36 Hours in Bali
By NAOMI LINDT
Published: January 13, 2011 in The New York Times
MAYBE it was the topless women that the German painter Walter Spies captured in his lush landscapes of Bali during the 1930s. But ever since, foreigners have come to undress. Shirtless Australians, surfboards strapped to the side of their motorbikes, cruise around for the best waves. At five-star resorts, bronzed Italian women in tiny bikinis while away the days with wine. Farther inland, spiritual seekers wrapped in body-skimming sarongs commune in temples. The natives don’t go topless anymore, but that doesn’t stop the throngs of sunbathers who let it all hang out on Bali’s busiest beaches.
1) MODERN-DAY ARTIFACTS
Punctuated by temples hidden behind ornately carved archways and petal-filled lanes, Ubud is Bali’s artistic hub. And beyond the painted masks and shadow puppets that spill out of countless storefronts are a string of new galleries that offer one-of-a-kind treasures. Jean-François Fichot (Jalan Raya Pengosekan 6, Ubud; 62-361-974-652; jf-f.com) carries striking gem- and stone-encrusted gold jewelry and objets d’art. Next door is the Nusantara Gallery (Jalan Raya Pengosekan 7, Ubud; 62-81-797-97804), which sells rare primitive art, including wooden statues and fine weavings gathered from all over the Indonesian archipelago. And at Rio Helmi Photography (Jalan Suweta 24A, Ubud; 62-361-978-773; riohelmi.com), Mr. Helmi, who displays his own photos of Bali and elsewhere, has a new book out, “Memories of the Sacred,” that chronicles 30 years spent witnessing Bali’s enduring traditions.
2) INSPIRATIONAL EATING
Culinary karma seems to emanate from Jalan Raya Sanggingan, a winding road about 15 minutes northwest of Ubud’s center. Joining Mozaic’s famed French-Asian fare and Naughty Nuri’s legendary ribs is Minami (Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Ubud; 62-361-970-013; minami-bali.com), a stylish Japanese restaurant opened in 2009 by Miho Oshiro from Osaka. You can sip a yuzu-infused sake-tini (85,000 rupiah, or about $9.75 at 8,703 rupiah to the dollar) as you settle into the baby blue, jasmine-scented dining room, which overlooks a lantern-lit garden. The six-course tasting menu (210,000 rupiah) includes melt-in-the-mouth Tasmanian salmon sashimi and tissue-papery zucchini leaf tempura. Even the flavored salt (the recipe is a secret), imported from Japan and served in a tiny bowl, is exquisite.
3) HINT OF HAVANA
You’ll most likely have Ubud’s streets to yourself soon after dinner, but cute cocktail spots are on the rise. At Cafe Havana (Jalan Dewi Sita, Ubud; 62-361-972-973; cafehavanabali.com), salsa bands and dance classes take place among mismatched hand-painted chairs and framed photos of Che and Fidel. Drinks at artsy Lamak (Jalan Monkey Forest, Ubud; 62-361-974-668; lamakbali.com) are mixed at an open-air bar; go for the sweet yet punchy El Diablo, made of tequila, crème de cassis, lemon juice and ginger ale.
4) TWO-WHEELED BLISS
It’s hard not to fall for Bali while cycling its quiet back roads, which are lined with stepped rice fields, blooms in every shade of the rainbow and women in bright sarongs balancing temple offerings on their heads. Half-day tours with Bali Eco-Cycling (Jalan Pengosekan, Ubud; 62-361-975-557; baliecocycling.com; 300,000 rupiah) start with breakfast overlooking the 5,600-foot-high volcanic Mount Batur and its crater lake, followed by a caffeine kick at a coffee plantation. The mostly downhill 17-mile ride isn’t very challenging, but it is spectacularly scenic and photo-friendly.
5) VIRTUOUS VEGETARIAN
Follow the dreadlocks and Aladdin pants to Kafe (Jalan Hanoman 44b, Ubud; 62-361-780-3802; balispirit.com), a sunny, art-filled cafe that is made of reclaimed wood. Run by Meghan Pappenheim, an ex-New Yorker, the hippie-chic spot serves vegan and raw food like Meg’s Big Salad Bowl — a heaping plate of greens, cabbage, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and crunchy tofu-tempeh cubes (36,000 rupiah) — and kitcheree, a hearty stew of lentil, brown rice, ginger and turmeric (32,000). There’s also a selection of baked goods for the less virtuous.
6) TIMED RELEASE
It took 30 months to build(Banjar Baturning, Mambal; 62-361-469-206; fivelements.org), a stunning wellness center and five-room hotel tucked away in Mambal, a sleepy village 20 minutes by car from Ubud. Transcendental massages are offered in incense-filled rooms built of polished bamboo, reclaimed wood and spiral thatched roofs (90 minutes from $80). Post-treatment ginger-lemongrass tea is served on a private deck overlooking a bamboo forest and the Ayung River.
7) LIGHT SHOW
Bali’s legendary sunsets can be a controversial affair. Ask around for the best perch to catch the nightly psychedelia, and you’ll get an earful. Still, there’s no denying that one of the most stylish places is the Rock Bar (Ayana Resort and Spa, Jimbaran; 62-361-702-222; ayanaresort.com), an outdoor lounge built into the cliffs at the newly opened Ayana Resort and Spa along the island’s southwestern tip. The muted, minimalist bar with interconnected decks is perched above the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean. Get there early to avoid the lines and to get a good seat (though the best are saved for hotel guests). Order a cold beer (80,000 rupiah) and watch the sun melt into the water, casting the sky in brilliant shades of pink, violet and orange.
8) FISH WITH RICE
Seminyak, Kuta’s upscale neighbor, has become Bali’s see-and-be-seen center of night life. So it was refreshing when Sardine (Jalan Petitenget 21, Kerobakan; 62-361-738-202; sardinebali.com), an artsy down-to-earth restaurant, made everyone feel at home. With rice fields as the backdrop, diners sample what the executive chef Michael Shaheen, from California, calls “cuisine du soleil” — healthy, light food suited to hot climates. That includes just-caught seafood like pink snapper sashimi with shimeji mushrooms (65,000 rupiah) and pan-seared scallops in a parsley-truffle emulsion (195,000 rupiah).
9) FIND THE PARTY
Bali’s beautiful people gather for drinks, jazz and D.J.-spun beats across the street at Métis (Jalan Petitenget 6, Kerobokan; 62-361-737-888; metisbali.com), a candlelit bar that’s the latest venture from the folks behind Kafe Warisan. In the center of town, design aficionados gather at Word of Mouth (Jalan Kunti 9, Seminyak; 62-361-847-5797; wordofmouthbali.com), a boutique that doubles as a cool lounge at night, with impromptu parties that have developed a loyal following (check its Facebook page for updates).
10) STAY ON YOUR FEET
Bali’s giant waves have been luring surfers since the 1960s, promising year-round swells that can soar upward of 10 feet. After spending time admiring the perfect tans and free spirits of Bali’s surfing community, you’ll very likely want to join. Surf shacks with teachers abound. To minimize first-timers’ humiliation, try a private 75-minute lesson (450,000 rupiah) with Marcy Meachin (62-812-385-9454; teachsurf.com), a talented Aussie teacher who’s spent much of the last 30 years chasing surf in Indonesia. Beginner courses are taught on Legian Beach, where the shallow waters, sandy shores and small waves provide a gentle introduction.
11) SAND AND PIZZA
Breathtaking beaches edge the Bukit, the island’s southern peninsula. Book a car and driver to get to secluded spots like Padang Padang, an oasis of calm water shaded by soaring cliffs that was a setting for the film “Eat Pray Love.” Another stunning beach is at the Nammos Beach Club (Karma Kandara Resort; karmakandara.com), reached by a steep trail etched in a limestone cliff. Interlopers can enjoy aquamarine water for an entry fee of 250,000 rupiah, which includes 100,000 rupiah toward food. The open-air kitchen serves a mean wood-fired pizza with toppings like fig, prosciutto and Gorgonzola.
12) SHOPPER’S PARADISE
Bring home some Bali chic from Jalan Laksmana, which has emerged as Seminyak’s boutique street in recent years. Try bohemian-cool Press Ban Cafe at No. 50 (62-361-730-486) for handmade wooden shoes, Jackie O. shades and fitted vintage plaid button-downs. Lily Jean (No. 102; 62-361-847-5872; lily-jean.com) carries sexy strapless jersey pantsuits and bandaged cocktail dresses. And Simplekonsepstore (No. 40; 62-361-730-393; sksbali.com) prides itself on one-of-a-kind design: limited-edition graphic T-shirts, origami-inspired bags and hand-dyed tunics that reinvent Bali’s rich tradition of batik in totally unexpected ways.
IF YOU GO
The 20 chocolate- and toffee-hued villas at Uma Sapna (Jalan Drupadi No. 20 Basangkasa, Seminyak; 62-361-736-628; coconuthomes.com) come with private pools and outdoor patios. Seminyak’s shops are within walking distance and the beach is a short cab ride away. Doubles from $175.
The W Retreat & Spa Bali-Seminyak (Jalan Petitenget, Seminyak; 62-361-738-106; whotels.com/bali) is expected to open in March or April, with 237 rooms offering knockout water views. Doubles from $575.