Happy fam­i­lies in Bali

If Instagram is any­thing to go by, Bali is the hottest fam­ily des­ti­na­tion right now, writes Anna King Sha­hab.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - INDONESIA -

Al­though a feet-up break in the Pa­cific is­lands re­mains a pop­u­lar choice, the Instagram feeds of my friends, filled with Bin­tang, beach bars and hair braids, in­di­cated that Bali was the hottest fam­ily hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion. We re­cently spent 11 won­der­ful days find­ing out why.

Its first charm­ing fea­ture is its diminu­tive size, mak­ing dart­ing from one side to an­other an easy af­fair. It be­ing our first time in Bali, I had planned trip to take in a few dif­fer­ent ar­eas and get a sense for where we might like to re­turn to. We started off in Ubud, mean­ing an hour or so drive from the air­port in Den­pasar.

It was close to mid­night and three of the four of us dozed off, know­ing our friendly driver, the son of the owner of the villa we had rented, knew ex­actly which tiny un­marked roads to take to get us to our home for the next five days. There are hun­dreds of taxis wait­ing at the air­port, but whether or not a driver will be able to find your ac­com­mo­da­tion is an­other mat­ter. If you’re stay­ing at a ho­tel or have booked a pri­vate villa on Airbnb, they’ll al­ways of­fer pick-up as an added ex­tra and my first rule for happy fam­i­lies in Bali is to book that.

Wak­ing up with the Ubud roost­ers on our first morn­ing re­vealed our sur­round­ings: lush, colour­ful fo­liage as far as the eye can see, smoke gently ris­ing as the vil­lage wakes up, a glimpse of the rice paddy fields that lay be­yond the wall, and the swim­ming pool nes­tled be­tween the two wings of our L-shaped pool villa, its wa­ter still un­til the kids – py­ja­mas dis­carded, togs hastily pulled on – leaped into it, and our day started with a splash.

Swim, eat trop­i­cal fruit break­fast, ex­plore lo­cal vil­lage, eat lunch, wan­der through rice fields, swim, swim, eat, sleep. Re­peat. It was an easy rhythm to fall in with – though each day in Ubud of­fered some­thing new as we ven­tured fur­ther to ex­plore the cen­tre of Ubud and sur­round­ing vil­lages.

A cou­ple of days in and we’re suf­fi­ciently con­vinced on the slow, steady pace of traf­fic to hire scoot­ers from our villa for IDR50k/ day (less than $1) to get round on. It’s not ev­ery­one’s cup of tea, but the driv­ers in Ubud are very cour­te­ous and the horn is used of­ten, in a help­ful and nonag­gres­sive way quite un­fa­mil­iar to us New Zealan­ders. The only driv­ers to keep an out for are other tourists – they’re the ones li­able to over­take on cor­ners and they’re easy to pick since they’re too cool for hel­mets.

Hitlist Ubud

Mon­key For­est – a hit with the kids, with scores of macaques scut­tling about – you can buy bunches of la­dyfin­ger ba­nanas at the en­trance but do this only if you don’t mind be­ing a climb­ing pole for pri­mates. Be­ing a for­est, with a river run­ning through, it’s also a nice place to cool off on a hot af­ter­noon.

The fresh, spicy and zesty In­done­sian fare at Hu­jan Lo­cale, where the kids’ menu was equally im­pres­sive (Oreo milk­shakes equals guar­an­teed peace for 15 min­utes).

At ve­gan cafe Moksa near Sayan Vil­lage the kids loved ex­plor­ing the or­ganic gar­den and the vege­tar­ian Mex­i­can at La Pachamama was a hit, as was the gi­ant acrylic horse for kids to climb all over.

Devi’s Place – our pri­vate pool villa in the mid­dle of a Ba­li­nese vil­lage – was per­fect for a fam­ily of four, and co-op­er­a­tors Janny (an ex­pat Kiwi) and Ke­tut and his fam­ily made us feel so wel­come. They have a se­lec­tion of sev­eral vil­las to suit, in­clud­ing two on the rice pad­dies.

Rice paddy walk­ways – there are end­less paths through the fields around Ubud, some lead to roads and some are dead ends but ei­ther way you’ll have fun ex­plor­ing and the wildlife keeps the kids en­ter­tained – noisy ducks, fat iri­des­cent drag­on­flies, the oc­ca­sional mon­i­tor lizard swim­ming in the canals and if you’re lucky, like we were, you might spot a snake. We watched a small snake swim along the canal then slither up into a gar­den, and curious to know what kind it was, we sent our rather out of fo­cus photo into a Face­book Page we found: Ron Lilley’s Snake Pa­trol Page. Ron replied to tell us we’d spot­ted a Keel­back, fan­g­less and so pretty in­nocu­ous to hu­mans but with ven­omous saliva lethal to the small frogs it hunts. Later, the chil­dren loved be­ing able to tell this for class news.

Bid­ding Ubud adieu with an in­tent prom­ise to be back soon, we headed for Seminyak, which is as buzzing as Kuta but more Cham­pagne than Chan­don – pop­u­lar with fam­i­lies, pleas­antly free of booze-fu­elled bo­gans. We had two nights at Alila Seminyak, the lo­ca­tion of which couldn’t be any more per­fect. It’s right on the beach at the north­ern end of Seminyak known as Petitenget.

Round here, the shop­ping was classy but in­ter­est­ing – lots of indie cloth­ing, jew­ellery and home­ware bou­tiques, Euro­peanstyle bak­eries and cof­fee shops. This was our time to make the most of the kids’ club in the ho­tel, know­ing the kids were hap­pily en­sconced and mak­ing friends while we en­joyed a few very chilled-out meals at the ho­tel restau­rant which opens out onto the beach and at MoVida Bali which was right next door, as well as a few cock­tails by the pool.

The traf­fic in Seminyak was more hec­tic than round Ubud and we wouldn’t have been com­fort­able on scoot­ers there, but the ho­tel’s re­vamped VW Combi shut­tle into town ho­tel proved both fun and handy.

On our last day in Seminyak we booked an In­spi­ra­tional Bali ex­pe­ri­ence. Hav­ing watched a num­ber of cer­e­mo­nial pro­ces­sions al­ready in our short time in Bali, and see­ing the lit­tle flower-filled of­fer­ings placed ev­ery day by out­side homes and busi­nesses, we were ea­ger to gain a small in­sight into the lo­cal Hindu cus­toms.

At the on­site tem­ple right on the beach, our guide Dewi showed us how to make canang sari, neat lit­tle boxes made by fold­ing ba­nana leaves, filled with par­tic­u­lar colours of petals. Then we moved onto a larger gebo­gan of­fer­ing – an im­pres­sive tower of fruit made by skew­er­ing bam­boo sticks adorned with fruit and bright pink cup­cakes (which the kids of course had to sam­ple) into the heart of a ba­nana palm.

Af­ter in­struc­tions from Dewi on how to re­ceive a holy wa­ter bless­ing, we made our way to the lo­cal tem­ple, Pura Pet­intenget.

Mak­ing an of­fer­ing.

Chef Eling’s class.

A feast cooked by the writer.

PHO­TOS: ANNA KING SHA­HAB

Lo­cals in Ubud.

Warm smiles: a priest and the writer’s daugh­ter, Zara.

Con­crete paths through the rice pad­dies.

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