Island indulgence

It was always my hidden shame, something that I only ever admitted to my very closest friends. My big secret that I always thought said more about me than I wanted anyone to know.

Until very recently I had never been to Bali. I had written about Bali many times, mainly referring to health dangers, the important warnings of what and what not to do such as making sure you were properly and fully insured, that you always watched someone open a bottle of anything that you consumed, don’t go near the monkeys, and so forth.

I had even called on the Australian Government to take a more proactive approach on Bali health issues and to warn travellers while they were in the air about not taking health standards for granted in one of our nearest neighbours.

But every year the raw numbers told a different story, with almost half a million Western Australian tourists a year travelling to what has become our new Rottnest Island.

My choice of travel destination was always further away, or just different – Iran or Kazakhstan, China or Cambodia. Or more run of the mill, somewhere in Europe or Japan. Just never Bali.

Seaweed is farmed along the coast of Lembongan. I had heard and seen too much of the ugly Australian, too often and I had thought the epicentre, the ground zero for this particular breed was Bali. I recall a family of such travellers in Kuala Lumpur Airport a few years ago – as their children climbed the seats, annoying everyone, and their parents abused them and each other with foul language, telling everyone that they were on their way to Bali, proud of the fact that it was their 27th (or similar) trip and ready to bargain local shopkeepers down to the last ringgit.

But friendships can do funny things and when someone close to me suggested Bali was the best place to go, my heart and finally my feet, took over.

Click NEXT to read more about the hidden charms of Bali.

Getting on the plane was not the best start and, in fact, I even contemplated letting the flight go without me. The number of people already in Bingtang singlets for one thing, the seeming uniform of shorts and thongs, the loud proclamation of how much alcohol could be downed in three days, all combined with my natural aversion to Bali, to almost eject me from the flight before it left the ground.

But as the flight left Perth International at the seemingly cruel time of 6am, sleep had me in its embrace we had had even left the ground. It was only the bump of the retail trolley against my row that woke me just an hour before landing at Denpasar International Airport. Immigration was pleasingly quick, the staff were very welcoming and my driver was waiting.

It was only at this point that my true understanding of Bali began. Readers may laugh at both my appalling ignorance and misconceptions of the island, but Bali is, like most destinations, a mixture of experiences, of neighbourhoods and of standards of accommodation and health.

Nasi Lemak was the daily breakfast choice for Robert Reid.I stayed in luxury at a very reasonable price, and I ate at some of the most amazing restaurants I have ever visited. Bali is busy, crowded, and noisy. At times the air moves quickly from refreshingly tropical to mind-blowingly fetid. But it is relaxed and fascinating and I started to slow down almost immediately.

But the main surprise of my week in Bali was giving myself over to the relaxed atmosphere of Lembongan Island. Just over eight square kilometres in size and with around 5000 permanent residents, the island prides itself in offering the delights of Bali without the downside of over-development or environmental mistakes.

Click NEXT to read more about the hidden charms of Bali.

Leaving from Sanur Beach in Bali by speedboat, it was just 30 minutes later that my feet were sinking into the glorious white sand of Mushroom Bay. Staff from the Lembongan Island Beach Resort were there to welcome guests and to take bags the few metres across the sand into the hotel where a welcoming cool drink awaited.

Unlike Bali itself, Lembongan Island, at this stage at least, seems to be taking development carefully – the island could be cleaner but the water looks pristine and is a wonderful resource for families keen to play.

A variety of international restaurants scattered around the island offer delightful food at very reasonable prices and there is a huge range of accommodation for all budgets.

Lembongan is obviously good for kids, with a range of water sports available. For adults who merely want to slumber at the beach front bars, occasionally slipping into the fantastic tropical waters to cool off, there are many options. In short, I have found a new tropical paradise, with great food and a wide range of accommodation at very reasonable prices. The warm wind caressing the island is, alone, a reason for visiting. That it offers everything else on my list of needs for a relaxing week is the icing on the cake.

Boats moored off the tropical island Lembongan in Bali.It only took one visit but I am captivated. I am a believer. I am already planning the next trip and will wear my thongs with pride as I walk down the air bridge onto the flight.

Yes, like most repeat travellers to Bali, I have drunk the Kool-Aid.