Happy families in Bali
If Instagram is anything to go by, Bali is the hottest family destination right now, writes Anna King Shahab.
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.
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.
Locals in Ubud.
Warm smiles: a priest and the writer’s daughter, Zara.
Concrete paths through the rice paddies.