A quick word of introduction. My name is Stuart McDonald and this is Couchfish—the perfect tub of ice-cream for the traveller stranded on the couch. The newsletter has both a paid edition which traces a fantasy itinerary through Southeast Asia, and a free one that covers, well, everything else. If you’d like to support me finding more tourism stuff to moan about, please consider becoming a paid subscriber. Thank you.
By the time the earliest hint of first light appears overhead, I’ve been swinging in my hammock at the Sun & Surf Stay for an hour or so. The stillness and silence of pre-dawn is a welcome reward for my insomnia, even if with the steady rumble of Bingin’s break, it isn’t silent at all. In the distance, a fat moon sinks towards Java, edging golden as somewhere behind me, the sun breaks the horizon.
Views from the hammock are better. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
On the sand below me, two of the first of the day’s surfers are prepping. Boards on the sand, they limber up, rub down their boards, then attach leg ropes. They cast their boards over a shore wave washing in, and never letting go, they’re paddling as they hit the water. By the time the wave sucks back they’re already a half dozen metres behind it—with plenty of paddling to go.
It’s a couple of hundred metres out to the back, and this time of day, with no breeze at all, inside the reef is as smooth as glass. The two surfers break the smooth, left right left right they paddle without pause, two trails in the glass behind them. They’re headed to Bingin’s famous left hander—a near perfect barrel that runs 24/7 and that wouldn’t look out of place in a wave pool. The perfection comes thanks to the volcanic reef below which shapes each and every swell into a work of art—one painted to be carved.
Pain me a picture. Photo: Sally Arnold.
With dawn now on the scene, I can make out a couple of even keener surfers who must have paddled out in the darkness. For their early morning efforts they have Bingin’s wave pool to themselves. I watch one after the other effortlessly launch onto a wave, plummeting down its drop, bottoming out in a long arc then launching themselves at the lip. At the summit, they snap back, spray launching into the sky, then race down and across the face, as the wave curls over and above, closing into the barrel the break is famous for. If they pull it off, seconds later they shoot out of the barrel’s end, careening along the unbroken remainder of the wave. It’s at this moment they ease, standing taller, looking back along the wave, before rolling over the rim, and falling back on to the board. It’s over, and the paddling begins again. Rinse and repeat.
Like many sports, those who are apt at it make it look effortless. Having been out there myself ... once ... it is far from it. Knowing this though, makes it all the more pleasurable to watch from my hammock.
Just keep walking. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
By breakfast there’s a dozen or so out there, a number that will double, then perhaps triple through the morning—depending on conditions. The beach itself though doesn’t pick up with day-trippers till a little later, so once caffeinated, I get my morning walk in before they arrive.
My mornings are always west (right when facing the ocean), and when the tide is out I can get almost to the base of clifftop El Kabron before it gets too tricky. It’s a pretty stretch, swinging between narrow and non-existent stretches of sand—depending on the tide. Along the way I can see the mess of the next beach along—one you’ll never read about on Travelfish—and after that the golf course headland before Balangan, another of my favourite Bukit beaches. A low tide walk there and back, allowing for fossicking and faffing around, easily eats up a few hours.
Long shadows at Lucky Fish. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
By the time I’m back, the sun is right overhead and I decamp to one of the many beach cafes built into Bingin’s cliff. Lucky Fish is my preferred option thanks to the long deck and great staff. If the deck is full though, nearby Bingin Ombak is my close second, with the trendier Kelly’s a distant third. Regardless of where I put my feet up, there’s a solid few hours to lose before getting them sandy again.
If the skies are clear, it is time to start wandering again around four in the afternoon. It’s that magic light time of the day, when the touch of the sun’s rays feels more like a warm massage than an angle grinder. Walking east (left when facing the ocean), the sand vanishes quick smart and you’re left to rock hop and cliff lip dodge—do watch your head. Also, keep an eye out for the famous Instagram spot near the start of the walk—you’ll know it when you see it.
East is best. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
If the tide is out, this is a magnificent wander and you can get all the way to Padang Padang and beyond. You’re walking atop the same formation that builds the surf, and when the tide is really low you can get a long way out towards the surfers. Do watch the tide though, as it comes in fast over the platform and walking back with the tide rushing in is not fun.
This is a longer walk than the morning one, but with a few hours there’s time to get back to Lucky Fish for sunset. If I’m feeling energetic, it’s a breathless five minutes or so back to the top of the cliff for sunset cocktails at Temple Lodge or perhaps Mû.
Sunsets are ok. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
Light show over, back down to the sand for a beachside seafood barbecue. Perhaps a couple of iced drinks afterwards to round out yet another day on Bingin Time.
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