I’ll start this entry with a confession.
Late last week I stole my wife’s dinner.
Balangan from the clifftop
She’d cooked up a beef casserole in the slow-cooker and had a bowl of it before heading across to Kuta for some shopping. I ate later, and, assuming she had had her fill, after putting aside some for the kids’ lunch the next day, I ate the rest of it.
I won’t repeat the exchange of text messages as Sam drove home from Kuta, though let’s just say her first message noted she’d bought some bread for soaking up the beef sauce… and it was all kinda downhill from there.
As it turned out, I did Sam a huge favour. The beef was bad and it gave me a bout of food poisoning worse than anything I have experienced since India. It laid me out, emptied me out and nothing, not even water, stayed down.
Beach umbrellas, late afternoon
So what’s one to do in a situation like that? Head to the beach for a night I say. So Saturday morning off we headed to one of Bali’s best strips of sand, Balangan Beach.
Balangan is one of Bali’s lesser known beaches, but it is all the better for it. It’s basically the next beach of any size between what used to be known as Dreamland (now fittingly referred to as “New Kuta”) and the Ayana Resort (and Jimbaran after it). The beach is down a steep staircase (easy to climb when not carrying two wet children) and an assortment of warungs and cheap homestay/shacks are set up along the eastern end of the beach. Slightly to the west of centre is a temple and after that there is nothing — just sand.
People walking along Balangan Beach
At hightide there is some good swimming to be had — though bear in mind, as a surf beach, you’ll need to keep a close eye on any rugrats. At low tide a rocky base breaks the surface, making much of it crummy for swimming but ideal for pond watching, shell collecting and of course, as the tide drops, dam-building — my favourite.
And let me state unequivocally: The biggest threat to the Three Gorges Dam is not silt build-up but rather the arrival of a 50-metre tall two-year-old boy who just “wants to help”.
The western headland, note fishermen at top
If you start building lots of dams — or sand castles — you’ll note another of Balangan’s special features. The grains of sand are, by and large, perfectly spherical. They immediately brought couscous to mind, and I’ve never ever seen sand quite like it.
The sun sets more or less directly offshore and the vista is spectacular.
Looking east from the headland
So down on the beach, the basic procedure is surf, swim, sand castle- or dam-build and eat and drink to your heart’s content, then take in the sunset and get ready to repeat the procedure the next day.
Accommodation basically falls into two categories — cheap and basic backpacker digs down on the beach and more flashpacker-midrange stuff up above the beach on the cliff.
As for us it was just a one nighter and as I had a stolen dodgy beef to make up for, we decided to splurge and opted for the decidedly salubrious La Joya (The Jewel).
The nautilus shell motif that welcomes all to La Joya
Set on an undulating plot, the bulk of the accommodation is spacious freestanding bungalows (some with outdoor bathroom), each with their own little fenced-in garden (great for containing kids!) and lawn. A larger two-storey building has more hotel-style rooms along with a very large private villa with its own pool. Two infinity swimming pools and a spacious restaurant fill out the property.
Gardens are simply gorgeous. Lovingly tended and with a glorious mix of colours, you find your way though them via a network of lawn pathways with the occassional subtle signage helping to point you in the right direction. Lots of shade.
Our room, a Deluxe Bungalow (Room #14 1,501,830 rp inc tax, service but before KITAS discount), certainly wasn’t cheap. The bungalow was quite spacious, easily fitting a double bed and a daybed (which we used as the kids’ bed) and came with separate toilet and shower rooms. Airy and bright, with a slight Moorish tone and excellent lighting through the evening, it was a room I could comfortably spend a few days in (ed: I could take a few weeks. Just in case you were wondering about a birthday pressie).
Double-width glass doors opened out onto our private yard with terrace seating. It was comfortably, but not totally, private.
It wasn’t all perfect though. One of the soft terrace seats had two nail heads sticking out (a hazard for the kids) so we asked for it to be replaced. We ended up with upright chairs from the restaurant, which were not the most comfortable to lounge around in. The glass doors, once locked, could easily be forced open from outside — both Samantha and myself broke in this way when we forgot our keys, so it’s difficult to say whether this is a plus or a minus. Lastly, while La Joya has some of the best water pressure I’ve experienced anywhere in Asia, the taps were fitted backwards (or the water pipes connected wrong or something) so when I turned on the cold water in the basin, I got scalding hot. Not good. And while it was a bonus for us, the lack of TV may bother some (it should be clear on the web site this is the case, we think).
Our (already messy) room
But overall these were fairly minor things. The room was stylish and comfortable, clean and very well looked after (save the terrace chair), the air-con was cool enough to freeze Walt Disney and the kids loved their little zone.
The restaurant overlooks one of the pools and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Western food is excellent and competitively priced for the standard, while the Indonesian fare isn’t so great and struck us as overpriced. The muzak was just awful. For the first time in my life I got up and asked restaurant staff if they could change the music (we were the only ones in the restaurant at the time — maybe the muzak was why!).
The restaurant pool
My crusted tuna salad (sliced rare tuna with julienne mango, in lime coriander with mixed lettuce finished with orange zest black vinegar) would, at 65,000 rp, certainly break a backpacker budget, but for this standard of resort, the price was more than reasonable. There are cheaper places to eat, both down the road and on the beach itself, so you don’t feel trapped with a lack of other options. Service was prompt, polite and very friendly. We found the mostly female staff to be exceedingly helpful and friendly with our kids — so much so we’d recommend this place for families on that strength alone.
Tuna for lunch
However, a couple of things should be noted by those travelling with children, starting with the very prominent rat poison traps positioned by the two main entrances to the restaurant. With bright red arrows indicating their position and holes just big enough for a childs arm, these are an accident waiting to happen (unless there is no bait there during the day?). They should, at least, be obscured or better positioned, so while still obvious to a rat they are less so to a three-year old. Also around the restaurant we saw plugs hanging out of sockets and a junction box sitting beside a water feature. Neither outright dangerous, and not an issue for adults, but for kids, this kind of thing can really be better done.
Now a word on internet. I think it is outrageous that any property, anywhere in the world, charging over $100 a night charges a surcharge for WiFi access. If you can’t supply WiFi for free, then don’t offer it.
La Joya offers WiFi access, at a surcharge of 100,000 rp for 24 hours. I think it is an unacceptable charge, but we were told of the price upfront over the telephone, and we decided to grin and bear it. When we went in the early afternoon to ask about sorting out our access, we were told that only the manager could connect us, and she was down in Kuta “for a couple of hours”. Throughout the afternoon I wandered back to reception asking after WiFi, but the manager still wasn’t back. In the end it wasn’t till evening, after our dinner, that I returned to reception and managed to get the manager to hook us in.
Stylish coffee for breakie
At no stage was I offered an “Oh, I’m sorry for the inconvenience” by the manager — even though she was sitting across the pathway from me. I didn’t need — nor want — a grovelling apology, but I think it’s a pretty base level of service to apologise to a guest when they’ve been inconvenienced for the last eight hours. And though I was only in the resort for another perhaps 18 hours, half of those sleeping, they still charged me for the full 24 hours internet access.
Two things spring to mind concerning this. Firstly, train your staff to connect a guest to the router. Secondly, if you don’t see the inconveniencing of a guest for eight hours to be worthy of an apology or at least the gesture of a nominal discount, then I think you’re in the wrong trade.
And this brings me to my final thoughts on La Joya, centred on the staff. We found the local staff to be absolutely exceptional. They were terrific with our kids, they arranged a babysitter for us at very short notice, and we left feeling there was nothing we could have asked of them that they wouldn’t have helped us with. On the other hand we found the foreign staff — namely the manager and owner — to be, well, the mirror image of their staff. That on checkout, as they both stood in the office across from reception, neither felt the need to stroll the five metres across and enquire as to whether we enjoyed our stay, really left me scratching my head.
The hotel’s custom is almost all French (the receptionist said 97% French, then Portuguese) and we’re not French, so maybe that was the problem. Or perhaps it was that we brought kids, or that we asked for a KITAS discount. Perhaps they were both just having a really bad couple of days. Who knows?
But overall I left really feeling that they felt they didn’t need our custom — and that is a shame as I would have liked to have said I’d return here, but I probably won’t.
Cliff top fishing
We’ll be returning to Balangan in a couple more weeks to check out a few of the other more backpacker and flashpacker orientated gigs in detail. But if La Joya sounds like your kettle of fish, you can reach them here:
Jalan Uluwatu Pantai Balangan, Bali
Tel: +62 361 7450501
Mob: +62 818 565 839