travel bite: Padang Bai, Bali

MOST people pass right through Padang Bai. If they’re generous with their time they will bestow on it a night, jumping on the first boat out in the morning. The lure of the Gillis is just too strong.

But perhaps this is what makes Padang Bai so special. You feel as though you’ve discovered an unexpected treat that has been hiding right beneath the noses of other travellers.

It’s the vibe. Relaxed. Welcoming. The locals are eager to talk and hang out with you. Tourism is tough for those that are part of the industry, with ticket touts whizzing visitors straight through the small town and onto boats, urging them to move on as soon as possible.

a glimpse from above of White Beach in Padang Bai

If you stay however, you will be rewarded. Removed from the main street lined with lorries on their way to Lombok is a laid back atmosphere punctuated by reggae bars, warungs and tasty – but not too overpriced – restaurants.

If you’re looking for good coffee, cheap beers, reasonably priced food and decent WiFi then plant yourself down at No Name, close to  the pier for fast boats to the Gillis. Here you will find absolutely no resistance to you whiling away the day watching the bay, with its fishing boats and ferries, without spending a fortune on purchasing from them.

view of White Beach in Padang Bai from one of the little warungs that are along its edge

But when the weather’s nice you must seek out the beaches. To the east of the main beach is Blue Lagoon. Climbing over the hill you will find a fairly small cove tucked between black rocky cliffs that is meant to be great for snorkelling. A couple of small restaurants are built into the incline above it.

For beach bums though it is best to go straight to White Beach. West, past the main port, police station and post office, you will need to take a steep, wide, dirt track on your left to find this hideaway. The climb up the rough road is worth it .  When you reach it’s top  you are rewarded with a delightful view of the glimmering sea and pale sand down below, shrouded by a row of palm trees. Once you’ve made your descent you will find yourself on a wide beach nestled within a bay that is dotted with a few basic warungs along its back.

one of my best (and cheapest) lunches in Bali: cucumber salad with caramelised shallots doused in a sweet and sour dressing, from one of the warungs on White Beach

What makes both of these beaches extra special is that by the late afternoon the ‘tourists’ and locals are sharing them in equal measure; hanging out with friends, taking a dip in the water, exploring rock pools or playing a game of football. But instead of feeling as though you are invading upon their territory, you are simply welcomed into day-to-day life.

So if the weather is good, and you have a few days spare around your trip to Lombok or the Gillis, be sure to spend a couple of nights in Padang Bai. I found it to be the perfect balance between locals and visitors, with nice beaches thrown in for good measure.

Stay at: Kerti Beach Bungalows

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