Rice terraces and rafting

The popular Indonesian island of Bali offers honeymooners spectacular scenery, luxurious resorts and enough adrenaline-filled activities to impress Indiana Jones. Demelza Rayner reports…

I'd always wanted to visit Bali but had been deterred by reports of overdevelopment and overcrowding. For me, going away is the perfect opportunity to experience a new culture; if I'm travelling half way around the world to Asia, I don't want to be greeted by a McDonald's on every corner. Leaving the airport by taxi, the signs weren't good; enormous billboards advertised pretty much every fast food going – at this rate I'd be leaving Bali about two stone heavier than when I arrived!

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After passing a number of sizeable shopping outlets featuring major international brands, my husband and I left the airport behind and headed straight for Seminyak, a popular tourist destination in the south. Known for its trendy boutiques and hip craft emporiums, this beachside resort is an artistic melting pot, ideal for hunting out an original souvenir of your stay.

There are no high rise buildings in Seminyak which gives the town a lovely relaxed vibe. The main road leads all the way down to the sea and, while the beach certainly isn't as pretty as some on the island, it's wide, sandy and offers plenty of sunbeds for newlyweds wanting to unwind after a long flight and the intensity of the wedding day.

 

Rice terraces and rafting: Image 2aPlaces to eat out are virtually limitless, with a plethora of restaurants offering fresh food from around the world. Traditional Balinese cuisine is easy to find, cheap and delicious, with most main courses only costing a couple of pounds.

Rice terraces and rafting: Image 2 As Bali is a relatively small island, measuring around 90 kilometres north to south, and around 140 kilometres east to west, wherever you stay it's easy to tour the island in a day or two. From Seminyak we took two short tours. The first was to see the famous Hindu temple, Pura Tanah Lot, which is recognisable by its lofty setting atop a rock formation, almost entirely surrounded by sea water. We arrived around an hour before sunset and were welcomed by the mouth-watering smell of roasting sweetcorn. Rather than spending time browsing the extensive night market, we headed straight for a cliff-side café to secure the perfect vantage point.

 

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Our second tour from Seminyak was to sample seafood at Jimbaran Bay, a must-do on any honeymooner's list. At every beach front restaurant, diners are encouraged to select their seafood from the tanks on site, where it is weighed (by decidedly suspect scales!) and then cooked freshly on the barbecue. Sitting at our table, with beautiful golden sand underfoot and wonderful views of the bay beyond, it was the first time we truly felt 'on holiday'. As the sun set over the sea, this was one of the most romantic moments of our entire stay.

 

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From Seminyak we travelled north to Ubud, the self-proclaimed cultural hub of the island. Part of the island's beauty is that there's so much to see when you're driving along: the journey is often just as much fun as the destination. We passed wood carving emporiums with intricately carved furniture, masonries with enormous elephant statues and garden centres with row upon row of tropical plants and flowers. That's not forgetting the plethora of striking stone temples, some only yards apart. Indeed, Bali is a hugely spiritual island – the streets are littered with hundreds of tiny offerings carefully crafted from coconut leaf, topped with a combination of colourful flowers and incense. These 'canang sari' are offered to the gods by the Balinese three times a day.

 

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The drive up to Ubud was stunning and we passed acre upon acre of rice terraces. Ubud itself is a thriving market town and a major stopping point on any tour around the island. It may be busy during the day, but it's at night the place truly comes alive, with dance performances almost every evening.

Café Lotus on Ubud's main stretch has a breathtaking setting in the foreground of Ubud Palace. We sat on cushions at a low-level table on a raised platform overlooking the lotus pond which was truly magical. Dance shows do take place in the courtyard of Ubud Palace so be sure to visit the central tourist information office for the latest schedule.

 

Rice terraces and rafting: Image 6aOne of the major attractions in the area is Monkey Forest, located at the end of the aptly named Monkey Forest Road. Despite the best of intentions, we didn't quite get there as two days of near torrential rain saw us spend most of our time in Ubud dashing from umbrella to umbrella in the bustling outdoor market, or hopping from Balinese café to artistic boutique along the main road.

Rice terraces and rafting: Image 6 Thankfully we didn't leave Ubud without seeing the local monkeys – they kindly paid us a visit at our hotel where we witnessed them swinging from tree to tree during our afternoon tea.

 

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Where to stay…

 

Ubud Hanging Gardens by Orient-Express www.ubudhanginggardens.com

Twenty five minutes from the centre of Ubud our car turned off the main stretch into a pretty country road that snaked its way around verdant hillsides. Turning a corner we glimpsed a series of attractive wooden villas clinging somewhat precariously to the opposite side of the valley: this was Ubud Hanging Gardens, our home for two nights.

Check in was fuss-free, and before long we were escorted to the funicular, which runs throughout the day to escort guests up and down the steep hillside.

A short hop away was our 'Panoramic Villa'. Built with more than a nod to traditional Balinese style, it featured one of the biggest baths I've seen, along with a beautiful four poster bed overlooking the stunning countryside beyond. Furnishings were certainly lived in, but this only added to the romantic ambience of the room.

Outside the villa, a private and spacious decked area offered plenty of opportunity for relaxation, with a comfortable double daybed overlooking the outdoor infinity pool.

Staff at the hotel couldn't have been more helpful, and many had worked at Ubud Hanging Gardens since its relaunch in 2005. Their genuine enthusiasm for their place of work was infectious, and by the time we left we had grown to love it too.

 

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Sanur

 

From Ubud we travelled south again, this time to the family friendly resort of Sanur. While not as busy nor as cosmopolitan as Seminyak, it had a wonderful relaxed vibe that was perfect for unwinding at the end of our holiday.

Sanur beach is much prettier than the one at Seminyak, with sea water that's not only crystal clear, but also lovely and warm. Better still, a four kilometre long path runs along the golden sand, providing the perfect opportunity for leisurely romantic walks. It's well worth taking a gentle stroll from end to end to discover the outdoor massage areas where just £3.50 will buy you an incredible hour long massage. In the evening we found plenty of great local restaurants offering anything from delicious spicy Balinese cuisine to freshly barbecued seafood. There's also a popular Italian restaurant and a steak house for those in search of more western flavours.

After about 7.30pm several venues offer entertainment ranging from traditional dancing to excellent live music.

During our stay in Bali we found the Balinese to be perfect hosts, always ready with a smile and happy to answer the many questions we had on island life. We felt very welcome and, with so much of the island still to discover, we will certainly be back.

 

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The stopover

 

Just a short hop from Bali is the vibrant city-state of Singapore. It is investing heavily in tourism and the last few years has seen significant development, particularly on the island of Sentosa.

Cable car, mono rail and taxi: all these forms of transport make access to Sentosa a breeze. What's more, there's now a covered boardwalk, complete with moving walkways, restaurants and shops if you'd like a more relaxed stroll over to the island.

And what's to see once you do make it over to Sentosa? The new Resort World contains four hotels, two casinos, a myriad of restaurants and the jewel in the crown, Universal Studios. That's not forgetting the rest of the island which houses all manner of attractions including an aquarium, dolphin show, sandy beaches, karting track, butterfly house…the list is endless.

Rice terraces and rafting: Image 9 But Sentosa isn't all Singapore has to offer, not by a long stretch. Why not take a romantic tour on Singapore's answer to the London Eye – the Singapore Flyer? Then there's Singapore Zoo, one of the world's finest, which also offers an excellent night safari. Finally, fit in a spot of shopping on the famous Orchard Road.

We were lucky enough to be in Singapore just before Chinese New Year, and Chinatown was alight with red lanterns, bobbing in the breeze. It hosts an excellent night market that is packed with traditional delicacies and handicrafts – definitely one of my highlights in the city.

 
 
 

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