We travelled to Bali on the way home from Thailand on the 5th October 2019 for a week. I had been ‘influenced’ by the Gram so decided we should go and check the place out. I specifically wanted to stay in an area called Canggu which had all these amazing cafes, restaurants and bars. The other thing I wanted to do was learn to surf.
Bali is a province of Indonesia and the westernmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands. Located east of Java and west of Lombok, the province includes the island of Bali and a few smaller neighbouring islands, notably Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan. The provincial capital, Denpasar, is the most populous city in the Lesser Sunda Islands and the second largest, after Makassar, in Eastern Indonesia. Bali is the only Hindu-majority province in Indonesia, with 83.5% of the population adhering to Balinese Hinduism.
Bali is Indonesia’s main tourist destination, with a significant rise in tourism since the 1980s. The tourism industry is primarily focused in the south, while also significant in the other parts of the island. The main tourist locations are the town of Kuta (with its beach), and its outer suburbs of Legian and Seminyak (which were once independent townships), the east coast town of Sanur (once the only tourist hub), Ubud towards the centre of the island, to the south of the Ngurah Rai International Airport, Jimbaran and the newer developments of Nusa Dua and Pecatu.
Bali’s tourism economy survived the Islamists terrorist bombings of 2002 and 2005, and the tourism industry has slowly recovered and surpassed its pre-terrorist bombing levels; the longterm trend has been a steady increase of visitor arrivals. China tops the list of tourists visiting the island followed by Australia, India and Japan.
Bali is part of the Coral Triangle, the area with the highest biodiversity of marine species especially fish and turtles. In this area alone, over 500 reef-building coral species can be found. For comparison, this is about seven times as many as in the entire Caribbean.
We arrived at Ngurah Rai International Airport about 2pm and that’s where the fun began! It took us about two hours to get our bags before we set off to find our driver, Putu. We then got our first taste of Bali traffic – we had been told it was bad and it was. We took an hour to go about 1 kilometre and didn’t get to our accommodation until after 6pm, so all up it was two hours to go 16 kilometres!
We were staying at Villa Sally which is in the heart of Canggu. The staff that greeted us were so lovely – another thing we had heard is that the Balinese people are some of the nicest people in the world. The villa was awesome with an open plan and open air kitchen and lounge. We also had our own private pool so our week in Bali was shaping up well.
We were pretty hungry after all that travel so walked around the corner to Milk & Madu for our first taste of all the good food that I had been seeing on the Gram. It didn’t disappoint. We had been up since 3am so it was an early night.
I had my first surf lesson booked for 9am Saturday so after a leisurely breakfast I was picked up by my surf instructor Jack. We drive to Batu Bolong beach which is the spot for beginners. I had my one and only surf lesson in February 2019 at Curio Bay in the Catlins so I am very much a beginner.
Jack went through the basics on the beach before we headed out into the surf. The tide was coming in and I must say I felt a bit sea sick with all the rocking and rolling out there. I managed to get up a couple of times but spent a lot of time arsing off and having to paddle back out – this surfing lark is a great workout but very tiring. The lesson went for two hours and afterwards Jack bought me a very strong coffee before dropping me back at the Villa.
After a bit of chill time we walked to Cinta Café for lunch. The café, as with a lot of the eating establishments overlooked the rice paddy fields. I enjoyed a yummy Quinoa salad and cinnamon smoothie. Steve had the burger and Bintang for $11. We then took a walk to Berawa beach which is about 1.5 kilometres from Villa Sally. On the way back we checked out Synkonah Bar which had ocean views from the rooftop terrace. We had dinner at Silk Road which was so tastefully decorated and the food was even tastier!
Sunday was a chill day – no surfing so I decided to have a massage – blissful! We went in search of a place to watch the rugby – the All Blacks were playing Namibia in their third round pool match at the Rugby World Cup 2019. Not far up the road we came across a sports bar called Salvador – they had a big screen, cold Bintangs and yummy food – a great find. And as expected, the boys in black romped home 71-9.
We called in at Healthy Tribes on the way back for a coffee and a cinnamon scroll. You can probably tell this trip is all about the food and visiting as many places that I have drooled over on the Gram!
Sunday afternoon called for more chilling by the pool before venturing out for yet more food. This time we went to The Greenhouse where I had a yummy buckwheat bowl and a mint blast cocktail. The cocktail was not the best choice – it was made with Crème de Menthe and was so strong.
Monday morning I was back into the surfing – Jack had handed me over to his friend Ramli – not sure what I should have read into that but it was all good. Ramli was lovely and picked me up at 6am on his scooter – I insisted on wearing a helmet so he gave me his and went without. Apparently it is illegal not to wear a helmet in Bali and to be honest I didn’t see a lot of people flouting the law.
The surf was quite messy and I didn’t feel I did too well although managed a few rides. My feet are getting ripped up through hitting the board as I jump up and the body is feeling a bit sore – definitely getting a good workout!
Steve and I took a taxi to the Beach Walk Mall in Kuta – not really worth it but we wanted to check it out. We taxied back to The Common in Batu Bolong for lunch. I then thought we could walk back to our villa only to discover that would involve walking along the infamous Canggu shortcut. The shortcut is 800 metres long and cuts through the evergreen rice paddy fields between Batu Bolong and Berawa. While it might seem nice and serene to drive between rice paddy fields the chances of falling into them are high. The road is narrow, badly cobbled with a drop off. It can take between 5 to 15 minutes to navigate it, depending on traffic.
Plan B – call a Grab – Asia’s equivalent to Uber.
That night we went to Sista which is a restaurant specialising in dumplings that has a Chinese – French fusion vibe. All the places we have been have a cool ambience and generally overlook the rice fields. Another yummy meal – we haven’t been disappointed yet!
Ramli picked me up at 6am again on Tuesday morning for my third surfing lesson. The waves were smaller today and I felt I made a lot more progress. I got taken out a few times getting back out into the surf so Ramli showed me how to do the ‘turtle’. The ‘turtle’ is when you roll onto your back with the surfboard on top of you. The other option is throwing the board to the side and diving underneath the wave. This is quite effective, although depending on the force of the wave, your ankle that has the cord attached to it can feel like it is about to be amputated.
We had lunch at District Canngu and chilled out on the beanbags at the back of the restaurant.
I then went exploring in Berawa to check out some of the places I had seen on the Gram. I follow GuGuide on the Gram – GuGuide aka Lani is an expat Australian living in Canggu. She knows all the best places to check out and where all the deals are. I had to call into Sprout Bali which is a wholefoods café based around a nutrition conscious, holistic approach and focused on fresh, wholesome food, impeccable coffee and sustainability. They have a childcare facility attached to the café called The Garden Kids Club which is also based around the same principles. I enjoyed a raw peanut butter and chocolate cookie and an impeccable coffee while watching all the little sprouts coming and going next door.
6am on Wednesday morning I was off to Batu Bolong again on the back of Ramli’s scooter. I advanced to a lighter board, one made of fibreglass rather than polystyrene. It also only had one fin versus three on the bigger board. It took a little bit to get used to from a balance perspective – you had to get your body position right as you lay on the board or it tended to wobble. The surf conditions were the best yet and I had some great rides. My feet had been getting rather battered and bruised dragging them up onto the board, so I resorted to wearing little booties. These helped but the damage was done!
I had earned the gigantic sub that I had for lunch at The Greenhouse – so yummy and I ate it all! We walked to Berawa beach to watch the sunset – a must do when you are in Bali. The waves were quite big so only more accomplished surfers were out in them – it was so cool to watch. The beach and the beach bars are a hive of activity at this time of the evening so it was great to be amongst it. On our way back we stopped at Synkonah for dinner. Synkonah specialises in Mediterranean cuisine and doubles as a gin bar – they had quite a selection so I enjoyed a Tangerine Tom Collins – gin, lime, lemon, orange, pea flower tea and soda – so good. Well actually I enjoyed two as it was happy hour.
On Thursday I had my final surf lesson with Ramli. He let me stick with the lighter board so that must have meant I had progressed. I had so many good rides it was awesome. Ramli’s friend had come out to take some photos of me in action so I had a memento of my time spent learning to surf at Batu Bolong. My feet were in serious need of attention though – I would be wearing jandals for a while to come.
That evening we took a taxi to Seminyak to meet Mel & Cam for dinner. We had worked out earlier in the year that we were both going to be there on this one night so we organised to meet up at a restaurant that we had been recommended called Sarong. It was a fairly up market restaurant with a great ambience and it was busy. The food was Indian and Asian fusion and was so yummy. Some things were a little spicy for me but I battled through them. The dessert menu was the best I have ever seen – I could have eaten everything on it. We got the Snickers bar creation to share and ended up ordering another one it was so good!
We were heading home to NZ on Friday afternoon so it was only right I got one last massage in. We also went and had another yummy lunch at The Greenhouse – this time we shared a sub – I hadn’t done the hard yards in the surf that morning so couldn’t justify a whole one. I then had to pop back to District Canggu for the best chocolate shake ever – oats, yoghurt, milled flaxseed, dates, raw cacao, cinnamon, maca, coconut milk and ice.
It was back to reality – my food and surf odyssey was over. This was our first trip to Bali and to be honest it had never been on my radar – I had heard too many horror stories about the traffic, chaos and of course the terrorist bombings in earlier years. I then started following some ex pat Kiwis who lived in Canggu in particular and was inspired by all the innovative, healthy food options. Canggu definitely lived up to expectation in the food stakes and I loved learning to surf. The traffic is chaos and like many of these Asian countries there are infrastructure issues where the country cannot keep up with the increasing demands put on these places by tourists. I am writing this blog whilst in lockdown due to Covid-19. This virus is having an impact the world over. It is, however, also allowing some places to take a well earned break and there have been some positives on the environment front.
I have included links to some of the yummy places we frequented – my only hope is that these places can weather the Covid-19 storm and come out the other side. Kia Kaha from New Zealand.