From international designer and Travelife Global Editor at Large Rafe Totengco's column in the April-May issue ofTravelife Magazine.
A friend once told me that people only visit Bali once and the rest of the time they keep coming back. And that is exactly what I have been doing for the past three years. Since my first trip for a friend’s wedding, I have been smitten. If you’ve ever been to this exotic paradise you’ll totally second my emotion. In subsequent trips I have come to experience different aspects of this mystical island. I’ve enjoyed sunset cocktails by the beach, indulged in local delicacies, swam among schools of fish above a shipwreck, hiked up treacherous mountain trails and meditated in ancient temples.
Whenever I go on vacation, I always have the urge to switch everything off. But I somehow never have enough guts to do so.
On my last trip to Bali, however, I finally decided to take the plunge and go offline (no iPhone, no email, no Facebook, no Twitter- believe it or not!). Free of technological disturbance, I ventured off-the-beaten-track starting from Manggis; then driving around Bali’s east and north coast to its cultural heart, Ubud; and then finally ending in sedate Sanur. I highly recommend it for anyone permanently attached to their PDAs because it completely liberated me from the noise of the outside world. I was able to immerse myself completely and experience Bali, unfiltered and without distraction. I emerged centered and energized, ready to go back and face the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple. No matter what your personal Utopian dream is for your vacation, have no fear because in this island paradise, there is something for everybody.
NAUGHTY NURI’S This Ubud institution serves up intoxicating martinis and their world famous barbeque pork ribs. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain thinks they’re the best outside New York. I couldn’t agree with him more. The crowd is friendly and boisterous.
IBU OKA Roast suckling pig (babi guling) at its best and even rivaling the Filipino “lechon”. This roadside restaurant (warung) is a must if you’re in Ubud. Authentic and relaxed, it’s always packed with people so be prepared to wait in line. Trust me, it is so worth it!
INDUS Another Ubud “must” with breathtaking views over the Tjampuhan River valley and Mount Agung. This is where the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival happens every year. Try Indonesia’s national dish nasi campur (mixed rice with vegetables, various meats, peanuts, egg, fried-shrimp chips and chili sauce), tenggiri curry (white fish cooked in ginger and coconut) and coconut crème caramel.
GAIA OASIS Tucked away at the water’s edge in Tulamben, this low-key beach resort offers a tranquil view of the sea while you dine al fresco. You might even spot dolphins swimming from a distance. Whatever you do, don’t miss the fantastic buffet they serve for lunch. The lemon cake was so good I came back for thirds.
METIS Recently opened by celebrity Chef Nicolas ‘Doudou’ Tourneville, formerly of Kafe Warisan, this restaurant, lounge and patisserie in Kuta is a welcome addition to the list of gastro-chic destinations in Bali. They have huge variety of blissful and potent cocktails. If you have the urge to shop while sipping your bellini, there’s also a boutique that’s conveniently open late.
SEASALT Overlooking the sea and set against a lush tropical garden, this restaurant and cooking school located within the Alila Manggis hotel is causing quite a stir in the sleepy town of Manggis, thanks to executive chef Penny Williams. The ingredients are grown from a local garden 10 minutes away and Penny trains local farmers to grow organic vegetables and rice. I shared the Balinese megibung (tastings of 8 local dishes) with a friend and it was delicious. Save room for a dessert of red rice pudding with jackfruit and home-made coconut ice cream.
KUDETA Probably one of the sexiest bars in Southeast Asia and one my personal faves. With lots of eye candy, heady cocktails, a seductive playlist and a sultry setting -- what’s not to love?! Grab a beachfront chaise if you can and watch the waves come crashing in. It’s best to go for sunset if you can beat the traffic.
BALI JOE Bali’s friendliest bar where all the boys are sisters. You get the picture. Tons of fun, if you like being in that kind of a scene.
OBSESSION This 80’s bar has hot live music from latin to rock, a lively mixed crowd and strong drinks. It’s not as chic as KuDeTa but the music makes up for it.
HIKE UP MT. AGUNG OR MT. BATUR I did both and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Unfortunately this expedition requires getting up early in the morning. Guides can be arranged by travel agents or hotels. Watching the sunrise while surveying the landscape from above the mountain is a truly unforgettable experience!
SNORKEL OR DIVE IN TULAMBEN On a black rock beach just meters from the shore is the USAT Liberty, an American ship wreck that is Bali’s most famous and most accessible dive. I snorkeled above the wreck and swam with large schools of fish while observing all these divers swirling in and out of the ship. I’m determined to do another dive on my next trip.
SWIM AT TIRTA GANGGA WATER PALACE Take a dip in this sacred watergarden that was once the favorite swimming pool of the Karangasem royal family. It is now open to the public and but you’ll see mostly locals here enjoying their daily bath. The water is cool and refreshing, especially after a day of sightseeing under the sun. On a side note, the overflow of the water goes into irrigating the rice fields below. Now that’s green living!
VISIT ULUN DANU TEMPLE COMPLEX Situated in Kintamani district in the village of Batur, this 2nd most important temple complex in Bali has nine temples and 285 shrines and pavilions. You can easily spend hours taking pictures and meandering around this labyrinth. I recommend you go really early to avoid the crush of tourists, or late at night when it’s empty except for a few locals making their offerings. This is when you get to experience the deep spirituality of Bali!
BU DEWI Hidden away in the village of Nyuh Kuning in Ubud you’ll find incredible recycled sarongs and vintage hand woven ikats for a fraction of the cost of what it would cost you at fancy hotel gift shops. Unfortunately the streets have no name so you’ll have to ask the locals for directions. Bring cash because that’s all she takes. I walked away with a bundle!
THREADS OF LIFE This fair trade business / textile arts center in Ubud commissions local weavers and support women’s weaving cooperatives to produce painstakingly stunning works of art using traditional techniques passed down through generations. Even if you don’t buy anything, go and see the exhibits and talk to the staff. They’re walking encyclopedias with interesting stories about every piece in the store.
JEAN FRANCOIS FICHOT If you’re looking for a really special one-of-a-kind statement piece and you’re willing to max out your credit card, then you go to Monsieur Fichot’s store in Ubud. He manipulates baroque pearls, semi-precious stones, diamonds, gold and silver into fantastic objets d’art for the home and to wear. His love for the ancient worlds of India, Egypt, Majapahit and Mesopotamia are evident in every intricate piece. Business is booming for this sorcerer of the arts because he’s building a bigger store set to open this year.
Read more about Rafe's travels in every issue of Travelife Magazine, and on his blog.
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