Bali, for many reasons, is a no-brainer destination for Australian travellers. A mere six-hour flight from Sydney, Bali welcomes thousands of Australians onto its shores every year.
Of all the people I know who have travelled to Bali, only a handful have left the tourist strip between Kuta and Canggu to see the other side of Bali. Benny's Boardroom believes in the urban adventurer who steps off the beaten track… so let us take you now to West Bali.
There is an air of magic here in West Bali. It's in the tails of smoke curling through family temples, in the towering forests, in the elegant curves of mountains.
You see, people will tell you about the purple, yellow and blue flowers left out on doorsteps as offerings. They'll tell you about intense green rice paddies stretching along the coast. But what they won't tell you is how children run from their houses in their hills, chasing you along the street, laughing and squealing as they run alongside your motorbike. Or how the mothers embrace you as one of their own.
You might hear about the Nasi Goreng (fried rice) in the restaurants, but have you heard about the night markets where the real Balinese food is?
What will get you hooked in the beginning, and what will keep drawing you back, is just how lush the landscape is. The mountains, so grand and majestic that they press against the sky, are blanketed in dense forest. At their base, rice fields stretch across the coast, all the way to the sea. And nestled in amongst those rice fields and palm trees, are little houses where good, honest people pray and drink Bali coffee.
The real Bali breathes slowly through a lungful of forest.
You might have heard tourists complain about being hassled to buy things or eat at certain restaurants. But from experience, we can vouch that as soon as you break from the tourist bubble, you will find a Bali that prides itself on selfless hospitality. Like the waves at Medewi, the people are generous and mellow.
The main two destinations along the West Bali coast are Balian and Medewi. Balian is a small village with a beautiful black sand beach, a growing number of guesthouses and warungs (café/restaurants), a yoga studio and an A-frame surf break that we'd recommend for intermediate to experienced surfers, depending on the size of the swell.
Medewi is further along the coast and is a tiny fishing village. It's a cluster of houses along the main road, a shop where you can buy wifi for the day for $1 AUS (the only place you can get wifi) and one tiny laneway, dotted with a handful of guesthouses that stretches down to the point where a fun, mellow wave breaks for almost 800 metres. The vibe here is unlike anywhere else. Everyone is so content to simply be.
You can ride with a private driver in a comfortable seven seater (with enough room for surfboards and bags) from the airport to Balian for anywhere between $30 and $50 AUS, (it depends how good you are at bartering).
The drive is a little under an hour, depending on traffic and if you have a few people in the car, it's cheap as chips, so you don't need to keep pushing for a lower price. Remember that this is the driver's livelihood, so you want to be paying what's fair for everyone.
Alternatively you can catch the public bus from the island's capital Denpasar, which is cheap, but a squeeze. Or you can hire a motorbike from virtually anywhere and drive yourself. There is only one main drag from Denpasar to the most Western point in Bali where the ferry leaves for Java. So this narrow, winding road is bustling 24/7 with trucks driving goods to and from Java and we would only recommend the motorbike option for experienced riders.
Medewi is a further half hour's drive so you can expect to pay about $5 - $10 AUS on top of what you paid for Balian.
Balian is beautiful. There are palm trees, scarlet wild flowers, a warung on the sand to chill at with the locals after a surf. And, there's a dirt track that winds through the field out to the tip of the headland where waves fold and break on emerald rocks.
We'd recommend staying at Surya's. Driving down the road into Balian, you come to a T-intersection where a field opens onto the ocean. You either turn left to drive down the hill to the beach or right down a cracked concrete drive and it's here that you'll find Surya's about half way down on the left.
Surya and her family run the home stay and she well and truly welcomes you in as one of her own. After I'd checked into my room, she came and hugged me and said, "You are home now."
The rooms here are clean, with a large bed, bathroom, mosquito net, fan, table, chairs and wardrobe. You can expect to pay $20 a night, including nasi goreng, prawn crackers, juice and fruit for breakfast.
At the bottom of the hill, right on the beach, are five or so eco-looking, wooden houses that surround a pool and lush gardens. They're perfect for families or larger groups. There's also a yoga studio here, run by the same people who run the houses, and you can book into a class even if you're not a guest in one of the houses. After surfing in overhead conditions, yoga is amazing for stretching your tired limbs.
For dinner, walk down the hill from Surya's towards the beach, and on your right, you'll find a family run restaurant that sits on the edge of the headland, overlooking Balian's famous A-frame. Here we'd recommend you try the cap cay with red rice ($3 AUS) and watch the sun melt into the sea. Alternatively, there are night markets on the main road. Eat with the locals and watch the world come alive.
If the surf is blown out in the afternoon, we'd suggest hiring a motorbike and driving out to the main road, turning left, then taking the first right to drive up into the mountains.
Medewi is another half an hour's drive along the main drag and we can assure you it is worth the trip.
The villagers are predominately Muslims, so unless you're a deep sleeper, you're likely to be woken up by the calls to prayer before dawn. Regardless, there is an authenticity to the soul of the place and you hear it in the prayer songs, resounding throughout the day.
Medewi's point break is the longest in Bali and it's perfect for surfers of any level. To get out, the locals will direct you to a keyhole in between the rocks. Some surfers choose to wear booties but the rocks are so smooth it's hardly necessary. The wave itself is as mellow as the locals and so fun that when you kick off the back of a wave you've surfed for 200 metres, the vibes are blissful. Medewi reaches deep down inside you and pulls at your heart.
Out on the point, when the locals aren't surfing, they are hanging out eating noodles and rice in the shade of palm trees. Whether you're travelling alone or with friends, you can't help but feel at home here. Befriending the local surfers in the water may even score you a coconut picked fresh from the top of a palm tree.
In Medewi, there's an awesome home stay called Mai Malu. It's the first home stay on the left when you turn off the main road to drive down to the point. Mai Malu is clean. And in your room, you’ll have a desk, a little bathroom, and a reasonably comfy bed. You'll pay around $8.50 a night. They have an attached humble restaurant, which offers the most delicious Indonesia fish curry you'll ever have and the rice dishes are all served with banana leaf hats, which we think is kinda great.
At the end of the road, on the right, is a guesthouse and they have rooms for as little as $5 a night. They serve a delicious Gado Gado (traditional Indonesian breakfast) and if you pre-order, you can feast on a whole or half a fish, freshly caught and cooked on in banana leaf with tasty spices. (Seriously, take advantage of the fact that this is a fishing village.)
There are also yoga classes on an open pavilion, surrounded by the surf and palm trees. There is a $10 fee and all profits go to employing locals to clean the beach.
As in Balian, if the surf is blown out, hire a motor bike, ride up to the main road, turn right and ride for five or so minutes until you reach a village with a statue (and usually a police officer) in the middle of a fork in the road.
The road continues right to Denpasar but if you veer left, you can ride up and up and up into the majestic mountains. There are trucks on this tiny road and lots of blind corners so beep before you round a corner. Along the sides of the roads are spices, coffee beans and cacao beans lying out on tarps to dry. It's absolute bliss riding through the clouds of these delicious scents.
If you decide to ride deep into the mountains, it's worth taking an offline GPS. If you get lost, don't hesitate to ask a local for direction. It's also worth noting that few tourists ride into these mountains, so it's not uncommon to see people double taking. Smile and wave and the locals will share your joy.
About twenty-minutes up the mountain road, you'll come to a striking tree, so huge the road drives through the middle of it. The tree is sacred and you only have to walk through its body to understand why.
Finally, if you fancy climbing a volcano in Java, Balian and Medewi are perfect stops on your journey to the neighbouring island.
Visit Bali's west coast, breathe with its forests, immerse yourself in the culture and devour some of the best Balinese food you've ever had.