MEDIA / ARTICLES
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
16 OCTOBER 2004
8 great things to do in Bali
When you feel like a break from the surfing and shopping routine, head for Bali’s lesser-known attractions. Eric Ellis suggests eight of the best.
1. The Naughty Made Wijaya
There’s a school of Australian visitors to Bali who like their footy, beer and burgers and don’t fully realise they’ve left Australia when they lob in their Kuta flophouse. At the other extreme, there are those who go the whole cultural hog and behave as if they were Balinese in a former life, and sometimes even this one. Made Wijaya likes to have a go at both of them – and all permutations in between – usually via his entertaining website www.strangerinparadise.com and his monthly magazine, The Poleng. Both are well worth viewing before you fly north. Born Michael White and a one-time Sydney tennis pro, Wijaya swam ashore to Bali from a yacht in 1973 and he has been there ever since. He is now a successful architect and resort designer but, most entertaining of all, an often acerbic social commentator. He can be too easily dismissed as a flake by his critics but that is to decry his skills as a linguist – he is one of the few long-term foreigners on the island to learn Balinese – and expertise on Hindu culture. Wijaya holds court at Villa Bebek (Duck House). Visit his site and drop him a line. If he decides he likes you, he might even respond.
2. Driving east, with a swim in the Telaga Waja River at Langsat
This is the refreshing reward towards the end of one of Asia’s most spectacular drives. Langsat is where Bali’s whitewater rafting trips pull in, but if you are less adventurous, a dip in the free-flowing Telaga Waja is an antidote for a hot day. The three- to four-hour drive starts at Ubud and heads east through Peliatan – the village famous for its graceful legong dancing – to the 17th-century capital of Klungkung (close your car windows when approaching so corrupt local cops don’t see you and thus won’t stop your car for a non-existent entrance fee). The road then heads south to the coast for glimpses of Penida Island and Lombok and on to Manggis, Tenganan, Candidasa and Karangasem, winding through paddies and snakefruit orchards along the slopes of Gunung Agung. It’s stunning through here and by the time you reach Muncan and Langsat villages you should be ready to soak it all up with that swim before the drive back to Ubud through Bangli village.
3. Bali’s aborigines and the royal water palaces
Not many visitors head to Bali’s east – and more fool them. While on the Langsat drive, spend an hour or so exploring Tenganan, where there is a rare example of a functioning Aga village. Steeped in mysticism, these are Bali’s original people who, some anthropologists and many Balinese claim, once indulged in cannibalism in order to absorb the magic power of their ancestors. Though the Aga villagers wall themselves from other polluting cultural influences, they are nonetheless welcoming and accustomed to seeing occasional tourists, particularly if they, 1) display an interest in their unique culture and, 2) pay for it. If all that culture is too much – or if you are simply hungry and don’t mind paying big money to sate those pangs – drop by the gorgeous Amankila resort outside Manggis for lunch. This is the preferred holiday venue of the beau monde (Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Fergie) and its villas and their private pools are a nod to the traditional bathing pools of Bali’s aristocracy nearby. If you want the real thing, visit the pools at Tirta Gangga, a few kilometres north.
4. Lunch at Indus, near Ubud
Janet de Neefe arrived in Bali from Melbourne in 1974. Thirty years later she’s a writer and celebrity restaurateur on the island. Her 2003 book Fragrant Rice was part biography, part cook book and all Balinese love story – unsurprising as she and her Balinese husband, Ketut Suardana, are virtually Ubud royalty. De Neefe’s Indus restaurant, overlooking the Campuhan River about two kilometres outside Ubud, is fusion central and with its great coffee, luxurious juices and great food is a fine place to while away a morning. It’s good for dinner, too, but you won’t have the advantage of the magnificent views across ridges, Ubud’s iconic rice paddies or, if the cloud gods favour you, the sacred Gunung Agung, Bali’s highest point. The 3100-metre not-so-dormant volcano last erupted in 1963 and, many Balinese portentously believe, could soon blow again. But hopefully not as you plough through the Indus seafood fettucine, Balinese mezze, fabulous tenggiri (a local fish) salad and roasted tomato soup. The breakfast egg dishes are good, too, though Bali’s locally produced Wine of the Gods that Indus plugs works better as vinegar than chardonnay.
5. Campuhan Ridge walk
A great way to work off that Indus lunch is a stroll along Campuhan Ridge. You can see it while sitting on the restaurant terrace. Turning left out of Indus, make your way about a kilometre down the road to the Campuhan River bridge, stopping at the Campuhan Hotel for a look at the 1920s villa-turned-guest room that inspired Bali’s best-known artist, the Russian-born German Walter Spies (smile sweetly at hotel reception for a brief tour).
Over the bridge, head toward the Ibah resort, where the signs lead you to the walk. A gentle ridge heads up between two ravines with great views on both sides, and at the top you’ll reach a few houses and small resorts. One of these is Klub Kokos, an Ubud icon owned by the Adelaide-born Cathy Sudharsan, who met her princely husband, Krishnan, at university in Adelaide. After two or three kilometres through paddies and the occasional village, the walk plunges into deep ravines and bucolic paddy-scapes before winding back to meet the Denpasar-Ubud road near Sangingan village, about a kilometre from Indus. At which point you can drop by Indus again for a restorative ginger fizz.
6. Art of Richard Winkler, Ubud / Sanur
As a writer-philosopher, Richard Winkler makes a great artist. My wife and I recently bought two of his excellent works. They may improve in value, but we don’t really care. They just look great. There’s a whiff of the Colombian artist-sculptor Fernando Botero about Winkler’s voluptuous, sensuous forms in exaggerated settings. This 35-year-old Stockholmer has been based near Bali’s famous artist colony, Ubud, for a few years now but is moving his studio down Sanur way. Look him up at www.richardwinkler.com and in his studio.
7. Grand Bali Beach Hotel, Sanur
On an island of hotels, the three- to four-star Grand Bali Beach at Sanur is the ugliest. In fact, it’s one of the world’s ugliest: a blocky, clunky, dirty-white thing plonked on an equally ordinary stretch of beach. With a style that’s anything but Balinese, small wonder it’s colloquially known as “the Bali Bitch”.
So what’s it doing on a must-do guide to Bali? The appeal is largely intangible. It’s a window to Indonesian history and helps explain the question that occurs to any foreign visitor puzzled as to how this tiny Hindu island is part of sprawling, mostly Muslim Indonesia. Every August 17, Indonesia’s Independence Day, Balinese deliver cakes coloured the red and white of the national flag to Room 327. It’s the room the Balinese believe that Loro Kidul, their mystical Goddess of the South Seas, allocated to Soekarno, the man who led modern Indonesia to merdeka (freedom) against the Dutch colonialists and who had a Balinese mother. Soekarno never stayed there, but one of his trademark black peci hats and white trousers lie on the bed in a room maintained in the vernacular of the 1940s.
No one stays in Room 327, but it’s cleaned daily. Financed by reparations from Japan’s World War II occupation of the islands, the hotel effectively launched Bali as a mass international tourism destination. It took years to build and was finally finished in 1966, by which time Soekarno had been all but toppled by Soeharto, who was to rule for 32 years. In 1993 the 600-room hotel was gutted by fire but Room 327 was the only one to survive intact. Hotel staff are usually happy to show and talk interested visitors through the mysticism of Room 327. It’s worth a visit, if only to help explain something of Bali’s complex relationship with the rest of Indonesia.
8. Dreamland, Pecatu Graha
Before the Kuta bombing of October 12, 2002, one of the saddest places in Bali was probably Pecatu Graha, a 650-hectare Indian Ocean beachfront area planned by Tommy Soeharto, the former president’s youngest son, as a massive condominium, golf and marina complex. The problem for Tommy was that the site was occupied by 200 Balinese families. No matter. The Soeharto family summoned the military to clear the families, their temples and their fruit orchards from the land. Some were killed. That was in 1996-97. A year later Soeharto was toppled. Today, Pecatu Graha is a massive white elephant. The land is barren and wind whistles through a dismal cluster of half-built condos and a golf clubhouse with no course.
So what’s the attraction? It’s the same one that lured Tommy: one of Asia’s loveliest beaches. To get to Dreamland beach, drive about 10 kilometres south from the airport to the Bukit Peninsula. About halfway to Uluwatu you’ll see, to the left, the entrance to the huge Garuda Wisnu Kencana theme park, with an enormous stone statue of the mythical garuda. The entrance to the walled Pecatu Graha is opposite. Drive in and follow the road through the estate toward the sea to reach the car park, where local touts will slug you a buck for access to the excellent beach and the impromptu shacks that have sprung up there. By now you may be ready to head back into the water, so bring your surfboard.
Eric Ellis is South-East Asian correspondent for Fortune magazine in the US and has a house in Ubud.