

My travel buddy wanted to see some temples and Bali's famous beaches, so the driver took us to Uluwatu, the famous white temple at the island's extreme south, which sits on a clifftop overlooking the ocean.

Uluwatu is surrounded by the sacred monkey forest, and the monkeys are believed to protect the temple from bad influences... which is a little like claiming that the IRA protects the streets of Belfast from criminal gangs.

"While at the temple, please remove your hat and sunglasses and put them in your bag," the driver told us.

"As a mark of respect?" I asked.

"No," he said. "If you don't the monkeys will steal them."

I might have dismissed this as hyperbole, until I saw a young monkey gnawing on a pair of bifocals with their arms ripped off.

From Uluwatu we traveled to Padang Padang beach, made famous by Julia Roberts swanning along it on a solitary journey of self-discovery that somehow managed to omit the crowds and hawkers.

Then Dreamland beach, a slightly less beautiful beach filled with slightly less beautiful people, but boasting the New Kuta Beach Club, where one could relax out of the heat with a ridiculously oversized bottle of water and a nice club sandwich.

Braving the mid-afternoon heat, the Worst Ninja in the World and I took a walk along the shore, pausing for a photo of him with his new beach house.

Then down to Nusa Dua, which is where the movie stars and heads of state stay when they're in Bali. There's a shore of strangely weathered rocks, where a Japanese couple were taking engagement photos, and a little further up a Chinese tourist posed for his friends to take photos, before a freak wave boomed into the rocks, sprayed up, and dumped half a swimming pool's worth of water onto him. If you want to know what it feels like to have every single person within a 200 metre radius point at you and burst into uncontrollable laughter, I know a guy in China who can set you straight.

By this time it was about 6pm, so our driver dropped us off at a beachfront restaurant. It no doubt gave him a hefty kickback, and it was probably the worst restaurant we'd visited, but it was sited on one of Bali's few west-facing beaches, and so offered a magical view of the sun setting over the ocean.

It was such a lovely spot that I even tolerated the wandering musicians who sidled up to every table, asked the nationality of the diners, then played a song more or less related to that country. I shuddered to think what they'd choose from the Great Australia Songbook ('Khe Sahn', probably, since this restaurant was deep in bogan territory), so I told them to play something South American, and was rewarded with a samba. In five minutes they were earning in tips what most skilled Balinese would earn in an hour, but they were talented musicians so it seemed appropriate. Apparently they learnt their repertoire from watching YouTube videos.

Then it was off to the airport for more tourist taxes and a cut-price flight back to Australia.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


Before I left Australia, my aunt told me that my cousins had highly recommended going on a mountain bike tour in Bali. So buoyed by the fun of Waterbom, which proved that I could exert myself and enjoy it, I decided to give it a try.

It was the first time since I'd arrived in Bali that I'd been forced to interact with other tourists for more than a few seconds. There was a party of six from Romania, lead by a loud woman who interrupted all of the guide's speeches with questions only of interest to herself. There was a quiet American couple, and me and my travel buddy. And lastly there was a strange woman from Holland who was notable for two things:

1) she was scared of everything. Spiders. Snakes. Chickens. Pigs. Corners. Fruit. The visible light spectrum. Everything she encountered reduced her to a shivering, squealing mess.

And 2), she had no idea how to ride a bike.

This second thing blew my mind. Holland is the Land of the Bicycle. People in Holland emerge from the womb on two wheels. They're as Dutch as windmills, tulips and putting prostitutes in shop windows. How on earth do you reach middle age in Holland without being able to ride a bike?

And even if you do somehow manage this unlikely feat, why in the name of all that's holy do you then choose to pay money to go on a MOUNTAIN BIKING TOUR!?

We commenced our tour from a little town near the Kintamani volcano, and progressed down back roads, farm tracks and walking paths, mostly downhill, pausing every couple of hundred metres for the Dutch woman to scream at a cloud or crash into a fencepost. In between her histrionics, the guide told us about the backyard coffee roasting businesses, the rice cakes drying on the roofs of houses, how cocoa is farmed, and the exotic flora and fauna of Bali.

The fauna included a vast colony of massive spiders in the trees by the side of the road, which reduced everyone in our group to shrieking hysterics except for me and the American man. Our guide demonstrated that they were harmless, allowing one to crawl over his hands and even on his face, but that didn't convince the rest of our group that they weren't in immediate danger of a gruesome death. I jumped at the chance to let one crawl across my hands - I guess for most Australians, after spending our lives surrounded by venomous snakes, poisonous platypuses, violent kangaroos, disease-filled ticks and carnivorous plants, any creature that's basically harmless holds no fear.

The Romanian woman demanded to know why the bus-sized colony of spiders hadn't been eradicated. The guide replied, with an air of polite puzzlement, that the spiders ate the mosquitoes and other insect pests, so why would they want to eradicate them?

The tour ended at an elephant sanctuary - something of an oddity in Bali, given that elephants aren't native to the island. I've learned that there's a certain amount of controversy about the place, since the elephants are 'saved' from a life of agricultural labour and 'rescued' into a life of performing stupid tricks for tourists. But it was a beautiful place, with many elephants solemnly lumbering about and acres of landscaped tropical gardens.

The Worst Ninja in the World took the opportunity to practice his stealth skills. With mostly disappointing results.

But despite hysterical Dutchwomen, demanding Romanians and giant spiders, it was a lot of fun to get out into the country and do a little exercise. My cousins did not lead me wrong - it was a lot of fun and I'd recommend it to anyone. Just aim for one without Europeans, I guess.

We made it back to the city by early evening, and then headed out to dinner. Near the hotel we found The Bistrot, a French restaurant slathered in Gallic Hipster Chic, all vintage velvet couches, oversized chandeliers, flagstone flooring, repurposed industrial shelving and antique home appliances mounted on the walls, like the first apartment of some privileged Parisian student who furnished it with whatever he could find in the attic of his parent's chateau.

For dinner I had a double Gordon's martini, Salad Nicoise made with sashimi tuna and quail eggs, and an exquisite creme brulee with a crust as thin and delicate as a butterfly's wing... all for $30. In Australia the double martini alone would cost almost that much.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I am the sort of person who could quite contentedly spend a week in Bali sleeping, eating, drinking, reading and floundering about the swimming pool like a dugong undergoing anaphylactic shock. But my travel buddy is a man of action, and he demanded that we go to Waterbom.

I didn't resist, because Waterbom is amazing. In fact I'd forgotten how much fun it is. In the last 18 months they've opened three new slides, all of which are awesome enough to compensate for the endless stairclimbing required to reach them. The queues, if they existed, were modest.

You know your day is going well when, while walking from one slide to the next, you realise that you're giggling gleefully. There are moments at Waterbom when there's a feeling air of unironic, unimpeded joy rising off the crowd.

I was in such a good mood coming away from Waterbom that I found myself amused rather than annoyed by the taxi touts who closed in on us the second we walked out the gates. They wanted $20 to take us back to the hotel. I laughed in their faces, since it had cost $6, including tip, in a proper metered taxi, to get there. They swore they couldn't do it for less than $11. So I walked down the street a bit and found a driver who was more than happy to do it for $10.

Of course I could afford any of those prices, but more than tripling the cost of something shows a certain lack of respect.

After freshening up at the hotel, we went out to dinner at another of the restaurants on my to-do list. Ginger Moon, the brainchild of New Zealand-born chef Dean Keddell, is a groovy Asian fusion joint embodying the slightly kitschy style that's so popular in the trendier Australian restaurants.

Unfortunately, I discovered that while I'm a foodie who'll try anything once, my travel buddy... isn't. He's allergic to shellfish, for a start. And he can't stand pork. And isn't too keen on fish or beef either. And he hates carrots. And isn't fond of peas. Or indeed most vegetables. And he hates spicy food. And he doesn't drink alcohol.

While I gorged myself on salt 'n' pepper tofu and spiced chicken with sambal and avocado and slow-cooked lamb with black beans and goat's cheese, he checked the menu and found, with an air of great martyrdom, a pizza that was only partially distasteful, then carefully picked off a few offending fruits and vegetables and just ate the base and some chicken. And while I had a chili mojito that was, frankly, incredible, he had a couple of Cokes.

But we could both agree that the bill being presented in a coconut monkey head was pretty awesome.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Along with amazing restaurants, Bali is also developing some excellent coffee houses, and while I prioritised visiting some of them, my first encounter was more or less an accident. The only reason I found Revolver, a natty little hipster espresso bar hidden away in an alley off Seminyak's main street, was because I stopped to get some flyers from a booth next door.

The vibe is one of a bohemian art student share house, only with far better coffee. Like all cool eateries in Bali it exists entirely for the benefit of tourists and ex-pats, although Revolver is more about the laidback surfer types than the beer swilling bogans. The man sitting opposite me was typical of the customers: a skinny, sunburnt, scruffy American, lounging about in nothing but board shorts and those braided leather and wood bracelets and anklets that inexplicably multiply on hippies in the same way that condiments multiply in a bachelor's fridge.

But the coffee really was wonderful.

Afterwards I took a long walk up the beach in search of more luxury Balinese hospitality, eventually stopping for a martini at the W Retreat, which is expensive even by Perth standards. Fortunately while it costs $500 a night to stay there, the drinks are more affordable.

There's nothing like a cold, ninja-festooned martini sipped under the palm trees on a late tropical afternoon.

For dinner, we went to an unmemorably named Italian restaurant near the hotel, which appeared to be run by an actual Italian. As such, the courses were laid out in the Italian manner, the pizza wasn't overwrought, and everything we ate was simply delicious. The gelati selection was a little basic, but I'll cut them some slack since we're in Bali, not Bolongna.

Monday, September 15, 2014


To get to Bali I flew on Jetstar, Australia's favourite low-cost, no-frills, no-self-respect airline. One of their tricks for saving money is to use the least popular timeslots for arrivals and departures at the airport. Hence my wonderfully cheap flight to Bali departed Perth at 4am.

This wasn't too onerous - I just got a taxi out to the airport around 1am and after the usual check-in and security rigmarole I just had a couple of hours to read before the flight. However, the flight got in to Denpassar airport at 8am, and my hotel room would not be available until 2pm. So I took a taxi to my hotel, left the bags at the desk, then wandered off to find breakfast. Fortunately my hotel was right in the centre of Seminyak, within strolling distance of most things I wanted to do. Or, more specifically, to eat.

One of my priorities on this trip was to visit the local foodie hotspots - every celebrity chef in Australia and New Zealand seems to have a restaurant in Bali, producing Rockpool food at Red Rooster prices. Bali has also recently acquired a small but bustling coffee culture, with snazzy little espresso bars popping up between the surf shops and the massage spas.

With this in mind I set off for the first cafe on my list: Sea Circus, a relaxed hippie surfie hangout famous for its breakfasts.

I had ricotta pancakes with banana and palm sugar caramel, and coffee, because it was now around 10am and I had not slept for more than 24 hours. I took a selfie at this point, and my face and posture both scream, "I am currently being held together by caffeine, grime and willpower!"

I got back to the hotel just after midday and parked my grimy, caffeinated body in the lobby. Soon after, the staff either took pity on me or decided that I was lowering the tone, and let me check into my room early.

Like all good four star hotel rooms, mine had an enormous bed with crisp white sheets, a spacious bathroom, cool tiled floors, and a view out over the frangipani-fringed pool.

And the worst painting ever committed to canvas, possibly by Satan...

...assuming that the Prince of Darkness was both colourblind and feeling very depressed that day.

After a good nap, I was ready to resume my foodie experiences. My travel buddy and I had drinks at Ku De Ta, then set off north trying to find a famous restaurant called Sarong. But the map was hopeless, it was getting late, I was getting hungry, so when I noticed a sign for another restaurant on my list, I decided to go for it.

It turned out to be the best meal of the entire trip. Salt Tapas, housed in the Peppers Sentosa Resort, is part of the empire of Australian celebrity chef Luke Mangan. It's way off the main street, down several hundred metres of dark and twisting laneways, but once you get there it springs up with that solid wall of luxury that characterises all of the best places in Seminyak.

As the name suggests, the menu is modern Australian tapas with a local twist. We had mushroom and feta arancini balls, fried potatoes with truffle oil and parmesan, beetroot and asparagus salad, tomato and mozzarella salad, and, as a highlight, tuna tartare with lime and wasabi on homemade tortilla chips.

It was incredible, and unlike many tapas places, there was no skimping on the plates. And at the end of the evening, huge amounts of fine food in a stunning high-end poolside restaurant cost $30 a head.

Just one more thing to love about Bali.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


The last time I went to Bali I swore that I would return, since I'd found it vibrant, beautiful and deliciously inexpensive. That return came sooner than expected, when I found myself bundled off to Bali with little notice last week. It was a happy confluence of cheap flights, a special hotel deal, and my boss being sick of the sight of me.

As is my wont, I took a friend with me. Behold the Ninja!

Ironically the very phrase "Behold the Ninja" demonstrates that said ninja is pretty terrible at ninjaing: ninjas are, by definition, not beheld, unless they've seriously screwed up. Unfortunately judging by the number of photos of him on my camera, my travel companion was The Worst Ninja in the World.

Luckily I had no immediate plans to assassinate my many enemies or stalk anything more threatening than a mango daiquiri, so having the Worst Ninja in the World around wasn't a problem. And he had my back as I commenced a week of food, sunshine and indulgence.