Most travellers to Bali, Indonesia would instinctively flock to Kuta, with its famed long and wide golden sand beach which stretches for over 2.5km.
Kuta’s lengthy, undulating waves have also drawn surfers in droves, especially those just cutting their teeth. The resort town’s high concentration of bars, clubs and restaurants hasn’t dented its cause either as the party nerve centre.
For someone older like me, though, it’s counter intuitive to be there.
So, I headed towards Bali’s northeast coast of Tembok, a sleepy fishing village off the tourist trek.
You won’t chance upon stoned, hippy travellers or the rich and loud tourists. Here, foreigners who value privacy and the quiet, slower pace of life are the sole outsiders.
Tembok is miles away from Denpasar or Kuta. In fact, it’s a three-hour drive via narrow and winding mountain roads.
But the long drive is worth it since this is home to gorgeous volcanic sand beaches lined with tall green palm trees.
Then, there are the towering Mount Batur and Mount Agung, the two active volcanoes dominating the surrounding area and standing majestically.
These are breath-taking views when the sky is clear, or during sunset.
Armed with two paperback novels, my wife and I spent the days staring at the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, and occasionally taking a dip in the sea.
During the nights, we parked ourselves at the decks of the hotel garden and marvelled at the bright stars in the sky. We felt lucky and thankful to be in Tembok, knowing we had earned this vacation because we worked hard all our lives.
Like in Thailand, a massage is an essential at many of the spa resorts, offering traditional Indonesian deep-tissue rubs. Nothing beats purposeful pressure on a tired body, especially on the knotted tissues, with scented oil.
But we’re Malaysians. The food, massage and swimming won’t be enough to seduce us into spending our entire vacation cooped up in a hotel. After all, my wife and I are not honeymooners.
Tegallalang was another port of call for us, where the scenic, terraced hillside offered bountiful rice paddies amid lush greenery.
This is an absolute Instagram-worthy spot, what with its series of beautifully arranged fields. Tegallalang is in northern Ubud, which is about a two-hour drive from my hotel.
We didn’t stay too long, though, since this agricultural icon, located 600m above sea level, was teeming with tourists. Ultimately, this is one of those compulsory stops for all tours.
We did, as all visitors would, enjoy the view from the top, walk down to the valley of the fields and then hike up again on the other side of the cliff.
It was good exercise after the daily diet of nasi goreng, sate ayam, babi guling (roasted pork) – tender and delicious, with perfect crackling – and other Balinese cuisine.
The sight is indeed stunning, and proof of the pudding is in the Tegallalang rice terrace’s inclusion in the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites.
Our noses and palates drew us to local durian, and soon, we found ourselves in Tejakula, a coastal village in the Buleleng regency.
While we didn’t expect the Musang King variety there, we were encouraged to give it a go since many of the farmers have stopped using fertilisers. So, the less-than-perfect durians were just right for us.
There were many stalls lining the side of the narrow mountain roads and all seemed attractive, but our driver decided on one that offered him the safest parking space.
I can’t recall exactly how much I paid for the durians, but it was in the vicinity of Malaysia’s kampung durian prices, and as expected, they were just average.
But then, maybe I wasn’t quite sure what to ask for and didn’t want to bargain, and possibly, I wasn’t offered the choice fruits. It might have been another story if we were accompanied by locals.
The trip to the secluded side of Bali, with its natural landscapes, was what we wanted and got. A retreat far away from other travellers, quality time spent together immersed in nature, eating like locals and relaxing our minds and bodies.
We were on the side of Bali that exuded peace and serenity. And it certainly was on the right side of the Land of the Gods, as Bali is known. Yes, the black sandy beaches will see us again.