My first ever JBR, on our ‘first’ trip to Bali. After gaining so much from reading the other JBRs, hopefully, I can make some contribution for others new to Bali.

We were lucky that we got through VOA & passed sullen immigration officials within 20 minutes from landing. We were then greeted with the first famous Balinese smile from the taxi driver. It is a simple process of paying 65kRp for the ride to Seminyak, much better value than the offer of USD20 transfer from the hotel. The Sofitel is pleasant enough but it is still a standard international hotel under a Balinese façade. Feeling a bit tired from flight, we decided to stay at the hotel for our first dinner. The beach BBQ was reasonable value, worth it for the sunset setting. Note that the “Happy Hour” prices here only applied to one particular cocktail of the day and soft drinks.

Walked around Seminyak next day, it seems to us that many of the new shops and restaurants are just like those in Noosa, Byron etc. The jagged pavements leave you no doubt that you are in Bali! We enjoyed our dinner at Chandi as it seems to offer more of an Indo/Balinese flavor than others we have seen. Impressions from a brief visit to Kuta, dinner at Jimbaran together with memories from a previous conference trip to Nusa Dua, we don’t think that South Bali held much appeal to us.

Next day, Esa of Drivers with Distinction picked us for a half day tour/transfer to Ubud. Passing a small village temple, we were slowed by a large group gathering for a temple ceremony. Esa stopped so we could spend some time observing the preparations. The side trip to Gunung Kawi was worthwhile but the climb of 500(?) steps was hard work in the high heat & humidity. Finally, we arrived at Alam Shanti. It is a real haven and exceeded our expectations. The Monkey Forest separated it from the main shopping area placing it in a rural village providing a real sense of tranquility lacking in Ubud centre. We would like to stay there again someday. We ate at different restaurants each meal, these are all in the TA list, they were all good. The food at Café Lotus was very ordinary but compensated by the lovely setting at night when combined with a dance performance. We chose Spa Hati for the Balinese massage because we liked the idea that proceeds go to the Hati Foundation.

Our new 12x zoom camera broke down on our 2nd day, we were really thankful that our driver Esa offered the use of his camera for our day trip to the East Coast. Sideman was really pretty & definitely a worthwhile inclusion as it seems to be the real Bali unaffected by overt tourism. After stops at Blue Lagoon & Candidasa, we reached Amed. We stopped at a salt farm, it is a real eye opener. We had some difficulty coping with the poverty of the area, it has been a long time since we have been to Asia other than Singapore, HK & Japan. It seems to be poorer than say Phuket and Penang.

After 5 days in Ubud, we moved to Lovina via Bedugal, Munduk Falls. The temple at Bratan was as pretty as the pictures gracing many books on Bali but crowded with tourists. The short trek to pretty Munduk Falls was much easier to handle than Gunug Kawi & definitely worth it. It was a cool oasis with only one other couple there.

Lovina is a laid back place, seemingly in a bit of time warp. Comparing the beach to those in Thailand, Fiji etc it is not terribly enticing. Even the hotel owner discouraged us from swimming there. We took the short boat ride out for snorkeling, the abundance of fish with some feeding off our hands was the highlight.

Wherever we go, we try to eat the local fare but after 10 days, we succumb to an excellent baguette sandwich at the bakery on the corner of Jalan Raya Lovina & Jl Kartika. There are many restaurants in Lovina. Nearly all offered great value, our meals ranged as low as 100kRp with a large Bintang or two to 1M Rp for two not including wines at Damai which approaches Sydney prices. In our 6 days in Lovina, we tried a different place to eat every lunch & dinner. Damai (with some reservation at the price), Barclona & Bintang Café were the better ones.

At day 10, with bulk of our holidays over, we were wondering where was the Bali Magic? The beaches were not spectacular, the problem of rubbish was evident and the persistence of hawkers was wearing. Then one night, as we were about to walk back to the hotel after dinner, we came across a village temple ceremony. We did not have sarongs, so could not go into the temple but we started to talk to a man redirecting the traffic away from the procession, he spent the next hour talking to us about the ceremony & life in Bali in general, we became entranced about Balinese life. The following 3 days, we had deeper conversations with the locals & felt much more connected.

Overall, we could sense the magic of the place but perhaps the gods were having a rest in the intense December heat and did not wave the magic wand over us. Nevertheless, we are interested in revisiting Bali someday but will more likely to be in June when it is cooler. We are also looking at ways to sponsor a couple of children through school. (If any Bali experts have advice on how to do this, it will be appreciated).



Esa service in Bali and I am totally satisfied with his humble service throughout my stay in Bali. Even he is busy with his schedule, but still manage to arrange his friend to send me to airport.
No regret choosing his service.

Koh kah Leong


Was in Bali in December 2011 and came across a very honest, reliable and punctual driver. He is fluent in English and has very good knowledge about Bali and its surroundings.
Thank you for making our trip a very memorable one. We really enjoyed ourselves and also appreciate your programme. We managed to do everything that we wanted to and will definitely contact you if and when we return to Bali. We will recommend you to our family and friends.

Ina Shah


Hey Esa
Thank you so much for cruising around Bali with us, you are the perfect host
and for putting up with our singing!!!!

Marnie cronin


Dear Esa,

Thank you very much for taking us to and from the airport during our recent visit. We are also grateful for the day we spent with you around Ubud. We attach a few photographs which you are welcome to use on your website if you wish. Please acknowledge Terry Gough as copyright holder. You are also
welcome to put the following on your website.

'Esa Gede met us at the airport on the evening we arrived in Bali from Singapore. On a subsequent occasion he took us on a tour of the Ubud and Denpasar area. His knowledge enabled us to see much which would otherwise have been missed. He is quietly spoken, friendly and courteous. He is a careful driver and nothing was too much trouble for him. We are happy to
recommend him.

Kind regards

Terry and Cynthia Gough (England)'


Hi Dean, thank you for introducing Esa to us! Truly a "Driver with Distinction", he has been extremely friendly, helpful all along our trip and shared so much with us. We really enjoyed ourselves and I'll certainly recommend Esa and your team of drivers to my friends. Hope to meet you next time we are in Bali! :)
Serena koh and calvin lim