Laid back in Bali

by Neil Brook

I’ve been coming to Bali for over 30 years. On my first trip I remember a few hotels dotted along the beach mostly designed in a local, bungalow style circling a pool with intermittent air conditioning and more local food than western favourites. This trip was also my first and only encounter with Bali Belly.

Something happens when you step off the plane here. It’s hard to describe the sense of calm and comfort that welcomes you with open arms that gently guide you to a place of inner peace and enlightenment. The smells, the sights, the sounds… the Balinese are friendly. Their smiles are infectious. Their hospitality is legendary.

As the years have flown by I’ve been back more times that I can count and we now see Bali as akin to our second home. I’ve witnessed the gradual creep of massive hotels along the beach and the once deserted roads now stuffed with shops, bars and restaurants from Kuta to Legian and Seminyak and which now threaten the tranquility of surfers enjoying the waves in Canggu. I’ve been a fan of Seminyak with its endless choice of amazing restaurants, beach bars and boutiques preferring to hire a private villa nestled in the back streets within walking distance of my favourite haunts. I was there again last month and while I remember the traffic being bad and the restaurants being busy I didn’t appreciate the agony of relying on taxis to get from place to place if you decided to venture a little further for dinner or a long leisurely lunch. The traffic jams now make walking a viable alternative even in the heat. 

Something happened this time. A yearning for the old Bali away from the nightclubs and crowds. A desire for peace and quiet where others were looking for the same thing. 

My brother has been visiting Sanur and singing it’s virtue for years. I don’t know why but I’ve been hesitant. Perhaps lured by familiarity and the anticipation of my favourite meal at one of my favourite restaurants. Oh and those perfect sunsets as the sun sinks below the horizon throwing reds, crimsons and pinks into the sky. Sanur is on the east coast so sunlight creeps across the ocean as the sun turns night into day giving rise to magnificent sunrises. We decided to give Sanur a try.

We booked a villa with private pool and our host gives us a synopsis of the area. She describes a more local neighbourhood feel, quiet and something perhaps people of our age would appreciate! No offence taken and she was right. We are at the age where pumping music billowing out of bars and crowds of twenty somethings enjoying happy hour are, let’s say, not for us. Our days staggering out of a bar at sunrise looking for a recovery party hold wonderful memories that are just that. Memories that create a patchwork of life where we are now putting together the next part.

After checking in we take a stroll to the beach. Along quiet lanes and alleys past tucked away cafes and courtyard restaurants. Intimate massage parlours where those sitting outside engage in conversation rather than calling out across the street. A refreshing change as we book in for an hour and a half of pampering. As we continue to the beach we hit the main road that winds through Sanur. Here there are a scattering of boutiques, a few of the usual Balinese style souvenir shops with batik spilling out onto the footpath and cool cafes and eateries. The traffic is sparse and crossing the road is a simple process rather than putting your life on the line as you dodge and weave, hoping cars will slow and motorbikes will not surprise you by creeping up on both sides of the oncoming traffic. The road leading to the ocean is lined with beautiful homes protected by high walls where ornate doors open onto lush gardens. We find the villa for our next stay where the housekeeper and gardener have been tending to guests and manicuring lawns for over 50 years. Heaven surrounded by lily ponds and tranquility. 

At the end of the road a handful of shops greet you and are a perfect place to grab a sarong, hat and anything else you may have forgotten. We pack lightly when travelling here and purchase some essentials to sustain our trip, putting money into the local community in what can be a competitive business and after the usual negotiation and bargaining that make shopping here fun. 

Here the sea is calm and clear. A reef breaks off shore dulling the swell so there are no surfers here. The tide goes out quite far and when it does reveals reeds and rock pools. When it returns the reeds sway in the current and the water is perfect for snorkelling, where visibility seems endless or jet skiing as you zoom over the coral and zig zag over a patchwork of greens and blues, circling atolls and underwater forests.

The boardwalk is lined with bungalow style hotels their pools almost touching the sand. There are height restrictions here so towering hotel blocks on the beach are relegated to other places. Restaurants and beach bars invite you to linger. We discover a gem with tables on the sand sitting in a quiet spot on a small almost private part of the beach. It becomes our hangout for breakfast and lunch and dinner (some days). Nothing says vacation quite like having your toes in the sand eating freshly grilled seafood whilst washing it down with an icy cold beer or cocktail flavoured with local fruit. It’s a full moon so the temple on the beach is hosting a celebration, Balinese style. Offerings are taken to the shores and feasts prevail.

Life here is laid back. Start the day with a free yoga class down by the beach and take it from there. A path curves along the shore making exploration on foot or bike easy. Stumbling across rest and refreshment spots is more rewarding than Googling every possible place in order to make a decision. Isn’t that how people discover the next ‘new’ best place? Sanur isn’t new. It’s been here for ages however somehow it’s kept the Balinese charm that entices visitors to this Indonesian Island.

There’s something to be said for the nightlife and abundant choice on the West coast. Once you’re done with that, head East. You won’t be disappointed.

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