Bali - one of the smaller islands in the sprawling archipelago of Indonesia - is the most influential and most visited island in the world's fourth most populous country and provides the leading source of revenue for Indonesia. Gay men and lesbians will find it refreshingly gay-friendly and extremely inexpensive.
You'll find most gay life in Kuta Beach and the areas just of north of there, called Seminyak and Legian. Legian, the main gay beach near Kuta, is a big, beautiful, and somewhat private area - a far cry from busy Kuta. It is home of Mama Ketut, the infamous massage "huts" directly facing the water. Here you'll find local, sarong-clad gems who are eager to please. Ketut is a must-see for the adventuresome traveler who seeks the ultimate sensual island experience. Massages are about $4/hour.
Where to Stay: In Kuta, you'll want to stay at Fat Yogi Cottages and Restaurant. Located directly on Poppies Lane, Yogi is a typical Balinese-style hotel with a beautiful blue tile pool, swim-up bar, and poolside bungalows. The rooms are spacious and clean, with hot water and large bathtubs. And all of them have charming balconies where you can relax. The restaurant is casual and the food is good, with meals running about $5-$6 for two. On some evenings, the proprietor screens free movies. Full breakfast is included with the price of the room. Rates start at about $8, double or single. The crowd is mostly gay. (Poppies Lane #1. Tel: 751-665)
About 20 minutes from Kuta, on the Nusa Dua Peninsula, is the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel. Authentic in Balinese architecture and design, this property is set on 23 acres of meticulously landscaped lush tropical land. Having just undergone an extensive remodeling, the resort offers every amenity one would expect from a five-star hotel and is, indeed, the pinnacle of luxury set amidst the most tranquil of surroundings. Rooms are first-class, with king-size, queen-size, and suites available. All rooms have comfortable, furnished balconies that offer beautiful, unbroken views of ocean and greenery. And, best of all, it is the home of the Nusa Dua Spa, where you can "return to nature," replenish your soul, and feed your spirit.
A host of water sports are offered at this beachfront property, complete with instructors and equipment. The new swimming pool uses Poolrite technology, a natural way to pool hygiene that avoids harsh chlorinated systems that damage the skin; and it is actually good for asthmatics and those who suffer from allergies. A gracious hospitality and unhurried way of life are a tradition here, and the staff is one of the best in Bali. Rates start at $150 for double or single. (Nusa Dua. Tel: 771-220)
On the way from Kuta to Nusa Dua is Jimbaran Beach, home of the Four Seasons Resort. The owners of this property have rediscovered Bali by creating villas to resemble a mythical Balinese village, yet they have included all the amenities and technology of a "state-of-the art" five-star resort. Each villa has a small temple facing north toward the island's sacred mountain, Gunung Agung, and a 129-square-foot plunge pool. Outdoor showers, freestanding tubs, satellite television, and complete sound and communications systems are just a few of the many amenities each villa contains. Focusing on the "mind/body/spirit," Four Seasons currently offers spa packages that include accommodations, cuisine, and massages in addition to many other complimentary services. Inquire about honeymoon packages because this is the one resort that offers total privacy. Rates start at $475 a night (spa package), meals range from $8-$15 for two. (Jimbaran Beach. Tel: 701-010)
Things to Do: In Kuta, you'll want to contact the local gay tour operator, Hanafi Tours, which is just two doors away from Yogi. Hanafi arranges many services: tours and sightseeing, bike or motorcycle rentals, parasailing and snorkeling excursions, and cremation ceremonies. (Poppies Lane #1, Kuta. Tel: 756-454)
Ubud, the mountainous area near the volcanos is home to local artisans and is a must-see. Bohemian in feel, Ubud offers great shopping and is where all the wood carvings and silver and gold jewelry and masks are made. Prices here are cheaper than in Kuta, because you're closer to the source - so take your spending money with you. The Monkey Forest Road winds through downtown Ubud, where you'll find small guest cottages, cafes, and shops. Many cafes show first-run movies for free in a relaxing and tranquil atmosphere where you can sit on pillows at low tables and enjoy a wonderful meal like Gado Gado (vegetables in peanut sauce). Meals in Ubud cost about $3-$6 for two.
Head for the hills next. The road that leads up to the volcanoes is lined with storefront merchants who live in the rear of their establishments. You'll find your best bargains along this tiny road.
When you arrive at the lush, green, mossy surroundings of the Monkey Forest, chances are you'll be greeted by families of monkeys swinging down from above; careful, they're apt to grab at cameras, purses, and jewelry. Also in this rather mystical place, you'll come across small, ancient Hindu temples.
Where to Eat and Play: Kuta has some great restaurants, many of which are on Legian Street. The Bounty Bar & Restaurant is usually crowded and is "the" place to be seen late in the evening. Typical fare includes seafood, vegetables, and pizzas. Dinner for two runs about $6. (Legian Street, Kuta. Tel: 754-040)
Located directly on the beach is La Luciola, one of a few really wonderful Italian restaurants in Kuta. In this beautiful two-story pagoda you'll enjoy lovely succulent rock shrimp risotto, tasty pizzas, and luscious tropical drinks. Serves lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, including drinks, runs from $10-$15. (At JL: Raya Kerobokan, near Petitenget temple)
Goa 2001 and Cafe Luna are situated directly across from each other on Seminy Street. Both are open, airy, and very comfortable places where you can just hang out or to have a long, leisurely meal. Cafe Luna is more for cruising and is the place to find the locals. This is a good spot to go to from 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, before you take off for Double Six Disco, a place where you can dance all night while people bungee jump over your head. Directly on the beach, Double Six (Tel: 731-266) is a massive, outdoor playground of bars, beautiful people, and hip-hop dancers from all over the globe. Entrance fee is $6 for two. Drinks cost about $1, beers about $.35.
A similar, more toned down yet very fun place, is Gado Gado Disco. Here you'll find a mix of locals and travelers. Great for dancing and cruising. Entrance fee is $6 for two. Drinks about $1; beers cost half that. (Tel: 730-995)
Finally, the infamous Hula Cafe is the center of gay life in Kuta. Looking like an immense hula skirt, the cafe really opens up for their very popular drag shows on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Clientele includes locals and Australians; good cruising. As the crowd grows, guys spill out onto the street, making the cruising activity even more alluring. Good food, but better for drinks. Closed Mondays. Entrance fee for the show is $5 for two; dinner for two is about $6. (Sahadewa Street, Kuta)
The main cruising areas, day and night, are Kuta, Legian and Seminyak (the main gay beaches), and Kerobokan Beach. Be careful on Kuta beach late at night. Other than that, Bali is very safe. The gay community in Bali is cosmopolitan and young, and they love Americans. The Hindu culture, which dominates Bali, makes this a magical, memorable, and very nonwestern vacation spot. And it is affordable.
And the way the locals embrace you - whoever you are - is pleasant and refreshingly different. You'll be a nicer person when you return home!