Surfing, cycling and yoga in Bali and the Gili Islands

Vila Ombak hotel
Vila Ombak hotel on Gili Trawangan [Photo: Alice Sholl]

When we talk about white sandy beaches, water as blue as Powerade and otherworldly sunsets, chances are it’s Bali we’re thinking of.

The Indonesian island along with its smaller neighbours, the Gilis, have long been the favourite destination of Aussies thanks to its relaxed vibes and stunning scenery – but it’s only just now us Brits are beginning to catch on.

Littered with surfing schools, cycling tours and beach bars, Bali supposedly has something for everyone from yoga devotees to those of us that just want to kick back with a beer in the sun.

Vila Ombak hotel on Gili Trawangan
Vila Ombak hotel on Gili Trawangan [Photo: Alice Sholl]

So we joined Topdeck Travel for a taster of its two new trips around Bali’s waters; the Bali Island Hopper and Bali Active: Surf, Yoga Cycle to experience what the islands have to offer.

The journey

This is a long haul flight, boys and girls; so likelihood is you’ll arrive with a few leg cramps and an itch to reach your bed for the night.

But unlike trips that are self-organised, there was no faffing with bus timetables or cabs at the airport as we jumped into an air-conditioned minibus straight to our accommodation.

Day one

Not your typical British shower at The Chillhouse [Photo: Alice Sholl]

There’s nothing quite like waking up for a shower only to realise it’s outside, in your own private patio, underneath a blue sky.

The Chillhouse in Canggu is a chilled (yes, the clue is in the name) lifestyle retreat catering to lovers of all things active including cycling, yoga and surfing, the latter two of which I gave a very first shot on the first morning.

I wouldn’t say I’ve become a guru of either in the space of a few hours, but both were led by relaxed, patient instructors who made them both an enjoyable experience.

Day two and three

Gili Trawangan
Not a bad view from Gili Trawangan [Photo: Alice Sholl]

Just as we were settled on spending the rest of our lives in Canggu, we set sail for our next – and most anticipated – destination, Gili Trawangan.

The boat ride is hardly a gentle cruise from one island to the other, as you cram in with other island hoppers for a couple of hours to get from A to B, but that’s easily forgotten once you’ve arrived on shore.

A brief walk along the busy beach-side road soon revealed Vila Ombak hotel; ten paces from the wonderful beach, yet with its own two swimming pools.

After a brief dip with drink in hand (who wouldn’t stop to sit at a bar with underwater stools?) we headed to classic sunset spot, ‘the swings’, for which the photos speak for themselves.

Gili Trawangan
‘The swings’ in Gili Trawangan [Photo: Alice Sholl]

The following day was snorkelling which, though tiring for anyone with local wine still flowing through their veins, was the highlight of the holiday – nothing’ll beat a light hangover like floating above a turtle and feeding tropical fish.

Of the three destinations, Gili Trawangan had the busiest restaurants and nightlife, and with good reason. During our two evenings there we mixed up delicious Indonesian street food with espresso martinis among other holiday makers opting for outdoor cinema screenings, beer pong and late-night dancing.

You can’t quite call it off the beaten track, but Gili Trawangan is perfect for any young holiday-goer in the need of the perfect Instagram shot.

Day four

Ubud’s monkey forest [Photo: Alice Sholl]

A boat and minibus trip – with a stop off for lunch – takes us to Ubud, and its famous monkey forest.

Better for animal lovers than the faint of heart, the gorgeous forest is a must-see even if you don’t want to get banana in your hair from feeding the monkeys. (Which I did; no regrets.)

But perhaps the best bit about arriving in Ubud after a journey was arriving at Anumana hotel, with beds the size of a small London flat looking over the hotel’s very own beautifully lit-up pool.

Day five

Views before the Kintamani cycling tour [Photo: Alice Sholl]

However tempting it was to relax in that room until the flight home, I got up first thing for a downhill cycling tour through the Kintamani area.

This let us visit the bits of Bali we hadn’t had the chance to yet; rice paddies, Balinese houses and meeting some of the locals (including spiders for the brave).

Our path was no Velodrome,and involved a few bumps along the way, which made a big lunch afterwards feel ever more deserved before heading back and exploring Ubud’s markets.

The good

Ubud markets
Markets in Ubud [Photo: Alice Sholl]

For anyone that wants beaches, delicious food and to wander around unfamiliar streets with good company, the trip had everything – including perfect Instagram opportunities.

As well as the chance to relax alone, travelling in a group and picking from a selection of optional activities provides a great opportunity to make new friends and chat about the day’s events as you sip on cocktails in the evenings.

And as someone who enjoys a bit of an adrenaline rush without being a sport aficionado, the active parts of the trip offered a real sense of achievement before giving you the chance to relax into the night.

The bad

Snorkelling around the Gili Islands
Snorkelling around the Gili Islands [Photo: Alice Sholl]

If anything, the trip felt too brief – just as I was ready to relinquish British city life for one with the monkeys, it was time to fly home; though not wanting to leave does tend to be the sign of a good holiday, after all.

And if you’re not a fan of early morning minibus and boat rides, you might be better off booking a seven-night stay at a poolside Anumana hotel room.

But then you would only see a fraction of what Bali and the Gili Islands have to offer – which is, it turns out, rather a lot.

The details

Prices for the Bali Island Hopper start at £460 and Bali Active: Surf, Yoga Cycle at £730, though lower sale prices are still available for this summer and autumn.

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