Our home away from home in Bali is a breezy villa in lush tropical gardens on the edge of a rural village called Tumbak Bayuh, not far from Canguu and a long way from Kuta. Wedged between rice paddies and a football field, with a dog in the backyard, the only way our experience of living in Bali could be more local is if we were to stay on a neighbour’s sofa.
The location of our latest home away from home in Bali is on the edge of the small village of Tumbak Bayuh, surrounded by the most gorgeous green rice paddies and home to the friendliest locals. Our airy villa is set within lush tropical gardens filled with birdsong andtinkling fountains, and pets to befriend during our two-week stay. What a relief!
Because Bali is to Australians what Benidorm is to the British and Cancun is to Americans, a cheap beach holiday destination. But one person’s popular vacation spot is another’s exotic off-the-beaten-track escape. Our Bali is altogether different again and, somewhat surprisingly, we’re besotted with our home away from home in Bali
If you’re joining us for the first time, this post was written during our two week stay in Bali for the project that launched Grantourismo, a yearlong grand tour of the world focused on slow travel, local travel and experiential travel – ways of travelling that we believe are more immersive, engaging and enriching; more sustainable, responsible and ethical. Our mission: to make travel more meaningful and more memorable.
For 12 months, we travelled slowly, attempting to live like locals by settling into apartments and homes for two weeks at a time, we focused on exploring local neighbourhoods, connecting with local people, doing and learning things, such as learning to cook local food, and, whenever possible, giving back to places – all in an attempt to get beneath the skin of the places we spent time in.
You can read more here about our Grantourismo project, our background as a professional travel and food writer and photographer team, how the project began, inspired by the ‘grand tour’, our guiding principals, the places settled into, the people we met, and the things we did and learnt in each place.
Our Home Away From Home in Bali, Indonesia – A Tropical Villa in Tumbak Bayuh
We must have been the only two Australians who didn’t have Indonesian stamps in their passports when we touched down in Denpasar, Indonesia. Despite Terence being a dedicated surfer in his misspent youth and Bali being a world-class surfing destination, up until our yearlong grand tour we’d avoided Bali like the plague because of its colossal popularity with Australians.
Not that we have anything against our fellow country-people, we just didn’t want to go to a place where every accent was an Australian one. So when we first started travelling together, we ventured to places like Mexico, the USA, and Cuba instead.
When Bali was suggested to us as a destination for our 2010 grand tour, we initially grimaced. But when Sarah, our project partner at HomeAway (since absorbed by Vrbo) said she thought it would be good to include an off-the-beaten-track destination like Bali, we gave it some thought.
If Bali was exotic to some travellers – something we’d never considered it could be (until we finally went there!) – then maybe it was worth discovering. Maybe there was more to Australia’s answer to Benidorm after all.
As it turned out, Bali would be both all we’d dreaded and all we’d hoped for, and more. Kuta is our idea of hell, with its McDonalds and Pizza Huts, and Legian, which the guidebooks call ‘chic’ and ‘upmarket’ is in actual fact not that much better.
Seminyak, however, is stylish and cool, while Ubud, in the hills, is absolutely enchanting, with lush rice terraces, its abundance of art and craft galleries, and countless opportunities for experiencing Bali’s rich culture.
But the location of our latest home away from home in Bali is a small rural village called Tumbak Bayuh. It’s more than a 30-minute drive to Kuta, and is something altogether different again. The only way our experience of living in Bali could be more local would be if we were to couch-surf on a neighbour’s sofa.
Located on a narrow lane that leads in one direction over a skinny bridge and river to a football oval and vivid green rice fields, and in the other to our laidback little village that’s surrounded by even more lush green rice paddies, our gorgeous villa feels isolated in good way.
If we were to mix a villa soundtrack it would be layered with the sounds of roosters, chickens and pigs, frogs, gekkos and cicadas, beautiful birdsong, and the occasional barking dog. This is Bali at its most bucolic.
(We’ll take you on a walk through the village in another post.)
The villa itself is simply beautiful. Set in lush tropical gardens, there are ponds of crimson water lilies and Japanese koi, stone statues of Gods and trickling fountains, and an inviting green swimming pool. (The gardens are so beautiful we created a photo gallery of them here.)
Inside the villa, the living rooms (one upstairs that can sleep extra people and one down), bedrooms (there are two in the main building and a guesthouse behind the villa), and bathrooms are equally lovely.
Decorated with Indonesian puppets, carved wooden statues, heavy teak furniture, traditional textiles, and even more stone statues of Gods, the villa is like something out of a glossy House and Garden magazine.
Owned by a university professor who lives in Hong Kong but escapes here to write, there’s a handy office with computer and fax, bookshelves of fiction, non-fiction, guidebooks and maps, a DVD collection, and wireless Internet access.
And as we’ve come to expect from holiday rental properties that the owners also stay in, there are lots of little touches that make the place special – fresh flowers, plenty of big towels for the bathroom and pool, and homemade soaps and shampoo. (The only thing missing was a hairdryer.)
There are even pets! A dog called Dinah who we’ve become absolutely smitten with, and two not-so-friendly cats.
In the mornings after making the beds, the housekeeper scatters fragrant frangipanis on the fresh sheets and places them in little nooks, while in the evening the night watchman comes to let down the mosquito nets, shut the windows, and light mosquito coils. You heard right. There are even staff!
When we began to plan this trip, the idea of staff at the holiday rentals we were staying in was the only thing we were uncomfortable with, being egalitarian Aussies who like to look after ourselves, and cook our own food.
Indeed, staff won’t suit everyone, such as honeymooners looking for privacy and romance. But for families looking for a complete escape, the housekeeper Kuman can also babysit, and, best of all, the villa also has an excellent cook called Desak.
As food is such an important part of our Grantourismo project this year – the convenience of a kitchen and the opportunity to cook local produce being a major reason that many people choose a holiday rental over a hotel – and Terence being such a brilliant cook, we initially didn’t like the idea of having a villa chef.
However, we decided to give it a shot – all in the name of research, of course – and it turned out to be a wonderful thing.
While we felt terribly spoiled having our breakfast laid out for us each day – platters of fresh fruit and pots of hot coffee, and, if we wanted it, eggs, toast, pancakes, and so on – what we most enjoyed was trying all the different Balinese dishes.
In Indonesia, like many countries, they say that the best food isn’t found in the restaurants but is in the homes. Well, that’s what we got to eat every day!
Having staff also gave us access to Balinese culture in ways that wouldn’t be possible staying in a hotel. Each day, the boys – either our gardener-cum-pool cleaner or the night watchman – would come and make Hindu offerings in the garden.
Staff would regularly check the Balinese calendars found in every home for ceremonies (and in Bali, it seems, there is one every day!) and tell us if there was a royal cremation or temple birthday on that we could observe and Terence could photograph.
In the villa information book, the owner had written “please treat the staff well – they are our family”. Well, they quickly became our family too, as you’re about to find out…