I’ve always been a book lover… and a fast reader. I’ll happily devour an entire book in one session, and am banned from reading in bed after many nights spent awake til 3am ‘just finishing the end of this chapter’. I’ve recently given in and invested in a Kindle, but before that my holiday reading of choice was the thickest book I could find. Anything below 400 pages wasn’t even going to get a look in. But you can have too much of a good thing, and there’s also a limit to what I can carry.
If you’re done with hostels but want something more interesting and less pricey than a big chain hotel, there are some places that you can struggle to find somewhere good to stay, but Bali wasn’t one of them. After two hotels from this trip had already made in onto my favourites list the island of Gili Trawangan made it a hat trick with Scallywags. Gili Trawangan has a bit of a reputation as a party island so we wanted to be within easy walking distance of the beach and a few bars and restaurants, but a far enough away from the clubs that it wasn’t too noisy.
After the busy streets and beaches around Kuta and Seminyak, we were in need of a bit less bustle and a bit more lazing, and the island of Nusa Lembongan was the perfect place to put our feet up. As you get off the boat it feels like you’ve stepped back in time. The island has no cars – and more amazingly for Bali not that many motorbikes – no hawkers, no ATMs and has only just got a reliable (ish) electricity supply. Without much to do other than spend time either in, on or next to the sea or sitting in a beachfront bar reading and watching the world go by, you’re guaranteed to come away feeling relaxed.
For over 1000 years, Balinese people have been coming to Tirtha Empul – Temple of Holy Water – near the village of Tampak Siring. Legend goes that the god Indra created a spring here to help his troops who’d been poisoned by Mayadanawa, piercing the ground with a spear to make a fountain of immortality. The temples were built here in 926 AD and since then worshipers have been coming to bathe in the sacred waters. People travel from across Bali to worship here and on festival days it’s packed full.
The next hotel in my new Reviewed series, with good-value, individual accommodation with a touch of luxury on a budget, is Balam Bali Villa in the countryside just outside of Ubud. This inland area is a patchwork of rice paddies, palm trees and temples surrounding the city of Ubud. There are plenty of places to stay in the city itself, but after the bustle of the coast we decided on somewhere more rural where we could experience a bit more of Balinese life.
Amongst the green fields of central Bali, Ubud has become one of the island’s most popular places to visit. You’ll find the Eat, Pray, Love-ers, drinking smoothies and practicing their yoga poses, and the culturalists, touring temples and perfecting their Nasi Goreng on a cookery class. Then there’s the general lazers like us, getting massages, drinking mojitos in lamp-lit bars and feeling a world away from the stresses at home. It’s an easy place to while away time, but it’s popularity does come with some downsides.
You can’t beat a good sunset photo, and some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen were from the beaches of the Indonesian island of Gili Trawangan. Just off the coast of Lombok, the island is a laid-back backpacker haven. We came across a beach-side sunset bar at the south of the island, where people gathered to watch the changing colours over a cold bottle of Bintang. The shallow coral reefs just offshore gave some interesting rock formations and the huge flat pools of water reflected the colours in the sky above – from blue to yellow, pink and orange – as the sun began to dip behind the clouds.
This is the first of a new Reviewed series, where I share some of the best and most interesting accommodation I’ve found in on my travels. You won’t find any five-star chain hotels here, but instead I look for hidden gems which are good value, individual and give a touch of luxury on a budget. And first up is the Bali Hotel Pearl, near the coast at Legian in Bali. After the long flight from the UK I was looking for somewhere peaceful to relax and get over the jetlag for a few days. The stretch of beach from Kuta to Seminyak is home to bewildering range of hotels of all sizes and price ranges.
Tucked away in a deep valley 20 minutes north of the city of Ubud are the Balinese rock temples of Gunung Kawi. From the entrance to the site you walk down 315 steps lined with souvenir stalls and vivid green rice terraces. Then at the bottom of the valley you cross the sacred River Pakrisan and emerge amongst the palm trees into a scene from an Indiana Jones film. Huge seven-metre tall shrines have been carved into the sheer rock faces of the valley. These ten temples, known as candi, were carved in the 11th century.
When the greyness of a British January gets too much and I’m in need of some colour, I come back to my photos from Bali last year and the vibrant shades of the island’s flowers. Indonesia’s tropical climate and mix of habitats make it home to over 28,000 plant species, and you can see and smell them wherever you go. They run through a whole rainbow of colours, from shocking pinks to vivid purples, bright reds, rich oranges and sunny yellows.
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