Mar 7, 2022 • 11M

Couchfish: An exciting time

Bali re-opens

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Stuart McDonald
The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.
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After a couple of false starts, Indonesia’s Island of the Gods, Bali, is pretty much open for business. Over the weekend a couple of announcements hit the airwaves. First, and of most importance, the island would enter a “quarantine-free” trial. Second, the long-asked-for Visa On Arrival (VOA), would restart—at a cost of 500,000 rupiah. Both are for only a selected list of nationalities.

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Quarantine-free is in quotes as there is some small print. Bali is one of Indonesia’s most vaccinated provinces—inbound travellers likewise need to be fully vaccinated. Tourists must stay at a CHSE-certified hotel for the first three nights. It is not clear if bookings through an OTA like Agoda is acceptable. Guests can leave the hotel and kick around (it seems) but they must stay at the same hotel for the initial stretch. During the stay, guests must have (and pass) a PCR test on the first and third day. After that, they can travel anywhere within the country.

Fingers crossed. At a Kecak performance, Uluwatu. Photo: Sally Arnold.

For a full list of requirements, the Welcome Back to Bali website (affiliated with the Bali Hotels Association) is doing a good job. Other good resources for keeping on top of a changeable situation are the Bali Covid-19 Update Facebook group and The Bali Beat newsletter. All of these are free services.

Finally! I don’t know about you, but it has been a very long two years.

Bali is different things to different people. Many come for the people, others for the food, others still for the places. Me? I come for the sea, so I’d be starting there.

Bingin from the cliff-top. Photo: Sally Arnold.

One of the beauties of Bali is it sits astride the Pacific and Indian oceans. When clear of trash, the beauty of the long blue walls trundling in from Antarctica is something else. The swell swings around Bali’s south, the Bukit Peninsula, in the process racking up some of the best surfing on the planet. On the western extreme of the Bukit lies Pura Luhur Uluwatu—one of Bali’s most revered temples. Sitting atop a stretch of cliff hundreds of feet tall, the temple lords it over the ocean.

Some of Bali’s best beaches—all surf beaches—ring the Bukit. Wild high-tide surf lashes the white to golden sands (depending on the beach) that line the base of the cliffs. When the tide ebbs, the fury recedes to reveal rock pools for hopping, calm waters for floating and sand stretches for walking. In the late afternoon, the sea-breeze takes the bite out of the sun as it falls into the sea. Spectacular doesn’t come close.

Another busy day on Nyang Nyang. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

I’ve many favourites down that way—Nyang Nyang for long walks and no people sits atop my list. If I’m overnighting though, Sun and Surf Stay, at Bingin, pretty much takes the cake. Unlike Thailand’s islands, true on-the-beach rooms in Bali are few and far between. Sun and Surf has a row of simple rooms elevated right over the sand—and hammocks come standard. Best of all, rates start at around the $40 mark, so it doesn’t break the bank.

Leaving the waves behind, I’d head up to east Bali, to Amed’s bays and their pebble-strewn jet-black sand. Wrapping around Bali’s eastern-most bulge, palms and enormous trees replace the cliffs of the south. Hundreds of white-hulled jukungs lay above the high tide mark as fishermen mend nets in the shade. Come early morning pebbles reverberate as fishermen drag the jukungs over them into the sea. A couple of hours later, the sun rises over Rinjani’s striking peak on neighbouring Lombok. An hour after that, the fleet returns, often under sail. Their bright-coloured triangular sails flutter and snap as they run up onto the same pebbles and black sand.

Family time in Amed. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Spread across the bays are hundreds of places to stay, yet most of the development is low rise. In Amed it is all about blending in. A single scraggly road winds from bay to bay, up and over a headland and back down. People coast more than drive or ride. Travellers fill their days with diving and snorkelling, cycling or walking. The real attraction though is the ebb and flow of life. Pack a book—or three. After a days’ worth of chapters the sun falls, this time behind Bali’s greatest peak, Gunung Agung.

The Kampung at Bunutan is where I head, and I like it so much I’ve written of it before. It offers a collection of wooden joglos set across three compounds. One is an enormous affair suitable for a family of 58, but the other two have two and three joglos respectively. An ideal spot for travelling families, groups of friends—or decadent couples. Sunrise is perfect from here.

Time for a wander in Sidemen. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

For another angle on Agung, head to Sidemen where the morning sun catches it postcard perfect. Think of a rice field valley where you can walk and walk without the annoyances of Ubud. The village has grown up a bit over the last decade, with more upmarket digs coming on tap, but you need not overspend. Sleep in, slow down. soak it up. That is the point of Sidemen. If you need some more action, climb Agung—Nyoman is an excellent guide—you can contact him via Whatsapp on +62 853 3845 8258

Then head west, skipping over Bali’s many peaks, to Munduk. A village smudged along a steep mountain ridge, gaze at a distant ocean on one side and rice terraces on the other. If activity is a requirement, then, like Sidemen, this is a village made for walking. There are at least three glorious waterfalls within easy walking distance. Prepare yourself for having the falls to yourself. An unambitious pace would be one a day. The town has affordable places to stay, good ribs, goat satay and coffee. Who needs nouveau cuisine or a wine list?

Typical Munduk scenes. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

If you stand on Munduk’s main road looking uphill, on your right you’ll see another near perfect-shaped peak. Mount Batukaru. If you stood on its peak and rolled south, you’d hit Pura Luhur Jatiluih (which I’ve written about before here). Then, roll a little more, and you’d hit the adorable Sarinbuana Ecolodge. As I’ve written about it here as well before, I won’t repeat myself too much. What I will say, is while some grandstand about their sustainability, others, they just live it. Why? Because if you can, it is the right thing to do. Sarinbuana falls into the latter category. Dawn here, looking across the jungle valley with the rain hammering down—is just amazing.

The above would tie into a simple three to four-week trip. Sure you could add in a few of the crowd-pleasers like Ubud, Canggu or Nusa Penida, but really there’s little need. A long, slow holiday—who doesn’t feel like one of those right about now?

If you’re thinking of a Bali break and would like a driver, I recommend you drop Putu a line. I’ve known him for over a decade and he’s absolutely trustworthy, reliable and, as an added bonus, a safe driver. You can contact via Facebook here or Whatsapp on +62 819 9904 0594.

Take your time, see what you find. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

As I said up top, it has been a very long two years, but now is an exciting time. Is that a light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know, but I do know it has been a very long tunnel and I’m ready for some light! There could be some more false starts and there will be hiccups. More than ever, plan for the unexpected. The suggestions above are but a small sample, a few places that are worth a look and worth your support. Many don’t want the heady days of overtourism to return. Instead, they’re hoping the coming weeks and months will be baby steps into a brighter future. You can play a part in this.

Travel further, slower and for longer. Spend a day watching the surf roll in, the fishing fleet coming and going or a waterfall thundering. Bring a book, finish it and leave it behind. Soak it up. Enjoy.

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