For every cheap beer, sunburnt babe and perfect wave, there’s a dodgy dealer, bad braid job and cheeky bastard money
For a tropical paradise rich with its own distinct culture and steeped in mystique and tradition, depending where you go, Bali can be as Australian as thongs, bongs and bad Cold Chisel covers – all of which you can enjoy bleary-eyed alongside your sunburnt friends from home, if that’s what you’re after. But you don’t need to go too far to rub sweaty shoulders with well-heeled Euro and US tourists on the thin, dusty sidewalks either – two-buck Bacardi Breezer in hand while dodging the incessant mosquito drone of haphazardly veering, non-licensed mopeds and haggling to get an extra 20 cents off a Bintang singlet.
The most packed parts of Bali – yes, we’re looking at you, Kuta – have been claimed by Australians ever since tourism opened up the destination in the early ’70s, thanks to pioneering long-haired surfers named Bruce and salty-skinned sheilas called Shazza, all looking for that eternal dream – a place to chill on the cheap on a beautiful beach. Of course, in this ever-evolving world, things are same/same but different now and Bali – much like your evil ex – has developed a split personality. One side will see you wondering just how loose, bronzed and embarrassing some people are willing to let themselves get in public, all the while attracting bribe-hungry cops like Schapelle Corby to a boogie board.
The other is all amazing food, eye-spinning sunset beverages at high-end joints on the beach and affordable private villas that make you want to email the boss and tell him you’re never coming back. And if you want a taste of both, Seminyak – a couple of beaches but a million miles away from Kuta – is the place to be. So what’s really going down in Bali these days?
While green-room loving surf fiends head out of town to classic breaks like Uluwatu, and those looking for a more relaxed, yoga-friendly, monkey-swamped getaway favour Ubud up in the mountains (and let’s not talk about the ritzy end of town at Nusa Dua) Seminyak lets you spend the morning drinking cheap beer on the beach, lunch time scoffing fresh seafood and cool beer, then repeat the cycle in the afternoon and evening – all day, every day. Throw in the dodgy DVD outlets, an assortment of eye candy, markets to grab a crap souvenir for your mum, upscale bars and boozy hellholes just a short stroll from each other, and joy in a sandy box, I even got accosted by a pack of sozzled Aussies in bootleg Sydney Swans gear asking if I knew where the midget boxing was at. Sadly, I didn’t. Even sadder, they went on their way before I could grab a beer at the closest convenience store and join them on their quest for miniature pugilistic entertainment.
There are also ample ways to get out of throng and into the mountains for some nature admiring and the thrill of being bitten by a mammal hairier than you. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (Monkey Forest in Ubud) – as the name suggests – is teaming with the primate pricks all looking for a way to steal your bananas and scamper up a tree with them, leaving their mates crying little monkey tears of hunger. Word of warning – keep your belt tight, as more than one hapless tourist in loose camos has been left semi-nude after a furry dude uses their waistband as a ladder. Also, lock your backpack – it might look cute when they climb in and steal your drink, but when they’ve scaled to the top branch of the nearest tree and pierced a hole in your orange juice you’ll wish you had of mixed it with vodka. Deceivingly cute bastards!