Like many West Australian’s, I have done my time in Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, with my fellow Bintang guzzling, ‘Strayan thong brigade (as in footwear, not underwear – though I did see several Aussies wearing bikinis so cheeky that you could almost see their ‘southern cross’ as they climbed the stairs at Waterbom park). And I’ll admit, it’s hard to resist recruitment to the tacky tourist ranks… I just can’t say ‘tidak’ to festooning my feet, and on our recent holiday in Bali, my daughters aged eight and six, and I, sported matching floral pedicures. But with a sister who lives in Sanur, this Bintang bogan now has the best excuse to ditch the crowds and head on holiday to the relatively quieter and more relaxed coastal scene of Sanur.
In the past, Sanur had a bad rep as a retirement village for leather-skinned Bali ‘snobs’, a ‘snore’, with nothing to offer families or younger travellers. But for us, the fact that the ‘buzz’ is more of a lazy hum is a bonus; we relaxed, we laughed, we loved our time together rather than enduring a week of too-tight hand holding and meltdowns in the crowds and heat. Let’s be real, we were traveling with young children, at the end of a busy year of school and work, and we weren’t after an adventure, or crowds or stress of any kind. We wanted easy, fun, ‘no worries’ bags of ‘bagus’, with our family and friends. And we got it in Sanur. Our gang of twelve could walk the beachside streets without worrying about any of our five chattering children ending up under a scooter, or being lost in the mob. The dogs on the streets of Sanur are friendly, well looked after and fed, and happily without rabies. All of this made going out with kids, walking along ‘eat street’ especially at night, shopping without pressure to buy, and beachside sprawling at cocktail hour while the kids splashed in the calm, clean, water, so much easier.
We holidayed during wet season, although saw very little rain, at a time of year when the southeastern side of the island is the place for calmer seas, sheltered from large swells and extreme weather by Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida. Located off the coast of Sanur, these island idylls are becoming increasingly popular with tourists, and only a 45-minute ferry ride away. And there’s variety when it comes to accommodation, ranging from five-star hotels, to the more budget-friendly, plus many different styles of private villa rentals. We spent Christmas with two other families in a beautiful Airbnb villa on Jalan Mertasari in Sanur, just minutes walk from the beach and ‘eat street’, Jalan Danau Tamblingan.
Villa Penjor was our very own oasis, and we couldn’t have been happier as we stepped through the serene entryway, koi fish bubbling a greeting at our feet, into the air-conditioned calm of what can only be described as a mansion, but with a relaxed elegance that made us feel instantly welcome. Oh and what’s that over there? Just a grand piano being casually majestic in front of the library - our paradise included the most extensive ‘holiday house’ library, curated to perfection by the owners. I could have happily locked myself in the house for a month and worked my way through the bookshelves, truly a bibliophiles dream.
Christmas day was for eating, swimming in the deep blue sea of our pool, shuffling off for siestas or lounging under the lofty outdoor pavilion, with ceiling fans that kept the temperature comfortable and mosquitos elsewhere. Our decision to spend Christmas in Bali was largely about reclaiming a day for our family and loved ones to be together, relaxed and happy, rather than caught up in the frenzied mass consumerism and endless over-consumption that Christmas has become. And while the luxury villa described seems antithetical to the idea of restrained mindful consumption, in fact, we did buy less, consume less, slow down and spend the day feeling incredibly grateful about our surrounds. We didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything except swim in the pool and enjoy each others company and the incredible good fortune that afforded this opportunity to ‘buy’ a week of lavish laziness in Sanur; we were the happiest of spoilt brats.
And more than all this grandeur, the privilege of having skilled staff who cleaned our rooms, made beds, washed dishes and generally looked after us was EVERYTHING. While at times I felt the pangs of middle-class guilt about vulgarity and colonization and excess, as a working mother with two small children, the level of joy that came from not having to make a bed for a whole week, or cook dinner or pack lunches or wash dishes or clothes was worth every bit. And if that doesn’t assuage your cultural cringe that this level of holiday opulence is taking the pith (helmet), let Bali Tourism Board’s Gilda Lim Sagrado, reassure you that ‘Australia contributes 20 per cent of Bali’s economy and definitely 100 per cent on the Balinese heart.’*
Tourism is vital to the Balinese and their economy. This doesn’t mean that they are indebted and indentured to tourists, but rather that we can and should respectfully honour this ongoing transaction. We tipped openhandedly - waiters, our treasured villa staff, drivers, anyone who gave us great service, and then we relaxed and dove back in.
Boxing day marked the start of Hindu ceremonies to celebrate Galungan and Kuningan, the celebration of good over evil, or dharma over adharma. It is understood as a time when the spirits of deceased relatives visit their families, and the Balinese must welcome them into their homes with traditional food, prayers and offerings. It’s a joyful period of reverent celebration, timed according to the 210-day Balinese Hindu calendar, with a focus on food, ceremonies and connecting with family and loved ones. Galungan is most visibly celebrated with large, ornately constructed, bamboo poles lining the roads, woven tassel swaying from its bowed tip, and a built-in shrine to hold offerings. These are called penjor – also the name of our villa. The penjor are rich with meaning, the shape of the penjor said to invoke the shape of Mount Agung, symbolizing the abundance and generosity of the gods and the environment. They are a simultaneous display of gratitude and prayer for ongoing prosperity and good fortune. I can’t think of a more apt description for the profound appreciation and high-skied happiness that was our Christmas at Penjor.
We got a lot of holiday out of our week-long stay, and while we won’t Christmas in Bali every year, when we do return to Bali it will be to Sanur. We like to start our holiday right at Warung Beach Breeze, (Jalan Cemara, No.72BB) with a nasi goreng or campur and sate lilit, watermelon juice and/or Bintang.
We will definitely revisit Akari Japanese – (Jalan Danau Tamblingan, No.121), for outstanding Japanese food. Kneel around the chabudai style table, and share fresh sashimi, tempura, curry, noodles, bento boxes, crispy gyoza and more.
Then head across the road to Massimo’s Italian Restaurant (Jalan Danau Tamblingan, No.228) for the best ice cream in Bali. Hand churned daily, there is always a line but the service is quick. I had a scoop of tiramisu, an icy brightener for the walk home.
Soul on the Beach (on Sindhu Beach, Jalan Pantai Sindu) gave us a cocktail hour and dinner we will never forget, despite the too-easy-to-drink caipiroskas. They have an extensive menu that includes pizza, burgers, plus lots of fresh and clever salads and seafood. The kids swam, we ate and drank, and then we had a blast with fireworks, made briefly legal I’m told to coincide with New Year festivities. My husband and his mates managed to get their hands on some fairly impressive sparklers, and we all had a lot of fun watching them light and run and explode (at a safe distance) to the delight of the children. It was good, clean (we made sure we picked up the spent fireworks afterwards), if slightly daredevil fun, and a night we won’t soon forget.
And if you’re not ready to call it a night, local bar Linga Longa (Jalan Sudamala No.16A) is open late, with live music to get you up and dancing, and icy cold Bintang, perfect for balmy Bali nights.
With so many places to eat, drink and relax, we’ll be back in the relaxed seaside streets of Sanur, sooner rather than later.
* Recently reported by Geoffrey Thomas in The West Australian, ‘We feel your anxiety over damaged passport crackdown: Bali tourism officials,’ Friday 4th January 2019, https://thewest.com.au/news/bali/we-feel-your-anxiety-over-damaged-passport-crackdown-bali-tourism-officials-ng-b881064027z
Writer: Suzanne Srdarov