By Laura Hodgson
Travelling friend at Travel Nation
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Travelling to Asia has long been a passion of mine, but this trip was going to be rather different. With my husband and three young children in tow, everything had to be planned to perfection – and as a travel consultant, I had no excuses for not getting it right! After much deliberation we settled on Bali, as it was somewhere we hadn’t been to and, unlike much of Asia, the Indonesia weather is perfect in July and August.
We decided to stop in Singapore en route and flew with Singapore Airlines on their new Airbus A380. With loads of space, fantastic entertainment systems and a very child friendly cabin crew, I’d thoroughly recommend them to anyone travelling with kids. I’d also come well prepared with sticker books, finger puppets, colouring books and what is known in our house as ‘mummy's trump card’, the iPad. The kids were fantastic on the flight and we all arrived still talking and relatively relaxed. We arrived at the Swissotel Stamford at 7am and were delighted when told we could have an early check-in – very welcome news after a 13 hour flight! We decided to break the golden rule of acclimatising to different time zones and went to bed for a couple of hours – in our defence, it is very hard to explain to 3 very tired children that they have to push on through! We spent the rest of the day lazing around the pool – Singapore is hot and humid all year round so I’d highly recommend choosing a hotel with an outdoor pool.
Singapore is perhaps best known as a stop-over destination but it’s also very much a destination in its own right. We had 3 full days to explore the city and our activities were very ‘kiddy driven’. One of the highlights from our visit was morning tour of the superb Singapore Zoo and breakfast with the orang-utans – great fun for kids and adults alike! We also sampled Singapore’s nightlife in the Bugis area at a local food market, where we all ate delicious street food for the equivalent of £5 – who said Singapore is expensive? Our eldest son loved watching his dinner being made on the stall and then even ate it with chop sticks.
Our last day in Singapore was spent at Universal Studios on Sentosa Island. It has a good mix of white- knuckle roller coasters rides for the grown ups and lots of kiddy-friendly rides too – well worth a visit. There is so much more we would like to have done but didn’t manage this time. The beautiful botanical gardens, Singapore Flyer (the local equivalent of the London Eye), Singapore Slings at Raffles, street food in Chinatown, shopping on Orchard Road… all would have to wait until next time. Next stop… Indonesia!
On arrival in Bali, we’d been given the top tip of getting to immigration as quickly as possible as pretty much everyone else on your flight will also need to get a visa on arrival. Another tip is to pre-book a transfer to your accommodation, as the taxi touts are very persistent!
We decided to start our Balinese adventure in Ubud, the cultural capital of Bali, located in the central, more mountainous region. Here we stayed in Villa Kunang Kunang, a small boutique resort overlooking rice paddies. Our accommodation, a 2 storey converted rice barn, was a very special place to stay and our Balinese hosts were extremely hospitable and looked after our every need during our stay. They were also so kind and loving towards our children, which was true of all the Balinese people we met.
Two of my favourite things in Ubud were the restaurants and the shopping. We ate in the famous Dirty Duck restaurant and Three Monkeys, both great value and amazing food. Whilst in Ubud, we took a rather long walk for little people into the rice paddies and found the most amazing restaurant called Sari Organic. The food was fabulous and the peaceful setting was a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of Ubud's centre. We visited the monkey forest which the children loved, but be sure to not take any food in with you as the monkeys are expert scavengers! We also hired a local guide for the day to explore the surrounding area and did a full day tour of temples, rice paddies, coffee plantations and volcanoes.
Our next stop after Ubud was Lovina, on the north coast of Bali where the beaches are volcanic sand. We hired a villa with another family about 2 km inland up in the hills overlooking the sea – villas represent great value, especially on the north coast compared to the South. Our villa came with a maid, cook and resort manager, so if you wanted to eat in all the time this was possible. We quickly settled into an agreeable routine of having lunch in the villa everyday and then heading down to the beach every night for dinner. The kids could play on the beach while the grown ups enjoyed a few beers as the sun set - a perfect end to each day.
Lovina is famous for dolphin watching trips and whilst this is quite a commercial activity, it was something we had promised our children we would do. It was great fun liaising and bargaining with the local fisherman as to who would take us out. Our friends’ 6 year old daughter decided it should be the pink boat much to the disgust of my boys! We were collected from our villa at 5am as the best chance of seeing the dolphins is at sunrise. Our 3yr old son slept through the transfer and boat ride and woke at 6.30am with dolphins jumping out of the water beside our boat - what a way to start your day!
Another great day trip we did from Lovina was to Menjangan Island in Bali Barat National Park on the North West Coast of Bali. This is a great diving and snorkelling site in Bali. There are lots of dive schools in Lovina that can arrange this tour and trips to other dive sites. It is also possible to stay on Menjangan island for those wishing to have a longer stay in this part of Bali.
For the next part of our holiday, I was looking for perfect white sand beaches, amazing snorkelling and diving and, most importantly, it had to be family friendly. I settled on Gili Trawangan, one of 3 very small islands off the coast of Lombok. You can take a ferry but we opted for the fast speedboat which took 2 hours- it was pretty choppy, so if you are prone to seasickness then make sure you are prepared! Also, it’s best to go with a reputable company as safety issues have been a concern in recent years with some of the smaller operators.
We used Blue Water Express, who were very efficient and comfortable - they also had to reroute our return transfer due to weather conditions and we were promptly notified and the onward transfer was rearranged accordingly. I am always impressed when operators overcome problematic schedule changes in an efficient manner, as this is something we are really hot on at Travel Nation.
On arrival at Gili Trawangan we were met by a rep from our hotel and escorted to our awaiting horse and cart! The operator apologised there were no car seats but assured us that the horse would not get up to speed! I am amazed it could even muster the strength to even walk with the 5 of us and all our luggage on board! We stayed at Villa Ombak in a family unit, which was really spacious and we also had the most amazing outside bathroom - the shower was saline water which is the naturally sourced water on the island. The resort is really well laid out and the family units were right beside the gorgeous pool and the beach front restaurant was also wonderful. It’s also located right at the end of ‘the strip’, so is close to the action yet peaceful.
The strip is crammed with bars with trendy day beds and restaurants with great evening BBQs. There is also a great night market with lots of local Warungs serving delicious fresh seafood , a much cheaper and more authentic experience than the beach front restaurants. Gili Trawangan itself is tiny (you could walk around it in a few hours), and the clear waters that surround it are renowned for outstanding diving and snorkelling. Our 5 year old loved swimming with the turtles which are abundant in the waters just off the island, and there is also a turtle sanctuary on the beach which looks after rescued baby turtles before releasing them into the wild.
With our trip drawing to a close, we returned to the ‘mainland’ and headed for Sanur, a relatively quiet resort in the south of Bali with a lovely stretch of white sandy beach. We stayed in the Bali Hyatt, which features authentic Balinese architecture and charm, has a kid’s club and is located right on the beach. Sanur town is lively at night but the Bali Hyatt is on the edge of town so it is nice and quiet. Our last day in Bali was spent at the Waterbom Park, a fantastic waterpark in Kuta and a brilliant way to end the trip as the kids were exhausted for the return flight home!
We can arrange direct flights to Denpasar (Bali) or with a stopover of your choosing. Have a look at these ideas for multi-stop tickets to get you thinking:
We can recommend family-friendly places to stay throughout Indonesia, including Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. Take a look at a small selection of our hand-picked hotels here:
We can also help put together a brilliant tailor-made itinerary that suits both you and the kids and takes you to visit interesting temples and gorgeous beaches - check out these itineraries for some ideas. Remember we can customise these exactly to suit you:
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