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Putting your best Flip-Flop forward in Bali

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17th Sep 2008


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Downtown Ubud, believe it or not, view from the Lotus Cafe
Um, when did Bali go all private? This absolute gem of the Flores Sea, nestled like a serene diamond against a backdrop of distress, has always beckoned the intrepid traveller. It has always been a bit bohemian, somewhat egalitarian, artsy, slightly anti-establishment. In the 20s Bali became home to many famous foreign artists like Walter Spies and Antonio Blanco, in the 60s, Bali attracted the wayward surfer. Later, legions of backpackers fuelled an economic boom in the orchid-necklace industry. In the 90s, mass tourism arrived, creating Kuta traffic jams and Australian phone card centres. Then after the Kuta nightclub bombs, Bali changed again. But not in the way you may think: Bali turned into Asia's million-dollar playground. Private villas and resorts of villas only accomodation are the way to stay in Bali. Private pool, private chef, and private driver sum up how you'll experience the abundance of local culture, chic nightspots and delicious fresh food. Its so beautiful there, its out of this world. Actually, don't even waste your time reading this fab article - Put on your flip-flops and just GO!

super status

Bali's new super status is such that you are not really supposed to tell anyone, lest the masses return and destroy the serenity. The fundamentalist targeted bombings in years past scared many from visiting the Island of the Gods, but the loyalists to Bali's serene nature and luxurious pleasures allowed Balinese business owners to concentrate and cater more than ever on the upper echelon of the travel world. As property ownership has privatized and more of the global jet set has bought property and built private homes on Bali, that roudy surfer ambience has changed. Over the Sayan River gorge, throughout Tabanan and Gianyar regencies and on the cliffs overlooking the South Indian Ocean, villa after villa has sprung up in lush paradisical settings, featuring an infinity of infinity pools overlooking ricepaddies and the horizon out to sea. The island moved very upscale very quickly. Behind those gated walls and guarded villas made to look like village temples and Hindu palaces, the global elite is present and lolling in force. Kate Moss, shipping magnates, hedge fund heroes, the Cavalli crowd, and Hong Kong tai-tais don't bother to mingle in the bars and restaurants: They simply talk to the chef, send the driver to pick you up, and serve dinner by the pool overlooking cascading torch-lit paddy-fields with a soft gamelan quintet playing in the background. They have truely found heaven.

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Your ride on the beach in front of KuDeTa, Seminyak

There's not much to say: It's a simple affair at the one small, chic airport. It's situated 30 minutes south of Seminyak and 20 minutes away from Jimbaran Bay for the Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Bulgari crowd. Your driver should pick you up and be ready for you at all times....he better have tinted windows and air-con to keep you cool too. Drivers are not expensive and will save you all sorts of hassle. For a budget driver, try Ketut Wei, +62 813 3721 0853, a former surfer with good knowledge of Bukit and Jimbaran and the cool spots on the south of the island.

where to lounge

It's worth picking up a copy of Luxe Bali, a pocketsize guide with everything you need to know. If you want to stay right in the mix, stay at the beachfront sleek Legian in Seminyak. Heading up the coast to the east, to Candidasa, if you must stay at a hotel, let it be the Amankila, a tranquil slice of heaven exported to earth with breathtaking terraced views to the beach. Better yet, isolate yourself on the Bukit, where Bali is at its best with the best surfing, fantastical temples atop rugged cliffs and close to the pretty beaches of Nusa Dua.

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The Istana clifftop villa, Uluwatu, Bukit Peninsula
But wait before you book, let us get lush, serene and organic on you: the Ayung River gorge near Ubud is undisputably the most luxuriant, regal and idyllic part of Bali. To indulge, book the whole 'Sound of Fire' Villa called Tejasuara, at Christina Ong's Como Shambala at Begawan Giri estate and marvel at your bonfire lit for you nightly or a private Legong by your pool accompanied by a 60 strong gamelan orchestra from the surrounding village. Demand Agus as your butler, he is the best. And if he is not available demand Sumantra, he is the best too and comes complete with flower in his hair. And just when you thought you'd heard it all, we'll spoil you with one more choice: Bali's new secluded destination of choice is designer Diana von Crannagh's Puri Ganesha Villas on the scuba-diving heavenly northwest coast. Did you say beach front pool villas and a gastronomic organic restaurant? Book me in!

Private villas are the way to go. Many of the best can be booked through Elite Havens, the island's best resource for villas.
Mary Justice has just about the only villa on the beach in Seminyak, an excellent location with a cute space. It's not always available but worth it if you can get it. E-mail her directly at Luxurious five bedroom Villa Istana and four bedroom Villa Pemutih are both stunning and feature amazing amenities and glorious grounds, with cliff-top views and excellent staff. Both are located on the Bukit near Uluwatu and offer mesmorizing sunset settings.

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Rice paddies at dusk, Chedi Club at Tanah Gaja, Ubud
where to eat

There are many places, but lots of people just have the villa staff prepare meals. Place your request in the morning, and your heart's delight awaits you in the evening. If that's not your style, a few old favorites remain the best. Kaf Warisan offers the best French food on the island in a beautiful setting. Where else can you sit next to a rice paddy and listen to french Buddha Bar inspired music while you dine? Then shop for museum quality antiques in the boutique adjacent.

There are numerous little restaurants at Jimbaran's Dreamland beach that offer the most amazing seafood, all nestled into the sand and flickering in the evening candlelight. The food is typical beach fare, but nothing beats sand in your toes and a giant grilled 'Bamboo' lobster. La Lucciola offers a stunning setting with even better prices right on the beach. Other options include Waroeng Tugu for proper Indonesian food amid a spectacular d cor of rustic Javanese antiquities curated by the owner himself. Right next door to the Oberoi in Seminyak is the one and only Ku D Ta. After your helicopter down from Tejasuara drops you off on their chic beach making a splashing entrance, think Voile Rouge and grab a lounger for sunset after which retreat back to the lawn for a sumptuous dinner and shimmy to a DJ famous for making the night go forever.

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The Source Spa, Como Shambhala at Begawan Giri
where to spa

There is only once place to spa in Bali. Well, actually every spa in Bali is out of this world, but one really does stand out: The Source. This is no ordinary spa. Entirely outdoors overlooking the waterfalls of the Sayan River the Source's pools are fed with holy water from the stream above. A Lulur scrub of coffee grounds and clove followed by a honey and yoghurt pandanus leaf wrap and a Balinese massage will leave you feeling godly and one with nature relaxing in your own bath filled with flower petals facing a secret waterfall. Not a soul or building in sight, stay for an hour, for lunch or all day in this secluded lush paradise. This is one of 'those' experiences in life...

Local spas are also good. We would not normally suggest local, but in Bali, its all good. You might just find yourself within the grounds of a temple, flowers and kind ladies in sarongs and kittens everywhere being led to a bale for one of the best massages of your life. Opt for the flower petal bath and the manicure afterward - in a temple setting, its really special. All four treatments will still probably only cost you peanuts.

Other FAB spas can easily be found in the nice big hotels, each is as nice as the next.

the vibe

Bali, at the end of day, is still a surfer's haven, and even if you're just dipping your toe in the water, a few beaches are a must. Take a sunset run down Seminyak and pop in to Ku D Ta or The Legian for a fresh watermelon juice. Down on the Bukit, Dreamland beach summons the beautiful people and the in-the-know sunbather. The rock bar at the far end of Dreamlands has nice food, and a bottle of wine there at sunset will keep you in smiles for a week. For an ethereal experience head up to the Chedi Club near Ubud in the evening when the fog rolls in and the fire torches glow into the distance of the surrounding rice-paddy fields. The food are setting are out of this world.

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Tirta Empul, one of Bali's most sacred water temples
The huge temple complexes and many Monkey Forests are like the nightclubs and Kuta, to be avoided. Better yet, seek out small more special temples where you might even have the sacred grounds to yourself - much better for photo opps and peace of mind. Recommended for an idyllic stroll: have your driver drive you to Pura Gunung Kawi and Tirta Empul water temples 30 minutes north of Ubud, or the holy Pura Gunung Lebah at the junction of the two rivers just west Ubud before the bridge to Tjampuhan Village. These temples are special and especially sacred for the Balinese venerate water like the Catholics do the Pope.

Off the beaten track culture and a must see destination if you're on your way to the Amankila is artist Nyoman Gunarsa's studio. You should be able to score a real bargain compared to Christie's or Sotheby's prices where his work has traded fopr many years. For other exclusive cultural and performing arts services and productions contact Bali Purnati Centre for the Arts in Batuan, Sukawati. You might get lucky and get to attend a private village Kecak where the dancers go into a trance, there is lots of fire throwing and a hundred men pretend they are the undergrowth's frogs.

Today's Bali is not the island of even a few years ago, and it seems soon only the super-rich will be able to afford it most of it. If you go now bring your blingiest flip-flops to go with your new sarong, but forget about the late-night scene. Spend instead on the heli-taxi to your restaurant or invest in some excellent Southeast Asian art. You'll have the best time ever, even if it is just three friends, your driver, your organic chef and your glam footgear.

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