As I lounge on my sunbed, anchored in the middle of an aquamarine pool, I can’t believe how long it has taken me to visit Bali. I am at the Courtyard by Marriott in Seminyak, which has only been open for one month, and as I get lost in my book, my skin soaking up some much-needed vitamin D, I’m sure I’m in heaven.
It’s possible I’m that too old to be on my first trip to Bali. For Australians, Bali is almost a rite of passage and most of my friends pop over as though they’re going to Sydney. My family has never holidayed in Bali, with my parents preferring to explore Australia or head overseas to Europe. I had previously thought that Bali didn’t have much to offer. But, as I dangle my feet in the sparkling water, feeling more content than I have in a long time, I realise just how wrong I was.
Less than six hours from most capital cities, it’s easy to see why this Indonesian island is such a popular holiday destination for Australians. Unfortunately, Bali often gets a bad rap. For many westerners, the Bali bombings have spoilt this tropical paradise, leaving them with significant safety concerns. I am surprised at the level of security as my car pulls into the hotel entrance. Not only do security guards check the entire vehicle, a sniffer dog does as well. Next, every guest or visitor to the hotel foyer is subject to airport security level bag scans. While I am told this is the Marriott standard, most other hotels also complete car checks. Far from being alarming, as a solo female traveller this puts my mind at ease, and allows me to worry about the important details of my holiday, such as which bikini to wear.
Not only is Bali close, it’s imminently affordable. More often than not you can snap up sale fares to Denpasar from Jetstar or Virgin, from as little as $300 return, and many hotels offer great deals or packages throughout most of the year. Unlike many Australian hotels which charge for wifi, I was overwhelmed by the inclusions at Courtyard by Marriott. Not only was the wifi free, bottled water was also provided free of charge and a complimentary buggy service was available to the beach or main street in Seminyak. My room also included breakfast, which was held at the onsite restaurant, Seminyak Kitchen, where the head chef is a fellow Australian, Billy Costoglou. With breakfast on offer all day, to call the buffet expansive is an understatement. I was incredibly grateful for the gluten-free options – something I wasn’t sure I would find in Bali.
Later that afternoon, as a friend and I sit at the swim-up bar ordering cocktails from the boys in tropical-printed shirts and watching AFL footy, which is naturally being screened at the pool bar, I am struck by another Bali misconception – bogans. If you believe the Bali stereotype that you see on TV you would be forgiven for thinking the entire island is overrun by bogans. This is far from the truth. While Kuta caters for all types, Seminyak, a relatively new area, is quieter and attracts different clientele. Courtyard by Marriott takes this a step further with rooms around the perimeters, creating a peaceful oasis in the centre featuring an impressive lagoon pool, which flows over three levels.
It’s also impossible to overlook how friendly the locals are. Everywhere we go they are interested in where we are from and at one point, when I leave my bankcard in an ATM by accident, someone runs after me down the street to return it. Again, an experience far removed from the warnings which I had received prior to my departure.
The local culture means that even walking down the street is enlivened by the offerings on the ground, or gifts to the gods. Many hotels and villas are designed and decorated in the traditional Balinese style, with buildings restricted to the height of the tallest temple. And then there is the food, which is on another level, and easily some of the best I’ve ever eaten. From traditional cuisine, to Asian fusion and everything in between, including Italian and Mexican, there is no shortage of world-class restaurants with meals (and cocktails) at extremely reasonable prices.
While many holidaymakers consider Bali to simply be a party destination, the local focus on wellbeing is far greater than most realise. With countless options for massages, pedicures and beauty treatments, the local prices turn these luxuries into everyday options and this pampering is one of the things I miss most about Bali. The first facial I had was at Courtyard by Marriott. It was brilliant and at $30 left my skin glowing and my wallet intact. The best massage I’ve ever had, involving hot stones, was in a side street in Seminyak. Many masseuses will also come to you, and there are yoga classes and other exercise options all around Seminyak.
My weeklong break is over and I’m being whisked off to the new international terminal to head back home. I can’t say the idea excites me. I’m not ready to leave this floating paradise, with its beautiful people, idyllic locations, and promise of relaxation. There is still so much I want to see and do, not too mention eat! I can only console myself with the knowledge that now I’ve discovered Bali, I definitely won’t be waiting another 25 years to come back.
Courtyard by Marriott Seminyak
I can’t recommend this newly-opened hotel highly enough. The rooms are spacious and every room has a balcony (or terrace, for ground floor rooms). With three pools, a 24-hour gym, kids’ club and spa, the low prices make it an extremely affordable option given the five-star facilities. The swim-up bar was one of my favourite features, with happy hour daily from 5-7pm and live entertainment every night.
To celebrate the hotel’s opening a range of deals including the “You Stay We Pay” are now on offer at Marriott.com.