A Guide to Beautiful Bali, part 1- WHERE TO STAY
Two weeks ago I packed my suitcases for maybe the 100th time this year and headed to beautiful Bali, one of Australia’s most beloved holiday destinations.
Like many Aussies before me, I was escaping to the ‘island of Gods’ in search of it’s perfect combination of sun, sea, delicious food and cocktails, great shopping, friendly and relaxed people and perhaps best of all- Bali’s close proximity and inexpensive lifestyle.
It’s not hard to do Bali on a budget. Flights tend to be the most expensive part of the trip and after that, you’re able to book your own private villa, eat and drink for much less than you would do in Australia or other holiday destinations such as Thailand or Fiji.
But I’ve been there, done that. This was my third time to Bali and after visiting on a shoestring budget before; I was keen to check out what Bali had to offer on the luxe end of the scale.
This is the first or my three part ‘Bali Blog’ series where I will be taking you through some of the best Balinese places to stay, eat and play so that whether you’re planning a week away in paradise or a year-long sabbatical on the Indonesian island, you’ll know just where to park your butt.
WHERE TO STAY
Over my 11 days in Bali I was lucky enough to stay in five different accomodations- each of them offering a different experience depending on what you’re after. Romantic holiday for 2? Got you covered. Family holiday with Uncle Bernie who stares a little too long at you in your bikini? Sorted.
Read below for my thoughts on some of the best places to stay in Bali.
AMANA VILLAS, Seminyak
Award winning Amana Villas was my first stop of my Balinese trip and my home for three nights, all by myself.
The guys at Amana had already been super efficient in sending me over my arrival requirements via email before I’d even left for Bali (including the level of butler service I would like), so were waiting for me at the airport upon my arrival. (Hot tip: always try and arrange an airport pick up with your villa or resort if possible. It makes it so much easier than hopping off a plane and trying to fight for a taxi, lugging your luggage in the humidity struggling to explain in broken Indonesian the street address of your accommodation.)
Situated just off ‘Eat Street’ in Seminyak (and conveniently across the road from La Favela, one of my favourite bars in Seminyak)- Amana was the perfect place for me to enjoy the first part of my trip by myself, before my friends were to join me a few days later.
Feeling like a total pimp, I was lead to my ‘One Bedroom / Signature Villa’ which was Amana’s best offering and featured an infinity pool which overflowed to become a waterfall that trickled into a pond in the bedroom below.
Surrounded by bamboo and luscious green gardens, the villa is split over 2 floors with the living room and kitchen above, and master bedroom below. It is (of course) fully air-conditioned (a must in order to escape the humidity of Bali), fully furnished and even boasted an outdoor bathtub.
Upon arrival I was fed and watered with a delicious welcoming ginger drink and banana cake before being handed my ‘Butler phone’ and told to dial if I needed anything.
Although the whole ‘butler’ concept made me a little uncomfortable, Harry assured me he was just a phone call away and made it clear he couldn’t wait to assist me. (The service at Amana was A+. In fact, at points it was TOO good. After delivering my breakfast every morning, Harry would ring me up a mere 30 minutes later asking if he could come collect my plates. There were more than a few times I had to quickly assure Harry “they were fine for now” aka. “please don’t come in here I’m walking around nude.”)
My beautiful concrete outdoor bath had been filled with frangipanis for my arrival and it didn’t take me long to hop in and soak away that gross plane layer of ick.
The villa itself was beautiful and modern. The bed was huge (check!) there were double sinks and therefore stacks of room for me to unload all my toiletries (check!) there was a couch and a TV (check!), huggggeeee pool set to just the right temp (check!) and a bar fridge full of Bintangs (double check!)
Some of the other amenities, which I really appreciated, were the 100% bamboo linen and dressing gowns (felt like silk on the skin) and awesome sound system. Amana gave each villa their own iPod already loaded up with stacks of perfectly curated playlists (I had ‘90’s Hits’ on repeat for the duration of my stay) as well as an iPad which acted as the villa’s info hub. On it were a range of suggested day trips (all of which Amana would organize for you) as well as their menu for in-villa dining (dinner prepared by your own private chef by your pool? Why not!) and any additional information you might need including internet facilities.
Finally, Amana Villas have their very own day spa and I treated myself to a 60 minute Balinese massage- in hindsight, it was probably one of my favourites. They start off with a footbath (not always included in a body massage) filled with rose petals before you get to choose the essential oils that they will be using during the massage. The interiors are very luxurious and top of the line and the massage itself had me drooling.
THE BEST PARTS:
- Daily flower baths. As part of the turn down service, the Amana guys fill your outdoor tub with pretty petals. You can also organize milk, honey and rose petal flower baths for an additional charge.
- Daily breakfasts delivered to your villa. The strawberry pancakes PLUS baked goods PLUS brightly coloured tropical fruit salad PLUS freshly squeezed juice brought to my pool-side every morning was pretty amazing.
- The serenity. Despite being just off the main drag, the villas are set back far enough that it is quiet and super relaxing. Between sunbaking by the pool and soaking in your tub, you could easily forget you’re in the middle of busy Seminyak.
THE PARTS WITH ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT:
- The waterfall. During the day, the waterfall provides relaxing background noise however it’s quite loud and starts at 9am and goes till 9pm. If I had wanted a sleep in or early night, it would have been tricky to relax.
- Layout. Although the villa is beautifully laid out, having only the one bathroom downstairs and thus available only by going outside and down the stairs either side of the villa meant for a bit of a trek to pee!
- Super attentive staff. Although the staff and service went above and beyond and were nothing short of amazing, sometimes they were a little TOO attentive. There was one too many visits to my villa unannounced which meant I couldn’t stride around in the nude. Perhaps make sure to let them know you will only be requiring their service when YOU call THEM.
- Lovers. The villas are all only one bedroom so it would be tricky to fit any kids or additional people in there. There are also a variety of romantic activities you can organize through the villas that I obviously didn’t get to try out but they sounded super sexy.
VILLA MAHASARI, Seminyak
The guys at The Bali Bible were kind enough to point myself and my travelling buddies Jake, Lisa (both from Big Brother 2014) and my good friend Gen in the direction of Aussie-owned Villa Mahasari.
Located just a little up the road from Amana and a short walking distance from popular watering holes such as Ku De Ta, the villa was GINORMOUS and perfect for a group of people.
With it’s four extremely spacious bedrooms, each equipped with their own ensuite and huge walk-in wardrobe, king size beds, desk, TV/DVD and their own air-con units (which is great if you like your sleeping temp to be minus 4 and your mates prefer to be hot and sweaty.)
The open-plan living and dining room are located on the ground floor and flow seamlessly outside to the al fresco dining deck and pool.
What makes Villa Mahasari extra-special are the staff that are there 24/7 but don’t cramp your style and give you just enough privacy.
Every morning we’d wake up to a beautifully set table and delicious breakfast (think avocado, eggs any way you like, mushrooms, feta, crusty bread…) all prepared for us. They also did a few loads of our washing and made sure we always had clean towels and cold drinking water in the fridge but disappeared during the day so we could have our time to ourselves.
THE BEST PARTS:
- Outdoor shower in the master bedroom. Lisa and Jake were the lucky devils that scored the master bedroom and beautiful sandstone outdoor shower.
- The furnishings. Between the huge comfy couches covered in squishy pillows, upstairs day bed and under-cover outdoor eating area- Villa Mahasari felt like a Balinese home-away-from-home.
- Space. There were four of us staying in the villa but you wouldn’t have known it. The villa is so big I sometimes got lost. We each had our own living quarters and the high ceilings made it feel like you were living in a palace.
THE PARTS WITH ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT:
- The indoor/outdoor living space downstairs meant that we were unable to close up the bottom half of the house to keep cool during the day or when it rained.
- It’s tricky to find. Without there being a specific street address on the website (only a map) and very little street signage (plus it’s down a very long, narrow driveway) the villa was a little hard to find at first and often tricky to find our way back to.
- Groceries. Upon arrival we were required to give the staff money for groceries for the duration of our stay. It was hard to figure out what we’d need/feel like so far in advance, not to mention when we’d be home for meals and how much everything would cost.
- Families or groups of friends. There are four bedrooms all up and the villa is super spacious so it’s perfect for larger groups.
THE W RETREAT & SPA, Seminyak
After staying in villas for our time in Bali so far, we decided to give one of Seminyak’s most famous boutique resorts a try, The W.
It just so happens it was also the W’s 4th birthday during our stay there so we were able to help them celebrate at their 4th birthday party complete with fireworks which was a lot of fun.
The minute we drove down the world-famous bamboo tunnel at the entrance of the W and arrived at the bright, pop art-filled lobby it became obvious we were in for a difference Balinese experience entirely.
Whilst our villa staff had endearing broken English, traditional costume and the biggest smiles, the staff at the W were in formal uniforms, beautifully made up with hair and make up and spoke perfect English.
We were shown up to our ‘Spectacular Ocean Facing Retreat’ room which was beautiful and super modern but felt squishy after our spacious villas. (It is worth noting the W also offers 1, 2 and 3 bedroom villas also.)
That being said, this was the first time we’d been able to see the ocean from our accommodation and it made for a beautiful view and relaxing soundtrack as we sat on our balcony and took in the sights and smells of Bali. We also got a bird’s eye view of the W’s beach-front pool which takes up almost the entire length of the hotel and includes brightly coloured floating bean bags (which were as fun as they were great selfie props!)
The room itself felt ‘jungle inspired’- the green tones and polished wooden flooring were easy on the eyes and the king size bed was huge and super comfy (I couldn’t find Gen in bed, even if I had wanted to!)
It also included a sleeper sofa, 40-inch flat screen, DVD/CD player and iPod docking station, ‘Munchie’ box full of sweets and snacks, mini bar area, oversized bathtub with both a free-standing rainforest shower and side shower with separate toilet.
THE BEST PARTS:
- The sky light in the shower. With a click of a button we were able to open up the skylight in our bathroom which let natural sunlight dapple in and made you feel less like you were in a giant hotel.
- The bars and restaurants. I’ll go into further detail about these in my ‘Where to Eat’ blog but the breakfast buffet at ‘Fire’ is INSANE. Anything you could every possibly want to eat for breakfast (including donuts and a chocolate fountain?) is available and it’s all delicious.
- The hotel soundtrack. When we arrived, there were some pretty sick beats pumping from our Bose sound system. We loved the tracks and remixes so much we had the CD running on repeat for our entire stay there. I think Gen may have actually bought it…
THE PARTS WITH ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT:
- It’s a little exy. The food and drinks are pretty expensive, especially compared to normal Bali prices but it’s to be expected when you’re staying in a swish place like the W.
- Lack of space. Unless you’re a couple, or have booked one of their villas, the resort rooms are a little pokey. The balcony seemed almost as big as the main living space!
- Lack of Balinese culture. The W is a resort and feels very modern, fancy and Westernized which is great if that’s what you’re after but if you’re wanting to FEEL like you’re in Bali or experience another culture then maybe a resort like the W isn’t for you.
- Couples. It’s fancy and romantic and is perfect for those who have saved a bit of extra $$ but are only in Bali for a short amount of time and therefore want everything- restaurants, spa’s, bars etc- at their fingertips.
KARMA KANDARA, Uluwatu
Out of all the places we stayed during our stay in Bali, Karma would have to be my favourite. (Another huge thanks to Lani at The Bali Bible for hooking this one up!)
In my opinion, Karma had all the best parts of ‘resort life’ (cliff-top infinity pool overlooking the ocean, amazing restaurants and beach bars, A+ service and amenities) as well as all the bonuses of villa living (space, privacy, peace and quiet and a private pool).
Not to mention it was situated in the most beautiful part of Bali I’d ever seen- on top of the cliffs at Uluwatu.
We had a ‘One Bedroom Pool Villa’ apparently, which strikes me as weird considering there were two rooms, really.
I had my own hugeeee master suite with ensuite that included a bath and Gen had her own living space up on the mezzanine level (however no door so I guess there was a certain lack of privacy but it was never an issue for us).
The villa also included a dining space, fully equipped kitchenette and living area with TV complete with satellite channels for when it rains.
Outside we could chose between our day couch, four-poster day bed overlooking the ocean or perhaps take a dip in our own private turquoise pool.
The grounds of the resort were truly breathtaking. Vibrant greenery and pink bougainvillea, Mediterranean-feeling rock walls, brightly coloured doors, windy paths to get lost in and edge-of-the-world feeling cliff views- you very quickly feel like you’re in a little slice of paradise that’s all yours alone.
The day spa setting itself is one of a kind. The staff had to wait 10 minutes before they could start the treatments so that Gen and I could attempt to capture the beauty via photographs. Even if I wasn’t staying at Karma, I would make the trip 1 hour south of Seminyak just to spend the day at the day spa and then hit the beach club for sunset.
THE BEST PARTS:
- Di Mare. Their signature restaurant has awe-inspiring views and mouth-watering food. I don’t think I’ve eaten at such a beautiful location before, head there for sunset drinks for added ‘WOW’ factor.
- Cable cart. You can get the cable cart down to their famous beach club and the views are spectacular, the cocktails cold and the water warm.
- Ask and you shall receive. Apart from receiving our very own concierge who attended to our every need (seriously, at one point Suri even hopped on the cable cart and found us at the beach to ask us about our transfer the next day- that’s dedication!), Karma offer extras such as buggy rides to and from your villa (which feel a little like mini-rollercoaster rides due to all the hills and dips along the way) complimentary fresh tropical fruit in your villa everyday and a bottle of champagne on arrival.
THE PARTS WITH ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT:
- Whilst the buggy’s DO make it easy to get around, the grounds are so spread out, it’s not easy to get from your villa to the restaurant or bar etc in a hurry. Forgot your wallet? It’s a looooonnng walk back home if there’s not a buggy waiting for you!
- Cliff-top pool. Karma Kandara’s world-famous cliff-top infinity pool is amazing and offers one of the best views in the world however due to its position under the restaurant, we didn’t really feel like swimming in it. Nobody wants to oogle my flab while they’re tucking into their salmon!
- No back up plans when it rains. For a country that has quite a famous ‘wet season’ the restaurant had no back up plans when it rained torrentially one morning. Without any walls or sliding glass doors etc, we were rained on and our breakfast rained out!
- Couples OR groups. Whilst our villa was best for a couple, there was space for two more people. Karma in general is very beautiful and has a lovely romantic feel so would be the perfect place for a romantic getaway or honeymoon however the villas also great for bigger groups.
VILLA CAMILLA, Canggu
Our final home in Bali was another change of pace entirely. Situated amongst the rice fields in up-and-coming Canggu, Villa Camilla was owned by a Kiwi who had first visited Bali in search of the best day spa staff for her New Zealand businesses. She ended up falling in love and purchasing a couple of properties on the island.
Villa Camilla is their newest offering and had quite a different feel to everywhere else we’d stayed thus far.
We walked through the rustic wooden door through to the expansive lawn and pool, which acted as the go-between for the two separate buildings.
On the left we had the living quarters complete with full kitchen, dining table and plush comfy couch. The interiors of Villa Camilla were perhaps my favourite of any of the places we’d stay at- speckled blue concrete floors and wooden pineapples are kinda my thing.
The second building featured the bedrooms – 3 in total all with their own ensuite and outdoor baths – and the 2 ‘hole in the wall’ living spaces, one featuring a day bed and the other, a ‘Japanese-style’ outdoor eating area (think: low to the ground table, bamboo floor rug and pillows for chairs).
The pool was huge and surrounded by deck chairs, umbrellas and spongy bright green lawns and foliage. It was beautiful, felt extremely spacey and blissfully quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the more popular tourist spots such as Kuta and Seminyak.
THE BEST PARTS:
- The location. Far enough away to feel like you had the whole of Bali to yourself, close enough to popular Canggu eat spots so that you didn’t feel completely isolated, Canggu is one of Bali’s hidden gems and definitely worth checking out.
- The food. Unlike Mahasari, food came from nearby popular, tried and tested cafes and restaurants. All we had to do was look at the take-away menu, pick what we wanted and our friendly staff would go and fetch it for us while on their scooters we caught some rays.
- Space. Unlike the villas in the middle of Seminyak, this felt like we had our own entire house. You could have a large group for a hens or bucks party here and make as much noise as you wanted and nobody would hear to complain!
THE PARTS WITH ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT:
- Due to each of the bedrooms having their own outdoor bathrooms (the master even had it’s own jacquzzi) we had to shut and lock the bathroom door each time we left the villa a) to keep the air con in and b) to keep the petty thieves out.
- Lack of ATM’s. Unlike the busier parts of Bali, every nearby café only took cash and there were no ATM’s in sight. This meant for quite a long trek first thing in the morning to find one in order for us to eat breakfast!
- Lack of that little something ‘extra special’. Villa Camilla feels more like you’ve rented a house than a villa. There were no towels on the bed, no frangipanis in the bath… we weren’t offered to organize a romantic flower bath or pointed in the direction of the best day spa had we so wanted a massage. It was just lacking those extra little things that make it feel like a tropical holiday.
- Big groups/families. Space is the best part about Villa Camilla and apart from the outdoor Jacuzzi in the master ensuite, it didn’t feel particularly romantic.
So folks, there you have it. Some of the best places to stay in Bali. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of my ‘Bali Blog’ series where I’ll be taking you through some of the best places to grab a bite to eat or a cocktail and where to get the best massages- fluffy robes and ocean sounds included!