Thursday, August 23, 2012

Balangan Bali Trip Reports


I'm a bit of a sucker for Balangan, particularly the back-of-beach warungs, where a near sunset beer while watching the surfers commit suicide on the point break goes down real well.

Not bad at other times too.

I've always been keen on staying at one of the flashpacker/lower mid-range joints in the small enclave behind the beach. They are super popular and you need to book way ahead - Brothers' Bungalows was the only place I could find with a vacancy 6 months in advance of my visit.

Brothers' has about a dozen bungalows arranged each side of a neat grassed area....

....with a small but attractive pool between

There are two main ways to access the beach from Brothers'. You can turn RIGHT out of the gate (small white triangle) walk across to the main road as per the green hikers, turn left and after a few hundred meters drop to the beach via a set of steep stairs. Or turn LEFT (the blue hikers) out of Brothers', left again at the nearby corner, right when you reach the dirt/gravel road - drop to the left towards the lower dirt road and ascend (moderate slope) to the nearby beach. The latter is shorter, particularly if you are heading to the warungs or main surf break, the dirt sections are not too rough unless like me you do them in bare feet - and the return is way easier: those steps on the green route are pretty steep and the sand in front of the beach lounges/umbrella section is soft and has a steep profile which makes walking to/from the warung areas less easy than strolling most beaches.
Behind the back-of-beach warungs/beach lounges is a small cliff (abt 10m - you may be able to see it on the above image) - there is a big grassed area behind. which slopes up gradually to some of the flashpacker joints. These have elevated sea views (must try to stay in one next time) and there are some steep steps in the cliffside for shortcut access to/from the beach. 
Details will be clearer if you click-expand image. 

We chose a standard fan bungalow - and ended up in one which could be used (at extra cost) as a family unit or twin, having a second double bed (the main bed was a slightly bigger double queen). Because the room itself was no bigger than others this second mattress ended up taking a lot of the space, leaving only enough for a small bedside like table. There was no room for clothes hanging or a wardrobe - an open wardrobe was in the outside inside bathroom. However that second bed left plenty of space to stack gear. The main bed was very comfy, the fitted net a good one. Lights were okay, the big balcony had a nice outlook over the garden area, the fan was adequate and the area was pretty quiet (in this respect, the aircon bungalows which have the road in back may get a bit of noise from locals' bikes one of which seemed to have a shot muffler (bikes are pretty quiet these days).
The two beds were not parallel but the stitching mechanism of my elcheapo Olympus's panorama setting has exaggerated the V between the beds.

The artistic Balinese usually do a very nice job with these outside bathrooms - Brothers' were pretty plain by comparison. Water supply in this, the very rear bungalow, was an issue - it disappeared completely 3 times (quickly restored by staff who overall was an excellent bunch of people), the basin was never more than a trickle and the cold shower just adequate volume-wise. Mozzies didn't seem a problem.

THE RESTAURANT up near reception had a nice outlook over the gardens and pretty nice food at prices well above the warungs down at the beach but still pretty decent by western standards. The inclusive breakfast was a bit basic.

OVERALL I thought Brothers' was an okay place - maybe a bit expensive, but all Balangan accommodation seems to have a premium with the exception maybe of those beach warung surfers' crash pads.
Note the local traffic mafia have exit fares out of Balangan sewn up, making them considerably more expensive than incoming taxi fares  (big signs around "town" TAXI DROP-OFF ONLY") but I knew this from last trip and factored it into the overall cost/value equation of the visit.

I've already mentioned changes from my previous visit on the BALI'S BEST BEACHES PAGE but I'll repeat that there was a raft of new villas and resorts open and being built - some of which were very distant from the beach (up to 5km; be careful when booking) and another which was a new Surfers' motel-like hostel virtually on top of the beach....

Some of the new villas looked pretty snazzy.

.....and that when I did my usual wander to check the rather attractive Dreamland and Bingin areas nearby, my shortcuts had been cut off by new developments.

Javanese visitors ham it up on Dreamland (aka New Kuta beach)

There seemed to be even more sand on Bingin than my last visit in 2012 (there was none when I stayed there in 2003) - enough to set up dining tables on the sand (although judging from the wet sand upper tide mark they may have to be moved top of the tide).


JULIE'S BALANGAN TRIP REPORT - visited August 2012

Beach Blogger has this thing for Balangan on the Bukit peninsula south of Bali airport. I'm not a great fan of Bali's beaches (if you are on Bali and want a nice beach fly to Thailand) but agreed it would be a nice close-to-the-airport change from our usual Sanur or Kuta to spend the last few days of our trip.

The best time to hit Balangan is around mid tide as in the opening shot. If you want to swim off the sand, low tide is not a goer* as you can see. However there are some nice pools, particularly behind the camera, so kids and people who like to poke around under rocks etc won't get bored. At fullest tide the swash of bigger waves gets right up to the warungs back of beach (note the damp sand) - most of those sun lounges and umbrellas are set up after the tide drops a bit.
*low tide/high tide do not occur at the same time each day - as BB points out elsewhere they come roughly an hour later each day - and you should maybe google "Bali time tides" if this factor concerns you.  The time gap between low and high tides is a little over 6 hours so if it is low tide at 1230 when you arrive it won't be too bad 2 hours later. Just don't dive too deep off the sand - I noticed BB doing the old belly-flop at such times.

However the area north of the warungs tends to stay dry at highest tide. 

The warungs that line at least half the back of the beach are great places to watch the surfing and grab a meal (local and western) or beer at truly bottom budget prices. Surfers tend to be big eaters and all the meals we had here were very filling.  Most places have some very basic and inexpensive rooms for surfers.

Balangan's super fast waves are for experts, not that this stops the inexperienced from trying them on. This and the fact that most waves are too fast for even the experts makes for some very entertaining viewing - crunch time coming up above.

Nevertheless you can learn to surf at Balangan. The coach (10 o'clock) had his charges in the broken wave section between the outer reef crunch zone and the beach - the 10 year old girl (3 o'clock) caught a broken wave for at least 100m. Google Balangan Surf Camp.

Pleased students (looks like mum tagged along) head for base. Beach Blogger tells me these beginner-boards are thicker and longer than standard ones for better flotation. The rails are semi-soft to reduce injuries in wipe-outs, as is the rounded nose. Too many surfers get speared by the pointed nose of an out of control board. Pointed noses give no functional advantage. It's a fashion thing. Note the surf booties - ideal for areas with lots of rock.

The opening pic was shot from the northern headland. This totem pole structure was located there - Javanese visitors seem to be getting into the theme.

This is the entrance wall to our digs at Balangan - Balangan Garden. Finding above-basic accommodation at Balangan was difficult despite looking three months in advance - but this place did have a room for our dates. It had no user reports on Agoda at the time unfortunately, although those there now don't indicate this place is poorly situated and overpriced. Agoda for some reason will not print our review - maybe because we also point out their map location is hopelessly wrong. They place it on a side road 700m from the beach - it is actually on the main road about 2km from the sand. Our 2010 hotel, Dreamland's New Kuta Condotel was closer to Balangan beach, far nicer and considerably cheaper. 
Anecdote: Beach Blogger has too much faith in maps. We are sitting in the car adjacent the above sign on arrival from Canggu. BB is saying "no no, the place is over a kilometer further on, up a side road". Our driver is trying not to giggle at my eye rolling expertise.

Our brick and tile room was sizable and clean, comfy bed. No jug, no frig, no bottled water supplied, but the drinks in the restaurant were very cheap and icy cold. The room was pretty bare, but had a large, new tv with a reasonable selection of channels. The outside bathroom was okay (hot water for the shower) but had potential for mozzies to sneak in when entering/leaving at night. The resort is in a garden setting but the Bukit's limestone soil base does not hold water well so the grounds are not lush like many Bali hotels.

Pool foreground was small but nice - had a kids' section as you can see, with the main part about 8x4m. That's the "restaurant" behind - really a small cafe which can do fried rice and noodles or various snacks, exactly the same small range on the breakfast menu. The nearest restaurants are 2km away at the beach - 20 minutes power walk along the road or an expensive taxi trip with the local rip-off transport mafia. The inclusive breakfast was a bit of a joke - if you pick eggs you pay extra for the toast. Extra for juice or fruit. The only way to get an inclusive filling breakfast is to choose the fried rice/noodles option which is fine if you don't mind oily stuff. One plus - prices here are as low as the cheaper places in Kuta and the food itself okay. We took to topping breakfast up with something from the general store about 3 minutes closer the beach, having a really big lunch at the beach and (back here at dinner) either fried rice/noodles or if we didn't fancy greasy, say a jaffle+another trip to the nearby store for choc-ice deserts.

Overall we were less than impressed. We paid around $us100 a night in high season - for that I was expecting something pretty special for our last few days in Bali - instead our room and the hotel facilities were worth less than half that - which is what our neighbour paid walk in. On reflection his $40 would have been value IF the location had been okay and IF the inclusive breakfast was adequate.
Pluses included a quiet location, free pickup from airport (unfortunately we came from Canggu), lovely staff and a free late checkout at 1900 to match our flight.


BB modified a Google Earth image to assist this section. Note: - the short cut top right quarter is suitable for walking, motorcycles - that white section above Dream(land) Bch is an old limestone quarry. Most now is part of a flash golf course, a smaller section waiting for villas.

Because of the poor soils you won't see many crops growing up on the Bukit plateau - the main rural activity is cattle breeding. Those beef-burgers you munch in Kuta owe a lot to this district.

This is the coastline just north of Balangan. Some nice midrange places at the end of the side-road we thought Balangan Garden was located on - there is access to that small beach via a steep track and the area is around 10 minutes walk to Balangan beach.

Dreamland (aka New Kuta Beach) is another of Beach Blogger's favourites. Okay, he doesn't worry about tricky shore breaks, big swash and backwash etc - but these life guards did worry, were constantly blowing their whistle in warning to unwary visitors - particularly Asians. Notice that Dreamland is another which does not have an abundance of dry sand at high tide.

The sand situation improved as the tide dropped - and on this day the surf got more benign unlike our 2010 visits when the shore-break really crunched at lower tide levels. Note this main section of the beach does not suffer rocks off the shore at low tide, unlike the area past the small rock and life guard tower in the background (better seen if you click to expand). That's the rather flash Klapa beach club behind.

Area past the life guard tower. At higher tide levels you need to access via the stairs behind the life guard tower. Beach Blogger says on another page that if you want a deserted area when Dreamland Main is packed this is your place. Well not in 2012: he reckons people must be reading his stuff. Dream on baby.

The cafe patio just behind the beach is almost as good at the warungs at Balangan to watch the surfing (or people being munched in the shore-break) plus the trend settters from Kuta. Prices for food and drink are almost as low as Balangan too. Here an Indo soapie production is taking advantage of the setting.

Biggest changes in our 2 year absence - they have put in a decent access road to replace the steep rutted disgrace - and there is a lot of apartment building going on close to the beach. Hopefully some of this will become tourist accommodation.

Most surfers don't access via the paved road - here they are walking down the steep northern slope to the beach  from the Bingin side because it is a much shorter trip from their usual Uluwatu, Padang Padang and Bingin haunts - and because they can avoid the local parking mafia at Dreamland. To reach Bingin walk up past the bikes, take the track to a paved road about 5 minutes along, turn right after 50m onto the side track and within 5 minutes you will be at the top of the Bingin cliff.

Bingin is a fine location for super fit surfers The place is built on a cliff-side and the super steep stairways are a real challenge to families with little kids, the svelte-challenged or even the sleek-unfit. To use Beach Blogger's term, I'm a "gym junkie stairmaster tragic" yet I find climbing the stairs less than fun. Over-trained joggers with ruined knees like BB have the opposite problem - the groans of pain as he descends could be heard in Kuta. When he hits the beach he has a hundred GET WELL! tweets. Plus a dozen MAN UP!!! texts from me.
You usually get no more sand than this, and at high tide it disappears. But 2012 had a bonus - if you click to expand you will see a much wider section in the middle background as per the shot below.

Bingin is another place where the rocks are exposed as the tide drops. Even at high tide it is pretty rocky underfoot most places. Not a bad idea to have a pair of surfers' reef booties. Or swallow your pride and haul those plastic CROCS Aunt Mable gave you for Christmas out of the closet. Yep, the dayglow orange ones. Got this shot from Beach Blogger's camera - I don't think it was his intention to show the rocky water entry. 

The biggest changes at Bingin since our 2010 visit were up on top. For a start there were several new midrange places. And authorities had been spending some money paving  some of the lanes and putting in signs to help select one of the several stairways down the cliff. The one at the intersection background here read TO THE BEACH.

So there you go. You may get the impression I'm less enthusiastic about the general Balangan-Dreamland-Bingin area than Beach Blogger. Go to the top of the class.

BB claims one of his main attractions to the area is people watching. I also took this shot from his camera. He has frequently said non-hard core body boarders are sissies, so it can't be this bloke he's been watching.


  1. big wave at balangan is so scary...
    btw u write nice article
    i hv reference hotel in Bali TS Suites look at this :D

  2. Balangan and dreamland beach is very beautiful beaches in Bali, but don't forget to visit Padang Padang beach for bali tour