Every holiday should have the promise of magic. Earlier this year when I spotted a package to Bali in the Bath Travel brochure, images from films such as South Pacific and Eat, Pray, Love sprang to mind and I booked it.
I flew with my 80 year old mom, from London Heathrow to Bali via Singapore with Singapore airlines. This airline allocates dedicated cabin staff for travellers with babies or a disability, or in my mom’s case just stiff knees. At every stage of the journey we met kindness and thoughtfulness.
Singapore is 1 degree north of the equator, about 220 km, so a three night stopover to break the journey is a very good way to acclimatise and adjust to a different way of life. Our hotel was the Marina Mandarin, 6 Raffles Drive. The magic begins as you enter the inner atrium for check-in and are met by live birdsong and smiling staff who whisk away your luggage. The rooms are spacious and we had a view over the marina. Stunning buildings with roof gardens in every direction.
Everything in Singapore works. It is an inspirational city with modern and old architecture overlapping. A melting pot of races and culture. The economical confidence reflected in the buildings and infrastructure astounds. Take time to explore and do not miss Gardens by the Bay (a park spanning 101 hectares) where in the Cloud Forest the gardeners have to abseil whilst tending to orchids! We at out each evening in different parts of the city and took advantage of the rooftop swimming pool during the hottest part of the day.
The onward journey to Bali (8 degrees south of the equator) is an easy two hour hop again on Singapore airlines. We were met with hot towels and bottles of water (not an accessory in this climate) and then directed to our very own air conditioned car with English speaking guide and driver. In contrast to the highly organised Singapore Changi airport, Ngurah Rai International airport in Denpasar is chaotic. Australians come for surfing and it seems that many had been washed up at the airport, fast asleep with rucksacks for pillows probably dreaming of the last wave.
Our next stop was the Grand Hyatt Bali in Nusa Dua. The trip south through Kuta plunged us into traffic madness. Ten scooters to one car weave in and out showing no attention to the lone policeman waving his white gloved hands. Each scooter transports a family. Two year olds sit on daddy’s lap, oblivious to the petrol fumes; mommy is behind on her mobile phone holding live chickens. The six lane road works are in preparation for the Miss World competition in 2014!
When you come out of this funnel of chaos an hour later, calm descends. Hindu gods rise from fountains. It was nearly midnight when we arrived and 32 degrees. We were met by smiling staff (all the women seem to be a size 6 with beautiful black hair and their uniforms are very attractive sarongs!). The scene is of swaying palm trees, tranquil pools of water with pink pearl water lilies and on cue a round full honeyed moon sits on the horizon.
The Grand Hyatt Bali is designed in the style of a Balinese water palace. The rooms are spacious, en suite with ceiling fans and air conditioning. Balinese sofas on which to recline as you look out of the French windows overlooking a pool of water lilies and carp set in manicured gardens. One peaceful morning a monitor lizard sauntered out of the shrubbery, over the rocks and into the pool and I held my breath, ready to run, I had never seen one before.
The hotel has several restaurants and shops, all discreetly hidden and linked by marble walkways dotted with wooden bowls of sand sending smoke signals of incense into the air. Gentle gong music lulls you into a soporific state as you wander down to the sea and silver beach. The sea is straight out of travel brochures, posing for idyllic wedding venues. Swimming pools are beautifully landscaped. It is all exotic and magical.
We chose to eat in a different restaurant in the hotel each evening and were never disappointed. Prices to fit all pockets, you can choose pizza or a full Balinese buffet with entertainment. All the public areas are peaceful and late in the evening the staff knelt at my mom’s feet and wanted to know where we were from and happy to tell us about their lives.
I was able to go on daily adventures without a care in the world as Kana, my ‘Go as you please’ guide with excellent English, suggested places that might interest me, planned itineraries and took care of entrance fees. The air conditioned cars were very comfortable and drivers excellent. It was also refreshing to find that Kana and the drivers were very discreet when we arrived at a workshop or restaurant and we never felt rushed or pushed into buying all the wonderful things for sale. Hiring and driving your own car in Bali is only for the brave. Kana is the same height as me at 5’2” and from him I learnt about Balinese society and how even in paradise it seems there is often friction between mother-in-laws and a new wife!
Senses tingle as Bali unfolds on these trips. Temples overlook lakes with mountains as backdrops. Unholy monkeys treat these havens as home. Restaurants offer satay and coconut drinks sporting miniature parasols and slices of mango. Rice paddies and bamboo forests fill terraces tended by bending figures in cone hats.
Brightly coloured prayer flags flutter near UNESCO sites where agro tourism is encouraged and you can sample the different coffees and tea grown here. Each village is protected by Hindu gods discreetly covered in colourful sarongs. Giant Buddha’s made of bronze, sit outside metal workshops, waiting to continue their journey. Intricate batiks, silver jewellery, kites and tables made from highly polished tree roots, it’s all here to be experienced. Gentle people greet you at every turn with smiles and bows and all the time in the world to talk to you. They will probably want to pose with you for a picture too, as we look very foreign to them.
After two weeks I was so relaxed that even the final day’s full body massage in a flower filled spa could not make me more at peace with the world. Bali is magical.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends: Rickshaw Travel and Cox & Kings for holidays to Bali
Flights: Singapore Airlines from London Heathrow to Singapore for a 3 night stopover and then onto Bali
Accommodation: Marina Mandarin Hotel Singapore , Bay Gardens Singapore, Grand Hyatt Bali
More about Kay
Kay Wiseman was lucky to have adventurous parents who whisked her off to South Africa in 1959. After art school she began a career in advertising (sharpening pencils) in Johannesburg moving onto working with a photographer in Cape Town. Travelling was in the blood and I chose jobs that would add to my air miles! Advertising and Public Relations fitted the bill in London and then she joined BA for a stint in Yugoslavia as it then was. Onto Gibraltar with the Holiday Inn hotels as Sales Manager and Kay enjoyed living in Spain when the border opened after Franco’s death. She returned to England in the 90’s and started up her own business, retiring a year ago. She says that now her travelling is for new experiences and new people and long may it continue!