If there is one location that started the beach club trend in South East Asia, it would be Bali, or more specifically Rock Bar at the Ayana Hotel in the Bukit Peninsula, within the general Uluwatu area.
While there was a time when the trendy nightlife started to drift northwards along the west coast of Bali, stretching along the Seminyak stretch, there have been a few openings down in Uluwatu which would undoubtedly return the centre of destination bars away from ‘sunset views’ of Seminyak to ‘cliff-top settings’ of Uluwatu.
OMNIA Day Club, Uluwatu
I get mixed comments on OMNIA. Some people love it, some people not so much. Regardless of their feelings on the bar, they do agree that the architectural setting is something else.
Perched on the cliff edge, with stunning vistas left and right (with the exception of a hotel currently under construction to the left of the property), there is something about OMNIA that makes you want to go all ‘insta-famous.’
The area is divided between the two day-bed areas, where you get access to the swimming pool, day beds and resort amenities, and the ala carte areas, mostly concentrated in the ‘Cube,’ the iconic structure that abuts the cliff edge and seemingly floats above the sea. The ‘Cube’ is the main draw for this place, which gives it a distinct character from the other day clubs in Bali, and the corner glass balcony being one of the ‘must take a photo’ spots.
Drinks-wise, there is a wide selection of crafted signature cocktails to choose from, all having a local flavour within. Unlike other day clubs, most of the cocktails here are served in wooden cups, that are quite effective in maintaining a cool cocktail on a hot tropical day. There is a basic menu, and if you are peckish, the bar snacks are, interestingly enough, very filling.
Overall, OMNIA exudes the jet-set crowd feel, and this can be quite apparent with the clientele it attracts. There will be a lot of photo taking, selfie shots and the likes, and the atmosphere feels more clubby than chilled. If you want your day clubs as a see-and-be-seen destination, then OMNIA might be just the right fit.
P.s. Come early, preferably around 1pm, otherwise it will get full. If you do plan on coming on a weekend, or after 4pm, I suggest making reservations, and be aware there is a minimum spend and cover charge.
Atmosphere: Open, wide terrace, with two pools. The main building has a trendy Japanese restaurant upstairs, and the Cube houses the main cocktail bar. Avant garde architecture on display.
Drinks: signature cocktails a-plenty
Price Point: Average for destination beach bars. Expect to pay USD 8 for a cocktail.
Feel: Packed, bustling, trendy, see-and-be-seen. There is a reason why this spot is Insta-famous.
Address: Jalan Belimbing Sari, Pecatu, Kuta Selatan, Bali 80364 Indonesia
Imagine someone has a beach house with a few outhouses. Connect these outhouses through corridors and have a pool in the courtyard at the back. Add in a terrace that hugs the cliffs, with well-manicured lawns. This is the Ulu Cliffhouse.
Like someone’s private beach house who he lets out once in a while if he isn’t in town, the Ulu Cliffhouse has an intimate feel despite it catering to a very hip crowd. Not as big as OMNIA, with an equally stunning setting with views of the sunset on the left and the western Bali coast on the right, Ulu Cliffhouse has a charm that will remind you of Mykonos.
The space is divided to three distinct areas: a restaurant area on the right, a day-bed area by the pool, in the centre of the courtyard, and a cocktail bar on the left, where the DJ booth and cliff terrace are. While there is free seating in the restaurant and cocktail bar area, there is a minimum spend for the day beds, approximately IDR 1,000,000 or USD 70.
Drinks are pretty good, with a great selection of signature cocktails at reasonable prices, with a good food menu that would satiate your hunger as you laze away under the tropical sun. The atmosphere is very chill, keeping in line with the beach lounge feel, and while some of the crowd are in to their selfies and group photos thanks to the beautiful setting, you do get a very relaxed vibe when said photo groups leave.
The beauty of Ulu Cliffhouse’s setting is well placed, and the limitation on deck chairs, seating areas and the preference for bookings, ensures that this lounge does not feel too crowded. Perfect for a lazy afternoon while sipping cocktails and waiting for time before heading to Uluwatu Temple for the sunset kecak.
Atmosphere: Private beach house party venue, complete with jet-set and glamorous patrons
Drinks: Great cocktail selection, with a lot of tropical-inspired signature cocktails
Price Point: Average day club prices, USD 7/+.
Feel: I want to say trust-fund babies and jet-setters who have a certain nonchalant-ness
Address: Jalan Labuan Sait No 315, Padang-Padang, Pecatu, Bali 80361, Indonesia
It is quite hard to really describe Single Fin. Unlike the other entries, this destination is less a day club and more bar. Entry is quite interesting, where you have to pass the iconic Single Fin Surf Shop and a few other bars before finding the terrace that leads to Single Fin, next door to the Surf Shop. The split levels and areas of the bar does get a haphazard, and it would be hard pressed to get reservations here. It feels part beach-shack, part terrace restaurant, part pop-up club.
However, if you are wondering why the bar is packed in the middle of the afternoon, and you are roaming around trying to find a spot to sit down, just sit on the balcony and you will get a rough idea. To your left, the cliffs of Uluwatu. Right in front of you, the stunning waves of Uluwatu that is the spiritual home of surfing on this island. To your right, well, we don’t really talk about the private pool on the right, we just focus on the surf right in front of us.
Undoubtedly, this is a major drinking hole for the surf crowd, or the corporate-career-turned-surfer crowd. The setting is pretty rustic: no clean lines like the other destination bars here, oh no. While the drinks selection are decent, with the constant crowds and the hectic feeling, I would highly suggest getting a beer.
As the late afternoon progresses, balcony seats do become a premium, as crowds descend on the terrace to get that perfect sunset view. While the ‘premium sunset seats’ on the left of the mid-terrace have the best views, you also get the full force of the afternoon sun. Bring a hat, or angle yourself just nicely under the umbrella.
Atmosphere: Imagine beach shack-turned-fancy, but still wants to keep the ‘rawness’ to keep it ‘real.’
Drinks: Decent cocktail selection, but go for the beer to reduce waiting time.
Price Point: Lower than similar bars, but still higher than average Bali bars. Expect USD 6 for cocktails.
Feel: Surfer-vibe, traveller-heavy, flash-packer.
Address: Pantai Suluban, Jalan Labuan Sait, Uluwatu, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Oneeighty, The Edge
Part of me feels selfish and does not want to talk too much about this spot, but the other part of me knows such a destination could not possibly stay as private as possible. Of all the bars on this list, oneeighty at The Edge is undoubtedly my personal favourite for a host of reasons.
This is a day club that has a very private, very intimate feel to it, perched on the edge of the Uluwatu cliffs. There is a good degree of space between deck chairs. There is a good layer of sand instead of tiles where the deck chairs are. There is a very nice pool which abuts the cliff, and has a glass bottom, giving further credence to the name ‘The Edge.’
While service overall in the other 3 day clubs above are good, here they do go the extra mile. They will ask you nicely if you need anything without being pushy, they are super helpful when you are peckish but don’t want a full meal, and best of all, they know the best spots for the perfect shot of you, either in the pool or on the terrace. Perfect for the narcissistic Instagram shot.
The drinks are very well made, and their cold brew martini is one of my personal favourites, and high on my list of ‘great cocktails in Southeast Asia.’ Unlike other bars on this list, they use well-made plastic martini glasses instead of proper glasses, and it became apparent why when I was allowed to take a dip in the pool with my martini.
To maintain the private setting, the bar has a policy of prioritizing advanced reservations and not packing in the crowd. It also helps that while The Edge Hotel is somewhat sprawling, the bar is not, and the small, intimate setting gives the perfect environment for a lazy, private space on a relaxing afternoon.
There is a minimum spend here, approximately IDR 400,000 (USD 30), where IDR 50,000 is your entrance fee and the remaining IDR 350,000 is your resort credit. Not too bad considering the privacy on offer, the untouched cliff-side setting and limited, mostly jet-setter crowd present. You may just choose to spend your entire afternoon here and not move from your deck chair.
Atmosphere: Super private beach club, very jet-setter approved, especially if you like to indulge with smaller crowds and increased exclusivity
Drinks: Good cocktail selection. I am in love with their cold brew martini.
Price Point: Average by Bali beach club prices, USD 7
Feel: Your fancy friend’s rooftop terrace extension, with ample space to laze around. The chairs are that comfortable.
Address: Jalan Pura Goa Lempeh, Banjar Dinas Kangin, Pecatu, Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia
What is my criteria?
I am embarrassed to admit that I knew of Milford Sound through Civilization VI. To that computer game’s credit, they used the Maori name instead of the English one: Piopiotahi. Regardless of the name, the breathless introduction to that wonder was sufficient: “this great?!” Words simply cannot describe this beauty.
Road Well(ish) Travelled
Milford Sound can be reached easily from Queenstown, via the picturesque town of Te Anau. Roughly 6 hours from Queenstown including stopovers, the journey by road is well worth it, despite the temptation of taking the flight straight in.
While driving is fun, the coach down from Queenstown is very relaxing, with commentary and well-appointed stops by the driver. Departing early from the Real Adventures shop in central Queenstown, as in 0700 (complete with pick-up), the ride down is leisurely. The thought of taking a nap will quickly disappear when the sights along Lake Wakatipu onwards start to come to perspective.
Te Anau is a quaint little town on the road to Milford Sound and is a frequent mid-way point on the journey. The town is pretty and the lake is stunning, and the pie shop near the Real Journeys stopover point is well worth it.
The journey from Te Anau onwards to Milford Sound is filled with stunning scenery, from Lake Te Anau, to the site of Eglington Valley which honestly looks like a battle field from Lord of the Rings, and depending on your timing, can either be relatively full or relatively quiet.
The next stop on the itinerary, after passing through what looks like a dense forested area, is the Mirror Lakes. Again, depending on the time of day, wind conditions and if fortune favours you, the lakes will be sufficiently still to enable a mirror-like appearance on the lake, well-framed by the glacial peaks and forested groves.
From here on, the journey becomes even more rugged, from the Cascade Creek with water so pure from the glacial peaks, I filled 2 water bottles worth of water, to raw, jagged peaks that just reek of adventure, to gorges and rivers that look as though Frodo had just passed through an hour ago on his way to Mordor.
Truly, the road to Milford Sound is stunning, but this good? I can see what Darroch Donald meant now after being on this road for a few hours. The last ‘obstacle’ is the Homer Tunnel, a storied site and a single-lane tunnel, which then descends to Milford Sound. From here, it is not hard to fathom how Sir Edmund Hillary found the drive to scale Mr Everest when Mt Christina peaks from the tree-line on the road down.
[Donald’s quote is as follows: But as I headed into the heart of New Zealand's fiordland that same child-like feeling, long lost, of pure unadulterated awe came rushing back. I knew the road to Milford Sound was good - but this good?”
A Quaint Harbour
The final approach towards Milford Sound is, in a word, stunning. Steep, hairpin turns at times, endless rugged vistas a constant, lush vegetation by your side herald an approach to a spot which without a doubt, speechless.
Once you are at the harbour, you might notice that despite its popularity, Piopiotahi is not overcrowded. With the right pricing and policies in place, this World Heritage Site does not feel like the other, well-known sites. Timing, again is everything, with cruises usually lasting 2 hours. I highly suggest taking the nature cruise, which goes out a bit further, and brings you back to harbour later than the other boats, and extra time enjoying the stunning sound.
Barely 5 minutes out of harbour, Piopiotahi delivers on the site, with the stunning Lady Bown Falls waterfall immediately on your right, and with the right weather conditions, an unobstructed view of the perfectly pyramidical Mitre Peak framed by the fiords.
My suggestion: beat the crowds on your cruise and head straight to the bow viewing deck. The on-board naturalist is on hand to provide commentary and insights, but half the time, you might get sucked in by the sight of the fiord and enjoying the noise of stillness.
Keep a look-out though: this is still a raw, natural place, with very limited human habitation and impact. I spotted a number of dolphins and seals on the cruise, and while there was a chance of catching a whale as we headed out towards the Tasman Sea, the strong waves and currents did limit out progress.
Other better, more skilled writers and poets have tried to capture the beauty and majesty of Piopiotahi in words and they admit they could not do it justice. I could barely come up with adjectives beyond ‘stunning’ and ‘majestic’ and ‘awe-inspiring.’
My fancy compact camera could barely capture the scale and beauty of the Sound, and professional photographers before me and on the cruise admitted they could barely capture an iota of what inspired them to look up and around and be mesmerized by the sheer scale of nature’s chisel which dwarfs any attempt in to a somewhat feeble exercise.
Capturing the waterfalls caught amazing shots but without context. Taking a video captured the surrounds but failed to capture the majesty. While it may be a cliché to say that ‘seeing is believing,’ this work of nature’s art is one which truly can only be appreciated in its full majesty in person.
I can now admit that whenever I play Civilization VI now, I try at all costs to get Piopiotahi within my civilization’s influence and ‘National Park.’ It is one way of ‘capturing’ it, as ridiculous as it sounds.
Drive or Coach?: You can drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound, with a journey that takes roughly 4 hours, with stopovers at Te Anau. However, I highly suggest taking a coach, either from Queenstown or Te Anau, if not for the brief sight-seeing stops by the driver, then for the relaxing ride through the country.
Journey Options: I took Real Journeys on my trip to Milford Sound. They provide options for a Cruise or a Nature Cruise. Splurge a bit and go for the Nature Cruise.
You can either take a: a) return coach trip, which leaves at 0700 and returns around 1900, b) coach-fly, which leaves at 0700 and arrives around 1600, where you take a small plane from Milford Sound back to Queenstown, while flying low above the snow-capped peaks or c) fly in and out. The flying option is subject to weather conditions.
Feeling adventurous? Take the Milford Track, a hiking route over four days from Te Anau, through the mountains, to Milford Sound. Seasonal from October to April, and best during summer to avoid treacherous conditions.
Think New Zealand, and it evokes image of The Lord of the Rings, endless sheep on rolling hills and a population intent on testing every single humanly possible activity to wring out as much adrenaline as the human body could possibly handle. Hard to argue when on approach, you see rugged coastlines, jagged snow-capped peaks and a wilderness so tempting to explore, you can see what encourages so many thrill seekers to this natural playground.
Jagged Little Town
Located roughly in the middle of New Zealand’s South Island, Queenstown at first glance may seem like an unassuming little town. However, on approach, as you catch glimpses of the majestic Lake Wakatipu or the unreal blue of the Kawarau River or the peaks of The Remarkables range from the tarmac of Queenstown International Airport, you would rather it that way: let the natural surrounding do the talking.
The centre of Queenstown, focused on Rees St/Shotover Street, houses endless gear shops, tour operators specializing in every adrenaline sport imaginable, interesting bars and a host of accommodation. A walk around town and this little spot seems more cosmopolitan than you can imagine, with people from all over the world congregating in search of the next thrill.
Hemmed in by rolling hills, mountain ranges and a stunning lake, it is hard to not always want to stay outside in Queenstown, even in winter: the collegial atmosphere and natural beauty captures you, and all you can think of is enjoying a nice little drink on a floating bar. Yes, I spent a lot of time on Perky’s Floating Bar: it marries my love of wine, boats, water and natural landscapes wonderfully.
Pack a good, sturdy pair of hiking boots, a day-bag, extra camera batteries and a big SD card: there are a lot of good hikes within 15 minutes walk of the town centre, from simple walks up hills to more technical, steep ascents, but all are rewarded with amazing views of Queenstown, the mountains and Lake Wakatipu.
Queenstown Hill is a fun, easy hike, roughly 30 minutes from start to summit. Hike in the morning, as the cool air provides makes the summit magical with low clouds and mist. Stay a bit longer as the sun warms up the clouds, meditating on the lake views and artwork that dots the first peak.
Skyline Queenstown is a bit of a ‘cheat’ if you want to hike: there is the option of a very rewarding 1 hour hike up Bob’s Peak or a 15 minute gondola ride. Or of course, there is the option of a hike up and gondola down, or gondola up and mountain bike down. Waiting for the gondola and watching as mountain bikes are attached to the gondola up may give you even more suggestions.
Up at Skyline, there is a bar, a few restaurants, a Maori cultural exhibition, luge and of course more hiking trails. From the easy Skyline Loop that loops around the summit of Bob’s Peak or onwards towards Ben Lomond, pack lunch, stay hydrated and explore. You may even bump in to fellow ‘hikers’: of all things, I bumped in to a small herd of wild mountain goats on my way up Ben Lomond.
Apart from beautiful hiking territory, stunning cycling routes and adrenaline-pumping mountain bike trails, Queenstown has a range of activities on hand, from skiing in winter to, of course, the ‘Shotover Jet,’ the home of the very fast jet boat that whizzes up and down the Shotover River and Gorge.
While I did not opt for the Shotover Jet (or paragliding/bungee jumping/zorbing/base jumping), there are the tamer options of a day out at Walter Peak. A 30 minute cruise on the steamship TSS Earnslaw brings you to Walter Peak High Country Farm, a working farm and base for more genteel options. From an agricultural show of farm dogs herding sheep to cycling trips around the country, to just enjoying the view of Lake Wakatipu, Walter Peak is a quaint escape from the contagious adrenaline in Queenstown.
Walter Peak also has a very good horse riding trek around the lake and surrounds, and what better way to fan your Lord of the Rings dream than riding a horse in Middle Earth, as the jagged mountains recall Rohan and Gondor. Horses are well-mannered, the views rivalled by few and the peace serene.
Further beyond, the iconic image of New Zealand’s natural treasures beckon: Piopiotahi, or Milford Sound. While it was a bit sad I knew of Piopiotahi through Civilization VI, the trip from Queenstown was worth the entire day. From bus excursions, to bus-and-fly options to a full on multi-day trek on the Milford Sound, the scenery and experience of this journey to one of the natural wonders of the world is best experienced instead of described.
Yet after a day of adventures, Queenstown delivers on gastronomic and vino-related adventures. From the Perky’s Floating Bar to the world famous Fergburger which deserves its ranking as one of the top burgers in the world, to the genteel surrounds of The Lodge Bar, this adventure capital will serve you well.
One thing is for sure though: keep options open in Queenstown: this beautiful, unassuming town in the middle of rural New Zealand may capture you with her wonders. Sure, Queenstown is basically a tourist town, with tourism a major backbone of the economy, but it certainly does not feel like your standard issue tourist centre, what with the adrenaline adventurers, expedition explorers and bravado bikers around.
Taxis are a bit hard to come by: rent a car or get a ‘GoCard’ for easy bus rides. The ‘GoCard’ can be purchased at Queenstown Airport, at a travel counter on the left before the exit. Your purchase of the GoCard from the airport can easily cover the return fare from the airport to town.
Queenstown is an easy, walkable city. Sites further afield may require a private car. Most excursions come with transport provided from your accommodation.
Accor Group has the Mgallery by Sofitel. Marriott-Starwood has Tribute Portfolio and Design Hotels, Hyatt has The Unbound Collection. Hilton on the other hand, has Curio Collection by Hilton. While Mgallery is very well represented in the Asia Pacific, and the select few I have stayed in have been very good, these small, independent boutique hotels supported by the behemoths that are the big chains are somewhat rare in the Asia Pacific.
During my trip to Sydney earlier in 2018, I was curious on this new brand, and perfect timing too. Having just opened in December 2017, the West Hotel, a Curio Collection by Hilton got me, well, curious. This curious cat was well pleased by what he found.
Up and Coming
The West Hotel is located in Barangaroo, a new up and coming urban renewal district adjacent to King’s Street Wharf, Darling Harbour and the western side of Sydney’s Central Business District. With convenient access to the airport via the Airport Link at Wynyard Station, and a new pedestrian link and tunnel between Barangaroo and Wynyard Station towards Martin Place and the CBD, you will be hard pressed not to tap in to your curious side in exploring Sydney.
This medium-rise new build blends seamlessly with the office blocks, residences and hotels nearby, and despite it being next to the Eastern Distributor Expressway, it does not feel too crowded, busy or chaotic. Being next to the nightlife, restaurants and bars of trendy Barangaroo makes up for it if the peace and quiet needs a bit of social hustle and bustle.
Trendy without being Trend-ick
The one thing that does get to me about these fancy design-focused boutique hotels is how they the design brief is focused on the word ‘trending.’ While being hip and trendy and fancy is fun, it can at times feel overwhelming, too much and just all over the place (the one that starts with ‘S’ and ends with ‘O’ and is linked to S*****L, I am looking at you).
However, the West Hotel Sydney avoids this trap by toning down the trendiness while not sacrificing the hipness. The room is elegantly appointed, but with tasteful chrome finishings and details carefully tucked away but adding to the feel.
The public areas make full use of the limited space, with the bar feeling like a chilled oasis, the winter garden a good atrium centre-piece, the light dimmed just nice without being too dark and the colour scheme cool and muted.
I usually try and book a hotel with a pool. However, the West Hotel Sydney does not have a pool. At first I was a little bummed out by the lack of it, but the 24 hour access gym with good equipment made up for it and my need to get active. That, and Sydney’s beaches and rock pools are the perfect swimming facilities as it is!
Another feature which I love at the West Hotel Sydney is their hospitality room, a.k.a. freshen-up room, or as I like to call it, “I have a late flight but I need to shower before going to the airport” room. Unlike most other hotels where they ‘invite you to use the fitness facilities to freshen up,’ the West Hotel Sydney has a very spacious ‘powder room,’ just in case the late check-out does not cut it.
Lounge and Dine
The Solander Bar at the West Hotel Sydney is, to put it simply, chilled. It knows it cannot be the next fancy nightclub, so it becomes the next chilled cocktail bar with chilled house music on. Facing Sussex Street on the ground floor, watch the world go by over a nice little drink.
Or perhaps chill in the winter garden that opens out from the bar with your nice little drink and a little nibble from Solander Dining before an evening out on the town, a fancy dinner at King Street Wharf, or just because. A bit apt to wine and dine in a venue named after a botanist that somehow feels like a green house.
Readers will know my love affair with Sydney. Interestingly enough, I used to live down the road on Liverpool Street, and after that across the harbour in Pyrmont, and having to pass the neighbourhood the West Hotel is in. I can say, without a doubt, it is a funky little neighbourhood.
While the rest of the CBD is primarily a 9 to 5 spot, and gets quiet after office hours, adjoining Barangaroo, King Street Wharf and Darling Harbour are among the CDB’s entertainment hotspots. As Barangaroo continues to develop, with more space opening up as more urban development comes to completion, expect more entertainment life here, and little gems amidst this ‘fancy office park.’
And the Rooms?
The rooms are very well appointed and spacious, among the larger ones in the CBD. The double-glazed windows will make the Eastern Distributor Expressway next to you seem almost non-existent, as you see the traffic but do not hear it.
The bed is spacious and comfortable, with a cosy seating area in a corner, with an adequate work space. The wardrobe is open, could be better but the finishing and detail is really nice. Try and spot the bird as you hang your dress shirts.
The bathroom is adequate, with polished counter tops, tasteful mirror décor, good lighting and a very responsive rainforest shower. I want to say it is as generic as it comes, but it is a good middle ground between the otherwise bland standard hotel bathroom and over-the-top design-inspired throne of a toilet. The Bluetooth in-room sound system is an added plus, and very powerful!
If you want a smaller property in a quiet yet not too quiet part of Sydney that does not cost a ludicrous amount, be close to public transport and airport connections, and be within decent walking distance to the sights, sounds and smells of Sydney, I would put a hand up for the West Hotel Sydney. While it is not as close as the Four Seasons to the Royal Botanic Gardens for my morning run, the warm-up through Martin Place makes up for it!
Booking?: I booked online on the Hilton website. Look out for deals!
Address?: West Hotel Sydney, Curio Collection by Hilton,
65 Sussex Street, Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia
Nearest Station: Wynyard Station
Peak Season?: Hard to say for a major destination like Sydney, but year end and late February-early March around Sydney Pride would definitely be packed
Jason is a world traveller and avid seeker of high perches, on a mission to capture the unique experiences that makes destinations iconic.