Bali Off The Beaten Track: An Insider’s Guide

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Bali is an intoxicating place—just over three-and-a-half hours from Perth, six-and-a-half from Sydney, it’s a world away from Australia. The food, smells and landscapes are tailor-made to tantalise your senses.

This little island and all it has to offer…beautiful beaches, friendly locals, low-costs, delicious food, great surf and stunning scenery…certainly draws the crowds. But away from the tourist hotspots I uncovered some hidden treasures…

Two hours from the southern beaches, near the centre of the island and nestled between lush green rice paddies and forests filled with mischievous monkeys, lies Ubud. This town of 30,000, often referred to as the heart of Bali and home to temples and art galleries, attracts expats seeking an alternative lifestyle.

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Some of Bali’s most famous artists, past and present, have lived here and you’ll find museums displaying their work. This is also the place to cleanse your soul as well as your body at any number of yoga and meditation retreats.

Bali’s climate can be hot and humid, but in Ubud you get some cooler mountain breezes. It would be wise to have a light jumper or two for the evenings, especially in the winter. The wet season is from November to June, with short but frequent heavy downpours.

The locals embrace nature; they build around the trees, incorporate them into the grounds of hotels, restaurants and villas. As you walk down the street the smell of incense lures you toward the temples. Watch a village ceremony taking place and the locals will invite you in and explain everything. (To enter the holy temples, you must wear a floor-length sarong, have your shoulders covered and take off your shoes.)

Expats find a balanced life here, with hundreds of cafes and fantastic restaurants serving cuisine from around the world. There’s a strong focus on healthy eating, so breakfast at Kafe is a must. Tuck into tofu scramble ($3.30) and a macrobiotic breakfast bowl ($3.90), but don’t pass up the chance to indulge in their vanilla crème brulee ($3).

Everyday items are easy to get in Ubud. There are three big supermarket chains; Bintang, Coco’s and Delta Dewata. These are more than just grocery stores; it’s where you can get all of your homeware and even some clothing. If you want to get the freshest local produce, go to the morning market and haggle for some fresh mangosteen, rambutan and dragon fruit.

Like the rest of Bali, apartment or villa hunting is best done on the ground. You’ll find flyers and brochures posted on the streets and on many of the cafes’ corkboards. Word of mouth is king so tell the local bartender or yoga instructor what you’re looking for. On the Kafe corkboard I saw an advert for an older, furnished two-bedroom villa with a private pool for $668 per month. You can save $100 if you rent without a pool, but if you can afford it, I would suggest splurging.

If you’re more budget conscious, head for Lovina, on the northern coast of the island. It’s as beautiful a spot as anywhere in Bali to watch the sun turn the sky crimson…each sunset is more dramatic than the last. It’s also the most affordable place on the island but still has the creature comforts of home.

Australian expat Randy Middlan lives in a simple two-bedroom home with a garden and only pays $125 a month. It isn’t a modern property but it has all the necessities and is only a five-minute drive from the beach.

Lovina is where you come to slow down, to enjoy the sunsets, to fish or simply to chill. It’s about three hours north of the airport so it doesn’t get the same amount of tourism or expats as the southern towns.

“Life is so laidback I have to ask my wife what day it is,” says Expat Victor Sandow. “It’s a laidback lifestyle, but it’s not sleepy, there is a lot to do.”

Victor rents a spacious three-bedroom villa with a private pool and a lovely garden for $419 a month. It’s a 10-minute drive from the centre of Lovina and the beaches. With that kind of rent, having a full-time helper is feasible. For $80 a month, she will take care of all of the essentials; cleaning, shopping, cooking—even translating your bills if need be.

Rentals in Lovina are best found by talking to the locals. The expats we met told us to tell every bartender, wait staff and scooter rental agent you meet what you’re looking for. Word travels quickly in small towns and before you know it, you’ll be out looking at villas.

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Play a game of tennis for $7 to $10 at the Bali Taman Hotel. Or go to the beach and find the Lotus Sherab Yoga Center where you can learn to bend like a pretzel with a $108 package of 10 classes.

The main area of town is called Kalibukbuk and it is filled with bars, warungs and tour and dive operators. It’s where all the expats congregate. We met expats sitting at the Lumbung Bar. The bar’s motto is “Our beer is colder than a kiss from your mother-in-law.” An expat enclave, it’s the ideal place to make your first stop if you’re new in town.

Weekends at Spice Bar is when the nightlife goes up a gear. Feel the sand between your toes as you sip a minty mojito ($8). As the sun sets, a local band begins to play and people start to boogie. To satiate your hunger from all that dancing, order an $8 pizza—and then get back on the dance floor.

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