Welcome to Right Here, Right Now, a regular column where we share first hand experiences of travelling in this newly reopened world. Today, editor and writer Sonia Taylor tells us about her trip to Bali.
Where did you travel to recently?
I was on the very first flight from Sydney to Bali in almost two and a half years, operated by Jetstar on April 3. We were delayed 1.5 hours and there wasn’t a single empty seat on the flight.
My plan was to come here for a few months. I’ve previously lived in Bali, so coming for a quick week-long jaunt just wasn’t appealing to me, not after such a long time away.
A longer trip has given me time to hit the usual tourist hotspots – Canggu, Ubud, Uluwatu – but it’s also afforded me the luxury of exploring further afield in East Bali, specifically Karangasem, which has been a highlight of my trip so far (more on that below).
What seems to be the local attitude towards COVID and tourism right now?
The Balinese were hit exceptionally hard by the pandemic. The country’s economy relies heavily on tourism, and many locals found themselves without an income for over two years. Suffice it to say, the Balinese are both happy and relieved to see travellers back on their shores.
Any hotel I’ve stayed at has adhered to an extremely high standard of cleanliness, with all staff wearing masks and information about cleaning policy readily available.
What was the highlight of your trip?
It’s hard not to list every place I’ve visited as a highlight (this is Bali, after all). But there’s been some ‘pinch me’ moments, like waking up on my first morning in Ubud at Wapa Di Ume to the sound of birds and opening my curtains to reveal palm trees and rice terraces stretching out to the horizon. Of course, I ordered nasi goreng for breakfast.
Another was making that first trip down to the Bukit Peninsula to swim in the crystal clear waters of my favourite beach on the whole island, Melasti. I’d dreamed of swimming here so many times the last two years, and that first dive into its azure waters was so sweet. The beach is incredibly scenic, with limestone cliffs creating a dramatic backdrop. I followed this with cliffside pool hangs at Mana Uluwatu.
But a trip out to East Bali to Sidemen has been the absolute highlight. Located in Karangasem Regency, you’ll find postcard-perfect scenery, the kind filed under ‘Bali’ in National Geographic. The region is also home to mighty volcano Mount Agung, the island’s most important temple and fabulous dive sites along the coast (like Amed).
Despite knowing logically that the region is renowned for lush landscapes, panoramic rice terraces, and tropical waterfalls, I wasn’t prepared for the sensory overload of beauty to come. There were a few moments when I experienced full-body goosebumps while riding.
As Sidemen village is considered ‘authentic Bali’ without the chaos, crowds and cafes of Canggu or Ubud, where you stay becomes a key part of your trip. I chose Samanvaya Adults Only Luxury Resort & Spa, which turned out to be a gorgeous place to base myself.
There are 15 separate villas with beautiful bamboo architecture, stunning interiors and views to match. I stayed in the newly renovated two-level Rice Barn Villa, which has its own private plunge pool, amazing views and enormous, moody-luxe bathroom with copper tub.
The staff can arrange a bunch of great things to do, like rice field trekking, white water rafting, market and village walks, and drive tours to nearby temples, rice fields, beaches, and waterfalls. The region is also known for its traditional weaving, and you can visit a workshop to see the intricate detail that goes into crafting beautiful sarongs.
On my second day, after spending the morning at a waterfall, I decided to make a day trip to Virgin Beach. I’d heard it had white sand and aquamarine waters despite being on the volcanic side of the island, so I had to see this for myself.
It was a spectacular spot, lined with relaxed warungs and sun loungers. The sand was more milky grey than white, but how pristine the sand appears depends on the volcanic content of Mount Agung, which is only 33kms away.
What’s your advice for people thinking of travelling to Bali right now?
Book ahead. I’ve watched the island explode with tourists in the last month, with many complaining accommodation is booked out – so if you were thinking of a last-minute jaunt over the Timor Sea, you might want to check what accommodation is available first. This is especially important for Canggu and Uluwatu. Bali’s high season is from June through to August and airlines are profiting off the surge in demand – so budget accordingly.
Speaking of budgets, the Balinese have had an unimaginably tough past few years, so while you might’ve been used to haggling over price in the past or are expecting things to be an absolute bargain right now, please be considerate, understanding, and respectful.
In Sidemen, I was speaking to my waterfall guide Nyoman, who told me that while the main areas like Seminyak, Canggu, Uluwatu, and Ubud are now more or less ‘back to normal’ – it is the off-the-beaten-path regions that are still crying out for tourists.
Now is the perfect time to book a stay in an area you’ve never been before and experience that legendary Balinese hospitality.
Lead image: Sonia Taylor.