High time you visited Bali
WHEN I landed at Denpasar Airport with my wife and daughter in tow last month, it was almost 12 years to the day since I had been in Bali.
I must admit that the terrorist bombing in 2002 along with other incidents had soured my memories of what was a great holiday all those years ago and I had resisted the temptation to return.
So, after more than a decade, has Bali changed much and would I go back again? My answer is yes to both questions.
A renewed confidence in the future of Bali is on display wherever you turn.
Last year, foreign investors sunk more than $900million into the economy and most of that is going into building luxury hotels and villas.
With roads already choked with cars and thousands of motorbikes, it seems hardly possible that Bali could squeeze in more tourists, but that is what the island is trying to do.
The great news for those who haven't visited the area for years is that Bali has cleaned up its act, and rubbish piles along with broken footpaths are now every so often rather than every 10 metres.
The island is cleaner and friendlier.
Bbut the good thing for Aussies, particularly, is that the strength of our dollar means Bali remains a bargain hunter's paradise.
Dinner meals are $8, taxi cab rides are under $3 and adventures such as white-water rafting for a day cost $30.
Fewer hawkers seemed to be on the street than last time, although if you take up the offer of a neck massage on the beach, be prepared to be hounded by as many as 10 people offering to sell you beads, give you a manicure or lure you into buying a "real" 100% fake Billabong watch for $5.
Say nothing and, after 10 minutes, you will be left in peace.
When we first visited, we stayed in Nusa Dua, but this time around we chose Kuta and Seminyak.
Kuta can be a little overwhelming as you walk the streets, with every shop owner saying, "Gidday, mate. Want to buy cheap T-shirt at lucky price?"
Seminyak has better shops and while the prices are higher, the quality is, too.
The trip over with budget airline Virgin Pacific was comfortable and at a little more than five hours, doesn't leave you flat on arrival.
Be aware that the food on offer on the flight is disappointing and it's a good idea to to buy some provisions at the airport before you board.
Grabbing extra leg room by securing an exit aisle seat will put you back an extra $300 for the flight. The seats are a little squashy, but bearable, especially for such a short haul.
Our hotel of choice was the Hard Rock Hotel at Kuta, which proved to be a winner. Although almost 14 years old, it was full of life and good spirit.
In keeping with the theme of all Hard Rock establishments around the world, music was your constant companion. Don't get me wrong: you had plenty of quieter areas to relax in, but if you want to enjoy time in the resort's main pool, you have to enjoy music. The place had a great beat which seemed to give everyone a spring to their step.
Live bands play daily from 9pm to midnight and the traditional Hard Rock Cafe is part of the resort, but more intimate dining venues also are offered.
Teenage daughter loved the Tabu Club which catered for 13 to 17-year-olds and offered a disco, movie theatre and games room.
We also enjoyed the time we had to ourselves while she met new friends.
The Hard Rock Hotel is ideally situated opposite the main surf beach and is just around the corner from the main Kuta shopping centres.
Now that I have rediscovered Bali, I will definitely be returning and I recommend the time to go is in June so you can say goodbye to the Aussie winter for a few weeks.
The temperature was a balmy 28C and the tropical humidity didn't land on you like a blanket as it tends to do later in the year.
BALI TRAVEL TIPS
A MINIVAN from the airport to most Bali hotels will cost no more than $20 or about 200,000 rupiahs. Try to pre-book a transfer through your hotel. The arrival terminal is bedlam.
When buying T-shirts, sunglasses or dresses, pay no more than $5 or about 50,000r from street vendors. Do not ask the price if you have no intention of buying.
If you are buying DVDs, always ask if they are 100% originals and do not buy new releases. These are always illegal dubs and poor quality.
Do not accept any cards or leaflets from street vendors: these are excuses to hook you into a "special deal".
When you choose a restaurant or cafe, look for one that is busy and filled with tourists. Do not eat at open food courts even if the meals are just $4.
Do not use back-lane money changers even if the rate is better than elsewhere. You will be handed hundreds of small notes and invariably you will be ripped off.
Plenty of ATMs including the Commonwealth Bank are available.
If you want good-quality merchandise at a reasonable price, go to the best and biggest shopping centre in Bali: the Discovery Mall at Kuta.
Resist the temptation to hire a motor scooter. No road rules exist and everyone is at great risk of ending up in a Bali hospital.