Bali’s monuments to tourism are somewhat hysterical, if not historical.
No visit to Bali is complete without a visit to Kuta, the spiritual home of the unofficial tourist uniform of Bali, the Bintang t-shirt. In Kuta you’ll find all types of people from all over the world strolling the streets, relaxing in the bars, raging in the night clubs and invariably, rummaging through the street markets in search of the perfect Bali “t” (t-shirt). A souvenir to take home to impress friends and wear with pride at the weekend barbeque. And there is no better place to look for that special t-shirt than Kuta’s souvenir emporium, Kristna’s.
Imagine, a wall of t-shirts 120 metres long by 10 metres high. T-shirts of every colour and every cliché Bali tourism slogan. Thousands of “I (Heart) Bali” t-shirts, here for the choosing. Only in Bali. Only in Kuta. And only at Kristna’s Tourist Market on Sunset Road. Beyond t-shirts, you’ll find all your holiday clothing and take-home needs; bags, jewellery and souvenirs, generally at lower prices than you’ll find on the streets – all under one giant roof. However, while the souvenirs are cheap, unlike in the street stalls, they are sold at fixed prices. No bargaining. Overall, the quality is good. You get what you pay for. Kristna is open every day, 8.00am to 10.00pm. You can check the store out online at: www.kristnabali.com
Kuta by day
So it was that Dinah and I ventured into the wilds of Bali’s ‘party-central’, chaffered by our driver and guide, Tawan. We’ve been to Bali on a number of occasions and usually give Kuta a wide birth, preferring the more laid-back style of Sanur, but this trip we decided to spend some time in Kuta to see the sights. We also had friends holidaying at Legian, the tourist beach area just north of Kuta. Firstly, it’s important to distinguish between Kuta by day and Kuta by night. By day, Kuta offers a somewhat charming village atmosphere, narrow streets lined with warungs (restaurants), shops and markets and crowded with tourists searching for the famous ‘Bali bargain’. Everybody knows that everything is cheaper in Bali, right? Not necessarily so. In fact, it’s worth double-checking prices. Often they are the same, if not more expensive than at home. So, you’ve got to know where to look and you’ve got to bargain hard. My rule of thumb is start at no more than half their initial asking price. If they agree to your price too readily, you are probably still paying too much. But hey, you’ve still got yourself a bargain!
Kuta often gets a bad rap, largely due to the raucous behaviour of some of the mainly younger tourists at night. In fairness, this is a really interesting place to visit and stay, particularly when you first arrive in Bali or for a night or two before departing Bali as it is relatively close to the International Airport at Denpasar. Shop around for the best accommodation prices. There are some fancy hotels here, particularly those facing Kuta Beach including the Sheraton Bali, Kuta. Here a room will set you back around AUD120 a night. Not bad considering your proximity to the beach and the quality of accommodation one would expect from a Sheraton hotel. There is also some very good budget accommodation such as Poppies Lane which is popular with surfers, backpackers and travellers looking to do it on the cheap. Online sites such as www.booking.com are a good place to start. Price invariably relates to location – the closer to Kuta Beach and the greater the ocean views, the more expensive. If you are looking for something a little different, the Fashion Hotel Legian Bali is definitely worth checking out. Opened in 2014, the hotel is modern and glamorously decorated to, as they claim, make you feel like a celebrity. The rooftop pool is perfect for sunset chill-outs. Kuta beach is a 20 minute stroll away, and the shopping precincts of Legian and Seminyak are just 5 minutes away. Rooms are available from USD$34.
Kuta is also a great place for families. Beyond the broad stretches of sand that form Kuta Beach, water fun also includes a visit to the legendary Waterbom water park. Amazing water slides and pools and snacks and light meals are available, so you can make a day of it. Check the park out at: www.waterbom-bali.com
If waves are your thing and the surf is just not happening at Kuta Beach then Armada Flow House is a must. Here you can ride the perfect wave any time of day. And the paddle out is a breeze. That’s my kind of surfing! Check it out at: www.flowhousebali.com
Kuta by night
Kuta is world-famous for its night-life. Here, you can party sedately, or you can party hard. People ask, “Is Kuta safe to walk around in the evening?” My opinions is yes it is, but like in any city or crowded urban environment, take the usual precautions and avoid walking alone particularly late in the evening and once the clubs get into full swing.
Bali’s renowned club scene starts after 9.00pm and is really pumping by midnight, with a huge number of nightclubs and bars on the crowded evening streets. The beach clubs too are really popular. Remember, Bali has a 12-month summer, so the beach in the evening is a great place to be. The most popular clubs are Potato Head (don’t ask!), Cocoon, Ku De Ta and Mosaic. Fabulous sunsets accompanied by great music to take you into the night.
Seems like ever where you go, the new trend is rooftop bars. There’s something about relaxing in the open on a rooftop that is appealing. Perhaps it’s the innovative cocktails on offer or, in Kuta’s case the best view of the amazing sunsets.
OK, so that takes care of the ‘party’ activities. The traditional Bali is also on show. Bali’s range of traditional theatre and cultural dance performances staged in ancient temples are an absolute must to see. From local folktales to ancient Hindu epics, watching Balinese cultural performances is a great way to learn about the unique culture of the island and its peoples. And there are lots to select from.
And finally, there’s the night markets. Locally referred to as pasar malam, the markets are a hive of activity every evening selling local food, snacks and tourists must-haves, all at seriously good prices.
A dark day
The 12th October 2002 was a dark day for Kuta. A dark day for Bali and a dark day for the world. At five minutes past eleven in the evening, suicide bombers from terrorist groups Jemaah Islamiyah and al-Qaeda denoted bombs in two nightclubs frequented by Westerners in the heart of Kuta. It destroyed a crowded city block and 202 innocent people, including 88 Australians, 38 Indonesians, 23 Britons and people of more than 20 other nationalities died, along with the 2 bombers. 209 people were seriously injured. Today a memorial of intricately carved stone stands on the site of the destroyed Paddy’s Pub on Legian Street, a stark reminder of today’s reality in a place of happiness and fun. The good news is that a new bar, aptly named Paddy’s Reloaded has reopened further along the street.
Tips for the Trip
Choosing the right time to visit Bali is important as accommodation prices to do vary. Thanks to Bali’s endless summer weather, Bali happens 365 days a year, but there are times when it is busier than other times. These usually revolved around the wet and dry seasons. As they say, there are 4 seasons in Bali: wet, very wet, dry and very dry. The rainy season is from November to March, and the relatively dry season is from April to October – the busiest time in Bali. However, inevitably this dry period still sees some shower activity during the early morning and late afternoon.
Accommodation costs vary significantly in Bali, depending on where you are staying, the location and proximity to the things like the beach, as well as the overall standard of the resort, hotel or villa. Everything from 2-star at US$20 a night to, well the sky is the limit in the 5-star resorts. Somewhere between US$80 and US$120 will get you quality accommodation. Some of the older resorts will cost US$45 to US$60 per night. So it’s worth really doing your homework to check out the standard of accommodation before you commit. Read the reviews on sites such as Trip Advisor or booking.com
Main picture: The great wall of tourist t-shirt’s in the Kristna Tourist Market in Kuta
- XXL top row. Of course. You’ll need a ladder to get to them!
- The Kristna shop is full of every conceivable Bali souvenir.
- Including hundreds of bright Bali paintings.
- The Bali bombings memorial…a solemn place.
- Its in Indonesian, but one can still get the message.
- The famous Kuta beach. Watch what you buy here.
- Downtown Kuta.
- And the famous nightclub strip.
- Not sure if this will fit in our carry-on luggage?
- Dinah and our driver Tiwan.
- First thing you see on the dash when you get into Taiwan’s car. Look out for it. Taiwan is a fantastic guide.