Waking Up To Bali
Waking up on a dark rainy day in Phuket to a badly timed alarm clock could easily be compared to receiving the jolt delivered through defibrillator paddles.
The fog lifted, only to be followed by a wave of boozer remorse over why I thought I needed those four extra drinks for the road the night before and why I didn't simply take a sleeping pill when the sun went down.
I headed to the airport in the pitch black before dawn, on my way to catch an insanely scheduled AirAsia direct flight to the isle of sleep – Bali.
All looked good until I arrived at the terminal at precisely the same time as four "Transformer" sized tour buses carrying herds of package tourists heading home on their charter flights.
The resulting carnage, limbs ripped from torsos and kicks to the head to slow-moving elderly women and children is far too horrific to recount here. Let's just say I managed to run the gauntlet and find my way to the airplane minutes before takeoff.
My mission differed from those other passengers reclining their seats to pin down those seated behind them in what wrestlers call the "cobra grip of death". Mine was a mission of market research into the parallel universe of property in Asia's other great resort destination.
Filled with purpose and a slight buzz from four cups of very bad Nescafe 3-in-1, (aka sugar and some other substance resembling low-grade crank), I hit the immigration and visa-on-arrival lines itching to go.
Surprisingly, the dialogue with government officials was pleasant. There were multiple exchanges of polite hellos and thank you's and even an unexpected, "Welcome to Bali." This was unlike in Phuket, where I am so used to having my passport thrown at me with a grunt and the turn of a head signaling that I must depart the line immediately.
After clearing entry, I made my way throughout the upscale tourist areas of Ubud, Nusa Dua, Legian/Seminyak, Jimbaran and Bukid, where construction was everywhere, propelled forward at fever pitch.
Branded-hospitality offerings screamed out at me, from the W, Banyan Tree, St Regis, Bvlgari, Anantara, Pan Pacific, Ramada, Alila, Karma, Outrigger all the way down the line to Citadines and more mid-scale condotels (hate that word, but it works) than I can count on all my fingers and toes.
It is interesting to note that Bali investment has experienced a large influx from Jakarta after the financial crises and riots in the capital in the late 1990s. Wealthy industrialists and high-net worth individuals considered the island to be a safe port in the volatile storm of political unrest.
While the 2002 and 2005 bombings each took a serious toll on tourism, room rate growth over the past few years has been one of the regional key success stories. Despite the surge, the ever-present security posts and guard dogs at hotel entrances somehow has not derailed visitors from the West.
More and more luxury hotels continue to enter the pipeline with Westin, Sheraton, Ritz-Carlton and a score of others typify a market on steroids.
There are familiar problems, though: an ailing transportation infrastructure, garbage disposal issues and a growing divide between the haves and have-nots, the latter mostly living in parts of the island that are not highly developed.
Add into this a controversial legislation over buildings located within a five kilometer radius of the Uluwatu Temple. This zone has hotel and residential projects mired in uncertainty.
There are also restrictions on having buildings set back generally 100 meters from the high tide mark, but the island now experiencing a growing number of cliffside estates and hospitality developments.
And, yes, factor in the struggle over building controls by the island's seven regencies (similar to districts) versus sought-after centralized control by the island's governor. It's potent, topical and sounds oh-so-Phuket.
One key trait of the Bali real estate market that's missing in Phuket, though, is the large presence of domestic buyers from the capital who are not only looking for investment but are also end-users in hotel-branded properties.
Despite the airfare between the nation's capital and Bali being similar to Bangkok to Phuket, families still come en masse versus shorter-haul destinations on their home island of Java.
While Bali's international airport upgrade project is similar to that underway in Phuket, the project is being fast-tracked to cope with increased passenger traffic. Rumors of a second airport in the northern part of the island remain just that – rumors.
Talking to agents, viewing projects and visiting hotels highlighted that activity on all fronts is vibrant and optimism is keen. Sales take-up rates for property are currently substantially higher than in Phuket due to a more balanced market mix.
As I sit in what is my favorite new haunt in Southeast Asia, the Poole Associates and AB Concept interior designed W Seminyak, it's hard not to be cast under the spell of the island's allure of life on the fringe of the ring of fire. It is certainly something to wake up to.