Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world, the largest country in SE Asia and contains the largest Muslim population in the world. Kuta, one of many towns on the island, has long been a tourist hotspot attracting beach goers, surfing enthusiasts and those wanting to party (a favourite spot for Australians). However, we found a number of tourists of varying nationalities and that there was more to Kuta than just it’s reputation for nightlife.
Getting to Kuta
Kuta is easily accessible by road once on the island through privately hired vehicles, taxis and even shuttle buses that run between the major towns. It is a great first or final destination in Bali if you are using the airport as it is only a short drive away. If coming from further afield then don’t forget to haggle for the cost of your journey as you will often be quoted much more than it actually is. We only paid 60 000 IDR each (around £3) to get from Ubud to Kuta and even we felt we might have been able to get an even better bargain – our haggling skills are not that great!! If you want to arrive in Kuta from Lombok or the Gilis then this might be most easily done by purchasing a combo ticket as we did for Ubud.
Once again we arrived with no accommodation booked. This type of thing would usually have filled me with dread: “Where are we going to stay?” “If we don’t book somewhere months in advance won’t the price just be doubled or worse?” and “What if there is NOWHERE for us to stay and we end up sleeping on the streets or wandering around all night?” However, we were used to it now and knew that unless we were going to arrive at an inconvenient time we would be fine to do sort it on arrival.
As Kuta was a little more spread out than the Gilis we just found a bar which served cold drinks (it was hot!), had free wifi and served food at a price we were happy with. As we sipped our drinks and waited for our food to arrive we abused the wifi and after three of us searching for around 15 minutes had found something we were happy with. Due to the amazing no credit card facility that booking.com has we were booked in no time. We could then just sit back relax, eat our food and discuss what we wanted to do whilst in Kuta safe in the knowledge that we had a place to go to when we were ready.
We ended up staying on Jalan Mataram in Pondok Mirah which was such a find. Paying only 150 000 IDR (£7.50) we were in what was hotel standard. We had air con (no more fan for us), a double bed, excellent wifi, TV (never used!), storage, a safety deposit box (so useful when you want to go to the beach), hot and cold water shower (first hot shower since KL) and a small dipping pool (which we shared with no one) next to our outdoor seating area. We felt like the owner had no clue as to what his rooms were worth but we weren’t complaining! Once again we were even able to add additional nights on at will and organised transfer to the airport. The only downside was there was no breakfast but we were happy to have a couple of lie-ins and grab brunch on the way to the beach!
Kuta certainly has a much larger Western influence than anywhere we had visited in Indonesia and it was strange to see the signs we were usually so familiar with: Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, Hard Rock Cafe, Pizza Hut and even a Jamie Oliver restaurant coming soon. I’m happy to report that we only visited the McDonalds outdoor ice cream stand for some traditional Mr Whippy style ice cream and the rest of the time supported local restaurants eating local food.
A favourite local eatery was around the corner from our hostel on Jalan Mataram: Dapoer Indonesia. Like the Warungs we had eaten at previously we could get local food for less than £1 – our friend Gemma had catfish which she enjoyed so much she had on two separate occasions – definitely worth a try! We also had Mexican at TJs which was a little pricier than our usual choice but we treated ourselves to a final Western style meal before heading away from Indonesia and onwards to China. Another great place to eat especially if you fancy a break from rice and noodle dishes.
Not the cleanest of beaches which surprised us considering how popular we were told Kuta was but definitely a surfers paradise. You can’t walk more than a few meters without being offered surf lessons or board hire. If you haven’t tried surfing and want to then this could be the place for you. However, there is a wide variety of choice from surfing schools to locals happy to show you a few techniques. Also, the waves are HUGE in places which is also worth considering if you are going to try surfing for the first time. We decided against surfing due to the size of the waves (we would still like to try but will leave for slightly calmer waters!) but still had fun in the designated swimming areas. These are not areas where you could actually swim due to strong under currents and wave size. However, jumping over the waves in these areas is a lot of fun, though very tiring – highly recommended.
The Art Market
It’s called the Art Market and true to the name is full of art (drawings and locally produced items) as well as tourist souvenir tat – do you know anyone in need of a wooden penis that doubles as a bottle opener? However, it is definitely worth a look around, especially if you are looking to buy gifts or to see the going price for something before you try bartering at the stalls that line many of the main streets. Once again, I used it as an opportunity to pick up a new postcard – the collection continues to grow!
On 12 October 2002 Bali suffered at the hands of terrorists when a bomb went off killing 202 people – mostly Australians and Indonesians (although there were other casualties from across the world). The after effects are still seen now with a noticeable police/security presence particularly on the entrance to hotels where they can be seen checking cars (including the undersides) thoroughly. As a sign of remembrance to those killed a memorial wall stands in downtown Kuta listing the names and nationalities of each person. Once again I was embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of crucial world events, never realising that somewhere as remote as Bali had been affected by the continuing threat of terrorism. Worth walking past if only to remember those who suffered.
Seminyak is one of the many places you can get a transfer to. However, we found that you could easily walk to it along the beach by heading north from Kuta beach (keep the beach on your left hand side). A more secluded beach but lacking swimming areas and more set up for surfers – it was worth going just to have a walk with a fixed point in which to turn around. If you didn’t want to stay in Kuta itself, we’re looking for cheaper options or couldn’t find anywhere due to peak season – this would be a good alternative as it was close enough to get to Kuta when needed.
Denpasar Airport: We flew out of Denpasar Airport and it is worth pointing out that there is a departure tax when leaving Indonesia. This tax is payable on/straight after check in and alters for all Indonesian airports with differing amounts for domestic and international flights. Getting a domestic followed by an international flight from two different airports and having to pay in local currency meant some forward planning. Please check details before you fly as these prices are subject to change.