Think you know Bali pretty well? We thought we did too, but compared to Bali-based writer, Rachel Lovelock, we know diddly squat!
Rachel has lived on the isle for 16 years and recently authored Bali guidebook, Explore Bali (Insight Guides). Her local’s tips are gems which we can’t wait to put to use on our next trip.
Bali’s copped some flak lately, as we all know. But what do you love about living there?
I love the Balinese people! The smiling faces, culture, sunshine, nature, open-air living, and laid-back island lifestyle. Every day’s an adventure; I never know what to expect when I walk out my garden door. Plus having Bali as my base gives me the opportunity to travel and explore the outer reaches of Indonesia. There are countless other islands to visit, many of which rarely see tourists. I love being on the sea; I stay in cheap little homestays, eat the local food, marvel at the astonishing natural beauty, culture, wildlife, and history – then I return home to the cushioned Western comforts of my Bali house to write about my travels.
How much has it changed in the 16 years you’ve been there? Are there still plenty of places that have not yet been discovered by the masses?
When I first came here, it was a bit like stepping back in time, there were power-cuts every time we had a rainstorm, gourmet imported food items were generally unavailable, Sunset Road was a white, limestone dirt track with potholes almost big enough to swallow a car, internet connections were very slow and unreliable, Seminyak only had four bars. There were secret bamboo beach-shacks in Petitenget, Batubelig and Tanjung Benoa where my friends and I used to hang out, all of which have long gone and been replaced by five-star hotels. Further afield, for sure there are numerous tiny rural villages, solitary historical attractions, and stretches of coastline that have not yet been discovered by the masses, but you have to bear in mind that the masses are only interested in easily accessible places with comfortable facilities.
What’s one of your favourite special “local’s spots”?
I love Pasir Putih Beach near Candidasa, it’s a little bit hard to find but when you get there it’s like uncovering a secret – less of a secret these days because the guidebook writers, myself included, have all given it a mention in the Bali guidebooks, but it’s nice to bring some business to the well-deserving local warung owners.
Favourite fancy restaurant in Bali?
Sarong, I love the opulent décor and the spicy food. My favourite dish is the Zafferani Paneer Tikka on the vegetarian menu.
Favourite cheap n’ cheerful?
Warung Heboh in Berawa, opposite the shortcut to Canggu, but it’s best to get there before 5pm to make the most of the full choice of dishes.
Best view in Bali?
View from ‘Ngiring Ngewedang’ cafe in Munduk, from where you can see much of the island laid out like a map.
Favourite place to have a cocktail?
Sundara at the Four Seasons, Jimbaran Bay
Karma Spa perched on the edge of the cliff at Karma Kandara. I’ll happily have an oxygen facial there anytime! Oh, and Fivelements Puri Ahimsa for some amazing therapies administered by authentic Balinese healers.
A local Balinese man, Budi. He’ll come to your home or villa, and he gives a wonderful, strong, healing massage: 081 338 143 431
Best book about Bali you’ve read?
I love ‘A House in Bali’ by Colin McPhee. It’s a true story about a Canadian-born musician, composer and writer, who in 1929 chanced upon some rare gramophone recordings of Balinese gamelan music, which changed his life forever. He was so haunted and consumed by the sound of the music that he came to Bali and built a house on the Sayan Ridge. It’s a beautiful read and it’s surprising just how much Bali hasn’t changed since the 1930s.
How has Bali changed you as a person?
Bali can be confronting and challenging, sometimes at the most unexpected moments, and I was especially aware of this during my first two years of living here. I wanted to find a way to stay in Bali and I wanted this more than anything I had ever wanted in my life. It made me realise that we can’t expect things to fall into our laps, and Bali doesn’t owe any of us anything but if we treat the people, the island and everything about it with respect, then Bali might just let us stay and live our dreams. The most important thing is to give back to Bali, and this doesn’t necessarily mean setting up a charity foundation for underprivileged children. Giving back means looking after your staff financially, giving a good tip to a waitress or a taxi driver, or paying a little bit extra for a purchase from a street or beach vendor rather than trying to beat them down to the lowest possible price. Rp 50,000 isn’t much to us but it will put food on the table for a family.
I climbed Gunung Agung 15 years ago. It was an amazingly inspiring experience and it changed my life. I wrote a little account of my adventure, which I emailed to a friend in my old hometown in England, she sent the story to the local newspaper and it was published. After that there was no turning back! I chucked in my fulltime job in Bali and became a writer instead.
Walking Pippin, my adorable Bali dog, on the beach… any beach!
Nyepi, Bali’s day of silence. I still marvel at the extraordinariness of it all. My choice is always to stay home, embrace the serenity, the sound of birdsong, and the sight of the fireflies in the rice fields and the magnificent night sky, unsullied by streetlights.
As Bali is only one of about 17 000 islands, where else have you explored away from the Isle of The Gods?
I’ve been to most of the main islands and regions: Sumatra, Java, Lombok, Sulawesi, Sumbawa, Komodo, Flores, West Timor, Sumba, Raja Ampat, and the Moluccas. My favourite so far is the hard-to-get-to yet incredibly rewarding Banda Islands, which have become such a backwater in recent times that few people know of either their existence or their major historical importance. These islands were once the world’s only source of nutmeg, and if you arrive by boat you will feel on a par with the pioneering adventurers.
Explore Bali, Insight Guides, is out now.