Singapore and Bali
The first thing I realised when planning my own holiday to Bali was that it was going to involve a lot of flying. The idea of a three-night stopover in Singapore along the way seemed the perfect way to break the journey and take in a city that had long been on my wish list.
Lisa and I love city-breaks with New York far and away our favourite. Something we have learned on our many visits there is that the braver we are in terms of exploring the more we enjoy our time away. So how to approach a new and mysterious place we may never visit again? Obviously, I asked a travel agent 😊
My brother Anthony had been to Singapore 10 years ago and recommended we hire a driver for the day to show us the main sights. This was great advice, but I was worried that unless we organised something before we travelled, valuable time would be lost sorting things out on arrival.
To be honest when I texted the telephone number on the business card Anthony’s driver had given him all those years ago, I didn’t expect much. To my surprise Patrick OK Ngo replied within a couple of minutes and after a quick check on his prices I booked a 11am pick-up for our first morning.
The flight from Heathrow to Singapore takes around 13 hours and we were glad to stretch our legs rather than riding the many electric-walkways to baggage reclaim. The airport is vast, clean and super well-organised. It wasn’t a shock when our cases appeared on the carousel almost instantly. What was rather unnerving was how few of our fellow passengers were staying here, clearly the vast majority had opted to fly onwards without a pit-stop.
Our taxi transfer was standing-by and we were whisked to the Pan Pacific Hotel within a few minutes hardly having a moment to take in our new surroundings. There-in lies the problem with city breaks; by the time you’ve got your bearings it’s time to leave.
The hotel was of a good standard and we upgraded to a Club Room to gain access to Champagne breakfast and evening drinks with canapés. Although a little more expensive than a standard room this gave us some structure to our stay and helped a lot with daily budgeting. There were certainly some guests taking full advantage of the “free-drinks” and why not you’re on holiday.
I still had my doubts as to whether Patrick our tour guide would turn-up, but at 10:50am my telephone buzzed, and he was waiting in reception. The beauty of having a private tour is the opportunity to explain what you would like to see and at what pace. We saw lots, quickly and took full advantage of Patrick’s knowledge getting him to point out shops, bars and restaurants that we would explore later.
By 4pm we had seen all the major sights, ridden the cable car and wandered around Chinatown in Patrick’s reassuring company. Thanks to this wonderful orientation the next couple of days were filled with adventure combining a bit of walking, public transport and the local UBER (GRAB). It is amazing how much cheaper and more exciting a city becomes when you know your way around.
I can only imagine that those who travelled on immediately from Singapore had perhaps seen it all before. I’m sure I will visit again one day, but my memories of the many stunning high-rise views and iconic Raffle’s Singapore Slings make me feel like I’ve done it for now.
Apart from the opportunity to break-up the journey our Singapore stay gave us the chance to book gentle lunchtime flights for the onward journey to Bali. It was lovely to arrive at The Elysian in time for afternoon tea and still catch the last couple of hours of sunshine sitting beside our own private pool before dinner.
I’ve noticed increasingly our customers try to avoid night flights and early hotel check-outs when booking their own holidays and it certainly makes sense. You can often make your whole travelling experience so much nicer by paying a little more for convenient flight times.
The town of Seminyak is the busiest and most commercial in Bali and we had chosen The Elysian Hotel very carefully noting its position set back from the main drag, but still close to the beach. The distances were walkable, but it’s important to bear in mind the humidity when considering where to stay and occasionally we used taxis in the evenings.
Indonesia remains fundamentally a Third World Country and although you are perfectly safe this doesn’t stop the locals doing their best to fiddle you out of a few extra “dollars” whenever possible. This is best illustrated by the constant warning you are given by the hotel and tour operator staff to only use the official “Blue Bird Taxi Group”. These drivers are easily identified as their cars are a unique pale blue colour and bear a distinct bluebird logo. All their fares are monitored and metered.
On our second evening I confidently hailed down an official looking taxi only for Lisa to pull me back at the last moment. I had inadvertently mistaken a cunningly named “Blue Biro” taxi with its virtually identical livery for the real thing. Apparently, this would only have resulted in a hugely inflated price for our short journey, perhaps £10 instead of £2, but it was an eye-opening experience.
Most visitors to Bali enjoy a twin-centre holiday combining the scenery and culture of the north with a separate beach stay. As we only had a week, we decided to hire a driver and take a couple of day trips from our Seminyak base. This allowed us to make visits as diverse as ancient temples, a coffee plantation and a monkey forest, but I think in truth we probably only scratched the surface of this fascinating country.
The main objective of our stay was a relaxing sunshine break and The Elysian delivered this faultlessly. The hotel is made-up of just 27 private villa style rooms each with its own high-walled garden featuring a private pool and sun deck.
If you preferred breakfast could be served directly to your villa and the quality of the food was excellent. I found myself craving their delicious Banana Pancakes every morning, just writing this article has my mouth watering, how strange it is what we remember most?
Seminyak runs seamlessly along the beach into its slightly more traditional neighbours Legian and Kuta. The three combined offer an incredible array of places to shop, eat and drink. I don’t think the word commercialised captures quite how busy it is.
Contrast this with our visit to Ubud in the heart of Bali where it felt like you could breathe in the culture. I found the eclectic mix of magnificent terraced fields, ancient monuments and an altogether quieter way of life quite charming. It’s hard to imagine we were on the same Island.
Bali is about extremes and it is possible to find a balance here to suit almost any tourist. Our long walks along the beach, stopping off at an impromptu bean-bag beach bar for a cool drink and stumbling upon new places to eat each day gave us the battery recharge we needed.
I hope we will get the chance to visit again one day and perhaps allow ourselves more time to really get to know this wonderful country. I feel there are a lot more adventures to be had in alluring Bali.
Errors and omissions excepted.
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