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The hungry girl’s survival guide to Bali

Great: Crab cakes, cocktails and music by Potato Head

A few years back, Bali had been on my blacklist. The sheer mention of it made my skin crawl due to a pathetic correlation between an ex’s ex-girlfriend, who was Indonesian and too close for comfort. Finally happy, when this time came round, that ex’s ex equation amounted to zero.

Bali came back on my must-do list, resulting in a wonderful, albeit drunken, weekend celebrating common birthdays with friends. Four days were not enough for me. I was immediately taken by the spirits. I felt them in the lushness of the vegetation, the appearance of delicate creatures in the middle of the city, the omnipresent figures of gods decorated in carnations, enveloped in incense. They were in the way the people spoke and smiled and in the honest daily offerings that lined the sidewalks — these little trays made out of leaves, filled with colorful flowers, crackers and even, strangely, cigarettes, or anything that was important to them … the pockets of Eden hidden amid busy roads whose tall cement walls — almost dismal — do their job all too well in rendering these magnificent villas unassuming.

From the old to the modern there’s a divine sense of aesthetics that called to me. I had to go back. There was no doubt that for my crazy, all-girl bachelorette weekend, this had to be the place. We were hungry for adventure! Just in case you feel inspired to get lost in Bali with some friends, I’ve come up with some tips.

Live in a villa. Why stay in a hotel when you can stay in a villa? Villa Samuan was just breathtaking: five bedrooms decorated tastefully with contemporary art, contrasting with rich hardwood. Antiques are placed poignantly in alcoves; expansive marble bathrooms and beautiful lighting; a modern yet peaceful garden with a pool so inviting. Make that two pools because this villa can be split into two separate villas, one with three bedrooms and one with two bedrooms. At extremely reasonable rates with an amazing staff such as our superhero Komang, who became our DJ, chef, driver and all-around guardian angel, why stay anywhere else? It’s so just so wonderful to have a place you can call your home for a few days.

Go with the flow. Our itinerary started with just a few girls coming in on the first night for a relaxed and calm evening in a beautiful restaurant called Metis. The intentional operative word was “calm” and yet the evening was not. Yes, the common exclamation was, “Oh, yes, let’s take it chill tonight so we can go do some sightseeing and shopping tomorrow.” “Yes! Just a nice dinner and maybe some wine.” “Agree! Let’s save ourselves for the weekend.” Upon arrival at Metis, the excitement heightened. The open veranda looked out onto a large lotus pond lined with little fairy lights. The architecture was airy and fresh, the artwork interesting. The food was pretty, well executed, not exactly memorable but overall pleasant and an excellent accompaniment to the lovely surroundings. My olive oil salmon confit was wonderful and the service was impeccable, indulging my request to have a half portion of a main course as an appetizer. The crab ravioli with salmon roe was worth the trouble. A friend of mine came to join us for drinks, and one of my girlfriends happened to meet one of Metis’ owners. One cocktail led to another and our “calm evening” turned into rounds of cheap tequila shots at Balijoe’s, stealing hats and feather boas from the drag queens’ dressing room! J. Lo songs will never be the same again as we danced in love on stage and around town, ending in enjoyably sketchy Maria Magdalena, for more overpriced cheap alcohol and sexy soulful house music. Bali is like those choose-your-own-adventure books. You’ll never know where you’ll end up, and more often than not, you’ll like where you do!

Booze wisely. Indonesia is a Muslim nation, and Bali is a Hindu-Buddhist enclave. Alcohol is heavily taxed and your run-of-the-mill standard Australian grocery chardonnay is priced like a pleasant Cru Bourgeois. Liquor and cocktails was the way to go. We often started the afternoon with gin tonics and fresh lime margaritas by our villa pool, and indulged in potent cocktails in the restaurants. Metis had a wonderful mojito made with Prosecco that was dangerously delicious and highly effective. Mamasan also had some amazing cocktails with Asian spins on classics like mint juleps and Old Fashioneds. Our go-with-the-flow attitude led us to having a villa party with our newfound friends, who brought over ingredients for a rocking Bloody Mary. Pablo Fourcard, chef-owner of Watercress Café, had brought some kind of roasted tomato concoction that added such depth to the usually watered-down run-of-the-mill tomato juice. While I didn’t get to go to the actual café (whose Instagram photos leave my mouth watering every day), I can definitely vouch for this gorgeous brewage. When you’re out clubbing, however, make a beeline for the shots or beer, if you do have mixed drinks. Watch carefully as they prepare as sometimes things may slip into your drinks. Only accept drinks from people you trust or pay for your own. Following these simple guidelines will get you home drunk … but safe.

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Do not look for McDonald’s at 4 a.m. On all four nights I had a quest for food. I only made it the first night with delivery in the villa, not a good idea as it comes so soggy but you’re too hungry to care and you regret everything the following morning. One of the nights had me rummaging through leftover boxes of McDonald’s, shaking each chicken nugget carton forlornly to see if there was a forgotten piece. Not my most glorious moment. Another night led me on an adventure to Kuta (!) because the driver didn’t know there was McDonald’s in Seminyak. After 20 minutes of highway, I asked to please turn back because I freaked out, resulting in the driver telling my friend, “I take her to McDo, but she no eat! Why she no eat?!” and me finishing the evening still hungry, eating stale potato chips off the villa couch. That’s definitely rock bottom. My advice? Eat a hearty dinner. Don’t try to even diet. And no. Don’t go looking for McDonald’s in Bali.

You must do Mamasan. One of the prettier restaurants I’ve been to. An imposing dramatic mural of what looks like a geisha, tall ceilings, soft lighting, contrasts of textures and a two-way staircase that towers over everyone. Owned by the same group as Sarong. The food is portioned into tapas sizes, which was perfect for my hungry bunch of friends. We ordered everything and then ordered some more. Everything was spectacular. Great bold flavors, different textures but I must say, while everyone raves about the crispy roast pork, it was those darn lamb ribs that I couldn’t keep my hands off. All etiquette went out the window as six ravenous ladies pounced on those crispy falling-off-the-bone ribs. A little chili, a little lime … just absolute heaven.

Dance, dance, dance! The music that weekend was spectacular, the nightlife electrifying. From the pop anthems at the gay bars to the amazing electro set at Hu’u Bar to the sexy deep house of Maria Magdalena and Mint to the retro eclectic beats at Potato Head to the tantric vintage folk-rock acts at Mantra … you must dance. Let the joyful energy take over your body and just dance like you’ve never danced before.  It was 6 p.m. at Potato Head Beach Club, everyone was lounging, the sun softly kissed our faces, the waves crashed wildly on the black sand shore … I couldn’t help myself, my eyes closed. Let the music fill your soul and rush to your limbs. Every moment I was itching to dance. Chances are no one knows you, so feel free to let go and move with the earth. I came back re-energized, with a rekindled love for music and every morning I have my little private dance to re-energize myself for the day. Utterly exhilarating! Dancing on bars and ledges like I did is optional.

Meditate, ponder, reflect. The water was neither warm nor cool; its temperature nestled comfortably in that magical zone just ever so slightly above body temperature. The sun shone brightly in all the right places and the palm trees cast dancing shadows on the vibrant jade-colored grass. Little butterflies floated about, landing every so often on the moss-covered statues of local deities. The muffled sound of happy music was carried by the wind. To my left were three of my closest friends, clothed in robes sharing some gossip, languidly smoking cigarettes. To my right were another few of them roasting beautifully in the sun, their sheer relaxation punctured by peals of laughter and giggles over something so delightfully silly. At that very moment, I knew that two more were en route and that one of them had missed her flight the day before but had managed somehow to be up in the air on her way to us, despite the arduous 12-hour round-trip journey for barely 40 hours of girl time. It came to my mind at that moment that in today’s fast-paced life, where our most major concerns are work and for many, the constant search for love and romance — and whatever time we may have left over we split among our family and ourselves — we often take friendship for granted. We feel that true friends will be there no matter what and yet just like most relationships, they need to be nurtured. I could not think of any better place than where we were to do so: to forge bonds, to spill tears, to go up in arms together in the face of adventure in our little slice of heaven in Bali.

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For information on Villa Samuan, visit www.villabalisamuan.com.

For more on Metis, visit metisbali.com.

For more info on Mamasan, visit mamasanbali.com.

Watercress Café is at 21a Jalan Batu Belig, +62-361-780803, visit www.facebook.com/watercresscafe or Instagram: watercress_cafe.

For information, visit Potato Head at www.ptthead.com.

Mantra is at Jalan Petitenget Raya 77xBali. Call  +62-361-4737981.

Visit Hu’u Bar at huubali.com.

Mint is at Jalan Raya Petitenget 919xBali, +62-361-4732884 or visit www.facebook.com/mintbali.

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