Bali and Its Neighbouring Islands

In November, I travelled back to Bali.

I tend to visit annually, at least, usually to coincide with the Further East invitation-only luxury show. I feel privileged to be invited to 4 days packed with requested meetings, interesting discussions and all-important social networking. It is held in the Seminyak area, with delegates hosted at three main hotels – Alila, Potato Head and W.

I always choose to stay at Alila as it suits our clients – and me – perfectly. Super rooms, immaculate service and food presentation plus a brilliant beachfront location.

Of course, I visit the other properties – not really our/my style – and our other hotel partners in the Seminyak area, the all-pool villas Samaya Resort and The Legian with its cool hushed elegance.

I actually started my visit by going straight up to Ubud, 90-minute drive inland from the airport. I have visited so many times and always try to stay somewhere different, and there is no end of new choices.

When I  first visited Ubud (I think it was around 1985) there were about four hotels. It was truly an authentic village and an adventure. Since then it has grown year on year, and now the village is a small town, even with traffic jams. Hotels that once seemed to be on the outskirts now appear to be on the main street!

Driving up from the airport used to be a real treat for the eyes, as it was mainly rice fields and farms. Now it is a series of villages with just a few gaps for the fields.

Whilst Bali has embraced increased tourism, it is still very traditional in so many ways.

The numerous roadside temples cannot be touched. A banyan tree is considered sacred so cannot be cut or pruned, if it now extends into the road you drive or walk around it – enchanting, but both things hardly cope with increased traffic. It is still wonderful and a “must-visit” on any holiday to Bali, but it is busy.

I stayed at the rather nice Kappa Senses Resort. I saw it last year (2022) just after it opened, on a brief visit. This time I stayed for 2 nights. Wonderful. 20 minutes drive from the village centre (they have a shuttle several times daily), rice fields on three sides and a forest on the other. Two pools, several restaurants in differing locations, destination-themed rooms and villas and a superb spa of which I now have extensive product knowledge! I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Also visited two of our other partner hotels in Ubud: Kayumanis and Samaya. Both are fantastic, offering contrasting styles, but similar riverside locations. Again, a 15 minutes drive out from the centre.

After that, it was a drive to the East Coast at Manggis.

Once you clear Ubud this is the Bali of yesteryear. So dramatically scenic, with paddy field rice steps, high mountains and dense forest. It took me just over an hour to drive, with narrow roads and minimal traffic.

I wanted to see the Alila Hotel in Manggis again. Seafront, minimal rocky beach but abundance of hideaway charm. Also the new Kaura Tented Camp. Located high on a mountain top 25 minutes drive inland, 20 tents all with ensuite shower, incredible views, main pool and restaurant, and eco-focused adventures included such as escorted bike riding across the fields, and treks to the waterfall. It will not be for everyone but I could see the appeal for 2/3 nights in combination with a tour around the island. Very different.

Then it was straight to Seminyak to join Further East.

I like this area of Bali although together with Kuta and Legian. it has seen the most development, with more coming. It has expanded along the beach and several roads behind it. Traffic is still one way so at times driving to a nearby restaurant can be 30 minutes, walking 10 minutes.

So many hotels – many of which I had never heard of, shops, bars and restaurants. The beach is busy with travellers and locals and is one of the best places to enjoy the sunset. It does have its plus points with good restaurant choices, boutiques and thatched roof bean bag bars with some cool live music.

The area of Ganggu, just north of Seminyak, has gone from a residential area plus some homestay guest houses for surfers into a lively bar-focused resort area in about 3 years, much to the annoyance of villagers and ex-pats who bought high-end villas for their quiet seclusion.

After the show, I travelled across to the neighbouring island of Lombok.

Again visited several times, but the last was 5 years ago. Since then several new hotels have opened. You can travel from Bali either by plane – 25-minute flight, but you need to check in one hour prior and the relatively new airport in Lombok is in the middle of nowhere – literally. On average a 90-minute transfer to your hotel.

I opted for the alternative ferry choice. Comfortable air-conditioned cabin holding about 120 passengers. It took about 4 hours with stops in Nusa Penida and then the 3 Gili Islands. And then just 20 minutes drive from the arrival jetty to my hotel, Seven Secrets, which opened a couple of months back. Good soft sand expansive beach, an attractive restaurant, a neighbouring authentic fishing village, and high-quality accommodation combining Indonesian and maybe Dubai or Vegas influences.

It was a real joy to be in Lombok.

It could be said it is like Bali of 40 years ago and I am maybe one of the few who can actually make that comparison. It is certainly much less developed. Traffic jams are a rarity – unless two donkeys decide to nay at each other. Development is coming but at a more controlled slower pace.

In my view, the Government in Jakarta have allowed so much building on Bali, knowing that at some stage travellers will look for alternative islands, it is all part of the plan. Certainly, Jakarta is somehow jealous that Bali is sometimes better known than Indonesia. Plus Bali is uniquely Hindu with Buddhist influence, every other island is majority Muslim. This alone can make tourism development slower, with village chiefs maybe more involved in how the area might be impacted.

Scenically there is a similarity between both Bali & Lombok, they are about the same size and have similar populations (Lombok 3.8m and Bali 4.2m). The temples in Bali are ornate, colourful and have lots of statues. The Mosques in Lombok are understated. In Bali they like to showcase their traditions to all, Lombok is more conservative, especially to outsiders. Having said this, I found the people in Lombok to be great fun and, as with everywhere, a few local words, plus a knowledge of music and football, breaks down any barrier.

The Lombok beaches are as good, if not better than most I have seen in Bali, and certainly, the snorkelling and sea conditions looked really good.

Plus the Gili islands, known for their beaches and diving, are just 15 minutes away.

At the moment most of the hotels are small boutique style with less than 50 rooms. There are plans to open a manicured resort area in Kuta, South Lombok, and this will have larger brand-name hotels. Opening dates varied but I think late 2025 would be optimistic.

During my time in Lombok I visited numerous hotels – Jeava Klui, Quinci Villas, Sudamala, Kayana – each with their own individual style. Plus Tugu, which has to be one of the most original, deliberately “marmite“ hotels anywhere. It’s like staying in a museum with art and fierce-looking statues as company. I can think of several Chic clients who would love it, and maybe as many who would just not understand it at all.

PS – Tugu Beach is probably the very best I have experienced anywhere in the region.

I also saw several other hotels but, as I would not consider, I shall not mention.

My final night in Lombok was at the Oberoi.

I have seen it several times, and last stayed 11 years ago according to their front desk! Loved it. Classic old money style and elegance. Incredible service and attention to detail.

Then it was back by ferry to Bali.

Just over 2 hours this time as only one transit stop in Nusa Penida. Stayed at The Bale which is located on a hill overlooking the Nusa Dua resort area. I really like the hotel. The MD and I go way way back and are friends more than business associates. It is romantic – I was tired and just used my imagination –  all pool suites, highly personalised. And a really good small spa. Delightful.


Next day it was hotel visits again. Some I had seen before like Raffles, Four Seasons and especially Nusa Dua Beach Resort.

When I visit Nusa Dua I am reminded I attended the opening party back in 1983  – how time flies! In addition, I saw for the first time the Jumeirah Resort which is on the Ulawatu Peninsular and the Sofitel at Nusa Dua. And then ended at the Bali Collection shopping and restaurant area in the Nusa Dua area. It was actually much better than I had previously experienced.

My final morning was spent by my private pool. Reflecting on my time, my likes and dislikes. How they had changed in 12 months. Where I thought there was continued potential or where to just move on. I still enjoy Bali with a passion. It has massive attraction and the people have such genuine and welcoming smiles. But you do have to travel around to find the real soul of the place, as it is no longer instant.

I am rather pleased I saw the island in its tourism infancy and then frequently in its quieter “teenage“ years when it was truly special. But that is me making comparisons. Listening to first-timers at the hotels, they were all raving about the beauty, the people and the quality of the island.

As they say,  as one door partly closes, another opens and Lombok was such a positive experience. Plus there are several other islands within a 60-minute flight from Bali that are opening up with some exciting plans and top-range hotels. More next time.

My travel was with British Airways to and from Doha, with connections to Qatar. Business class throughout – I have quite a lot of Avios points, fortunately. And yes, it was rather enjoyable. I slept well.

David at Chic
December 2023

“There’s no such thing as the best hotel, just the right one…”


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