Bali is one of Australia’s favourite holiday destinations – especially if you live in Western Australia. Bali is part of Java’s ‘tail’ – that line of little islands sitting in a line behind Java’s western extreme – and the one closest to Java. Lying in the same time zone as Perth, it’s a three-hour flight from there. Just up the road, really, and closer (and cheaper) than flying to Australia’s Eastern States. For that reason it’s a popular destination for West Aussies but despite the six-and-a-half-hour flight from Brisbane, the holiday package was still very cheap, so Pete and I and our friends Col and Sandy took up the offer of a five-night stay in Seminyak. I’d been to Bali about thirty years ago which left me with mixed feelings, but Pete, Sandy, and Col had never been. It was going to be interesting.
The first challenge is always getting there. Pete and I drove to Brisbane and stayed in a hotel overnight before the seven-thirty ay em flight to Bali. Only a couple of airlines fly direct to Bali these days. With some misgivings we opted for Jetstar, a budget airline which had started life as one of those cheap and nasty cattle transports but had upgraded itself and now offered business class. Sort of.
Jetstar is very much a pay-as-you-go airline. Buy a ticket and you get a seat on the plane, which you reach via the roped-off conga lines to the check-in counter. Everything else you pay for – food, baggage, entertainment ($10 to watch movies, TV etc), drinks. They also offer premium economy and two tiers of business class. This was the business class you have when you’re not quite having business class. You needed to pay an extra $200 for ‘business max’ to get lounge access, which is hardly worth it for a cup of coffee and a bit of breakfast, even if we had read the fine print and found out about it. So breakfast was a very expensive flat white and a toastie at a kiosk in the airport. Mind you, it cost a lot less than $200, and it filled a hole since the plane left an hour late. It seems the pilot was held up by an accident on the M1 between the Gold Coast and the airport.
For me, one of the biggest advantages of business class is avoiding the check-in queue. Apart from that we got larger seats with more leg room, in a 2-3-2 configuration, as opposed to the rest of the cabin, which was 3-3-3. I suspect there are restrictions on which seats tier-two business class travellers can select, although that’s not clear online. We didn’t get the seats we thought we’d selected, so I didn’t get a window seat and in fact we didn’t get to sit together. The woman that did get the window seat went to sleep as soon as she could, oblivious to the view as we banked over the Brisbane CBD with a wonderful view of the river meandering through the city. Yes, sour grapes. The camera would have been all ready to go. The seats didn’t descend into a bed so I wouldn’t want to fly on a real long haul. We were served breakfast, pretty decent scrambled eggs. We also got to use the usual entertainment of movies, TV shows and the like. I watched Black Panther to while away a few hours.
Jetstar will not be receiving our patronage again. For what it’s worth, Sandy and Col had a similar story to tell about their flight with Virgin. Air travel isn’t what it used to be.
Despite the new terminal building, immigration in Bali is third world. We waited for a good 45 minutes for our luggage to turn up – mine without its luggage strap. It could not have come undone by itself, so I’d say somebody souvenired it. Then it was off to the immigration queue with several hundred other people from several flights. No automation here. You shuffle along the roped-off maze (fending off attempts to pass) and eventually front up to the desk one at a time to get a stamp in your passport. We strolled through customs, I’m glad to say, and entered arrivals to a veritable sea of folks holding up placards with peoples’ names on them, as well as a few hopeful taxi drivers spruiking their services. We eventually saw our man holding his sign while checking his phone. When we finally got his attention, he led us to a waiting area and went off to collect the car. Organised chaos is the best way to describe it. After another fifteen or twenty minutes he reached us and we piled in for the hour-and-the-rest drive to the hotel
The traffic is… very Asian. More motor bikes than cars, white lines that seem to be there for decoration and not much else, parking is wherever you can abandon your car or bike and road rules seem to consist of nothing more than more or less keep left. We saw very few pushbikes, so if I say ‘bike’ that’s a motor cycle or scooter. Helmets are mandatory, but many riders don’t seem to know or care. We saw several White idiots riding shirtless, helmetless and apparently senseless. Did I mention the traffic jams? Cars and bikes weave their way in and out. Bikes take to the footpaths or anywhere else they can get through. The basic approach to going around corners is ease your way into the traffic until the other cars have no choice but to let you in. But unlike Australia, where there would have been two-finger salutes and comments about ancestry, it’s all polite. Motorists use tiny honks on their horns to tell other drivers where they are, and that’s how the many taxis signal to the tourists that they’re free. Pavements are obstacle courses with unfinished work, exposed pipes and broken slabs, as well as the occasional motor cycle avoiding a snarl. Every hotel has a security guard who helps cars visiting a property back into the street by blowing his whistle and stopping the traffic. Somehow it all seems to work.
The Kayana hotel was pleasant, with lots of open space as you’d expect in this tropical climate. We had our own little walled in villa complete with plunge pool and outdoor pavilion. Floors are tiled, the room was large with walls separating the space. The only internal doors close off the shower and toilet area. A concrete path overhung by frangipanis meanders between the villa walls. Meals are in an open restaurant beside a swimming pool, but guests are encouraged to eat in an outside pavilion that’s part of their villas. That’s all very nice, but since all the courses are delivered at once, we only did that once.
After we’d unpacked we met our friends for dinner and worked out the plan for our stay.
Monday was an orientation day. Kayana, where we stayed, is close to the beach but has no beachfront access, so Pete and I took a walk down a nearby street to find the sea. On the way we came across a security checkpoint, where we were asked where we were going, and waved on through. This was the first time we noticed how much attention is given to security. All bikes and cars were stopped and checked. The guards looked into carry space on bikes and checked inside cars, as well as under cars using a mirror on a pole. Indonesia is a Muslim country which is becoming increasingly conservative. Bali is an enclave, hanging onto its Hindu past. But after the 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Kuta which killed 202 people and two further attacks in 2005, the threat of Islamic terrorism on this holiday island is always there.
As we walked along the road towards the beach, Pete and I saw a strange building in the distance. It seemed to be a curved, multi-coloured wall. Closer by we realised it had been built from discarded shutters and louvred windows, a piece of recycled art. Then we noticed the colourful mural, a confection of purples, blues, yellows, cascading down a slope. It was made up of rubber thongs – a testament to our penchant for throwing away man-made materials. I expect these items were salvaged from the beach.
A typical Balinese temple stood at the entrance to the beach itself. Temples are everywhere, and I’ll tell you a bit more about that in a later post. Suffice to say Balinese are very spiritual and pray three times a day. You’ll see offerings – flowers and small items of food in small baskets – everywhere in the streets, shops, beach – even in taxis. It’s a part of who they are.
It’s a surf beach with dark sand typical of more volcanic places. Offerings lay on the sand amongst the more common litter.
Later that day we visited the Seminyak markets, which are much like markets everywhere – lots of cheap clothes and local, mass-produced souvenirs. At the city market bartering was allowed at stalls, but not in the air-coditioned shops. We went on to the traditional market, conducted in tents lining alleys. Sandy bought a couple of pretty expensive T shirts for the grandkids but for the rest, we’ve got enough dust-gatherers. My souvenirs are my photos and these little blogs.