Monday, 26 February 2018

Bali: flashpacking in Seminyak and Canggu

Let me explain the title; flashpacking in Seminyak and Canngu. Arriving in Bali from Vietnam was undoubtedly a shock to the system. Yes, Vietnam was bustling and well-versed in tourism, but nothing like Bali. After a month in Vietnam we had become accustomed to the oh-so-cheap accommodation (in particular places like Hue were we stayed for £10 a night in near on 4* comfort) and street food, and absolutely relished trying local cuisine on tiny plastic stools, sat roadside. Bali is a world away from that. The tourism is immense, and in a completely different way to that of Vietnam / Laos / Cambodia. Being so close to Australia, Bali is a well-trodden tourist path for the Aussies and I think because of that, it feels far more Westernised. The Melbourne coffee scene has definitely begun to infiltrate Bali, and the health food scene seems pretty well-defined. Bali is undoubtedly a poor country, but it has this bizarre glossy gleam - particularly around Seminyak, which feels almost resort-like in its pockets of Westernised opulence. More on that later. 

So I think arriving in Bali, we realised we were caught in the 'middle'. As I have said countless times already in this SE Asia series - yes, we had backpacks but no, we weren't backpacking. In Thailand and Vietnam our budget allowed for us to feel like ballers without spending a great deal, and we could afford gorgeous accommodation and delicious meals out - on occasion, at least. Essentially, we didn't stay in hostels, but the mid-range options were pretty lush. Arriving in Bali, we realised we might struggle. The prices in Seminyak itself were pretty extortionate; we didn't want to slum it in a hostel with sixteen-year-old Australian teenagers, but equally couldn't afford the more pleasant-looking options. We had to do some real research for accommodation, and knew that we would have to hire a moped to get in to the centre / ensure we had the freedom to explore where we wanted to. And we used Seminyak as a base for the majority our Indonesian adventure. 

It went something like this:

Seminyak - Canggu - Ubud - Lombok - Gili T - Nusa Lembongan - Seminyak (Legian) - Uluwatu - Seminyak (Legian). 

I'll do posts on the other locations soon (watch this space), but for now here is how we spent our time in Seminyak and Canggu.

Where we stayed
We stayed in three different places in South Bali; two of which were in the Seminyak area. The first was a room we found through Air BnB - at around £25 a night (July 2016) it was pretty blissful and not budget busting. It wasn't, however, super central. We hired a moped as per, and it was about a 15-20 ride to the main bit of town. The owner organised a driver to collect us from the airport, and was able to rent us a bike as soon as we arrived for 50,000 a day (around £2.50). Next time, we stayed in the Swiss Belin Hotel in Legian which was again a bit out of the main heart of Seminyak; this time about a 20 minute walk. We paid £32 a night for a fairly sterile but gorgeously clean, comfortable and relatively luxurious room! And finally, we ended our Seminyak adventure in The Fontana Hotel - similar feel to the Swiss Belin, and we paid £29 a night. About a 5 minute taxi from Seminyak, or a 25 minute walk, this one felt really out in the sticks, for some reason. That said, the pool was lovely and the cafe (Sunny 16) served good coffee! 

Seminyak itself
Having visited the same area of Bali in 2011 - just five years previously - I thought I knew what to expect. Bits of Bali are pretty grotty. Let's face it, it's a developing country and is pretty swamped with tourism from Australia  - it's basically the equivalent of Magaluf for Aussie teens. And Seminyak is no exception. There are parts that are really basic, with open sewerage and rogue dogs. But what I didn't expect is the incredibly luxe part that has been recently developed. Now I don't know when this happened, but the area around Seminyak Village almost feels like a resort, with plush boutiques, fancy restaurants... and prices to match. When we rocked up here on the first night, we genuinely were worried for our finances. We couldn't afford to eat *anywhere*. Not in the last few weeks of our 6 month travel budget, at least! 

So we hopped back on our bike and went to the area I stayed in back in 2011; Legian. We found cheaper prices, less pretentious beach-side cafes and a much more relaxed vibe. Phew!

Where we ate in Seminyak / Legian
Watercress Cafe: an Aussie-style cafe with loads of brunch options and good coffee. Not cheap but also not crazy expensive, probably because it's a little distance away from the main drag. Website.
Cafe Marzano: sorry, slightly embarrassing - we definitely ate Italian food here! But it was really good - we painstakingly hunted this one down as I remember eating carbonara here back in 2011 after a hideous boat journey back from the Gilis. Pasta comforted me, what can I say?! (Trip Advisor).
Warung Souvlaki: cough, Greek food. It was amazing. Honestly! Five months of SE Asian cuisine had clearly got to us by this stage! As an idea of prices, here moussaka cost 37,000 rupiah (£1.90) but we saw it on a menu in Seminyak centre for 100,000 rupiah (over £5!) - it is so much cheaper out of the main crazy bit. (Trip Advisor). 
Paideia cafe: good coffee in a cute, hidden spot. (Trip Advisor).
Wacko Burger: pretty decent burgers in a slightly off the beaten track location. (Trip Advisor).
Motel Mexicola: last but not least, this place is *in-sane*. Not just the retro aesthetic - which is so beaut - but the food is just incredible. Not a cheap meal, but we left this as a treat for our last night in Bali. The beef cheek taco was delicious, as were the chicken quesedillas and pork shoulder carnitas. We paid around 500,000 rupiah for food and drinks (around £25) which was pricey (relatively!) but completely worth it. Be sure to book - you can do so online. (Website).

After our first stint in Seminyak we headed slightly north-west to Canggu - pronounced chan-goo. Getting there was slightly problematic; Canggu is a 'no taxi zone' so we had to rely on our Air BnB host driving us there! Which was fine, if a little bizarre. Turns out Uber and other taxi apps are banned in Bali, with the local taxi group Blue Bird holding the monopoly. We found they run in Seminyak mostly - be sure to ask that they run on the meter. Anyway, we arrived in Canggu and immediately loved the more relaxed vibe! Weirdly I have no record of where we stayed in Canggu, but I do remember it being pretty crap - so no love lost, there. 

As ever, we hired a bike from our accommodation and hit the road - first stop, the beach. Sadly, the waves around the south west tip of Bali are so extreme, there were no swimming opportunities. Even the idea of surfing seemed terrifying, they were so huge! So we paid a few rupiah for a couple of sun loungers and chilled out - it was bliss. We'd left the madness of Seminyak behind us, and Canggu felt so much more relaxed. 

Whilst in Canggu, I must admit we did very little (and Seminyak actually... zilch!). There isn't much culture to be had, and given it was the last few weeks of our trip we wanted to chill. And chill we did! There was lots of beaching, reading, eating and drinking - all blissful. Be sure to visit Echo Beach for sunset and enjoy a couple of beers whilst watching the sun go down. For lunch we managed to get a table at Betelnut Cafe - a great spot for a relaxed healthy lunch - we ate chicken avo wraps and enjoyed fresh juices, good coffee and the buzzy atmosphere. (Trip Advisor).

Tanah Lot
The one culture-trap we did want to experience was Tanah Lot. A Hindu temple on a rock, Tanah Lot is quite something. Having visited this five years previously, I wanted to re-visit and see the stunning rock formation at sunset - and see what had changed. So we hopped on our motorbike and made tracks, the journey lasting around 40 minutes. The trip can be done with a tour, but we preferred to have the freedom to go with our own timings. It'll be no surprise to hear that tourism has boomed - the numbers back in 2011 were pretty heavy, but this time round it was something else. The crowds were huge! See below in images for an idea of quite how many people visit. None the less, we paid our entry fee (30,000 rupiah each) and got our blessing in the temple and watched the sun come down. Frantic, perhaps. But still beautiful! 


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