TRAVEL GUIDE South-East Asia Where to go for the right vibe in Bali

Kuta Beach, Bali.
Picture: Stephen Scourfield The West Australian
Photo of Stephen Scourfield

Travel Editor Stephen Scourfield reveals the drawcards at our popular neighbour 

Kuta, Legian and Seminyak are still Bali’s Big Three.

At one end (literally), Kuta is pretty much “party” and hotel prices are often cheaper. Think beach life and parties. Think swimming pools and mates and late nights, clubs and drinking.

It’s still the drawcard for lots of backwards-and-forwards West Aussies. A few mates, a cheap flight, and ready-made fun. And for all the bars, cafes, restaurants, shops, spas, and even the water park, surely Kuta Beach is still the central attraction. Everything revolves around the beach. No, it’s not some remote, romantic stretch of sand (if you want those, stay home) — but it is fun.

Get there early and stake your claim. Be brave with the beach-going barterers.

At the other end, Seminyak is quieter, more “upscale”, with more villas, and a bit pricier. We’re thinking good restaurants and boutiques, and not so Bintang and street stall. Petitenget Beach feels quite secluded but there’s still plenty of night vibe.

Physically, Legian Beach is between the other two — that’s true of its restaurants and hotels, too. It’s all a bit quieter and a bit pricier. The advantage is that if you turn one way you get Kuta’s party scene, if you turn the other, you get slightly more demure Seminyak.

“Legian” means “sweet” in Balinese, and for someone wanting the Bali experience but with caveats, Legian might be the sweet spot.

Beyond the Big Three

Jimbaran

It was a quiet fishing village but now it’s associated with some of the island’s most luxurious resorts. 

It has good beaches and a reputation for good seafood.

Nusa Dua

On the Bukit Peninsula’s east coast, Nusa Dua has some luxury resorts, good spas and several golf courses. 

It’s up-market Bali, with the good Geger Beach.

Canggu

There are those who think Canggu is the new Seminyak.

 It’s just to the north, and a bit quieter again, and with black sand beach. Nightlife is a bit more low-key. 

Sanur

In the south east, Sanur has a boardwalk, soft sand, gentle surf and an atmosphere that suits lots of families with smaller children. 

There is easy access to the beach and plenty of eateries and shops. make Sanur a good option.

Kintamani

Up in Bali’s north east, this is a good area for those who want to get a bit active. 

It’s easy to hire a local guide in one of the small towns around Mt Batur. There are good day walks and the temple Pura Ulun Danu Batur on the lake’s south-western edge.

Arty crafty

Kumbasari art market, Denpasar

It’s been here on the west side of Badung River, opposite Badung Market, for ages.

There are art kiosks, textiles and electronics but locals also buy daily necessities and temple ritual items like silk parasols, temple cloths and silver water vessels.

Where: Jalan Gajah Mada.

Kuta art market, Kuta Beach

While Kuta Square arcade is full of surf shops and fashion stuff (and cooler than being outside), the Kuta art market has not only a place in the island’s history, but plenty of kiosks with crafts, mostly from the Gianyar region. 

Prices usually need bargaining. But, as a friend says to me: “Enter into the spirit of the bargaining but don’t try to steal the rice from their mouths.”

Where: Jalan Bakung Sari, Kuta. Start from the street side adjacent to Kuta Square or from the beach side south from the Balawista lifeguard watchtower.

Ubud art market, Ubud

Silk scarves, tropical design shirts, handmade woven and cotton bags, baskets or straw hats, statues, kites and many other handcrafted items. 

It is The market is open just about every day.

Where: Jalan Raya Ubud main road, opposite the Puri Saren Ubud palace.

Sukawati art market, near Ubud

Usually crowded, and selling everything from Garuda sculptures to Kamasan-style paintings.

Where: Jalan Raya Sukawati, Gianyar.

Guwang art market, near Ubud

Less crowded and in the Guwang village in the Gianyar area, it’s easy for those coming from the south. 

Its main market building and kiosks are the centrepiece. There are good snacks.

Where: Banjar Cemenggaon, Desa Guwang, Sukawati, Gianyar.

Nice rice

Tegalalang Rice Terrace

Twenty minutes north of Ubud, this is the classic rice terrace scene you see in the brochures. It bursts green with chlorophyll. The Tegalalang Rice Terrace is an old irrigation system reckoned to go back to the 8th century. The layered paddies beg to be photographed (one trick is to use a long lens, turn the camera sideways and look for graphic verticals). 

On a smartphone with a dual camera — well, it’s hard to go wrong. My tip is to get there early — certainly before 11am. There’s a small official entry fee but locals might also ask for “donations”. Good luck with the sellers of sarongs.

Temple time

Tirta Empul

Tirta Empul translates to “Holy Water Spring” and with this spot comes the peacefulness we sometimes crave in Bali.

 There are several shrines and a big rectangular pool in the complex’s centre.

Tanah Lot

A complex perched on a high knoll; no wonder it’s known as the “temple of the rock”. 

It’s a pilgrimage site for Balinese Hindus and though non-Balinese aren’t usually allowed to enter, there are small-group tours out of Ubud to the site.

Uluwatu Temple

Classic architecture, cliff-side position.

But it’s busy and look out for the monkey gangs.

Gunung Kawi

Ten shrines cut into a rock face in Tampaksiring region as memorials to the island’s 11th century royalty. 

There is a local legend that they were carved in a solitary night by Kebo Iwa, an important figure in Balinese history.

 Whoever — they left an entrance with nearly 300 steps, so take water and enthusiasm.

Surf’s up

Something Soft

Something Hard

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