Friday, May 6, 2016

Unspoiled Eastern Bali

When: April 2016
Kids: Big Sister 11y10m, twins 9y4m
Flights: Hong Kong - Bali Denpasar - Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific
Booked through: all CX tickets on points, booked all 3 hotels directly after lots of research on Tripadvisor and the hotel websites. 

Mount Agung in a distance during our rice paddy trek
It has been a while since we had a "beach" type vacation so after we'd decided that's what we were going for, the kids decided it had to be Bali again. Honestly, I was more keen on the Philippines but I generally struggle with hotels in the Philippines, at least of the beaten path (which doesn't included Cebu nor Boracay). It's either super fancy and expensive or budget style accommodation. It seems hard to find the middle of the road. Bali it was, but again, there was no way I was going to settle on Kuta, Nusa Dua, Seminyak and the likes so we decided to go east this time as we explored Mengwi, Munduk and Tabanan last time

I looked at going east with a our main destination Amed, literally as far east as you can go on Bali. I considered the Gilis but ultimately we decided to take it slightly more casual and allow a little bit more time for relaxing without having to board a boat again (and back). 

Arriving at the newer airport was a completely different experience compared to last time. We were in the car within 35 minutes. We made sure we were seated in the front of the economy as much as possible so we may it out pretty quickly. We no longer need a visa as Dutch citizens so it was smooth as smooth could be. What an improvement!

First stop Candidasa ... 
First stop Candidasa. There isn't really a beach in Candidasa and it still sounded a tad touristy so we decided to stay here for just one night on our way to Amed. A lot of people seem to think that Candidasa is quite far east already so once you go even further,  it quickly gets less and less touristy. I booked the family room at Aquaria. Most places are ocean front but not a lot of beach to speak of. Aquaria had a reasonably priced family room which was perfect for a 1-night stopover (I wouldn't stay here for 3 nights or more, it's quite small as a town). We spend some time at the pool and headed for dinner just outside the hotel at Warung Astawa, super close, nice food and perfect for what we needed. As we booked 4 nights in Amed we decided to spend the morning in Candidasa and we booked a boat going to White Sand Beach. Lots of warungs, lots of places to sit (free of charge when you eat at the warung), lots of cheap massages and some hassling but overall, very relaxing. The beach is not white ... it's just "not black" so they call it white. Makes sense right? The sea was pretty dirty at times (including natural waste like tree trunks, leaves, etc.) when we were there ... truly a shame but nobody to blame except us humans, I guess. Had a lovely lunch with the freshest mahi mahi ever and headed back after lunch so we could back up and transfer to Amed. On our way to Amed (we took the very narrow, old and curvy coastal road) we stopped at the Ujung Water Palace for a quick half hour break which was definitely worth it. 

Beautiful Amed ... 
In Amed I booked Blue Moon Villas Resort, at the far end of Amed (which is very stretched out). Not in the midst of things but the hotel is happy to arrange transportation. There's a beach close by (50 metres) but it's full of boats and no lounge beds for rent. It's great for a local experience though. The best beach for kids is Lipah Beach (there are beds and umbrellas for rent) with easy snorkeling but you can't really walk there (or at least we had no desire to do so, it's about 10-15 minutes by car). Accommodation is a little bit tricky as there are a lot of options but not a lot of fancy options and everything is quite far apart, so there is no "perfect" choice, at least I felt. However, Blue Moon Villa was lovely with great staff, nice large rooms, affordable (we paid less than 200 euro a night for a large 2-bedroom) and with great food. Many restaurants in Amed will pick up and drop off so even if you can't rent a scooter with kids like ourselves, you can still leave the hotel with some planning ahead. Lipah Beach is great for snorkeling, we did a boat tour, had massages at Aquaterrace across the street (they have rooms too), swam, relaxed ... just really easy going. All my reviews including the restaurants are on Tripadvisor:
- Lunch: Galanga, Wayan's Warung (near Lipah Beach), Imbuh Bar & Resto (walking distance)
- Dinner: Sails Restaurant (free transfer), Taman Bebek Hita (free transfer), Komang's John Cafe (at the hotel, had dinner here twice). 
Amed is super relaxing, very local, very few tourists (quite a few divers as there are great diving and snorkeling spots, we did bring gear for the kids) and a chance to explore the real Bali without crowds. The people are lovely, the pace is slow, the views of the volcano and black beaches are spectacular!

Last stop ... green & lush Sidemen ... 
After 4 relaxing nights in Amed, we headed to Sidemen via The Water Palace Tirta Gangga, which was worth a quick stop. Again, not a lot of tourists and the kids loved hopping on the tiles! We walked around for about 30 minutes before we got back into the car to continue our journey to Sidemen. In Sidemen I booked Villa Sawah Indah because they had a good rating, a pool and a nice family room (the room is huge). It's not fancy in any way, comfortable enough though, but the surroundings are beautiful. Having said that, it's definitely more commercial than Tabananan where we stayed at Bali Eco Stay. We saw a daily stream of tourists which is something we clearly had not experienced in Amed. There are quite a few hotels in the area but it's still fairly serene and peaceful and the benefit was there were plenty of cute, little, cheap & tasty warungs within walking distance. The Samanvaya (sister of Sawah Indah) was definitely fancier and much newer but the views were more obstructed (and no family room). We spend some time walking around in the area, swimming in the pool, enjoying massages, sampling all the warungs and last but not least we did a 2-hour rice paddy hike (from 4 to 6 pm to avoid the heat) with a guide crossing rivers and climbing hills. We saw people washing themselves in the streams, the sun going down, the sounds and colours of nature ... a really fantastic way to finish the day! Again, a better experience when you make a little bit of effort to get a further away from the hotel and the hotel pool ... Well worth it and highly recommended. 

The restaurants we visited:
Lunch: Warung Jolie, Warung Ida
Dinner: Joglo d'Uma (beautiful views during the day), the restaurant at Samanvaya 
Plenty of choice, low prices and overall great quality!

The driver brought us back to the airport in less than 2 hours on our last day, so overall the transfers were pretty doable. All transfers were INR 450,000 which is about US$35 for a family of 5. Only the airport pick up was slightly more expensive. Departure from the new airport was an equally smooth experience with some good shopping and food options. Massive improvement compared to 3 1/2 years ago!

All in all, a very relaxing and extremely enjoyable holiday without a very busy schedule. But also without the tourists but with lots of cheap, tasty food (we had our most expensive meal at the airport ... sharing a few pizzas for lunch!), delicious mahi mahi, calamari and wahoo as fresh as fresh can be, the most fantastic banana fritters, lots of cold Bintang, fresh fruit juices and once again an opportunity to visit the unspoiled Bali. The Bali that most people don't tend to see but is so worth visiting especially if you can live without your 5* international chain hotels for a few nights (and save lots of $$$ at the same time in hotel and food cost). 

Our last Asia trip for a while ... as we're heading back to the US summer '16! But as Hong Kong Permanent Residents will be back at least every 36 months in order to maintain our residency status.