By: Nana Luckham, Travel Writer
A Laidback Family Adventure in Bali
Bali’s fertile interior and laid-back beaches seemed the perfect foil to our busy lives in London and the hectic week we’d just spent in Singapore. It was an added bonus that the island is excellent value and easy to navigate. We wanted to pack in contrasting experiences into a ten-day trip and chose the lush greenery and artistic vibe of Ubud, the desert island beauty of Lombok’s Gili Islands and resort life on the beach in Jimbaran, back on the mainland.
Ubud, a town enveloped in hills and rice terraces and well known for its cultural life, was our first stop. It’s very touristy but that doesn’t detract from the laid-back atmosphere, and there was plenty for both kids and grown-ups to enjoy.
We loved the architecture of the Hindu temple Pura Taman Saraswati, whilst our boys were taken with the expansive fishponds in front of it. The Museum Puri Lukisan was a great introduction to contemporary Balinese art for us, and its grounds and galleries provided perfect toddler gallivanting space. During an afternoon of ambling round Ubud’s boutiques and galleries we placated the kids with stops for ice cream at Café Gelato Secrets.
Another major attraction that’s fun for kids is the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, a pocket of jungle south of town that’s home to three holy temples and a bunch of brazen Balinese macaques.
Our hotel, Mathis Retreat, (formerly Kenanga Boutique Hotel) with its infinity pool hovering above the rice fields, felt like the quintessential Bali holiday experience. The boys loved walking through the grasses, which came up to their shoulders and turned a simple walk into an adventure in the “jungle”. At night, with lanterns floating on the pool and dotted throughout the fields, the atmosphere was truly magical.
Gorgeous Gili Air (think golden sands, palm trees and vibrant waters) is one of three Gili Islands and a fantastic place to relax with kids. Its desert island serenity is enhanced by the fact that there are no dogs or motorised transport, and the waters are calm, clear and perfect for paddling. There’s a reef a short swim offshore so one of us could play with the kids in the shallows while the other went out snorkelling. Green turtles regularly appear here though unfortunately we weren’t lucky enough to see any.
It takes about an hour and a half to walk around the island but you can also hire bikes and plenty of places will rent you child seats. The cidomos (horse and cart taxis) were a huge hit with the boys.
For a small, low-key island, there’s an impressive selection of accommodation, from simple beach huts to boutique hotels with kid friendly pools and family rooms. Eateries range from basic wooden shacks selling noodles and satay to trendy restaurants offering international menus. At night many places offer fresh fish barbeques under the stars.
After our simple beach hut on the Gili islands we headed for the large, amenity-laden Keraton Resort in the Balinese beach town of Jimbaran. There are several large hotels here but the beach – a beautiful champagne coloured sweep of sand – never felt busy. The sea was rougher than in the Gilis so we had to keep a closer eye on the boys as they jumped in and out of the surf, but they were more interested in watching planes landing – Jimbaran is so close to the airport that the airstrip is clearly visible from the beach.
Our absolute favourite thing about Jimbaran was eating at one of the many seafood restaurants that line the beach. Watching the sunset with a cold beer in hand and a massive seafood platter on the table, while our boys played in the sand at our feet was a highlight of our trip.
In general we found Bali extremely child-friendly. Most hotels and restaurants had high chairs and many had children’s menus (though this wasn’t necessary as the boys went mad for satay and mie goreng). It was easy to get around, and taxis are cheap and plentiful. The only downside was the amount of heavy traffic and the narrow, uneven pavements. We had a buggy with us, and did manage, but wished we had brought a baby backpack instead.
The Best Part
We all loved the lazy days on Gili Air: playing in the shallow water, saying hi to the cows that grazed in a palm grove outside out guesthouse, eating satay and drinking fruit shakes while lounging on the sand. When the kids were dozing my husband and I could almost imagine we were back in our carefree backpacker days.
The Best Time To Visit Bali & the Gili Islands
The best weather is between April and September. The busiest periods are July and August and Christmas/New Year.
Three Things You Should Definitely Do
1) Relax on the beach in the Gili Islands
2) Visit the rice terraces in and around Ubud
3) Eat seafood at sundown on Jimbaran beach.
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