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Phuket's tropical Asian beach destination counterpart, Bali, is hitting some high notes as of late. After some hard times the sun has broken through and the allure of the brand is creating a global sensation.
Last week I took the southbound direct AirAsia flight yet again, (which remains one of the region's best value trips) and checked out what's new on the island.
First up was a stay at the new Anantara Uluwatu, which overlooks one of Bali's most famous surfing areas. Perched up high, the views are simply sensational and change color and shape throughout the day. This is the Thai chain's second isle property, following up a successful start with the first in the trendy Seminyak area.
Rooms are ultra large and meant for hours of chilled downtime.
Nearby, Padang Padang remains a world famous location to ride the waves or else just check out the surf riders. Of course Julia Robert's Eat Pray Love was filmed in this area, which has pumped up the interest volume lately.
For golfers there is bad news and good news. Nusa Dua's famed Bali Country Club is closed for an upgrade, which will include a new luxury Shangri-La resort adjacent to it. But from Uluwatu, the Dreamland complex in Pecatu is minutes away and the New Kuta course gets a thumbs up by the golfing set.
The ritual of sunset drinks remains a nearly religious experience for visitors and nearby El Kabron has caught the imagination of travellers and locals alike. For those tired of the lines at the iconic Rock Bar at the Ayana Resort, the charming simplicity of a waterside setting, comfy bean bag ocean view seating and tapas makes for an unbeatable location.
If you want to head down the hill into Jimbaran, one of two dining destinations of note is lunch at the Jenggala ceramic showroom.
Check out the daily special board. For dinner head down past the InterContinental and try the eclectic Balique. Al fresco dining with tasteful antiques and a stylish casual setting.
Moving on for a few nights in Seminyak, which is the holy island grail of coolness, took me to the just opened boutique L Hotel. With just 30 rooms, boho chic interiors and a personal butler service, this is all about personality and location.
A key selling point is the hotel's free transport to and from your nearby dining, shopping and whatever- else-you-have-in-mind excursions. And yes the neighborhood includes such notable spots as Metis, The W, Potato Head, and Ku De Ta.
The concept is fresh and original with my favorite perk being the Kiehl's branded bathroom amenities.
After so many years of those vanilla comps, sewing kits and shower caps, here is something you can really use. On top of this the drinks in the mini bar are free.
My 'hole in the wall' dining choice is the nearby Rustica for home-style Italian food. The owner's mother, from Italy, is on board and is seen in the kitchen as well as out front. Prices are in the value category.
Another new debut is the Mozaic Beach Club in Batu Belig.
It's directly next to Seminyak and is run by the famed dining establishment in Ubud under the same name. This is an increasingly popular alternative to the beach club scene. In addition, upstairs is a formal eating area, which has a menu of selections to die for.
Want something more funky? Head off to Naughty Nuri's Warung, just up the street, with a roadside grill and soothing martini menu. Otherwise, directly across from the L Hotel is Cubana, with power packed mojitos and a relaxed ambiance on tap.
So many places to go to and so little time. Other eating favorites include breakfast at the Gourmet Caf, and lunch at Mama San, which is one of my absolute mustdos in Bali. This is one of the very best dining and meeting spots in all of Asia in my humble opinion.
So there you have it. Want to know more, check out cool local magazines such as Bali Smile or the artful dodger The Yak to clue into what's new.
While I dearly love my own Phuket, I have to say Bali offers the yin to our yang and is certainly worth a short trip off the rock to see life on the other side.