söndag, november 20, 2011

Gili Islands and Bali tips, November 2011

It may sound a little bit risky to go to Indonesia for a sunny holiday in late October/early November, arguably already rain period, but we took our chances. It is from many points of view the best time to leave sombre Scandinavia for a two-week break.

We went by Singapore Airlines, a reliable carrier, with a short stop in S-pore which is always great, Changi is a very enjoyable airport. Bought some wine (terribly expensive in Asia, but what can you do) and cosmetics there. Fishball soup Singaporean style gives the right taste from the start.
Our first stop was Jakarta, to meet with family. We really enjoyed this, and stayed at Aston Kuningan Suites, a great choice with perhaps the best bed I have ever slept in in a hotel. Except my father's wonderful food we tried Sushigroove, an exceptional, very affordable eatery inside the Grand mall. Sushi here in this "groovy" ("funky", my sister says), the sushi is more Californian style than Japan style. Designed sushi pieces, loud music, young waiters.
Another fun place was Pizza and Birre, a sort of a franchise in neo-brutal barn-like design inside another mall close to my sister's place. They specialize in funky pizza, such as the oxtail one we tested which is very recommendable. But stick to Bintang beer (license-brewed Heineken with a long Indonesia history and great taste), I tried the White Horse which was bland in comparison.
Our next stop, the island Gili Air, was a flight-taxi-speed boat ride away. We flew in to Lombok's new international airport, which is two hours away from the coast (the old on was only one hour). Count on a somewhat special, perhaps bumpy, taxi ride through Lombok's metropolitan Mataram and up along the coast, or risk going to Gili Islands by unreliable boats from Bali...

Gili Air is smaller and less explored than its neighbor Gili Trawangan. We found it the right place to be, with a lovely white beach at the Scallywags Beach Club, which became our base for the couple of days we stayed at the island. Scallywags has a small resort, the Mango Retreat, about 10 minutes walk from the beach. We stayed there and it was a good place, although I would recommend carrying a torch to find your way home in the evening when you have visited any of the restaurants along the beachside. Our favorite place to eat was undoubtedly the Chillout Bar, with its friendly owner running the barbeque, and local fish on gigantic skewers and seafood on display outside the entrance. Here, you get all you need in terms of fish, octopus, balibugs, whatever. Immensely tasty, nothing short of great at VERY good prices. If it wasn't for the wine which always is quite expensive, meaning close to home prices, you'd have trouble spending 15 Euros for an excellent meal.
A day-trip by 15 minute fast boat to Gili Trawangan, where we also set up base at the original Scallywags resort that had a nice pool area, gave us the opportunity to see what attracts so many youngsters these days from various parts of the world. Obviously, the lack of car traffic, which is actually becoming a nightmare in Jakarta as well as in Bali, is of course extremely refreshing. If you need to transport suitcases etc. you will have to rely on horse and carriage. Bicycles are another handy means of transport while you are at the Gili Islands.
Had a great hamburger lunch at the Ko-Ko-Mo, a somewhat upgrade spot. But the overall impression from Trawangan was that this is fast becoming a not as enjoyable place to be from my generation point of view. As the amount of backpackers indicate, they think otherwise. But I would go for Gili Air any time of day - quieter, better-looking, less crowded, nicer beaches.
Back to Bali, it's always a super place to be. This time we stayed in Jimbaran, the friendly beach and fishermen spot not too far from Bali's Airport. We were lucky enough to be able to stay at Karma Jimbaran, in an upgrade villa. We had a small pool for ourselves, and a bigger one down by the Karma Lounge in the same area.
Seminyak is perhaps the shopping centre of the island (if you avoid Kuta, which I think you should if you don't happen to be a teenage Australian surfer looking for friends). We went there to stock up with the necessary things and presents, go to Bintang supermarket, have lunch at wonderful Cafe Bali in Jalan Oberoi, look at bags, clothes, silver etc. Tried local wine producer Hatten's sparkling, Tunjung, which is still OK, in SIP wine bar, just across the street from Bintang supermarket.
In Ubud, the handicraft centre of Bali, we as always had lunch at Bebek Bengil, the Dirty Duck diner. The crispy duck was even better than I can remember it. Magnifique. In the evening, we went by car to Legian to revisit the TAKE sushi restaurant, always a fabulous experience. Bit more Japanese than Sushigroove in Jakarta, but somewhere in that genre.

The last days in Bali the sun was back. In Seminyak and Ubud we had our fair share of rain, but luckily it was the days when we had not planned to be on the beach or by the pool. We tried nearby Jimbaran Beach club and, of course, lunched by the sea at Cafe Menega, the currently best of the simple but always in demand fish restaurants at Jimbaran beach. We had it all, mussles, shrimps, fish, the works, together with sambal and rice for under 10 Euros pro person. Do NOT miss this when in Bali. To go here for lunch is not a bad option, less crowded than in the evenings.

We also experienced some really upgrade nightlife in Rock Bar, a magnificent cocktail lounge on top of the beachy cliffs by the Ayana Hotel (formerly Ritz/Carlton) in Jimbaran. And last but not least, a sensational beach and pool at the Karma Kandara resort in the very south of Bali. To lie in the infinity pool water there and stare at the horizon must be one of the most breathtaking things you can imagine.