Bali, done to death, or done to death? You’ve read about all the resorts in Nusa Dua, the restaurants in Seminyak, and the hipster joints in Petitinget – all on the west side (west of the airport, that is) of the island where the wannabes, first-timers, and toursist groups tend to hang.
If you’ve seen one bar brawl in Kuta, you’ve seen a dozen.
But then you’re always told that “Bali is gorgeous”, “Bali is wonderful”, or that “there’s so much to see in Bali”. So where is this aspect of Bali that you can’t see, past the throngs of tourists?
It’s on the east side.
And here’s why it is appealing: It doesn’t have the insane tourists crowds you find out west; it’s the best place to catch the sunrise; and on the east coast, the sand is black.
And Bali being my, ahem, bailiwick, means I’m here to tell where to go, what to do, and where to stay.
Start at Dreamland
This is right at the southernmost tip of the island, slightly east of the airport (a 40min drive). Here you can witness both the sunrise and sunset, because there are no cliffs to obstruct your view. Dreamland was created out of nothing, it was all moutainous and wild terrain, but someone from a ruling elite family decided to turn this vast expanse into the next Kuta, just with even better views.
The big ‘dream’ halted during the recession in the late ‘90s, which left it with little pathways to glorious empty beaches. Soon people were discovering they could access this area, it became the sweetest secret on this island – a real surfer’s paradise.
Nothing can stay gold, of course. Construction continued years later, and nowadays Dreamland is filled with golf courses, hotel chains and loads of villas, but it’s still relatively tame compared to Kuta and Legian.
Stay at Wyndham Dreamland Bali
We planted ourselves at this new resort, which is only a four-minute walk to the beach and the warungs (local eateries, where a delish plate of nasi goreng is $2.50). The rooms have all the mod-cons, and book the private villas if you’re on your honeymoon.
The hotel has two large pools to frolic in if the beach gets too much during high tide (gotta watch the tides), or if it gets too hot; we did spend many an afternoon here. The nightly barbeque buffet is a glorious spread of Indo delights. From the hotel you can see towards the beach, and I suggest you spend you time here and make the most of the solitude, and not head towards town for the traffic and the tourists. Make this your base and it gives you easy access to the delights on this side of the island.
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Go to Suluban Beach
Suluban is 15 minutes from your Dreamland base and offers a different experience. This small bay/beach can only be accessed during low tide, as you have to wade through a cave/cavern to get to it. Seriously, do not attempt this during high tide, just check the timing first.
You’ll have to walk through the side of the hill to get to it, but the walk talks you through many cafes, the most famous of which is Single Finn (stop here for a Bintang and enjoy the sweeping views.)
Once you manage to get into this secluded beach, you’ll see…a shipwreck, just waiting to be grammed. Go real early in the morning and it becomes your personal beach, as high tide comes in and seals the entrance off for others – leaving you wth your own private idaho.
Suluban Beach, Uluwatu.
Visit El Kabron
You’ll need to go through a long and winding road to get here, but you’ll be rewarded. The restaurant/bar is quite high up on the cliff, and it has a small pool where you can perch right on the edge, and look out to the ocean – with a sangria in hand (theirs is one of the best.)
The casual fare, especially tapas and cured meats, is fairly authentic (it’s owned by Spaniards), and there’s a cover. The selfie hoard will definitely be here, but the sunset view is unrivalled, and worth the hassle.
Jl. Pantai Cemongkak, Pecatu.
Make a Roadtrip to Tirta Pul Temple at Gianyar
It’s just slightly north of Ubud, but easy to access from the east coast. You should visit early in the morning, when the mists come off the water in the temple’s pools. You’ll need to hire proper attire at the temple to wander around (sarongs etc.) and hopefully find a monk to bless you and align your chakras.
Go during Nyepi (Balinese New Year, dawn of 7 March until dawn on 8 March), and you’ll be treated to something special. Known as the ‘Day of Silence’, Nyepi is a time of self-reflection involving prayer, offerings of gratitude and meditation. During Nyepi, almost all activity ceases – airports, roads and business are closed. No fires are lit and no electricity is used – providing a unique opportunity to connect with self and surrounds, unhindered by the usual distractions – and Mother Earth is given a full day and night of rest.
Stay at Wyndham Tamasari Jivva
Now move up along the east coast and the crowds thin out and the tourist traps disappear. Here you can best appreciate what the east coast has to offer, the best of which is black sand on the beaches.
The new resort is modern interprpetation of Indonesian design, and the beachfront villas and rooms give you clear views of Lepang Beach and its glorious sand. Until you’ve actually touched black sand, it’s hard to fathom that it’s not dirty or oil-slicked (ahem, like in Sentosa) – the sand comes from the volcano. It’s just fine and warm and reflects beautifully.
The resort is pretty much the one place you want to be, there’s no “happening town” or hipster cafe to go to – it’s uber local around the area. (You can make a road trip further north for cooking classes.) We loved the pool here, even though we were 10 metres from the sea most of the time (easier to order a cocktail!)
Bambu Restaurant provides all your dining needs and more, there’s entertainment and a great buffer spread. And you can’t miss the spa, which you’ll have plenty of time for. Order that room service and watch the sunset from your room. Say goodbye to stress and hello to serenity.
Go Learn cooking
From your Lepang base, head to Alila Manggis further north for a cooking class in their kitchen by the sustainable garden/farm. The three-hour session includes all the local ingredients, and plenty of slicing, dicing and mincing, and it’s led by the resort’s head chef. The rice is steamed old school on a charcoal stove, and sweet potato is added to give it flavours. You’ll be making satays and plenty of Indo salads.
After all that, you will earn an apron and a cert after the class, and get to eat your delicious food in the pavilion.
A note about the kopi luwak…
You might be tempted – while on this side of the island – to check out the coffee farms for kopi luwak, the Balinese coffee beans shat out by civets (it is sterilised btw), but… you’d be abetting an industry that cages the animals – shy solitary animals that are forced to eat coffee cherries all the time. And the coffee ain’t all that anyway. That’s all we are gonna say about it.