The sun was setting over the Indian Ocean at the Rock Bar at AYANA Resort and Spa. The sky a mix of red, yellow, orange, purple and blue – like a box of crayons spilled across the sky. The 21 hour, two stopover marathon flight from JFK was most certainly worth it for this moment.
If you’ve never been to Bali, it’s about time to add this beautiful island to your bucket list. The people are incredibly friendly, greeting the weary traveler with the warmest of smiles. Our driver, Nyoman, was a walking encyclopedia of Balinese culture, traditions and traffic avoidance techniques that would have made the late Steve McQueen proud.
Full disclosure, Balinese food poses some challenges for the kosher traveler. This is one destination where even Chabad has not yet settled (see below for info on Shabbat and holiday kosher meals) for the most part if you are looking for kosher food you need to either bring your own or hire a personal chef or live on fruit, vegetables and wrapped fish for the week and lots of the most amazing coffee.
If you are stuck with produce and fish, I promise you won’t be disappointed. I enjoyed some of the most colorful and flavorful fruits and vegetables I’ve ever had in my life and the fish I enjoyed was so fresh it went from swimming to saucepan in less than a minute. With a little advance planning most kitchens are able to accommodate requests for double wrapping or work with pans, knives or other utensils provided by guests who take the time to ask politely or have the hotel concierge make arrangements in advance.
What to Do
Ubud is the cultural heart of Bali, popularized by Julia Roberts, in “Eat, Pray, Love.” It is a verdant stretch of rice fields, ravines and rivers surrounded by magnificent villas (many of which are available to rent) and excellent shopping and diverse dining options, including a few vegetarian restaurants. The Hindu religious traditions run deep in Bali, and nowhere more so than in Ubud, where temples and other holy sites are everywhere.
We attended a traditional Legong and Barong Waksirsa dance performance, visited several temples, frolicked with monkeys at the Ubud Monkey Forest and toured an organic coffee plantation. I even tried my hand at jewelry making at Chez Monique Silvermaking Class and made a pair of earrings for my daughter and mother-in-law.
For upscale entertainment, shopping and nightlife, Seminyak is the place. Although bordered by Kuta and Legian which cater to a more rowdy, younger crowd of mostly Australians, Seminyak has a decidedly Hampton’s vibe. In addition to dozens of boutique fashion and furniture stores, world-class DJs are choosing Bali and we got to spend a few hours at Mirror, one of the newest and poshest clubs on the island, where people dressed to impress and drink prices rivaled Manhattan.
Nusa Dua is one of the nicer, more family friendly beaches in Bali and is dotted with many resorts, shopping excursions and activities, including a wonderful vegetarian cooking class and food market tour at the Caraway Cooking School just 20 minutes away by car.
A far cry from Miami or the Jersey Shore, the sands of Nusa Dua are immaculate and the locals are very friendly – you will get asked for massages or water sports excursions, but a gentle “no, thank you” is all that is necessary. Nusa Dua is conveniently located near Jimbaran Bay where the aforementioned sunset puts on a daily show and if you like sunrises, Nusa Dua offers an unobstructed view each morning. Modah Ani indeed!
Where to Stay
We spent most of our vacation at the Conrad Bali Resort & Spa, a magnificent five-star resort in Nusa Dua. Jean-Sébastien and Agung ensured our winter vacation was every bit as luxurious and romantic as our honeymoon. The Conrad suites offered exclusive access to an adults-only swimming area, complimentary nightly cocktails and a room that rivaled our New York City apartment for size and far exceeded for luxury, with two (!) balconies boasting ocean views.
The Conrad Bali host water sports on premises right outside their meticulously manicured private beach and there was nightly Balinese dance performances and an array of family-friendly programming for small children so parents can enjoy some alone time. There was ample lounge chairs around the largest pool I’ve ever seen and even when the hotel was at full capacity, it amazingly felt like a boutique with a staff to guest ratio that ensured that towels and sundries and daiquiris arrived in the blink of an eye.
For those seeking additional pampering, the Jiwa Spa was a wonderful place to begin and end our trip and right outside the hotel gates the Jari Menari spa delivered the best massage I ever had.
In all, Bali offers affordable luxury in one of the most beautiful places on earth. It beats to its own unique sound, a rhythm much different than the cacophony of honking horns and flashing lights in New York City.
In a companion article, I will be sharing some traditional Balinese recipes I learned while I was on vacation and a few recipes I adapted to kosher gratefully contributed by the new executive chef at the Conrad Bali.
Finally, not to be left behind is the incredible coffee culture I found in Bali. If you love good coffee you will have some fun anywhere you go in Bali. From Luwak coffee, the prized coffee that is harvested from animal poop, to the many roasters around the island, I did not drink a bad cup my whole trip.
Note: Villa Shana Tova offers some holiday and Shabbat kosher meals by donation, for more information email firstname.lastname@example.org