Jason’s Trot: Nusa Penida
Bali is, for all intents and purposes, a major tourist destination, filled with, well, tourists. There is no denying that at all. However, if you want a little escape away from the main island for a little peace and quiet, and rugged adventure, then Nusa Penida is a very good alternative.
One little interesting tid-bit I learned about Nusa Penida: this island was once the penal colony, a sort of place for exile, for the Balinese of old. Now, it feels like a refuge colony, for those seeking all-terrain explorations or excellent dive sites. You get fantastic views of Bali from the north shore, and you can see why this was the perfect place to be if you (or the Balinese community of old) want to be in exile.
A short 40 minute speedboat ride away from the main landing point on Sanur, Nusa Penida is close enough to Bali that it has become a sort of day-trip destination from Bali, an alternative to the somewhat party isle of Nusa Lembongan. I will be honest: do not expect much, Nusa Penida is very, very rustic.
But this rustic-ness is the charm of Nusa Penida. While you may get a slight shock when you get off the boat when you arrive, this raw beauty in the form of rickety country roads, rugged terrain and a dearth of built-up space makes for a refreshing experience.
Dirt Trails Galore
The roads in Nusa Penida are, to be honest, questionable. With the exception of a few sections that have been maintained, on the whole, roads away from the main north and west shores are almost gravel-like. Great for an off-road moto-session.
On arrival at the pier, there are options for renting motorbikes, which is a fun way to explore the island, but unless you are a capable rider, you can either get a motorbike with a driver and ride pillion, or get a car. Riding in Nusa Penida is not the same as riding in Bali, and some stretches can get very, very (very) challenging, especially towards the south-east.
Beaches, Cliffs and Holy Springs
The beauty of Nusa Penida is best experienced on her beaches, cliff-side walks and rugged drops. There is a certain charm about this island, despite it being somewhat dry, without as much dense vegetation compared to Bali. However, this does transport your mind to somewhere else, a wind-swept island, a perfect retreat.
There are quite a number of stunning beaches, mostly concentrated on the western and south-western end of the island. As with most destinations that have appeared on the radar, expect crowds, particularly day-trippers from Nusa Lembongan and Bali. If you time your visits right, you can either catch the tail-end of them, or leave just as they come in.
If you are a bit more adventurous and want a good workout, then the holy spring by the Peguyangan Waterfall, a temple perched at the bottom of a cliff, where a natural spring meets the sea below, provides for a stunning experience, both for a meditative but challenging walk down, and the views of sheer falls from the cliffs above.
If there was one iconic picture of adventure, travel and wanderlust, it would be one taken when looking down towards Kelingking Beach from the top of the Kelingking Peninsula. This spot has been made famous thanks to Instagram, and it is not hard to see why: the spot is stunningly photogenic. It can get crowded around lunchtime, so come by around lunch, have something to eat and wait for the crowds to thin out before heading down.
However, the beach at the bottom of the steep descent down is well worth the effort, but not suggested if you are on a tight day-trip from the main island. Once you are at the bottom, enjoy the crystal clear waters, white powdery sand and the knowledge that you just scaled down a collection of rickety bamboo ladders held by, well, let’s not go there.
Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach are also iconic spots in Nusa Penida. Both are next to each other, with both getting very packed during day-trip and tour sessions around 10/11 am. Very ingenious local residents have identified the best places for selfies or photo opportunity spots, and these are clearly marked, and are there for a reason: the angle is just right.
Angel’s Billabong is very nice, but beware of the steep, slippery stone ledges and waves, that are not as calm as they seem: like the angels of the bible, they look divine but they can smite with a vengeance.
Broken Beach, just a short 5 minute walk away from Angel’s Billabong, is a sink-hole with a stone arch, and clear water down below. This spot is arguably a very close contender to the ‘iconic Nusa Penida shot,’ and the rugged beauty of the terrain makes it easy to see why. Come by just before lunch, when the tour groups leave for Kelingking Beach, if you want the place quieter.
After seeing Kelingking Beach, Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach, Crystal Bay may suddenly feel not as stunning. Crystal Bay is a pretty bay, a secluded harbour with a good spot to see the sunset, but to be honest, it just makes me appreciate Kelingking Beach that much more.
While you can squeeze in all the main highlights of Nusa Penida’s West Coast in a day-trip, you will not get to experience the whole island in her rugged beauty. The ride down to the cliff temple brings you through rolling hills and quaint villages. The ride along the north shore brings you past some of the best views of Mt Agung. The thought of spending a few hours on Kelingking Beach does not sound out of the question when there is no boat to catch.
However, as this is pretty much the sticks, facilities, street lighting and infrastructure are limited. Wifi may be spotty and mobile reception is focused on the north and west sides of the island. Perfect if you want to unplug, chill and do basically nothing. Plus, the sunset views get that much better when there are no big crowds blocking your view as the main chunk of the crowds leave at 4pm.
To the island - There are quite a number of operators that go to Nusa Penida from Sanur. Most provide one-way transport to the ferry point if you book in advance. I used Maruti Express Boat, with a return fare of IDR 550,000
On the island – 3 options, either a) rent your own bike for around IDR 60,000/day, b) rent a bike with a driver for around IDR 200,000/day or c) rent a car with a driver for IDR 700,000/day
Stay?: Accommodation is limited on Nusa Penida, with most properties under 20 rooms, and concentrated on the northern and eastern sides of the island. Book in advance of your trip!
Kuala Lumpur is one of those cities that continues to surprise, and with an ever-evolving nightlife catering to a cosmopolitan lifestyle, paired with an iconic skyline, quite a few bars, clubs and terraces have popped up to cater to this maturing destination.
Still have energy after a day exploring the city, or in the mood for after-hours entertainment? Then let Jay’s little entry here be your guide.
Wet Bar, W Kuala Lumpur. Closing Time: 0300
Recently opened in Q3 2018, the W Kuala Lumpur is one of the anticipated openings that happened within weeks of each other. It started with Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur with her redefined Vertigo. Four Seasons Kuala Lumpur followed up with her redefined cocktail bar overlooking KLCC. W Kuala Lumpur upped the ante with a pool party venue with breath taking views of the Petronas Twin Towers.
Located on the 12th floor, the bar quickly opens up to a triple height ceiling with interesting artwork, ample space to lounge, linger and order drinks, and to your left, a b
ig pool with a centre piece with a mist machine. Oh, and there’s that iconic view of the Petronas Twin Towers.
The colour scheme is very much W, with that fuchsia tone. The sofas are plush, with plenty of seating space for couples and groups. The deck chairs by the pool overlooking the Petronas Twin Towers are obviously hot property. Music is chill, with a hint of Chill-Out Sessions After Dark, with the occasional pop favourites.
Drinks-wise, the price point is very agreeable by Kuala Lumpur, and especially iconic view Kuala Lumpur prices. They have an extensive cocktail list, and I highly suggest their Milo-infused cocktail. There was something tropical as well but I forgot what it was called.
Atmosphere: Urban resort deck, but with an emphasis on urban and less on resort. The backdrop of the Petronas Twin Towers is well balanced with the sheer expanse of space.
Drinks: Good selection of signature cocktails, with the usual beer
Price Point: Agreeable by city centre KL prices. Expect to pay USD 9 for a cocktail.
Feel: Expansive, high youthful energy without feeling too overwhelming.
Address: 121, Jalan Ampang, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Nearest Station: KLCC LRT Station
The Iron Fairies, Kuala Lumpur. Closing Time: 0500
I have been to The Iron Fairies Bangkok. I like the feel with all those fairies by the ceiling. I have been to The Iron Fairies Hong Kong. I like the feel as you wind off an alley and enter what feels like a blacksmith’s den. When I heard that The Iron Fairies Kuala Lumpur in TREC would be twice the size and include a club back room, I was a bit concerned.
Of course, always reserve opinion until you see it, and I must say, my concerns on the set up were not valid. It is double height, with two wrought iron spiral stairs leading to the upper level, with balcony space overlooking the raised performance space, and the ground floor being a space to enjoy the music without being distracted by the performance.
At the upper level, walk to the passageway behind the performance area and seek out a door. Open the door and be mesmerized by the Butterfly Room: the aforementioned club back room. With butterflies dangling above you, a central socializing counter top and an expansive bar, this venue is a good after-hours hideout.
The music is mostly deep house and electronica, with a bit of a tight squeeze if the dancefloor gets packed. However, there are a lot of sofas and seating area by the walls and towards the back away from the DJ console.
Drinks-wise, the cocktails may look familiar to patrons who have been to other cocktail bar/clubs in Kuala Lumpur, with a Pandan Sour a fun favourite. Drinks arrive quickly, which is good, but when it gets really, really busy, be prepared for a wait for your bill.
Atmosphere: Wrought iron, gothic with interesting art installations and fun decorations everywhere. Iron fairies resting on top of tables in the main bar, butterflies fluttering from the ceiling in the Butterfly Bar
Drinks: 2 pages of signature cocktails
Price Point: Average for similar Kuala Lumpur establishments. Expect to pay USD 9 for a cocktail.
Feel: Packed, bustling, trendy, see-and-be-seen in the Butterfly Bar
Address: H-G-06, Hive TREC, 438 Jalan Tun Razak, 43000 Kuala Lumpur
Nearest Station: Tun Razak Exchange MRT Station (but access is limited due to on-going construction work as of Q3 2018. Best take a Grab.)
Kyo KL. Closing Time: Pretty late
Located in the basement of the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur, as in 3 basement levels down, Kyo KL is among the few really after-hours clubs in the city centre. Entered via the Mandarin Oriental’s side entrance facing the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, you will be transported down via the lift to a world where, well, let’s just say you lose track of time.
There is a cover change of RM40 at Kyo KL and it comes with a drink, but this cover charge depends what is going on. The venue is primarily hard house and electronica, and hosts a number of renowned house music DJs. Look out for their schedule, and if a Sweatbox event is on, then be prepared to sweat as if you are at ‘The Box.’
The space is very big, with an ample dancefloor, a lot of seating space, both next to the dancefloor and on the raised area behind it. The bar is expansive, and there is a counter top right in front of the DJ console where you can put your drinks as you dance the night away. Handy!
Atmosphere: Cosmopolitan after-hours night club. It could be located in any big city.
Drinks: Basic, but at this point, are you really looking for fancy cocktails?
Price Point: Reasonable at about USD 7 onwards for a beer
Feel: Spacious, and with the right energy and music, perfect to let your inner raver out
Address: Basement 2&3, Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50450 Kuala Lumpur
Nearest Station: KLCC LRT Station
What is my criteria?
Southeast Asia is, without a doubt, one of those interesting destinations that always seeks to reinvent itself. With each major destination trying to vie for attention, it becomes an ever present constant of change, of new experiences, of new sights and sounds to outdo each other, all while trying to capture the essence of the destination.
Tropicola Beach Club, Seminyak, Bali
Recently opened in Q3 2018, Tropicola Beach Club is the latest entry to the ever-evolving Bali Beach Club scene. While not as merged with the beach as Ku De Ta or as hyped as Potato Head, Tropicola may arguably have the more 1960s Riviera feel, with their interesting uniform, fonts and general aesthetic.
If you are after a day club with a comfortable plunge pool, loungers without a ridiculous minimum spend and appropriately priced drinks, Tropicola delivers. While still new (as of August 2018), there is no ridiculously long queue for day beds like in Potato Head, and the non-minimum spend day beds have very easy access to the pool.
Best approached from Batu Belig Beach (the northern spur of Seminyak beach, a good 10 minute walk on the sand from Potato Head), where this beach club lacks in direct, unobstructed beach views (thanks to the road that is in between the premises and beach), you get decent sunset views.
However, unlike Potato Head and Ku De Ta, this day club is more long than it is wide, so expect limited seating if you want to sit facing the sea, beach and sunset. Their cocktail selection is pretty decent, and if you order a beer, let them know you want to go in the pool: they will provide you with a plastic cup so that you can dip in and chill out, beer in hand.
Atmosphere: Open, with loungers on the left, restaurant on the right, with two adjoining pools. Think 1960s Mediterranean Lido.
Drinks: Decent experimental cocktail list, with the usual safe beer options
Price Point: Average for destination beach bars. Expect to pay USD 7 for a cocktail.
Feel: Compact, high youthful energy with a lot of stripes.
Address: Jalan Pantai Batu Belig No 5, Kerobokan Kelod, Kuta Utara, Bali 80361 Indonesia
OMNIA Day Club, Uluwatu, Bali
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
Smoke & Mirrors, Singapore
Singapore is one of those cities that just ooze urban vistas. This city state has a dense, unique skyline, and has an array of rooftop bars to cater to the discerning traveller in search of a watering hole. One of the more laid back places in the middle of all the fancy action, however, is located at the National Gallery Singapore’s terrace, and is, personally, home to one of the more stunning views of the city.
Located on the roof terrace of the ‘Court House’ wing of the National Gallery Singapore, this chic, understated and thankfully not overcrowded bar, has stunning vistas of Marina Bay, the Marina Bay Sands and Raffles Place CBD towers, all while you are surrounded by the tamed greenery Singapore of noted for.
Smoke & Mirrors brands and positions itself as a destination bar, and while every other rooftop bar in Singapore (and Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok and Jakarta) likes to make that claim as well, this one deserves the moniker. The views are unparalleled and service adequate.
The feel of this bar is casual chic, with a very urban professional vibe. Not as many tourists as the other, more famous rooftop bars in Singapore, and the prices are reasonable (by Singapore standards). Try their mango beer: it comes from a micro-brewery in Jakarta and is perfect for those steamy, tropical evenings.
Atmosphere: Brushed stainless steel and marble panels, minimalist chic to not distract you from the view outside. Very upwardly mobile urban professional.
Drinks: Interesting cocktail and beer selection. I highly recommend the mango beer.
Price Point: Reasonable (and lower) than standard Singapore rooftop bar standards. SGD 15+/drink.
Feel: A rooftop ‘resort-style’ terrace. Just add swimming pool and you would think you were at a fancy urban resort.
Address: #06-01, National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew’s Road, Singapore
Tel: +65 9234 8122
Nearest Station: City Hall MRT Station
Vertigo, Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur
Bangkok may have started the trend, Singapore may have made it iconic, but Kuala Lumpur sets it to multiple heights. Already home to the tallest twin towers in the world (and once upon a time the tallest buildings in the world), Kuala Lumpur is back in the superlative game with the arguably highest if not one of the highest bars in Southeast Asia (yes, I checked: Sirocco Bangkok may be the highest to architectural structure, but Vertigo Kuala Lumpur has a lower top floor-to-architectural summit height, and is just marginally shorter, by like 1 meter or so. The top floor-to-architectural summit is larger at Sirocco.)
Height argument aside, Vertigo Kuala Lumpur takes a page from the original Vertigo Bangkok and puts the rooftop terrace bar to a whole new setting. With unobstructed views of the Petronas Twin Towers, the Exchange 108 (the current tallest building in the city) and the site of PNB 118, Vertigo Kuala Lumpur is well positioned to have some of the best vistas of Kuala Lumpur’s ever evolving skyline over the next 5 years with the 270* wrap-around terrace.
The signature cocktail selection is limited, but resident mixologist Jonathan sets the tone with very good delivery. The seating is decent, with a lot of space for large or small groups in the left and right wings, and a nice casual standing/high table area which arguably has the best views on the terrace.
Entrance is via the 59th floor, and up again on the escalators on your left. There is a dresscode: smart casual, no shorts, no trainers, no slippers. If you just so happen to be in shorts, do not fret: they should have a pair of trousers to loan you as you head up to have a tipple or two.
Atmosphere: Posh but without being pretentious, relaxed but in a smart-casual setting
Drinks: Small but good cocktail selection, with basic cocktails available on request.
Price Point: Lower than similar rooftop bars, but still higher than average KL bars. Expect USD 9++ for cocktails.
Feel: Cosmopolitan rooftop bar, befitting a cosmopolitan city.
Address: Level 59, Banyan Tree Signature Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Conlay, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Nearest Public Transportation: Raja Chulan Monorail Station/Bukit Bintang MRT Station
SOHY, Ho Chi Minh City
As befitting a rising Southeast Asian city, Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as I occasionally call her, now has a few rooftop perches of pretty good standing, like every other major Southeast Asian city.
However, unlike KL’s occasional live band Helipad, Jakarta’s musically pared down Cloud Lounge or Bangkok’s posh yet accessible CRU Champagne Bar, Saigon’s SOHY has found a way to combine fine dining with rave club, with a touch of beach bar. But for the stunning view of Saigon from the terraces, one would be forgiven if you thought you were at Potato Head in Bali.
With 3 floors to choose from, starting with an open terrace with hard house, to fine dining Italian on the second floor and a champagne bar on the top terrace, SOHY, with Shree just one terrace down, has made Saigon’s Centec Tower in to a Hanging Garden of Nightlife.
While the view is stunning, the music good, and the crowd young and upwardly mobile, the one drawback I found was that it opens pretty late: 6pm late, which barely gives you time to enjoy the sunset with a sundowner while watching the sun descend over the Mekong Delta, with the skyscrapers of Saigon a symbol of where this rising Asian power wants to be.
The beauty of this spot: it could easily be one of the destination bars of Southeast Asia, coming hot on the heels of the sky-high bars of Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, with a skyline to boot.
Atmosphere: Beach bar meets cosmopolitan warm-up nightclub. A little posh, yet very accessible. I came up with shorts.
Drinks: Impressive cocktail selection, go for the espresso martini, not half bad.
Price Point: Average price compared to ‘grounded’ Southeast Asian bars at USD 6/+.
Feel: I want to say trust-fund babies. Mostly locals, not many tourists or expats, yet.
Address: Centec Tower Rooftop, 72-74 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Tel: +84-90 299 9888
What is my criteria?
Jason is a world traveller and avid seeker of high perches, on a mission to capture the unique experiences that makes destinations iconic.