I have to confess it took me a while to catch the Bali bug. You see, my first taste of Bali wasn’t exactly a success, partly due to my appalling taste in first husbands and partly due to the fact that I spent the entire week drunk and/or rocking a killer hangover.
So awful was that particularly vacay that it took me two decades to summon up the courage to return. But return I did, though with a non-douche bag husband and two small children in tow. The result was Bali’s endless beaches, terraced rice fields, tranquil temples, warm-hearted people and the colour and chaos of its culture getting under all of our skins so much that we’ve repeated the experience many times since.
In fact, having just racked up their fourth visit to the Island of the Gods, Raffles and Sugrapuff are seasoned pros when it comes to Balinese escapades, and our recent sojourn reminded them all over again why they love this paradise of golden sand, temples and sunshine. Here they share their thoughts on Bali by kids.
1. The Beaches
Whether it’s in the sea, in a pool or falling from the sky, my little Pisceans certainly live up to their astrological personas because, notwithstanding their lack of gills, I swear they are part fish. Needless to say, with Bali being one of Australia’s best-loved beach holiday destinations, the kids are all about falling into its watery embrace. But with so many beautiful beaches, and beach resorts, which are the best for kids?
Though it’s packed with family resorts, Kuta Beach has a very strong current, and is frankly quite dirty, so it isn’t ideal for swimming, though surfers will love it. Nearby Sanur’s beaches are more protected, making them a better choice for young kids. Seminyak is another top spot for families and Canggu is becoming increasingly popular with its choice of surf beaches and swimming spots suited to littlies. If you’ve got little groms in the family, the Bukit Peninsula is the place to be. Here you’ll find some of the island’s best surfing beaches including the famous breaks of Uluwatu, Belangan and Dreamland. And, after a day of chasing waves, Jimbaran Beach is the perfect spot to catch one of those famous Balinese sunsets while dining on fresh caught and cooked seafood from the warungs (restaurants) along the beach.
He said: “I love a good beach, especially when there are kayaks and SUPs around, and although the beaches in Nusa Dua had both, and I had a great time on them, my absolute favourite beach is at Jimbaran Bay. That’s because it is where the fish markets are. I love watching the fisherman bring in their catch and then watching ladies carry big tubs of fresh tuna on their heads. Man, they are so strong.”
She said: “There are lots of sandy beaches in Bali to play on and I loved to run and jump and splash and fly huge kites that looked like eagles and pirate ships “
2. The people
It’s hardly news that the Balinese people are some of the nicest and most welcoming on earth. They also adore children, and go out of their way to accommodate them, and my kids are extremely appreciative of it.
He said: “The Balinese people are awesome. They are all really kind and friendly and love to share their culture with people. I met so many nice and helpful people, even the guy on the beach who sold us a kite went out of his way to help us, because that’s just what Balinese people are like. Probably my favourite person though was Pak Mangku, the priest at Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua because he spent loads of time with me teaching me about Balinese Hinduism and how and why they make offerings to the gods, and that was really special.”
She said: “I loved all the people we met because they were so friendly and nice they liked joking with me and always made me giggle. There was a really nice lady who gave me cuddles in Ubud. And I loved the chef (Isep) who taught us how to make fish at our hotel because he called me chef.”
3. The culture
Bali’s culture is both colourful and complex. Most of Bali’s 3.5 million people are Hindu and there are many festivals and ceremonies to observe at the thousands of temples around the country. Most resorts even having their own in-house temple. Regardless of where the temple is located, it is important to be respectful when visiting and wear clothing that covers shoulders as well as a sarong and temple scarf around the waist.
Everything in Balinese culture, from prayer, to the way houses and resorts are built and orientated, to dancing and chanting, is done to keep a harmonious balance between Gods and demons. I absolutely recommend watching a performance as the dancers are mesmerizing, the kecak fire dance at Uluwatu is especially spectacular.
They also make offerings, lots and lots of them. Canang are the ubiquitous palm-leaf basket that you will see filled with petals, gifts and incense literally everywhere. Sadly, we see a lot of tourists trampling them, which is incredibly disrespectful. It’s really not hard to walk around them.
He said: “I’m really fascinated by Hindu culture because they have the coolest gods like Ganesha and Hanuman, a flying monkey God who is totally epic. I loved watching the kecak fire dancers at Uluwatu and spending time with a priest who taught me all about the five sacred natural elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – that the people hold sacred. And explained about temples and offerings. It’s just a beautiful and kind culture.”
She said: “I really liked the temples and all the smoky incense sticks and flowers and stuff but my favourite thing was learning to do a Balinese dance, it’s really hard because you have to stick your bum out funny and hold your hands in weird positions.”
4. The Natural Beauty
One of 17,500 islands that make up Indonesia, teeny tiny Bali is not called the Island of the Gods for nothing! The place is supernaturally beautiful. It is a tropical paradise of golden beaches, secret canyons, epic waterfalls, soaring cliffs, rugged coastlines, fire-breathing volcanoes, tangled jungles and terraced rice paddies that spill down mountainsides. And its a beauty that is not lost on my little nature lovers.
He said: “We’ve been all over Bali and have seen so many beautiful beaches along the coast but Ubud, in the mountains, really blew me away. The landscape was formed by volcanoes and was dreamy and there were bamboo forests, rice paddy terraces, wild rivers, awesome waterfalls and jungles to explore. It’s just really beautiful. I really liked the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary too. Even though the temples are man-made the forest has kind of reclaimed them, though the monkeys are kind of vicious and a bit scary.”
She said: “We went to Ubud and saw a really real volcano and it was so beautiful and pointy. We also went hiking down a big slippery hill to a waterfall that was so noisy but really pretty. It looked like a place that water fairies might live, my brother even went into the waterfall to look but he didn’t find any.”
5. The action
Despite Bali’s small size, it packs a pretty big punch in terms of activities for the adventurous. From white water rafting, mountain biking and volcano hiking to wildlife watching and water sports and my little thrill seekers are up for it all.
He said: “There are so many adventurous things to do in Bali, I don’t even know where to start. The slides at Waterbom are pretty epic and every kid should go there at least once, and the resorts offer kayaking and stand up paddle boarding and jet packing and other cool water sports. But my favourite adventure of all was mountain biking through the forests in Ubud (with Sepeda Bali) then hiking down a steep hill to run around under a colossal waterfall.”
She said: “I super love Waterbom because they have a big splash area and I got to have water fights with my brother.”
6. The food
Balinese cuisine is an intriguing combo of indigenous, Indonesian and Indian flavours. There are dozens of must try dishes that are kid friendly including satay (meat on sticks with peanut sauce) , ayam goreng (fried chicken with rice), gado gado (steamed vegetables with peanut sauce) and nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) and if your kids are really picky it is not hard to find a pizza or burger in the main resort strips. Happily mine are anything but and love tasting the local cuisine.
He said: “Don’t even get me started on how good Indonesian food is. I’ve always loved dishes like satay but this time I tried some more traditional home cooked dishes at Wayan’s house in Ubud. I’m not sure what the dishes were called but some were quite spicy, which is a good thing, and the flavours were really unusual and really, really good. The fish at the markets is so fresh and really delicious barbecued. And we bought some lobster sized prawns to cook that were insane. And then there were these epic roadside snacks of fried tofu stuffed with noodles and veg that were super delish. And I loved that the food always came with wads of hot sambal sauce that I could pour all over everything.I could go on and on.”
She said: “I really like Nasi Goreng. It’s fried rice that a chicken lays an egg on top of. Well it doesn’t really lay it, someone cooks it and puts in on top and it’s yummy. And I liked the yellow rice with chicken sticks at the beach at Sofitel even though Raffy pigged most of it.”
7. The Resorts
Bali’s resorts are famously fantastic for kids with incredible facilities for the whole family and awesome kids club programmes that go way beyond the usual offerings. It’s also fairly easy to find large family rooms, discounted interconnecting rooms and free or discounted children’s meals. Babysitters are also readily available and are excellent value, costing just a few dollars an hour.
We’ve now stayed everywhere from Kuta, Seminyak and Jimbaran to the mountains of Ubud, and most recently the luxury enclave that is Nusa Dua. Whether you are on a budget or a seeking the ultimate in luxury, you’ll find everything from hostels to family resorts and butler serviced private villas catering for kids. The one thing that’s guaranteed regardless of the price point? The service will be awesome.
He said: “I don’t think they even have bad places to stay in Bali. We’ve stayed at three or four now and they’ve all been amazing, but the Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua was so good it might even be one of my favourite hotels in the world. Like Ever. Seriously, the breakfast buffet alone was enough to make me love it more than life itself but there was so much more. They had the biggest and best pools, cool activities, cultural experiences, cooking lessons, a great beach, the nicest rooms, yummy treats and Xbox games at the kids’ club that I got to play when mum took my sister off to the spa. But the best thing about it was the people who worked there, they made me feel like family.”
She said: “I really liked Novotel (Bali Nusa Dua) because they had yummy ice blocks by the pool and also a good beach that wasn’t crowded but I really, really loved the Sofitel (Bali Nusa Dua) because I got to go gardening and mummy and I went to the spa for a massage and the nice lady there painted my nails sparkly purple.”
Disclosure: While The Eats Worlds were hosted at Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua it was for Raffles to film a new episode of Welcome TV and not for the blog. We aren’t obligated to write about this or any other resorts or acttractions here but the kids have chosen to share their favourite bits.
Note: Bracketed copy by Mama Eats World