Bali beckons with its spirituality, languorous pace and friends from all over the world

Group chief executive Sean Lee (with a friend, Australian landscape architect Anton Joel Clark) is intrigued by Bali’s culture and traditions. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF SEAN LEE
Group chief executive Sean Lee (with a friend, Australian landscape architect Anton Joel Clark) is intrigued by Bali’s culture and traditions. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF SEAN LEE

Whether you are looking to relax or are game for adventure, the island draws visitors with its resorts and sports activities

Who: Sean Lee, 42, chief executive of the hu'u Group of hotels, bars and restaurant.

Favourite destination: Bali, Indonesia

Why: Bali has become my second home and most of my work is there. More importantly, Bali still captures my heart. To me, Bali is about friendship and meeting people from different corners of the world. It's refreshing, especially because everyone is relaxed.

The island has a lot to offer, from spirituality to spas, sports and socialising. It forces you to drop gears and slow down.

Favourite place to stay

Two years ago, I realised my dream of owning a villa estate when the hu'u Group opened hu'u Villas Seminyak (www.huuvillasbali.com). Rooms start at about US$300 (S$395) a night for a one-bedroom loft.

For travellers who budget to spend under US$100 a night in Seminyak, I would suggest the boutique Brown Feather hotel (www.brownfeather.com, rates from 487,500 rupiah or S$48.75).

Favourite restaurants

There are many restaurants I love in Bali. Which I choose depends on my mood.

If I am looking for Indonesian Nasi Campur, I go to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Warung Kolega (Jalan Petitenget No. 98A, Kerobokan; open: 8am to 4pm, or when food runs out). Try the rawon soup, which is similar to ayam buah keluak, but made with beef.

It also serves an Indonesian version of economy rice which costs about 45,000 rupiah a plate.

For Spanish food, there is a restaurant called La Sal (Jalan Drupadi No. 100, Seminyak, Bali, 80361; tel: +62-3-6173-8321; www.lasalbali.com). It has the best paella (100,000 rupiah) on the island. I love that it burns the rice to a crisp so it tastes like a Spanish version of our Singapore claypot rice. It is sublime.

For traditional Balinese roast pig, go to Babi Guling (Jalan Sunset Road No. 5, Seminyak, Kuta, Bali). It costs about 40,000 rupiah for a plate.

If you make it to Ubud, there is Bebek Tepi Sawah (Jalan Raya Goa Gajah, Br Teges, Peliatan, Ubud 80571; tel: +62-3-6197-5656; www.bebektepisawahrestaurant.com), a nice restaurant amid the rice fields which serves the best Balinese crispy duck. A meal there is about S$10 a person.

Favourite gallery

The Komaneka Fine Art Gallery (Jalan Monkey Forest, Kedewatan, Ubud, Bali, 80571; tel: +62-3-6197-6090; gallery.komaneka.com) in Ubud represents many up- and-coming Balinese artists who have a modern approach to their art while still remaining true to their traditional Bali culture. Prices for the artwork range from US$500 to US$5,000.

Favourite tourist site

I am interested in Bali's unique culture and traditions and a visit to Tanah Lot temple (Tabanan, Bali 82171; tel: +62-3-6188-0361; www.tanahlot.net) on the West Coast beach can be quite inspirational when a ceremony is happening.

The best way to discover Bali is to get lost in the villages. Bali is pretty commercialised down south, but an hour's drive away from Seminyak, you will see pristine rice fields. Take a walk through the villages and observe the Balinese going about their daily lives.

Best retail therapy

Bathe Store(Jalan Raya Batubelig No. 88, Seminyak, Bali 80361; tel: +62-36-1792-9779; bathestore.com) specialises in natural skin care products made by hand. All the body lotions, soaps and bath gels are formulated in Bali. It is like a Balinese version of Kiehl's Apothecary, at half the price. Prices vary from US$10 to US$50.

Favourite bookshop

Periplus (Seminyak Square, Kuta; +62-3-6173-6851) is the equivalent of Times bookstore in Singapore. You can get locally published expatriate magazines and the latest paperbacks there.

I suggest picking up the Luxe City Guide of Bali, The Beat Magazine and The Yak Magazine to find out what is going on on the island.

Best place for breakfast

Cafe Petitenget (Jalan Petitenget 40X Seminyak, Bali; tel: +62-36-1473-3054; www.petitenget.net). It has the best quinoa salad and if I feel like something hearty, nothing is better than the bacon with scrambled eggs, spinach and thick toast with butter and vegemite. Prices range from 33,000 to 70,000 rupiah an item.

Best cup of joe

I recommend Revolver Espresso at Gang 51 (Jalan Kayu Aya No 3, Oberoi, Seminyak, Bali; tel: +62-36-1788-4968; www.facebook.com/RevolverEspressoBali), in a little alley across from the Seminyak Square shopping arcade. The cafe is run by Cathy, a former professional surfer from Australia who roasts the best beans on the island.

She makes her own blend of Java and arabica and Balinese beans. They are roasted in small batches in the Australian style, so the coffee is very rich, smooth and not too strong. A cup costs about 30,000 rupiah.

Best place to watch the sunset

My favourite spot is The Samaya Hotel (Jalan Laksmana, Seminyak Beach, Seminyak, Bali 80223; tel:+62-3-6173-1149; www.thesamaya bali.com), which is a stone's throw from the famed Ku De Ta, but a lot more private.

If you are looking for something more casual, I would head to a small beach bar called La Plancha (Jalan Pantai, Seminyak; tel: +62-878-6141-6310), where you sit on colourful bean bags under Bali-style umbrellas, with a cold Bintang beer in hand, and watch the sun go down.

Necessary day trips

Take a trip to Ubud for river rafting on the Ayung River. You can marvel at the natural beauty of the forested valley between plunges in the white water rapids.

If you intend to spend more than a week in Bali, I suggest taking a trek along the river in West Bali National Park (www.tnbalibarat.com). Bird lovers will be able to catch a glimpse of the bright white and crested Bali mynah.

Or head to the North Shore, where you can go dolphin-watching off Lovina Beach. Stay the night at a hotel there so you can visit the beautiful Aling Aling waterfall.

Event to bookmark

Nyepi is the "day of silence" in Bali. The airport is closed and windows have to be taped over. There are no lights, no sound, no walking around on the streets and no cars.

Everyone should try to experience Nyepi once. Big hotels run Nyepi packages and it is a great time to hole up in a comfortable room just watching videos, ordering room service and playing board games.

What is beautiful about Nyepi is the day after, when everything is serene. I suggest waking up at first light for a stroll on the beach to experience the uplifting feeling of the freshest air and morning mist before the bustle of human activity begins. Next year, Nyepi falls on March 21.

Piece of advice

Stay clear of Kuta, a tourist area in Southern Bali, which is overcrowded, full of restaurants serving bad food and shops selling trinkets made in China.

Ideal length of stay

Anywhere from three to five days. Stay longer than that and you will find it very hard to leave.

vlydia@sph.com.sg