Bali – Indonesia
Written by Chris Andre
Known as surfers’ paradise, Kuta has now evolved into a one-stop destination for tourists of any age, day and night.
Kuta rose to fame back in the early 1970s when foreign surfers first crowded the site and lived their happy-go-lucky hippie lifestyle there. It didn’t take long, for about two decades, that hospitality giants took notice of this sliver of paradise and turned it into a must-visit destination. Today, Kuta is still constantly changing and remains charming in its own modern way with burgeoning entertainment centers that are set to please your holidays 24/7. It’s got arts and culture, beach and shopping malls, and more enchanting elements than you could ask for.
Where is Kuta – Bali ?
The best thing about Kuta is location. It’s where the international Ngurah Rai airport is. If you look at the map of Bali, it’s slightly north from the long bridge connecting the southern part of the island—Nusa Dua, Uluwatu and Tanjung Benoa—and the northern part of Bali—Legian, Seminyak, Canggu, Ubud and others.
How to get there?
From the airport, you can walk 15 minutes to reach Jalan Kartika Plaza, where a long strip of hotels barricading your view from Kuta Beach—Santika Premiere Hotel, Whiz Hotel Kuta and, the biggest of all, Discovery Kartika Plaza Bali (it’s one of the first hotels there, hence the eponymous street name). You can stay in any of these hotels to soak in Kuta’s true beachside life. If you’re not in the mood for strolling under the hot tropical sun after a long flight, go straight to the taxi booth that displays a flat rate for a taxi ride on the island—ignore taxi drivers touting their ride at the arrival hall. Single travelers who plan to stick to the wise adage “when in Rome, do what the Romans do” should try “ojek,” or motor taxis, instead. These ojek drivers normally group outside the motor parking area. Haggle the price first and enjoy an exhilarating ride just like what the locals do.
What to find in Kuta?
First and foremost, Kuta Beach is quite a long stretch—arguably way longer than Bondi Beach in Sydney. If you’re new to surfing, you got to try surfing at Kuta Beach at least once—it’s like eating pasta in Italy. The waves are relatively medium to small, and the locals are well known for their hospitality. Kuta also boasts great sunrises and sunsets. Wake up early at 6am and saunter along the beach and meet with Balinese women who sell local foods, normally Nasi Jinggo—steamed rice with a variety of veggies and chickens—for less than a dollar. Some others might offer you their services like massage or hair-braiding, all of which can be bargained to get the best price and are definitely must-do for first timers to Bali.
For a more modern facet of Kuta, there’s Beachwalk Shopping Mall. It’s a three-storied commercial center that is open from 10am to late at night—the shops are open to 10pm. Here you can find trendy clothing stores, air-conditioned bars and restaurants, and even cinema. Beachwalk is also connected to four-starred Sheraton Kuta Bali that has Feast, a fantastic beach-facing restaurant.
For teens and young adults, Kuta has the infamous Poppies Lanes and Legian, two not-so-glamorous sites that might fare well for a rite of passage. There you can find cheap foods and lodgings, and a lot of cheaper artworks. While Poppies Lanes are advisably better to discover with caution, there are places worth mentioning that would introduce one to a different culture of Bali. A place such as Twice Bar, a tattoo parlor on the first floor and a diner on the second, seems like a hybrid between “Miami Ink” and Bali’s own rockabilly, and it is owned by Superman Is Dead, Bali’s most successful rock band that does overseas gigs regularly. One tip: Poppies Lanes are known to be a seedy area that sells “magic mushrooms” and some other tricks you can imagine; better have someone watch your back while perusing the dark, narrow lanes.
Legian, on the other hand, is bustling with bars and clubs. Each watering hole has a certain theme that makes bar-hopping so much fun, provided you’re not against ear-deafening music. The five-storied SkyGarden is a must-visit party destination (again, with caution) and the Paddy’s Club usually rises to the occasion as an after-party spot or as a buzzing foam party house, which gets busy around midnight till the wee hours in the morning. It’s not rare that during those hours that traffic congestions occur on the long, one-way Legian Road. And don’t be surprised to see drunken tourists hobbling on the sidewalk. There’s no particular law forbidding drinking outside, hence a lot of tourists downing Bali’s bintang beer everywhere. If you’re in Bali for the nightlife and parties, you can stay at The 101 Legian, Love Hotel by FashionTV, Akmani and plenty more. But Legian also surprisingly has a few of tranquil hideaways, such as Villa de Daun with its award-winning DaLa Spa.
Where to Eat?
Being one of the early tourist destinations in Bali, Kuta’s culinary offerings are probably the most varied of all. Those seeking five-star pleasures should stick to the Kuta Beach strip where four-starred and high-end hotels such as Hard Rock Kuta, Mercure Kuta, The Stones by Marriott and Pullman Kuta Bali have internationally renowned chefs in their culinary arsenal. However, the real treat of Kuta is certainly the local delicacies.
Those who have seasoned palates to herbs and spices should check out the establishments surrounding the white Arjuna Statue landmark right outside the airport. There is Ayam Khas Gilimanuk (literally meaning Chicken a la Gilimanuk) that will put jalapeno chilies’ heat to shame. There’s also Bebek Tepi Sawah (Duck by the Rice Field), which fried ducks will contend with French duck confits. The spicy condiment called sambal matah is a must-try. It’s basically chopped shallots with chilies, so fragrant and a little burning on the palate. Indeed, there’s more on the list as you pass through Jalan Blambangan that’s chock-a-block with tempting yet cheap eateries.
Some of the most famous Balinese delicacies are suckling pig (there’s a street food stall on the intersection of Jalan Raya Kuta, right opposite the big Kuta temple. It opens around 6pm till 2am), sate babi or pork satay (the famed street food stall selling this is situated on a park on the side of Jalan Patih Jelantik), and lawar or steamed rice with mixed veggies and pork and a splash of fresh pig’s blood (it’s delicious, actually, but mental preparation is necessary).
Honeymooners might enjoy a decadent stay at The Stones by Marriot that is full of surprises: think of sunsets at the pool serenaded by a saxophonist and enlivened with a pyrotechnic show. Santika Premiere Hotel at Jalan Kartika Plaza is traditional yet homey with expansive manicured gardens and great open space for sunset viewing.
Sociable young adults could definitely stay at The 101 Legian that occasionally hosts boisterous pool parties on the rooftop. For budget-conscious traveling friends, the FaveHotel and Best Western chains are worth checking out. Their hotels are mostly situated nearby the must-see island attractions and landmarks.
What about transportations and safety?
Once you arrive at Kuta, the number of motorbikes blazing on the road might take you by surprise. You can as well rent a bike to help you travel fast from one place to another. Otherwise, “ojek” or motor taxis in Bali might come in handy. Should you feel like escaping from Kuta and wondering about Nusa Dua or Sanur, Bali has Transarbagita shuttle busses that cost only a fraction. It’s air-conditioned and safe, although the stops are limited to several locations only. Taxis are aplenty though, but not all would use a fee meter and might charge more than what’s already been agreed on—a good piece of advice is to go with BlueBird taxis.
Kuta is generally safe. Yet like other tourist destinations in the world, there are scams and pickpockets. Most importantly, be very prudent when picking a money changer. Go to a proper establishment that has a proper office and security guards. A lot of street-side money changers scam tourists and can steal up to $20 to $50 per person. For nightlife exploration, wherever you’re bar-hopping, always mind where you put your wallet. Drinking is fun, but getting drunk can cost you more than just a hangover. Nightclubs usually have pickpockets eyeing on drunken preys. Also mind what you’re drinking. If it doesn’t look like drinkable, it might not be. Bintang beer may not be great, but it’s what everybody’s drinking, hence safe option. Last but not least, be very careful when crossing the roads. Motorcyclists in Bali aren’t afraid to zoom fast on a busy road, and they are unlikely putting pedestrians first.
When to visit?
Kuta’s traffic during Idul Fitri or Moslem’s public holiday in July or August (changing every year) is horrible. This is due to domestic tourists visiting the island on their own cars. Year-ends might probably be the same, unfortunately. Due to the close proximity of the island to Java Island, there is a strong current during early months, especially January and February, that will carry trash and rubbish from Java to Bali. That said, the beach wouldn’t be as nice to visit as in other months.
For a very unique cultural experience, stay in Kuta before and during Nyepi Day. The Nyepi Day is the island’s public holiday that is customarily celebrated with general silence and prayers at home with no lights visible to the public. Even the airport is closed for a day during the Nyepi Day. It normally falls at the end of March. What’s not to be missed is that the evening before the Nyepi Day holds an Ogoh-Ogoh parade—giant, monster-themed papier-mâché constructions paraded around the island. It’s both fascinating and eerie, and the parade serves as a perfect opportunity to practice your night photography as the parade begins after sunset till 10pm. The following day is the completely silent Nyepi Day, which will be a great day to do some self-introspection, be quiet, and immerse in the peacefulness, since going outside of the house or hotel on that day is also forbidden. In the end, the contrast of Kuta before and during the Nyepi Day will afford you a greater understanding as how this Hindu island can be exotic and multicultural at once. Every visit to Kuta is, thus, special and one of a kind.
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Bali – Indonesia