How Suite It Is: Seminyak Is Bali For Grown-Ups

Pool at Tony's Villas
Pool at Tony’s Villas

 

There’s very much an aspirational undertone to Seminyak. It’s a tropical version of the Australian suburbs of Double Bay or Toorak, with a lot of Noosa thrown in, and that’s reflected in the boutiques, bars and restaurants.

There are those who write Seminyak off as not being the real Bali, that it’s just another anonymous high-end tourist experience. Fair enough. Head north, far north, for the real Bali. Stay in a joglo or a thatch-roofed cottage with no air-conditioning and commune with paddy rats the size of terriers. Get back to nature. Just don’t stand up-wind from me on your return. I’ll be in Seminyak.

The area has a range of accommodation, from hip and exclusive beachside resorts such as the W Hotel to a staggering array of private villas tucked away in back streets.

One of the longest-established resorts is the Oberoi, once the last word in luxury; although it’s been eclipsed by much flashier newcomers such as the Legian and the Samaya, the quietly attentive service remains a benchmark for the local tourism industry. Its historic role in the area is such that the main street, Jl Kayu Aya, which runs past the entrance, is generally referred to as Jl Oberoi.

First-time holidaymakers to Bali may start out in Kuta or Nusa Dua but, if they’re of a certain persuasion, they eventually end up, next visit or maybe the one after, in Seminyak. Kuta is for the young and/or budget-minded. The $AU30 a night hotels are perfectly serviceable and offer most of what a traveller needs, but there comes a time when cutting corners on accommodation to boost the drinking budget just doesn’t make sense any more.

Bedroom at Arvina Villas
Bedroom at Arvina Villas

When that happens, Seminyak, a twenty minute taxi ride north, awaits.

(As for Nusa Dua, the best advice is to examine its origins. It was established in the 1980s as a homogenised strip of luxury resorts, with inspiration drawn from similar arrangements on Hawaii’s Maui and the Big Island; in fact, the Grand Hyatt Bali echoes the design of the Hyatt Waikoloa which, when opened in 1988, was one of the most expensive resorts ever built and so revolutionary in design that Time magazine devoted a double-page spread to it. The Nusa Dua philosophy was to attract high-end tourism and conventions in a destination-neutral backdrop. It hasn’t changed much since.)

Over the years, I’ve stayed throughout Seminyak and it’s the quality, buttressed by the value, that keeps drawing me back.

Many of the villas and resorts in Seminyak quote their rates in US dollars. Because they can. It’s a hedge against a Rupiah that provides far greater value for visitors than locals (just a couple of years back, the exchange rate was $AU1 = Rp7,500; on my arrival in May 2014, it was $AU1 = Rp10,500 and by the end of June it had reached Rp11,200; prices haven’t risen to cover the different).

No matter what currency the final bill arrives in, the price of a two-bedroom Seminyak villa, with its own swimming pool, is less or comparable than a hotel room in the Sydney CBD. I know which one I’d rather have.

Living Area with Koi Pond at Arvina Villas
Living Area with Koi Pond at Arvina Villas

Of the places I’ve stayed to date, top of the Seminyak list would be Uma Sapna, a complex of completely private one- and two-bedroom villas, each with their own swimming or plunge pools. It’s located on Jl Drupardi, a few minutes’ walk from the eastern end of Jl Oberoi. It’s equidistant to Jl Seminyak near the intersection of Jl Kunti.

Internet rates for Uma Sapna for mid-July are around $AU230 for a one-bedroom pool villa.

The Arvina Villas were a great discovery that I stumbled across completely by accident when looking for Seminyak accommodation. They are in Gang Mangga, a laneway down the side of Café Moka heading towards Bali Deli. Five one-bedroom villas, with fully-equipped kitchens, grouped around a saltwater swimming pool. The villa I rented had a distinctive Japanese ambience, with a large bedroom, dressing room, semi-outdoor bathroom, and semi-outdoor living area with a koi pond.

In the mornings, I had the choice of walking a few minutes to Café Moka, Bali Deli or Buzz Café for breakfast (usually by way of the Periplus next to Bali Deli for the International Herald-Tribune) while some of the dinner choices include Made’s Warung (which also has a Periplus as part of the complex). Prices for the Arvina Villas start from just over $US100 a night. Great value indeed.

After the Jl Oberoi focus on Seminyak, I headed a little further north. I’d never stayed along Jl Petitenget before but soon felt right at home. Oberoi is now so popular it’s gridlocked much of the time; Petitenget is like Oberoi was five years ago (in the way that Canggu to the north will, in ten years’ time, be what Seminyak was ten years ago, if you catch my drift).

Canopy Bed at Tony's Villas
Canopy Bed at Tony’s Villas

Taman Ayu Cottages, from the street, looks like an old-style Bali hotel. They still have a number of the original rooms but the best option is one of the newly-built rooms – comfortable, spacious, with bathrooms almost as large as the bedrooms, and lots of spare power points and good lighting, things traditional Balinese hotel rooms don’t have.

This part of Jl Petitenget has an enviable selection of restaurants and bars all within a short walking distance. The choice ranges from the W Hotel and the Potato Head beach club to newcomers such as Salty’s Bib, Rib & Crab Shack. I’ll cover the restaurants and bars in this part of Seminyak at a later date.

Taman Ayu was such good value (about $AU50 a night for a newer room), I stayed two weeks. The pool was well positioned, if a little shady at some  times of the day, the staff friendly and efficient and it was close to everything I wanted.

I didn’t need a taxi to take me to my next hotel. I walked the three minutes, just on the other side of the W Hotel’s driveway, to Tony’s Villas. A half-price internet special at $AU90 a night lured me in to what felt like a secret hideaway of thatch-roofed bungalows set within a sun-dabbled rainforest.

The big bed, with its enveloping mosquito net, struck the right note of tropical exotica, there was a separate dressing room and a huge indoor/outdoor bathroom with two showers and a circular stone bath.

Bathroom at Tony's Villas
Bathroom at Tony’s Villas

The pool, one of my prime criteria for choosing any Bali hotel, was well positioned and the entire experience of staying at Tony’s Villas could hardly be faulted.

It can be difficult to decide where to live when relocating to a new place, whether it be across the city or on the other side of the world. Draw up a short-list of those places you know and/or have heard good things about. Stay for a week or so in each place. Explore the side streets, and shop as the locals do, paying special attention to the supermarkets. Do everything you’d do at home and compare how each on the list provide what you need.

Also, does it feel right? Could you envisage spending the next stage of your life there? As well as outlining the upsides, make note of the disappointments as well. The list will whittle down pretty quickly. If you’re lucky, you’ll be left with a manageable number.

The right choice will be the one you have the least number of reservations about. And, hopefully, it’ll feel like home before you know it.

© words and photos David Latta 2014

 

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Author: davidlatta

David Latta is an award-winning editor, journalist and photographer. His work has appeared in scores of Australian and international newspapers and magazines including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Australian Financial Review, The Courier-Mail and Travel & Leisure. During the last two decades, he has largely concentrated on travel and tourism, editing more than a dozen B2B titles and major conference and incentive travel publications. He is the author of critically-acclaimed books on such subjects as architecture and design, Australian history, literary criticism and music. These titles include Lost Glories: A Memorial To Forgotten Australian Buildings, Sand On The Gumshoe: A Century Of Australian Crime Writing, and Australian Country Music. He is currently working on a book about the nightclub scene in 1970s Sydney as well as a sprawling thriller set in Sydney during World War II. As an arts commentator, humourist and trend-spotter, his opinions are sought across the gamat of traditional and social media.

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