On the verdant island of Bali, quality comes at a reasonable price
John Robshaw
| Credit: John Robshaw

Note: For the latest update on travel to Indonesia, visit the State Department Web site at http://travel.state.gov.

If you go to Bali's well-discovered south coast, you might pay several hundred dollars a night for a hotel with personal butlers and plump chaise longues. On the other hand, if you visit the island's other regions and pay $10 a night at an inn, you'll probably get none of these things. What you might get instead is a more authentic Bali: a traditional bungalow with an undisturbed view of the rice paddies, a full-moon ceremony with your Balinese hosts, an afternoon paddle in a dugout canoe as you troll for your dinner.

East Bali: For postcard views
The voluptuous landscape of Sideman and Tirtagangga, exploding with flowers and fruit trees of all kinds, is quintessential Bali. On the coast, Candidasa is a good base for terrific snorkeling and excursions to ancient Balinese villages and temples. And Amed, a lyrical fishing village with a handful of small hotels, offers plenty of local flavor.

SACRED MOUNTAIN SANCTUARY Banjar Budamanis, Sideman; 62-366/24330, fax 62-366/23456; www.sacredmountain.com; doubles from $80. American designer Emerald Starr used all natural materials from the hotel's river valley location—stone, elephant grass, giant bamboo, thick cotton—to give the villas that just-picked look. But he hasn't skimped on indulgences, like the private dipping pool and huge marble tub. For some, meditating in the rock garden is enough, but more active guests can raft down the Udung River or learn to cook Indonesian food.

IDA'S HOMESTAY Main street, Candidasa; phone and fax 62-363/41096; doubles from $8, no credit cards. Indonesian armoires, Dutch colonial beds, and window frames made from Madurese fences give a special touch to the six bungalows—not to mention the cows and ducks roaming the shady lawn, and easy access to the sea.

PURI SAWAH MAIN ROAD, TIRTAGANGGA; 62-363/21847; dinner for two $8, no credit cards. The food may be European—cr ê pes, baguettes, and unusual salads—but the scenery is utterly Balinese, with locals traversing the rice fields carrying piles of firewood on their heads.

The shopping. Almost everything worth buying in Bali—masks, jewelry, baskets, shadow puppets—can be found on or just off the main road between Singapadu and Ubud, much of it produced right on-site. Along Jalan Mas (in Mas), you'll find beveled mirrors and beautiful, imposing wood furniture—armoires and wooden benches from Madura, refinished antiques from Java.


UBUD: For the culture
To avoid the backpackers' swarm in the center of town, stay on a quiet side street or in one of the surrounding villages. You might receive an impromptu lesson in palm-leaf offerings as you sip your morning tea in a warung, or small street shop.

ALAM JIWA Nyuhkuning; phone and fax 62-361/974-629; doubles from $65, including breakfast. Ten sun-drenched rooms strung along the Nyuhkuning River; request one with a bale bed on the veranda. Teak floors, large windows (the better to see the rice paddies), and antique carved wooden doors. Special touches: red hibiscus blossoms placed each day in your room.

HONEYMOON COTTAGES Jalan Bisma; 62-361/973-282; doubles from $15, including breakfast. Choose one of the deluxe cottages, which have blushing marble terraces and slate bathrooms so high and wide they echo. Owner Janet de Neefe also runs the restaurant Casa Luna, with bakery-fresh breads and creamy yogurt; in her cooking classes, you can learn how onions calm irritable babies, and other Balinese culinary folklore.

Indus Jalan Raya; 62-361/977-684; dinner for two $10. A traditional painting come to life: soaring ceilings, rosy marble floors, and stone columns, with a view across the river of women wading through elephant grass. Try the tropical interpretation of French toast: coconut bread with grilled pineapple, mango, and palm sugar syrup.

Spice baths—so sybaritic they feel illegal. You'll be massaged with sandalwood oil, exfoliated with a grainy herb mixture, slathered with cool yogurt, rinsed, and then immersed in a warm tub filled with frangipani blossoms (Body Works, 25 Hanoman St.; 62-361/975-720; bath treatments $10).

The jagged terrain of Kintamani has an active volcano and a cool, mist-shrouded lake that is oddly, wonderfully, reminiscent of Scotland. Farther west, in the lake region from Bedugul to Lake Tamblingan, the mountains relax into gentler, greener slopes, blanketed in hydrangea.

Kalaspa Br. Asah Panji Ds., Wanigiri; 62-361/419-606, fax 62-361/419-607; doubles from $175, including foot massage, whirlpool bath, and breakfast. Bali's newest and best-priced spa takes full advantage of its location in the fertile lake region. Hydrangea footbaths, massages, and a mango-rambutan fruit basket greet each guest, with ginger and turmeric spa treatments just around the corner.

Wana Srama Candikuning; book through the Bedugul Hotel, 62-361/226-593; doubles from $45, no credit cards. Seventeen brand-new octagonal thatched-roof bungalows decorated with all-natural materials—glossy jati wood, fine cotton bedding—beside Lake Bratan, with a dreamlike view of the Bedugul temple.

Volcano Breeze Toyah Bungkah, Kintamani; 62-366/51824; dinner for two $10, no credit cards. There's not a more casually seductive restaurant than this, lit by torches and paper lanterns. Those guys paddling canoes around the lake?They provide the carp for your fragrantly grilled dinner.

Hire a guide in Tirtagangga or Munduk for a rice paddy trek, and become part of the undulating green landscape you've been gazing at from your veranda. The best route goes through a traditional silversmith's community—where you can watch men pound silver into ceremonial bowls—to Budakeling. Around Munduk, scenic treks take you through mango and vanilla groves to towering waterfalls. For a crash course in Balinese culture, take a class in dance, cooking, or flower offerings at the Puri Lumbung hotel in Munduk (62-362/92810; fax 62-362/92514); all classes are led by the villagers themselves.


Refugees from south Bali come to escape the neon, the persistent hawkers, and the inflated prices. With the exception of rollicking Lovina, the resorts are small, peaceful, and affordable. But keep in mind that northern beaches are often narrow and rocky; what you gain in serenity you lose in sand quality.

Cilik's Beach Garden Air Sanih, Singaraja; phone and fax 62-362/26561; doubles from $35, including breakfast, no credit cards. Four sleek wood-and-glass villas, decorated with contemporary art and stocked with books and CD's; two have private sunbathing areas and dining pavilions. So spacious and quiet, you'll feel as if you've rented your own house.

Taman Sari Desa, Pemuteran; phone and fax 62-362/93264; www.balitamansari.com; doubles from $80. Twenty-nine gorgeous rooms done in sumptuous colors and Indonesian antiques—but you'll be lured away by the resort's hot springs trips and full-moon temple tours. Bonus: spa pedicures done 50 feet from the ocean.

Kubu Lalang Main road, Tukadmungga, Lovina; 62-362/42207; dinner for two $12, no credit cards. The leeks in the chicken pineapple curry and the mango on the Spanish cheesecake come fresh from the surrounding farmland. You may find that the delicious food, ocean breezes, and fluttering wind chimes lull you right to sleep at this beachside restaurant.

A boat ride from Labuan Lalang to snorkel at uninhabited Menjangan Island, whose coral reefs are packed with orange and electric-blue fish.

WEST BALI: FOR THE BEACHES Bali's wildly beautiful beaches are found here—and the ferocious surf means you'll rarely have to share them. Make a pilgrimage to the famous Pura Rambut Siwi temple, 15 minutes north of Lalang Linggah.

Gajah Mina Surabrata, Lalang Linggah; 62-81/2381-1630, fax 62-361/731-174; www.gajahminaresort.com; doubles $80. This small, relatively new resort says "romance" with lanterns, warm bamboo and teakwood furniture, and ocean views from the veranda. Stop and smell the jasmine.

Sacred River Retreat Main road, Lalang Linggah; 62-361/814-993; fax 62-361/730-904; www.sacred-river.com; doubles from $35, including breakfast and yoga and meditation classes. Fourteen distinctive bungalows blend the earthiness of wood and stone with the vivid colors of mosaic and songket textiles. The setting: rice paddies to the north and east, dramatic coastline to the west.

Performances of West Balinese music, staged as competitions, are so energetic they'll leave you breathless. Their bamboo gamelan jegog has a lower, more resonant tone than the usual metal gamelans.