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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Moving To Bali? Here’s A List Of Things To Bring – And Not

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NOTE: This will be a gradually evolving post, updated as I find new items. Check in regularly. This version updated 11/9/2014.

When it comes to relocating to your new life in Bali, it’s inevitable that there will be things you’ll need to bring with you. It all depends very much on where you’re coming from and what you’ll miss the most. In the months leading up to my move to Bali, I posted questions on the expat sites, asking for advice. Some of the replies were actually useful. Someone suggested I bring a garlic press as they weren’t available in Bali.

Now I’m here, I can confirm that there is no such thing as a garlic press in Bali. In fact, high-quality kitchen utensils of any kind seem a little thin on the ground. If you’re a serious home cook, and you’re packing up a lot of other heavy stuff to ship to Bali, then go right ahead and include most of your kitchen, even the Scapans. Maybe leave out the small electricals for the time being although a friend swears by bringing back kettles, toasters and the like from Target or Kmart; they’ll be cheaper and better value than anything in Bali. And power adaptor plugs are cheap enough.

What to bring:

A sense of humour: seriously, you’ll need this. It’s no use being the precious expat who complains endlessly about the lack of efficiency, the time it takes to get things done, what Bali doesn’t have that their home country does. If you don’t like Bali, get the hell out and leave those of us with even the merest smidge of whimsy to enjoy our existences. We’re here because we enjoy this place, quirky though it is.

Steam iron: one thing I did notice is that the stores I’ve looked in so far, such as Carrefour, etc, have really crappy irons. And I’ve found very few steam irons. If you intend to live in shorts and T-shirts, and think your body heat will be enough to iron out any wrinkles (if that’s even a passing concern to you), then ignore the iron advice. When you send out your washing to the local laundry, your clothes will come back ironed anyway But, for some of us, details matter.

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High-quality towels: So far I’ve checked out Carrefour and the Hypermart at the Mal Bali Galleria (yep, creative spelling) and the towels are crap. Thin, nasty cotton, the sort you find in a $AU30 a night Kuta hotel. If you’re accustomed to the thick, plush, indulgent (and absorbent) variety bring your own.

I ended up buying towels etc from Informa, a furniture and homewares store above Ace Hardware at the Mal Bali Galleria. Informa had the best quality and best prices. I recommended them.

High-quality sheets: Ditto as above. With the heavy discounting on quality manchester in Australia (and the United States and, most likely, a lot of other places) these days, pretty much every sentient being sleeps on 1000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and pays no more than $AU150 for a queen-sized set. The sheets I’ve seen so far in Bali appear to be manufactured from leftover chipboard.

I carefully checked out Informa and Matahari at the Bali Galleria,  Carrefour, LotteMart and a few other places and eventually bought a sheet set from Carrefour. which had the best quality in my budget. It should be noted that a sheet set in Indonesia comprises a fitted bottom sheet, two pillow cases and two bolster cases. No flat top sheet. I haven’t been here long enough to understand the bolster thing and I doubt I would get if someone tried to explain. Chalk it up to cultural differences.

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As for the institutional absence of top sheets, I don’t get that either. I went hunting and eventually found them at Matahari, a vast department store crowded with stock and staff but the only people who could even vaguely be customers were on their way somewhere else. Matahari’s prices could have something to do with that.

Top sheets were ridiculously expensive, much more than fitted bottom sheets. For the same price, I bought a duvet and cover.

One more note: there’s an oversupply of garishly patterned sheets. And I like garish but even I draw the line; these crimes against design were not only beyond that line but far over the horizon. It may be that the WTO needs to examine a possible conspiracy to dump the world’s most eye-searingly awful sheets on the Indonesian market. Luckily, retailers in Bali have conspired to price them so astronomically that they will remain forever locked within retail storerooms. For that, the people of the world should be eternally grateful.

Laundry stain remover: Getting the laundry done in Bali is amazingly cheap. It’s priced by weight. The first time, I had the following washed: nine T-shirts, two shirts, two pairs of shorts, one pair of jeans and nine pairs of underwear. It cost Rp35,500 (about $AU3.18). One of the T-shirts returned with a stain intact. Fair enough, most hotel laundries aren’t good at stains either.

On my next supermarket visit, I planned to pick up Preen, Vanish or something similar. I’d forgotten that a local supermarket would have all their products in Indonesian; I eventually found a small section of what could have been stain removers, and one that was packaged and labelled uncannily like Vanish, pink bottle and all. Bought it, liberally doused the stain and sent the T-shirt off with the next load of laundry. The stain returned. It was only a food grease stain but it’s been impervious so far. Next friend who visits, I’ll be asking for a spray bottle of Sard OxyPlus.

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Insect repellent: I’ve tried the local stuff and wish I’d brought a can of Aerogard from Australia. That stuff would halt ebola. And with Dengue Fever and the Chikungunya virus an increasing problem, it’s better to be safe.

Food: There will undoubtedly be food you love and you’ll wonder whether it’s readily available in Bali. For the most part, the answer is yes, although that comes with some notable exceptions.

Generally speaking, grocery staples are ridiculously cheap or cheaper, at least compared with my hometown of Sydney, Australia. I’ve shopped extensively at the Bintang Supermarket at Seminyak and Hardy’s at Sanur, from which the following prices are drawn.

Shopping in Indonesia is a mix of familiar brands made locally along with those imported from around the world. Kellogs breakfast cereals are manufactured in Indonesia; Corn Flakes is around $AU2.00 a box. My favourite is Kellogg Honey Crunch Corn Flakes, a 220 gram box selling for $AU2.35. Ditto for coffee. The local Indonesian coffee, the best known of which is Kapal Api, is very finely ground and can be prepared like instant coffee but tastes far better. Various brands of coffee, in beans or ground for plungers, French presses, dripolators, etc, is well-priced. Two hundred grams of the ground Excelso Arabia Gold is $AU3.31.

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The stand-out purchase for me is Elle-Vire salted (with non-salted also available) butter from France. Heaven on a stick for just $AU3.74 for 200 grams. New Zealand butter is also widely available. As is milk; I buy the Ultra Low Fat Milk in unrefrigerated long-life (otherwise known as Tetra) packs. It’s imported from New Zealand. One litre is $AU1.33.

If you can’t do without peanut butter, the Skippy brand from the United States, costs $AU3.26 for a 340 gram jar. Jams (jellies or preserves, whatever you want to call them) are readily available.

Yet a small jar of Vegemite, which many Australians really can’t survive without, costs about $AU15.00.

Another big expense is granola, especially the tasty and undoubtedly high-fat high-sugar American kind, is a similar price.

On the personal hygiene side, a two-pack of Dove soap costs just under $AU1.00, Nivea Intensive Moisture Body Lotion in a 200ml bottle at $AU1.88, and the 195 gram can of Gillette Mach 3 Shaving Gel is $AU4.48 (at that time on special for $AU3.66).

Note: The Australian dollar during this period was hovering around $AU1 = Rp10,500.

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Bacon: This gets its own section by virtue of the fact that bacon is my all-time favourite food group. It’s something I care deeply about, giving me much pleasure and enjoyment, and not in any creepy way. Bacon in Bali, however, is nothing to look forward to.

OK, you’ll say, Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world. Bacon isn’t on the agenda. But Bali is largely Hindu and one of the signature dishes is Babi Guling, roast baby suckling pig. The argument over which restaurant or warung has the best Babi Guling never ends, and flairs as passionately as discussing football in Italy.

Babi Guling is pretty special but, for a lover of all things porcine, ordering bacon and eggs for breakfast is a one-way toboggan ride to Disappointment City. The high, tangled mounds of juicy, tangy bacon available in any Australian café translates in the Bali experience to a couple of dry squat pieces of some substance that could be generously described as meat if you weren’t already struck dumb by such inhuman culture shock.

Sorry to say, western boys and girls, but bacon in Bali ain’t going to do it for you. But it’s a small price to pay for living in Paradise.

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Cheese: Unless, of course, you’re also a cheese fan. In which case, it may be best if you stay at home. There have been times in the past when I’ve brought emergency packages of cheese for my resident Bali friends. The supermarkets, and even specialist places like the dependable Bali Deli, do stock cheese but it’s a little on the pedestrian side. The major stocks are Kraft Cheddar, various Australian mass-produced varieties such as Tasty and Mild, a smidgeon of brie and Castello but little if any that would pass a Frenchman’s lips. What there is, costs the earth.

The climate, of course, works against cheese. At room temperature, it’s unpleasant and just about inedible. However, if you must have cheese, beg any visiting friends and family to bring some with them.

And Leave At Home:

Leather: I hate to say it, ladies (and sartorially-aware gentlemen) but your leather shoes won’t last long in Bali (and not because your houseboy will be doing Shirley Bassey impersonations while you’re out). Don’t think that air-conditioning will make a difference. The air-conditioning doesn’t run 24/7. Your first power bill will convey that particular snippet of wisdom. It’ll be turned off whenever you’re not there and a room warms up pretty quickly in the tropics. Factor in the wet season, when the humidity soars, and it’s adios Aperlei, so long Sergio Rossi, goodbye Gucci.

The same goes for leather bags, leather jackets and any other pieces of leather apparel. Along with that fetching Tom of Finland outfit you like to wear. Just as well. It’s the Supreme Being’s way of telling you that leather bars aren’t big in Bali.

Books: It almost broke my heart to leave my library, amassed over a lifetime, behind. But just as leather doesn’t survive well in the tropics, either do books. Save a lot of heartache. Leave them in safe hands, as I did.

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It may seem like there’s a lot more to bring than you’d initially think but this is my list after just six weeks. There’s also a little matter of just how many BHP or Apple shares you’ll have to sell to fund the shipping. It may be as simple as choosing the right airline. Low-cost airlines may have cheap fares but will hit you up big for luggage.

It’s worth noting that the Economy Class baggage allowance on Garuda Airlines is 30kg, at least from Australia. Garuda is much improved these days and, from someone who has flown just about every airline in the world, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them again. and I will for just this reason. Out of Australia, I’ve never had any problems with Jetstar or Virgin either but the extra 10kg with Garuda is certainly worthy of consideration. And, at the time, the Garuda fare was the same as the cheapies.

© words David Latta 2014

The Story So Far: A Little About The Inner Voice And Its Role In The Craft Of Writing

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I’m a writer. Have been professionally since 1979.

To be precise, I’m a writer, author, editor, and photographer, which is a neat progression but doesn’t tell the whole story. For one thing, the timelines are all confused. I’ve been taking photographs most of my life. My first published photograph appeared in a local newspaper in my hometown of Sydney, Australia, when I was in my early teens but I didn’t get paid for it. The thrill was recompense enough.

The same for my early writing. Not too long after that first photograph was published (I still have the clipping; it was of a hot rod I’d photographed at a local shopping centre and I’d developed and printed it myself. Curiously, I developed an interest in old cars later in life. Small world as we may find out sometime in the future.), I had a short-lived column in the same suburban newspaper. Once again, I didn’t get paid for it; the thrill continued.

I left school early, worked in a menswear store, as a window dresser in a department store (in a large local mall that didn’t have windows so I spent much on my time teetering on high ladders hanging Sale signs), then moved out of the cosy cultural confines of suburbia for the inner city and had a wonderful time as a drink waiter in a fashionable disco (this was the mid- to late-1970s, the Golden Age of Disco, although there will be those musical purists who will insist that Golden Age and Disco should never be used in the same sentence. I disagree but more on that at some later time as well, I’m sure).

In 1979, I threw in the humid, smoky, sensuous existence of the nightclub life for the solitary life of a writer. That’s when I scored my first pay-check from writing. It mightn’t have paid as well as the nightclub, and the tips were nowhere near as good, but it felt like a noble calling. And, for someone who didn’t have a lot of other skills, there was something comforting about distilling facts into something a little easier to understand (my first few years were spent writing encyclopaedia entries).

I’m not sure whether it’s the same with all writers (that’s one question I’ve never asked) but I’ve always had voices in my head. Or, to be precise, one voice. My own.

He’s a chatty little chap. Sometimes he takes the place of my conscience, such as when he warns me against that third martini (in which case, I take it under advisement, as they say in courtroom dramas). Otherwise, he’s my narrator, my Boswell.

It could be that he’s that “inner voice” that is so discussed. It’s the same voice I hear when I read but it goes far beyond that – it narrates my existence, like one of those voiceovers in bad movies. Wherever I am, but most favourably in an airport, hotel lobby, bar or nightclub, I get this running commentary about the people around me, who they are, their relationships to each other, their back-stories.

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Luckily, my inner voice – if I’m going to continue referring to it as such – is a benign inner voice. It’s never suggested I climb the nearest water tower and change the course of history (a vast relief as I’m scared of heights). And I’ve never felt obliged to wear a tinfoil helmet to block out alien communications.

Having said that, I recognise there’s a long and distinguished tradition of mental illness in the arts. Derangement seems to make the creative process bubble along quite merrily. It’s been responsible for some true and lasting, even immortal, works of art, whether it’s music, painting or literature.

That’s not my style although there have been times when I drove in that general direction, However I always turned back before the road got too dark. Uncharted territory disturbs me, as it should. I’m the sort of guy who likes a map, GPS, printed directions and at least one experienced navigator on board.

Writers spend an extraordinary amount of time inside their own heads so it’s entirely possible my experiences aren’t extraordinary. Maybe all writers have these voices. My inner voice tells me what to write. For the sake of brevity, I’ll now refer to it as the Voice, just so you know what I’m talking about in the future (but please don’t confused it with the television show of the same name).

The Voice serves some remarkable purposes. Aside from the running commentary, which isn’t loud enough that it drowns out everything else (as it’s currently overwhelmed by Frampton Comes Alive which is playing in the background), it writes my articles and stories for me. A fabulous phrase, a new way of using a particular word, a particularly colourful description. All this and more.

When working on a magazine article, I’ll wait for all the research I’ve gathered to filter through my subconscious, like bourbon slowly working its way through charcoal, removing the impurities, until it emerges at the other end.

When it’s ready, and only then because it’s never wise to hasten the process (using the bourbon analogy, it’s not wise to drink it too early), the first sentence or sometimes the opening paragraph will pop into my head. Unexpected and unbidden.

The Voice will whisper the honeyed phrases. And the article will unfurl, satisfying in its fluidity. Rarely will I need to revise. A light copy edit, change a word here or there. Rearrange a sentence or paragraph. But, on the whole, it’s fully formed and ready to go.

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I have very few skills and none, aside from writing, would make me any money. I’m no handyman. On the rare occasions I visit hardware stores I have the same air of intense curiosity that archaeologists show towards vanished civilisations. I stand before tools and, while marvelling at their design, wonder how they’re used. I’m not technical in any way; when I first started using a computer, a friend attached a sign to the wall with very detailed instructions on how to turn it on.

For quite some years, I made a good living from writing. Then I didn’t. Then I couldn’t write, going through an extended and debilitating writer’s block. A blank computer screen goaded me in the worst possible way.

For quite some time, I was that cliché beloved of movies and television – the writer who couldn’t write. The universe, that eternal joker, was playing the worst prank of all. Then I found my way back. It’s a long and complicated story. I’ve shortened it considerably so you’ll stay awake.

I’m sure I’ll cover a lot more about my life in greater detail as the mood takes me. But just to recap: it was fun. Then it wasn’t. Now it’s starting to be again. And I’ve come to Bali to do it.

I’m writing a novel. My first five books were commissioned and published by major Australian publishers. All were non-fiction, with some aspect of Australian history – architecture, literature, music.

With the novels, I’m taking the self-publishing e-book route. The one I’m working on now is a horror novel, in the vein of Stephen King. Hopefully, it’ll be as successful although the odds are against it. Not because it will be bad, more likely it will fail to make much of an impression in spite of being good. That’s just the way the publishing industry is these days, especially with the advent of digital publishing and e-books.

That’s just the way things are. But I need to give this a try. And I’ve come to Bali for that reason, along with a couple of others. For one thing, the climate. And a cost of living that is considerably lower than my hometown.

Do I still have your attention?

Hope there’s something in all this you find interesting. Hang in there. We could start having fun anytime soon. Depending on your definition of fun.

© words David Latta 2014