We wanted to spend the first part of our vacation relaxing and adjusting. As a huge fan of tropical beach resorts, I was looking forward to six nights enjoying the Balinese beaches. In picking our beach, I wanted a location that balanced, beauty (easy), a few comforts to make traveling with a toddler easier (grocery & pharmacy) and full of Balinese life. I chose sleepy Sanur after looking at the other possibilities.
Kuta, where I stayed ten years earlier as a poor, student traveler, was in my opinion, a dump with a beautiful beach (and an OK Mexican restaurant.) Guesthouses, party bars and shopping are packed into the neighborhood along the beach. Kuta’s development has spread northwest along the coast, but, it is increasingly upscale. Legain, bordering Kuta, has become a family destination where you find the lodging bargains of Kuta and access to food and shopping, but, can avoid the party scene. Further up the coast, Legain blends into Seminyak. Seminyak is the hip, yuppie destination with trendy bars, luxury villa hotels, and an asian-trance soundtrack constantly playing somewhere.
On the peninsula south of the airport are two upscale resort towns. Nusa Dua is a resort development, similar to Cancun or Ka‘anapali, on the east coast of the Bukit peninsula. With a Westin, Nikko, Conrad, Melia, Grand Hyatt and other resorts laid out on huge, beautifully manicured properties, I consider it a bit generic. The west coast of the Bukit peninsula hosts Jimbaran where the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Intercontinental, and emerging boutique villa hotels make their home. Despite the upscale residents, the north end of the beach is the fishing center of Bali. A lively market emerges in the morning as fishermen bring in their catch and beachfront warungs serve up the catch at night. It is a beautiful location and I seriously considered a new, secluded, villa hotel in Jimbaran for our vacatoin, but decided against it as we would not be able to walk to a reasonably stocked grocery (pampers and yakult).
Sanur was the perfect choice for us. On the east coast of Bali, Sanur was the site of the first commercial resort development in Bali in the 1960s. Today, the town may be the most serene of the beach destinations in southern Bali. At least, it is considered a quiet town compared to other resorts and I think it feels more lush with old trees canopying the low rise resorts. A combination of tourists, expatriates and Balinese are found in Sanur year round. With a 5 km beachfront walk and gentle beach protected by a break-wall, it sounded perfect for traveling with a toddler.
The beach walk was wonderful. One afternoon we walked to the northern end. A few hundred feet before every market alley, the touts would surround us making small talk. “Where are you from?” “California. The Terminator, huh?” “How old is your daughter?” “How long you in Bali?” “Come visit my shop, number 28.” After politely, but forcefully conveying that we were not shopping, they continued to ask us questions and share a little of their own life. Honestly, the nicest touts we had ever experienced. Rather than getting upset for saying “No” they just enjoyed meeting new people (with a young child). Many of them were born in Sanur and still lived there with their extended families. (If you visit, please spend your money at the set of markets just north of the beachwalk Circle K – they were the best of the best.)
Sanur is a great place to walk, including with a stroller. We walked to the local supermarket, Hardy’s, to stock up on milk, yakult and mangosteens, and then across the street to The Pantry to pick up a bottle of wine. (Duty on imported wine is 100% so it is best for special occasions only.) Jalan Danau Tambligan, the main road in the tourist section of town, is filled restaurants ranging from Café Batujimbar with smoothies and baked goods to laid back Balinese warungs to Italian trattorias to bento boxes. One morning, I walked over to Cheeky Monkey’s and left Mirielle with the wonderful staff for a couple of hours so I could get some pampering at Natural Spa.
We only spent one day swimming at the beach. The beach was quiet and the water calm, though we could watch the more turbulent surf break against the protective wall. It turned out Mirielle preferred jumping in the waves more than mulling around a sandy beach. After wading a bit to cool off, she enjoyed playing with another young visitor from Java. Despite neither the boy, nor his family spoke English, and we knew no more that four words in Bahasa Indonesian, they played together for over two hours.
While we ventured out into Sanur every day, and spent two afternoons visiting the other beach resorts, we were quite happy to stay in our villa at Pavilions. I will publish a more detailed review soon, but there is nothing like a private pool, butler and inexpensive mini bar to keep you in your ‘hotel room.’ I have no idea when this idea took off, but villa resorts are the rage in Bali. Some are not much more than a large hotel room, a furnished patio called a ‘living area,’ and fenced-in garden. With others, you can have a private pool, kitchen, or outdoor bath/shower. All come with ‘butler service.’ While they will polish your shoes if you need, they can also recommend a place to get your stroller tire fixed, arrange a shuttle, prepare breakfast, find a newspaper, and almost anything else you can dream up.
Frequent visitors to Bali have their favorite beach spots, and mine is definitely Sanur. I highly recommend it for independent travelers with young children. If you want to take advantage of the shopping, crazy nightclubs, Carrefour, or surfing beaches, it is easy to hire a driver through your hotel, or directly on the street. We hired the brother of someone we talked ‘kids’ with at a bar for about $20 for a half a day. Sanur is a place you can do that. It is also a place where you can linger almost anywhere and strike up a conversation with anyone.